Sunday, January 28, 2007


Right now I'm only taking two courses for credit. One of them is LIN 6107: History of the English Language, known universally as H.O.T.E.L. The other is LIT 6932: Time, Space, and Science Fiction, which I have dubbed T.A.R.D.I.S.

The dynamics of the sf/fantasy program at FAU are rather curious. Professor McGuirk (who teaches TARDIS) specializes in science fiction and modern (post-1900) critical theory, while Professor Martin specializes in fantasy and early (pre-1900) literary theory. Anyone who knows me at all will realize that I have a vast knowledge of the texts of the entire genre (both sf and fantasy), and that my knowledge of post-1900 literary theory is very limited. (This is one reason I'm auditing Professor McGuirk's undergraduate course on literary criticism: I want to be able to hold my own at MLA conferences when people babble about "the radical indeterminacy of the text" and "post-colonial hermeneutics.")

This week our readings for TARDIS are Ted Sturgeon's "Thunder and Roses," Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds," and Jean-Paul Sartre's "What is Literature?" We're asked to do a response paper every week, so here are my thoughts:

1. "Thunder and Roses" made me cry, and it also made me think of Mordechai Roshwald's horrifying Level 7 as well as Arthur C. Clarke's "The Last Command" Then I thought of On the Beach and Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon and "Solution: Unsatisfactory."

I can't think of much else to say about the story; the death of humanity, or even a large portion of it, overwhelms me and I can't think clearly. The only way I can see out of this emotional pit is to re-commit myself to activism, specifically to my project to promote the nuclear disarmament program suggested by Joe Haldeman in Tool of the Trade.

2. "Speech Sounds" -- the depiction of Los Angeles after the breakdown of civilization reminds me of Butler's The Parable of the Sower. (Could Butler have sued herself for plagiarism?) The discussion of gender relationships reminded me of the work that's been done in /s/o/c/i/o/b/i/o/l/o/g/y/ evolutionary psychology.

3. "What is Literature" -- Whenever I hear the word "existentialism" I reach for a copy of "De Futilitate" by C. S. Lewis. I'm not a fan of continental philosophy -- my specialty is classical and analytic philosophy -- but here are Sartre's points as I understand them:

1. Why write, as opposed to do something else (like start Fight Club)? Of course, as an existentialist, Sartre points out that all meaning ("relationship") comes from human existence, and then explains that "One of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world." This is a clearly existentialist statement, dealing with the drive to give meaning to our lives.

2. Sartre next deals with the subject-object dichotomy. Writing (like running a roleplaying game) involves a curious relationship with the text: "The writer cannot read what he writes, whereas the shoemaker can put on the shoes he has just made." "The operation of writing involves an implicit quasi-reading which makes real reading impossible." The writer must try to imagine the way the reader will encounter the text, but he will never encounter the text that way himself, because he always knows what comes next. "There is no art except for and by others."

3. Reading involves the reader in a relationship with the text; it must be active rather than merely passive/receptive. "Reading seems, in fact, to be the synthesis of perception and creation." (You get out of it what you put into it.) "Reading is a pact of generosity between author and reader. Each one trusts the other, each one counts on the other, demands of the other as much as he demands of himself." Therefore the reader must be free; therefore there can be no truly great art that promotes tyranny, oppression, racism, and so forth. (Obviously he's overlooking works such as Birth of a Nation.)

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