Department of English Language and Literature
MA English Studies: Cultural and Media Studies

Assoc Prof Robbie Goh

(E-mail: ellgohbh@nus.edu.sg
Tel: 6874 6033)

EN 5220 - GENRES IN POPULAR CULTURE:
FANTASY AND SPECULATIVE FICTION
(Semester II 2003-2004)
Thursdays 6.00 - 8.00 pm, AS5/02-06



















This module examines the generic bases and roots of texts which have had a significant impact as part of popular culture. Various ways of attempting to arrive at genre identifications (possible methods include archetypalism, structuralist analyses of narrative codes, textual history and intertextuality, materialist approaches, psychoanalysis) will be examined, as part of an attempt to understand the phenomena of "popular" texts, but also towards an understanding of the limits of genre.

This course will focus on two broad strands of popular writing which are closely associated, namely Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. The course will attempt to locate these genres within literary traditions (romance, religious discourse, myth, utopian/dystopian literatures, industrial novels, cold war thrillers), while also examining the ways in which such popular writing is essentially intertextual and cross-generic. If popular fiction is a formula, it holds this function within a larger (and evolving) social context of urban experience, rapid technological change, consumerism and media technology. The relationship between Fantasy and Speculative Fictions and their social context will be examined via a number of key tropes: space, alterities, narrative, mode of information/technology, market.

Although this course will focus mainly on popular fiction, it also argues that genres in contemporary cultures as a whole cannot be understood solely in terms of intra-textual conventions and coherences, but must also be analyzed contextually. As such, the examples from popular fiction will be held up against generic parallels from other popular cultural texts taken from film, television, other print forms, the internet, and so on. Students will be encouraged to make, and supervised in the course of making, such comparisons and examinations in the form of a researched project which will constitute the bulk of the continual assessment for this module. They will also be assessed on class presentations related to their project, as well as on participation in the general discussions.

Primary Texts:

Frank Herbert, Dune

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (Original version, with chapter 21 included).

Ursula LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Warrior's Apprentice

William Gibson, Neuromancer

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Iain Banks, Feersum Endjinn
 

Secondary Readings
(The first three, marked with an asterisk*, will definitely be referred to in the course of the module; the remaining items are suggestions for further readings, according to individual interests and research directions).

*Aristotle, Poetics

*Northrop Frye. Anatomy of Criticism (especially "Third Essay: Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths").

*M. M. Bakhtin. "Epic and Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist.

Umberto Eco. "Narrative Structures in Fleming" (chapter six of The Role of the Reader)

Jenny Wolmark. "Cyborgs and Cyberpunk: Rewriting the Feminine in Popular Fiction," in Language and Gender: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Sara Mills

Chris Habels Gray (ed.) The Cyborg Handbook

C. Elkins. "An Approach to the Social Functions of Science Fiction and Fantasy," in The Scope of the Fantastic: Culture, Biography, Themes, Children's Literature, ed. R. A. Collins and H. D. Pearce.

S. Bukatman. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction

Rosemary Jackson Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion

Jacqueline Howard. Reading Gothic Fiction: A Bakhtinian Approach.

B. Attebery. "The Closing of the Final Frontier: Science Fiction after 1960," in Functions of the Fantastic, ed. J. Sanders

Rob Latham. "The Men who Walked on the Moon: Images of America in the 'New Wave' Science Fiction of the 1960s and 1970s," in Functions of the Fantastic, ed. J. Sanders.

Esther Petix. "Linguistics, Mechanics, and Metaphysics: Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," in Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess, ed. Geoffrey Aggeler.

Theo D'Haen. "Language and Power in Orwell and Burgess," in Essays from Oceania and Eurasia: George Orwell and 1984, ed. Benoit J. Suykerbuyk.

M. K. Langford (ed.). Contours of the Fantastic (4 or 5 good and relevant essays in here, including those by Zanger, Heilbronn, Aldiss, and Sobchack).

Kenneth Zahorski and Robert Boyer, "The Secondary Worlds of High Fantasy," in The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art, ed. Roger C. Schlobin

Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith. Modern Gothic: A Reader (useful essays by Neumeier and Smith on "postmodern" continuities in the gothic literary tradition)

Theodore Adorno. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. J. M. Bernstein.

Linda Hutcheon. A Poetics of Postmodernism

Fredric Jameson. Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism" in Modernism/Postmodernism, ed. Peter Brooker.
 
 

ASSESSMENT

Continuous Assessment (1 presentation and 1 written project of about 3000-3500 words, or approximately 10 A4 pages typed double-spaced) will account for 40% of the final grade.

Term-end Examination (open book) will account for 60% of the final grade.

The presentation will have to tie in with the general topic(s) covered in the seminar in the week in which the presentation is made - a sign-up sheet will be circulated in the first week.  Specific topic should be finalised in consultation with instructor.  Presentation itself is to be of 15 minutes' duration (maximum).  You are not required to turn in a written version of the presentation, although you are welcome to circulate any handouts which you may think useful.  You are also expected to field questions on your topic from the group, and to be able to help with references and citations made in your presentation.

The project will be of the individual student's choice, in consultation with the instructor.  Topics will have to be identified by seminar 4, and completed by seminar 11.  The project should not substantially repeat actual material from the presentation (i.e. primary texts, observations, points, commentary), although the presentation may deal with theoretical ideas and other material generally related to the eventual project.  Please consult me if in doubt.  The project is intended to allow individual students to explore cultural documents from the point of view of ideas which may be stimulated by the readings or seminar discussions.  It is not meant to be a rehearsal for the final examination.  Students are thus encouraged to apply ideas to new/other cultural texts, to challenge, modify and/or dispute theoretical notions, etc.  What the project seeks to cultivate in the student is a keen awareness of popular culture as a vital oeuvre, a collective social praxis which admits of theoretical articulation, critical reading, and contestation in terms of powers, ideologies, interpretations and responses.
 
 
 
 
 

SEMINAR SCHEDULE/TOPICS

SEMINAR SCHEDULE

Seminar one (15 Jan)         Introduction - Narrative, Society, Space

[22 Jan no seminar – CNY]

Seminar two (29 Jan)          Introduction to Genre Theories - Epic, Novel, Romance, Realism

Seminar three (5 Feb)         Dune: The Cultural Politics of War, Cultures, Ecology

Seminar four (12 Feb)          Dune: Messiahs, Archetypalism, Symbolism

Seminar five (19 Feb)         A Clockwork Orange: Dystopian Fiction and Urban Anxieties

Seminar six (21 Feb)          A Clockwork Orange: The Bildungsroman and the "Child," Conditioning
(Saturday 1.30-3.30 - Makeup for CNY)

Seminar seven (26 Feb)      Wizard of Earthsea: Fantasy and/vs Speculative Fiction

[4 March no seminar – away in India]

Seminar eight (11 Mar)     Wizard of Earthsea: Romance, Quest, Bildungsroman

Seminar nine (18 Mar)       Warrior's Apprentice: Space Opera, the "Child"/Marginal, and the Thriller/Adventure Story

Seminar ten (25 Mar)        Neuromancer: Cyberpunk, Heterocosms, Utopian/Dystopian, The Detective

Seminar eleven (1 April)    Neverwhere: Fantasy, Society/Class, Urban Space

Seminar Twelve (8 April)  Feersum Endjin: Language and Society, Conspiracy, Bildungsroman
 
 
 
 
 


SEMINAR OUTLINES/MATERIAL

Seminar One - Introduction to Genre Theories

INTRODUCTION TO POPULAR FICTION: FANTASY
AND SPECULATIVE FICTION

Course goals/topology of field of study:
I.   Genre (or sub-genre) studies: from latin “genus” – a classificatory exercise.
a.   Literary genres: e.g. Aristotle’s attempt to distinguish what he saw as different types of “poetry”: tragedy from comedy from epic; Dryden’s attempt to distinguish and defend English “tragic-comedy” from French classical plays; Wordsworth’s/Coleridge’s arguments over German romances, lyric poetry, mock-heroic poetry; Bakhtin’s distinctions between epic and novel.  Note the underlying socio-political concerns in each of these projects – genre analysis is also a poetics of culture, of society.  (But note also the always-contingent, debatable, open-ended nature of genre studies – because of the constantly-evolving nature of writing?)
b.   Human genres: racial taxonomies; castes; class systems; groups (in and out, high and low, elite and marginal etc).
c.   Social/national genres: third-world, developed, APEC, Confucian, Islamic; communist and free; market and controlled;

“Typologies”, “archetypes,” (but also stereotypes?) – from Greek “tupos” (“impression, strike”).  A type is an original, against which individual manifestations are grouped/measured.  Implication of a fundamental, inescapable ground or basis for that classification (e.g. Frye’s seasonal types; or Jung’s symbols from the collective unconscious; or else very old cultural documents, esp. religious documents like the Bible).  The “fixity” of genres – illusory?  Problematic?  Useful at all?

Against that is the motility, the instability of genres/types.  Are all types, no matter how seemingly fundamental, still arbitrary constructs which have all kinds of exceptions and instabilities?  Are generic/typological exercises more interesting for their underlying political contests, than for the terms they throw out?

II.   Genre and Anxiety
If so, fantasy and speculative fiction may be considered genres, not just of discourses (types of worlds, of actions, of style, language, etc), but of underlying social concerns and anxieties.  The “unconscious” of society?
a.   What are the defining characteristics of the genre, and how stable are they?  (e.g. it is quite clearly opposed to realism in all kinds of ways; but what about the more realist romances?  What about the Bildungsroman?
b.   What kinds of societal anxieties, concerns, issues, does the genre correspond to?  (Might help to ask what anxieties the closely-related genres – children’s literature, horror, romance – correspond to.  Broadly, things like wish fulfillment, escapism, catharsis of fear.  But more specifically – millenarial/technological fears?  Religious impulses?  Urban anxieties?)

III.   Aspects of Fantasy/SF study:
a.   Considerations of genres/types of discourse: what plots; what journeys; what characters; what worlds; what rules; what endings; what styles; what narrators, etc.  How do these compare/contrast with related forms of writing?  How reliable, or permeable, are the generic boundaries in each case, and why (i.e. why do genres borrow from each other?)
b.   Social anxieties, how they are represented, what can be said, what cannot and why?
 
 
 

Seminar Two - Introduction to Genre Theories - Epic, Novel, Romance, Realism

EN 5220 Seminar 2 Handout
Introduction to Genre Theories: Epic, Novel, Romance, Realism

I.   “Novel” – as name implies, a “new” mode of writing that arises in the 18th C (although there were some interesting precursors), consolidates its “realist/bourgeois” mode in the 19th C, in the process supplanting/marginalizing other modes (“epic”? “romance”?), although today it is itself in danger of being marginalized (by film?).
a. Novel is the product of social change (linked to what we think of as “modernity”: capitalist society, democratizing forces, public culture/readership, faster print technology, rise of MC).  Think again about our discussion in seminar one – what’s the general relationship between literary forms and culture/ideology? (What were the main classical forms – epic and tragedy?  Main aristocratic/courtly forms – lyric, epic?  Main late capitalist forms – film, popular discourses?  Why?).
b. Novel as essentially fluid, flexible, experimental form (see Bakhtin handout) – more fluid than earlier forms?  Just as more recent forms – e.g. internet novel, interactive story – more fluid even than the novel?
c. Novel as borrower/innovator of other literary elements?  What did the novel borrow, and from which forms/genres?  (The epic/tragic hero/protagonist?  The romance career of journey/growth/quest?  Satirical/utopian writing’s concern with broad social picture/manners?)

II.     Towards an archetypal theory of the novel: Aristotle, Frye (with suggestions for a link to Freud and Jung)
For all its stylistic and formal innovation and fluidity, perhaps the novel is not completely free and fluid, but retains certain enduring/fundamental constituents, because it ultimately serves a ritualistic cultural function: to do with the individual and collective psyche, expressions of deep need, placating fears, etc.
a. Aristotle on tragedy: classical tragedy had a deeply ritualistic element (as in many other cultures/performances: seasonal/fertility rituals [the Green Knight, the Grail], medieval morality plays and the problem of good and evil, etc).  Aristotle tries to come up with a kind of “structuralism/formalism” of tragedy (its basic formula), but we should recognize that this is also a theory of human emotions/psyche (“catharsis”).  Tragedy about the articulation/exorcising of deep human emotions concerned with the “reversal” (peripety, peripeteia), “recognition” (anagnorisis), and “suffering” (pathos, agon) of “good men,” arising from their “tragic flaw” or “error of judgement” (hamartia).
 Have contemporary cultural texts managed to move substantially away from this essential, ritualistic formula?
b.  Frye: like Jungian theory, concerned with primal, deep-rooted archetypes in human experience, and which are the recurrent building-blocks of literature and culture.  Primal “myth” – “the imitation of actions near or at the conceivable limits of desire” (136).
Myth  -  Romance -  Naturalism
(e.g. sun god)   (person assoc with sun) (sun as reality)
(Cp. Scholes’ “scale” of literature, discussed in seminar 1)

“Romance” – “the tendency…to displace myth in a human direction and yet, in contrast to ‘realism,’ to conventionalize content in an idealized direction” (137)

Concept of “displacement” – the movement of a story from the direct myth away towards “human experience,” concealing and disguising the myth in the process.

7 “categories of images” in a “rotary or cyclical movement,” derived essentially from life pattern (158).
a.   Divine – death and rebirth, or appearance and withdrawal, of a god
b.   Cosmological – i.   The movement of the sun across the sky; ii.  The solar year (especially conceived as the threat to light by dark, marked by solsticial rituals); iii. The lunar progression
c.   Human – waking and dreaming life, life and death,
d.   Animal – sacrifice, ferocity, tragic death
e.   Vegetative – seasons, often assoc with a divine figure killed in autumn and revived in spring
f.   Organic (evolving) life cycle of growth, development, decline, return (e.g. golden age)
g.   Water symbolisms – rains to springs/fountains to brooks to sea to rain, etc

Division into 4 main phases (dominanted by 4 seasons of the year)

Spring  Summer  Autumn  Winter
Morning Noon   Evening  Night
Rain  Fountain  River   Sea or Snow
Youth  Maturity  Age   Death

Mythos (basic underlying pattern organizing texts and symbols)
a.   Spring = Comedy (young man’s desire, overcoming of obstacle, gets his will, marriage and a new society).  Taming of the Shrew e.g.  But comedy can have different structures, corresponding to different “phases” between irony/satire and romance.

“These 5 phases of comedy may be seen as a sequence of stages in the life of a redeemed society.  Purely ironic comedy exhibits this society in its infancy, swaddled and smothered by the society it should replace.  Quixotic comedy exhibits it in adolescence, still too ignorant of the ways of the world to impose itself.  In the third phase it comes to maturity and triumphs; in the fourth it is already mature and established.  In the fifth it is part of a settled order which has been there from the beginning, an order which takes on an increasingly religious cast and seems to be drawing away from human experience altogether.” (185)

b.   Summer = Romance (wish-fulfilment, adventure, heroes rep. Ideals/virtues, nostalgia, search for golden age).  Quest has 3 main stages: perilous journey (agon); crucial struggle/battle (pathos); and exaltation of the hero (anagnorisis).  Medieval chivalric romance, renaissance aristocratic romance e.g.s

Typical quest is dragon-killing – land ruled by helpless old king, laid waste, young maiden about to be sacrificed to a monster (rep. Sterility, barrenness, disease).  Hero’s descent (Jonah-like) into hell/disease/death; kills monster and takes his hoard/treasure (power and wisdom?); returns to take reward (incl. Bride).

“The quest-romance is the search of the libido or desiring self for a fulfillment that will deliver it from the anxieties of reality but will still contain that reality” (193).  Rituals of redeeming the present reality from the threat of barrenness.

6 phases of romance: birth of hero/search for child; innocent youth of hero; normal quest (youth in full power/action); happier society in evidence (e.g. defending the innocent world/city against assault); idyllic view of experience from above (char. by moral stratification); pensoro phase, movt. from active to merely contemplative adventure.

c.   Autumn = Tragedy

d.   Winter = Irony and Satire

III. Archetypal/Structural theories aid any study of genres because they provide a terminology and theory to account for genre constituents, differences in genres, and continuities within/across genres.
 More than that, they also point towards an account of a particular genre as a social mythos/archetype, and explain recurring symbols (city; quest/journey; suffering; violence; etc) as abiding anxieties in individual/social unconscious.  (Link with Freud – like Jung/Frye, concerned with hidden symbols, but heavy emphasis on sexuality, repression, struggle, pathology).

IV. Where do we place Speculative Fiction and Fantasy?
a. On the scale of “displacement,” SF/Fantasy more mythic, less realist?  (Certainly more imaginative, thus more libidinal/unconscious, than realist novel?).  Yet note overlap/similarity between SF and industrial novel – city, technology, social laws/manners, “history”.
b.   Basic fantasy plot is romance-like?  Quest/bildungsroman/pathos, descent to a hellish space, re-ascent to a changed individual in a changed society (ACO, Feersum, Earthsea, Neverwhere).  Can we identify a fairly “primal” mythos running through at least some of the novels on this module (but not others)?  Thus, a nostalgic/primal strand in some fantasy novels?
 Cultural/psychological function of this primal strand – identity in its most pre-social form (self and double, essence of the self through struggle, growth)?
c. Another strand is dystopian, satirical, winter-like?  The static “trap” of technology, the overwhelming force of social laws/manners, the recession of the human (Neuromancer, possibly ACO and Dune?)
d. Archetypal theory forces us to think of the vital connection (at symbolic/mythic level) between human protagonist and environment/world – SF/fantasy as narratives of “ecologies,” environments which represent our sense of our place in the world? (anxieties of authority or lack thereof, crisis, redemption, etc – Dune, but also others).
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 SEMINAR 3
Dune: The Cultural Politics of War; Cultures; Ecology

Dune pub. 1965, and won the 1966 Hugo (Science Fiction Achievement) award (tied with Roger Zelazny’s And Call me Conrad), as well as the 1965 Nebula (Science Fiction Writers Association) award.  One of the great seminal works of SF (together with Asimov’s Foundation series) of the post-war flowering (Hugo established in 1953, which gives some indication of when SF began to be recognized as a major cultural/literary force – some of the early winners who have made significant impact on SF as a whole include Robert Heinlein, Philip Jose Farmer, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford Simak, Robert Silverberg in the late 1950s, and Jack Vance, Philip K. Dick in the early 1960s).  Dune’s era/context cold war, the rise of America as superpower, globalization and global capitalism, clash of civilizations/cultures.
 Thus, some of Dune’s narrative/structural features are recognizable as the major recurring features of much of SF (while others are of course unique to this novel).  These include:
1.   Thematically:
a.   war/clash of civilizations: SF a transposing/displacement of earthly geopolitics?  Not accidental nationalisms of earth, but essential features – Samuel Huntingdon’s “clash of civilizations”?  (So, cultures, rituals, belief systems, racial features, ecology/geography, consumption patterns, genetics).  What are the ideological functions of this displacement – complaint/lament, or celebration (via transformation) of militancy?  Or something else?
b.   Commerce – no accident that both Dune and Foundation (the 2 big SF works of the 1960s) about stellar trade, commercial and cultural domination.  Again, is this displacement of global capital/competition to the stars a utopian/optimistic trend, or a dystopian/pessimistic one, or is it something else altogether?  (Also, what happens in much later SF, in the 1990s and 21st C when globalization is a fait accompli?)
c.   Anthropology – early globalization also the last stage of a kind of primitive anthropology, interested in the rituals and practices of less-developed peoples (Fremen).  Cultural superiority, but also a kind of apology/exorcism of that superiority in the name of “sympathy” or “interest”?
d.   The interrogation of/anxiety about the “Human”: mentats reflect concerns about man-machine interfaces – a confirmation of the uniqueness of the human (adaptability, character, “soul”?), but also a chilling anxiety that machine-enhanced humanity is actually “better” (why? Because machine-like qualities of coldness, ruthlessness, inerrancy, are better in a militant/capitalistic society?)
 The “geriatric spice” – anxiety about biological medicine, drugs and their ambivalent effect on the human.
e.   authority/policing: if mainstream novels (with highly subjectivised narratives, perspectives etc) reflect ideologies of freedom and individualism, SF (with its themes and structures of control, socio-technological pressures etc) reflect the other face of modernity – fear that individualism in extreme forms leads back to (the need for) strong authority.  Technologies of human enhancement also used for fear/control (assassination machines), freedom (trade, competition) also leads to ruthless fiefdom.
f.   history/epic/fate: following from (e) above, a similar sense/anxiety about the circularity of human history – that the more we “progress,” the more we regress.  The feudalism of Dune, with Barons, renaissance feel of intrigue, assassination, poison, betrayal.  The role of the princess Irulan’s “history,” bits of which preface each section – sense of fatalism, determinism?  Also the sheer length/scope of the novel (and the sequels it spawned) – what does this do to our sense of time, society?
g.   ecology/environment: we might speak of ecology as a “character” (often an important one) in many SF novels.  Ecology shapes action, plot, human character development: in Dune, Paul’s transformation (agon, anagnorisis) depend a lot on the desert and the nomadic life it imposes.  Other SF novels have waterworlds, pre-tech worlds, robot worlds, subterranean worlds, aerial worlds, megapolic worlds, virtual worlds, etc., each with their own rules – a legacy of the 19th C industrial/social novel?  Is this also deterministic (see point (f) above)?  What social anxieties might it convey (environmentalism? Or, instead, a capitalist fantasy of environment surviving and even co-operating with an idealized capitalist society?)

2.   Narrative and plot structures: beneath/beside themes and subject matter, there is also a larger and more fundamental narrative/plot pattern, which may have archetypal/psychological implications:
a.   Centrality of a single character – his growth, career, abilities etc shape the entire novel.  Indeed, we can with some justice say that he is a “world-historical” character (adapted from Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel), a single person whose abilities and significance are so central as to shape the course of history and his society (Lukacs referred to pre-bourgeois figures like kings in Shakespeare).  Kingship, godhead, heroism in SF, the “peculiar/exceptional individual” – how does this relate to social realist novel (where social forces create/determine human behaviour)?
b.   “magic” narratives (ability to transmute poison, to see future, past and other worlds, the quasi-mystical training of abilities like fighting, riding the worms, etc) – is this at some odds with the social realist qualities of the speculative fiction novel (the determination of social events/change from rational processes and material factors.  Magic in SF the residue of mythological literature – literature as ritual, enacting belief systems, sympathetic magic (over the world, weather etc), invisible realm.
c.   Stature of human figures – heroic, kingly; unlike the representative, average, individuals moved willy-nilly by society in social realist and speculative fiction novels.
d.   Plot progression: struggle, challenge, agon, descent – but ultimately a rise again, triumph, success, attainment.  A much more romantic plot progression than the static, unsettled human conditions in bourgeois realism.

3.   We might therefore have to look to another influence/derivation for novels like Dune, in place of/addition to the nineteenth-century social novel.  Romance and gothic elements: a long tradition, from at least the medieval epic/romances (Orlando Furioso, Arthurian legends), to the gothic and sentimental novels of the 18th century, to the contemporary romance/horror novels.

Common features include:
a.  Overlaps with tragedy and epic: the central figure, somewhat larger than life, non-representative (i.e. special, extraordinary).
b.   Bildungsroman pattern: often a child or young man, the novel involves his/her growth, focuses intensely on inner states
c.   Romance paradigm: youth, struggle, temptation, agon; descent, threat; recognition (anagnorisis); triumph, rise, maturity.  Symbolic figures of the stern father, the evil king, the corrupt city; the magical helpers, the young maiden, the earth-mother, the hellish descent, the marriage, the new society, etc.
d.   Magic, supernatural as prominent features: emphasis on irrationality, as a challenge to everyday understanding.

4.   Other narrative/archetypal influences: Biblical/religious narratives; new age ideologies (potential/power “within” the individual); horror (worm-as-monster, Arrakis-as-monster, Paul/psyche as psychopathological monster); modern family drama (from gothic onwards, but also e.g. soap operas like Dynasty or Dallas).
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 Seminar 4 – Messiahs and Millenial Anxieties in Dune

Millenarian – Of the millennium; (person) believing in this.
Millennium – Period of a thousand years, esp. that of Christ’s prophesied reign in person on earth (Rev. 20: 1-5); (fig.) period of good government, great happiness, and prosperity.  Hence millennial.
(O.E.D.)

1.   Some famous movements that might be called “millennial” or “millenarial” –
Joan of Arc – French peasant girl who claimed to hear the voice of God telling her to engage in a holy war with England;
Richard Brothers, and Joanna Southcott - late 18th C English prophet-figures who preached the imminent second coming;
Hung Hsiu-Chuan, the leader of the Taiping rebellion in mid-19th C China, who claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ.
Numerous 20th C figures/movements like Jim Jones, Rev Moon/Unification church, Heaven’s Gate, etc.

Common traits:
- the type/figure of the messiah (humble origins, mysterious election/transformation, tested/proving, association with sword/war, promise of a new era).
- unease with the present society, seen as corrupt, blinded, astray
- virginal, isolated, socially dysfunctional/celibate
- visionary: power is often associated with a different/higher visionary ability
- disciples: effect on others is profound and extreme, often leading to extremist behaviour, so that the messiah-figure is often caught up in events not of his making, or beyond his final control
- sacrifice/martyrdom: because of socio-political forces, isolation/loneliness, moral crises

2.   Bible’s contributions to Messianic discourses:
a.   Notion of humble origins (other-worldly, despised by all but the elect) – but note paradox, also the highest majesty (Paul as Fremen/fugitive, Paul as Imperial power)
b.   Notion of (world’s) waiting, need, fulfillment – Messiah is known by prophecy, but that in turn is just an articulation of a deeper/longer (spiritual/social/moral) need – i.e. the ‘rightness’ of the Messiah
c.   Inversion of order – “first shall be the last/last first,” “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” etc.  Marxist/radical/transformative element.
d.   Romance paradigm of child-to-man, exile/journey, testing/hell, return, ascension.
e.   Typological/symbolic richness: Messiah characterized by simple yet archetypal symbols/figures which foster prefiguring, proliferation (because they operate at a level of deep human experience): sacrifice, redemption, salvation, justice, innocence, community, becoming/fulfilling the “father,” (Christ as lamb, blood, water, bread, identity with the Father, vine and branches, etc).

3.   Messiah and narrative: Paul’s status is built up by the Bene Gesserit propaganda machine, and in later novels by the cult of the Qizarate (a priestly bureaucracy).  Messiah’s stature is also built on his own pronouncements, charisma, ability to sway numerous people – i.e. a storyteller, soothsayer, visionary, entertainer all in one.
Sermons, prophecies, visions, holy texts, and other chief instruments of the messiah, are all narrative tools.
 “Greatness is a transitory experience.  It is never consistent.  It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind.  The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in.  He must reflect what is projected upon him…” (p. 123, “Collected Sayings of the Muad’Dib” by Princess Irulan)
(Narratives as the disturbing, dialogical voice in increasingly power-hungry orders?  The story of the Muad’dib is an oppositional tool which finally overthrows Harkonnen, CHOAM and imperial rule.
  Ie. humans shape Messianic narratives out of a felt (social, political, moral, spiritual) need; but such narratives then (con)form certain individuals into their pattern: “The day the flesh shapes and the flesh the day shapes,” Leto’s enigmatic dying thought, p. 176.)

4.   Language and narrative form of Dune: apart from romance pattern and the shape of a long heroic/epic pattern (Paul’s career, from boyhood to revenge/triumph/marriage), other elements to note include:
a.   No “chapters” as such (not numbered, uneven in length, rather arbitrary division between the action in each section) – again, fosters the sense of one long continuous story, broken for convenience of reading but not really divisible into discrete chunks?
b.   Closely tied to Paul’s pov/scene, especially after Leto’s death; without the “parallel stories/actions” structure of social realism (e.g. Middlemarch, with its 3 stories/sets of couples at once).  Stresses Paul’s identification with the “world”?
c.   Prophetic, portentous – the function of Irulan’s writings; also the many quotations and fragments.  Suggest not only a bastardized and hybrid culture/texts in the future, but the notion of replay/repetition, destiny.  “Wisdom” literature (koans, proverbs, spiritual “truths”).
d.   “Transparent” view of human nature: no mystery, we know Yueh’s plans before they happen, we have insight into character’s thoughts (in italics, accompanying a scene:
 “I loved my father, Paul thought, and knew this for truth.  I should mourn him.  I should feel something.
 But he felt nothing except: Here’s an important fact” (p. 182).
Narrative/author as Muab’dib?  Omniscience, but also simplification of human nature, into patterns/prophecies and their fulfillment.

5.   Messiah and speculative fiction: close link, because of spec. fiction’s concern with social change and the vision of an alternative society (utopia/dystopia) especially as it arises out of profound technological power, weapons technology, etc.  But messiah, as the human element within the social/technological story, sits awkwardly in speculative fiction’s concern with social law, technology, etc.

Messiah has stronger affilifations with romance/fantasy? the romance hero (agon, anagnorisis, charismatic/wizardly power, emphasis on the invisible within the human, the exceptional individual, etc).

