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?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Week 2: Gilman and Herland

In this week's blog I'll be tackling five topics, two left over from last week and three related to this week's readings:

1. Is the "Utopian impulse" a universal law of human psychology, as Bloch argues?

2. Do utopias reflect "our own incapacity to conceive them," as Jameson contends?

3. In light of Topic 2 above, how do I read Herland?

4. What thoughts come to my mind in reading the various critiques of Herland?

5. How is Herland analyzable according to Elisa's framework of utopian/dystopian characteristics?

I. The Utopian Impulse

Jameson (2007) writes, "To see traces of the Utopian impulse everywhere, as Bloch [1961] did, is to naturalize it and to imply that it is someone how rooted in human nature" (p. 10). Here Jameson counters Bloch by noting that utopian projects "have been historically more intermittent" and suggesting we must distinguish between "daydreams" and "fantasy production."

In my view Jameson is on the right track here, in a way that is important for our studies this semester. Let me cite two reasons. First, are we to say that every idle daydream or conjecture is a "utopia"? If so, we would universalize the term "utopia" to the point of meaninglessness as an analytical construct.

Second, while I might concede to Bloch that imagination is a human trait, I would also bring in my own studies in intercultural communication. Researchers (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961) in that discipline have developed typologies by which to analyze cultures.

These researchers agree that cultures differ widely in their attitudes toward the future and the relationship of individuals toward it. Some cultures (e.g., United States) are highly future-oriented, while others (e.g., Mexico) put a higher value on living spontaneously and in the moment. Some cultures are oriented to long-term thinking and others to short-term thinking. Some cultures have a "doing" orientation toward activity (i.e., humans are actors) and others have a "being" orientation (i.e., humans are acted upon).

So I argue here against Bloch, believing insteasd that it's important for our studies this semester not to "see traces of the Utopian impulse everywhere" lest we lose the integrity of the construct.

II. Our Capacity to Conceive

Is novelty possible? Jameson opines that utopias reflect "our own incapacity to conceive [them] in the first place" (1975, p. 230; quoted in Fitting, 1998, p. 9) since authors can only build their imaginary worlds from extant cultural materials "of which we are all in one way or another prisoners" (1982, p. 153; quoted in Fitting, 1998, p. 10).

I see a good deal of truth in this. As I blogged last week, I believe we can tell much about a culture by what it regards as idyllic or hellish, or by the futures it imagines. And I am also compelled by the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which holds that different language patterns produce different though patterns. In other words, the thoughts we can think are somewhat constrained by the language we have to express those thoughts.

But the dystopian extreme of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is Orwell's 1984 and its portrayal of a despotism that seeks control over language so that it becomes impossible for residents to think unapproved thoughts. In Newspeak, for example, the concept bad is eliminated; residents of Oceania can only conceive of good and ungood.

I've long wrestled with this issue of cultural determinism and last year wrote a paper on it. I took issue with Goldhagen (1996) who argued that the Holocaust happened because Germans could not ideationally escape the antisemitism of their national culture. I countered that ordinary Germans, when confronted with the wholly novel knowledge of state-sponsored genocide, were compelled to rhetorically invent a novel belief in its legitimacy in order to keep their cognitive world in homeostasis.

Anyway, this is a good question for our class: Are literary utopias simply reflections of the authors' culturally constrained ideational tools? Or can utopias be wholly novel, creations that can't be inferred from previous ideas?

III. My Reading of Herland

Surely everyone noted the feminist and socialist aspects of Herland since, after all, it was Gilman's intent to make these arguments explicit.

What struck me most, however, were the taken-for-granted assumptions of her utopia. All is clean and tidy. The roads are straight and smooth. The land is a tended garden; even the wild forest was uprooted, each tree replaced, and pests eliminated. The technology is contemporary. Husbandry and economy are perfectly rationalized; no need even for a profit motive. Education is progressive. Population is controlled. The people are generous and wise; they are natural psychologists. Human relationships are satisfyingly platonic. The most sympathetic character, Van, is a humane sociologist and man of science.

