On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited By Gerry Canavan
Circumstances and Stances: A Retrospect
This essay resulted from an invitation of the PMLA editors to discuss the “particular cultural and political circumstances in which I write” for their special issue no. 3 (2004) on SF, with a contribution of limited size. I therefore chose to contribute a personal retrospective of how those circumstances determined what I wrote. Its first part is devoted to epistemology or, more simply, knowledge (cognition, understanding) – a truly Williamsian “keyword” in all my endeavors, as it ought to be for all intellectuals: since we are either bearers of humanized knowledge or killing drones for capitalist warfare. The presuppositions of knowledge, that is, a formal detour through epistemology, seemed to me indispensable and imperative. A conclusion was that epistemology intertwines with politics (theory and practice) as a double helix. From this flowed, with much help from Brecht, Marx, and utopian/dystopian fiction (from London though Zamyatin to Le Guin, Dick, Mitchison, Piercy, and K.S. Robinson),1 my investigations into the role of us intellectuals of the Nineties and early Oughts referred to in this article. As one of the favorite poets of my student days, Jules Laforgue, presciently wrote in his “Complaint of the Wise Man from Paris”:
Mais comme Brénnus avec son épée, et d’avance,
Suis-je pas dans un des plateaux de la balance ?
[But like Brennus with his sword, right from the start,
Am I not in one of the trays of the balance?]
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