Messiah figure is where fantasy and speculative fiction come close together?  Or is it rather than the messiah figure is essentially dialogical, disruptive, disturbing, and thus is the place where the boundaries of strict genres blur/collapse, where social authorities and discourses blur?

6.   Messiahs and modernity/postmodernity: Dune simultaneously a reflection of early 20th C modernity (globalization, media power, global capital), an anxiety about power struggles, controls and treachery (mentats, secret orders and houses, family breakdown), an ecological anxiety; but also a fantasy: of transparent human nature, deep needs being answered by a kind of social/ecological/political saviour, destiny working towards correction and balance (ecological, moral, political/ethnic).  “Messiah” thus becomes a social, historical phenomenon – the hope for a righting of the balance, with little more individual agency required than that someone be moved by genetic/political/ethnic forces?
 
 
 
 
 

Seminar 5 - A Clockwork Orange: Dystopian Fiction and Urban Anxieties
1.   “Speculative Fiction” – a term coined by sci-fi author Samuel Delaney (The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, 1977).  “Speculative” because it depicts a condition which has not (yet?) happened.  But Brian Aldiss defines sci-fi worlds as those “to which possible future spaceships or time machines may take us,” as opposed to the impossibility of reaching/attaining fantasy worlds (“Fatal Breaks,” in Contours of the Fantastic, ed. Michele Langford).  Spec. fiction may depict conditions not yet attained, but it also contains the possible-to-attain, whose roots are in present/past social conditions.  A kind of extrapolation from the present.

Thus a tension between imagining the unattainable (“utopian,” Greek “ou-topos,” “not place,” but traditionally come to mean an exercise in idealistic planning); and extrapolating from the present (the ideology of science, technology, capitalism, power, in which the spec fiction author is located and from which he/she inevitably has to write).
 In the process of thinking from present (through technology/change) to future utopia, a third term inevitably interposes itself: dystopia (Gk. “dus-topos,” bad place).
 Utopia/dystopia, despite apparent opposition, might be considered two sides of the same coin, in a way similar to the psychoanalytic notion of the double (doppelganger): idealistic identity-projection (like the Ego) seems to beg its opposite, the release of repressed dark impulses (like the Id).  Seen in revolutionary cycles (Bolsheviks, religious, bourgeois, military juntas etc): initial idealism gives way to even more oppressive measures than before the revolution, almost as if the breaking out of order leads to severe swings at both ends.
 Inherent not just in human nature/society/power, but also in technology (as it combines with human nature)?  Technology promises paradise, but because it is only as good as the people who use it, it also brings hell: atomic/nuclear power, atomic bomb; cheap cars, air pollution/crowding; internet information, pornography.

2.   Spec. fiction’s roots in social commentary (with varying degrees of kinship, all of which must be tested and contested):
a.   Utopian discourses, even from pre-industrial days: Plato’s The Republic; Thomas Moore’s Utopia, James Harrington’s Commonwealth of Oceania.  A means of exploring and postulating philosophical and social principles and ideas, imaginatively transposed to real/actual conditions.
b.   The 19th C industrial novel and contemporary paintings, with its often bleak (dystopian?) depictions of social conditions (and implicit contrasts with an imagined alternative, no matter how slight or distant) – Dickens’ Hard Times (and many other novels, incl. Great Expectations, David Copperfield), the paintings of Luke Fildes and Hubert von Herkomer, Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, etc.
c.   The allegory as narrative mode [a story which transposes an ‘other’ (e.g. the Kingdom of God) into a recogniseable, present framework (e.g. fishermen; farmers)] – especially religious allegory.   Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Biblical allegories eg; but note how (conversely), quite a few contemporary spec fi novels use religious or quasi-religious themes and settings: Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz uses Catholic church structure, Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy has obeah and pseudo-divinity.  Religious narrative (other, better life; the problematic struggle for the same) gives a kind of persistent generic structure to spec fi?
d.   Left-leaning, liberal social criticism (from late eighteenth/early 19th C onwards) – the Marxist ‘story’ of a pre-capital, egalitarian society becomes the dystopian/utopian literature of left-leaning authors like Emile Zola (Germinal), or even the parodic view of leftist utopias by dystopian writers like George Orwell (Animal Farm; 1984) and Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange).
e.   Modernism’s optimism in machines – particularly in the 1920s (Art Deco, Bauhaus and Le Corbusier modern architecture).  The Sci fi of Verne, Wells especially.  The ‘bubble’ of machines burst then = dystopia.
f.   Romance adventures/quests, particularly those inflected with the American rugged individualism of post WWII – i.e. the figure of the cowboy, the individual against the system (when combined with Bildungsroman, it’s the Huckleberry Finn figure?), the rugged frontiersman (who becomes the space cowboy).
g.   Detective novel/film noire – emphasis on the dark, dirty secrets hidden behind modernity’s façade of progress or material wealth; images and symbols of rebellion and rejection (cyberpunk, the androids in Blade runner etc).

3.   Structural features of spec fi: will therefore draw from the features of the above (sub)genres:
a.   ‘Society’s story’ – society (social trends, conditions, problems, promise) becomes a leading ‘character’, carrying some of the burdens of development (agon, pathos, hamartia, anagnorisis) familiar from Aristotlean criticism onwards.  Society is not merely a static setting for character-development.

This is a major feature which can in itself provide organizing principles for generic purposes: eg (not a complete list)
i.   The ‘infantile stage’ of a society – primitivism, innocence, idyllic – very often corrupted (by contact) and subsequently collapses; or hides a secret taint.  Well’s Island of Dr Moreau; James Hilton’s Lost Horizon; Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead; Spielberg’s Jurassic Park etc
ii.  The ‘youth’ of a society – expansive, hopeful, developmental – undertaking some major project or quest, often with tragic or ambivalent results.  Tropes of frontiers, colonies, cultural contact.  The new invention and its promise.  Verne’s 20,000 Leagues, Asimov’s robots and Foundation, Space opera (original Star Trek; the Star Wars saga; Stargate), Cordelia’s Honour, etc
iii.  A ‘mature’ society, mired in contradictions and internal conflicts; it may look back nostalgically or analytically at the earlier trends which caused the present state.  Frequently, the contradictions move towards a crisis of absorption, circular repetition, entrapment.  Clockwork Orange, Brazil, Huxley’s Brave New World, Harry Harrison’s Soylent Green, etc.
iv.  Aged society, in stages of decline and disintegration, sometimes looking for a means of regeneration, but ultimately with meager results.  Apocalyptic novels (Miller’s St Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, David Brin’s The Postman, Orson Scott Card’s The People of the Fringe, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

b.   The reverse is sometimes (certainly not always) true: that in certain spec fi accounts, characters can be somewhat static (picaresque characters?  Outsiders whose chief function is not struggle and development, but as observers of social developments – Alex?  Case?)
c.   Narrative: use of pseudo-scientific discourses/voices/perspectives (a computer; scientists or anthropologists; reports/logs).  The aim may be to provide a sense of scientific detachment and order, but the result is often a quasi-gothic mix of different fragements, clashing values/perspectives.
d.   Allegorical doubleness: Spec fi often shares with allegories and fables the sense of a narrative doubleness or parallelism, where we are conscious that a world/event/character really represents something/somewhere/somewhen else.  Reading often involves a constant extrapolation or translation of things into our present terms.  E.g. Nadsat in ACO: we are tempted to see parallel with rap, MTV jargon/language, gang slang?  E.g. multiple lives in Feersum – parallel with gaming and escapism, but also with genetic engineering and cryogenics?

4.   ACO
Published in 1962, it arose out of a certain identifiable socio-historical context: Britain’s enfeeblement as a world power, the cold war and the communist threat, the perceived dangers of a permissive welfare society, but (contradictorily?) also the perceived dangers of conservative extremism and the police state.  (The writer Burgess is often compared to is George Orwell, who had a similarly double-edged political satire: communism in Animal Farm, and the right in 1984).    We might say of both writers that while allegorical modes are used, with some identifiable socio-political events/parties referred to, their larger thematic was “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and late modern society (with its powerful technologies) is more corrupt than ever.
 History of publication: Burgess originally intended a 21-chapter novel (since, he says, 21 is “the symbol of human maturity.”  Redemption, return, growth; less dystopian, more romance?  The British publisher Heinemann kept this structure, but the American publisher Norton deleted the last chapter, so as to create a more edgy, unresolvedly dark picture.

5.   There are some trace/slight references and allusions to genres/works such as:
- The bildungsroman (Alex is supposed to move from misguided youth to civilized adult – or is it from a kind of pure and ‘innocent’ violence, to a sneaking and hypocritical adulthood?)
- Hubris, hamartia, peripeteia – like Frankenstein, the act of god gone wrong, the use of science to create an unnatural monster (or is it an individual peripeteia?  Alex assuming god-like power over others’ life and death, crossing the line and making error of judgement, his subsequent downfall)
- Social realism, urban decay/nightmare – society to blame in part or whole for the degeneration of the individual.
-Moral/spiritual pattern of sin, redemption, sacrifice and salvation?  Problematised in several ways – is Alex the sinner, or the sacrificial lamb?  If all sin, then who is to judge and forgive? Etc.
Notice how each textual pattern is ambivalent, transformed sufficiently to make the generic identification possible but also problematic; the ambivalence also lies in the fact that the pattern could refer to the individual (Alex) or to Society.  Is this ambivalence, itself, a characteristic of spec fi?

6.   One way of organizing many spec fi, utopian/dystopian novels, is not by the older generic models/expectations of moral, spiritual, organic or social plot development and change, but by a kind of Marxist-inspired, ‘fashionable’ myth about modernity – the ‘myth of power’.  ACO, Feersum, Neuro, and even (to a lesser extent?) Cordelia/Warrior’s Apprentice, as well as other similar works, share a similar world where:
- Almost every social act (speech, logging on/jacking in, war/adventure/marriage, professionalism/occupation) makes the individual complicit in corrupt social institutions
- Machinery (super computers, super weapons, scientific inventions) threatens to assume many functions of the human
- There is no true progression or change, only (mechanical) repetition, circularity, stasis
- If an alternative state (the past, alternative world, other race) is introduced, by the end of the novel it will become assimilated and corrupted, or otherwise prove to be no alternative
Strong resemblance to Marxist-inspired narratives of capitalist society (e.g. Adorno, Jameson) – can we call this a kind of genre, separate from (and in some ways inimical to) the plot-oriented archetypes of literary progenitors, and arising as a kind of imitation or reflex of present social conditions?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 Seminar 6 Handout
ACO – The Bildungsroman and the ‘Child,’ Conditioning

1.   Tensions inherent in utopian/dystopian fiction – society/city as character, split/double, focus on society’s laws, conditions and technology, thus the tension between focus on society and focus on human protagonist – particularly marked when protagonist is child/youth (since there is much greater potential for change and development than in the AEristotelian hamartic hero).  Why then do so many spec fiction texts choose child/youth protagonists (Dune, ACO, Earthsea, Feersum, many others like Star Wars, Card’s “Ender” series, Starship Trooper).
a.   Bildungsroman – “novel of growth,” particularly popular in romanticism, when the progression from child to adulthood was used to emphasise spiritual/emotional development, internal landscape, particularly for a protagonist who was a type of the artist (Wordsworth’s Prelude, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man etc).  Indeed, emphasis on internal landscape and spiritual growth was often a means of emphatically ignoring society (industrialization and urbanization, the disease of 19th C Germany and early 20th C Ireland, etc).
b. Typically, movement from secluded innocence to experience (often involving a fall from grace, mischief bordering on vice, unpleasant encounter with repressive authority, etc), to a (or several) epiphanic episodes which confirm the child in an invisible truth (art, nature, religion, magic), finally a return/confrontation with society/authority in which the (now) youth repudiates its authority/claims.
c. Bildungsroman also inflected by a somewhat related genre/narrative mode, the picaresque (picaro = rogue or scoundrel in Spanish) – visitor, thief, low person who acts as an external and thus objective observer on a society.  Child figure is also suitable picaro, because s/he is outside of the adult world/values: so eg Huck Finn, and Maisie in James’ What Maisie Knew (although many picaresque protagonists are not children – though they may have a child-like quality).  Picaresque is where society and romantic child meet half-way? Child doesn’t necessarily grow as markedly, and in as spiritual/internal a way, as in Bildungsroman; therefore, less of the repudiation of society, more of a carefully (if precariously) neutral perspective, leaving it to the reader to judge?

2.   Fantasy more closely aligned with Bildungsroman?  Less problematic, because it can emphasise the invisible world of magic/power, the exceptional (kingly/priestly/heroic) nature of the child-of-destiny, without having to worry too much about depicting society.  But where a fantasy is also concerned with social depiction/law, problems arise from the tensions between developing child-as-history/law, and society’s history/law (e.g. Dune?)

3.   Most spec fictions primarily concerned with society, may still/deliberately choose figure of child, not only for picaresque effect, but also to use child’s growth as a canary (like miners) index of society’s conditioning.  i.e. child as particularly susceptible to social conditioning, and thus offers us a living picture (rather than intellectualized statement) of social conditioning.
 If this is (at least partly) true in ACO, then it might be described as a perverted Bildungsroman – growth is not the point at all, not in the spiritual/developmental way of the Bildungsroman.  If there is any “growth,” it is so twisted by society that all we can really see is society’s imprint; thus Burgess’s organic pattern (intended or ironic) only heightens the perverse nature of Alex’s growth.

4.   ACO’s conditioning mechanisms: far more numerous and diffusive than just the Ludovico technique:
a.   Policy, government: on pubs, which allow loopholes (“milk plus”) for youth to access alcohol; spending (not enough police, overcrowded jails, but space programmes [the “Luna with people on it], Ludovico technique; also State Aid/welfare?); “new policy…compensation for the cats” (misguided welfarism); political bad faith (General Election rhetoric “streets had been made safer in the last 6 months”); quick fix (from ineffective police, to police brutality, recruiting ex-thugs, to Ludovico technique etc); self-serving politicians (Z. Dolin: “what a superb device he can be, this boy”) and workers (Deltoid: “all my work ruined”)
 State-like economy (“statefilm,” Alex’s mum works in a “statemart,” welfareism, people on the street have the class-status of proletariat – very few rich or mc people, maybe only cat woman); but with elements of democratic capitalism (materialism in cars, hi-fi, clothes, etc; popularly-elected politicians, thus all the campaign rhetoric).
b.   Materialism, status symbols: clothes, wigs (“not costing less than 3 or 4 weeks of those sharps’ wages,” chp 1), but also more usual things like sound systems, spending money, the desire to appear “sophisticated” (2 girls in record shop)
c.   Peer pressure (to appear sexually experienced, e.g. wearing lovers’ names on badges, to dress/appear a certain way,
d.   Education/values/attitudes (or lack thereof) – as the drunk says in chapter 2, “it’s a stinking world because it lets the young get on to the old like you done, and there’s no law nor order no more,” “and there’s not no attention paid to earthly law nor order no more.”  Problem of parental influence, schools, curriculum, education, etc – perhaps confirmed by the importance placed on technocracy, e.g. the untried Ludovico technique?  School is “that great seat of gloppy useless learning” (chp 4).  Loss of historical/cultural consciousness?  Elvis, Disraeli, “a poet veck called Peebee Shelley”; “gulliver” as slang.
 Breakdown of family: partly state-induced, proletariat-type labour (repetitive, clockwork-like – dye factory and stocker in a statemart), “this law for everybody not a child nor with child nor ill to go out rabbiting” (chp 4).  But (whether cause or effect – and effect of many other causes, including lack of education, selfishness etc) family emotional ties also frayed: Alex’s parents show little interest in his fate until he is “in the papers,” take on the border Joe.
e.   Television and film: the Filmdrome, where the gang steals a car, shows “the usual cowboy riot, with the archangels on the side of the US marshal six-shooting at the rustlers out of hell’s fighting legions, the kind of hound-and-horny veshch put out by Statefilm in those days” (chp 2).
f.   Force itself – violence, in a Darwinian universe, is both ideological influence, as well as actual coercion (as seen in treatment of Alex after his treatment – defenseless against violence of hospital staff, geriatrics in the library, Dim and George etc.  In a world of endemic violence, the only choice is to be victim or victimizer.

5.   Language: major theme in the novel.  It is both one of the prime means of conditioning (as convention, value-encoding, social acts [of violence, discrimination, dehumanization etc]), as well as the symbol of what’s wrong with human nature and society as a whole.  Language is not simple (either free/creative/individual or bound/conventional/mechanical); but it is in that inextricable duality, the impossibility of being oneself (free of social influence and boundaries), that a condemnation already consists.
a.   Onomatopoeia as natural-like: the spontaneous, bodily sounds that seem to stand outside of complex social conventions/influence: thus sexual orgasm (“aaaaaaah”), battle-rage (“Aaaaaaarhgh”) – back vowels, open-mouthed, protracted, windy/breathy; a victim whose dentures are broken makes “chumbling shooms” (the multiple fricatives and labials perhaps suggesting impeded speech), and when Alex threatens his father, the latter replies in a manner “like humble mumble chumble” (again suggesting impeded speech, e.g. cringing, head lowered; Alex later threatens to “kick [his parents’] zoobies in.”  “Natural” language raises the theme of nature in the novel – the “orange” that is under threat from the clockwork.  Dim, smacked by Alex in the bar, says, “what natural right does he have to think he can give the orders,” to which Alex makes a similar naturalist reply: Dim “has got to learn his place,” because “There has to be a leader.  Discipline there has to be.”
 But this language seemingly of the body (iconic, physical, “natural”) has some significantly mechanical qualities: firstly, the correspondence between human/bodily and machine sounds: a stolen car is “coughing kashl kashl kashl,” and later Z. Dolin is described characteristically as “coughing kashl kashl kashl.”  The prison turntable goes “growwwwowwwwowwww,” which echoes human speech (Alex’s mother who cries “owwwww owwwww owwwww,” the pedophilic jailmate who says “Owwww, yew wahnt noo moor trabble”).
b.   Repetition: people not only repeat machines, they also repeat themselves and each other.  Most significant is Alex’s mother, who is characteristically whining “owwwww” (with some variation, e.g. “owwwwwwme” when talking about the fate of Joe).
 Even more pronounced imitation/repetition in conventional (?) language: the limited vocabulary of slang (“malenky,” “groodies,” “horrorshow”).  The artificial and pompous tone of all public speakers (minister, but also the opposition party people, F. Alexander etc).  Alex finds himself repeating elements without always/fully being aware of it: “I seemed to have picked up that yes? From P. R. Deltoid…Very strange,” and during the Ludovico process, “Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?”  (“I didn’t know what made me use those slovos, brothers, which just came like without asking into my gulliver”).
 Even chapter 21 is an account of repetition: Pete’s wife’s name is Georgina, almost a female echo of old gangmate George, and he spouts a highly conventional vision of married, respectable life (“wine-cup and word-games”) – a vision which Alex then absorbs and accepts, ironically but not fully consciously pointing to its conventionality (“like these cartoons in the gazettas,” the repetition of that vague uncertain phrase “all that cal”)

6.   Names: like many satirical writers (and also children’s writers), Burgess attached suggestive (not always completely reliable or transparent) significance to names: Alex, as Burgess himself points out, is “a lex(is): a vocabulary”; or he could be a (without, not) lexis.  P. R. Deltoid “shoulders” a state burden in a very perfunctory, overburdened way?  (but also “pr” – another histrionic, artificial person).  The obvious echo between Alex and F. Alexander; the many Russianized names (Ludovico, singers like Johnny Zhivago).

7.   In final analysis, Alex’s centrality/individuality, such as it is, is squeezed between the various social mechanisms depicted in the novel.  The duality of the novel might consist in Alex’s sometimes humorous/dignified/human insights/struggle against an inexorably mechanical social force.
 It seems hard to deny the fact that the novel’s main concern is with depicting the complex, subtle and plural conditioning mechanisms of society – mechanisms which not only resonate in Burgess’s day, but even with the social anxieties of today.  The challenge to the reader is very much to do with seeing into/through those social mechanisms.  This does not entirely eclipse interest in Alex, nor the possibility of human struggle – but it is very much an uphill struggle.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 – Seminar 7 Handout
Wizard of Earthsea: Fantasy and/vs Speculative Fiction

1.   Wizard published 1968.  Le Guin (b. 1929) probably best known for her story of first contact and cultural/anthropological awareness, The Left Hand of Darkness, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards (1970).  (Left Hand takes us to another planet with sexually androgynous figures, in a society where hormonal changes associated with sexual liaisons and childbirth are the basis of a complex honour-code).

Wizard part of a series which includes Tombs of Atuan (1971) and The Farthest Shore (1972) – sometimes collectively called the Earthsea Trilogy (and published/marketed as such).  However, the saga continues with Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990), The Other Wind (2001), Tales of Earthsea (2001) etc.

2.   What are the narratologies, ideologies and cultural functions of fantasy and/vs speculative fiction?  Are they really distinct altogether – have many similarities, and many authors (including Le Guin) write across the “2 genres”; on the other hand, there are also differences in terms of world, themes, structure etc.  Fantasy and Spec Fiction begin with a similar cultural impulse (to imaginatively reconsider the present society), which gives them similar ideological shape; they also have some overlapping themes and tropes.  But fantasy’s retrograde, mythic/religious, psychological/internalised, sublime aspect is distinct, at least from SF’s sociological, material/technological, aspect (although most fantasy and SF texts have multiple elements/strands).

Earthsea bears comparison with high fantasy worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lewis’s Narnia, as several reviewers have commented.  Similarities include:
a.   Retrograde world with vague evocations of European dark ages – pastoral, mythic, quasi-feudal polity and economy (herdsmen, fishermen, courtly society); English rural names like “Ten Alders” and “Armouth”?  Kargad (“white-skinned, yellow-haired and fierce” in “longboats”) resemble Vikings; may not be a recogniseable age/culture/epoch, but distinctly retrograde rather than forward-looking like speculative fiction;
b.   Small space-time (“chronotope,” in Bakhtin’s terms) – not global/universal/instant (as in electronic communications and after), but a circumscribed society, outside of which is “unknown” territory and which requires arduous/lengthy movement to get to (note that “magic” teleportation not possible – even in Narnia, instantaneous movement between the 2 heterocosmic worlds is possible, but once in Narnia, the small space-time rules apply).
c.   The parochial/isolated protagonist – like the child-protagonist of Bildungsroman, but not merely an effect of childlike innocence; also to do with the geopolitics of isolation (thus has as much in common with the trope of the “third world,” “country bumpkin,” as it does with the child per se).  A “lonely village called Ten Alders,” Gont a “single mountain” in the “storm-racked northeast sea.”  Story of enlarging worlds, cultural conflict, individual in power relations.
d.   Epic scope (of action, space, signification) – individual, though small, is involved in action which has world-changing significance (cp. battle against Sauron, or Last Battle for Narnia).  WoE, although short, has epic-like construction (10.5 chapters, each a phase of Ged’s life and career); and the entire Earthsea series is very epic-like in its length, duration, scope.

3.   These qualities of a characteristic fantasy world (time, space, political economy, culture, nature), tends to lead (not exclusively) to certain narrative elements in fantasy:

- In psychoanalytic terms, fantasy tends to focus on the life of the unconscious/id, while social realism focuses on the waking/conscious/socially-aware aspects of life.
- In narratological terms, fantasy (inheriting from earlier gothic and Victorian fantasy literature) can be seen as the narrative mode which tends to favour techniques of overdetermined symbolism and dialogical zones; realism tends to rely on relatively linear codes which carry a (single or several) moral conclusion(s).
- In mythic/archetypal terms, fantasy tends to work/write closer to the mythic, primal, basic level in terms of plot (quest-like), character (tragic, heroic, etc), symbols (spiritual), etc.  Realism is more ‘displaced’ away from primal myth, towards socially-complex meanings and experiences (career, social pressures, the bourgeois individual, social morals/values)

4.   Fantasy and Psychology/Self
(More on this topic, with close reference to the text, will be done in the next session).  For now, just important to underscore the fact that fantasy is fundamentally concerned with “inner” landscapes.  These can be figured in a number of ways: as journeys, developments, struggles/mistakes, reconciliations/harmonies/balances, in specific symbols (shadow, flood/river, circle, and such), etc.
 SF inevitably deals with self, too, but this is very much secondary to social forces: e.g. Alex in ACO, even as narrator, doesn’t reveal much of an inner landscape.  Lack of self-awareness at times, e.g. in not knowing his flaws that provoke the betrayal by his gang, not knowing whence he picks up the phrase “clockwork orange,” etc.  Classical music not a symbol of inner life, but rather an external stimulus, which can in the end be used as conditioning tool (Ludovico).

5.   Fantasy and Anthropology/Primitivism
Another way to get at a distinctive feature of fantasy (both as text and as ideological impulse) is to look at its dogged primitivism.  While both SF and fantasy may deal with ‘backward’ societies, in SF it is often through the lenses and values of the progressive society, or to contrast progressive and backward worlds (Wells’ Time Machine? Harrison’s Death World series, Cooper’s Sea Horse in the Sky, etc).  The primitivism of Dune plays a constructive role (in training Paul), but is ultimately a phase/cog in a larger, imperial/cosmological/technological power system.
 Fantasy seems to be much more interested in primitive life/society for its own sake: not necessarily with any scholarly accuracy (although often borrowed or adapted from real data – note Le Guin’s father was an anthropologist), but interested in detailed description of primitive/earthy rituals: note rituals of names and naming (rite of passage, denoting kinship/trust, power), apprenticeship (not medieval guild, for profit and protection, but in a deeper emotional/psychological way – Ogion and Ged like father and son), weather (control, placation – Ogion as calmer of earthquake; again, a relationship), animals (Otak/Hoeg – naming, relationship, the rumour that it is a spirit whispering in Ged’s ear; Edenic myth).
 Scholars speak of the “aetiological” nature of myths (Greek “aitias” = “cause”) – ie. the theory that much of the origins of myths are in stories (Greek “muthos” = “utterance”) to explain natural causes (G. S. Kirk, The Nature of Greek Myths – but note that Kirk also says that myths are “multifunctional,” complex in their explanatory motives – weather, creation, animals, gods, man).
 Fantasy (among other things) an impulse to return to an aetiological world?  To fantasize about rituals and relationships which matter (because they are vitally connected to people/nature), possibly as a reaction to a world in which self is cut off, constantly mediated by capital.

6.   Fantasy and Religion/Bible
Again, a more detailed discussion of (especially Biblical echoes) next session, with close references to the text.  But for now, note the quasi-religious impulse of fantasy – a kind of “natural supernaturalism” (Abrams, on romantic poetry), a new religion for an industrial age which cannot believe in deity?
 Link between fantasy and new age beliefs – faith and credence in an invisible realm/power, without the personhood of God.  WoE’s evocation of a world of “equilibrium,” “true names,” changing, summoning, light, etc – all exercises in belief while occluding the divine?
 Does this work – in this particular novel?  In a larger series (such as Earthsea eventually became)?  What are the narratological and ideological problems that this might pose?  (More suited for shorter, more localized story than for longer, more explanatory accounts?  Loses some explanatory power?  Becomes 1 in any number of possible supernaturalisms (hence the proliferating economy of fantasy)?  Simplification, even at ideological level?  Cp. Dune, which is always tempted to make Paul the divine, not merely the prophetic – tension between human and quasi-divine Paul make for some of the uneasy points in that novel?

7.   Fantasy and knowledge/pedagogy
Much (not all) fantasy concerned with secret knowledge – hidden, precious, guarded, known only to an elite group, concerning some object/place/person/power which is life-changing, which provides answers.
 Fantasy of pedagogy/discipline?  Possibly a reaction to liberal individualism and the lack of discipline in contemporary society.  WoE might be read as a novel about schooling (cp. not just Hogwarts, but also children’s stories about schooling – Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Enid Blyton stories, novels of naval/military training (the Hornblower series, some of Conrad’s and Kipling’s stories, Kung Fu movies?).  What Ogion tries to teach Ged, and what he hates most at Roke, is disciplined, uneventful, silent learning.  Old tradition, of “wisdom” literature, proverbs, folk tales, secret training manuals, etc.  Similarly, the familiar trope of pedagogy thwarted (by haste, pride, indiscipline – cp. Darth Vader, but also Adam).

8.   Fantasy and Sublime Horror
Fantasy closely related, via romance, to Gothic sublime (and its later manifestation, contemporary horror).  Gothic/horror don’t always sit easily with romance, SF or even each other, but there is clearly a broad narratological/ideological convergence (the invisible as more compelling than the visible, hubris and what it unleashes, the visionary imagining of a radically different order, which may also be a fightening one).
 We might see this (among other ways) as a matter of narrative/plot: while romance and realist SF are more inclined to stop at something of a resolution (so, in the “positive” reading of chapter 21 of ACO, that novel is a romance?), gothic/horror pushes the plot to a point which emphasizes irresolution, things left dangling, the threat of recurrence (of the horror).