This is a profoundly modern utopia. Despite the strenuous efforts of contemporary feminists to claim Gilman (a claim which is, in the main, justified), her underlying cultural assumptions and her very ontology are thoroughly Modern. Gilman's socialist utopia is just as Modern in its way as, say, the modernity of Wells in Things to Come (1936).

And yet, and yet . . . I wonder if Gilman herself really sees Herland as a utopia. Yes, she constructs Herland as a vehicle to illustrate the possibilities for women who can develop without preconceived biases. But toward the end of the novel Van and Ellador engage in discussion about sexual union.

To my reading, Gilman treats sympathetically Van's argument that sexual love can go beyond mechanistic procreation and be a motivator for good. Or at least, Van and Ellador leave open the possibility of establishing a sexual relationship in a way that implies: Van is not wrong in his desire; such a relationship will, in fact, occur someday; and, when it does, sexual love will deepen a bond which was built first on mutual respect rather than physical attraction.

I wonder if this is the real utopia that Gilman proposes; that is, a "bi-sexual" society in which women and men can develop their potentials with no preconceptions and where sexual love is the completion, rather than raison d'etre, for their relationships.

IV. Critiques of Herland

Now that I've been expatiating awhile, let me end with some quick comments about the various articles which critique and interpret Herland.

> Murphy ("Considering Her Ways") puts Herland in a group of four matriarchal utopias that, she argues, instantiate an ethic of the collective hive. Further, because insects are the most Other to humans in our taxonomic boundaries, the hive metaphor serves to defamiliarize readers.

In the case of Herland, however, I think this (otherwise insightful) reading may be a stretch. Murphy takes two stray remarks made by the character Jeff and builds a whole case on them. But I would not agree that the insect or hive metaphor is explicit, implied, or in any way important in Herland. You could just as well point, as a counterexample, to Ellador's rapturous description of the childhood incident that led to her life's vocation as she basked in the praise of helping exterminate a noxious moth.

> Jones ("Evolving Rhetoric") offers a helpful distinction between "traditional" utopias such as Gilman's that function didactically as apologues, and more recent feminist utopias that are "implicitly rhetorical" by using the interplay of literary elements to "dissolve the generic boundaries" and "produce new models of women's individual and social experience."

> Arnold ("Utopian Cognitive Mapping") is not convincing in her joining of Jameson's cognitive mapping concept and Turchi's writing-as-mapping metaphor. She merely uses these concepts as convenient devices to provide a garden-variety recap of Herland. The theorizing of utopian cognitive mapping is underdeveloped and, indeed, not really attempted to any degree. I've published a couple of articles on cognitive-cultural models and schema theory, and found the social science literature in that area to be more illuminating.

> Berkson ("So We All Became Mothers") offers some nice historical background about the generations of Stowe and Gilman, which helps me put Herland in its context. By contrast, several other readings this week attempted, with uneven results, to place Gilman within the lineage of contemporary feminist writing.

> Deegan and Podeschi ("Ecofeminist Pragmatism") were, to my mind, the least successful among the articles we read this week. There are rather severe "incongruencies" between their thesis and Gilman's writings, which to their credit they recognize in the penultimate section of the article.

But these incongruencies are merely sidestepped as possible results of Gilman's publishing schedule, her depressive illness, or her generation's low ecological knowledge. In other words, things which don't fit Deegan and Podeschi's thesis are swept under the rug. This article is a rather transparent attempt to give ecofeminist pragmatism, which most trace to the 1980s, a longer pedigree and thus more academic legitimacy.

> Miller ("The Ideal Woman") compares Gilman's feminist utopia of 1915 and Charnas's of 1978 as a way of illustrating how different generations create victorious heroines (as compared to the frustrated heroines found in realistic fiction) with meanings for their own times. But this seems to me self-evident. The article could use more theorizing, such as an analytical matrix (like the "Utopian/Dystopian Characteristics" matrix on Elisa's website) we could use to compare utopian heroines from different generations.

