Saturday, April 18, 2009

Week 14: Summing Up

How to sum up a semester of studying Topias through the lens of utopian science fiction? How to tie together works spanning Forster (1905) and Robinson (1992)? How to summarize theories as diverse as classical positivism and posthumanity?

Of course, blogging as a medium is limited to addressing these questions at length. So let me offer a few thoughts that stand out for me as I look back on the semester.

One way of tying together the SF works we have read is how they may (or may not) conform to conventions of utopian literature: the isolated community; the traveler who is shown its marvels; the absence of a money economy and of private property; the stasis of perfection that admits no decline or need for improvement.

Works that may (with qualifications) fit these conventions are Herland, Dr Bloodmoney, The Dispossessed, Woman on the Edge of Time, A Door into Ocean, and Red Mars.

> Herland is the clearest fit with classical utopian conventions, with A Door into Ocean running second

> Dr Bloodmoney begins as a dystopia but might cross over into Utopia if the second half of the book is seen as a journey through a "wondrous" land that evokes Dick's hopeful vision of people who are basically admirable

> The Dispossessed is, as Le Guin admits and we discussed at length in class, an "ambiguous" utopia

> Woman on the Edge of Time presents the utopia of Mattapoisett, by also draws energy from its dystopic visions of 1970s America and of Gildina's alternate world

> Red Mars depicts more of a utopia-in-becoming

Our other readings brought us into the dystopian genre: The Machine Stops, Brave New World, The Sheep Look Up, and Tiptree's short fiction (e.g., "Houston, Houston").

That leaves only Neuromancer, which I can't quite place in the utopia/dystopia continuum. Perhaps this is because Neuromancer is, for reasons discussed in class, a fairly conventional novel. Its reputation derives from bringing SF from outer space to cyberspace.

Another way of tying these works together is with the definition of Utopia I've been developing through my research this semester—namely that secularization is a precondition, along with its concomitant belief in the perfectibility of humankind. Thus, where Paradise is a divine provision, Utopia is built by human hands.

All the utopias we read—those by Gilman, Dick, Le Guin, Piercy, Slonczewski, and Robinson—start with a premise of human perfectibility. And in my mind, this raises two questions:

> Is the corollary proposition that dystopias assume human incorrigibility? Or do authors of dystopias assume that readers, once made aware of dystopic possibilities, can avoid them? I'm not so sure. The Machine Stops, Brave New World, The Sheep Look Up, and "Houston, Houston" all end in defeat. Is this cautionary or does it reflect a pragmatic pessimism?

> Though I'm satisfied with my evolving definition of Utopia (as a response to specific historical conditions, albeit an expression of innate human desires) on the macro level, in the future I may also explore the micro level. Namely, although the concept of Utopia arose with modernity, why does its literary expression come and go over the decades?

There were the Gilded Age utopias of Bellamy, Morris and Wells, followed by a long dry spell until the feminist utopias of the 1970s. Why the hiatus? If the basic concept of Utopia is tied to the historical conditions of modernity, are its contemporary coming and goings also tied to historical conditions?

That is, why did the conditions of the Gilded Age give rise to Bellamy, Morris, and Wells? Why did the conditions of early-to-mid 20th century—that period defined by two world wars—damp down literary expressions of utopia? Why did the conditions of the 1970s and 80s give rise to two successive waves of feminist utopias?

Is there a common thread?

+ How are the 1880s thru 90s (the heyday of Progressivism) similar to the 1970s thru 80s (a high-water mark for feminism)? Were they both periods of relatively peaceful social change and resistance to powerful Establishments, when the striving for human perfectibility was strong?

+ And is there a common thread between the 1910s thru 60s and the 1990s thru 2000s? Are these decades similar in being periods of war and postwar adjustment? The 1910s thru 60s were decades of unprecedented upheaval through war. The 1990s thru 2000s saw the end of an unprecedented 50-year Cold War, whose ending permitted long-festering regional hatreds to resurface and become globalized. Does human perfectibility seem less likely in such eras?

Digesting all the theories I encountered this semester will take me awhile. I found Jameson (even his semiotic squares!) and Garrard accessible. On the other hand, continental philosophers (LeFebvre, de Certeau, Foucault, Heidegger) are still somewhat of a struggle for me.

Continental philosophy becomes gradually easier as I find incremental opportunities to work these perspectives into my own research projects—for example, Foucault's views on discourse, discipline, and ethics are proving helpful for my dissertation. Yet these are not "Eureka" moments but a process that occurs over time.

So let me wrap up with some "takeaways" from this course . . .

> I got a paper that I hope is presentable and publishable

> I received a broad-brush introduction to the interesting scholarly conversations going on in utopian studies, so that I now have the foundation for another research interest on which I can write and publish more in the future

> Though my MA is in Comm Studies, my (1970s) undergraduate degree was in English Lit; so I had the experience of, in a sense, "returning to my roots" and taking a literature class for the first time in 30 years, getting reacquainted with the literature side of English Studies that may be part of the departmental world I will inhabit in the future

> Finally, after starting out the course with a longtime personal interest in SF, I read a lot of good books that I enjoyed and found intellectually stimulating and challenging, many of which I may (because I'm an inveterate "re-reader" of my personal library) revisit for years to come

Friday, April 10, 2009

Week 13: Robinson, Again

Let's begin this week with a brief overview of commentaries on the Mars trilogy and the work of KSR. Then I'll delve into an interesting question on which two commentators disagreed.

> Many of the commentaries (Dynes, Markley, Otto, Burling) took on various facets of the Red/Green debate and its sociopolitical ramifications. Ho hum. I got a lot of plot summary, though this was helpful in sketching out the last two-thirds of the trilogy which I haven't read. And I learned more about Ann and Sax who, as the respective allegories for the Red and Green positions, were the characters most frequently cited in these critiques.

> But these four articles disappointed in several ways:

+ Markley centered his analysis on KSR's "eco-economics" but without really explaining it

+ Otto gives more detail on eco-economics, but he uses Leopold's "land ethic" as a framework for interpreting the Mars trilogy without establishing that Leopold was important for KSR

+ Burling uses Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Social Strategy as an interpretive framework but without establishing that L&M were important for KSR, so that Burling's analysis becomes an appropriation of KSR to argue for his own politics

+ Dynes doesn't really suggest anything new, though he tangentially points out something I think is important—namely KSR's doctoral dissertation which describes Dick's "polyphonic narrative structure," so that we see the influence of PKD in the multiple viewpoint characters employed in the Mars trilogy

+ As a group, these four articles don't really take us much beyond the Red/Green impasse

> Nevertheless, agree with him or not, Markley easily wins the prize for getting off the best one-liner . . .

The trilogy ends on a beach with children eating ice cream . . . The technologies of terraformation offer, ultimately, a vision of small-town life, or such a life experienced in an ecologically pristine equivalent of Santa Barbara: scenic beauty, good restaurants.

What a hoot! And of course, Santa Barabara is just a few counties up the road from KSR's native Orange County, California.

> White easily offered the most helpful and nuanced analysis, taking us beyond Red/Green and (with a nice assist from Greimassian semantic rectangles) offers a nuanced yet clear analysis of . . .

+ the Red/Green/White/Blue metaphors in the Mars trilogy (p. 586)

+ the contrasting worldviews of the initial main characters (p. 590)

+ the contrasts between Boone and Chalmers (p. 598)

+ the functioning of Boone as a mythic questing hero (pp. 589, 594)

Since Jameson is a fan of Greimas, and KSR is a student of Jameson—to the point that KSR even puts semantic rectangles into the text of the Mars trilogy—then White's use of the rectangles provides us legitimate insights into the author's possible thinking

> Franko provides a nice summation of KSR's early pre-Mars work. Here we find that longevity treatments play a much larger role, as people live 500 or even 1000 years but lose their memories every 80 years or so. The plots KSR builds on this are quite interesting. And we also learn that major characters named "Clayborne" turn up in two prior works.

Now let's move onto the "interesting question" which I cited at the outset:

> Leane gives a very nice discussion of science and colonialism, demonstrating how the two discourses have historically gone hand-in-hand. The term "scientific discovery" itself implies an act of colonization. Having studied the rhetoric of science last semester, Leane's analysis opens for me a new perspective as her citations introduce me to the literature on "successor science."

Thus Leane sees KSR and his Mars trilogy as exploring the possibilities for a "successor science" that avoids the old link between science and colonialism

> But Michaels asks how the Mars trilogy can be viewed as postcolonial in its sensibilities when the Martians are themselves colonists. It's like, he says, the American colonists of yore claiming to be natives. He suggests the Martians' moral argument instantiates a lamentable claim that "the difference between someone who is here (Mars) and someone who is there (Earth) can do the trick" (p. 660).

Thoughts, anyone?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chapter 12: Robinson, Jameson

First, let me lay my cards on the table. Anticipating that I would need to read Sterling, I finished Red Mars a couple weeks ago. So it will be difficult for me to limit my discussion of Robinson only to his first 300 pages.

Instead, this week I will post some thoughts prompted by the Jameson chapter on the Mars trilogy. Then next week my post will explore insights suggested by the PDF articles found on Blackboard.

Jameson's observations accord with three points that recurred to me throughout reading Red Mars:

> The main characters function as allegories. In my view, this often got in the way of character development. I was reminded of religious fiction that I've read where (albeit to a far greater degree) characters are wooden figures whose actions are predictable. As other works we have read in this course (including last week's Ocean) will suggest, wooden allegorical characters are not necessarily de rigueur for utopian/dystopian fiction.

> The word "disquisition," used by Jameson, is exactly the same word that constantly came to my mind in reading Robinson's lengthy forays into hard science. While I admire his homework and (as Elisa assured us) know more about Mars than I did before the book, personally I find his disquisitions rather plodding.