Some thematic/archetypal elements of gothic/horror.
a.   Secret/hidden/metaphysical (“occult” – from latin “celare”, hidden) truth, meaning, dimension of being – the life of the gods, life or dimension after this life (hell,
limbo, purgatory, ghosts, immortals), magical powers capable of transforming everyday life/society.  This accidentally or abruptly intrudes itself into the mundane,
interrupting or disrupting the life of a mortal.
From romantic “sublime”, which (associated with political writer Edmund Burke) was a kind of aesthetic feeling associated with the threatening, dark, huge,
uncontainable (as opposed to the aesthetics of the beautiful, associated with the small, neat, containable).  Seems to have started out as a rejection of a limited
aesthetics of order and a championing of nature (Burke’s e.g.s, among others, were chasms, soaring mountains), then became a powerful metaphor for political
horror (the chaos and slaughter of the French revolution), then the sense of a secret dimension underlying socio-political order and civilization (Victorian gothic, e.g.
Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, Dorian Gray).  A “terrible freedom,” which only gives birth to chaotic horror?
b.   Enchantress (or, less commonly, enchanter) – jealous, desirous of power and adulation, a perverter of truth and order, a deceiver, a chaotic figure.  Circe in
Odyssey is a mythic origin for several smaller figures (of women who constantly emerge to tempt, trick or provoke Ged) in WoE: the daughter of the Lord of Re Albi, her mother, Serret the lady of Osskil who tries to seduce Ged into taking the stone of Terranon (and who changes into a gull to flee), and the priestesses in The Tombs of Atuan.
Archetype of Eve – deceiver of men, seductress, resulting in transformations.  Also, Jung’s “Male Mater” – threatening, castrating, consuming woman.
c.   Certain elements of romance – the virginal girl, her young lover, a quest for the hidden, difficult journey with the potential for growth.  Very often in horror, this
early promise is thwarted at the end: innocence perverted, death and destruction, and if the young heroes survive and grow, it is at great cost – a certain degree of
corruption and incorporation into the “dark”.
d.   Doubling of characters: Frankenstein and monster, eg.  Ged and Shadow, Jekyll and Hyde.  Sense of the essential doubleness of identity (Id and Ego?) reinforces the sense of moral struggle and confusion.
e.   Moral struggle, pre-Christian, reduced to archetypal terms of a struggle between order and chaos, light and dark, truth and falsehood.  Human characters are
unwitting and accidental pawns in this eternal struggle.  Human moral triumph merely means a postponement of eternal struggle, hence the sense of unease,
perpetual threat.  Human capitulation to evil, on the other hand, seems to imply apocalypse and the end of the race.
f.   Narrative techniques foster moral ambiguity: either by dialogical, gothic, subversive narratives which undermine the ostensible moral superiority of the hero (think
of the monster’s energetic refutation of Frankenstein’s hypocrisies); or ‘thriller’ narratives which privilege the exciting, enticing, exotic nature of the villain/evil.
g.   No “sense of an ending” – no clear-cut resolution, no achievement of quest, no triumph.  Evil, if defeated in this instance, survives and threatens to return.
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 – SEMINAR 8 HANDOUT
Wizard of Earthsea – Romance, Quest, Bildungsroman

Is action, as Aristotle tended to believe, inherently meaningful/compelling?  Is it because it concerns the very human events/characteristics/mistakes that fascinate human readers?  If so, this remains largely unchanged since classical times, which is perhaps why fantasy (more than SF) is concerned with the individual’s actions and career, set in a socially-minimal or backward context (and why, of course, fantasy is so popular a genre).

1.   Romance and the Quest
The quest is not unique to romance, of course – features in classical works like The Odyssey, legend-inspired literature like the troubadour songs and the Grail legend, contemporary realist writing/texts (quest for job, love, competition).  Romance is a type of quest-narrative with very strongly-foregrounded symbolic connotations: quest is closely connected with love, fulfillment, healing/cleansing, rituals of atonement, maturity, coming-into-authority/responsibility etc. (Tentative distinction: romance is a tradition of quest-literature with highly ritualistic elements and a tendency to symbolize inner psychological landscapes; accordingly, non-romance quests tend to be more surface, social, material – job, marriage, justice, etc).
 Prototypical romance-quests have the most primal goals: Ulysses in Odyssey wants to go “home,” Arthur’s knights want to find “the Grail,” Ged to find/defeat the “Shadow,” (so the reader is encouraged, indeed forced, to find the plurality of overdetermined meanings available in each of these primal symbols: “home” is not just where one lives, but where one’s identity/character/morality is confirmed; Grail is not just relic/cup, but also notion of kingship/sacrifice/wholeness of the domain; Shadow is not just demon/threat, but also one’s own “inner darkness,” the need for forgiveness, deliverance, wholeness.
 Likewise Bildungsroman – literally “novel of growth/development” (German “bilden” = build/develop).  Although original romantic bildungsroman tended to focus on inner growth, the term has been more broadly applied to any novel in which a child moves towards maturity.  So not all Bildungsromanen are romance/symbolic – depends on the child, on the society, and the relationship between the two.  (child-protagonists who are more imaginative/artistic/given to the inner life, vs. child-protagonists concerned with practical, worldly knowledge and affairs; artist/mage figures (e.g. Ged), vs. mischief-makers/clever observers (Huck, Bascule).

2.   Romance and psychology – there’s a reason Freud and Jung were so interested in primitive myths and folklore.  The more archetypal, less displaced the story (i.e. less full of incidental/realist/social details), the better it functions as a symbol of unconscious/deep meanings.
 One way of reading/explaining romance-quest is to say that it is a vehicle for the articulation of desires which cannot otherwise (i.e. in realist, conventional, social terms) be articulated.
 e.g. start of chapter 2:
 “Ged had thought that as the prentice of a great mage he would enter at once into the mystery and mastery of power.  He would understand the language of the beasts and the speech of the leaves of the forest, he thought, and sway the winds with his word, and learn to change himself into any shape he wished.  Maybe he and his master would run together as stags, or fly to Re Albi over the mountain on the wings of eagles.”
 This overdetermined primal quality is both the strength and weakness of romance quests, especially as they are used in contemporary society.  One can read one’s own meaning into a romance-quest, because one can read almost any (psychological/emotional) meaning into it – something for everyone (like Gestalt therapy) can also mean nothing finite, final, conclusive.
 There are obvious problems/questions raised by this notion of romance as a surrogate/displacement for (other, deeper) desires:
i.   If epic/quest is a general metaphor for desires which cannot otherwise be articulated, can the desire be fulfilled/satisfied?  (In psychoanalytic terms it cannot, except in death which is the end of being/desiring – otherwise, desire is by definition the lack which is never fulfilled, in primal terms the mother).  Does this help explain the proliferating/unending nature of fantasy texts (ala Robert Jordan), the sense of a lack of definition, a lack of closure?
ii.   Displacement may be all very well in narratological terms, but in psychoanalytic terms it is not truth, but the sidestepping (deferral, demurral) of truth.  Duality/ambivalence: displaced myths/symbols may be the only means of getting at deep truth of selfhood (which are otherwise repressed, invisible, unconscious), and thus they are useful; but they are also competitors/substitutes of deeper truths.
 (One way to approach this aspect of the novel is to ask if Ged really solves the problem of the self at the end of the novel.  As Serret says, “Only shadow can fight shadow.  Only darkness can defeat the dark”; and Vetch observes that “Ged had neither lost nor won” – the essential ambivalence of symbolic ending.  All very well to say he gains knowledge of “his own true self,” but knowledge is not necessarily control or healing.  Certainly Vetch’s doubt (“he was not sure what had happened there in the dark land…He did not know if this was Ged in the boat…”), the title of the chapter (“the open sea”) and the coy epilogue (“there is a tale told…of a boat that ran aground,” “in the Deed of Ged nothing is told…”) all add to the sense that the narrative is a kind of “subreption” (Latin “rapere” = snatch, i.e. a purloining or misreading) of a deeper truth which might not have been fully told or understood.
 Note that interestingly, the shadow may be read in terms of desire: when it lurches towards Ged on Osskil, with the intention of “devouring him out from within, owning him, which was its whole desire,” (and again, Ged tells Ogion that “all its desire is to meet me face to face”), we might say that it is nothing (shadowy, formless) but desire itself; or we might say that it is no different from Ged (his dark double, again), since its desire is Ged’s desire in some form (reintegration, reunification).
 Also, the ephemeral form of the Shadow, especially after Ged confronts it (in chpt 8): “a dim ill-made thing,” “appearing all at once more loose and dim, less like a man more like mere smoke blowing on the wind.”  Could symbolize fears confronted (which then become weak/unreal); but could also indicate the uncertain nature of the unconscious – it manifests and dissolves, making it difficult to attribute meaning.  Shadow is in one instant a threatening, frightening force, at another instant a vague frightened thing; at one instant an Other, at another the Same.

3.   Bildungsroman as psychological stage
“The child is father to the man” (Wordsworth, “Ode…Intimations of Immortality”)
 Bildungsroman is (psycho)logically the right trope for Fantasy’s exploration of psychological concerns.  The child-phase is when psychological formations (selfhood, relationship to parents, to society, moral consciousness etc) all come into play, and where they can be derailed in interesting neurotic/pathological ways.  Not all Bildungsroman narratives are (equally) interested in psychology, but Fantasy in particular seems to use the Bildungsroman in order to explore certain psychological issues, particularly involving the retardation, perversion, displacement of normal developmental impulses, and how these affect the individual later in life.  Fantasy tropes (magic, power, an invisible realm, the exceptional/heroic individual, horror etc) all allow psychopathological traits to be blown up in spectacular form – if a disturbed ordinary child is merely distressing, a disturbed child who has great magical power is “world-historically” significant within the fantasy world.
 Ged’s development an interesting version of the Fantasy Bildungsroman focus on arrested growth: “He grew wild, a thriving weed, a tall, quick boy, loud and proud and full of temper,” father dealing with him “at a high cost in blows and whippings” (chpt 1).  His magic as much an expression of sheer strong willfulness as “natural” talent: defies the witch-woman’s silencing spell, uses magic to serve pride and suppress others like Jasper, constantly trying to push the boundaries/limits (even of death, as with the shadow, and in pursuit of Pechverry’s child – a Frankenstein figure).  In the battle with the lord-wizard of Osskil, “though he had no staff, and stood on alien ground and evil ground, the domain of a dark power, yet his will prevailed” (chp. 7).  Wilful disobedience as leading to tragic consequences; yet the novel suggests that the source of this tragedy is in rather commonplace childhood issues.  Furthermore, it is this willfulness that also makes Ged interesting, heroic, exceptional – figure of the genius-artist.
 Sons and Fathers: Ged’s career might be seen as a search for (surrogate) father – first Ogion, whom he rejects, then mages, then back to Ogion (who calls him “my son” – end chpt 7).  Behind this, in psycho-Bildungs terms, is the search for fatherly approval and acceptance – but since this does not come from the true father, it cannot ever come from another man, and Ged’s career is really to find peace in alternative terms – a universal father (“truth”?  “completeness”?) – when he overcomes the shadow, he is “weeping like a boy.”  Earthsea a world where sons cannot find acceptance from fathers, and carry these scars all their lives: see the castaway Kargish man who refuses to go back to civilization: “All his memory of other lands and other men was a child’s nightmare of blood and giants and screaming” (chp 8) – psychologically not much different from our world?
 Sons and mothers: even more complex relationship, if Freud is to be believed.  Ged’s mother dies when he is one, and his dealings with women are even more problematic than with men.  Series of evil mothers (Jungian “male mater,” the wicked stepmother/crone archetype) – the witch of Ten Alders, young/old Serret, etc.  Women kept at arms’ length, little room in the world of Earthsea or Ged’s life (note the reinforcement by the Mages, some of whom frown in disapproval when the Lord of O’s wife comes into their hall).  Greatness as excluding/precluding eros; sexual/emotional dysfunction (the chase of the shadow, especially when it takes male form e.g. with Skiorh on Osskil, classic homosexual symbolism, according to some gothic scholars).

4.   Landscape – if what we have said about romance as psychological tale is true, then we should look for significance in landscape as well.  Not just in individual symbols (mountain = enlightenment, sea/river = life/soul, forest = mystery etc), but also in the general landscape and its significance.  If SF, with its social realist elements, uses landscapes to point to social conditions/laws or their lack (e.g. the nightmare urban topoi of ACO and Feersum), fantasy likewise uses the whole landscape to give a gestalt picture, but of the psyche rather than society.
 Insular world – obvious symbolism of man as island (at least as old as Donne), but also a general topos of fragmentation, difference, otherness, conflict.  (Insular geography reinforces cultural differences by preventing easy communication, dialogue and change).
 Reinforces Ged’s fragmentary career – not a single long (sea or land) voyage, as with (say) Ulysses or Marco Polo, with specific and long-term destinations (“China,” “Ithaca,” whatever they may mean), but a series of almost accidental, random excursions.  Reinforced by the concentric/eccentric nature of Earthsea: There is Havnor great isle in the centre (power, secular authority, although rather muted), then there is Roke just south of it (the secret, secluded heart/soul beyond secular power? Cohesion/unity? Or seclusion/mystery?  Ged is offered the option to hide from shadow on Roke, but chooses to leave and then can’t come back), and then there’s everywhere else.  Not counting Re  Albi on Gont, Ged first goes south to Roke, then Westward to Low Torning in the 90 isles, then west again to Pendor, then east to Roke (but never gets there), then north to Osskil, then “east by south” to Gont, then retraces his mazy path (“he had no plan or strategy…but the retracing of his path”).  Movement leads, not to progression or a goal, but stems from confusion/error, and requires retracing.
 Thus, a landscape which symbolizes the values of contentment, staying put, quietude, isolation – where people tend to stay where they are born, to fit in, rather than change drastically.  (Read geopolitically, is this an anti-globalizing, anti-cosmopolitan ideology?  Note that sophistication is often associated with corruption/weakness: Jasper, Serret).  Also the Kargish castaway twins, as effects of royal ambition/usurpation.
 Related to this, sea symbolizes rest, finality, contentment?  (Not death in its hellish, infernal, unending aspect – not condemnation, evil, which is “the dry place,” “of earth,” but peaceful finality, although this is a kind of death: Ged half hopes to pull the shadow “down into the darkness of the deep sea”).  Sea often a symbol of regeneration (Ancient Mariner), re/birth (Venus).
 Title of novel and world (“earthsea”) thus suggests delicate balance between death and life, ambition/movement/power and contentment/peace/regeneration.  Note that the ancient stone is called “Terrenon” – combination of earth (French “terre,” Latin “terra”) and negation/corruption (“non”)?  “Osskil” itself is a death symbol – “kill,” the bitter cold, the lonely tower which represents ambitious knowledge.
 Ending of novel (on the Open Sea) seems to suggest a temporary renunciation of earthly evil/ambition – a regeneration, suspension of ambition, until the inevitable return to land and career.

5.   Earthsea, religion, Bible
Although there is not a single explicit reference to Biblical narrative, this novel (like most Western literature, according to Frye) has the shadow of the Bible looming very large over it – perhaps even more so than Dune with its cannibalized bits of Messianism.  (Dune treated Bible as one of several mythic types – Earthsea, without once referring to the Bible, seems to rely on it as one of the most significant structuring myths).
 Ged’s career as Christ-figure: young boy of destiny/power, eschewing earthly father for another kind (marked by invisible power), who must embrace a bitter destiny in order to save the world.  Performs Christ-like miracles/events: healing and compassion (e.g. with Pechvarry’s child – well, almost), temptation (Pendor, with the dragon as the devil, the name of the shadow and the sidestepping of destiny as the temptation), defeats dragons who fall out of the sky at his command (Revelations 12: 9 refers to devil as “the old dragon,” and in Luke 10: 18 Christ says “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven”).  Goes into the land of death and returns (after a period of quasi-death) to the living.  Bears distinguishing scars (John 20: 27 – Jesus proves his identity to Thomas by asking him to touch his wounds).  Commands the wind and waves.  After overcoming agon, is destined to be a kind of ruler (Archmage).
 Not just figure/career of Ged, but also the narrative pattern and meaning of novel: might be said to be a story about overcoming world, in order to gain other-worldly value.  If Ged searches in vain for an earthly father, in a sense what he finally gains is a spiritual paternity (not in the Christian God, but in a universal peace or oneness).  The story is in some sense about struggling against and going beyond the things of the world (ambition, power, childhood issues, temptation, corruption, adversaries) in order to find an other-worldly orientation/understanding which gives us peace on this earth, manifesting itself in a life of simplicity, renunciation, temperance (Ged goes through the rest of the novels as a kind of mendicant, monk-like figure, in the end giving away even his power).
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 Seminar 9 Handout: Warrior’s Apprentice

WA published 1986, second in a series by Bujold (b. 1949) involving the same world (Barrayar) and with recurring characters (Aral, Cordelia, Miles, etc).  Part of the wildly popular, inventive, genre-bending surge in SF in the 1980s onwards, given a huge boost by blockbuster movies like the Star Wars sequence (1977, 1980, 1983), the Alien sequence (1979, 1986, 1992) and Blade Runner (1982), and with hot award-winning novelists like Octavia Butler (b. 1947), William Gibson (b. 1948), Orson Scott Card (b. 1951), Iain Banks (b. 1954), Douglas Adams (b. 1952) etc.  Succeeding the rather more austere writing style and concepts of preceding generation (e.g. Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clark, both b. 1917, Isaac Asimov b. 1920, Poul Anderson b. 1926, Piers Anthony b. 1934).  All born in what is often called the “baby boomer” generation, all bring a new richness and inventiveness (including “crossover” concepts and genre expectations: SF and humour, detective, women’s perspectives/issues/heroines, race/slavery, horror, and of course fantasy/magic).  The phenomenon of the “star” SF author, with a huge cult following, who for the first time not only makes a living from writing alone, but considerable wealth, sometimes with movie deals, celebrity status, all the ideological implications of contemporary popular culture.

Bujold, a multiple Hugo- and Nebula-award winner, also writes high fantasy (e.g. The Spirit Ring, The Curse of Chalion), and brings to all her writing a sensitivity to the position and perspective of the underdog, the sensitive soul, the misfit, whose outward/physical/cultural awkwardness belies an inner greatness (planning, intellect, soul, wit).  Often involves a kind of “trickster” figure (from folklore, e.g. Anansi, but also seen in SF and more recent writings, e.g. Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat – although Rat is more a James Bond-like character, male and chauvinistic, who uses wit to supplement brawn, and only because he is severely outnumbered as he heroically saves world after world).  Bujold’s trickster figures are not world-historical heroes (except accidentally), not secret agents, kings, mages, etc – just people trying to survive under a “curse” (genetics, culture, gender, etc), and becoming all they can be.  (Elements of “PC,” at the risk of oversimplifying her work.  Perhaps we might call it sf ‘sensibility’ - i.e. like 18th C ‘sensibility’ or sentimentality, but a version appropriate for technocratic society – i.e. the focus on human possibilities within technological society.

Brian Attebery (in secondary readings list) distinguishes pre-1960s SF from post 1960s.  Pre-1960s dominated by ideology of science-as-progress, whether the fantastic journeys and feats of pioneer writers like Wells and Verne, or the fast-paced action and fast-changing humanity (where the human cost somehow didn’t seem to be a big issue) in writers like Robert Heinlein, Asimov and others who were writing in the 1950s and earlier.  Post-1960s marked by a growing sense of pessimism, cynicism and guardedness, about technology and the human cost, control, mass destruction, abuses, side-effects, etc.
 If this distinction has some validity, where would we put WA?  In some ways influenced by the pace and tone of earlier SF (comic, light-hearted, exuberant attitude to technology), in other ways much more conscious of the human cost (Miles’ body a constant reminder), carefully negotiating a moral/ethnical way through technology and power.  What is the ideological function of Bujold’s narrative form?

1.  “Space Opera” genre: Defined in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as “large-scale, fast-moving sf that emphasizes action-adventure rather than making any particular sense” (P. 297).  E.g. E. E. “Doc” Smith’s novels, the Star Wars sequence, Battlestar Galactica, etc.  Product of the initial exuberance about large-scale space travel, especially in the 1960s-1970s.  Non-SF genre that comes closest is probably epic-historical novel (War and Peace, North and South eg) – large-scale historical event, usually centred around a world-changing conflict, in which a myriad of small characters are involved, to each of which little narrative attention is paid.  i.e No protagonist, hero as such – or perhaps, multiple “protagonists”.  Human development is of little significance, except perhaps as illustration of the massive social disruptions that are taking place as result of the epic event.  Implicit in a lot of classic space opera was the Cold War, as an earthly template of the kind of world-changing conflict that might be translated into space.
 Another genre that resembles/cross-fertilizes space opera is cold war spy thriller – eg some of the James Bond novels and movies, which feature world-changing conflicts between two powers, in which a technological weapon/device is the key (Moonraker?).  Miles in some ways a spy-figure: undercover, using disguise, wit vs brawn/numbers, etc.
 Quite a lot of the SF after the 1980s still influenced by space opera, although after cold war and in later writing it was no longer sufficient to focus all the attention on inter-galactic conflict and change.
 WA a version of space opera, but reconfigured to include elements of Bildungsroman (although not strictly in the romantic sense), fantasy, sf ‘sensibility.’  A ‘cautious optimism,’ neither highly optimistic nor highly pessimistic about technology, but speaking from an ideology of humanistic “rapprochement”?

a.   Most obvious/crude space war involves clash between oppressive/evil and rebellious/good factions (eg Star Wars, even Dune).  WA complicates this by creating a situation involving a clash between 2 equally inept sides, the Pelians and Felicians (“until the Pelians brought in galactics, our two sides were fairly matched,” p. 203/4).  War as inconclusive, confused, stalemate – plot involves, not the triumph of good side over evil one, but rather a blundering into an accidental mess and the sorting out of that mess through wit, negotiation, creativity.  Pacifist/humanist ideology – getting along, sorting out cultural clashes, finding a win-win situation.
b.   Behind the smaller Pelias-Felice conflict is the larger Beta-Barrayar one (and also the Escobar-Barrayar one) that is elaborated in Shards of Honour and Barrayar, but manifests itself in this novel as the inescapable weight of history, of inherited identity.  Beta: open, democratic, liberal, individualistic society, characterized by advanced technology (used for quality of life more than military aggression – medicine, restorative surgery, knowledge), sexual openness/experimentation, etc (see beginning of chpt 5, especially).  Highly advanced and stable economy (note value of Betan dollar), laissez-faire politics – symbolizes the U.S.?  Weaknesses are also U.S.-like: constitutional freedom can become an imposition in some ways (sexual harassment), technology so advanced it enables strict controls (one-child policy – p. 53).
Barrayar: main protagonist-society in this series of novels, characterized as transitional, awkward, divided.  Formerly militaristic, traditional, chauvinistic, barbaric, imperial, isolated; now split between its past and a more liberal, enlightened and galactic future represented by a faction (chief of whom are Vorkosigan’s family, especially his Betan wife).  Symbolizes Soviet Union?  (Note Slavic names, cultural refs like “Baba Yaga,” p. 45, caricature of hard-drinking, hard-living chauvinistic men, traditional military elite – the “Vor” class.
Novel might be seen as a displacement in space/time of the end of the cold war, fantasy of a rapprochement between opposing cultures, towards a richly-nuanced version of cosmopolitan/galactic humanity (so contrary to the isolationist/contented ideology of Earthsea, at least in some respects?)
(Escobar – latin cultures, physical beauty, technologically/militarily somewhat behind, impulsive human nature.  Cetaganda – only briefly alluded to in this novel, but Far Eastern in character, enigmatic, ritualistic, militaristic – Japanese?  Note again SF’s caricaturing tendency, the way it re-writes existing cultural forms in exaggerated, contrastive ways.  On the one hand, a kind of theory of galactic diasporas, and the ways in which this might perpetuate cultures; but on the other hand, can easily fall into stereotyping).
Is there an implicit bias towards the culture of Beta Colony (cp. Iain Banks’s “Culture” novels – despite its imperfections, of a kind of navel-gazing, indolent superiority, Bujold’s Beta culture, like Banks’ Culture, seems to be the way to go)?  If so, is this a form of cultural imperialism?
 References to Beta culture: Miles takes the maternal/Betan name of “Naismith,” a number of people hero-worship Cordelia (Elena, who sees her as the model and means of her emancipation as a woman, Bothari who sees her as a symbol of moral, un-Barrayan redemption).  Miles quotes her, as spokesperson of courageous pro-life acceptance of one’s own life, identity, trials: “’Mother,’ said Miles, ‘calls it my great gift.  Tests are a gift, she says, and great tests are a great gift.  Of course,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘it’s widely agreed my mother is a bit strange….’” (p. 299).  Also, the “war” turns out to be a triumph of free enterprise, Miles wins not in the space opera-Barrayan way (killing, destroying, smashing – his father’s legacy), but by financial logic – attacking the payroll run, good management of Auson and Thorne, inducing Tung and others to switch sides.  The lack of any real finances to back up his play (only worthless Felician millifenigs and radioactive Barrayan land) a kind of approving gesture to contemporary financial legerdemain, e.g. the Savings-and-loan scandals of the Reagan years?

 So WA uses and modifies “space opera,” not necessarily to do away with all of its ideological weight, but to proposes a redeemed, more pacifist and humanist version – the cultural imperialism of (Betan/American?) values of change, accommodation, respect for life; this erodes and overcomes other cultural traditionalisms.

2.   Character of Miles: development of character of Cordelia in Shards of Honour (1986) and Barrayar (published later, in 1991, but set earlier – when Cordelia is pregnant with Miles, living on Barrayar – Barrayar won the 1992 Hugo) – the unconventional woman (partly because Betan transplanted into high traditional Barrayan society), courageous against the odds, wise and compassionate beyond the norm, finally winning against prejudice and the physical odds to make society a slightly better place.
a.   Thus, in some ways like ACO (but the optimistic end of the spectrum), a pseudo-Bildungsroman: Miles doesn’t really grow, he is already what he is, and in the course of the novel and its sequels, merely confirms his inner being, and manifests it on others and on Barrayan society, redeeming both in the process.  Like ACO, the novel is recursive or circular in some respects: the ending is like the beginning, a mini-episode involving Miles in a military test, except we’ve (rather conveniently – and all through the series, Miles’ progressive successes and social triumphs are due in part to his family connections, even if he has to work for them – a kind of aristocratic fantasy/romance element?) moved from a strictly physical test to one of wit and cunning.
 Like Earthsea, a very Oedipal novel in some ways: Miles’s career, like that of Ged, is really a father-oriented quest: he’s an “apprentice,” initially to an old idea of the warrior-noble, but then goes through a series of alternative father/authority roles (Lord Vorkosigan, Admiral Naismith, Liege-Lord to Mayhew/Jesek/Bothari, Baba and father to Elena, a kind of Vorloupulous-rebel), all in order to “make my life an offering to lay at [his father’s] feet” (p. 297).  Guilt at not being able to fulfill male role, as one of the driving forces of the plot/action – although at the end, the moral is an anti-Oedipal one, of acceptance rather than achievement, accommodation rather than transformation.  Miles, rather like Ged, learns that “being” is more important than “becoming.”  An “identity mythos” for contemporary society?  Especially for men?

b.   Instead of true Bildungsroman-figure, Miles has quite a bit of the picaresque figure (outside traditional Barrayan/Vor culture, commenting and even transforming it); picaro (rogue) also ties in with trickster figure from folk tales, the spy/saboteur, etc.

3.   Women’s writing, women’s concerns: Part of the cultural influence/imperialism of the novel is also a kind of gender struggle.  Barrayar as exceedingly/excessively male, chauvinistic (the historical burden is very much a male one: war of aggression, rape, attacking progeny as a means of assassinating the line, i.e. children as male ‘possessions,’ etc.  The novel shows a kind of feminization of society: not just in Miles, who has “his mother’s eyes,” but is also a feminized character physically, and has to rely on inner/invisible characterstics rather than the male prerogatives of appearances/strength; but also Aral, who shows influence of and affinity to Cordelia: in his open show of affection (un-Barrayan) to Miles (p. 297 – “Count Vorhalas stared at the floor discomfited, like a man accidentally intruding onto some private and delicate scene”), his willingness to assume position of passivity and humility.
 Women characters: Cordelia, Elena, Quinn, all strong women within a progressive social system which allows them to assume authority.  (In this sense, space opera and the framework of military technology serves the function of empowering the other gender, in the ultimate male domain – e.g. Quinn, who shows that the obliteration of her feminine features is really only skin-deep, thanks to medical technology).  Also hermaphroditism (another Betan characteristic) reinforces women’s values, as an interrogation of male prerogative/traditionalism.
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 Seminar 10 Handout
Neuromancer: Cyberpunk, Heterocosms, Utopia/Dystopia, The Detective

William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), together with Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) together form the “Sprawl” trilogy (referring to BAMA, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, a trans-urban IT supercorridor – but the plot and setting really go beyond this, to the Far East, out in space, etc.
“Sprawl” thus becomes a metaphor or microcosm for the “wired” society and human condition – as the name implies, it is messy, uncontrollable, inchoate, with
connotations of lawlessness, edginess, uncontainability, etc).

