On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited By Gerry Canavan
8. Anticipating the Sunburst: Dream, Vision – or Nightmare?
The great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than the furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, – that we manufacture there everything except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.
Is the Earth so?Let her change then.Let the Earth quicken.Search until you know.
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?Fled is that music: – do I wake or sleep?
1. The gloom and recantation of SF – including utopian or social-science-fiction – writers from Mary Shelley and Herman Melville to Jules Verne and Villiers de l’Isle Adam was part of the increasing closure of liberal bourgeois horizons. Yet at the same time the thirst for anticipations – fictional pictures of an excitingly different future – rose sharply (one assessment puts their frequency from 1871 to 1916 at 35 times the pre-1870 rate of publication).1 SF is as a genre potentially and even intrinsically oriented toward humanity’s furthest horizons, and therefore in quite aesthetic terms (that are, of course, inseparable from ethical and cognitive ones) not fully developed in the timeless, cyclical, or merely catastrophic realizations discussed in the last two chapters. Consequently, the radical alternative of a socialist dawn ← 193 | 194 →found an even more congenial soil and erupted...
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