> But I want to focus for the rest of this blog entry on Jameson's observation (which I echoed in a comment about Red Mars in last week's post) about the process of secularization described in the book. For one thing, secularization is a major issue in the scholarly discussions of Utopia which I have reviewed for my final paper.

Regarding this secularization Jameson writes:

What is important . . . is less the issue of causality . . . than it is the evocation of resistance: external reality organizes itself into a problem . . . whose nature poses a problem only insofar as it raises a question about its own coming into existence in the first place, about the very why of its happening. . . .

[This] moves us away from the standard history-of-ideas notion of the central role of the emergence of modern science . . . [and moves us toward] assimilat[ing] science to non-scientific activity and daily life as such. [My note: Latour has called this assimilation "technoscience."] Science thereby becomes only one of the byproducts of this increasingly specified "resistance" of reality, and not particularly even its primary agency, in a process we would do better to describe in terms of secularization.

For it is secularization as such which forestalls the easier answers of the theological or the traditional, the symbolic or the mythic . . . At the same time, this initial moment of secularization also precludes . . . the confusions that result when we are able to begin wondering about the very source of the answers themselves . . . (pp. 397-398)

Jameson's observation here is prompted by the character of Sax Russell who declaims that he wants to "try to understand" by "concentrating on the specificity of every moment," to "tease those reasons out" lest he by vexed by "the great unexplainable."

Let me try to translate. On Mars, conventional modernism won't do. The new planet is so complex and bewildering, its reality resists modernist cause-and-effect reasoning. Rather than wonder about causality, Russell must ponder why the realities and problems of Mars exist in the first place. Scientific and non-scientific activity are necessarily assimilated into the realism of the observable here and now. This process, which Jameson calls secularization, is necessary. For if the New Martians "begin wondering about the very source of the answers themselves," hopeless confusion will set in.

Boone and Chalmers are realists; they just want a pragmatic Martian polity that "works" and disdain metaphysics. In contrast, Jameson points to Ann Clayborne's transcendant Gaia-like worship of pristine Mars and to Hiroko's functionally similar conviction that "social cohesion is cemented by re-ligio, and therefore the unique relationship the settlers need to develop to Mars must be sealed and stengthened by ritual attachment to the planet" (p. 408). [For a discussion of the Gaia Hypothesis in the contemporary eco-movement see Garrard, pp. 172-175.]

Thus Jameson notes, "But it is obviously as the spiritual leader of the Greens that the figure of Hiroko takes on an ideological meaning comparable to Ann's" (p. 408).

For this reason I would propose that, rather than see in the Mars trilogy only the tension between Reds and Greens, a major source of the books' conflict is that between myth and transcendance (represented in their own ways by Ann and Hiroko) on the one hand, and realism and secularization (represented by, among others, Boone and Chalmers) on the other.

As I blogged last week, the secularizing impulse of Red Mars offers a stark contrast to Slonczewski's Sharers who celebrate spiritually derived values and (to repeat Jameson) recognize that "social cohesion is cemented by re-ligio." Jameson's italicized reference here is to the Latin derivation of the word "religion" from religare, "to tie back" (yes, I took four years of Latin). Our word "ligament" derives from the same Latin root, ligare, "to bind."

And how does this discussion connect with my final paper?

My readings have delved into, among other things, the scholarly controversy regarding the very definition of Utopia. Many have suggested a difference between Paradise (a religious concept ushered in by God) and Utopia (a secular concept ushered in by human effort). Here is an adapted excerpt from my second short paper:

Kumar (1978) argues that, as Zhang (2002) summarizes, "utopia is [not a universal human impulse but] a uniquely modern concept that emerged in specific historical conditions. The core of the utopian vision is a fundamental secularism, defined against the medieval and Augustinian idea of the original sin; and its prerequisite, the idea of an essentially good human nature or at least the perfectibility of human nature" (pp. 4-5).

Further, More wrote his Utopia at a time when discovery of the New World had given rise to the travelogue as a literary form. Thus, out of a general human striving for betterment, the function of Utopia emerged in the West as a response to secularization while its form came ready-made in the travelogue. Then, like Yalçintaş' (2006) example of digital media still driven by the QWERTY keyboard, the utopian genre developed along the path set by its antecedents. Thus Kumar (1978) concludes,

"[U]topia is not universal. It appears only in societies with the classical and Christian heritage, that is, only in the West. Other societies have, in relative abundance, paradises, primitivist myths of a Golden Age of justice and equality, Cokaygne-type fantasies, even messianic beliefs; they do not have utopia" (p. 19).

Interestingly, Zhang [a Chinese scholar writing about the Utopian concept in the East] disagrees with Kumar's conclusion but accepts Kumar's basic premise. He argues that China did develop a concept of utopia but explains that, as in the West, secularization of Chinese culture was the necessary precondition.

The secularizing influence was the rise of Confucianism. Its founder, Confucius, is seen in his Analects as "a thinker largely concerned with the reality of this life rather than afterlife" and "rather ambivalent about gods and spirits," who believes "the way back to ancient perfection is not through faith or divine intervention . . . but by a vigorous human effort at the present, in this world" (Zhang, 2002, pp. 7-8).

If this line of argument is correct then Robinson's trilogy could be Utopian only if his vision is secular. Ann Clayborne's Reds would commune with sublime Wilderness [see Garrard, chap. 4] and Hiroko's Greens would commune with Life. Their visions are transcendant Paradises, not human-built secular Utopias. Boone, Chalmers, Russell and their followers are the realists who seek not transcendant communion but prefer understanding to wonder.



Kumar, K. (1978). Utopia and anti-utopia in modern times. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

Yalçintaş, A. (2006). Historical small events and the eclipse of utopia: Perspectives on path dependence in human thought. Culture, Theory, and Critique, 47(1), 53-70.

Zhang, L. (2002). The utopian vision, east and west. Utopian Studies, 13(1), 1-20.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Week 11: Slonczewski, Dwelling

A Door into Ocean was a delightful read. But beyond giving a plot summary or simply rhapsodizing about my enjoyment of the work, what can I add to a critique of Door? How can I use Door as an opportunity to understand the utopian genre better?

Thus, as I finished the book, several questions came to my mind:

> Why is Door not generally mentioned in articles we've read so far on feminist utopias?

> Is Door, in fact, really a feminist utopia at all? Is it better seen as a feminist ecotopia, or simply an ecotopia, or a pacifist utopia?

> Does Door fit Gearhart's (1984) definition of feminist utopia? Or fit the descriptions of ecofeminism found in Garrard (2004, pp. 23-27) and in Deegan and Podeschi (2001)?

So I began by searching for journal articles about Door. Not much, in fact, shows up in the article database about Slonczewski in general and Door in particular. But I did find one very good article:

Fitting, P. (1992). Reconsiderations of the separatist paradigm in recent feminist science fiction. Science Fiction Studies, 19(1), 32-48.

Notice the word "reconsiderations" in the article title. Fitting places Door (1986), along with Pamela Sargent's The Shore of Women (1986) and Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country (1988), as 1980s responses to the feminist utopias of the 1970s. He writes that

the three are very much replies to and reworkings of the central themes of the feminist utopias of the 1970s. A central concern of many of those works was understanding and explaining the violence of patriarchal forms and values. The utopias of the 1970s presented a range of explanations for male violence, grouped roughly around an "essentialist" pole . . . and a more materialist one, according to which male violence is socially produced . . . In any event, the novels of the 1970s often had answers to questions about the differences between men and women and the roots of violence, whereas the novels of the late 1980s are not so certain. At the same time, efforts to break down or blur the differences between men and women . . . have by and large disappeared; and the earlier ideal of "androgyny" is now recognized as a depoliticization and desexualization of the body rather than as a utopian fusion of male and female (p. 33).

Fitting offers an interesting critique of Door's pacifism. You should read it. In the end, while he finds it moving and almost convincing, Fitting believes the happy ending of Door seems contrived. (Slonczewski admits in her website that she changed to ending in order to get her book published and wishes her original ending could have been used.) But in juxtaposing Slonczewski's 1980s utopia to her feminist forebears of the 1970s, Fitting points out,

Although Slonczewski's vision distinguishes between male and female values, this is not ultimately tied to biological sex. There is no essential difference between men and women. Spinel . . . finds a Shoran partner/lover and becomes a full member of Sharer society. . . . On the other hand, the invading Valan troops include both men and women, and Commander Realgar's "interrogator" (or torturer) is a woman. The novel makes a clear distinction between values and plumbing (pp. 40-41).

This distinction extends to technology:

Nor does the juxtaposition of male and female values repeat the essentialist rejection of technology as male . . . The crucial distinction is rather between a machine and what might be called an "organic" technology . . . [T]he emphasis on female values has led to imaginary communities which pay special attention to the "life" sciences like medicine and biology, which are opposed to men's skill with war technology.

Fitting also sees that the 1980s utopias adopt a different strategy than those of the 1970s:

In contrast to the utopias of the 1970s, these three novels do not focus on the evocation of alternative societies in any literal sense. . . . In their dialogue with the utopias of the 1970s, then, these three novels blend literal representations of alternative patterns of life with more rhetorical and figurative evocations of a transformed world. . . . Their very titles—"gate," "door," "shore"—call attention to the transition; each text identifies itself as the representation of a fictional world which, unlike the relative certainty of the '70s' utopias, stands on the edge of or in between the old and the new. Whereas the earlier utopias . . . adopted textual strategies which sought to implicate the reader in the struggle for a better society, rather than simply juxtaposing the utopian society—explicitly or implicitly—with the present, these three novels all situate themselves in an afterwards. . . [T]hese later [1980s] novels, insofar as they stage the reconciliation of men and women, clearly refer to the separatism—real or figurative—of some of the '70s' utopias (pp. 41-42).

Finally, Fitting cites Moylan's description of the 1970s feminist utopias as "critical utopias," and argues that the 1980s utopias are, similarly, "critical reexaminations and reworkings of the now-classic utopias of the 1970s" (p. 44).