Gibson’s work, together with that of associates like Bruce Sterling and Linda Nagata, heralded the sub-genre of “Cyberpunk” (Sterling even wrote a ‘manifesto’ of
sorts, called “Mirrored Shades”, calling attention to the dress/posture/attitude which was supposed to symbolize this genre).

“Cyberpunk" not completely unique or distinctive: in addition to the writings of Nagata and Sterling, perhaps we might want to include some of the Iain Banks novels, especially the dark conspiracy ones like Feersum and others, the movie Freejack, starring Emilio Estevez and Anthony Hopkins, had a early cyberpunk feel to it, also Blade Runner and the novel it was based on (Do Androids dream of Electronic Sheep, by Philip K. Dick); more recently, The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor and others).  What are the characteristics of cyberpunk, to/from what other genres does it allude/borrow?  Are the trappings (mirrored shades, hip gangsters, surreal action sequences, exotic fantastical racial types, kinkiness) only window-dressing which disguise older generic patterns, or are these in fact stronger media/narrative types?
 Preliminary thesis-statement: Gibson’s Cyberpunk a postmodern style (as Jameson says in Postmodernism), essentially pastiched, delighting in fragmentariness, allusions, homages, borrowings – even more so than other/older SF narratives, which have one or several main literary strands (WA and space opera; Earthsea and magic fantasy), even as they incorporate other elements to a lesser extent.  But in Gibson, it is hard to say which element predominates, because the main narrative structural principle seems to be pastiche itself.
More provocatively, to what extent is cyberpunk a kind of anti-genre, anti-novel, deriving from the generic features of postmodernism (exhaustion, cynicism,
endless referentiality) more than to older archetypcal/generic imperatives?

1.   Narrative elements in Gibson: Obvious ones include
a.   Detective story (particularly the “hard boiled” or “film noir” variety - Chinatown, Maltese Falcon, for example, or the Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Mickey Spillane novels).  Cynical, maimed protagonist (Case’s neurological maiming, later the toxin sacs, but also his emotional death, a kind of secret impotence), in the shady margins of law/crime, good/evil, who stumbles (through betrayals, deceptions, errors) to a conclusion that doesn’t culminate in any kind of moral/ethical/legal victory, nor even in any clear insight, vision or “truth.”
b.   Spy thriller – cp. WA, but also the Bond novels/films with their exotic locations, emphasis on exoticism/sex, fast action?  WA had spy elements in a largely space opera framework: the cold war-type face-off between opposing political cultures (Beta and Barrayar), with the individual using stealth and cunning to manouevre in-between.
 No cold war-style national cultures here, but corporate cultures and institutions, together with their means and methods, function like exotic and opposing “national” interests.
 i.   Japanese zaibatsus, the Yakuza, clinics, ninjas: stereotype of the collective, individual-effacing, ruthlessly profit-minded corporation.
 “The zaibatsus, the multinationals that shaped the course of human history, had transcended old barriers.  Viewed as organisms, they had attained a kind of immortality.  You couldn’t kill a zaibatsu by assassinating a dozen key executives; there were others waiting to step up the ladder, assume the vacated position, access the vast banks of corporate memory” (p. 203)
 Similarly the Chinese, famous for their viruses and clinical procedures, but more faceless and collectively dehumanized than the Japanese.
 ii.   Sprawl: like Beta Colony in WA, an obvious representation of America as liberal, capitalist, individualized techno-culture.  Ninsei is “night” (deathly, dead-end), but Sprawl is “summer,” connotes “home” to Case: “Nothing here like the electric dance of Ninsei.  This was different commerce, a different rhythm, in the smell of fast food and perfume and fresh summer sweat” (p. 46).  There is still hustling, hi-tech manipulation, corporate culture in Sprawl, but without the chilling, inhuman and deathly atmosphere of Ninsei.  Difference is race and culture?
iii.   Tessier-Ashpool: decadent European-style aristocracy/oligarchy?  Their AI registered in Switzerland, their jeweled terminal built by Swiss, Dutch, Paris and Californian artisans, their names sound Anglo-Franco European.  Unlike the Japanese zaibatsus, TA very much individualized, clan-genetically controlled, but in bizarrely megalomaniacal ways: cloning, rotating consciousness/responsibility, amplified by AI’s resources, ensure that family/genetic monopoly gains corporation-like extension:
“She imagined us in a symbiotic relationship with the AI’s, our corporate decisions made for us.  Our conscious decisions, I should say.  Tessier-Ashpool would be immortal, a hive, each of us units of a larger entity” (p. 229)
Incest (Ashpool with the puppet-with-3Jane’s face) and patricide symbolize the implosion of that inward-looking structure.
iv.   Smaller cultures: Turkey: Stereotype of the lawless bazaar (“souk”), drugs, secret police, torture.  Zion: space-projection of Jamaica, West Indies – hopelessly but harmlessly lost, dub-listening, ganja-smoking eccentrics essentially out of step with the rest of the material world.

Thus a corporate-capitalist version of the spy thriller, but (as with space opera) with racial/cultural/national tensions, stereotypes and clashes in the background.  The spy is not so much a patriot/defender of a culture (e.g. James Bond and the Anglo-American West), but an individual using wit to survive against a power-game with multiple players.

c.   “Frontier” writing – if 1950s and 1960s American spec fiction is an essentially frontier writing (the borders of a ‘brave new world’ made possible by technology, the conquest of space, etc), so is Cpunk.  In fact, Case and his fellow hackers are called “cowboys” (p. 5); cities (both physical and virtual) in the novel all have an air of lawlessness and bravado, like Dodge City and Tombstone in the wild west; there is the same ideology of individualistic speed/skill (the quick and the dead) as in westerns and space opera.
Frontier writing reflects a society on the verge of entering a new domain/territory, and unsure about boundaries/limits, the anxieties of the new world.  Here, not so much new physical space, as the new space of virtual reality and the military/corporate culture.
Part of the frontier narrative is the ineffectiveness of the law – the Turing police and how quickly they are eliminated.
d.   Utopia/Dystopia – Cpunk has the same recurring concern with social evolution and transformation, and the same ambivalence about whether this will lead to a utopia or a dystopia.  If spec fiction is the story of society, then there is a ‘bildungsroman’ aspect in the sense that such writing is particularly concerned with the growth and development of society, but also convinced that the seed of rot and corruption is contained within the potential for growth.  In Cpunk, technology is the means of attaining a kind of wonderland (of jacking in, exploring, exotic worlds), but also a hell (of mycotoxin torture, bodily mutilation, cryogenic abuse, sexual perversions).
 As in ACO, this is also an urban concern/phenomenon – gangs, the economy of utopia/dystopia (drugs, commodifying the human, hustling/preying to survive), the extension of urban control (sprawling) with attendant problems (ghettoes, whether based on gang control or cultural alternatives/variants – the Panther moderns, the Ninsei crowd, are as much cultural-technological sub-cultures as they are criminal variants).
Is there a slightly different inflection to Cpunk’s utopian/dystopian discourse, as compared to (say) ACO?  A different moral note – less of the modernist complaint
or gloom?
e.   Virtual lives – fantasy trope, not confined to Cpunk (although there is some justification for claiming that Neuromancer and the film Johnny Mnemonic were there at the beginning of it).  The set of Cpunk plot and setting characteristics – technology as power over death, cloning and other splits, global corporations as demonic forces, IT and media as having absolute deceptive and illusory powers – can also be seen (to varying extents) in such novels and films as Freejack, Tron, Lawnmower Man, Feersum Endjinn, The Matrix, Ender’s Game, etc.
 Virtual transformation/powers are a technological version of the fantasy trope of magical powers.
f.   Faustian myth, pact with the devil: “For thousands of years men dreamed of pacts with demons” (p. 163).  The ubiquitous electronic power of Wintermute (appearing in different guises, at will, opening doors, manipulating devices to give seamless opportunity and power to Case et al) a version of demonic powers.
Computer-as-demonic, as authority/destiny – cp. Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.  Unlike Faustian narrative, there is no pleading for a moral position (repentance, reaffirming Christian values of humility and obedience, etc).  If AI is not entirely demonic/sinister in its aims/nature, it certainly is not moral, benevolent or ethical either.
g.   Gothic – certain tropes in common, e.g. a patriarchal and repressive authority system (Ashpool = “Usher” in the Poe story?  Crazy symbol of outdated power,
incestuous abuser of women), hauntings (electronic constructions like Dixie Flatline, not alive nor dead), science as monstrous (creating not-quite-human entities like
Molly, Ashpool, 3Jane, the ninja etc).
The question, as always with gothic and post/neo-gothic texts, is whether there can be a true gothic text without the dialogical, multi-vocal narrative style (of which Frankenstein was such a good example).  What is the narrative style of Neuromancer – with its strange, jerky discontinuities, but yet also an opposing quality of linear pace (thriller)?  Are there any resemblances to gothic dialogical narratives, or is this instead an opposite narrative structure closer to consumerist linear narratives?
 Perhaps fragmentation itself is the p-m version of the gothic – in a sense, moral conclusion/insight is deferred/disabled by the constant and spectacular shifts in mise-en-scene, description.  If anything is possible electronically (replay, change, sudden appearances/disappearances, “resurrections” etc), then what has meaning or significance?  A kind of gothic, p-m version of the post-structuralist question.

2.   Other genres: in addition, Cpunk clearly borrows from various other genres (not merely literary, but also cultural praxis and the other arts) as well:
a.   As the label “Cpunk” (and the emphasis on “mirrored shades” and other accessories) suggest, there is a general symbolism and setting borrowed from punk rock and alternative cultures: rebelliousness, anti-establishment attitudes signaled by dress and lifestyle, a conscious identification of sub-cultures and gangs (the cowboys, the Rastas, the Yakuza, the Panther Moderns).  How does Cpunk compare with the rock culture statements of the 1950s and 1960s (Elvis, James Dean, Rebel without a Cause) and later manifestations (Harajuku clothes and manners, “Ecstasy” culture writers like Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis, contemporary gamers with their own jargon and clubs – Myst, Riven, etc).  Also pornography as one of the main praxis/genre of the internet – part of Neuromancer is quasi-pornographic, part of it depicts (the economy of) pornography – Riviera’s snuff scene in Freeside, the figure of Molly as a whole, the “meat puppet” economy (prostitution with programming = porno-prostitution).
b.   Military SF – small sub-genre interested in technology’s complicity with violence, policing, military control.  The military is always implicit in the novel, although corporate capitalism is more evident: “Screaming Fist,” military-grade ICE and viruses, etc.  Reinforces the sense of ideological control and corruption – nothing is really free or innocent, because anything that is of value is ultimately sponsored and controlled by power-structures.

3.   Romance, life/death, Thanatos
Freud believed that thanatos (the death drive) lurked hidden behind many artistic texts, simply because the desire for death (which also = rest from anxiety and striving, a return to the darkness which resembles the womb) was latent in all of man’s dreams and activities.  Neuromancer, despite its gothic/spec fiction trope of eternal life, also probably has the strongest thanatic element of all the texts on this course, even more than the gruesome ACO (at the end of which Alex lives, and even plans a new life), and with the only possible exception of Frankenstein.  In Neuromancer, thanatos is expressed in the casual indifference to human life: if technology, through cloning, cryogenics and electronic data, can now replicate or prolong life, it paradoxically also comes with a certain cheapening and dehumanization, so that the life/death distinction threatens to become meaningless.  Dixie longs for extinction, Ashpool casually kills his own “daughter”, 3Jane is a merciless killer (also Molly, Riviera, the ninja, etc).

Therefore, what happens to the romance paradigm which we saw as (with various qualifications) underlying much of the gothic and its heirs spec fiction and
fantasy?  Romance basically concerned with growth, journey, affirmation of identity, achieving a quest, sometimes marriage and hope at the end.  The gothic may
have problematised the gothic, focusing more on the difficult journey and the various challenges to identity, but at least it began with a basic romance paradigm
before transforming it.  Can we even begin to talk about romance in Neuromancer (despite the pun in the title)?  Is there even a protagonist whose journey and
identity are of central concern (i.e. is Case, with his strange aloofness and emotional detachment, a protagonist in the same way Frankenstein is?  Ending of novel
has Case glimpsing another “Case”, somewhere within the matrix.  Characters come and go in Gibson’s novels, with little sense of permanence or significance).

4.   Neuromancer, p-m form
Perhaps Neuromancer is a postmodern translation of earlier spec fiction.  Unlike earlier spec fiction (or for that matter fantasy and gothic), p-m Cpunk isn’t really
interested in social progress, individuality and identity, and questioning these issues.  Questioning implies a certain concern for what happens, a certain modernist
care about redeeming society and criticizing its failings.  Neuromancer has more of the p-m “flatness” that Jameson speaks of, a sense that things are, nothing is or
should be privileged, and therefore no criticism is possible or desirable.  This is in part created by the use of multiple genres, generic allusions, fragments, so that
there is no clear-cut and dominant narrative pattern and familiar narrative expectations (except maybe the thriller – but a thriller devoid of romance and
individualism, unlike novels by Scott Turow, Michael Crichton, even Stephen King etc).

A poetics and reading process marked by “indifference”, “detached interest”?  If so, what is the cultural logic of this?  On the one hand, perhaps it is itself a
statement about the indifference-breeding qualities of contemporary society, although it doesn’t seem to offer us a possible position from which to criticize that
society.  On the other hand, perhaps by rehearsing this poetics of indifference, it helps to inure and habituate us to it, hence reinforcing p-m patterns of indifferent
consumption, indifferent politics, etc.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN5220 Genres in Popular Culture Seminar 11 Handout
Neverwhere: Fantasy, Society/Class, Urban Space

NW good example of “heterocosmic” fantasy – fantasy exploring interstices/overlaps/links between “real” and “fantasy” worlds, in the tradition of the Narnia series, some of Clive Barker’s novels, Peter Pan – rather than “high” or “epic” fantasy (where the fantasy world alone is depicted – e.g. Earthsea, LOTR).
Landscape/space is significant in all fantasy (we saw how Earthsea’s insular geography seems to reinforce an ideology of contentment/stasis – anti- (or pre-) globalization?); but heterocosmic fantasy seems to have a particular spatial ideology, tied to contemporary anxieties/ideologies about space and the problems it poses to human nature/bodies.

1.   Heterocosmic fantasy: e.g. Clive Barker’s Weaveworld (world-in-carpet, but fought/sought in real world too), Narnia, Harry Potter, and Peter Pan (several movements between this/real and other/fantasy world), even Neuromancer (if we consider virtual world a kind of fantasy world, and “meat” world the “real” world).  Characterised by several/many/frequent transitions between worlds; some account of how transition is affected (metaphysical doors, mental/spiritual states, techno-spiritual means, underground, etc), with a kind of symbolic significance to the means of transition (representing some psychological state, spiritual/metaphysical truth, some comment about social conditions, etc).
 Relationship between worlds: so close (overlapping, one unseen by the other, competing) and yet so far (unacknowledged, vehemently denied; usually assymetrical, real world denies fantasy one, but fantasy world knows existence of real one).
 Ideology of cramped globalization: a lot of this is actually echoed in much of the contemporary spatial theory, of the kinds of “critical space” and humanistic/critical geographies (Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, Michel de Certeau etc), of multiple/overlapping allegiances that arise in globalization (James Holston and Arjun Appadurai), of dual/dialogical cities, etc.  Crises of othering, competition, tension, decay, cramping, layering of competing demands/subjectivities, etc – heterocosmic fantasy as an anxiety of “cramping,” and a fantasy of working out (acknowledging, recognizing, resolving) the tensions.
 i.e. heterocosmic fantasy has some similarities with social realism (eg. ACO, Neuromancer), with society/city as character (even though it may also have human characters/agents); if this is true, then city/society goes through a recognizable romance-like career: from sickness (oppression, falsehood, schizophrenia) to agon (clash, gangs, violence, loss, descent), anagnorisis (acknowledgement of sickness) and some attempt at reconciliation or healing.

2.   NW fits the pattern of contemporary heterocosmic fantasy, with its depiction of sociologically-real problems in fantasy form, and the career through which the city/society goes.  In this case, there is some degree of mirroring between chief protagonist (Richard) and the city-as-character.
 a.   Richard is Scottish, from small town, dysfunctional family (father died when he was very young, mother “died slowly” after that, p. 55) – celtic fringe as marginalized, racial other, since at least 18th C.  Richard also as social other – not urban, cosmopolitan, privileged, smug.  Cp. the racial others in London Below: the dark skin of Hunter, Marquis, Blackfrairs, Ruislip the obese Rastafarian would-be bodyguard (p. 116), the “smells of curries and spices” which “predominate” the market (p. 110).  Also makes him sympathetic/akin to figures/experiences of loss: Door herself, with her slaughtered family, the rat-speaker Anaesthesia who came from an abusive family (p. 87), etc.
 i.e. Richard as “heterocosmic” in some ways: qualities that put him in 2 possible worlds, his encounter with Door is only a catalyst which forces him to confront the “other” in himself.  (Resembles schizophrenia?  Jameson, and others, point out that modern urban experience is akin to schizophrenia, in the inability to clearly segregate different time/space conditions).  Richard’s problem begins when he is forced to choose between two competing time/space demands: to be at posh restaurant with Jessica and Stockton, or to obey dictates of heart/humanity by helping Door.
 Figured most clearly in the agon?
“It was, of course, his face.  ‘You’re sitting on Blackfriars Station at rush hour,’ said the other Richard, casually.  ‘You’re talking to yourself.  And you know what they say about people who talk to themselves.  It’s just that you’re starting to edge a little closer to sanity, now’” (p. 243)
 “…reflected in its window, Richard could see himself.  He looked crazy; he had a week’s growth of beard; food was crusted around his mouth;…He was a crazy homeless person, standing on a platform of a busy Underground station, in the heart of the rush hour” (p. 244).
 “Ekstasis,” from the Greek, meant “to be put out of place/senses” (“existemi”).
 b.   So, in a sense London below is a figure for the slum/ghetto, in its suggestion of racial/social segregation, certainly in its creation of a habitus characterized by denial (by the mainstream/dominant), decay, scatology/dreck.  And yet the point is that the “below” is essential to the above – it is sewer lines, rooftops, historical vestiges/symbols (like the H.M.S. Belfast), alleys.  (Much in the same way that the city needs/endorses an underclass of cleaners, sweepers, prostitutes, racial others, while simultaneously denying their existence/humanity).
c.   Richard as “affective” man (“you’ve a good heart”), in some ways like the 18th/19th C “sentimental” man (who is also related to the Gothic protagonist) – is both the narrative perspective/voice, as well as microcosmic model, for the “heart” of the city.  (What is the significance of the relative placement of “London below”?  Overdetermined: not just underclass, the dirty/scatological (“With cities, as with people, Mister Vandemar…the condition of the bowels is all-important”, p. 259); but also Freudian perspective, the repressed (urban civilization’s “discontents,” all the untidy corners it cannot accommodate in its vision of progress; desire/sexuality (the more emotional variety, as in Richard’s feelings for Door, but also darker versions, as in Anaesthesia’s sexual abuse by her uncle, suggestions of Lesbianism (Serpentine and Hunter), prostitution/snuff (Hunter’s deliberately ambiguous self-definition, to Richard; Lamia’s deadly sexuality), etc.  But also underworld as inner world: emotional/affective life, that the dominant city bleaches out.  Thus Richard is our guide to an alternative city: one that restores the affective use of space (but in doing so, can only exist in a marginally interstitial way with the topsiders – invisible, or for very short non-peak periods, e.g. the market in Harrod’s).
 All this is a criticism of the heartlessness of London Above: Jessica’s selfish pragmatism, Stockton’s pompous wealth, the many people who disparage/ignore the homeless/poor.

3.   Key Themes, which (like Earthsea and other fantasy texts) tend to focus on vaguely “existential” themes – i.e. to do with modern “living”
a.   Hunting/fighting: not merely a fantasy cliché (there’s lots of fantasy that has little or nothing to do with fighting), but a kind of mythological urban sociology.  Richard goes from being something of a pushover (bullied by girlfriend, etc) to being “the warrior” who kills the Beast of London, and who keeps a trophy knife on the mantel, then in his office, and on his person.  Other characters are predatory: Varney, the others who audition as bodyguards, Hunter, Croup and Vandemar, Lamia, even Islington.
 The “Charles Atlas” story – fantasy of urban survival/success.  Richard brings his predatory/fighting skills to his conventional life, browbeating the real estate agent, getting a promotion, standing up to Jessica’s manipulations.  But is this a rather mixed/confused ideology, considering that this isn’t what he wants?
 Another way (more mixed/confused) might be to see it as the story, not of the need for assertiveness, but rather of the harmful effects of urban abuse.  Richard, beaten up/down by city, returns capable of surviving, but only because he’s become capable of cruelty/violence.  (Note other stories of abuse and hardening: Anaesthesia; Old Bailey; Carabas; even the beast, rumoured to be a “poor creature” or “piglet” being fattened up for the kill, which escapes and grows through hardship into monstrous form (p. 168).
b.   Urban fear: related to the above, the notion of urban fear that is also tied in to urban sociology (of crime, gangs, race, crowdedness, slums/ghettos).  London below dwellers are very much gang-like in their depiction: Richard calls them “deeply tribal” (p. 112): the Goths like Lamia; the “historical reenactment society” types; rat-speakers; Rastafarians; graffiti artists; fops; juveniles; etc.  i.e. Alternative identities, collective identification in opposition/rebellion to mainstream culture – like the neo-tribalism of apocalyptic literature (St. Leibowitz; maurading gangs in Stephen King’s The Stand, David Brin’s The Postman and many other pulp texts, Mormon organizations in Card’s People of the Fringe etc) – except that Gaiman’s heterocosmic novel has the apocalypse here and now.
c.   Blindness and insight: old literary/philosophical/religious genre (“I once was blind but now I see,” “Amazing Grace; Acts 9: 18 “and immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales”; Platonic dialogues; King Lear; etc).  Notion of seeing clearly/truthfully: seeing Jessica as she really is, seeing past the everyday cruelty/selfishness/greed of modern urban life; seeing the inside/heart, not external appearances.
 In this tradition, one has to leave one’s home, or at least have a dislocating experience, before one can see it objectively; but part of the tragedy is that the prophet/philosopher can never go back home (Plato’s sighted philosopher, like Christ’s prophets, are never welcome in their own homes by the blind who refuse to see).
d.   Hellish descent: romance tradition, that hellish experience is the condition of growth/progress (Jonah, Christ, Ulysses, Dante etc).  i.e. Not hell as a final end, but as a testing stage/purgatory.  Richard literally goes “down” into a hellish, frightening place, but this is really the means of his “ascent” into love, confidence, purpose.
e.   Thus, the larger theme of “inversions”: most clearly seen in New Testament Biblical tradition (“first shall be the last, the last first,” child as “greatest in the kingdom of heaven”), then taken up by romanticism (“the child is father to the man,” Wordsworth’s “Great Ode” – notion of higher truth, not in wealth/world, but child/nature).
 Novel seeks to invert worldly priorities: urchin-like girl captures Richard’s heart, while the beautiful socialite is shown to be small and ugly; apparent beggars/vagabonds are really lords of some sort; “hell” turns out to be the “heaven” that Richard chooses to live in.  Even within underworld, inversion takes place: the beautiful and fearless Hunter turns out to be morally weak (pride); while the untrustworthy Marquis turns out to be a hero.

4.   Richard’s career/character: the anti-bildungsroman of contemporary popular culture?
In some ways, Richard’s career is post-romantic Bildungsroman: rejection of worldly ambition/values, for a life of emotional authenticity (even if the objection of affection is a scruffy girl like Door); courage (to face fears, to go on living, tackle hardships) instead of complacency, etc.
 Yet in other ways, Richard can be seen as a version of the flat/undeveloped “protagonist” of social realism/dystopian-utopian writing (cp. Alex in ACO, Case in NR).  He has a “good heart” to begin with, so it’s not as if he needs to learn that lesson – more like he’s under a temporary spell/glamour (with Jessica/ambition etc), and only needs to confirm his essential goodness.  (So, closer to philosophical/Christian tradition, of temporary blindness/delusion caused by world/masses, and the transformation is a restoration of the “right” order, rather than a radical change as such).
 Richard’s “flatness” also caused by the novel’s main point – fantasy as urban-social realism, the truth of the dual city, gross inequality and oppression, abuse, etc.  Richard intended as an “everyman,” even more than Alex or Case (has no exceptional qualities/background whatsoever, except capacity for kindness).

5.   “Ending”: like NR, no sense of a clear ending, or moral point.  A particularly “postmodern” feel to NR and NW (perhaps other texts, too)?  Emphasis on manner, devices, atmosphere (NR’s cyberpunk edginess, NW’s lush underworld and bizarrely caricatured figures); but ultimately, a profound ambivalence at the level of moral point: in NR, for all the multiplication of oppositions/factions/struggles, it is ultimately unclear who the “enemy” really is (if there is one), nor what the ending (the freeing of Neuromancer) signifies (for humanity, society, morality, etc).
 Likewise with NW, a highly ambivalent/irresolute ending:
i.   Islington: functions rather like Neuromancer/Wintermute – quasi-supernatural agency, able to pull all the strings without being seen/attributed.  Just as Case is both propelled and repelled by AI(s) – needing/wanting to work, yet also disgusted and alarmed by the inhuman ruthlessness of the AIs, their aloof power, their use of human constructs like Julius and the Finn, their massacre of the Turing police – so likewise Richard (with Door) is both propelled and repelled by Islington (who sets itself up as Door’s goal and help, and instructs Croup and Vandemar to protect her; but who is secretly the enemy, having her family killed etc.).  Door, like Case, is doing what comes naturally – raison d’etre, natural talent (in the end, she does obey Islington, opening a door, only not the door it wants).  “Professionalism”?  The moral ambiguity of all post-industrial work, not knowing who/what it is ultimately for, and not being able to help it either.  (The other figure of ambiguous professionalism is Hunter – her name, identity and profession all the same, she must hunt, regardless of the morality of her actions; also C and V, etc).
 Islington as Angel, but also Fallen Angel; morally ambiguous universe (where is God in all this?  The good angels?  What is the morality/motivation of the destruction of Atlantis – how is it different from “natural” disasters?)  Androgyny: reinforces moral uncertainty, but also general social uncertainty (note other sexually ambiguous/deviant characters: the Fop, Serpentine, Lamia, Hunter).
ii.   London Below: ostensibly a hellish space, it is also a testing ground which restores Richard’s true self.  The place of evil (Islington’s confinement, the lair of Varney, the Beast, Croup and Vandemar etc), it is also the place of desire/exoticism/love (the Market; Lamia; Door).  The place of life-threatening danger, it is also exhilarating and affirming adventure.  Note that Richard in London Above runs excitedly to a woman whom he thinks is Lamia, despite the fact that she tried to kill him (p. 360) – ambiguity of love-hate, attraction-repulsion, exoticism-otherness.
 Thus, ambiguity of ending: to which London Below is Richard returning?  (Convenient answer is that he returns to Door, regardless of where she is – but doesn’t change the fact that he is choosing London Below, with all its ambiguities.  Note that it is not Door, but Carabas, who shows himself to take Richard below).
iii.   Ambiguous fate of Islington, C and V: like Neuromancer, somewhere in the system (of doors, worlds).  A “cliffhanger” device pointing to the perpetuating economy of fantasy; but also a figure for global world, structural/institutional immorality/problems – you can’t get rid of it, because it isn’t really personal, it is structural.
 Another way to approach this is to ask who is the real “culprit” – Islington, or London Above?  C and V, or Hunter?  Economics/Wealth (e.g. Stockton), or gangs/violence?  Jessica’s manipulations, or Lamia?  Islington’s ambiguous fate is appropriate, since there is a decentralized villainy throughout – represents the problematic morality of modern, decentralized, compartmentalized existence.

6.   Thus, the ideology of “postmodern” fantasy: without clear moral point, without true (Marxist/dialectical/sociological) purpose or argument, it creates pseudo-oppositions, multiplies problems/villains, entertains with lush/fantastical figures and landscapes.  But in the end, its ostensible centre – the beauty of London Below, and the emotional kindness/authenticity it is supposed to represent; the evils of London Above – is decentralized, made ambiguous.
 Thus it is “pure fantasy” – fantasy, not as an alternative to something (the real; the political; capitalism, etc), but merely as a (temporary, contingent, occupying) journey, where the journey itself, and not the destination, is the “point.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 SEMINAR 12 – Feersum Endjin: Language and Society, Conspiracy, Bildungsroman

Iain Banks’s writings cross genres – David Punter has classified him as a contemporary “Scottish gothic” writer (comparing him to Irvine Welsh, among others) whose works reflect the unsettling political tension between center (UK, London) and margin Scotland, Ireland, Wales, racial minorities).  A novel like Complicity (about a deranged man tracking down a whole list of people he imagines to be complicit in an injustice) is clearly influenced by socio/psychopathology-crime texts like Psycho, Talented Mr Ripley, American Psycho, The Secret History, and detective novels.  Excession, in contrast, is most clearly influenced by space opera: a story of intelligent super-spaceships, bug-like bizarre aliens, contact and conflict between interstellar species, etc.

