Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy

By Gary Wastfahl; George Slusser | Go to book overview
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Chapter 13
Hard Magic, Soft Science:
The Marginalization of Kevin J. Anderson
and Doug Beason's Assemblers
of Infinity and Bruce Boston's
Stained Glass Rain

Howard V. Hendrix

In Fiction and the Social Contract, Larry Langford argues that “History is to culture as fiction is to nature”: since all fiction is ultimately lies, it is writing without a social contract—one fiction is, at a certain abstract level, just as good as another, so what must prevail among fictions, according to Langford, is a Hobbesian war of all against all.”1 This paradigm immediately calls up objections: are history and historiography as monolithically socially contracted and free of internecine conflicts as this model suggests? Even among fictions, does the supposed war of all against all take place on a level battlefield? Langford's response to such objections2 involves distinguishing between history and historiography and pointing out that history as a mode of discourse takes precedence over literature because history provides the bases for law, for our understanding of our own individual and communal identity, for decisions of life and death importance. In this light, “Did the Holocaust take place?” is more vitally important than “Does Doris Lessing write science fiction?” Langford concludes that all fictions are inherently less authoritative than history because, he contends, history is the production of a community—many minds able to determine the truth value of a statement or a “fact” or a piece of evidence—while literature is more generally the production of individual minds, less concerned with a deep “objectivity” or “verifiability” or “falsifiability.”

This situation raises a number of paradoxes. History, as a communal production, is perceived as being less artificial—more natural and “real”—than the individual production of literature. History may work much like culture in the Hobbesian sense, but it paradoxically can operate this way only because it is perceived as being more “natural” in the scientific sense—objective, outside the self, not so subject to the whims of individual human motives. Literature, on the other hand, may work more like nature in the Hobbesian sense because, also paradoxically, it is perceived as being more obviously cultural—artificial, a human production, more subject to individual whims. It is from such purposeful confusion of the “natural” and the


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