Thus we come to the question: Is Door a feminist utopia at all? Here we should recall Gearhart's (1984) definition of a feminist utopia as one that:

> Contrasts the present with an envisioned idealized society (separated from the present by time and space)

> Offers a comprehensive critique of present values/conditions

> Sees men or male institutions as a major cause of present social ills

> Presents women not only as at least the equals of men but also as the sole arbiters of their reproductive functions

Using these criteria, Door is not a feminist utopia. Men or male institutions are not seen as a major cause of present social ills; instead, Door opposes values rather than sexes.

Nor does Door draw explicit contrasts with "the present" and with "present social ills" in the way that, for example, Piercy does. At the time of its composition, Slonczewski explains on her website, "My aim in writing A Door into Ocean was to give students a window into a hopeful future." Only now, in hindsight and "ironically," does Door "give today's post-Cold War students a look back at our dark past."

So is Door an example of ecofeminism? According to Deegan and Podeschi,

Ecofeminists stress the interconnectedness of life, nature, and the environment with the world view of women and reproductive capacity. Ecofeminists also examine the relationship between women's social oppression and nature's exploitation as two faces of patriarchal control (p. 19).

Door may be "ecofeminist" on the first count, that of stressing interconnections. But on Deegan and Podeschi's second count, which links oppression and exploitation to patriarchy, then Door is not ecofeminist. Yes, the distant interplanetary ruler in Door is called the Patriarch. And yet, as Fitting points out, in Slonczewski the domineering power is not specifically male.

Deegan and Podeschi's article claims that the pedigree of ecofeminism traces back to Gillman and Herland. But Gillman's book is an attempt to suggest that women can do whatever men can do, if permitted the freedom. By contrast, Door is not about women in a biological sense, but about the capacity for female Sharer values to achieve an advanced yet humane society.

Yet Garrard give us a different definition of ecofeminism:

Deep ecology identifies the anthropocentric dualism humanity/nature as the ultimate source of anti-ecological beliefs and practices, but ecofeminism also blames the androcentric dualism man/woman. . . . Ecofeminism involves the recognition that these two [dualisms] share a common "logic of domination" (p. 23).

By Garrard's definition, Door may be seen as ecofeminist. In the world of Shora, humanity and nature cooperate in a non-dualistic web of life. And in the societies of Shora and Valedon, social roles are not strictly gendered. Males can adopt female Sharer values (Spinel); females can adopt male Valan values (Jade). Even the dualism organic/inorganic breaks down as the Sharers learn how minerals are vital components of life.

Now let's look a moment at Slonczewski's website. Some thoughts . . .

> The chart of polarities and binaries that are resolved in Door is quite useful. And it set me to wondering two things: (1) Could these be expressed in Greimas semantic squares? (2) Does the focus on binaries mark Door as an essentially modernist work? Even if dualisms are challenged and resolved, it does seem that dualisms set the agenda.

> Having read Dune numerous times (though not lately) I can readily see how Door is a response to Herbert's universe.

> Slonczewski's personal asides—how she conceived of raft trees, how she had to compromise in order to get published—are very interesting and illuminating.

> The amount of space given to explaining pacifist principles leads me to believe that Door could arguably be read as principally a pacifist utopia. If the humanity/nature and man/woman dualisms share a common logic of domination, then wouldn't the most salient rejoinder be a logic of nonviolence?

> This emphasis on pacifism and spiritual values is in sharp contrast to Red Mars, which I've nearly finished reading. In Red Mars, religion and spirituality is virtually absent in the group of the First Hundred and their early society. Then as Mars develops, religion and spiritually are reduced to cultural eccentricities that stand in the way of achieving a humane new order. Of all the books we've read so far, Door seems to have the most sympathy for religious and spiritual values as integral to a humane society.

As for the Garrard and Heidegger readings . . .

Reading Heidegger was, as usual, pretty thick reading and at times impenetrable. But the Garrard reading was the most enjoyable chapter of Ecocriticism so far!

Most of you know my research interest in Holocaust Studies. So it's tough for me to read Heidegger and completely divorce him from history. Garrard did a deft job of summarizing the Nazification of Heidegger's views on dwelling. It was refreshing to read a critique of Heidegger that skipped the customary obeisance and dared to call out Heidegger's shame.

Having grown up with the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign and the tearful Iron Eyes Cody, I found Garrard's incisive critique of the Ecological Indian to also be refreshing. Of course this is a stereotype being appropriated by the establishment. But few have been willing, like Garrard, to point this out.

Neither have I made a secret of being a person of faith. So I found Garrard's critique of Berry to be very interesting. In evangelical circles there is a generational conversation going on between older leaders (e.g., James Dobson) who want to keep the movement's focus on hot-button social issues and newer leaders (e.g., Rick Warren) who want to also address broader issues of social concern such as poverty and the environment.

This conversation was illustrated a few years ago when some younger evangelicals mounted a "WWJD" campaign, where WWJD stood not for "What Would Jesus Do?" but rather "What Would Jesus Drive?" So I'll check out Berry and be interested to learn more about his Christian philosophy of dwelling.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week 10: Gibson, Cyberpunk

Star Wars is often described as a Western set in a SF universe. Truth be told, I kept wondering whether Gibson's Neuromancer should be similarly interpreted.

My ponderings began with the early and recurrent use of the term "cowboy" to describe Case and his breed of freespirited cyberspatial frontiersmen. Gibson was invoking for his imagined world the enormous power that the frontier myth exerts on American culture.

I tried to imagine myself reading Neuromancer in 1984. Its references to carbon ribbon, computer paper and tape storage, and its assumption that all connections must be wired and the human-computer interface keyboarded, would not have seemed archaic as they do today.

So, yes, I can readily see how Gibson's vision of cyberspace and his move to situate an SF story not in outer space but in a computer matrix, would have appeared groundbreaking and full of new possibilities.

Yet for all that, I found Neuromancer to be rather conventional, a frontier narrative for the computer age. Yes, I understand why we, looking back, read our own preoccupations with postmodern identity, with cyborgs and simulacra, into Neuromancer. Nor do I deny that such readings have merit. Part of Gibson's influence is that he created a prototype world that still works as a canvas onto which we can project our concerns.

But despite the merits of Davidson's invocation of Baudrillardian simulation—and references by multiple commentators to Harraway's Cyborg Manifesto—neither should we miss how Gibson updated the frontier myth in a story with many cowboy Western elements:

> The "hired gun" (Molly) and "faithful sidekick" who is an ethnic Other and speaks pidgin (Maelcum)

> The beloved "horse" (Case's deck) to whom the hero is emotionally attached and that takes the cowboy on swift rides across fantastic frontier landscapes

> The saloon (Ratz's bar in Chiba City) which, of course, was sent up in the famous Mos Eisley scene in Star Wars

> The tension between frontier and border (ably described in Concannon's article) which in Western films (Shane is an arch example) is often played out as a conflict between cattlemen and settlers

> The High Noon shootout between hero and villain, and even the captured maiden who is freed when the hero rides to the rescue

> The ending where the good guys, having finished their task, go their separate ways and ride back to the wild country from whence they came ("Who was that masked man?")

If you fault my reading for not going gaga over simulations and cyborgs, consider that my reading finds some support in the articles we perused for this week:

> Concannon explores the salience of the borderland in Gibson. Cyberspace functions, he concludes, as a "trope" that "reflects a balancing of impossibility and possibility" (p. 441), which is simply another way of expressing the frontier myth.

> While Davidson (p. 192) only notes in the portmanteau "Neuromancer" a cross between neuro and necromancer, Jones points out that the AI of the novel also saw itself as a New Romancer. The SF works of Aldiss, Gibson, Sterling, and Powers have distinct romantic element, Jones argues, perhaps even updating the 19th century romantic tradition.

> Moylan (as quoted by Fair) pans Neuromancer for seeking "refuge in recognizable film noir plots and macho heroes already embedded in the dominant ideology" (p. 97) and—as I too immediately noticed—the instantiation of Maelcum as "basically a humorous sidekick in the ignoble popular culture tradition of Pancho and the Cisco Kid or Tonto and the Lone Ranger" (p. 100).

Young people today might miss these associations, but readers in 1984 would not. Perhaps the closest we come is the allegation that the Jar Jar Binks character introduced in Star Wars Episode 1 is a racist stereotype.

> Several commentators see Neuromancer as modernist, rather than postmodern, in its sensibilities. As quoted by Fair (p. 102 n4):

Scott Bukatman argues that cyberspace achieves the modern ideal of a body dissolved into pure motion and perfect mechanized efficiency. Tony Fabijancic argues that the architecture of both Gibson's cyberspace and nineteenth-century urban spaces "[contribute] fundamentally to a wider moern rhetoric of being and thinking." N. Katherine Hayles writes . . . [that Gibson's] "narrator characterizes the posthuman body as 'data made flesh.' To the extent that the posthuman constructs embodiment as the instantiation of thought/information, it continues the liberal tradition rather than disrupts it."

> In this vein, I was struck by Fernbach's suggestion that Neuromancer has a "conservative dynamic" that belies the "democratizing rhetoric that surrounds the new technology of the internet" and which "tells us that gender and race are not fixed in this space." Instead, she suggests, "The notion that online personas transcend social and cultural hierarchies remains a utopian myth" (p. 248). Thus,

Despite being hailed as the apotheosis of postmodernism, cyberpunk uses the familiar Freudian narrative of a return to the wholeness of the pre-oedipal to discuss the crisis of contemporary masculinity. In cyberpunk, fears about the intrusive potential of technology are displaced anxieties about changes in the social order both now and in future worlds--changes that have already begun to threaten a stable, unified masculine identity that presents itself as the universal subject (p. 249).

