On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre

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DARKO SUVIN,On the Poeticsof the ScienceFiction Genre. Science Fiction As Fiction the last 100 years regardless of local and. Estrangement short range fluctuations SF has particu. THE IMPORTANCE OF science fiction SF larly affected some key strata of modern. in our time is on the increase First there society such as the college graduates. are strong indications that its popularity young writers and general readers ap. in the leading industrial nations USA preciative of new sets of values This is. USSR UK Japan has risen sharply over a significant cultural effect which goes. beyond any merely quantitative census, Darko Suvin who received his Ph D from the Second if one takes as differentiae of SF. University of Zagreb and teaches in the Depart either radically different figures drama. ment of English at McGill University has pub, lished on drama and on theater as well as on tis personae or a radically different con. science fiction both in English and in Serbo text of the story it will be found to have. an interesting and close kinship with,1The first version of this essay crystallized. out of a lecture given in the seminar on fantastic other literary sub genres which flour. literature in the Yale University Slavic Depart ished at different times and places of lit. ment in Spring 1968 It was presented at Temple, University Philadelphia at the University of erary history the Greek and Hellenistic.
Toronto and at the 1970 conference of the Sci blessed island stories the fabulous voy. ence Fiction Research Association at Queens,age from Antiquity on the Renaissance. borough Community College New York I am and Baroque utopia and planetary. grateful for the opportunity of discussing it in, these places In particular I have derived much novel the Enlightenment state politi. profit from personal discussion with Professor cal novel the modern anticipation. David Porter at the University of Massachusetts, J Michael Holquist and Jacques Ehrmann at anti utopia etc Moreover although. Yale with Mr James Blish and Miss Judy SF shares with myth fantasy fairy tale. Merril and with my colleagues at McGill Uni and pastoral an opposition to naturalistic. versity Michael Bristol Irwin Gopnik Myrna or empiricist literary genres it differs. Gopnik and Donald F Theall This final, version owes much to Stanislow Lem s Fan very significantly in approach and social. tastyka i futurologia undoubtedly the most function from such adjoining non natu. significant full scale morphological philosoph ralistic or meta empirical genres Both of. ical and sociological survey of modern SF, so far which has considerably emboldened me these complementary aspects the socio.
in the further pursuit of this elusive field even, where I differed from some of its conclusions logical and the methodological are being. I am also much indebted to the stimulus given vigorously debated among writers and. by members of my graduate seminar on SF in critics in several countries both testify. the Department of English at McGill Univer to the relevance of this genre and the. sity The final responsibility for the structure, and conclusions of the essay cannot be shifted need of scholarly discussion too. onto any other shoulders than mine however In the following paper I shall argue for. little I may believe in private property over,a definition of SF as the literature of cog. ideas Literature and literary are in this, essay synonymous with fiction al nitive estrangement This definition seems. On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre 373, to possess the unique advantage of ren the literary mainstream of our civilization.
dering justice to a literary tradition has been nearer to the first of the two. which is coherent through the ages and above mentioned extremes However at. within itself and yet distinct from non the beginnings of a literature the con. fictional utopianism from naturalistic lit cern with a domestication of the amazing. erature and from other non naturalistic is very strong Early tale tellers tell about. fiction It thus permits us to lay the basis amazing voyages into the next valley. of a coherent poetics of SF where they found dog headed people. I should like to approach such a dis also good rock salt which could be stolen. cussion and this field of discourse by or at the worst bartered for Their stories. postulating a spectrum or spread of liter are a syncretic travelog and voyage im. ary subject matter running from the aginaire daydream and intelligence re. ideal extreme of exact recreation of the port This implies a curiosity about the. author s empirical environment2 to ex unknown beyond the next mountain. clusive interest in a strange newness a range sea ocean solar system. novum From the 18th to the 20th century where the thrill of knowledge joined the. thrill of adventure, 2A virtue of discussing this seemingly periph An island in the far off ocean is the. eral subject of science fiction and its utopian, tradition is that one has to go back to first paradigm of the aesthetically most satis. principles one cannot really assume them as fying goal of the SF voyage from Iambu. given such as in this case what is literature lus and Euhemerus through the classical. Usually when discussing literature one deter, mines what it says its subject matter and how utopia to Verne s island of Captain Nemo. it says what is says the approach to its themes and Wells island of Dr Moreau especial. If we are talking about literature in the sense of. ly if we subsume under this the plane,significant works possessing certain minimal. aesthetic qualities rather than in the sociological tary island in the aether ocean usually. sense of everything that gets published at a the Moon from Lucian through Cyrano. certain time or the ideological sense of all the and Swift s mini Moon of Laputa to the. writings on certain themes this principle can 19th century Yet the parallel paradigm. more precisely be formulated as a double ques, tion First epistemologically what possibility of the valley over the range 3 which.
for aesthetic qualities is offered by different shuts it in as a wall is perhaps as reveal. thematic fields subjects The answer of, dominant aesthetics at the moment is an ab ing It recurs almost as frequently from. solutely equal possibility and with this answer the earliest folk tales about the sparkling. our aesthetics kicks the question out of its field. into the lap of ideologists who pick it up by valley of Terrestrial Paradise and the dark. default and proceed to bungle it Second his valley of the Dead both already in Gilga. torically how has such a possibility in fact been mesh Eden is the mythological localiza. used Once you begin with such considerations tion of utopian longing just as Wells. you come quickly up against the rather unclear, concept of realism not the prose literary move valley in the Country of the Blind is still. ment in the 19th century but a meta historical within the liberating tradition which con. stylistic principle since the SF genre is often tends that the world is not necessarily the. pigeonholded as non realistic I would not ob, ject but would heartily welcome such labels if way our present empirical valley happens. one had first persuasively defined what is real to be and that whoever thinks his valley. and what is reality True this genre raises is the world is blind Whether island or. basic philosophical issues but is perhaps not, necessary to face them in a first approach valley whether in space or from the in. Therefore I shall here substitute for realism dustrial and bourgeois revolutions on in. and reality the concept of the author s em, pirical environment which seems as immediate 3Sub title of Samuel Butler s SF novel.