1.   FE – most obvious affiliation is with “virtual reality” types of speculative fictions, with elements of utopian/dystopian fictions where the notion of “reality” is questioned by technology (Matrix, Neuromancer, even Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, Total Recall, X Files – the vision of a society which uses totalitarian technology to control our perceptions and senses for insidious purposes, the sense of “what you see is NOT what you get”, the individual tossed/thrown about within a corrupt technocratic society).  Technology and postmodern ideology combine to articulate a vision of shifting borders, fluid identities, uncertainty.

2.   World/Society of FE: obviously intended, to a certain extent, to make a point about technology and power.  Like Banks’ “Culture” novels (and like Bujold, to a certain extent), technology is exhilarating, empowering: allows people to have 8 + 8 lives, freedom of movement/fantasy, even sex changes etc.  Like Bujold’s Beta Colony, this is a fairly utopian depiction of an Anglo-American-like society.
 There are certain negative aspects: elitism (the “privileged” who observe but are not observed), surveillance (like NR, only worst – chiefly done by self-indulgent arbitrary privileged ones, like the King, rather than by the AIs who are arguably the system itself).  Clans, like fiefdoms and tribes in NW, a kind of throwback to crude human impulses of territoriality and factionalism – pointless wars, struggling to control a crumbling domain, based on irrational loyalties.  The Crypt domain is also a bit like Gibson’s Sprawl: immeasurable, uncontainable, with a life/will of its own, a place of horror/threat (assassinations, the skinned head etc).
 A world in decay: not the peak of technology (as with NR, and in some ways WA), but a kind of apocalyptic vision: a falling away from a previous peak of knowledge, a struggle to understand earlier technology which know has all the inscrutable nature of a religion (Fast Tower, the Sliding Stones, the Sortilegers)
“More had been learned when one of the stones had been partially analysed centuries earlier, though as the crux of what had been learned was that to start chipping bits off one of the stones was to draw down some highly focused and scientist-evaporating sunlight from the fast-tower’s twentieth level (whether it was day or night), such a lesson was arguably something of a dead end” (p. 36/7)

Also, the apocaplytic shadow of the Encroachment.  So, elements of the apocalyptic novel (Brin’s The Postman, Waterworld, Edmund Cooper’s All Fool’s Day, etc); and like many (though not all) apocalyptic novels, the sense of some frail hope at the end, in the restoration of the human within technology.  (I.e. if apocalypse is the fault of human abuse of technology, then out of apocalypse might possibly come the redemption of the human by the need to recover a purer past, out of the crisis of apocalypse).
 Thus, arguably more hopeful than the utopian/dystopian stasis of ACO and NR.  There is a sense of ‘history’ (change, learning lessons, evolution/devolution, significance) in FE (also in WA) that isn’t there in ACO and NR, which really seem intent on focusing on a particular state of society, as the chief ‘protagonist’/theme.

3.   Landscape: huge, sprawling metropolitan built-up area – serehfa in particular as mega-city.  Emphasises again the wisdom/technology of the ancients, the feeling of the present generation as lost children/dwarves in the ‘clothes’ of giants, inheriting the grand (and little-known, little-understood) accomplishments of the ancients.  The mega-city emphasizes
a.   The sense of history (cp. the historical lanes, old stations etc in Gaiman’s London Below), of a decline in human society (But consequently too, the possibility of a re-ascent, of historical change once again).
b.   Mystery, ignorance: the sense of hope (for a better life, for a solution to human conflicts, natural disasters like the encroachment), but the frustration that that solution may be hidden somewhere in the vast bulk of the mega-city.  Unlike the nature-predominant landscape of Earthsea, which emphasized a kind of return to ‘natural’ healing/order, the truth of submission to nature and values of retirement and inaction; and unlike the spatially- and culturally-distinct locales in space opera (including WA), in which the solution is seen ‘somewhere else’ (in another race/culture/technology), the mega-city emphasizes a solution already ‘here,’ but lost.  The emphasis is on some restoration of social knowledge/order, some archaeology of social wisdom, rather than on either retirement, or journeying to discover some other’s wisdom.
c.   Like urban gothic (Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, Dorian Gray, NW), mega-city figures the schizophrenic self.  Here, the split between conspirators (like Gadfium, inadvertently Bascule) and complicitors (Adijine, the powerful); between the corrupt and pure aspects of the crypt; between will-to-ignorance/violence and will-to-progress/order; between wisdom of ancients and folly of the present.  These in turn represent an age-old split in humanity, which the gothic (and other literature) figures in different ways: moral soul vs corrupt body, ideal goal vs actual results, civilization vs barbaric violence, etc.  The gothic imagination is that healing of this schism is difficult, fraught with problems – but even the faint hope of reconciliation is a deeply moral, wishful impulse (that may be better than social realism’s inability to look critically and honestly, and its passive stasis).

4.   The human in the cyber: FE can also be contrasted with NR (even as there are many similarities: virtual technologies and worlds, almost indistinguishable from the real/physical; tendency to dehumanization, not just in virtual selves, but also in the transcendent power of the Crypt, and in the devolutionary image of the animals.  But it would perhaps be a mistake simply to lump FE together with the p-m, cynical cyberpunk of Neuromancer.  FE probably does not have some of the distinctly p-m emphases (although it does mention some of these) of Neuromancer: i.e. dehumanization of protagonists, an overall sense of indifference and detachment, moral cynicism and the loss of an epic “cause” or “purpose.”
a.   Neuromancer’s virtual multiplication of selves emphasizes depersonification, depthlessness: eg Case, who resembles the boy Johnny, in Molly’s story, that Case “kinda remind(s)” her of (p. 176).  What is the point of her story?  She concludes that “Never
much found anybody I gave a damn about, after that” (p. 178), so does that mean she doesn’t give a damn about Case?  If so, why does he remind her of Johnny?  At the end of the novel, one day when he is surfing the matrix, Case sees the boy that was Neuromancer’s manifestion, with a girl who is Linda’s recreation, and “the third figure…was himself” (p. 271).  Case’s character is defined by its repetition of others, its similarity and reduplication; not by older epic/tragic notions of character as individual identity, as agon, growth.  If Wintermute is able to assume human guises with some degree of success, it’s partly because human personalities are reduced to flat, caricatured features: Julius’ telltale ginseng sweets, the cowboy arrogance/shallowness of Dixie and Case, the Finn’s animal-like sloppiness.
 In contrast, humanity/personality in FE characterized by more complex, and more endearing, idiosyncracies and quirks.  Sessine – some resemblance to the hedonistic arrogance of Adijine and other privileged (sex, adultery, sports, fantasies, wealth), but marked by his integrity/independence (which causes the consistory to mistrust him, and gets him killed), by his intellectual/allusive bent (latin phrases and ironic sense of humour, e.g. “aequitas sequitur legem/funera” p. 79/80, hidden allusions to ancient culture e.g. “silician defence” in chess-Cilicia-Tarsus-Tarsan-Sauli, p. 113) which allows him to out-secure his position against the vast resources of his enemies.  Although “Sessine” and “Alan” are both (reduplicated/multiplied) versions of the same self, both are quite distinct and developed in their traits, and in their relations with each other can even give the sense of differentiation/sparring:
 ‘Can you keep a secret?’ His younger self smirked.
 ‘Sessine shook his head again.  ‘Was I really this tiresome?’
The construct laughed.  ‘This is a secret you must keep even from yourself, for a time at least.’ (p. 148)

Also Bascule: although it’s hard to tell if his disorder (“I got this weerd wiring in mi brane so I cant spel rite, juss ½ 2 do evrythin foneticly”, p. 85) is affecting everyone else’s reported speech (probably not true, because disorders are manifested in certain entities that aren’t narrated by Bascule – e.g. Fast-Tower’s message, p. 68/69, Asura’s language acquisition, especially in early stages), his disorder is reflected in various ways by others: Dartlin’s irrelevant patter and childish pronunciation (“I bin tewibwy bizzy,” p. 83), Gaston’s lisp and affectations of speech (“Payshinsh, yung man,” p. 150).  While in NR humanity/body is submitted to technology in order to constantly improve (but also to become homogeneous – Ratz and Lonnie’s muscle-graft boys, Ninja’s blind reflexes and Molly, etc), in FE quirks are left uncorrected, almost as a badge of individuality.

Gadfium – annoys other (like Adijine) by refusing to take the feminine form of the name, even though has stopped being masculine from 2 lives back.

b.   Significance of human actions: in NR, not only are human actions made to seem pawn-like (because they are anticipated way in advance by the AI), but even the final result seems anti-climactic, non-significant: summed up in the AI’s postlogue-statement: “Things aren’t different.  Things are things”.  The result of the struggle (including human deaths – Corto/Linda/Riviera – and pain) is for the AI to say “I talk to my own kind” (270).
In FE, in constrast, there is quite a clear-cut moral division: the evil and selfish consistory, versus everyone else who wants to survive the Encroachment.  The powerful and privileged, versus the underdogs who triumph against the odds.  At stake is something significant: human survival, the overthrow of unjust power, etc.

5.   Narrative pattern/structure: NR is cyber-fiction with strong social realist, utopian/dystopian, flat/pastiche quality.  FE is cyber-fiction with a strong romance-quest element, including social restoration/progress/growth.  A p-m epic, with elements of playfulness and misdirection, but essentially still a story of growth and development.  It reconciles older myths of hope and moral progress, with p-m elements of uncertainty, fragmentariness, and play.

6.   Bascule and language: apart from being a gimmick to attract readers and be distinctive (note how the title intrigues with its advertisement of Bascule’s disorder), language (as we have seen in ACO, Dune, NR and elsewhere) is both theme and ideology.  The persistence of the human, including/even human failings – the suggestion is that Bascule is the “hero” in part because of his originality, unpredictability:
 “Thi stori goze that this persin…is a contaminant from thi kript’s nasti ole nether reejins, a vyris cum 2 corrupt evin more levils, which is qwite a thot & mite evin b a bit worryin juss in case it woz me, onli not evry 1 seems 2 bleev this bit ov thi roomir coz its rekind that thi stori cums from thi palas & thi king & thi consisterians r behind it & thay can almost b garanteed not 2 tel thi trooth.” (p. 85)
i.e. What may save us from the overarching influence of technology/ideology is creative individualism – not Case’s variety of professionalism, which just serves the powers that be, but the child’s perverse, picaresque, asocial, stigmatic behaviour (also echoed in Asura, in various helper-animals, in the quasi-divine utterance of the Fast Tower on p. 68/9, etc.
 Quasi-Biblical: suffer little children, the stigmatic ministry of Christ, the last shall be the first etc.

CONCLUSION – trying to draw together some of the main themes we have discussed on the module:
1.   Language, Narrative, Form in Popular Culture texts
Important to remember that popular culture texts are not just “content” and “themes”, but that these are conveyed in a particular textual form and expression which is part of the cultural logic and social semiotic of the work.
a.   Form: In addition to more Aristotelian formal considerations such as the hero’s career and fortunes, thanks largely to Marxist theorists we can also consider other aspects of form: How long/short; how linear, or unlinear; the division into parts (what kinds of parts, how do they relate to each other), even issues of packaging (softcover or hard, cover design, type/spacing) can be considered.
Terry Eagleton (Criticism and Ideology) would say that the form of a work is the “impress” of its socio-historical moment.  i.e. Not that the novel directly tells us a
story which relates to our social conditions, but that those conditions may be reflected in the form and nature of the novel.  So in Neuromancer, the constant rapid transitions, the rather confused moral story, the fragmentariness, tell us as much about postmodern virtual society as does the (Aristotelian) “plot” itself.
True of fantasy as well?
b.   Narrative: The 19thC realist novel’s questions about narrative (who narrates?  How many narrators?  What relationship between them?  How omniscient the narrator, or how flawed?) no longer seem to be the sole or central concerns, although of course still relevant.  Other issues like jargon, technospeak (esp. Neuromancer), groupspeak (e.g. Nadsat), ‘metaphysical’ terms (magic, fugue, scourge) emerge.  Popular culture narratives seem to seek nostalgically for the return to a mythic, strong romance narrative pattern (esp. true of fantasy), or else mix a whole eclectic range of narrative voices and influences together in quite dialogical fashion, or even combine the two impulses.
We still might want to consider the narrator, though – even if it is to comment on the generally omniscient and rather uninteresting narrator (except in Frankenstein, ACO and Feersum).  Why do such texts produce such narrators?
c.   Language: If it is now less interesting from the point of view of an authorial style or presence (the way, e.g., we speak of an Austen or George Eliot language), it is now interesting as a kind of sociology or anthropology: of power and contestation, of the group and sub-group, of the ‘micropolitics’ of individualism, of the human as opposed to the mechanical, etc.

2.   Social Criticism, social escape
Despite the variety and variation in the speculative fiction and fantasy texts we have read and mentioned, a very basic similarity emerges: most texts seem to be concerned with social evils (variously crime and violence, materialism and greed, tyrannical authority and the repression of individuality and freedom, urban decay and ugliness, political treachery, the threat of science/technology, etc); and most texts either express criticism and dissatisfaction, or else the fantasy of an escape, or some combination of both.
We seem to be working towards some understanding of such popular texts as a kind of “escape valve” for persistent social anxieties – this is a vague metaphor, but
involves a very complex negotiation of expressing anxieties, criticism, the dystopian caricature or exaggeration of the problem, even humour and irony to deflect anxiety (? In Foundation?  Player of Games?  Hyperion?), finally perhaps the reinstatement of the status quo as “redeemed” by this textual exercise in criticism.
The notion of a social or political “unconscious” (see various theorists, including Freud’s Civilisation and its Discontents, Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious, and Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus) seems particularly useful: speculative fiction does not have a single and obvious social aim/goal, because in a sense it articulates social anxieties only unconsciously – it negotiates a double intent, between the repressing social norms (progress, order, civilization, commerce), and the darker problems running against these (violence, desire, death, decay).

3.   The City and the Country
Landscape, we have noticed, becomes a crucial symbolic means of exploring these themes.  Cities tend to be tricky, deceptive, frightening and crowded places – the site of repressive authority, empire, betrayal, etc.  The country and ecology seem to offer a possible renewal – a new start, innocence, balance, ethics.  This is an old opposition, and marks the links between speculative fiction and 19th C social criticism (the industrial city as decaying, the country as rejuvenating).
It’s also an obvious fantasy, and subject to certain contradictions and reversals.  If the country is a fresh start, it is also the place where authority and order are absent, and so greater violence can take place – F. Alexander’s country cottage in ACO, the deserts of Dune, the rural neglect of Ten Alders/Gont which allows Ged to be neglected/abused.  Cities may be the site of moral evil, but they also seem to be the place where change and renewal, if any, will take place (since they are the centers of social power and influence – e.g. in both Foundation and Dune, where we finally return to the seat of empire; in FE, WA, etc).
Thus the paradoxes of speculative fiction – progress leads to apocalypse, the flight to the wilderness leads to a return to the city/power, rejuvenation often brings renewed iolence, etc.

4.   Mixing of genres
A Martin Amis character in his novel The Information describes the history of literature in terms of “the decline in the status and virtue of literary protagonists” (p. 129) – from the demi-gods of classical literature, to kings and noble heroes, to great lovers, to merchants and doctors, to “social realism” (gangsters and underclass) to “irony” (pathetic losers).
The rise of popular cultural texts-as-narratives might be seen as a history of accretion, heterogeneity and mix.  Arguably, multi-generic influence might be seen as a postmodern feature: i.e. postmodern genre IS multi-generic.
Is this ubiquitous, necessary?  Or is it a deliberate choice – i.e. are there contemporary popular culture texts which do also choose NOT to be so heavily multi-generic?
What is the motivation for such generic heterogeneity?  A celebration and inclusion?  Or a cynical defeat and exhaustion?

5.   The Cultural Logic(s) of Postmodern Popular Culture
Different scholars posit different cultural motivations: Marxist scholars like Jameson and Adorno stress the commodity form and function which so completely dominates the text, so that it represents a great fall from an earlier aesthetic golden age.  Others (like Linda Hutcheon or Ihab Hassan) see it as a stylistic celebration of a liberating, democratizing and inclusive socio-polity.  Technophiles see pm spec fiction as a riotous celebration of the liberating impulse of technology, while technophobes see spec fiction as an articulation of contemporary doomsday anxieties about technology and the loss of the human.
Worth bearing in mind that a cultural logic is complex, and will have several different strands.  These may even have contrary or contradictory impulses – Neuromancer could stem from technophile and technophobic desires at the same time.  If Terry Eagleton is right in maintaining that the role of ideology is to reconcile contradictions, then we might see popular culture texts as performing part of that ideological role – even if we don’t agree that they always perform that role successfully.  Such texts bring together different motivations and impulses, manifested in different ways (in characterization and the treatment of the individual, in plot, narrative, language, style, theme, symbolism, etc).  There is in fact something ideological merely in the bringing together of these forces, so that the very act of reading is already a rehearsal of some kind of harmony.  But that harmony could be a very fragile thing, subject to the problems of other competing texts, dialogical and generic competition or interrogation, over- (or under-) selling and problems of fashionability, etc.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Other Material

Foundation

Seminar Three - Introduction to Speculative Fiction: Asimov's Foundation

EN 5220 SEMINAR THREE: INTRODUCTION TO
SPECULATIVE FICTION – FOUNDATION

1.   Genealogy, Structural Resemblances, Narrative Patterns
What is the 19th C derivation (or earlier, for that matter) of the speculative fiction novel?  Characteristics:
a.   Vast spatial/social canvas: many characters, many relationships/connections, details of life and times.
b.   Chronological span – often, an ‘historical scope’ of some extent (a lifetime, centuries) is required/depicted as part of the novel’s action; if not depicted, then often invoked or gestured to, as explanatory footnote, or epilogue/prologue, etc.
c.   Protagonist(s) – a representative man, not distinguished from others in society by any inherent qualities; his story represents the condition of many others.
d.   Individual actions governed by social conditions – suggestions of determinism, fatalism.
e.   Plot often revolves around a crucial decision (individual’s or society’s) which shapes the condition of life. (War; an invention; political decision; etc)
f.   Often a nostalgic episode/interlude/section, which harkens (if only briefly) to a “time before” the present social conditions.
g.   Narrator/narrative tone: suggestions of detached objectivity, a “scientific” perspective, reliability, condition of knowledge.

2.   Some (possible) precedents, each of which will have some contributing similarities, but also several/many differences:
a.   Plato’s The Republic – an exercise in imaginative nation-building
b.   Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) – another fictional exercise, reacting to a contemporary social anxiety (land enclosures) by imagining a possible alternative (freedom, democracy, equality)
c.   18thC-19thC social discourses – many e.g.s, some more politically ‘serious,’ some cynical and ironic: including the writings of Rousseau, Voltaire and Henri de St.-Simon, political activists like Thomas Spence and Robert Owen, Victorian ‘sages’ like Thomas Carlyle and Matthew Arnold.

Other possible influences and resemblances, some less likely than others: Religious discourses like the Bible itself, millenniaral cults; Marxism?  The IMF or G8?

3.   Possible, and siginificant, to note that speculative fiction has origins in and resemblances to a lot of forms of writing, as well as many different social impulses, movements, institutions.

4.   Foundation: first published 1951, might be described in several ways (each needs to be tested and qualified):
a.   “Space opera” – galactic conquest, spaceship battles, heroes, etc.
b.   Speculative history – i.e. the unfolding of a speculative thesis about human society, played out on a large (fictional) historical scale.
c.   Allegory of cold war, or more generally of the struggle between repressive/arbitrary and free political orders
d.   Apologia for the ideological bases of laissez-faire economics.
e.   Aggrandisement of science (psycho-history, atomic technology) to the role of religion, cultural/political dominant.

5.   Utopian/Dystopian: Is Foundation hopeful or otherwise?  Is it possible to tell?  If utopian and dystopian modes of literature are very closely intertwined, what does that tell us about contemporary society, about genres, etc?
(sub-points to consider: what are the implications for the individual, and individualism, in Foundation’s world view?  What are the ethical considerations of the novel – both the ethics of the novel’s narrative, as well as the ethical implications of its premises [i.e. of its fictional world]?

6.   Put more simply and more broadly: what kind of “world” does Foundation depict?  What are its structures (relational, power, economics, gender, etc)?  Of what kinds of anxieties, hopes and desires might it be an articulation?  What’s the relationship, if any, with contemporary society?
 

Seminar Four - Fictional Worlds: Space, Structure, Movement, Ideology

EN 5220 SEMINAR 4 – THE WORLD OF FOUNDATION

1.   The “world” of spec. fiction narratives: has origins in 19th C realist novel’s concern with society (material characteristics and features such as labour, capital, urban features; manners and customs; the influence of society on individual lives; etc).  Purpose was in some ways to criticize society (particularly for its interference with individual life), but ultimately not to offer alternative, or dismantle society’s basic structure.

a.    What then was the function of social “critique” of 19th C novels? (Express anxieties, catharsis, consolidation, etc).  An “ideological” enterprise?

b.   What aspects of world/society in realist novels continue into spec. fiction narratives?  Which aspects are different?  Do speculative fiction narratives, which are meant to be imaginative exercises, offer more of an alternative vision of society than realist novels, or not?  How might we conceive of the relationship between the fictive world in speculative fiction novels, and our real/present society?  What is the purpose and function of speculative fiction narratives, in that case?

2.   The World of Foundation

a.   Trantor – heart of empire, and first major site we see in the novel.  Impression of vast size, totality (of metal/urbanization, of administrative structure, of civil economy), surveillance, technological networking, etc.  The trans/extra-human quality of life (the lift and other technologies, the schedules/speed of life, etc).

Trantors’s society as characterized by in-fighting, the lack of progress, surveillance and intrigue, implosion and decline.  Arbitrary and lack of “rule of law” (e.g. empire’s use of illegal spy beam to spy on Gaal’s discussion with his attorney, p. 25) – lack of habeas corpus, prevalence of assassination, capital punishment, etc.  Closed society – press and public excluded from Seldon’s trial (p. 28).

b.   Foundation – begins as periphery, marginal group.  Also characterized by rapid evolution/growth – from Encyclopedists to Mayors to Traders to Merchant Princes (a pseudo-theocracy or religious order is also worked in).

What is the relationship between Trantor and Foundation?  Father-child?  Opposites?  Doubles?  What’s the novel trying to do?

Foundation’s society: if Trantor’s repressive and heavy authoritarian structure leads to over-subtlety and inertia, Foundation’s youthful society leads initially to heroism, derring-do, the rule of personalities (Hober Mallow, Salvor Hardin, Seldon himself).

Cult of entrepreneurial individualism?  Foundation thus an allegory for the growth of capitalist society?  If so, what’s the novel’s attitude to this kind of society?  Is it utopia or dystopia, and why?

Note contradictions: “free” society is also subject to intrigue, imprisonments, corruption; the “opposite” of Trantor’s imperial society also has similar traits (politicking and power struggles); the cult of the individual is overshadowed by the determinism of the Seldon Plan; etc.

4.   Narrative and society: why does the novel begin with Gaal, a “provincial”?  Echoes of Bildungsroman or picaresque?

But growth and movement/plot/adventure displaced (partially?  Almost wholly?) from individual to society?  (i.e. the birth, growth, heroic struggle/agon, anagnorisis, etc of Foundation?)

What’s the function and effect of the division of the novel into parts, into sections headed by an “encyclopedia” entry?  (And why quote from the encyclopedists, when that project is effectively discredited about a fifth of the way into the novel)?
 
 
 
 
 

Seminar Five - The Ecology of Herbert's Dune

EN 5220 SEMINAR FIVE: THE ECOLOGY OF DUNE

1.   Introduction: Dune, speculative fiction, epic fantasy
Foundation cp. Dune – some clear differences, in narrative form, tone, worlds, plots, characterization, etc.  While both novels have recognizable “speculative fiction” elements – space travel and empires, imaginative worlds, societies with detailed technological and social parameters which shape human behaviour in certain ways (political-cosmic forms and their ideologies in conflict in Foundation, ecology and the adaptations to/of it in Dune), recognizable representations of our own social anxieties (degenerate power in Foundation, ecological/substance dependency in Dune).

But Dune is different in a number of significant ways:

a.   Centrality of a single character – his growth, career, abilities etc shape the entire novel.  Indeed, we can with some justice say that he is a “world-historical” character (adapted from Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel), a single person whose abilities and significance are so central as to shape the course of history and his society (Lukacs referred to pre-bourgeois figures like kings in Shakespeare).
b.   Trope of “magic” (ability to transmute poison, to see future, past and other worlds, the quasi-mystical training of abilities like fighting, riding the worms, etc) – is this at some odds with the social realist qualities of the speculative fiction novel (the determination of social events/change from rational processes and material factors – if Seldon plan seems like magic, it still proceeds from rational determinism).
c.   Stature of human figures – heroic, kingly; unlike the representative, average, individuals moved willy-nilly by society in social realist and speculative fiction novels.
d.   Plot progression: struggle, challenge, agon, descent – but ultimately a rise again, triumph, success, attainment.  A much more romantic plot progression than the static, unsettling utopian-dystopian mix of Foundation.

2.   We might therefore have to look to another influence/derivation for novels like Dune, in place of the nineteenth-century social novel.  Romance and gothic elements: a long tradition, from at least the medieval epic/romances (Orlando Furioso, Arthurian legends), to the gothic and sentimental novels of the 18th century, to the contemporary romance/horror novels.

Common features include:
a.  Overlaps with tragedy and epic: the central figure, somewhat larger than life, non-representative (i.e. special, extraordinary).
b.   Bildungsroman pattern: often a child or young man, the novel involves his/her growth, focuses intensely on inner states
c.   Romance paradigm: youth, struggle, temptation, agon; descent, threat; recognition (anagnorisis); triumph, rise, maturity.  Symbolic figures of the stern father, the evil king, the corrupt city; the magical helpers, the young maiden, the earth-mother, the hellish descent, the marriage, the new society, etc.
d.   Magic, supernatural as prominent features: emphasis on irrationality, as a challenge to everyday understanding.
 
 

Seminar Seven - A Clockwork Orange and Dystopian Fiction

EN 5220 – GENRES IN POPULAR CULTURE
Seminar 7 Handout – A Clockwork Orange: Dystopian Fiction and Genres of Social Commentary

1.   “Speculative Fiction” – a term coined by sci-fi author Samuel Delaney (The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, 1977).  “Speculative” because it depicts a condition which has not (yet?) happened.  But Brian Aldiss defines sci-fi worlds as those “to which possible future spaceships or time machines may take us,” as opposed to the impossibility of reaching/attaining fantasy worlds (“Fatal Breaks,” in Contours of the Fantastic, ed. Michele Langford).  Spec. fiction may depict conditions not yet attained, but it also contains the possible-to-attain, whose roots are in present/past social conditions.  A kind of extrapolation from the present.

Thus a tension between imagining the unattainable (“utopian,” u-topos, “no place”); and extrapolating from the present (the ideology of science, technology, capitalism, power, in which the spec fiction author is located and from which he/she inevitably has to write).

2.   Spec. fiction’s roots in social commentary (with varying degrees of kinship, all of which must be tested and contested):
a.   Utopian discourses, even from pre-industrial days: Plato’s The Republic; Thomas Moore’s Utopia, James Harrington’s Commonwealth of Oceania.  A means of exploring and postulating philosophical and social principles and ideas, imaginatively transposed to real/actual conditions.
b.   The 19th C industrial novel and contemporary paintings, with its often bleak (dystopian?) depictions of social conditions (and implicit contrasts with an imagined alternative, no matter how slight or distant) – Dickens’ Hard Times (and many other novels, incl. Great Expectations, David Copperfield), the paintings of Luke Fildes and Hubert von Herkomer, Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, etc.
c.   The allegory as narrative mode [a story which transposes an ‘other’ (e.g. the Kingdom of God) into a recogniseable, present framework (e.g. fishermen; farmers)] – especially religious allegory.   Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Biblical allegories eg; but note how (conversely), quite a few contemporary spec fi novels use religious or quasi-religious themes and settings: Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz uses Catholic church structure, Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy has obeah and pseudo-divinity.  Religious narrative (other, better life; the problematic struggle for the same) gives a kind of persistent generic structure to spec fi?
d.   Left-leaning, liberal social criticism (from late eighteenth/early 19th C onwards) – the Marxist ‘story’ of a pre-capital, egalitarian society becomes the dystopian/utopian literature of left-leaning authors like Emile Zola (Germinal), or even the parodic view of leftist utopias by dystopian writers like George Orwell (Animal Farm; 1984) and Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange).
e.   Modernism’s optimism in machines – particularly in the 1920s (Art Deco, Bauhaus and Le Corbusier modern architecture).  The Sci fi of Verne, Wells especially.
f.   Romance adventures/quests, particularly those inflected with the American rugged individualism of post WWII – i.e. the figure of the cowboy, the individual against the system (when combined with Bildungsroman, it’s the Huckleberry Finn figure?), the rugged frontiersman (who becomes the space cowboy).
g.   Detective novel/film noire – emphasis on the dark, dirty secrets hidden behind modernity’s façade of progress or material wealth; images and symbols of rebellion and rejection (cyberpunk, the androids in Blade runner etc).