> Myers makes a fascinating comparison—which, again, I too picked up—between Neuromancer and detective fiction, especially the atomized urban spaces of Gibson's Sprawl and of Conan Doyle's fogbound London and Chandler's steamy Los Angeles. But I also saw in Neuromancer a connection with the spy thriller genre, a genre that in 1984 (after the 1960s spy genre mania and before Tom Clancy) seemed dated and quaint.

But whether we see elements of film noir, detective fiction or spy thriller in Neuromancer, to me the important point is the one element common to all three genres and to westerns and frontier narratives—namely the archetypal American hero, the loner who keeps going against all odds, all opposition, and finally wins victory and vindication by his/her ingenuity and will power.

> Nixon picks up on this aspect of the quintessential American loner-hero when she writes,

Cyberpunk's fascination with and energetic figuration of technology represents the American cowboy as simultaneously embattled and empowered. In '80s America the Japanese megacorporations did dominate the technological market, but the cowboy's freedom and ingenuity allow him to compete purely on the level of mastery . . . [pitting] pragmnatism and mass production versus American innovation and ingenuity (p. 225).

So far all these reasons, while I can see why Neuromancer is influential as the progenitor of the cyberpunk genre, the work itself impresses me as conventional.

P.S. I checked out Garrard's Ecocriticism and was surprised there appears (at least in the "Wilderness" chapter) to be no discussion of frontier myths. Did I miss something?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Week 8: Sheldon/Tiptree

How very interesting this week! Why? Though readings in past weeks have held their own attractions, this week's readings on Tiptree were different in several respects:

> We read a half dozen short stories rather than a single novel

> As such, we got to read works that represent the body of an author's work over time

> By the same token, we read critiques of the author's entire body of work rather than a single work

> And because we were evaluating a body of work, details of the author's biography became important to the analysis

So this week my own comments are more directed to the panoply of criticism we read, because the differences in interpretations—and in interpretive approaches—was quite interesting.

(For example, most commentators say Lorimer was killed at the end of "Houston," but Lowry claims the drug given Lorimer was the antidote to the truth serum. And while most critiques of "The Women Men Don't See" assert that Parsons seeks escape through alien abduction, Lowry suggests Parsons is herself a stranded alien anxious to get home.)

To my mind, Pei asks the key question:

Are these cautionary tales, or is their goal to show that the human race is irremediably split by the barrier between male and female? Are these stories simply the extreme statement of what we should avoid, or is their purpose to prove that mankind [sic; this article was written in 1979] is ruled by drives . . . ? (p. 278)

Thus let me begin with Pei's article.

> Pei was, for my money, the most successful in drawing together a unifying theme in Tiptree's body of work:

This incompleteness [of male and female], a fundamental characteristic of humanity according to Tiptree, is clearly a two-sided quality. Mankind is made more beautiful and more human by being half of something; yet the race is doomed, and its history reduced to pointlessness by being half of something. This kind of paradoxical doubleness is found throughout the themes of Tiptree's work. To be human is to be half of something (p. 272).

And how does Pei resolve the question of whether Tiptree's stories are cautionary tales or affirmations of an irremediable split between male and female? Pei concludes that Tiptree's corpus is a duality so that the question is never resolved.

Is that a cop-out? No, I'm prepared to accept that Tiptree wrestled with an unresolvable duality. Being only half of something, don't we all?

> Barr offers an extended discussion of "Love is the Plan" as a way of pondering, as did Tiptree, "why the plots of many love stories are enhanced by the woman's death" and if the "destruction of women which sometimes results from their sexual connection to men [is] part of the biological plan of reproduction" (p. 47).

What a thought-provoking perspective, one which did not initially occur to me in my reading. But when I read Barr's observation, my immediate reaction was to note, "Yes, love stories are often enhanced by the woman's death. But war stories as just as often enhanced by the man's death. Is it significant that women die in love stories and men die in war stories?"

Though Barr recognizes that "men and women must live as two distinct and separate biological entities which come together to reproduce before breaking apart," she contends that "we must derive hope [for male-female coexistence] from Tiptree's true identity" (p. 47).

Yet this amounts to a claim that Tiptree/Sheldon's life shows us a move toward resolving the duality. Here I must disagree, side with Pei, and assert that Tiptree's writings and biography suggests the duality remained unresolved (and thus in productive tension) for the author.

> Steffen-Fluhr gives us an informative description of Tiptree/Sheldon's early life, providing a helpful biographical context for the observation, "There are few human women at all in most of Sheldon's early stories [but] there are metaphorical women everywhere" (p. 193).

But just to show how people can read the same words and draw different conclusions, Steffen-Fluhr offers a very different take on duality in Tiptree: "To 'come home' in Sheldon's fiction means to 'be at home' with all the many selves in one's self—to be complete, whole, at peace" (p. 194).

Again, this suggestion is far different than Pei's thesis that humans in Tiptree's work are incomplete and irremediably split in a duality that has no resolution.

Yet Steffen-Fluhr's extended discussion of "Love is the Plan" (pp. 199-202) is quite helpful. Her critique explores the themes of psychomachia (dialogue between various parts of the Self), biology and social behavior, love and devouring, love and possession/bondage, male egocentricity, death and orgasm, erotic and maternal love, change and adaptation.

An extended discussion of "Houston, Houston" (pp. 205-208) is similarly helpful and also introduces a larger exploration by Steff-Fluhr of how "the structure of suicide is the hidden subtext in a number of Sheldon's best stories." Later she notes how "suicide and survival are often link in Sheldon's fiction" as "characters frequently kill themselves in order to save themselves" (p. 208).

But how do we reconcile Steffen-Fluhr's earlier assertion that "coming home" and being at peace with one's self is a theme in Tiptree's work, with her assertion that the stories show how their author "especially feared the disorder that comes from within" (p. 208)?

Nevertheless, Steffen-Fluhr does a nice job of tracing the themes of disorder and death in Tiptree's later works.

> Two articles that focus on specific aspects of Tiptree/Sheldon's biography are offered by Elms and Galef.

The Elms piece is a fine example of bringing our a lesser-known phase of the author's life—namely her years as a psychologist—giving us a thick description of the phase, and then using it as a helpful new lens to illuminate aspects of Tiptree's writing.

The Galef piece brings to bear the literatures on postcolonialism and sociobiology as a lens to explore the tension in Tiptree between cultural relativism and biological determinism. As a child Tiptree/Sheldon was widely exposed to many cultures, but her later work as an experimental psychologist examined the link between biology and behavior.

> Finally, the Larbalestier biography of Tiptree/Sheldon is quite helpful in providing contexts for interpreting the body of the author's work.

In the end, I was also impressed by similarities between Sheldon's biography and mine. She and I spent important parts of our lives tied into the government and university scene around Washington DC. And (if I did my math correctly) she received her PhD at the same age I hope to receive mine.

Though our worldviews and politics are different, I was left with the impression of Sheldon as a writer and a person who struggled honestly with dualities we all face. As such, I've learned from her and from the critiques of her work, and gained some new perspectives.

In my own worldview I might call the root problem by another name (theologians call it "original sin" or "the Fall") but I too ponder the separation between peoples that, I believe, has resulted from the separation between the human and the divine. But new perspectives and insights other than one's own are always instructive, so that Sheldon's struggles with duality speak to me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Week 7: Piercy, Feminist Utopia

Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (WET) is the subject of several essays which I reviewed this week. Among these I found:

> Ferns ("Dreams of Freedom") usefully describes the development of the traditional utopia and, thus, provides a helpful context in which to better understand LeGuin's and Piercy's departures from that tradition.

> Booker ("Edge of a Genre") offers a nice analysis of how Piercy "draws the lines between utopia and dystopia quite clearly, and the resultant dialogue between the two is an important source of energy for the book" (p. 340).

> Moylan argues that WET neatly navigates the time paradox in a very tidy fashion that, frankly, I did not discern in my own reading.

Though I do not share Piercy's politics, this is not the space to debate them. Yet I readily tip my hat to the author's literary accomplishment in innovating the utopian genre. So with these observations as a setup, this week I will explore two questions:

1. How well does WET navigate what Jameson calls "The Barrier of Time" and how does her solution compare with other sf universes?

2. Our in-class discussion last week about "conservative utopias" prompted me to take a page from Gearhart ("Feminist Utopias in Review") and see if, in a similar way, I could devise a template for defining conservative utopian fiction. Or is "conservative utopia" an oxymoron since "conserving" and "change" are opposites?


Time travel stories have always held a special fascination and enjoyment for me. So I've read and viewed numerous sf treatments of this subgenre.

In his chapter on Piercy, Moylan confidently tells us that the future residents of Mattapoisett deliberately intervened in 1976 to set in motion a chain of events that would lead to revolution and ultimate victory.

But my reading did not see the time paradox as being tied up so neatly. It appeared to me that Luciente and her cohorts never articulate their time travel project so explicitly as Moylan makes out, nor identify Connie as "the" key to their future.

Consider: When Luciente encourages Connie to attempt a second escape, Luciente accepts Connie's admonishment that Luciente doesn't know the odds and is indulging in heroic fantasy. Further, though Luciente encourages Connie in general to resist, Luciente makes no specific attempt to arrange the poisoning incident.

Instead I was constantly bothered throughout WET that, besides one or two weak protestations, Luciente and her cohorts meddled in the past with little apparent concern (as they say in sf) "polluting the timeline."

This brings me to the different ways I have seen time treated in sf works:

> In Wells' The Time Machine (1895), the Time Traveler describes to his friends how objects must have four dimensions to exist: length, width, height, and duration. Why, then, can we not travel along the fourth dimension as we do the other three? (Wells later admitted that sf, to be convincing, must have some suitable patter at such moments.)

> In Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (1952), reputed to be the most re-published short story in sf, a time traveler to the Age of Dinosaurs innocently steps on a butterfly and thereby alters the future.