ly clear as any Erewhon,374 COLLEGE ENGLISH, time the new framework is correlative to anthropological and historical approach. the new inhabitants The aliens uto in the opus of Bertolt Brecht who. pians monsters or simply differing stran wanted to write plays for a scientific. gers are a mirror to man just as the dif age While working on a play about the. fering country is a mirror for his world prototype scientist Galileo he defined. But the mirror is not only a reflecting this attitude Verfremdungseffekt in his. one it is also a transforming one virgin Short Organon for the Theatre 1948. womb and alchemical dynamo the mir A representation which estranges is one. ror is a crucible which allows us to recognize its subject. Thus it is not only the basic human but at the same time makes it seem un. and humanizing curiosity that gives birth familiar And further for somebody to. to SF Beside an undirected inquisitive see all normal happenings in a dubious. ness a semantic game without clear re light he would need to develop that. ferent this genre has always been wedded detached eye with which the great Gali. to a hope of finding in the unknown the leo observed a swinging chandelier He. ideal environment tribe state intelli was amazed by the pendulum motion as. gence or other aspect of the Supreme if he had not expected it and could not. Good or to a fear of and revulsion from understand its occurring and this enabled. its contrary At all events the possibil him to come at the rules by which it was. ity of other strange co variant coordinate governed Thus the look of estrange. systems and semantic fields is assumed ment is both cognitive and creative and. The approach to the imaginary local as Brecht goes on to say one cannot. ity or localized daydream practiced by simply exclaim that such an attitude per. the genre of SF is a supposedly factual tains to science but not to art Why. one Columbus technically or genologi should not art in its own way try to. cally non fictional letter on the Eden he serve the great social task of mastering. glimpsed beyond the Orinoco mouth and Life 4 Later Brecht was also to note. Swift s technically non factual voyage it might be time to stop speaking in terms. to Laputa Balnibarbi Glubbdubbdrib of masters and servants altogether. Luggnagg and Japan stand at the oppo, site ends of a ban between imaginary and 4Viktor Shklovsky Iskusstvokak priem. factual possibilities Thus SF takes off in Poetika Petrograd 1919 In the English trans. from a fictional literary hypothesis lation of this essay Art as Technique in Lee. T Lemon and MarionJ Reis eds Russian, and develops it with extrapolating and FormalistCriticism Four Essays LincolnNe. totalizing scientific rigor in genre braska 1965 ostranenie is rendered somewhat. Columbus and Swift are more alike than clumsily as defamiliarization Cf also the. classicalsurvey of Victor Erlich RussianFor, different The effect of such factual re malism History Doctrine The Hague 1955. porting of fictions is one of confronting a Bertolt Brecht KleinesOrganonfiir das. set normative system a Ptolemaic type Theater in his Schriftenzum Theater 7. Franforta M 1964 translatedin John Wil, closed world picture with a point of lett ed Brecht On Theatre New York.
view or glance implying a new set of 1964 My quotation is from p 192 and 96. of this translation in WhichI have changed, norms in literary theory this is known Mr Willett s translationof Verfremdung. as the attitude of estrangement This con as alienation since. into my estrangement, cept was first developed on non natural alienationevokes incorrect indeed oppo. site connotations estrangementwas for, ostranenie Viktor Shklovsky 1917 Brechtan approachmilitatingdirectlyagainst. and most successfully underpinned by an socialandcognitivealienation. On the Poeticsof the ScienceFiction Genre 375, In SF the attitude of estrangement SF is then a literarygenre whose nec. used by Brecht in a different way within essary and sufficient conditions are the. a still predominantly realistic context presenceand interactionof estrangement. has grown into the formal framework of and cognition and whose main formal. the genre device is an imaginativeframework al,ternative to the author s empirical en.
Science Fiction As Cognition The estrangement differentiates it from. Critique and Science the realistic literary mainstream of 18th. The use of estrangement both as under to 20th century The cognition differen. lying attitude and dominant formal de tiates it not only from myth but also. vice is found also in the myth a ritual from the fairy tale and the fantasy The. and religious approach looking in its own fairy tale also doubts the laws of the. way beneath the empiric surface How author s empirical world but it escapes. ever SF sees the norms of any age in out of its horizons and into a closed col. cluding emphatically its own as unique lateral world indifferent toward cognitive. changeable and therefore subject to cog possibilities It does not use imagination as. nitive glance The myth is diametrically a means to understand the tendencies in. opposed to the cognitive approach since reality but as an end sufficient unto itself. it conceives human relations as fixed and and cut off from the real contingencies. supernaturally determined emphatically The stock fairy tale accessory such as. denying Montaigne s la constance the flying carpet evades the empirical. memen estqu unbranlepluslanguissant law of physical gravity as the hero. The myth absolutizes and even personifies evades social gravity by imagining its. apparently constant motifs from the slug opposite The wishfulfilling element is its. SF shares with myth fantasy fairy tale and pastoral an opposition to naturalistic or empiricist literary genres it differs very significantly in approach and social function from such adjoining non natu ralistic or meta empirical genres Both of these complementary aspects the socio logical and the methodological are being vigorously debated among writers and critics in several

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