Intersections: reading science fiction and critical thought

2011-02-01T12:01:41Z (GMT) by James Holden
For some, science fiction is simply a throwaway genre with little artistic or intellectual merit. It is certainly the case that much of the literary establishment has traditionally ignored the genre. At the same time, some science-fiction authors have sought to distance themselves from the academy and the supposed legitimation that it offers. In this thesis I oppose these necessarily reductive positions by highlighting some of the ways in which science fiction intersects with critical thought. I focus on two points of intersection in turn. Firstly, I consider the frequent references to `precariousness' in the work of science-fiction author and academic Adam Roberts. I argue that such references can be read in terms of a wider discussion on the nature of `following'. With this larger philosophical framework in mind I demonstrate in some detail how Roberts' work intersects with the writing of both Jacques Derrida and Karl Marx. I then show how the notion of `precariousness' also seems to underpin science fiction's depiction of the technological singularity. In the second half of this thesis I call attention to the fact that science fiction frequently depicts selves that are, in a manner of speaking, separated from themselves, which is to say selves that are disjointed. More specifically, I demonstrate how, in a number of science-fiction texts, the mirror and the archive operate as sites of psychical disjointedness. In doing so, I show how the genre intersects with a wide variety of critical texts, including those by both Sigmund Freud and his great acolyte Jacques Lacan, Charles Darwin and those working in the field of archive management. I then suggest that in many science-fiction texts the ocean seems to provide an alternative to this self-disjointedness; it appears to offer the experience of a kind of 'oneness' that is reminiscent both of Freud's account of 'the oceanic' in Civilization and its Discontents (1930) and Darwin's descriptions of Man's oceanic origins; it also recalls many Judaeo-Christian texts. In conclusion, I read Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection (1967) alongside several theoretical texts. During the course of this reading I question whether, having found a `way in' to the intersections between science fiction and critical thought, we can ever find a way out again. I ask: is it desirable or even possible to disentangle science fiction from critical thought? Throughout this study I draw extensively upon the interviews that I have conducted with Adam Roberts, Alastair Reynolds and Ken MacLeod. The complete transcripts of these interviews are included as an appendix.