> By the way, where would I place Gilman within Garrard's taxonomy of ecocritical positions? How about Gilman-as-social-ecologist? Though we've always got to be careful in projecting today's categories into the past, I might venture that Gilman could fit within Garrard's description of social ecologists who "promote exemplary lifestyles and communities that prefigure a more general transformation and give people practice in sustainable living and participatory democracy" (p. 30).

V. Utopian Characteristics of Herland

> Causality: accident of nature, leafing to violent revolution

> Cosmology: on earth and in historical time

> Maintenance: stability through social engineering

> Physical Characterisics: semirural garden; isolated; climatic

> Social Organization: specialization of labor; religious norming; crime eliminated; decision-making and judicial procedures unspecified but appear to be collective; population voluntarily controlled

> Economic Organization: maternity replaces profit as economic motivator; residents choose own labor specializations; economic activity is primarily pastoral; no money or private property

> Attitude Toward Science: technological level comparable to outside world; useful technologies admired; education highly valued

> Gender: women only; reproduction via parthenogensis

> Family Life: communal responsibility for child rearing; childcare is professionalized

> Epistemology: reason and rationality are central

> Metaphysics: central myth is first Mother; central symbol is Maaia, the God Mother

Friday, January 9, 2009

A New Semester

Asked to blog about my "hopes and expectations" for RCID 813 Topias, I believe an answer requires two parts: first, some background about my encounters with sf and utopian literature; and second, how that literature might dovetail with my current research interests.


1950s-60s: Childhood

For as long as I can remember, a fascination with alternate worlds and imagined futures has been a mainspring of my reading habits. I still vividly remember the thrill (and pray I never get over it) of learning to read "all by myself" in first grade; of discovering the Doctor Doolittle series in third grade; of a reading enrichment class in sixth grade that introduced me to Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, Jules Verne, and Tolkien.

And during my preschool and elementary years of the late 1950s and then through the 1960s, the old sf serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Phantom Empire, plus the many sf movies of the 1950s, were staples on Saturday kids TV. In prime time (and later in syndicated reruns) I was enthusiastic viewer of Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel, and other sf classics.

1970s-80s: Teen and Young Adult

Through the 1970s as I progressed through junior high, senior high and college (where I was an English major), I may have read American and Brit Lit for school. But sf and fantasy was my daily choice for pleasure reading. And of course, I can remember standing in line at the theater with my girlfriend to watch the first runs of Stars Wars (1977) and Star Trek: The Movie (1977). Even through the 1980s as I married and raised a young family, every night at bedtime I relaxed with a book that was nearly always a sf or fantasy novel.

A bibliography of all the sf and fantasy I read during the years would be long indeed! But generally I stuck to works by respected authors that impressed me as being of high quality, ones that challenged me to think, rather than pulp. A good example is my all-time favorite sf series, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Robot Novels. Another example from the fantasy genre is Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy and its sequels, a real favorite of mine.

1990s: Time of Change

After 1990, however, my sf and fantasy reading began to decline, though it still formed a substantial portion of my daily pleasure reading until about mid-decade. Thus over the past dozen years or so I've read little in these genres (even though I have remained a loyal viewer of the various Star Trek spinoffs and love to watch classic sf movies and TV on cable).

Why did I stop reading sf and fantasy? Two factors:

> The first factor was November 9, 1989. If you didn't grow up during the Cold War then you don't realize what a paradigm shift that was for my generation. Suddenly I was living in an "alternate future" that was totally unexpected. To understand what was happening around me and this new world in which I lived, I felt driven to expand my knowledge of modern history. In time this drew me to my interest in Holocaust Studies.

