Thursday, 17 June 2010

Envisioning unreal utopiaea

An amazing flood of material on Crooked Timber of late. I can barely keep up. After posting on Erik Olin Wright, how fitting that discussion would next take shape along lines similar to what I have just written about the focusing of the attention space on either "the political" or "politics":

If science fiction is no longer a viable form, it is because the humanist assumptions that underpinned it are no longer credible even as fictions. The hybrid type of writing that has evolved in recent years is symptomatic. "Slipstream", "cyberpunk" and "new weird" blend together influences as diverse as Arthur Machen and Mikhail Bulgakov, Charles Williams and William S Burroughs. What these styles of writing have in common is an absence of politics. No world-changing project features in any of them... During much of the 20th century, speculative fiction served an impulse of world transformation. Fantasy was understood as an exercise in which alternative worlds were imagined in order to create new possibilities of action. Today fantasy has the role of enabling us to see more clearly the elusive actualities. The question of action is left open. We debate what can be done to change the world, but no one expects an answer.

I surmise that the Crooked Timber blogger is taking issue with the generalizability of these oppositions. I read this as implying that an author such as China Miéville is actually more capable of performing the role of mediator that I referred to in my previous post. This makes it easier to understand then why a Williams scholar such as Andrew Milner is clearly sympathetic to China's work (you will understand this if you recall how Williams wrote quite extensively on science fiction from a "cultural materialist" perspective). Here is what China had to say about trying to bridge the gap:

I simply don’t know whether I can have this cake and eat it too: critically depict political economy, while having shots ring out and people swinging off cliffs to magical battles. The best I can do is offer a thought. Even if it’s true that the different values fundamentally work against each other, the attempt to marry them may never succeed, but it might approach success asymptotically. Try again, fail again, fail better. That tension, that process of failing better and better – the very failure, if it’s the best kind of failure – might generate interesting effects that a more ‘successful’ – ie aesthetically integrated – work cannot do.

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