Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy

By Gary Wastfahl; George Slusser | Go to book overview

Chapter 11
Science Fiction in the Academies
of History and Literature;
Or, History and the Use
of Science Fiction
Farah Mendlesohn

Among the forces affecting the canonization and/or marginalization of science fiction works are arguments in the academic community over purpose, methodology, and approach. Although the rise of cultural studies has brought a greater diversity of viewpoints, academic consideration of science fiction—both through teaching and research—remains dominated by literary criticism both in the relevant journals (Science Fiction Studies, Extrapolation, and, to a lesser extent, Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction), and in courses offered by universities in both the United States and the United Kingdom.1 However, there are benefits to be gained by introducing alternative approaches and methodologies to science fiction criticism. This chapter intends to introduce a historical understanding to the subject and to offer an alternative academic context for the study of science fiction.

The first advantage which the historian brings to a study of science fiction is that she is not obliged to justify her choice of material by its quality but may select it simply on the grounds that it was read and written by and in an interesting context. This removes the need to examine closely the construction of text and choice of language which frequently excludes older (1926–1960) and “pulp” sf from critical canons, but it does require that other justifications of interest or value structures be defined.

Science fiction after 1926 was the product of a particular section of the American middle-class as if emerged into a modern, technocratic society. Science fiction is in a position to provide, if not a unique form of source material for the social and cultural historian, then one that provides a window on an otherwise surprisingly difficult group to access—the white middle-class male for whom American society is supposedly constructed but who is predominantly a consumer rather than a producer of ideology. A study of fictive speculation within a consciously defined genre, a genre that increasingly throughout this period is conscious of its target audience,2 allows the reconstruction of a composite picture

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