3.   Structural features of spec fi: will therefore draw from the features of the above (sub)genres:
a.   ‘Society’s story’ – society (social trends, conditions, problems, promise) becomes a leading ‘character’, carrying some of the burdens of development (agon, pathos, hamartia, anagnorisis) familiar from Aristotlean criticism onwards.  Society is not merely a static setting for character-development.

This is a major feature which can in itself provide organizing principles for generic purposes: eg (not a complete list)
i.   The ‘infantile stage’ of a society – primitivism, innocence, idyllic – very often corrupted (by contact) and subsequently collapses; or hides a secret taint.  Well’s Island of Dr Moreau; James Hilton’s Lost Horizon; Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead; Spielberg’s Jurassic Park etc
ii.  The ‘youth’ of a society – expansive, hopeful, developmental – undertaking some major project or quest, often with tragic or ambivalent results.  Tropes of frontiers, colonies, cultural contact.  The new invention and its promise.  Verne’s 20,000 Leagues, Asimov’s robots and Foundation, Space opera (original Star Trek; the Star Wars saga; Stargate), Cordelia’s Honour, etc
iii.  A ‘mature’ society, mired in contradictions and internal conflicts; it may look back nostalgically or analytically at the earlier trends which caused the present state.  Frequently, the contradictions move towards a crisis of absorption, circular repetition, entrapment.  Clockwork Orange, Brazil, Huxley’s Brave New World, Harry Harrison’s Soylent Green, etc.
iv.  Aged society, in stages of decline and disintegration, sometimes looking for a means of regeneration, but ultimately with meager results.  Apocalyptic novels (Miller’s St Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, David Brin’s The Postman, Orson Scott Card’s The People of the Fringe, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

b.   The reverse is sometimes (certainly not always) true: that in certain spec fi accounts, characters can be somewhat static (picaresque characters?  Outsiders whose chief function is not struggle and development, but as observers of social developments – Alex?  Case?)
c.   Narrative: use of pseudo-scientific discourses/voices/perspectives (a computer; scientists or anthropologists; reports/logs).  The aim may be to provide a sense of scientific detachment and order, but the result is often a quasi-gothic mix of different fragements, clashing values/perspectives.
d.   Allegorical doubleness: Spec fi often shares with allegories and fables the sense of a narrative doubleness or parallelism, where we are conscious that a world/event/character really represents something/somewhere/somewhen else.  Reading often involves a constant extrapolation or translation of things into our present terms.  E.g. Nadsat in ACO: we are tempted to see parallel with rap, MTV jargon/language, gang slang?  E.g. multiple lives in Feersum – parallel with gaming and escapism, but also with genetic engineering and cryogenics?
 

4.   ACO
Published in 1962, it arose out of a certain identifiable socio-historical context: Britain’s enfeeblement as a world power, the cold war and the communist threat, the perceived dangers of a permissive welfare society, but (contradictorily?) also the perceived dangers of conservative extremism and the police state.  (The writer Burgess is often compared to is George Orwell, who had a similarly double-edged political satire: communism in Animal Farm, and the right in 1984).    We might say of both writers that while allegorical modes are used, with some identifiable socio-political events/parties referred to, their larger thematic was “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and late modern society (with its powerful technologies) is more corrupt than ever.

There are some trace/slight references and allusions to genres/works such as:
- The bildungsroman (Alex is supposed to move from misguided youth to civilized adult – or is it from a kind of pure and ‘innocent’ violence, to a sneaking and hypocritical adulthood?)
- Hubris, hamartia, peripeteia – like Frankenstein, the act of god gone wrong, the use of science to create an unnatural monster (or is it an individual peripeteia?  Alex assuming god-like power over others’ life and death, crossing the line and making error of judgement, his subsequent downfall)
- Social realism, urban decay/nightmare – society to blame in part or whole for the degeneration of the individual.
-Moral/spiritual pattern of sin, redemption, sacrifice and salvation?  Problematised in several ways – is Alex the sinner, or the sacrificial lamb?  If all sin, then who is to judge and forgive? Etc.
Notice how each textual pattern is ambivalent, transformed sufficiently to make the generic identification possible but also problematic; the ambivalence also lies in the fact that the pattern could refer to the individual (Alex) or to Society.  Is this ambivalence, itself, a characteristic of spec fi?

5.   One way of organizing many spec fi, utopian/dystopian novels, is not by the older generic models/expectations of moral, spiritual, organic or social plot development and change, but by a kind of Marxist-inspired, ‘fashionable’ myth about modernity – the ‘myth of power’.  ACO, Feersum, Neuro, and even (to a lesser extent?) Cordelia, as well as other similar works, share a similar world where:
- Almost every social act (speech, logging on/jacking in, war/adventure/marriage, professionalism/occupation) makes the individual complicit in corrupt social institutions
- Machinery (super computers, super weapons, scientific inventions) threatens to assume many functions of the human
- There is no true progression or change, only (mechanical) repetition, circularity, stasis
- If an alternative state (the past, alternative world, other race) is introduced, by the end of the novel it will become assimilated and corrupted, or otherwise prove to be no alternative
Strong resemblance to Marxist-inspired narratives of capitalist society (e.g. Adorno, Jameson) – can we call this a kind of genre, separate from (and in some ways inimical to) the plot-oriented archetypes of literary progenitors, and arising as a kind of imitation or reflex of present social conditions?
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 Seminar 8 Handout – Language, Society, Ideology

Language as:
1.   Narrative form, story-telling, archetype
2.   Theme within the novel – a feature of the fictional society/world
3.    Ideology – as the reflection of a socio-political system

1.   Narrative form, story-telling, archetype.
Every attempt to tell a story may be called a “narrative.”  Speculative Fictions and Fantasies are just 2 (related) types of narratives among many.  Yet some narratives “hide” (or background) the fact or framing of their narratives more than others, giving the illusion that language is nothing more than a transparent medium for the communication of a “fact” or pre-/extra-linguistic reality (e.g. scientific reports, certain sociological or political accounts, newspapers, realist novels).
Other narratives/genres seem to foreground, and call attention to, the fact that they are stories, fictions constructed via language, and that language thus plays a central role in the status of such narratives (magic realism, the nouveau roman, certain kinds of lyric poetry, etc).

Fantasy and speculative fiction, although they derive their social concerns (utopian/dystopian focus) from realist novels, also derive certain narrative elements from (or have points of resemblance with) genres like fairy tales, religious allegories, children’s literature, lyric poetry, tragedy, etc.

Fantasy and speculative fiction as (for different reasons) inherently hybrid, mixed forms of writing?  (Fantasy because of the formulaic, archetypal, ritualistic elements – tendency to borrow, modify, repeat elements of other similar narratives.  So, the orphan and his growth, the wicked/magical stepmother, the dragon/monster, the hellish descent, the anagnorisis or triumphant recognition, etc.
In the case of speculative fiction, there is a certain narrative mixing – a “pariahrisation” or “cannibalization” of different types of narrative – because the main intent is to defamiliarise our assumptions about human society, to make us consider new and even bizarre/unlikely possibilities.

2.   Language as theme; as feature of fictional world.
The new/different/alterative linguistic community is a well-established theme in different genres: in historical/fantasy romances (real or coined words, or a combination of both, used to create the “flavour” of an exotic period/society); in fictions depicting sub-cultural groups (latino, black or Italian gangs; secret agents and detectives; youth groups, e.g. in elite schools).
Apart from novels on this course (ACO, Wizard, Dune) other familiar egs of novels featuring a peculiar language (cutting across different traditional “genres,” but with a number of similarities) include:

“Interior Monologue” novelists like James Joyce (where narrative follows the difficult, idiosyncratic logic/language of the protagonist – e.g. Stephen Dedalus in Portrait, and Leopold Bloom in Ulysses)
Iain Banks, Feersum Endjinn;
Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series of novels; or Anne Rice’s Vampire chronicles (invented names and titles for leaders of the cult groups);
Ostentatiously Singlish films/novels/albums marketed overseas – Spider Boys, Money No Enough, Why U So Like Dat?, Army Daze
Irvine Welsh’s Scottish novels (Trainspotting, Ecstasy, etc)
Roddy Doyle’s Irish novels (especially Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – combination of boyish slang and Irish terms).
Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow (a novel whose narrative proceeds backwards, from the protagonist’s death to birth).

Not an exhaustive list, of course – many other egs, in which language is central to varying degrees.  While these different novels may use the theme of a peculiar language for different purposes (nostalgia, humour, estrangement, racial/national pride); they also share certain basics in common.  In most cases, the basic function is to mark out a radically different society from the everyday one, often as a means of criticizing, or warning about, the latter.
(Yet paradoxically, criticism is the mark of endearment; the “radically different” society really resembles the present one in many respects).

Peculiar language is not only an estranging or mocking device; it is also one of the means of establishing the atmosphere and parameters of the new world – i.e. idiosyncratic language marks idiosyncratic rules (especially true in the case of magic fantasies – e.g. Earthsea).

3.   The Ideology of Language
A number of structuralists theorists and linguists (Sapir and Whorf; feminist critics; certain Marxist critics like Georg Lukacs, Terry Eagleton) have in various ways pointed out the close connection between language and power – that dominant forms of language/narrative mark the identity and values of the dominant powers in society (men, institutions like the army and the police, the rich).

If this is true, what is the purpose and effect of the alternative/peculiar language-worlds created in speculative fiction and fantasy?  Is it an attempt to escape from the language-as-power in this world?  (But in that case, can these novels escape from the complicity of language-and-power?)

Is there an ambivalence about all this – a simultaneous imagining of an alternative, but one which ultimately agrees with the inescapable fact of language’s ideological function?

What, then, is the larger ideological function of fantasy and speculative fiction narratives?  (i.e. not the function of the peculiar languages within these novels – but the overall function of the novels, of the genres, themselves.  What ideological function, if any, is served by their intertextual allusiveness; their imagining of a peculiar language and language-group; their hybridity and cannibalization of genres/narratives?
Is it about exoticism?  Armchair sociology/travel/history?  Liberal ideology?  Fear of technology/modernity?  Humour and catharsis?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 – SEMINAR 9 HANDOUT
Wizard of Earthsea – Romance, Quest, Bildungsroman

1.   Wizard published 1968.  Le Guin (b. 1929) probably best known for her story of first contact and cultural/anthropological awareness, The Left Hand of Darkness, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards (1970).

Wizard part of a series which includes Tombs of Atuan (1971) and The Farthest Shore (1972) – sometimes collectively called the Earthsea Trilogy (and published/marketed as such).  However, the saga continues with Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990) – a continuing saga.

2.   Romance
Earthsea bears comparison with high fantasy worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lewis’s Narnia, as several reviewers have commented – “high fantasy.”  High Fantasy has clear affiliations with romance: typically involves a young hero/heroine who embarks on a quest for something of great value, in the course of which he/she leaves the comfortable/domestic sphere for far-off exotic (and threatening) lands, fulfils the quest and also in some way grows or develops, and finally may return to the original domain and qualitatively change it for the better.

There are elements of the heroic achievement, of the protagonist’s larger-than-ordinary stature, and thus ritual elements of struggle (agon), self-knowledge or revelation (anagnorisis), cleansing, redemption, etc.  Thus, a messianic quality to high fantasy?

Contemporary fantasy derives from several sources:
a.   The folk/fairy tale, especially those involving a simple individual (often fool, foundling or peasant) who goes on an accidental/exotic adventure, has his/her true identity revealed, and/or wins high honour and status, often by defeating a “dragon” and saving a community.
b.   Medieval romances of the “Childe” (candidate knight) on a quest to prove his worth
c.   Romantic/Victorian fantasy and children’s literature (William Blake, William Wordsworth, George MacDonald, Lord Dunsany, C. S. Lewis, Charles Kingsley) builds on these traditions – child as the site of wonder, delight and an alternative realm to the dull adult world of everyday work/trade, etc.
d.   Gothic horror and the supernatural – particularly prominent from late eighteenth century onwards (Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley etc) – often involves a young virginal girl, taken out of the safe domestic sphere, encountering supernatural elements, villainous threats to her honour, and a final “rescue” in which the social fractures are not fully healed or resolved.  Or a young man who moves too quickly from innocence to a threatening power, which challenges all that he knows and loves, and which is finally suppressed but not fully overcome (Frankenstein)
e.   “Fabulist” writings like South American magic realism, or European nouveau roman – “magical” modes of writing, often with very mythic and symbolic styles and settings, which also contain a social and political allegory (e.g. the individual’s imprisonment or alienation in a modern order of socio-political repression, tawdry commerce, etc).
f.   Social commentary – fantasy thus might be seen as the more symbolic, displaced and magical aspect of social criticism.  I.e. not explicit engagement with the prevailing political order, but an implicit criticism via the narratives of escape, alterity (Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories)

3.   Quest
The quest, in various forms, unites many genres in literature (religious writing like Bunyan’s, detective fiction, spec fiction, colonial/post-colonial), although its most clear literary progenitor is probably the epic.  Quest can take many forms (older, physical quests like Odyssey; industrial-age quests for spiritual values like Wordsworth’s Prelude), but essentially a vehicle to express desire for some ‘other’, ‘higher’ meaning.

If epic/quest is a general metaphor for desires which cannot otherwise be articulated, can the desire be fulfilled/satisfied?  (In psychoanalytic terms it cannot, except in death which is the end of being/desiring – otherwise, desire is by definition the lack which is never fulfilled, in primal terms the mother).

Does high fantasy work as a social and literary text most effectively as the articulation (implying clarification, enlightenment, attainment) of a desire, or as the working out or manifestation (implying a less clear/rational process of dialogical tension against a ‘remainder’ or ‘return’) of desire?  (Consider sequelisation and its implications; the hero’s progression; the quest object – self, name, internal ‘demon’).

Quest as society’s quest – imperialisms, the chanelling of social drives/anxieties to sustain imperialism.  Left Hand might be described, in these terms, as an American articulation of covert prejudices about Soviet block intrigues and party politics, and Eastern ‘perversions’, impenetrability and deceit.  Earthsea series seems to criticize power and ambition in general, but in more particular terms could also be described as the imperialism of the ‘superior culture’ of acceptance, innate talent, comfortable being (the ideology of the privileged ‘first world’?)

4.   Bildungsroman
Usually associated with realist narratives in industrial societies – growth and development of the individual in relation to social forces/manners, etc – although there is also an inherent individual development in epics and religious journeys.

How do bildungsromanen in social realist narratives (Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn etc) differ from those in gothic (monster in Frankenstein; Wuthering Heights) and fantasy narratives?  (Consider techniques of rapprochement between individual and society, ways of reinforcing status quo while appearing to ‘redeem’ it)

Bearing this in mind, we might consider the high fantasy as a late-/post-industrial adaptation of an industrial trope of the individual’s relationship with society; except that in the high fantasy version, the rapprochement is complicated in various ways.  One chief complication is the deferral of the entire action to an alternative where/when, which in itself is a kind of comment on the exhaustion of the primary/real society.  What is the effect of creating spec fiction/fantasy societies by extrapolating (and thus also distorting) certain features of the present society, or else by imagining a seemingly pre-industrial, pre-social setting altogether?

(In Wizard, consider magic, language and naming: Ged’s growth and development can in some ways be paralleled to Alex’s, in that both involve language as an arena in which individualism and socialization are played out.  Ged’s growth can thus be read as the rejection of a larger, corrupting social system, while he searches for a sub-cultural affiliation unique to true wizards.  Yet there are all kinds of nagging signs that this hermetic distinction is problematic: the co-opting of the words of power by evil individuals, the final collapse into a private, asocial and isolated grouping, the displacement and thus deferment of this whole thematic onto an alternative, non-realist plane altogether.  Contrast ACO: more realist exploration of the issue of language/society, but no less problematised)?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Seminar Handouts
Seminar 3

EN 5220 – GENRES IN POPULAR CULTURE
Seminar 3 handout – Introduction to the Gothic Novel: Frankenstein

1. Rise of the Gothic Novel

“Gothic” refers to a particular type of novel which arises in the latter part of the 18th Century – Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765) is usually taken as the starting point – and which flourished in European literature at least until1820 (pub. of
Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer).  Characterised by many striking features, but perhaps most noticeably by:
- heightened sensibility (pathos, terror, sublime, bordering on madness),
- intrusion of the supernatural and uncanny into the everyday,
- mystery and the unknown,
- a kind of narrative structure/style marked by multiple and/or embedded narratives, the ineffable, the imprecise, conflicting narrative “zones,” etc
- romance time and space: journey into exotic land, often taking place in vague, exoticised past.
- effects a destabilisation of received assumptions about societal structures and institutions, knowledge, self, etc.

2.    Gothic narratives: Some Characteristics

i.   Improbable plots - mysterious letters/informants, magical happenings, great coincidences.
ii.   Far-off locations - often involving far-off locations, cultures/nations considered exotic, very different, barbaric (often Catholic
countries like France, Belgium, Italy; or "Moslem" countries - note Frankenstein, and Beckford's Vathek).
iii.  Repressive Institutions - perceived as horrid, irrational, arbitrary and draconian.  Catholic inquisition, monasteries and monks, the family (usually with a tyrannical father, abetted by patriarchal and chauvinistic laws), monarchic or aristocratic power, etc.
iv.  Magic, the supernatural, ghosts, demons, satanic pacts
v.   Secret histories, shame, guilt - often revolves around dark family secret, the guilt/evil of ancestors; very often has an element of taboo (often sexual) - a rape (e.g. Hound of Baskservilles), incest, illegitimacy (Wilkie Collins's woman in white), etc
vi.   Character types: the tyrannical father (Frye calls him the "senex iratus" or angry old man), the beautiful virgin (the "jeune fille," or young innocent girl), the anti-hero (a.k.a. the "Byronic hero") etc
vii.  Breaking of taboos, hubris - dark defiance of societal/metaphysical laws/gods, a guilt or dark desire which drives the anti-hero on to his desparate acts.  Frankenstein, Jekyll.
viii. Narrative of breaks, discontinuities, conflicts. Note the prevalence of fragments, incomplete narratives (often because of the interruption of death, chaos, loss), lack of knowledges and feeble narrators (Christabel), etc.
 
 

3. Approaches to the gothic:

i.   Formalistic/generic: gothic as a variety of romance, charted as a journey (spaces, vectors, symbolic displacement), in terms of character types (senex iratus, the helper, the jeune fille), etc.  Northrop Frye and Carl Jung probably the main influences.

ii.  Narrativistic: influenced heavily by Bakhtin, and focusses on the deliberate narrative instabilities of gothic texts.  I.e. Gothic as destabilisation of mainstream narrative modes (realist novel, epic and lyric poems) and the societies they sustain.  Thus, focus on
“heteroglossia,” “dialogic,” novelistic “zones.”

iii.  Psychoanalytic: Gothic as articulation of (artist’s and society’s) hidden, unconscious desires – thus the breaking of societal taboos.  Focusses on gothic’s symbolic breach of proprieties, especially (following Freud) those dealing with sexuality: incest,
promiscuity, homosexuality.  Gothic as “driven” – expressing basic human drives which cannot be contained by societal forms.

iv.  Sociological/Materialist: Gothic understood as a social function, expressing anxieties about real social processes of power, change, gender, etc.  Emphasises issues of class, race, gender, property, law, crime, the middle class, professionalism, urbanism,
colonialism, etc.

4. Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley b. 1979, d. 1851 daughter of William Godwin (author of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793) and Mary Wollstonecraft (author of Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792).

Eloped with Percy Shelley (who was married with children at the time). P. Shelley, like Coleridge, socially marginal because of marital and financial situation. A radical and social critic, unhappy with what he saw as the injustice and repression of England in his day. A freedom fighter who, with Byron, travelled to observe and join in revolutionary wars in Greece, Italy, etc.

5. Frankenstein and archetypal/generic patterns/comparison:

- Classical hubris, hamartia, peripeteia, anagnorisis, catharsis
- Existential journey: into ‘hell,’ in search of ‘self,’ recovery of ‘treasure’ (Ulysses, Orpheus, Jonah)
- Rebellion, Guilt, Repentance and Recovery (Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner)
- Bildungsroman/growth/corruption (‘innocence’ to ‘experience’: William Blake, Wordsworth’s Prelude, Edenic myth)
- Romance – idealistic quest, dragon-killing, etc (Frye)
 

EN 5220 – GENRES IN POPULAR CULTURE
Seminar 4 Handout – Frankenstein; Bakhtin and ‘the novel’; the gothic

1.   Bakhtin, ‘dialogical’ narratives, the novel
The essay “Epic and Novel” (collected in The Dialogic Imagination) sets ‘novel’ apart as ‘the only genre that was born and nourished in a new era of world history’ (4).  Thus characterized, not by the ‘organic unity’ of other genres (internally to each, and to each other), but by a constant becoming, an instability of form.

‘Dialogical’ and ‘heteroglossic’ – an aspect of the new era, because of the rise of cultural contact and multilingual situations.  Reflected in the novel’s ability to (‘self-critically’) speak in different ‘voices,’ intermingle heterogeneous novelistic ‘zones’ or aspects of consciousness.

How does this fit into our account of the characteristic narrative features of the gothic novel?  Which is more ‘dialogical’, a gothic novel (say, Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights) or a Victorian social realist novel (say, Middlemarch or Great Expectations)?  What sort of narrative features tend to foreground and emphasise heteroglossia?

2.   Novel (in Bakhtin’s view) as anti-generic?  (He calls it the ‘most fluid of genres’, p. 11).  Are there any core narrative codes and conventions that we can still identify as generically novelistic?  Are labels like “social realist novel” or “gothic novel” still useful in terms of certain characteristics of myth (in Frye’s terms), thematics and symbolism, plot patterns, etc?  Or are those labels only a convenient hold-all to describe features of narrative dialogics and openness?  (i.e. a ‘genre’ only in the sense of describing the ‘not epic,’ ‘not lyric,’ ‘not tragic’, etc).

3.   Novel and social realism:
If Bakhtin is right in saying that a “new era of world history” generates a corresponding new genre (novel), does this mean that a certain social reality forms the generic, organizational basis for the novel?  I.e. can we look to society for the generic principle of the novel?  What would that principle be: bourgeois (middle class) life?  Class conflict?  Historical change/evolution/decay?

4.   Gothic, romance, dialogics
To what extent is the ‘romance’ archetype which Frye speaks of an archetypal pattern for the gothic novel?  Quest, adventure, heroes represent ideals/virtues, nostalgia.  Agon, pathos and anagnorisis.  The ‘search of the libido or desiring self for…fulfillment” (Frye).  In psychoanalytic terms, the exploration of libidinal desires and the thwarting of taboos/restraints?  In social terms, bourgeois society finding a channel or release valve for the expression of potentially-threatening desires?

If gothic is (in some ways) a romance, then how is Bakhtin’s point about dialogical narrative (which seems particularly relevant to the gothic) also true?  Can the gothic be both romance and dialogical narrative?  How?

5.   Frankenstein, social realism and the ‘scientific’ novel.

Frankenstein, despite typical gothic narrative features, also has aspects of social reference and relevance?  Creation of monster and industrial production?  Breakdown of family structure?  Gender antagonisms?  Racial/cultural hatred in an age of nationalism?  Conditioning of the individual by society?  (cp. Victorian social realist novels)

Is the novel ‘scientific’ in some sense, despite its references to classical mythology, cabbalism etc?  (Galvanism, philosophical doctrines of mind, education and the development of the individual; geography and exploration).  What does this early model for the scientific novel say about the social and narrative logic of the ‘speculative’ novel?

Finally, what is the relationship between social and scientific representations on the one hand, and gothic/dialogical narrative structures on the other hand?  If the gothic novel (and Frankenstein in particular) is in many ways the ancestor of many later fantasy, horror and speculative fiction texts, then is this an essentially hybrid, conflicted ancestor (a monstrous progeny)?  I

If yes, what consequences/implications for genres in popular culture?

If no, what identifiable archetypes/myths/codes/expectations usefully remain?
 
 

EN 5220 – GENRES IN POPULAR CULTURE
Seminar 5 Handout – A Clockwork Orange: Speculative Fiction and Genres of Social Commentary

1.   “Speculative Fiction” – a term coined by sci-fi author Samuel Delaney (The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, 1977).  “Speculative” because it depicts a condition which has not (yet?) happened.  But Brian Aldiss defines sci-fi worlds as those “to which possible future spaceships or time machines may take us,” as opposed to the impossibility of reaching/attaining fantasy worlds (“Fatal Breaks,” in Contours of the Fantastic, ed. Michele Langford).  Spec. fiction may depict conditions not yet attained, but it also contains the possible-to-attain, whose roots are in present/past social conditions.  A kind of extrapolation from the present.

2.   Some generic roots of spec. fiction (with varying degrees of kinship, all of which must be tested and contested) to consider:
a.   Utopian discourses, even from pre-industrial days: Plato’s The Republic; Thomas Moore’s Utopia, James Harrington’s Commonwealth of Oceania.  A means of exploring and postulating philosophical and social principles and ideas, imaginatively transposed to real/actual conditions.
b.   The 19th C industrial novel and contemporary paintings, with its often bleak (dystopian?) depictions of social conditions (and implicit contrasts with an imagined alternative, no matter how slight or distant) – Dickens’ Hard Times (and many other novels, incl. Great Expectations, David Copperfield), the paintings of Luke Fildes and Hubert von Herkomer, Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, etc.
c.   The allegory as narrative mode [a story which transposes an ‘other’ (e.g. the Kingdom of God) into a recogniseable, present framework (e.g. fishermen; farmers)] – especially religious allegory.   Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Biblical allegories eg; but note how (conversely), quite a few contemporary spec fi novels use religious or quasi-religious themes and settings: Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz uses Catholic church structure, Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy has obeah and pseudo-divinity.  Religious narrative (other, better life; the problematic struggle for the same) gives a kind of persistent generic structure to spec fi?
d.   Left-leaning, liberal social criticism (from late eighteenth/early 19th C onwards) – the Marxist ‘story’ of a pre-capital, egalitarian society becomes the dystopian/utopian literature of left-leaning authors like Emile Zola (Germinal), or even the parodic view of leftist utopias by dystopian writers like George Orwell (Animal Farm; 1984) and Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange).
e.   Modernism’s optimism in machines – particularly in the 1920s (Art Deco, Bauhaus and Le Corbusier modern architecture).  The Sci fi of Verne, Wells especially.
f.   Romance adventures/quests, particularly those inflected with the American rugged individualism of post WWII – i.e. the figure of the cowboy, the individual against the system (when combined with Bildungsroman, it’s the Huckleberry Finn figure?), the rugged frontiersman (who becomes the space cowboy).
g.   Detective novel/film noire – emphasis on the dark, dirty secrets hidden behind modernity’s façade of progress or material wealth; images and symbols of rebellion and rejection (cyberpunk, the androids in Blade runner etc).

3.   Structural features of spec fi: will therefore draw from the features of the above (sub)genres:
a.   ‘Society’s story’ – society (social trends, conditions, problems, promise) becomes a leading ‘character’, carrying some of the burdens of development (agon, pathos, hamartia, anagnorisis) familiar from Aristotlean criticism onwards.  Society is not merely a static setting for character-development.

This is a major feature which can in itself provide organizing principles for generic purposes: eg (not a complete list)
i.   The ‘infantile stage’ of a society – primitivism, innocence, idyllic – very often corrupted (by contact) and subsequently collapses; or hides a secret taint.  Well’s Island of Dr Moreau; James Hilton’s Lost Horizon; Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead; Spielberg’s Jurassic Park etc
ii.  The ‘youth’ of a society – expansive, hopeful, developmental – undertaking some major project or quest, often with tragic or ambivalent results.  Tropes of frontiers, colonies, cultural contact.  The new invention and its promise.  Verne’s 20,000 Leagues, Asimov’s robots and Foundation, Space opera (original Star Trek; the Star Wars saga; Stargate), Cordelia’s Honour, etc
iii.  A ‘mature’ society, mired in contradictions and internal conflicts; it may look back nostalgically or analytically at the earlier trends which caused the present state.  Frequently, the contradictions move towards a crisis of absorption, circular repetition, entrapment.  Clockwork Orange, Brazil, Huxley’s Brave New World, Harry Harrison’s Soylent Green, etc.
iv.  Aged society, in stages of decline and disintegration, sometimes looking for a means of regeneration, but ultimately with meager results.  Apocalyptic novels (Miller’s St Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, David Brin’s The Postman, Orson Scott Card’s The People of the Fringe, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

b.   The reverse is sometimes (certainly not always) true: that in certain spec fi accounts, characters can be somewhat static (picaresque characters?  Outsiders whose chief function is not struggle and development, but as observers of social developments – Alex?  Bascule/Asura/Sessine?  Case?)
c.   Narrative: use of pseudo-scientific discourses/voices/perspectives (a computer; scientists or anthropologists; reports/logs).  The aim may be to provide a sense of scientific detachment and order, but the result is often a quasi-gothic mix of different fragements, clashing values/perspectives.
d.   Allegorical doubleness: Spec fi often shares with allegories and fables the sense of a narrative doubleness or parallelism, where we are conscious that a world/event/character really represents something/somewhere/somewhen else.  Reading often involves a constant extrapolation or translation of things into our present terms.  E.g. Nadsat in ACO: we are tempted to see parallel with rap, MTV jargon/language, gang slang?  E.g. multiple lives in Feersum – parallel with gaming and escapism, but also with genetic engineering and cryogenics?
 

