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Intersections: reading science fiction and critical thought

posted on 01.02.2011, 12:01 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.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© James Holden

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University. If you are the author of this thesis and would like to make it openly available in the Institutional Repository please contact:

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