> The second factor was the changing nature of sf and fantasy. What I enjoy best about sf and fantasy is, as described in the Moylan chapter (pp 50-53), the chance to enlist in the fictive culture and by stages figure out the absent paradigm. But after the mid-1980s when cyberpunk ruled, it seemed that sf became mocking and ironic with too much in-your-face philosophizing. And fantasy works seemed more and more derivative of Tolkien, except they competed for the most unpronounceable names of characters and lands.

2000s: Reflections

Yet I have always believed that my formative years spent in reading sf and fantasy were a wonderful boon for me. Not only did I spend many leisurely hours in the adventure of exploring imagined worlds, and not only did I read many great stories and much writing of high quality.

But I've always believed my immersion in sf and fantasy truly enlarged my ability to imagine and conceptualize and see a larger vision, an ability that has suffused and enriched every aspect of my life. And this passion for imaginative thinking I was able to share with my children and build into their lives, so that I'm now seeing its fruits in a new generation.

RCID 813 Topias is may very well be the last seminar that I take for credit in my academic career. So perhaps, in closing the circle, it's fitting that worlds of imagination should be our topic.


Now that you've indulged my trip down memory lane, the question arises: How might a study of utopias/dystopias fit into my current research interests? Four thoughts comes to mind:

> Though I was an English major in the 1970s as an undergrad, later in life I got my MA in communication studies. So I find myself less drawn to literary criticism of utopian works and more attracted to the project suggested by Jameson of digging into the underlying culture which produced the utopian/dystopian vision.

It strikes me that the analyst could discern much about a culture by what it regards as idyllic or hellish. I find myself initially persuaded by the argument, encountered in our readings this week (see Fitting, pp 9-10), that utopian writers necessarily construct their imagined worlds out of materials provided by their extant cultures. And if one believes that readers co-construct the meaning of a text, then audiences are likewise working from their cultural assumptions.

Twenty-five years ago in my hometown of Washington DC, I attended a Smithsonian exhibit entitled Yesterday's Tomorrows and also bought the accompanying book. The exhibit depicted how the futures imagined by people in the past tell us most of all about the great concerns of their own times. What a fascinating read! (In a similar vein, I recommend Larsen's The Devil in the White City and Gelernter's The Lost World of the Fair about, respectively, and 1893 and 1939 world's fairs.)

For example, in 1895 Wells's The Time Machine offered a commentary on industrialization and class division in his dystopian future world of Eloi and Morlocks. The 1960 film version was a riff on nuclear holocaust, not class struggle. And the 2002 film version was merely a shallow showcase for big-budget special effects with a few obligatory nods to feminist and environmentalist sensibilities.

Anyway, I can see some possible applications for my own researches. Right now I'm doing a lot of reading for my dissertation on organizational communication, discourse, and culture. Perhaps the utopias forecast by the organizations I'm studying might help me unlock their underlying cultures.

> Utopias are a mainspring that drives much of modern history. Consider the French Revolution (1789) . . . or the classical positivism of Auguste Comte (1830) that has deeply influenced science . . . or the Soviet workers paradise . . . or the Nazi vision of a racial New Order.

My dissertation is on the technical and organizational communication of the Holocaust. One recent framework for interpreting Nazism (as well as other revolutionary movements) is the concept of the political religion. (See Burleigh's recent books, Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes.) In that vein, perhaps this course in Topias may give me a new interpretive tools to analyze utopian political movements.

> I also have a research interest in religious rhetorics, and in particular that of Christian fundamentalism. Last semester I presented a couple of conference papers on the subject and now have one journal article at the revise-and-resubmit stage and another under review. Again, I can see possibilities for analyzing fundamentalist cultures by studying their utopias.

> Finally, I still enjoy sf even if I read less of the genre than earlier in my life. And who knows? Maybe after graduation I will have more time, and perhaps more of a need, for pleasure reading outside my main research interests. So perhaps this course will give me new tools for revisiting favorite old stories, encountering new stories, and deriving insightful new meanings from both.