4.   ACO
Published in 1962, it arose out of a certain identifiable socio-historical context: Britain’s enfeeblement as a world power, the cold war and the communist threat, the perceived dangers of a permissive welfare society, but (contradictorily?) also the perceived dangers of conservative extremism and the police state.  (The writer Burgess is often compared to is George Orwell, who had a similarly double-edged political satire: communism in Animal Farm, and the right in 1984).    We might say of both writers that while allegorical modes are used, with some identifiable socio-political events/parties referred to, their larger thematic was “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and late modern society (with its powerful technologies) is more corrupt than ever.

There are some trace/slight references and allusions to genres/works such as:
- The bildungsroman (Alex is supposed to move from misguided youth to civilized adult – or is it from a kind of pure and ‘innocent’ violence, to a sneaking and hypocritical adulthood?)
- Hubris, hamartia, peripeteia – like Frankenstein, the act of god gone wrong, the use of science to create an unnatural monster (or is it an individual peripeteia?  Alex assuming god-like power over others’ life and death, crossing the line and making error of judgement, his subsequent downfall)
- Social realism, urban decay/nightmare – society to blame in part or whole for the degeneration of the individual.
-Moral/spiritual pattern of sin, redemption, sacrifice and salvation?  Problematised in several ways – is Alex the sinner, or the sacrificial lamb?  If all sin, then who is to judge and forgive? Etc.
Notice how each textual pattern is ambivalent, transformed sufficiently to make the generic identification possible but also problematic; the ambivalence also lies in the fact that the pattern could refer to the individual (Alex) or to Society.  Is this ambivalence, itself, a characteristic of spec fi?

5.   One way of organizing many spec fi, utopian/dystopian novels, is not by the older generic models/expectations of moral, spiritual, organic or social plot development and change, but by a kind of Marxist-inspired, ‘fashionable’ myth about modernity – the ‘myth of power’.  ACO, Feersum, Neuro, and even (to a lesser extent?) Cordelia, as well as other similar works, share a similar world where:
- Almost every social act (speech, logging on/jacking in, war/adventure/marriage, professionalism/occupation) makes the individual complicit in corrupt social institutions
- Machinery (super computers, super weapons, scientific inventions) threatens to assume many functions of the human
- There is no true progression or change, only (mechanical) repetition, circularity, stasis
- If an alternative state (the past, alternative world, other race) is introduced, by the end of the novel it will become assimilated and corrupted, or otherwise prove to be no alternative
Strong resemblance to Marxist-inspired narratives of capitalist society (e.g. Adorno, Jameson) – can we call this a kind of genre, separate from (and in some ways inimical to) the plot-oriented archetypes of literary progenitors, and arising as a kind of imitation or reflex of present social conditions?
 
 

EN 5220 – SEMINAR 6 HANDOUT
Wizard of Earthsea – Romance, Quest, Bildungsroman

1.   Wizard published 1968.  Le Guin (b. 1929) probably best known for her story of first contact and cultural/anthropological awareness, The Left Hand of Darkness, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards (1970).

Wizard part of a series which includes Tombs of Atuan (1971) and The Farthest Shore (1972) – sometimes collectively called the Earthsea Trilogy (and published/marketed as such).  However, the saga continues with Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990).

Earthsea bears comparison with high fantasy worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lewis’s Narnia, as several reviewers have commented.  Is a generic affiliation/identification based (to a large extent) on ‘place’ a plausible one?  Is fantasy merely a question of taking us out of a recogniseably ‘real’, present world into an outlandish and garishly different one?  In that case, what’s the distinction between fantasy and spec fiction?  (Left Hand, for example, takes us to another planet with sexually androgynous figures, in a society where hormonal changes associated with sexual liaisons and childbirth are the basis of a complex honour-code).  Also, can an ‘other’, ‘high fantasy’ place ever truly leave behind the codes and concerns of social realism?

Perhaps better to see ‘fantasy’ as a cultural impulse and narrative form which co-exists (uneasily, often polemically, but also with many overlaps) with social realism.  The relationship between these two cultural impulses can be expressed differently, accordingly to different disciplinary/methodological emphases.
- In psychoanalytic terms, fantasy tends to focus on the life of the unconscious/id, while social realism focuses on the waking/conscious/socially-aware aspects of life.
- In narratological terms, fantasy (inheriting from earlier gothic and Victorian fantasy literature) can be seen as the narrative mode which tends to favour techniques of overdetermined symbolism and dialogical zones; realism tends to rely on relatively linear codes which carry a (single or several) moral conclusion(s).
- In mythic/archetypal terms, fantasy tends to work/write closer to the mythic, primal, basic level in terms of plot (quest-like), character (tragic, heroic, etc), symbols (spiritual), etc.  Realism is more ‘displaced’ away from primal myth, towards socially-complex meanings and experiences (career, social pressures, the bourgeois individual, social morals/values)
- In historical terms, fantasy tends to be somewhat simplifyingly nostalgic, selectively disjunctive, utopian/dystopian, primitivistic, while realism tends to be presentist, evolutionary.

In some ways, spec fiction can then be seen as akin to fantasy narratives, in attempting to articulate social concerns in narratives which are more dialogic, archetypal/mythic, historically disjunctive, simplifyingly ideal in moral terms, etc.  What distinguishes fantasy and spec fiction, on the other hand, is that spec fiction is perhaps somewhat closer to social realism, in that it is often interested in extrapolating certain social conditions (usually having to do with science and technology) and incorporating these into its mythic/archetypal projections.

2.   Romance
High Fantasy has clear affiliations with romance: typically involves a young hero/heroine who embarks on a quest for something of great value, in the course of which he/she leaves the comfortable/domestic sphere for far-off exotic (and threatening) lands, fulfils the quest and also in some way grows or develops, and finally may return to the original domain and qualitatively change it for the better.

In this sense, fantasy also has affinities with the gothic, which relies quite heavily on romance patterns.  We might say that the gothic takes the expectations of a romance quest, and then subverts it through narrative and thematic means, in the process suggesting the impossibility (or at least the inherent difficulty) of any stable basis for change/progress.  This ties in with the gothic’s cultural function as a narrative of destabilization, in a period of uncertainty and rapid change.

How does high fantasy use the romance paradigm?  To what extent is it gothic and subversive, and to what extent does it differ from the gothic narrative? (Types of quest; the ‘return’ and ‘resolution’; narrative mode; series and serialization)

Inasmuch as it differs from the gothic, what sort of cultural logic or function might high fantasy fulfil? (Themes and their narrative treatment: secular magic; the essential vs the illusion; past, primal, original; islands, journeys and movement; ambition, resignation; self-knowledge, guilt and forgiveness).

3.   Quest
The quest, in various forms, unites many genres in literature (religious writing like Bunyan’s, detective fiction, spec fiction, colonial/post-colonial), although its most clear literary progenitor is probably the epic.  Quest can take many forms (older, physical quests like Odyssey; industrial-age quests for spiritual values like Wordsworth’s Prelude), but essentially a vehicle to express desire for some ‘other’, ‘higher’ meaning.

If epic/quest is a general metaphor for desires which cannot otherwise be articulated, can the desire be fulfilled/satisfied?  (In psychoanalytic terms it cannot, except in death which is the end of being/desiring – otherwise, desire is by definition the lack which is never fulfilled, in primal terms the mother).

Does high fantasy work as a social and literary text most effectively as the articulation (implying clarification, enlightenment, attainment) of a desire, or as the working out or manifestation (implying a less clear/rational process of dialogical tension against a ‘remainder’ or ‘return’) of desire?  (Consider sequelisation and its implications; the hero’s progression; the quest object – self, name, internal ‘demon’).

Quest as society’s quest – imperialisms, the chanelling of social drives/anxieties to sustain imperialism.  Left Hand might be described, in these terms, as an American articulation of covert prejudices about Soviet block intrigues and party politics, and Eastern ‘perversions’, impenetrability and deceit.  Earthsea series seems to criticize power and ambition in general, but in more particular terms could also be described as the imperialism of the ‘superior culture’ of acceptance, innate talent, comfortable being (the ideology of the privileged ‘first world’?)

4.   Bildungsroman
Usually associated with realist narratives in industrial societies – growth and development of the individual in relation to social forces/manners, etc – although there is also an inherent individual development in epics and religious journeys.

How do bildungsromanen in social realist narratives (Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn etc) differ from those in gothic (monster in Frankenstein; Wuthering Heights) and fantasy narratives?  (Consider techniques of rapprochement between individual and society, ways of reinforcing status quo while appearing to ‘redeem’ it)

Bearing this in mind, we might consider the high fantasy as a late-/post-industrial adaptation of an industrial trope of the individual’s relationship with society; except that in the high fantasy version, the rapprochement is complicated in various ways.  One chief complication is the deferral of the entire action to an alternative where/when, which in itself is a kind of comment on the exhaustion of the primary/real society.  What is the effect of creating spec fiction/fantasy societies by extrapolating (and thus also distorting) certain features of the present society, or else by imagining a seemingly pre-industrial, pre-social setting altogether?

(In Wizard, consider magic, language and naming: Ged’s growth and development can in some ways be paralleled to Alex’s, in that both involve language as an arena in which individualism and socialization are played out.  Ged’s growth can thus be read as the rejection of a larger, corrupting social system, while he searches for a sub-cultural affiliation unique to true wizards.  Yet there are all kinds of nagging signs that this hermetic distinction is problematic: the co-opting of the words of power by evil individuals, the final collapse into a private, asocial and isolated grouping, the displacement and thus deferment of this whole thematic onto an alternative, non-realist plane altogether.  Contrast ACO: more realist exploration of the issue of language/society, but no less problematised)?
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 – Seminar 7 Handout
Weaveworld and Heterocosmic Fantasy

1.   Weaveworld (1987): derivations and influences from a multitude of sources, some of which are fairly far apart from (not to say even contrary to) each other.  In this sense, it is highly heterogeneous, perhaps even ill-fitted.  Gothic heir of the “monstrous” narrative?  Or characteristically postmodern commodity?  (For Jameson, the postmodern text is a “pastiche” of surfaces without depth or historical vitality, “foregrounding…commodity fetishism” – Postmodernism, 8-10).

Typical Barker novel (cp. the better-known and recent ones: Imajica, Everville, Hellbound Heart) is a common, undistinguished (it seems) individual who accidentally stumbles on a world of hidden power and splendour, but one which also brings cruelty and perversion.  The hidden world tempts (calling to lusts in the individual), and often leads to a journey, flight, exotic adventure and sexual/moral exploration.  There is some sort of agon (usually a fight with extremist authorities)

Some influences/progenitors (not exhaustive, and not necessary in order of chronology or importance):

a.   Victorian fantasy and its heirs (e.g. George MacDonald, Lord Dunsany, C. S. Lewis): secularization (to various degrees) of Christian Platonist notions of moral struggle, darkness and light, with an “everyman” individual (temporarily removed from the mundane) somehow representative of human race/society.
But is there any abiding sense of moral struggle, of the centrality of human society and the “soul” of the individual?

b.   S. American magic realism and its associates (J. L. Borges, G. G. Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Alfred Luzon).  Use of alienating/disorientating techniques to foreground the marginal, exceptional, bizarre, often as part of a project of decentering/displacing the established order/powers (anti-colonial).  Fascination with projected spaces/identities (the labyrinth, the river of time) which ‘literalise’ figurative expressions.  Is there a similar or related politics of Barker’s fantasy?  What are its terms/structures?

c.  European existentialism and surrealism – Kafka and the physical symbolism of existential angst, nouveau roman (Alain Robbe-Grillet, Umberto Eco, Calvino) with its tropes (photographs, books/maps, tarot cards) which ‘stand for’ human development, plot, action.

d.    Metamorphoses: a sort of contemporary update on the myths of transformation, hybrid bodies, etc from classical sources like Ovid.  Alternative identities as explorations of possibilities of fate, history, determinism, power.  Same nuances in Barker? Tragic/fated aspects?

e.   Social commentary/realism – in its critique of institutions and powers.  A certain left-leaning social programme?  Or more undirected social criticism of power in general (cp. ACO, Burgess?)

f.   Gothic, Literature of Terror: but what’s the exact relationship between gothic figures of terror like ghosts, the vampire and the monster, and grotesques like Immacolata, her sisters, and Ariel?

g.   (Getting more far-fetched, now) Speculative Fiction – extra-terrestrials, other races, gritty/dystopian Liverpool.

2.   Getting into structure: obvious elements of romance plot, bildungsroman, quest.  Also, thriller formula – fast-paced, sensationalistic writing, close shaves, supervillains (James Bond, Michael Crichton, DC Comics).  Then, the ghost story – the inexplicable, haunting phenomenon, the morbidly phantasmagorical, perversion and excess (Anne Rice, Stephen King).

What distinguishes Barker, though?  What is the structural code(s) concerning character (development, change, if any); moral issues and their development/resolution (if any); representation of society (which issues/aspects?  What tone/nuance), dystopian/utopian qualities?

“Heterocosmic narrative” – the rapid, frequent and effortless transition from a quotidian-like world and an extravagantly different one.  The other world turns out, finally, to replicate many structures of power and corruption of the quotidian one.  There is a reference to, but then a violation of, the expectations of character heroism and development, as characters seem flat and static and the emphasis is on a series of sensational episodes.  This is a structure of cynical commodification, consumerist reflexes, while borrowing (pastiche-like) the colour of a variety of styles/sources.
 
 

EN 5220 – Seminar 8 Handout
Weaveworld, Wizard of Earthsea: gothic and horror

1.   Despite many differences between the two works (Weaveworld heterocosmic, fragmentary, non-epic time, sensationalistic/thriller, non-heroic treatment of character(s); Wizard high fantasy, sequential, epic journey, heroic individual), both seem to be part of a larger (and older) tradition of secular supernaturalism whose closest originating point is probably the gothic revival of late 18th C, although of course this in turn draws from pre-industrial myth and magic rituals/lore (folk and fairy tales, especially Celtic; medieval romances, e.g. Arthurian legends; even older, classical mythology dealing with quests and questors [Odysseus, Orpheus, Prometheus, Jason], evil enchantresses [Circe, Hera, Diana], metamorphoses [Acteon, Philomela], etc).

2.   Some of the archetypes of a tradition of “sublime horror”:
a.   Secret/hidden/metaphysical (“occult” – from latin “celare”, hidden) truth, meaning, dimension of being – the life of the gods, life or dimension after this life (hell, limbo, purgatory, ghosts, immortals), magical powers capable of transforming everyday life/society.  This accidentally or abruptly intrudes itself into the mundane, interrupting or disrupting the life of a mortal.
From romantic “sublime”, which (associated with political writer Edmund Burke) was a kind of aesthetic feeling associated with the threatening, dark, huge, uncontainable (as opposed to the aesthetics of the beautiful, associated with the small, neat, containable).  Seems to have started out as a rejection of a limited aesthetics of order and a championing of nature (Burke’s e.g.s, among others, were chasms, soaring mountains), then became a powerful metaphor for political horror (the chaos and slaughter of the French revolution), then the sense of a secret dimension underlying socio-political order and civilization (Victorian gothic, e.g. Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, Dorian Gray).
b.   Enchantress (or, less commonly, enchanter) – jealous, desirous of power and adulation, a perverter of truth and order, a deceiver, a chaotic figure.  Circe in Odyssey is a mythic origin for Immacolata: power to pervert and transform (especially men), bringing out the bestial, taking away (Enlightenment values of) reason, order and knowledge.  In Wizard, this function is split into several smaller figures (of women who constantly emerge to tempt, trick or provoke Ged): the daughter of the Lord of Re Albi, her mother, Serret the lady of Osskil who tries to seduce Ged into taking the stone of Terranon (and who changes into a gull to flee), and the priestesses in The Tombs of Atuan.
Archetype of Eve – deceiver of men, seductress, resulting in transformations.  Also, Jung’s “Male Mater” – threatening, castrating, consuming woman.
c.   Certain elements of romance – the virginal girl, her young lover, a quest for the hidden, difficult journey with the potential for growth.  Very often in horror, this early promise is thwarted at the end: innocence perverted, death and destruction, and if the young heroes survive and grow, it is at great cost – a certain degree of corruption and incorporation into the “dark”.
d.   Doubling of characters: Frankenstein and monster, eg.  Ged and Shadow, Cal/Suzanna and Shadwell/Immacolata (or Cal and Jerichau; or Immacolata and the police inspector; or Immacolata and the Scourge).  Sense of the essential doubleness of identity (Id and Ego?) reinforces the sense of moral struggle and confusion.
e.   Moral struggle, pre-Christian, reduced to archetypal terms of a struggle between order and chaos, light and dark, truth and falsehood.  Human characters are unwitting and accidental pawns in this eternal struggle.  Human moral triumph merely means a postponement of eternal struggle, hence the sense of unease, perpetual threat.  Human capitulation to evil, on the other hand, seems to imply apocalypse and the end of the race.
f.   Narrative techniques foster moral ambiguity: either by dialogical, gothic, subversive narratives which undermine the ostensible moral superiority of the hero (think of the monster’s energetic refutation of Frankenstein’s hypocrisies); or ‘thriller’ narratives which privilege the exciting, enticing, exotic nature of the villain/evil.
g.   No “sense of an ending” – no clear-cut resolution, no achievement of quest, no triumph.  Evil, if defeated in this instance, survives and threatens to return.

Horror texts: a particular episode which explores the essential struggle between opposing forces, rather than a moral tale or epic struggle.  Hence, often incorporated into the dialogics of the day: humanism versus determinism in classical age, political status quo vs revolution, urban vs rural, science vs nature, progress vs primitivism, civic codes vs self-gratification, etc.

3.   Contemporary/postmodern cultural logic of horror: To what different purposes do Wizard and Weaveworld put their evocations of horror?  What does this reveal about contemporary/postmodern cultural logic of horror?

Wizard: sense of a weighty, worthy moral struggle?  The hope of knowing and thus conquering the darkness within the self – a left-leaning idealism spawned in the civil rights era of the ‘60s?  How does the narrative structure foster this?

Weaveworld: greater emphasis on the sensational (“special effects”?), the quick transformations and appearances/disappearances (heterocosmic), the thrilling/titillating perversion or transgression.  Cruder moral polarities (which, paradoxically, cannot be sustained).
Cp. Anne Rice, Stephen King, Dean Koontz etc?  The horror taken over by thriller poetics – does this sustain social unease and criticism, or dilute it altogether?  If the latter, why bother with pseudo-social issues?  What happens to hope?

Cp. and contrast T.V. (X-files, Millenium, Tales from the Crypt, Twilight Zone) – did T.V. serialization “invent” the horror bestselling novel?
 
 
 

EN 5220 – Seminar 9 Handout
Gothic, Romance, Fantasy – other realms, other media

In considering the wide range of media texts which seem to derive/borrow from Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Romance, and related genres, it is important to consider the extent to which media and industry features affect archetypes, myths and narrative conventions.

1.   In the first place, what are the transformative/determining features of the medium?
2.   Secondly, what is the commodity-form of this text, given the industry characteristics, market and consumerist aspects of this medium?

Related to this, it might be necessary to ask, What is the “role of the reader” in these different media texts?  What scope for interpretative freedom, plurality of interpretations, individual opinion?  What degrees of authorial (camera, directorial, imagistic etc) “hegemony” (Mark Poster) are involved in each case?  How does this different role of the reader affect our reading of the older archetypes/generic patterns?

(i.e. to what extent are older fiction-based archetypes of romance and fantasy based on a certain role of the reader peculiar to fiction: leisurely unraveling of journey, the “time of the text”, imaginative evocation of fantastical wonders/splendours, “moral” participation through active engagement)

1a.  Filmic formats: the continuity editing, 2-hour duration, narrative pattern (crisis-resolution), characterization (star as “charismatic everyman”) of classic Hollywood cinema.  How did Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula transform the gothic ambivalences of Stoker’s novel?  (The heroic quest to rescue Mina, i.e. the “chase scene”; the transformation of Dracula into star-crossed lover; the ending).  Cp. the treatment of the vampire in contemporary fiction, e.g. Rice’s Lestat – some of these features are clearly aspects of postmodern cultural logic and narrative.  Others – special effects, the domineering camera, music etc – are clearly peculiar to the medium.

b.   Television formats: the 1- or 2-hour serial format, advertising (which is not only interruption of main story, but also contextualisation and intertextualisation – trailers for related shows [Hercules during Xena, Xena during Hercules, David E. Kelley shows like Felicity, Ally McBeal and The Practice], related products [Osim and healthshows, cars and sports etc]).  What, then, is the relationship between Hercules the tv show (or, for that matter, any of the pseudo-quest series: Kung Fu, Lonesome Dove, Roots) as gothic/romantic quest, and gothic/romantic novels like Earthsea?  Can there be bildungsroman/growth in the seasonal serialization practiced by ABC, NBC, CBS?  What about the exploration of issues of morality, power, individual’s place in society – how do these accord with a kind of mass ideology inherent in television serials – the ideology of quick vicarious identification, the “consumption” of personalities/clothes/cars, the regular gratification of sexual titillation, etc.

c.   Advertising: tv ads are much more brief than either tv shows or films; print ads are static.  The invocation of generic elements must therefore be compressed, extrapolated – costumes (e.g. the SW Episode One ads run by Pizza Hut etc – Amidala’s hair, young Obi Wan’s robe and tail, Darth Maul makeup), fonts/types (the famous receding, narrowing script of the SW prologue).
What is the cultural logic of this compression?  What does it do to the social concerns of Spec Fi, for example (is there time for the detailed descriptions required for social concerns)?  Is there a poetics of trivialization, “surfaces”, at work?
If advertising structures are so different from the original narrative structures of fantasy and spec fi, why bother?  Why do ads insist on referring to certain features which invoke these genres, without the other elements?  (May have something to do with desire and the “possible” – both spec fi and fantasy deal with an other realm, the possible, not the actual or present.  Hence, ideally suited for advertising structures of desire, abstract possibilities, etc)

d.   Architecture and space: a different problem of authority here: whereas film, tv and ads are dominated by commodity forms and the authority of camera, architecture and space are dominated by corporate and governmental authority.  The emphasis may not be on creating a kind of passivity or lassitude, but it does foster a particular kind of movement and flow.  This may indeed be a kind of consumer pattern, as Jameson’s analysis of the Bonaventura hotel suggests, but retail consumption is not always the point.  In the Eunos post office building, movement and flow is biased towards postal vehicles, the loading and unloading of goods.  The building evokes the imposing stature and forbidding restrictions of movement of a castle, while its façade suggests the endless possibility of movement of a spec fi building.  Boom Boom room is different genre – gothic throwback, contrasting cutting-edge social criticism with seemingly primitive, undeveloped nostalgia.
 
 

EN 5220 – Seminar 10 Handout
Cordelia’s Honour and Space Opera

Cordelia’s Honour (Shards of Honour, 1986; Barrayar, 1991) collectively published 1999).  Barrayar won the 1992 Hugo award.  Part of an ongoing saga whose structural principle is largely biographical, or familial/dynastic: the life, love and career of Cordelia Naismith, her tempestuous relationship with Vorkosigan, the career of her handicapped son Miles, etc.

1.   Generic influences:
The main generic framework is space opera, with intergalactic battles, opposing races, fate of the universe (manifest destiny), moral simplifications, etc.  But (when contrasted with the more clear-cut versions of this genre), CH shows plurality of influences, including (not exhaustive list):
a.   Romance paradigm: young girl in journey to an exotic realm, threatened with dangers (especially by male/patriarchal forces: rape, forbidding of love and marital union, procreation as ethnic cleansing, threat to the child), overcoming those dangers as part of the affirmation of identity, marriage (and childbirth) representing hope for new age.
b.   Bildungsroman: eye-opening experiences and encounters with a society (Barrayar, but in particular Vor nobility and its complex rules, alliances etc), the individual growing to define her (negotiated) role with that society.
c.   “Romantic” popular novel: roots in medieval/renaissance romances (Romeo and Juliet: “star-cross’d lovers”; the young lovers in Ann Radcliffe’s gothic novels, eg), but also elements of contemporary Mills-and-Boon type popular romances: the fantasy of quick-but-eternal love, the socio-economic lottery (lover might lose everything, but loyalty and risk pays dividends and he is finally exalted to lofty position, taking the woman up with him), the whole structure of risks/unlikelihood/the unexpected, the woman’s perspective).
d.   Picaresque novel: the outsider (from Spanish “picaro”, meaning rogue or scoundrel, beyond the bounds of proper society) looking in on a society, giving a new (and more insightful) perspective than an insider (e.g. Vorkosigan) could do.
e.   Liberal social theories: feminist notion of equality, criticism of male chauvinism, democratic/leveling progression (against outdated aristocratic privileges), etc.
f.   Gothic view of scientific technique as monster: the mind-control techniques used on Bothari (cp. Ludovico technique), the “clumsy butcher” nerve surgery on Koudelka, brutal weaponry like nerve gas, etc.  The treachery, cruelty, class segregation and hatred in the novel as a “monster” created by scientific society.  Also, the social inculcation of martial ardour and hatred: Cordelia says “I feared Barrayar for what it did to its sons”, 275.  Society as monstrous, with the novel using the seeming-monsters (Bothari, Vorkosigan the butcher) to effect a reversal and criticize society instead.

2.   Space Opera and 1960s Spec Fiction:

The space race began in 1957, with the launch of Sputnik.  Its history is also the history of the Soviet-U.S. cold war, ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  During this period, the relationship between space wars and inter-continental (NATO vs Soviet) opposition is marked by many cultural documents: 1960s and 1970s spec fiction like Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, novels by “Doc” Smith, Robert Heinlein, E. C. Tubb, Roger Zelazny, Asimov etc; spy thrillers which are also sometimes space wars, e.g. James Bond’s Moonraker, fantastical and simplistic spec fiction with black-and-white moral oppositions, e.g. 1977’s Star Wars.  While space technology continues in the 1990s, cultural texts are no longer marked by the same serious anxieties about star wars, intergalactic feuds and moral struggles.  Globalisation means a change in the geography of conflict – no longer inter-continental (represented by inter-galactic/species) contests, but the horror spreading within global structures: Aliens, cyberpunk.

Brian Attebery (in secondary reading list) distinguishes pre-1960s spec fiction from post 1960s.  Pre-1960s was dominated by the ideology of the progress of science, coinciding with the rise of America as dominant global power.  Notions of science as progressing and benefiting mankind, benevolent conquest of others, the fertility and change of science and society, the conquest of science over superstition and disorder.

Post-1960s marked by a growing sense of pessimism and cynicism, about progress, benevolent conquest, science and society etc.  In contemporary texts, there is also a pronounced sense of intertextual play and self-conscious focus on texts and textual conditioning, shifting focus away from scientific society and the problem of progress and regression : Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember it for you Wholesale (aka the movie Total Recall), Brazil, etc.

Sandwiched in-between is space opera, which has a certain cultural resilience, adapting and taking on other genres in order to survive this postmodern and cynical turn.  Bujold isn’t the only 1990s writer to perpetuate space opera: Orson Scott Card’s Ender series is about man versus an insect-like race, some of Iain Banks’ novels, the Star Wars saga continues.

The resilience of space opera is probably due to its deepest archetypal form: the story of an agon, a fundamental struggle, in which an individual must come to terms with fate, destiny, hope.  It is the post-industrial society’s version of older genres like the romance/adventure story, the historical conflict (Trojan war, Ramayana, Israelites versus their enemies), etc.

How does the space opera adjust and adapt these very old forms to the cynicism and self-consciousness of contemporary society?  (Hints: the moral simplification of Cold War gives way to moral problematic, Beta society isn’t any better than Barrayan; the epic historical contest becomes mere façade or setting, gradually fading into the background, and foregrounding instead the individual adventure; contemporisation of adventure – no longer martial “honour” and social rank, but decency, kindness, friendship, maternal instinct; episodic structure – the war ends, but the novels continue, spinning episodes out of particular biographical events).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 SEMINAR 12 – FEERSUM ENDJINN

Iain Banks’s writings cross genres – David Punter has classified him as a contemporary “Scottish gothic” writer (comparing him to Irvine Welsh, among others) whose works reflect the unsettling political tension between center (UK, London) and margin (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, racial minorities).  A novel like Complicity (about a deranged man tracking down a whole list of people he imagines to be complicit in an injustice) is clearly influenced by socio/psychopathology-crime texts like Psycho, Talented Mr Ripley, American Psycho, The Secret History, and detective novels.  Excession, in contrast, is most clearly influenced by space opera: a story of intelligent super-spaceships, bug-like bizarre aliens, contact and conflict between interstellar species, etc.