Another such treatment is the classic Star Trek: TOS episode "City on the Edge of Tomorrow" in which McCoy accidently travels to 1930s America and innocently saves the life of a woman who, in the new future, becomes a pacifist leader and delays US entry into WW2, thereby leading to a Nazi victory and an alternate future without space travel.

In film, this "arrow" metaphor of time is seen in The Terminator and in Star Trek: Nemesis, where beasties of the future travel back in time to attack humanity before it has the capacity to resist.

> In Asimov's The End of Eternity (1955), the inventors of time travel establish a society that secretly intervenes to eliminate catastrophe from human history. They compute and then travel to key historical moments of maximum potential change to ensure that history takes the right turn. But their work is ongoing since their interventions are like casting a stone in a pond. The ripples in time occur for a few centuries until the effects gradually decrease and dissipate.

It seemed to me that Luciente and Mattapoisett must have taken this view of time. Rather than see time as an arrow whose deflection changes everything, they see time as an inert mass which can only be stirred in its broad outlines. Thus they could encourage Connie (and others?) to resist as individuals and contribute in small ways to a revolutionary climate, knowing the broad sweep of the future (and their own existences) would be intact in its basic essence.

> In The Time Tunnel (1966), one of my all-time favorite 1960s sf TV classics, the scientists of America's time travel project are positivists to the core. They take dominion over time, as they do over nature, with no compunction. In episodes where two of the scientists are trapped in an untenable situation (e.g., the Alamo) their cohorts of 1968 heroically intervene (yes, in one case even sending modern weapons!) to save the lives of their two colleagues.

> In a late 1980s or early 1990s episode of Star Trek: TNG the crew accidentally creates a "distortion in the time-space continuum" and brings hundreds of thousands of Enterprises into their own space. Time is seen as a series of infinite branchings and these starships, all from different branches, have been unintentionally thrown into the same branch.

> In the movie Somewhere in Time (1980) the hero lives in 1979 but is inexorably drawn to a woman who lived in 1912. So he rents a Victorian hotel room, dresses in period costume, obtains a pocketful of coins from 1912, removes everything in the room dated later than 1912, and merely "thinks" himself into 1912. Mind over matter! My wife and I saw this movie on Valentines Day (it's a perfect date movie) but both agreed that the patter of Wells' 1895 Time Traveler was much more convincing.

Okay, I've indulged in some tripping down memory lane. But this raises two questions:

1. Which of the conceptions of time, as described above, does Piercy adopt in WET?

2. Does it overcome Jameson's "Barrier of Time" and work as a concept for imagining a utopia? If so, why? If not, why not?


Gearhart proposes that a feminist utopian fiction is one that . . .

> Contrasts the present with an envisioned idealized society (separated from the present by time and space)

> Offers a comprehensive critique of present values/conditions

> Sees men or male institutions as a major cause of present social ills

> Presents women not only as at least the equals of men but also as the sole arbiters of their reproductive functions

Now let me propose that a conservative utopian/dystopian fiction is one that . . .

> Contrasts the present with an envisioned idealized society (separated from the present by time and space)

> Offers a comprehensive critique of present values/conditions

> Sees large (Big Labor, Big Business), centralized (Big Government, USSR), elitist (Big Media, Liberal Establishment), or secularized institutions as a major cause of present social ills

> Presents traditional values as under attack

From this definition, let me sketch out a list of utopias/dystopias written or appropriated by conservatives . . .

> Charles Williams wrote seven novels during 1930-37 which, though out of print in his native Britain, are sold in the US by an evangelical publishing house and retain a following in those circles. The books depict worlds in which time and space are transcended. Williams was among the circle of Christian writers that included Tolkien and Lewis.

> Nineteen Eighty-Four and its dystopian vision of Big Brother was, as I can testify, a symbol of Big Government that captured the imaginations of conservatives in the 1970s. Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) was also a favorite fable of anticommunist conservatives.

> Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945) by C. S. Lewis depict, respectively, the utopia of a Venus whose Adam and Eve are saved from the Fall, and the earthbound dystopia of science hijacked by satanic influence.

> The Last Battle (1956), also by Lewis, offers a utopian vision of the afterlife in which heaven is depicted as a mountain, but the mountain gets bigger the higher you go, and each successive level is more "real" than the previous level.

> Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand, with its dystopia of cloying welfare-state economics control and the utopia of a secretly established laissez-faire community, is still required reading for young libertarian conservatives (and still dismissed by social conservatives for its laissez-faire sex and implicit atheism).

> The Third World War (1982) by Sir John Hackett was a popular book among conservatives, portraying a fictional war between NATO and the Warsaw that breaks out in 1985 when the latter invades Western Europe. Things go bad for NATO at first but resistance stiffens, the Soviets nuke Birmingham, England, and NATO retaliates by nuking Minsk and the USSR collapses. Yet the author also provides an alternate ending in which the Soviets win.

> Red Dawn (1984) is the ultimate anticommunist dystopia. In this John Milius film starring a young Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, the Cubans parachute into Colorado as an advance force for a Soviet land invasion. The first thing the Cubans do, of course, is confiscate everyone's guns. Adult males of military age are put in reeducation camps. But a group of high school students launches a guerilla war that holds up the invasion long enough for the US to prevail.

> This Present Darkness (1986) by Frank Peretti was a landmark in the evangelical publishing world. The novel depicts, in ways perhaps analogous to Piercy's juxtaposition of two worlds by means of telepathy, how evangelicals are contacted by angels to thwart a plot by demons using a New Age Consciousness Society as a front to take over a small college and extend their influence over the Pacific Northwest. (The book, though a religious bestseller, is criticized for its theology even by evangelical scholars.)

> The Left Behind series, launched in 1995 by authors LaHaye and Jenkins, are set during the biblical time of the Great Tribulation when the world is ruled by the Antichrist. An exposition of the eschatology would be too thick for this space. But for evangelicals the Tribulation is the ultimate dystopia.

Does my template, a la Gearhart, work for defining conservative utopian fiction?

Or do we stick with the suggestion, raised last week in class, that modern utopias are all from the Left. Why? Because only the Left wants change while conservatives, by definition, want to conserve?

Which is it?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Week 6: LeGuin, Jameson


An obvious difference between Brunner's TSLU and LeGuin's TD is narrative technique. Not surprisingly, given my earlier comments, as a critic I appreciate what Brunner was trying to do but as a reader prefer LeGuin. TD allowed me to enlist in the fictive world and figure out, a la Moylan, its "absent paradigm" by stages.

Then, too, I said before how much I enjoy LeGuin's writing and that her Earthsea cycle is a personal favorite. What a tribute to LeGuin that she could equally capture my imagination as well in the sf genre as in her fantasy.

But I want to write here about another difference between TSLU and TD that Jameson (p. 271) cites. While Brunner takes an idea and projects its ultimate extrapolation, LeGuin takes an idea and reduces it to essentials. Thus world projection versus world reduction.

Which works best? Or does world projection work with dystopias and world reduction with utopias (even "ambiguous" ones)?

> Think of dystopias: Wells projected class conflict into the far-future dystopia of the Eloi and Morlocks. Huxley projected eugenics and consumerism into the dystopia of Brave New World. Orwell projected totalitarianism and Stalinism into the dystopia of Oceania. Many classic sf films of the 1950s and 60s project the Cold War into the dystopia of post-nuclear devastation.

> Now think of utopias: Does Gilman's Herland use the device of world reduction? Does More's original Utopia? Does Bacon's New Atlantis (which I described in my report)? Does Fourier? I'm inclined to think so.

Any other thoughts out there?


Jameson (chap. I.10) offers an interesting discussion of "Utopia and its Antinomies." And this got me thinking along some different lines:

1. If utopias and dystopias are (by definition) ultimate cases, do they inherently establish a duality between "what could be" and "what is"? In other words, must the utopian author think in binaries?

Or can we take Giddens' strategy on dualisms and turn them into dualities? Usually we think that social rules constrain individual behavior. But Giddens theorized that individual action and social structuration are not binary opposites. Instead they are a duality.

That is, social structuration is both the medium and the outcome of individual action. Yes, social structuration guides the rules of individual action. But it is also through individual action that social structuration is produced and reproduced. One cannot exist with the other.

Similarly, could we say that "what is" and "what could be" are a coexistent duality? "What is" is equivalent to structuration and "what could be" is equivalent to individual action. Thus, although present reality establishes the rules, present reality is simultaneously the medium by which future alternatives are viewed and an outcome of the alternatives chosen.

2. Jameson (pp. 147-148) flatly states, "Crime, war, degraded mass culture, drugs, violence, boredom, the list for power, the lust for distraction, the lust for nirvana, sexism, racism—all can be diagnosed as so many results of a society unable to accommodate the productiveness of all its citizens."

Thus the issue of labor is, in the final analysis, said to be the basic crux of Utopia. Achieve full employment and—voila!—you've got Utopia.

Yet I must strenuously disagree here. And my point goes to heart of my argument about cultural variation. Just as all cultures are not equally oriented to the future, not all cultures believe that people are basically good.

Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, in an important 1960 text, note that all cultures must answer the question: What is human nature? Some cultures believe people are basically evil, some basically good, and some a mixture of good and bad.

Samovar and Porter (2004) argue that American culture, founded in Puritanism, historically sees people as basically evil but in recent generations has mixed that outlook with a consensus that people are also perfectable.

The American evangelical and fundamentalist culture I have studied through ethnography very definitely endorses the doctrine of original sin. To them (and most conservative-leaning Americans) the notion that evil will disappear if everyone had a good job is ludicrous.

So I cannot agree with Jameson that labor must be the foundational issue of Utopia. Instead, his assertion is based on the premise that people are basically good—and that premise is ultimately a cultural belief, not an incontrovertible fact.

3. Thoughts regarding human nature also brought to my mind the different world religions, which are "deep-structure" institutions for transmitting cultural values.

