On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited by Gerry Canavan
Preface to the First Edition (1979)
1. A justification for paying serious attention to science fiction may by now be necessary only for other literary critics and scholars. Still, the question of why a book addressing itself to science fiction, and furthermore one that does not deal with what is admittedly the focal point of the genre and the convergence point of this book too – modern English-language SF – has to be faced briefly. I cannot even begin here to discuss the reasons for studying paraliterature – the popular, “low,” or plebeian literary production of various times, particularly since the Industrial Revolution. Let me merely note that a discipline which refuses to take into account 90 per cent or more of what constitutes its domain seems to me not only to have large zones of blindness but also to run serious risks of distorted vision in the small zone it focuses on (so-called high lit.). The noncanonic, repressed twin of Literature which, for want of another name, one calls Paraliterature is (for better or worse) the literature that is really read – as opposed to most literature taught in schools. Within it, SF is one of the largest genres, and to my mind the most interesting and cognitively most significant one. This is not at all to say that an average SF text is “good,” that is, aesthetically significant. On the contrary, 90 or even 95 per cent of SF production is strictly perishable stuff, produced in view of instant obsolescence for the publisher’s profit and the...
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