FE – most obvious affiliation is with “virtual reality” types of speculative fictions, with elements of utopian/dystopian fictions where the notion of “reality” is questioned by technology (Matrix, Neuromancer, even Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, Total Recall – the vision of a society which uses totalitarian technology to control our perceptions and senses for insidious purposes, the sense of “what you see is NOT what you get”, the individual tossed/throwned about within a corrupt technocratic society).  Obviously, such virtual reality/dystopian texts already have other generic influences and affiliations:  FE, like Neuromancer, is also a thriller/action novel, a spy/thief novel (Bascule as hacker), a detective novel (Bascule searching for the perpetrators/agents of the conspiracy).

But it would perhaps be a mistake simply to lump FE together with the p-m, cynical cyberpunk of Neuromancer.  FE probably does not have some of the distinctly p-m features of Neuromancer: i.e. dehumanization of protagonists, an overall sense of indifference and detachment, moral cynicism and the loss of an epic “cause” or “purpose”.

2 key moments/aspects of Neuromancer may help reveal this:

Firstly, there is the question of the protagonist, character, bildung.  Case is only one example of the flatness, lack of development and lack of significance in protagonists: Molly tells a story of another boy, Johnny, that Case “kinda remind(s)” her of (p. 176).  What is the point of her story?  She concludes that “Never much found anybody I gave a damn about, after that” (p. 178), so does that mean she doesn’t give a damn about Case?  If so, why does he remind her of Johnny?  At the end of the novel, one day when he is surfing the matrix, Case sees the boy that was Neuromancer’s manifestion, with a girl who is Linda’s recreation, and “the third figure…was himself” (p. 271).  Case’s character is defined by its repetition of others, its similarity and reduplication; not by older epic/tragic notions of character as individual identity, as agon, growth.

Secondly, the quest/action of the novel is undercut by the unknowable, enigmatic and non-human terms of the struggle: to give consciousness or being to an AI’s other aspect/identity.  The Turing police see his job as a “pact” with a “demon”, betraying his own species (p. 163); for people like the Finn and Molly, it is money/professionalism; for Ashpool, the quest is to contain the AI and retain corrupt power; for Tessier, it is (unconsciously) to liberate the AI and allow it to develop self-consciousness; for the AI, it is the most complex struggle of all: Wintermute is without personality, but it is the catalyst for the creation of the personality Neuromancer; Wintermute “wins” at the end, but the prize is the loss of Wintermute and the creation of something else.

Finally, the (lack of) significance of the whole quest may be summed up in the AI’s postlogue-statement: “Things aren’t different.  Things are things”.  The result of the struggle is for the AI to say “I talk to my own kind” (270).

2.   FE: a similar multiplication of lives, characters’ manifestations, constructions (e.g. the way in which protagonists like Sessine and Gadfium keep encountering “themselves” when they least expect it).  Sessine finally disappears in the matrix, de-humanised until he is part of Asura, part diffused, rather like Finn in Neuromancer.  Dehumanisation may also be seen in Asura itself, and in the bestialisation of agents (lamageiers, ants, elephants, apes, hawks, etc).

However, underlying these virtual constructions is a very different human treatment: particularly in the central figure of Bascule, who is proud of having never “died” before, who is the main perspective and narrative consciousness (in contrast to the depersonalized narrative in Neuromancer), and who at the end of the novel shows signs of having grown and developed: a little less irresponsible, he affirms his bonds to others (Ergates, Zolipari, but new friends like Gadfium and Asura too).  The animals and constructs, too, are given a very “human” treatment: they all have foibles, quirks, emotional traits (Asura’s child-like faux pas, the sloth’s untidiness and concerned fussing, etc).  There is a clear-cut moral division: the evil and selfish consistory, versus everyone else who wants to survive the Encroachment.
The narrative pattern thus still borrows elements from the romance-quest, and mythic patterns like the descent into hell (the “crypt”), the ascension again with the treasure (knowledge, the Asura, the feersum enjinn), the agon (struggle against great odds/powers), hope for a new society at the end.

Using genre analysis, it may be possible to identify at least 2 varieties of p-m speculative fiction:
a.   The flat pastiche of Neuromancer: anti- (or non-)Aristotelian, non-mythic/archetypal.  In place of the strong sense of romance/bildung/agon, is a play of attitudes, dressing, surfaces.  Rather like Peter Riviera’s hallucinatory shows, one reads this novel for the episodic, brief spectacle.
In terms of cultural comparisons, it resembles serialized television, which has no larger narrative pattern, but relies on episodic attractions.
In terms of cultural logic, this is p-m in its most baldly cynical aspect – it mirrors postmodern society’s sense of temporariness, detachment and alienation.

b.   The mythic-romance-bildungsroman which FE still evinces: a p-m epic, with elements of playfulness and misdirection, but essentially still a story of growth and development.  It reconciles older myths of hope and moral progress, with p-m elements of uncertainty, fragmentariness, and play.
 

EN 5220 SEMINAR 13 – CONCLUSION

1.   Language, Narrative, Form in Popular Culture texts
Important to remember that popular culture texts are not just “content” and “themes”, but that these are conveyed in a particular textual form and expression which is part of the cultural logic and social semiotic of the work.
a.   Form: In addition to more Aristotelian formal considerations such as the hero’s career and fortunes, thanks largely to Marxist theorists we can also consider other aspects of form: How long/short; how linear, or unlinear; the division into parts (what kinds of parts, how do they relate to each other), even issues of packaging (softcover or hard, cover design, type/spacing) can be considered.
Terry Eagleton (Criticism and Ideology) would say that the form of a work is the “impress” of its socio-historical moment.  i.e. Not that the novel directly tells us a story which relates to our social conditions, but that those conditions may be reflected in the form and nature of the novel.  So in Neuromancer, the constant rapid transitions, the rather confused moral story, the fragmentariness, tell us as much about postmodern virtual society as does the (Aristotelian) “plot” itself.
True of fantasy as well?
b.   Narrative: The 19thC realist novel’s questions about narrative (who narrates?  How many narrators?  What relationship between them?  How omniscient the narrator, or how flawed?) no longer seem to be the sole or central concerns, although of course still relevant.  Other issues like jargon, technospeak (esp. Neuromancer), groupspeak (e.g. Nadsat), ‘metaphysical’ terms (magic, fugue, scourge) emerge.  Popular culture narratives seem to seek nostalgically for the return to a mythic, strong romance narrative pattern (esp. true of fantasy), or else mix a whole eclectic range of narrative voices and influences together in quite dialogical fashion, or even combine the two impulses.
We still might want to consider the narrator, though – even if it is to comment on the generally omniscient and rather uninteresting narrator (except in Frankenstein, ACO and Feersum).  Why do such texts produce such narrators?
c.   Language: If it is now less interesting from the point of view of an authorial style or presence (the way, e.g., we speak of an Austen or George Eliot language), it is now interesting as a kind of sociology or anthropology: of power and contestation, of the group and sub-group, of the ‘micropolitics’ of individualism, of the human as opposed to the mechanical, etc.

2.   Mixing of genres
A Martin Amis character in his novel The Information describes the history of literature in terms of “the decline in the status and virtue of literary protagonists” (p. 129) – from the demi-gods of classical literature, to kings and noble heroes, to great lovers, to merchants and doctors, to “social realism” (gangsters and underclass) to “irony” (pathetic losers).
The rise of popular cultural texts-as-narratives might be seen as a history of accretion, heterogeneity and mix.  Arguably, multi-generic influence might be seen as a postmodern feature: i.e. postmodern genre IS multi-generic.
Is this ubiquitous, necessary?  Or is it a deliberate choice – i.e. are there contemporary popular culture texts which do also choose NOT to be so heavily multi-generic?
What is the motivation for such generic heterogeneity?  A celebration and inclusion?  Or a cynical defeat and exhaustion?

3.   The Cultural Logic(s) of Postmodern Popular Culture
Different scholars posit different cultural motivations: Marxist scholars like Jameson and Adorno stress the commodity form and function which so completely dominates the text, so that it represents a great fall from an earlier aesthetic golden age.  Others (like Linda Hutcheon or Ihab Hassan) see it as a stylistic celebration of a liberating, democratizing and inclusive socio-polity.  Technophiles see pm spec fiction as a riotous celebration of the liberating impulse of technology, while technophobes see spec fiction as an articulation of contemporary doomsday anxieties about technology and the loss of the human.
Worth bearing in mind that a cultural logic is complex, and will have several different strands.  These may even have contrary or contradictory impulses – Neuromancer could stem from technophile and technophobic desires at the same time.  If Terry Eagleton is right in maintaining that the role of ideology is to reconcile contradictions, then we might see popular culture texts as performing part of that ideological role – even if we don’t agree that they always perform that role successfully.  Such texts bring together different motivations and impulses, manifested in different ways (in characterization and the treatment of the individual, in plot, narrative, language, style, theme, symbolism, etc).  There is in fact something ideological merely in the bringing together of these forces, so that the very act of reading is already a rehearsal of some kind of harmony.  But that harmony could be a very fragile thing, subject to the problems of other competing texts, dialogical and generic competition or interrogation, over- (or under-) selling and problems of fashionability, etc.
 

EN 5220 – Week 11 Handout
Conspiracy, Control and Complicity: The Player of Games

1.   The late 20th Century saw a number of socio-cultural developments (the technology of speed/connectivity/surveillance/tracking; cold-war politics and covert operational procedures; terrorism, fundamentalism and fanatism; biological experimentation; escalating wealth and the fluidity of money; the rise of multinational corporations; etc) which contributed to the rise of a distinct sub-genre: the “Conspiracy” narrative.
Some of the better-known recent examples include films/TV series like The X-Files; Conspiracy Theory; The Net; The Skulls; Enemy of the People; the Pretender; and novels like Iain Banks’ Complicity, The Business, and Feersum Endjinn; Christopher Reich’s Numbered Account, etc.

Typical narrative structure involves a protagonist who is a loner (socially awkward, inept, a recluse, with a tormented past, mentally/emotionally unstable, a genius, a child whom no-one believes or loves, etc).  S/he accidentally/contingently gets involved in a plot which involves some or all of the following elements:
a.   A plan by a small elite group to take over the wealth, military power, resources and people of a large entity (the U.S.; the world; the U.N., the Universe), and to pervert that entity for personal gain, to corrupt the purpose and values of that entity;
b.   The elite group is hidden, deceitful, influential, ruthless; its influence is pervasive, its intelligence system is practically all-knowing (Comparisons with the Devil?)
c.   Anyone can be seduced or corrupted by the group – their resources are limitless
d.   There are layers within layers – the group thrives on secrecy, no-one knows everyone else
The protagonist is hounded by the group, without help because no-one will believe him/her.  It is a physical journey (on the run, involving disguise, to distant/unknown places) which is also a psychological/symbolic journey (of self-discovery, involving torment/indecision, self-reliance, growth in capabilities)
Two possible endings: either
a.   the group wins, kills/neutralizes/erases the memory of the protagonist; or
b.   the individual negotiates a stalemate or temporary triumph over the group – but this is usually by using the very same means/ethics/technologies of the group against it; thus, overtones of the protagonist’s own corruption/complicity in society’s evil.

Fundamentally a literary of unease and anxiety about the deceptiveness and unethicality at the very heart of contemporary society.

2.   Some of the earlier versions/origins of the complicity text include:
a.   1960s cold-war thrillers, with their plots of implausible attack scenarios, paranoia and its consequences, the remorseless tragedy of technology (especially military), mistrust and betrayal, brainwashing, etc (The Manchurian Candidate; Dr Strangelove; The Andromeda Strain, etc).
b.   The institutional expose, often involving a newcomer exposed to the pervasive immoral practice of a political or business institution – the lulling and dominating influence of “the way things are” (Serpico, The Insider, All the President’s Men)
c.   The Alien variant – the threat is posed by an alien race (or the equally alien cyborg or monster species) which uses superior bio-mechanical technology to infiltrate and deceive human society (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, X-Files).  However, the aliens often have co-operation of a power-hungry human group, or else their strategies are borrowed from (and thus critique) those of human powermongers.
d.   Social criticism narratives in general – not only the relatively simple Victorian social realist melodramas, but also general discourses (theory, journalism, chatroom discussions, news reports) which warn about emerging forms of power and technology and their possible abuses/corruptions.

Other variants/tropes are possible.  Also possible for this narrative to operate at different narrative levels: literal/realist (group is a business or political faction); science fictional (aliens, cyborgs, technocrats); fantastical (magicians, vampires); symbolic/allegorical (scene of marital conspiracy/betrayal, etc).

What unites these narratives is a common anxiety about the deceptive, corrupting, pervasive and untraceable quality of modern power; a sense of the betrayal and deception within; a feeling of isolation and alienation within modern society.

3.   Gothic Tales
The gothic once again requires special attention within the range of earlier types of/influences on this sub-genre.  The gothic, as an earlier literary form expressing some of the anxieties of high capitalist/industrial society, resurfaces in some aspects of contemporary texts (detective, horror, conspiracy, fantasy).

Its resemblance to conspiracy narratives is seen, not so much in the tropes of monsters, deviance and sexuality that it shares more with horror and fantasy, but with the sense of a pervasive evil that runs deep in the core of society; an atmosphere of deception, hypocrisy and concealment; a sense that it is precisely the rich and powerful in society who embody its corruption; and the corresponding isolation, mistrust and madness that the protagonist often faces.

The gothic influences both the detective and the conspiracy novel in similar ways – Jekyll and Hyde might be an example of a gothic tale which embodies certain qualities of the detective/conspiracy tale.

But ultimately the conspiracy narrative is the product of the late 20th C – its characteristic anxieties about the speed/pervasiveness of technology, the disembodied but total nature of power, shape its narrative in ways which are significantly different from the gothic.

4.   Player of Games
One of Banks’ “Culture” novels, it takes place in a universal confederation known as the Culture, whose prime movers are not humans at all but huge, intelligent ships (Excession, another culture novel, has almost no human action – the plot centers around a conspiracy, plotted by some rogue ships, to start an intergalactic war).  The organic citizens of the culture come from a variety of bodily types.  But Culture as a whole is characterized by ease, prosperity, luxury, amazing bio- and tech-possibilities (changing gender, enhancing mental/bodily capabilities, living indefinitely etc).
Thus Culture is an echo or projection of the technologically-rich and powerful U.S.?

The dark side of the Culture is its Contact arm (like the CIA?) – shadowy, covert, often using superior technology to interfere in more backward planets, etc.

5.   Characterisation
The few human (or organic) characters in Banks’ Culture novels are often loners, introduced to us in their prime, but harbouring some deep psychological scars or inner emptiness.  They seem to have everything but satisfaction, and this drives them to the edge – of morality, sanity, social values, etc.

Unlike romance protagonists, it is debatable if Banks’ protagonists are capable of “growth” as such – whether a society like the Culture even permits growth at all.  There is a kind of descent into hell, where the emptiness of their lives and narratives are thrown off, and they actually reveal their horrible pasts, or the emptiness of their souls; but there is usually little possibility of resolving this, of growing morally and spiritually, of addressing and redressing some of these social problems.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 – Week 12 Handout
Hyperion: Gothic Horror and Communicating Worlds
1.   Contemporary speculative fiction texts like Neuromancer, Player of Games and Hyperion share certain textual qualities sometimes called “postmodern”: An impatience with the constraints and rigidity of traditional narrative forms and conventions; an obsession with layers on layers, worlds within worlds, which is part of a sense of there being nothing at the “core” of things; a textual playfulness or trickery; an intertextual allusiveness, a sense of narrating “other narratives” rather than telling about “something real.” (For longer accounts of the characteristics of postmodern art and culture, see Jameson, Hutcheon and Lyotard on the secondary reading list).
Postmodernism is the cultural expression of a socio-economic-political moment, although theorists disagree on its exact political significance: for Hutcheon, it is political openness and freedom, while for Jameson it is the dominance of multinational corporations and late capitalism.  Whatever one’s reading of postmodern texts – whether we see them as positive and celebratory, or as a cynical expression of the flatness and exhaustion of a late capitalism society – a certain nexus of particular issues and tropes emerges quite clearly, and are particularly relevant to the kinds of narratives explored on this module: the replacement of the “human” by something else, the authority and centrality of technology, the sense of a regression or decline, and other utopian/dystopian tropes.

2.   Hyperion is part of this postmodern-like speculative fiction in a number of ways:
a.   Generic blending and mixing: Simmons, like many contemporary speculative fiction writers (e.g. Iain Banks, Orson Scott Card, C. J. Cherryh), writes in and across a number of related genres: horror, the gothic, fantasy, speculative fiction.  There is a deliberate unwillingness to be confined within a single easy genre.
b.   Intertextual allusiveness: particularly noticeable in this novel (among those studied in this module).  The basic plot-premise is the story about story-telling, as is seen in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Boccacio’s The Decameron, the Arabian Nights, etc.  But there are also many tales-within-tales, and allusions within the basic allusion: in Martin’s story, there are references to monster tales like Frankenstein and Beowulf.  The many religious/mythic elements also allude to stories and discourses like the crucifixion of Christ, early Christian martyrs and missionaries.  There are numerous other literary allusions in the names of places and people (especially from Keats: “Lamia,” “Hyperion,”).
c.   Time: a favourite trope of speculative fiction (since at least H. G. Well’s The Time Machine), it is also used to unsettle our notion of order and regularity (see also such texts as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, and films like 12 Monkeys and Time Cop.  In Hyperion, the Time Tombs are the goal of the pilgrims’ journey – but a goal which is unstable and fluid, which may not be an end but rather a beginning, looping endlessly around in a paradox which upsets our notions of linearity and causality. (Bakhtin thought that the novel’s fluid constructions of time made it more dialogically open and disturbing than the epic’s linear and regular chronological framework – all the more true of speculative fiction novels?)
d.   Humanity: another favourite touchstone in speculative fiction – cp. the borders of humanity explored in Banks’s Culture novels (with the dominance of the great ships, the bio-mutative powers of the humans).  Simmons’ world resembles that of Banks’ in some ways: the power of an independent mechanical intelligence (the Technocore), the mutative qualities of a species of the human (the Ouster), biogenerative oddities (the cruciform), etc.

3.   The theme of the “communicating world” – another core speculative fiction trope, seen in older narratives as the fantasy of immediate (or at least very fast) transportation into an exotic and distant realm: interstellar travel, faster-than-light propulsion, etc.
Contemporary speculative fiction has evolved many sophisticated versions of this: the gateway, wormhole or interdimensional device/portal (Sliders; Stargate; Star Trek Deep Space 9); virtual reality and electronic connectivity (Neuromancer, Dennis Kiernan’s Caverns of Socrates), even mysticism (“the Force,” the spice-induced navigational and prophetic/visionary powers in Dune).
Easy to see the relevance of Jameson’s point: such texts are very closely tied to the ethos of multinational corporations, the mass marketing of sophisticated and world-changing technology, globalism, and the related socio-political values of “openness,” “mass culture,” “liberalism,” etc.
Hyperion, like other novels such as Foundation, Dune, Neuromancer, and Player of Games, is fundamentally concerned with the connectivity between worlds: in the form of overt power and empire (the Hegemony), in the technology which enables this (Hawking-drive ships, fatlines, portals, etc.
Yet at the same time, speculative fiction does not merely passively receive and replicate the dominant social values and concerns of its time, and Hyperion does not merely celebrate and advertise the ethos of connectivity and the hope for a united global order.  Its dystopian and unsettling qualities at the same time undermine connectivity, questioning the origins, motivations and cost of this connective technology and order.  It uses some of the unease of the shifting borders of the human, in order to question and challenge the viability of the connected worlds.

4.   Hence the themes of war, violence and horror: speculative fiction is never very far away from the tropes of the apocalypse, the system-wide war, the degeneration of civilization, etc.  (Is this one of the related political anxieties of postmodernism?  That the flip side of globalisation is inequality, cultural conflicts, and hence violence?).  Hyperion is a novel about an order on the verge of war and collapse, and as such a novel of unease and disquiet – notwithstanding (or even because of) its bio-techno marvels and wonders.

5.   Gothic horror: as references to Frankenstein etc (and as the thematics of other Simmons novels like Carrion Comfort) show, Hyperion also draws on the gothic tradition – a pseudo romance (the journey, purportedly of growth and discovery), which leads to strange and bizarre situations and events that challenge our received values (religious sentiments, technology, progress, the political order, human society, friendship, etc).
 What does this do to our notion of the postmodern?  To our view of the social role of speculative fiction?  To our contemporary discourses about globalisation, technology, science, knowledge, etc?
 
 
 
 

EN 5220 SEMINAR 13 – CONCLUSION

1.   Language, Narrative, Form in Popular Culture texts
Important to remember that popular culture texts are not just “content” and “themes”, but that these are conveyed in a particular textual form and expression which is part of the cultural logic and social semiotic of the work.
a.   Form: In addition to more Aristotelian formal considerations such as the hero’s career and fortunes, thanks largely to Marxist theorists we can also consider other aspects of form: How long/short; how linear, or unlinear; the division into parts (what kinds of parts, how do they relate to each other), even issues of packaging (softcover or hard, cover design, type/spacing) can be considered.
Terry Eagleton (Criticism and Ideology) would say that the form of a work is the “impress” of its socio-historical moment.  i.e. Not that the novel directly tells us a story which relates to our social conditions, but that those conditions may be reflected in the form and nature of the novel.  So in Neuromancer, the constant rapid transitions, the rather confused moral story, the fragmentariness, tell us as much about postmodern virtual society as does the (Aristotelian) “plot” itself.
True of fantasy as well?
b.   Narrative: The 19thC realist novel’s questions about narrative (who narrates?  How many narrators?  What relationship between them?  How omniscient the narrator, or how flawed?) no longer seem to be the sole or central concerns, although of course still relevant.  Other issues like jargon, technospeak (esp. Neuromancer), groupspeak (e.g. Nadsat), ‘metaphysical’ terms (magic, fugue, scourge) emerge.  Popular culture narratives seem to seek nostalgically for the return to a mythic, strong romance narrative pattern (esp. true of fantasy), or else mix a whole eclectic range of narrative voices and influences together in quite dialogical fashion, or even combine the two impulses.
We still might want to consider the narrator, though – even if it is to comment on the generally omniscient and rather uninteresting narrator (except in Frankenstein, ACO and Feersum).  Why do such texts produce such narrators?
c.   Language: If it is now less interesting from the point of view of an authorial style or presence (the way, e.g., we speak of an Austen or George Eliot language), it is now interesting as a kind of sociology or anthropology: of power and contestation, of the group and sub-group, of the ‘micropolitics’ of individualism, of the human as opposed to the mechanical, etc.

2.   Social Criticism, social escape
Despite the variety and variation in the speculative fiction and fantasy texts we have read and mentioned, a very basic similarity emerges: most texts seem to be concerned with social evils (variously crime and violence, materialism and greed, tyrannical authority and the repression of individuality and freedom, urban decay and ugliness, political treachery, the threat of science/technology, etc); and most texts either express criticism and dissatisfaction, or else the fantasy of an escape, or some combination of both.

We seem to be working towards some understanding of such popular texts as a kind of “escape valve” for persistent social anxieties – this is a vague metaphor, but involves a very complex negotiation of expressing anxieties, criticism, the dystopian caricature or exaggeration of the problem, even humour and irony to deflect anxiety (? In Foundation?  Player of Games?  Hyperion?), finally perhaps the reinstatement of the status quo as “redeemed” by this textual exercise in criticism.

The notion of a social or political “unconscious” (see various theorists, including Freud’s Civilisation and its Discontents, Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious, and Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus) seems particularly useful: speculative fiction does not have a single and obvious social aim/goal, because in a sense it articulates social anxieties only unconsciously – it negotiates a double intent, between the repressing social norms (progress, order, civilization, commerce), and the darker problems running against these (violence, desire, death, decay).

3.   The City and the Country
Landscape, we have noticed, becomes a crucial symbolic means of exploring these themes.  Cities tend to be tricky, deceptive, frightening and crowded places – the site of repressive authority, empire, betrayal, etc.  The country and ecology seem to offer a possible renewal – a new start, innocence, balance, ethics.  This is an old opposition, and marks the links between speculative fiction and 19th C social criticism (the industrial city as decaying, the country as rejuvenating).

It’s also an obvious fantasy, and subject to certain contradictions and reversals.  If the country is a fresh start, it is also the place where authority and order are absent, and so greater violence can take place – F. Alexander’s country cottage in ACO, the deserts of Dune.  Cities may be the site of moral evil, but they also seem to be the place where change and renewal, if any, will take place (since they are the centers of social power and influence – e.g. in both Foundation and Dune, where we finally return to the seat of empire).

Thus the paradoxes of speculative fiction – progress leads to apocalypse, the flight to the wilderness leads to a return to the city/power, rejuvenation often brings renewed violence, etc.

The non-linear nature of speculative fiction and fantasy?  Because they are highly imaginative, symbolic, psychological and unconscious forms, rather than rational narratives? (i.e. the cyclical bent of projection and interojection, etc).

4.   Mixing of genres
A Martin Amis character in his novel The Information describes the history of literature in terms of “the decline in the status and virtue of literary protagonists” (p. 129) – from the demi-gods of classical literature, to kings and noble heroes, to great lovers, to merchants and doctors, to “social realism” (gangsters and underclass) to “irony” (pathetic losers).
The rise of popular cultural texts-as-narratives might be seen as a history of accretion, heterogeneity and mix.  Arguably, multi-generic influence might be seen as a postmodern feature: i.e. postmodern genre IS multi-generic.
Is this ubiquitous, necessary?  Or is it a deliberate choice – i.e. are there contemporary popular culture texts which do also choose NOT to be so heavily multi-generic?
What is the motivation for such generic heterogeneity?  A celebration and inclusion?  Or a cynical defeat and exhaustion?

5.   The Cultural Logic(s) of Postmodern Popular Culture
Different scholars posit different cultural motivations: Marxist scholars like Jameson and Adorno stress the commodity form and function which so completely dominates the text, so that it represents a great fall from an earlier aesthetic golden age.  Others (like Linda Hutcheon or Ihab Hassan) see it as a stylistic celebration of a liberating, democratizing and inclusive socio-polity.  Technophiles see pm spec fiction as a riotous celebration of the liberating impulse of technology, while technophobes see spec fiction as an articulation of contemporary doomsday anxieties about technology and the loss of the human.
Worth bearing in mind that a cultural logic is complex, and will have several different strands.  These may even have contrary or contradictory impulses – Neuromancer could stem from technophile and technophobic desires at the same time.  If Terry Eagleton is right in maintaining that the role of ideology is to reconcile contradictions, then we might see popular culture texts as performing part of that ideological role – even if we don’t agree that they always perform that role successfully.  Such texts bring together different motivations and impulses, manifested in different ways (in characterization and the treatment of the individual, in plot, narrative, language, style, theme, symbolism, etc).  There is in fact something ideological merely in the bringing together of these forces, so that the very act of reading is already a rehearsal of some kind of harmony.  But that harmony could be a very fragile thing, subject to the problems of other competing texts, dialogical and generic competition or interrogation, over- (or under-) selling and problems of fashionability, etc.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Mock Examination
(Just to give you a sense of what the actual examination will be like.  This mock exam is similar in structure and length to the actual examination.)

EN 5220 – Genres in Popular Culture

MOCK EXAMINATION  (Semester II 1999/2000)

This examination consists of 5 questions.  Answer any 2 questions: Question 1 (compulsory – answer either 1a or 1b) and one other question.
This is an open book examination - you may bring into the examination hall, and consult, any material whatsoever.

Duration of Exam - 2 hours.

Question 1 (Compulsory)

Either

1a.   How do Bakhtinian notions of ‘the novel’ affect our understanding of some of the classical genres such as ‘tragedy’ and ‘epic’?  Is it still possible to analyse literary texts in terms of generic or sub-generic codes and patterns, notwithstanding Bakhtin’s observations?  Illustrate your arguments with reference to some of the primary texts studied in this module, as well as to other texts.

Or

1b.   “With modern and post-modern writing, it is no longer possible to speak of ‘tragedy’ or of ‘tragic’ symbols and narrative patterns.”  Discuss with reference to A Clockwork Orange and other texts drawn from the primary reading list and elsewhere, including texts in other media.
 
 

2.   ‘Women’s fantasies, myths of femininity-as-power.’  Discuss this statement with reference to Frankenstein, Cordelia’s Honour, and other texts of your choice.

3.   Compare and contrast the Bildungsroman structures of A Wizard of Earthsea and Feersum Endjinn (drawing on other texts where helpful).  What is the cultural symbolism and significance of the child in contemporary texts?

4.   “It is not possible to demarcate strictly the (sub)-genres of ‘fantasy’ and ‘speculative fiction.’”  Discuss with close attention to texts drawn both from the primary reading list and elsewhere, and (where helpful) to texts in other media.

(End of Paper)


















































FAQs/POSTED DISCUSSIONS

Here are some questions, and my responses, ensuing from students' messages, etc.