We might categorize world religions thus:

> Religions that believe in an eternal afterlife following the end of time

> Religions that believe life is continually reincarnated in an eternal wheel of time

> Religions that believe individual existence is ultimately annihilated and thus finds release

Here's food for thought: The idea that history has a conclusion is, as Jameson has noted, a legacy of Christianity to the West. Does Utopia have the same allure for non-Western cultures whose historic faiths see time as a wheel? Or who see their nirvana, their release, in nothingness?


Though I read the journal articles on LeGuin, most engaged in too much plot summary. But of the half dozen pieces I read, I found the Watson piece most interesting. The chart on page 68 that ties together LeGuin's Hainish cycle is quite helpful.

And since the Earthsea cycle is such a favorite of mine, I was interested in Watson's discussion (p. 69) on how Earthsea fits into LeGuin's overall corpus:

First, does not the Earthsea trilogy represent a . . . conscious separating of fantasy from SF? There is much in Earthsea about dreams, the minor magical powers of illusion, on the one hand, and the major magical powers of altering reality objectively through "renaming" of the world on the other.

But then Watson points out how Earthsea has

much emphasis on the vital importance of equilibrium . . . and equilibrium is a social/ecological concept to be taken up again in quite a different vein in The Dispossessed, carefully distinguished from static conservatism by its dynamic concept of a constant, complex remaking of the world, without overloading any variables.

So here, in the examples of LeGuin's Earthsea cycle and The Dispossessed, we saw Jameson's "Great Schism" between fantasy and sf in action.

Fantasy, says Jameson, is "organized . . . around the binary of good and evil, and the fundamental role it assigns to magic" (p. 58) and is "generically wedded to nature and to the organism" (p. 64). This we see in LeGuin's Earthsea cycle.

SF, on the other hand, has a bent toward historicism (the notion that history proceeds according to natural laws). The sf hero "stands as a symptom of that historical era and as the expression of a sense of impending well-nigh Utopian change" (p. 59). This we see in The Dispossessed.

Yet there is also in LeGuin the unity noted by Watson. Thus Jameson aptly writes,

[In LeGuin] there visibly reappears that mysterious bridge that leads from the historical disintegration of fantasy to the reinvention of the Novum, from a fallen world in which the magical powers of fantasy have become unrepresentable to a new space in which Utopia can itself be fantasized (p. 71).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Week 5: Brunner, DeCerteau

So many diverse readings this week! With so many authors and ideas floating, all I can do this week is to organize the thoughts that struck me most:

1. Does Brunner's "jumpcut" narrative technique produce an effect that works best with "didactic dystopias"?

2. Brunner's technique collapses the readers' experience of time, which ties in nicely with (a) Jameson's discussion of time and (b) my first short paper.

3. DeCerteau makes an interesting analogy by likening walking as a spatial act to talking as a speech act. Does the analogy hold up when we look deeper into the theory of speech acts and codes?

4. Could Garrard's discussion of apocalyptic rhetoric be a helpful perspective for my ethnography of American fundamentalism?


For myself, I did not care for Brunner's "jumpcut" technique. During Week 1 we noted Moylan's observation that science fiction and fantasy often work by enlisting readers in a fictive culture and allowing them by stages to figure out the absent paradigm. The rapid jumpcuts and non-linearity in The Sheep Look Up hindered my enlistment in its fictive world and characters.

Yet I could also recognize the effect that Brunner's technique was producing in me. It was a kind of "shock and awe" that, at least for me, will cause me to remember the vividness of the dystopia rather than the vividness of the characters or story.

By contrast, the dystopia Nineteen Eighty-Four has stuck with me because I vividly recall the characters (Winston, Julia, O'Brien, Parsons, Charrington), situations (Two Minutes Hate, telescreens, memory holes, Golden Country, Room 101, Chestnut Tree Café, etc), and plot elements (the love affair, Miniluv, etc).

Will I remember the dystopic environmental hell of TSLU as vividly as I remember the people, situations, and story of 1984? Or will Brunner's jumpcut technique end up being like one of those movies that are great on special effects but thin on characterizations and story? You recall some of the images, but in time they fade. But great stories become a part of you.

Anyway, I could see what Brunner was trying to do. And I asked myself: Does his jumpcut technique work best with dystopias (and rather didactic ones, at that)?

Murphy's essay on "John Brunner's Narrative Blending" has a nice discussion of the "polyphonic jumpcut" technique found in TSLU. See especially pages 27-29. He notes how jumpcutting "more nearly reflects reality than traditional narratives," transcends the limits of a single-narrator viewpoint, conveys "the simultaneity of events" and, by "distributing the commentating-observer role among many different characters," undercuts the comforting notion that any heroic figure has "the" authoritative solution.

Somehow, though, I have trouble imagining the technique working with Herland, a classic didactic utopia that follows a linear narrative. The jagged, violent, defamiliarizing technique of Brunner may work for his dystopia. But a utopia such as Herland would seem to require the comfort of a conventional linear storyline in order to persuade readers of its desirability.


Murphy's observation, that the polyphonic jumpcut technique of Brunner conveys "the simultaneity of events," is an apt introduction to a discussion of how readers experience time. TSLU definitely has the effect of collapsing time, while conventional linear narratives can have (in the best stories) the effect of making time seem to slow down.

Jameson's discussion of time (Chapter 1.7) is, like most of his explorations, wide-ranging. Asimov is a favorite of mine, so that I could relate to Nightfall as an illustration of Jameson's points. And I found the typology of SF "eras," found on page 93, to be useful.

But rather than ruminate on Jameson, let me offer some excerpts from my first short paper that bear on the discussion of time. Perhaps these excerpts may help spark some class discussion when we meet next week.

In my paper I look at Ernst Bloch's suggestion that a "Utopian impulse" is rooted in human nature, and then contrast that with ethnographic and linguistic research which suggests that not all cultures are equally oriented (like the United States) to tomorrow. Here are some excerpts:

> If Ernst Bloch correct . . . then any lack of a utopian literature [in non-Western cultures] would owe to economic and political repression . . . Given the same resources as the West, other cultures would produce as rich and varied utopian works of their own. But there is another possible explanation: Utopian works may not speak to all cultures. This proposition would deny Bloch's thesis of a universal Utopian impulse and regard a relative abundance or lack of utopian literature across different societies as culturally situated.

> Bloch (1885-1977) saw past, present, and future in dialectical tension so that the latencies and tendencies of the past inform the present and can influence the future. "Bloch's understanding of time as possibility reconfigures the word itself," notes McManus (2003). "Knowledge of the world can no longer be fallaciously conceived via . . . the 'given,' and becomes, instead, a creative epistemology of the possible . . . [that] is both utopian and deconstructive" (p. 2).

> Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck proposed that all cultures must answer the basic question: What is the orientation toward time? . . . "Past-oriented cultures believe strongly . . . that the past should be the guide for making decisions and determining truth," while "present-oriented cultures hold that the moment has the most significance" and "future-oriented cultures . . . emphasize the future and expect it to be grander than the present."

> Then finally, there is Whorf's (1940) question, "Are our own concepts of 'time,' 'space,' and 'matter' given in substantially the same form by experience to all men, or are they in part conditioned by the structure of particular languages?" (p. 138). In their seminal Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) noted how English-speakers, at least, cognize time by metaphorizing it as a commodity (e.g., time is money) or an object in motion (e.g., time flies). . . . [Yet] English speakers might talk of the future lying ahead, Mandarin speakers below, and Aymara speakers behind.

> Casasanto (2008) concludes: "In summary, people who talk differently about time also think about it differently, in ways that correspond to the preferred metaphors in their native languages. Language not only reflects the structure of our temporal representations, but it can also shape those representations. Beyond influencing how people think when they are required to speak or understand language, language can also shape our basic, nonlinguistic perceptuomotor representations of time. It may be universal that people conceptualize time according to spatial metaphors, but because these metaphors vary across languages, members of different language communities develop distinctive conceptual repertoires (p. 75)."


DeCerteau (pp. 97-102) makes the interesting assertion that, in the same way that talking constitutes a speech act, walking constitutes what I'll call a "spatial act." That's because:

> The walker appropriates topography just as the talker appropriates language

> The walker spatially enacts topography just as the talker acoustically enacts language

> The walker relates to the topography just as the talker relates to his/her interlocutor(s)

Thus the walker (or cyclist? or driver?) engages via spatial acts in a relationship with topography/place just as the talker engages via speech acts in a relationship with other discursants. This is a neat comparison. But like most analogies, is it imperfect and breaks down when carried too far?

Speech act theory treats speech as action, so that speech act theorists focus on how language functions (does an utterance give a command? negotiate rights and obligations? provide explanations and justifications?) rather than the cultural codes or linguistic structures of the speech. Analysts look at speech to discern its embedded motives and try to explain how the effectiveness of a speech act is determined by the rules and conditions for speaking in a given situation.

To carry on the analogy, a theory of "spatial acts" would treat walking as an action, look at what functions a given act of walking performs, analyze the underlying motives of the walker which are embedded in his/her spatial act, and discern how a given walk is (or is not) successful under the prevailing rules and conditions that govern the propriety and effectiveness of the spatial act in question.

Does DeCerteau's analogy hold this far? What do you think?

On the other hand, if we compared "spatial codes" (as Lefebvre suggested) to "speech codes," then we would ask how an act of walking (or interaction with a space) embodies taken-for-granted cultural assumptions about (a) the respective natures of people and space, (b) how people and space should be linked, and (c) the role of spatial action.


Garrard's discussion of tragic versus comic apocalypse was new to me and seemed a typology I could usefully apply to my ethnography of American fundamentalist culture.

Not surprisingly, Garrard's description of Fundamentalist/Evangelical eschatology lacks nuance. There is, in fact, an enormous division in the ranks between premillenialism (that the world won't be set right until Christ returns) and postmillenialism (that believers, by setting the world right, will prepare the way for Christ to return).

