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suvin, metamorphoses of science fiction

with 4 comments

(I’ve decided, partially inspired by this post, that I’m going to start writing up mini-reviews of most everything that I read on here. I’m doing this because far too much good reading time dribbles away into blog reading, email writing etc. I’m at a point in my life where 1) I have no time to read anything that’s not course / writing related but where 2) I really do need to get a huge amount and eclectic variety of reading done away from course and writing prep… Maybe doing this will help me along…)

Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979)

Only read the preface and the chapters that directly deal with Wells (who I’m working on right at the moment). Most of the material here seems both foundational and somewhat dated. I enjoyed the short description of the context in which most of this was conceived – the dual “anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist struggle” of 1950s-1960s Yugoslav literary academia (x-xi). When I read stuff like this, I can’t help but think of how different it must have been to live and do humanities work in a world in which there was actually-existing bipolarity – a world in which Marxism would be something other than a perversely nostalgic mode of preservation.

Interesting thought about the relationship between literary morphology and social change, and the sense that the twentieth-century suffers from a form of blockage that has to do with the potential, though not yet actualized, possibility of proletarian dominance. Science Fiction, and other “low” forms, simly can’t become properly hegemonic because of geopolitical rigidites.

The Wells’s sections do a decent job contextualizing his utopian work and then reading The Time Machine quite closely, with an eye to the clash between Wells’s fictional form (dependent as it is upon the dramatization of what the Traveller sees) and Victorian / Bourgeois faith in progress, Social-Darwinism, etc.

There are moments when Suvin deploys provocative questions – such as, for instance, the sense that that “principle of a Wellsian structure of science fiction is mutation of scientific into aesthetic cognition” (232-3) – without adequately following up on the question itself.

In sum, not all that helpful for me. But an excellent general resource for the exploration of Wellsian and pre-Wellsian utopia. The bibliography itself is worth the price of admission.

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 13, 2007 at 2:31 am

Posted in sf

4 Responses

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  1. I read a fair bit of Suvin for some work I did on Morris and utopian fiction, and I had a similar feeling. He made what seemed to me a very strange argument that the utopias of utopian fiction have to be possible, which to my mind only begs the question.

    I do have this nice little quote from Lewis Mumford on Time Machine–the premise being that the book is about the dissociation of work and play, and generically about the dissociation between industrial and country house fiction: “Mr. Wells in the Time Machine has given a picture of Coketown which is perhaps a little exuberant in some of its details—the picture of a happy and careless Country House population, living on the surface of the earth, mid all the graces of a jolly weekend, and that of the factory population, the Morlocks, living in the bowels of the earth and performing the necessary industrial functions.”


    February 13, 2007 at 12:19 pm

  2. Oy – I need to copyedit the above.

    I like the Coketown idea – that sounds right.

    And you’re absolutely right about the strangeness of his initial definition of utopian or science fiction. When I read this –

    “it should be defined as a fictional tale determined by the hegemonic literary device of a locus and / or dramatis personae that (1) are radically or at least significantly different from the empirical times, places, and characters of ‘mimetic’ or ‘naturalist’ fiction, but (2) are nonetheless – to the extent that SF differs from other ‘fantastic’ genres, that is, ensembles of fictional tales without empirical validation – simultaneously perceived as not impossible within the cognitive (cosmological and anthropological) norms of the author’s epoch”

    I wrote in my notes: “How exactly would this not apply to standard realism?” Not empirically true, yet still believable?


    February 13, 2007 at 1:31 pm

  3. That’s pretty much what I recall. And the peculiar thing is that I think it’s quite easy to rectify. Number (2) should read something like: and–to the extent that SF differ…–calls into question the very notion of possibility, existing in a domain where what is possible or impossible cannot be easily determined.


    February 13, 2007 at 2:28 pm

  4. Nicely done. I like that new definition.


    February 13, 2007 at 2:32 pm

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