I’m still learning from Never Let Me Go, and I think I’m learning very different things than the novel is teaching its characters. This seems like an education novel more than anything else. It is significant how many different levels of education (i.e. the acquisition of cultural capital) are taking place throughout. We eventually learn that the creation of a pleasant childhood was the original mission of Hailsham. As Miss Emily puts it to Kathy and Tommy, “we sheltered you during those years, and we gave you your childhoods” (268). Yes Hailsham was meant to grant the future-donors “happiness,” but what did it actually teach them?
Hailsham succeeds: it allows, and therefore teaches, the future-donors how to be children. However, it also teaches them how to navigate Hailsham in their isolation: how to withhold information that seems off-limits, and how to share quite effectively with one another. There comes a point at Hailsham when “the rule about not discussing the donations openly was still there [. . .] but now it was okay, almost required, every now and then, to make some jokey allusion to this things that lay in front of us” (84).
As a result, the Hailsham crew are, well, really well-adjusted with one another: we “didn’t leave [Hailsham] behind nearly as much as we might have once thought [. . .] unable quite to let each other go” (120). Even when Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are in conflict, it is shocking how well much they get each other, whether used is to comfort or to needle.
We can compare the habits of/produced by Hailsham to the habits of the “veterans” at the farmhouse—they have taken “all kinds of other things [. . .] from TV programmes: the way they gestured to each other, sat together on sofas, even the way they argued and stormed out of rooms” (121). And at the same time, they always seem to be sitting around “arguing about poetry or philosophy” or holding “meandering discussions [. . .] about Kafka or Picasso” (120). Where did they learn this stuff, and what does this knowledge do?
Reading the reception history of Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants and Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, I suggest that these novels, although commonly marked as representative of distinct moments in the American SF tradition, are in fact closely linked by their near-future explorations of the indefinite formation of “ambiguous utopias” in opposition to an aggressive corporatization of everyday life in the United States after 1950. Tracking the association of The Space Merchants with satire from the 50-80s alongside Butler’s critical designation as prophetic from the 90s to now, I argue that within the post-war mass cultural genre system, Butler could only write her way out of the walls of the present after she was first written out of the walls of SF. I conclude by thinking through Butler’s reception history since her death in 2006—as we approach the actual near-future years of The Parable— in order to sketch the ambiguous position of SF as the central literary genre within the cultural imagination that is able to imagine world-healing as much as world-building.
Are there still novelist-fans like the Voxers? But maybe it’s a better question to ask what exactly it is that the Voxers are fans _of_. But they aren’t fans—they are “participants.” In what? At least, in 1993, in the _New Yorker_it doesn’t seem to matter: the Voxers are more of a spectacle than anything else. They are something to be seen and wondered at—they are so different. Is Gibson also different? I was really surprised by the way he was described at the end of the piece. Gibson “lives in Vancouver [. . .] but he grew up in southwestern Virginia, and still drags his vowels when he talks. And according to the Voxers, he is ‘ “so sweaty’” and “’spent’”—it seems to me that Gibson’s effort, at least as represented in this short piece, is to hold worlds—MindVox, West Virginia, “off East Seventy-second Street”—together.
Is this an extension of Le Guin’s wish for smashed/fallen walls around SF?
Maybe not extension, but definitely evolution. In his piece on “New Wave Science Fiction,” Dana Jennings cites Bruce Sterling on the new new wave: “the real Cyberpunks will get sick of the idea of Cyberpunk, and they’ll move on and leave it to the hacks. And they’ll subvert the field in their own way.” This seems really different from AussieCon, where the walls come down but the community stays…I guess the same? Sterling seems to both expect and value change (we can think about this in conversation with the letters in _Aurora_).
For seminar, I’d like to think about the different kinds of cultural capital that show up in these sources—from the implied reader of the _New Yorker_ in ’93, to the knowledge of MindVox in ’93, to the status of professional writer.
I’d also like to think about scales of community in SF. We saw this all the way back in the Rieder, but this week after Le Guin really pushes us to be more specific about community and genre.
At Boskone 28, which took place February 1991 in Springfield, Massachusetts, a panel convened to look back over “The Best SF and Fantasy of the 1980s.” The report on the panel notes that “authors considered to have “re-flowered” in 1980s were Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, and Frederik Pohl.” However, “Feeley,” one of the panel experts, “took exception to the latter, saying that Pohl had done twenty books in the 1980s, two each year like clockwork, but none of them achieved the greatness of his earlier works.”
I’m interested in the understanding of evaluation that runs through this statement. This is quality over quantity: maybe obvious, but a resurgence isn’t just an avalanche of titles. I want to tie this to another tidbit I found in a con report, this one from Readercon 9 in 1997. Apparently “GALAXY magazine ran a contest for the best amateur writer, but got nothing of value so awarded the prize to Fred Pohl and Lester Del Rey who wrote as a team under a pen name.” While I’m not clear on the timeline here, I didn’t want to leave out this helpful glimpse into the world of evaluation that runs from from magazines to publishers to conventions.
If Pohl wrote great books that got worse, the greatness of The Space Merchants was in fact highlighted in the mid 80s with its inclusion in David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The Best 100 Novels. Reprinted at least three times in the 80s and twice more since, Pringle’s book seems like it could be a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to Pohl’s “resurgence.” Worth noting, however, that I couldn’t find information on isfdb to say exactly what what the Pringle might have done for reprints of the novel, except that the first St. Martin’s edition—still the publisher today—put out their house’s first and significantly-up-in-price edition of the novel around the same time Pringle’s book was published.
What systems outside of the school are out there, and what happens when we read within those systems? What kinds and degrees of capital do the individuals reading within those systems possess before they start reading?
As Bourdieu bluntly puts it, “the educational system [contributes] to the reproduction of the social structure by sanctioning the hereditary transmission of cultural capital” (48). This idea is central to Guillory’s argument—Guillory details builds out the exact nature of the cultural capital Bourdieu identifies within the school (more specifically the university?). According to Guillory, “a literary education” a specific form of knowledge, and in turn cultural capital: a “cultural literacy” that Guillory defines as “the study of [“historical” and “important and significant”] cultural works as a practice of reading and writing,” which is also “the vehicle for critical thought” and ultimately “a relation to culture” (35, 52, 54, 56).
Crucially, the acquisition of cultural capital never happens within a temporal vacuum: students live full lives before they enter the classroom. They carry with them (or lack) what Bourdieu clarifies as “the best hidden and socially most determinant educational investment, namely, the domestic transmission of cultural capital” (48). Therefore, education is never merely “functionalist,” as “educational qualifications . . . are never entirely separate from their holders” (58). By this same principle, “academic qualification” confers “institutional recognition on the cultural capital [already] possessed by any individual” (51).
In 2020 SF is read in the school—by students—according to the framework above. But where else? And by who else? Following Lamont and Lareau, I want to call reading SF specifically in the school one practice, and reading it elsewhere a different kind(s) of practice(s). But of course, to study the many different kinds of practices available to an individual that incorporate reading SF, we must not just think strictly in terms of systems, but also, as Lamont and Lareau argue, “reconstruct the code prevailing in [the individual’s] environment in its entirety—a most difficult task” (157).
Mostly joking here, but maybe one (tiny) way in to one system (from last week): Hugo Gernsback, F.R.S.