This division helps explain the different rhetorics of, say, the Left Behind book series (which promote a premillenial eschatology) and Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition (which promote a postmillenial eschatology).

Left Behind urges believers to live godly and convert the lost while time remains before God decides at any moment to inaugurate the millenium. Robertson urges believers to perfect the world and thus proactively help to usher in the millenium.

My ethnography pays the most attention to the speech codes and rhetoric of Fundamentalist culture, specificaly of the premillenial persuasion. Garrard's typology might be useful is seeing how the underlying communal assumptions of the two competing eschatologies--premillenial and postmillenial--are embedded in the speech codes and rhetoric of each faction.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Week 4: Dick, Jameson (Again)

So much commentary has been devoted to the work of PK Dick (even Jameson's AOTF accords three entire chapters) that I hesitate to venture any global comments in such a confined space. After all, what could I add—even to Jameson and this week's supplemental readings, much less the still-growing literature on Dick?

So I will restrict myself this week to three areas:

1. Regarding Dr Bloodmoney, I will focus on a single exchange between Jameson and Holliday on the role of nuclear holocaust in the Dick canon.

2. Next I will wrestle a bit with Greimas's semiotic square and ponder why Jameson is so enamored of this construct.

3. Finally I will share some emerging thoughts from my research for our first brief paper, in which I've chosen to take a closer look at Ernst Bloch.


In her essay on "Masculinity in the Novels of Philip K. Dick," Holliday (2006) engages in a long excursus on "how atomic explosion figures into the drama of masculine crisis" and subsequently "challenges Jameson's enunciation of the problematic [explosion] in Dr Bloodmoney" (p. 286).

Jameson (2005) posits that "what is unique about the atomic blast as a literary event" in the work of Dick is the cataclysm's ability to, in the minds of readers, "prevent the reestablishment of the reality principle and the reconstitution of experience into the twin airtight domains of the objective and subjective" (p. 351). Unlike devices that Dick uses in other novels—drugged hallucinations, schizophrenia, fourth dimensions—to defamiliarize readers, nuclear holocaust is a "collective event about whose reality the reader cannot but decide" (p. 286).

Holliday has a point in arguing, contrariwise, that "Dick finally does not express atomic detonation as totalizing in this novel" (p. 286). In time, as the last line of Dr Bloodmoney states, "the city was awakening, back once more into its regular life." Dick himself, in an afterword the author wrote in 1980, states:

So in writing Dr Bloodmoney in 1964 I may have erred in many of my predictions, but upon rereading the novel recently I senses a basic accuracy in it—an accuracy about human beings and their power to survive. Not survive as beasts, either, but as genuine humans doing genuinely human things. There are no supermen in this novel. There are no heroic deeds. There are some very poor predictions on my part, I must admit; but about the people themselves and their strength and tenacity and vitality . . . there I think I foresaw accurately. Because, of course, I was not predicting; I was only describing what I saw around me: the men and women and children and animals, the life of this planet that has been, is, and will be, no matter what happens. I am proud of the people in this novel.

Yet I also believe Holliday (2006) is engaging in a conceit when she insists "there is no sense in which we can really understand those events [of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] as totalizing. It is the ideology of the Cold War that imposes the notion of totalization, and for that reason we should be especially suspicious of it" (p. 286). She relativizes nuclear holocaust by suggesting it is a "speculation [that] is not substantively different from other possibilities of total destruction, such as ozone depletion and global warming" (p. 287).

Thus Holliday (2006) asserts, "The atomic detonation in Dr Bloodmoney I would argue functions as an important site for an exploration of the masculine subject in crisis" (p. 287). The reason Jameson misconstrues the detonation as a totalizing event, she declares, is "because in 1975 [when Jameson was writing] nuclear detonation was situated ideologically as the ultimate collectively understood utterance, [so that] for Jameson it is then the final assertion of the symbolic (p. 287).

To my mind, her assertion indulges in the conceit of retroactively rereading contemporary sensibilities into historical actions. According to Holliday's bio on the Internet she earned her BA in 1990, which suggests she came of age in the 1980s as the Cold War was winding down. But only someone who lived through the Cold War, as I did from the late 1950s onward, can understand its totalizing grip on the popular imagination of that era.

(As an aside, we can be glad for that totalizing grip. It was only because US and Soviet leaders took seriously the threat of MAD, mutual assured destruction, that the world was saved from the nuclear World War III depicted in Dr Bloodmoney.)

So I would argue, contra Holliday, that Dick (writing in 1964) was more likely than not to have perceived nuclear holocaust as a totalizing event. That he would have seen atomic bombing through the lens of his times is further suggested by the fact that Jameson, writing (in 1975) near the same historical moment, also saw it that way.

(Of course, it's relevant to ask: Why was Dick so hopeful in his 1980 afterword? At that time, more than 15 years after writing Dr Bloodmoney, Dick was at the height of what Jameson [2005, p. 363] called his "religious" phase. The Dick of 1964 was writing just two years after the Cuban missile crisis; the Dick of 1980 was writing in an era of strategic arms limitation talks.)

Yet I am willing to concede that Holliday's proposal may be a reading that allows Dr Bloodmoney to continue speaking to the issues of our own day.


When I read Jameson's musings on the Semiotic Square developed by Greimas, three thoughts immediately came to mind:

> This seems like a riff on Peirce's famous Semiotic Triangle.

> If so, I'll bet Greimas devised his Semiotic Square for purposes of linguistic analysis rather than literary criticism.

> And if that's the case, and Jameson is "appropriating" the Semiotic Square for literary (and Marxian) criticism, is he being true to Greimas or simply latching onto a highfalutin heuristic he can adapt his own way?

You can make up your own mind by checking out a nice online article that describes the original Semiotic Square as devised by Greimas:

Personally, after reading this online article, I get the feeling that the Semiotic Square is really designed for linguistic analyses of words and concepts—rather than characters, motifs, or plot elements in a literary text.

So in my view, Jameson is extending the Square beyond Greimas' original conception. Of course, building on and extending the work of others is fine and can result in new insights. But it remains to be discussed (perhaps we could do so in class) whether Jameson's extension is a legitimate one.

Now, if I understand the Square properly then, if I insert myself as the Subject, I could construct my identity through oppositional analysis:

1. Mark
2. antiMark
3. Not-Mark
4. Not-antiMark

Or if I wanted to do a linguistic analysis on a concept important to my dissertation, namely how Nazi Germans identified themselves, the Semiotic Square might suggest:

1. German ("culture-creating"; i.e., Aryan)
2. antiGerman ("culture-destroying"; e.g., Jewish, Bolshevist)
3. Not-German ("culture-using"; i.e., inferior races)
4. Not-antiGerman (antisemitic, anticommunist)

Or in line with my ethnography of American fundamentalist religion, which I blogged about last week, the Square might suggest:

1. Believer ("Christian")
2. antiBeliever ("liberal," "atheist")
3. Not-Believer ("unbeliever," "seeker")
4. Not-antiBeliever ("conservative," "decent")

But some things bother me about the Semiotic Square . . .

> Doesn't it establish binaries as the means for constructing identity?

> Isn't that a distinctly modernist mode of thinking?

> But then again (as suggested by my report last week on positivism and historicism), isn't Jameson's Marxism is a distinctly modernist philosophy?


For my first brief paper I'm doing some reading on Ernst Bloch, whose works on utopia figure in the early chapters of Jameson.

I'll have much more to say after the paper is done. But in brief, Bloch (a Marxist) suggests utopias are products of cultural "surpluses" or the dreams and aspirations not satisfied by the current order. You can read a nice online article on Bloch's magnum opus, The Principle of Hope, at:


Here is a link to the report on Positivism that I presented last week:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Week 3: Lefebvre, Forster, Huxley

This week my blog will tackle three areas:

1. An extended musing about Lefebvre as his work relates to a current project of my own.

2. Thoughts about the two sf works assigned for this week.

3. Some responses to the questions Elisa posed in her 1/23 email.


This will take some explanatory background, so be patient with me.

Ethnography of Communication (EOC)

For four years (2003-07) I did ethnographic fieldwork by traveling about 30 weekends a year to fundamentalist churches. As a member of a semiprofessional gospel quartet I visited some 200 churches in 17 states and was a participant-observer in more than 250 worship services.

Initially I intended to use my fieldwork to write an ethnography of communication (EOC) for fundamentalist culture. EOC is an approach that's been around since the 1960s, when it was proposed by Hymes (1962, 1964) as a way to bridge anthropology and linguistics.

A common EOC method, pioneered by Philipsen (1992, 1997, 2005) and well known in communication studies, is to discern a culture's distinctive speech codes as manifestations of its taken-for-granted assumptions regarding (a) the nature of persons, (b) how they should be linked in social relations, and (c) the role of symbolic action.

I was easily able to write an EOC for fundamentalist culture. My paper was presented at a conference in November and is now in the revise-and-resubmit stage with the Journal of Communication and Religion.

But I could see that the EOC approach could only tell half the story, because EOC was mostly equipped for analyzing the speech codes that members of fundamentalist culture used in their natural and unplanned discourse.

However, it was clear to me that preaching by professional clergy had a huge impact on the social organization of fundamentalist culture. It was not so much what they actually said, but rather the modes of argumentation and identification that they publicly validated.

Ethnography of Rhetoric (EOR)

Thus I was drawn to a recent proposal by Lindquist for a new approach she called ethnography of rhetoric (EOR). She proposed EOR for analyzing working-class culture, which is a culture defined not by geographic space but by ideology and practice--or by mental and social space, if you will.

Immediately it occurred to me that a minority religion such as American fundamentalism is likewise an ideological rather and geographic community. Thus in a recent paper I attempt to flesh out and operationalize Lindquist's proposal for an EOR method.

