Friday, February 27, 2009
> 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
> 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?
I. THE BARRIER OF TIME
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?
II. CONSERVATIVE UTOPIAS?
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
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?
II. THOUGHTS ON "ANTINOMIES"
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?
III. THOUGHTS on "SCHISM"
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
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?
I. BRUNNER'S NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE
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.
II. THE EXPERIENCE OF TIME
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)."
III. SPEECH ACTS AND "SPATIAL ACTS"
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.
IV. APOCALYPTIC RHETORIC
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.