Sunday, December 05, 2010

SF v. the Reality Lords

From Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future, a footnote that nails the dichotomy between 'mainstream' literature and SF:
The conventional high-culture repudiation of SF - its stigmatization of the purely formulaic (which reflects the original sin of the form in its origin in the pulps), complaints about the absence of complex and psychologically "interesting" characters (a position which does not seem to have kept pace with the postcontemporary crisis of the "centred subject"), a yearning for original literary styles which ignores the stylistic variations of modern SF (as Philip K. Dick's defamiliarization of spoken American) - is probably not a matter of personal taste, nor is it to be addressed by way of purely aesthetic arguments, such as the attempt to assimilate selected SF works to the canon as such. We must here identify a kind of generic revulsion, in which this form and narrative discourse is the object of psychic resistance as a whole and the target of a kind of literary "reality principle". For such readers, in other words, the Bourdieu-style rationalizations which rescue high literary forms from the guilty associations on unproductiveness and sheer diversion and which endow them with socially acknowledged justification, are here absent.
In other words, attempts to appeal to the gatekeepers of the high literary citadel by pointing out that SF is firmly rooted in the present, that it extrapolates and amplifies current nightmares and obsessions, or that it explores alternate social structure through utopian or dystopian constructions, are, even though valid, pointless. Not only because there's no chance of success, but also because who wants the career arc of archetypal neorealists like Ian McEwan (from supple postmodern fabulist to shuttered reactionary self-crucified by the iron nails of didactic social realism and (again, from Jameson) "the great empiricist maxim, nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses")? Better to turn away from that and address the great luminous question that SF should make its own: what do you mean by reality, anyway?

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