EOR allows the ethnographer to move beyond analyses of speech communities, an analytical construct developed more than 50 years ago by Hymes. Instead the ethnographer of rhetoric can analyze communities of practice, an analytical construct first describe by Lave and Wenger (1991).

Communities of practice are not necessarily held together not by geographic proximity, but rather by (a) mutual engagement, (b) joint enterprise, and (c) social resources its members develop to express identification.

Lindquist suggests that "planned" discourse (that is, public rhetoric) fills in the mesostructure "between practice and structuration" in a community of practice. Think of a three-tiered pyramid. At the bottom is the microstructure of individual speech and practice; at the top, or the macro level, is the structuration that (a la Giddens) the community has worked out.

The middle level is filled by public rhetoric which, Lindquist suggests, must be analyzed from a phenomenological perspective--that is, subjectively according to the way that community members experience the rhetoric.

By seeing my religious fundamentalists as a community of practice, I could use the EOR method to analyze how preaching rhetoric (according to whether it follows a narrative or a rational-world paradigm) impacts how members construct their identities, what logics and modes of reasoning are normalized, and whether leaders rule by expert or charismatic authority--and thus helps establish the power distances that govern social organization.

Earlier this month I wrote up my fieldwork findings on fundamentalist preaching and my case for the EOR method in a paper submitted to the journal Intercultural Communication Studies.

Ethnography of Structuration (EOS)

As I saw how rhetoric performs an integrative function in communities of practice, I began to ask myself how cultures bound ideology and practice--that is, by mental and social space--differ from cultures bound by geographic space.

This is a question asked in conversations about globalization theory and, of course, now takes us closer to our readings in Lefebvre.

Starting with the differences in physical spatiality, I conjectured that geographically defined cultures may be characterized by (a) people who inhabit a physical space, (b) who do so over multiple generations, and (c) who over time develop "deep" institutions (e.g., governments, economies, state religions, family structures) that become virtually autonomous transmitters of cultural values.

But communities of practice, which aren't defined by physical spatiality, lack these "deep" institutions. These communities are more fluid, less inert. Thus public rhetoric can (at least in the fundamentalist culture I observed) perform the integrative function--be the transmission belt, if you will, between individual practice and communal structuration.

So I have found myself asking if: (a) EOC is a good method for analyzing the micro level of individual practice, (b) EOR is a good method for analyzing the meso level of public discourse, and (c) a putative "ethnography of structuration" (EOS) might be developed as a method to analyze a community's macrostructure.

Lefebvre, Finally!

And this brings me to Lefebvre. In light of my own project, Lefebvre piqued my interest with his suggestions that:

> "Yet did there not at one time . . . exist a code . . . which allowed space not only to be 'read' but also to be constructed? If indeed, there was such a code, how did it come into being? And when and how did it disappear?" (p. 7).

> "The theory we need . . . [is] a 'unitary theory': the aim is to discover or construct a theoretical unity between 'fields' which are . . . first, the
physical--nature, the Cosmos; secondly, the mental, including logical and formal abstractions; and thirdly, the social" (p. 11).

> "To what extent may a space be read or decoded? . . . [T]he fact remains, however, that an already produced space can be decoded, can be
read. Such a space implies a process of signification. And even if there is no general code of space, inherent to language or to all languages, there may have existed specific codes, established at specific historical periods and varying in their effects. If so, interested 'subjects,' as members of a particular society, would have acceded by this means at once to their space and . . . acting within that space and comprehending it" (p. 11).

> "If indeed spatial codes have existed, each characterizing a particular spatial/social practice, and if these codifications have been produced along with the space corresponding to them, then the job of theory is to elucidate their rise, their role, and their demise" (p. 11).

Could Lefebvre offer some insights for my ethnography of structuration (EOS) project? Could his "triple dialectic" between the physical, mental, and social fields of space provide a basis for discerning "spatial codes," even as Philipsen's theory allows ethnographers to discern speech codes?

(It strikes me, by the way, the Garrard's analysis of the pastoral and the wild offers an example of how cultures might trialectically construct spatial codes to express underlying cultural assumptions about the physical, mental, and social meanings of their spaces.)

Any thoughts, either as replies to my blog or through discussion in class, are welcome!

Another Thought from Lefebvre

Lefebvre begins on page 31 an interesting observation that every society produces a space unique to that society. He starts with the example of the classical Greek city and later, on pages 53 and following, asks whether state socialism (in particular, the Soviet variety) had produced any unique spaces.

Most of you know my interest in the Holocaust. So Lefebvre's discussion brought to my mind: What unique space did German National Socialism construct?

Numerous historians have remarked that Nazism was mostly a pastiche of ideas with long provenance in German society. But the Nazis did construct one institution that was completely unique to their regime and conveyed, in microcosm, their values.

That institution was the camp. We're accustomed to thinking of the concentration camps and death camps, of course. And so far historians have found evidence for more than 10,000 camps in the machinery of oppression--including transit camps, labor camps, and reeducation camps.

But the Nazis also built "positive" camps, a system of thousands of local Gemeinschaftlager or community camps where ordinary people would go for camping experiences under National Socialist principles. These ranged from Hitler Youth camps and Reich Labor Service camps (the equivalent of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the US of the 1930s), and camps for art or education or recreation.

It might be interesting in class to discuss how Nazi society is reflected in its camps, using Lefebvre's scheme that: social space is socially produced and reflects (1) the social relations of reproduction and (2) the relations of production.

Nazi culture had very definite ideas about biological and social hierarchies which, in my view and that of numerous historians, are enacted through the spaces of the "positive" camps for Aryans and the "negative" camps for political and racial enemies.


Over the years I've read Brave New World about 3-4 times and Nineteen Eighty-Four at least a half dozen times. I rather enjoyed the 1984 film version (with John Hurt and Richard Burton) of Orwell's classis, but didn't care for the 1998 television miniseries (with Leonard Nimoy as Mustapha Mond) based on Huxley's book. The Machine Stops, however, is new to me.

Brave New World

BNW has attracted so much comment (indeed, the phrase "brave new world" is now a commonplace to describe the potential effects of any new technology) that I can add little in this space. Varricchio looks at BNW through the lens of how mass media are portrayed, Firchow through the significance of names, and Buchanan through Freud, while Adorno has a number of axes to grind. All are, in their own ways, informative.

My only thought is that, in the commentaries we read, I wondered why nobody speculated on the possible significance that Huxley had lived throughout the 1920s in Italy. He would have seen the Fascist takeover by Mussolini in 1922 and experienced the "good" years of the regime, when Fascism was seen by many as full of vitality and the wave of the future.

Perhaps more importantly, Huxley would have lived among the currents of Italian Futurism, a movement which was at its apex in the 1920s and prospered under Fascism. Through art and architecture Futurists exalted the values of speed, youth, violence, technology, industrialism, the city, and the conquest of nature.

Nevertheless, BNW continues to speak to us because it is that rare work that can be re-read by succeeding generations according to the issues of their own day. Huxley was probably not vexed over bioengineeering in the way we are today. But we can pick out from BNW those metaphors which speak to us about the basic concerns common to our generation and his.

The Machine Stops

TMS is clearly not as well known as BWN. In this case I read the story first, before any commentary. My initial impression was that TMS shared a number of generic conventions which recur throughout science fiction:

> The creation turning on its creator

> The underground hive metaphor

> The decaying civilization that ceases to understand its machines

> Machines no longer serve people but, rather, people serve machines

> The decay of knowledge as people read old books instead of conduct new observations

> Social control through religious dogmas that thwart scientific inquiry

> The triumph of the human spirit over technologized stasis

Seen in this light, TMS seems in some respects to be a rather modernist, even positivist, fable.

Something which nagged at me, however, was Forster's failure to tell us what caused the fouling of the earth's atmosphere and drove humanity underground. If we could know the raison d'etre for the Machine, we might better gauge Forster's intent. But he chose not to let us know.


Some of my thoughts on the questions below are implied in my comments above. But for the sake of starting a discussion, here are some quick takes:

How do TMS and BNW extend the tradition/conventions inscribed in Herland?

TMS does not extend Herland since the former (which appeared in 1909) precedes the latter (which appeared in 1915). The two works, however, both reference the hive metaphor and both uphold the value original inquiry and knowledge.

After that, Forster and Gilman seem to diverge. Gilman posits a static utopia; Forster decries stasis. Gilman depicts social mores naturalized through religion; Forster sees religion used as a control mechanism. Gilman's Herlanders are contented by plenty; Forster's world is controlled by plenty. Gilman's heroes are collectivists; Forster's hero is an individualist.

To my thinking, BNW has more in common with TMS than with Herland.

How TMS and BNW represent a distinctly Modernist sensibility and set of concerns?

Both works offer dystopias brought about by the decay of individuality and initiative, as humanity submits to mechanized control in exchange for bread and circuses.

What would an ecocritical approach to either/both works look like?

TMS depicts a world where ecological disaster has driven humanity underground, where it is dependent on artificial means to support civilization. But eventually the law of entropy cannot be cheated. How much better if the ecological disaster had been averted! And how much better if humanity could live in cooperation with the natural world rather than attempt its domination. In the same way, BNW depicts a world where humanity has achieved dominion over both nature and nurture.

What are the central elements of Lefevbre’s thinking, and what happens when we deploy them in analyzing Forster and Huxley (and Gilman)?

As for the central elements of Lefebvre's thinking, see Part 1 above. He believed the production of space occurred as a trialetic between three fields: physical, mental, social. Each society produces its own unique spaces that reflect cultural values regarding the biological reproduction and labor production.

Thus we can try to "read" the codes by which these unique spaces are constructed. In turn, we can use Lefebvre's scheme to read Forster, Huxley, and Gilman in two ways:

> First, what is the "code" of the spaces depicted in the novel, and what does it say about the utopian/dystopian societies that produced them?

> Second, what do these spatial codes say about the authors who imagined the spaces?