Raja, Masood Ashraf, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi, Eds.: The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction
Guzkowski, Adam, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Raja, Masood Ashraf, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi, eds. The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. 225 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-7864-6141-7. $40.00.
The editors of The Postnational Fantasy set themselves a daunting and ambitious task, claiming that their collection "places itself at the nexus of current debates about nationalism, postnational capitalism, the reassertion of third world nationalism and its cosmopolitical counterparts, and the role of contemporary science fiction and fantasy in challenging, normalizing, or contesting these major conceptual currents of our times" (14). The contents of the collection include a brief foreword by Donald M. Hassler, an introduction by two of the co-editors, Masood A. Raja and Swaralipi Nandi, and twelve essays divided into three sections, each containing four essays. The first section examines ways in which postcolonialism can be applied to the study of the sf genre, while the second section concentrates more specifically on notions of nation and ethnicity in sf. The third section focuses on emerging trends in the fantastic in an attempt to illustrate the transition from questions of nationalism to a discourse of postnationalism. Perhaps what is most pleasantly surprising about the collection is that for the most part, it is successful in achieving the editors' stated outcome of presenting a collection that is "not only an investigation of science fiction studies in the light of postcolonial theory but also an enrichment of postcolonial canon by incorporating science fiction and fantasy as forms and genres worthy of inclusion in what is called the postcolonial counter-canon" (9).
Before continuing to extol some of the virtues of this text, it should first be noted that the collection of essays begins with a foreword by Hassler that for all its brevity nevertheless succeeds at starting off on a strange and jarring note. While the foreword features celebratory comments regarding how "massively important" the collection seems to Hassler, and his "joy and delight in being able to share in the launch," it also posits an argument that seems at odds with the work of the rest of the collection (1, 3). Namely, Hassler asserts: "Clearly, the origins of science fiction are in the strong nationalism of the American frontier so that now, in the postmodern era, as the American Empire spreads the taste for SF globally the genre changes in response to its new environment" (1). This American-centric construction of the past, present, and future of sf as originating in and necessarily defined by the colonialism and imperialism of the US is most certainly out of step with the content of the rest of the collection. Moreover, this construction seems particularly unusual given the fact that only a paragraph later Hassler makes reference to non-US examples such as Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, French writer Jules Verne, and Japanese manga, all while uncritically and inaccurately categorizing such international activity as the "globalization of the American genre" (2).
The other disappointment of the collection is the lack of substantive fantasy content, with one notable exception. Despite the title of the text, and assertions in the introduction that the collection looks at both sf and fantasy, the essays are almost exclusively focused on sf. The only chapter that takes fantasy as its primary focus is the essay "Engineering a Cosmopolitan Future: Race, Nation, and World of Warcraft" contained in the final section of the collection. While this essay, written by co-editor Jason W. Ellis, may be the only essay in the collection devoted exclusively to fantasy content, it nevertheless succeeds in providing a thoughtful and nuanced reading of the politics and pedagogies of cosmopolitanism in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft, and in doing so provides a strong but solitary fantasy component to the collection.
One of the most notable strengths of The Postnational Fantasy is the way in which many of the essays contained therein model a kind of engagement with their chosen texts that combines close reading with broader contextual analysis, much like that done by Ellis in his article. This allows for examinations of the particularities of specific texts while positioning the respective analyses within the broader contexts of the politics of nationalism and the critical traditions of both sf and postcolonialism. Karen Cardozo and Banu Subramaniam's essay on the novels of Ruth Ozeki, "Truth is Stranger: The Postnational 'Aliens' of Biofiction," stands out as a particularly fine example of this kind of analysis; it interweaves deft engagement with Ozeki's novels My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003) with critical reflection on how those texts both illuminate and challenge the complexities of late capitalism, globalization, and cosmopolitics. Similarly, Chris Pak's "The Language of Postnationality: Cultural Identity via Science Fictional Trajectories" and Marleen S. Barr's "Fantastic Language/Political Reporting: The Postcolonial Science Fiction Illocutionary Force Is with Us" provide rich explorations of the politics of language in science-fictional texts ranging from the work of Samuel Delany and Vandana Singh to the New York Times editorial page and the rhetoric of US presidential politics. Sf in India is particularly strongly represented, not only in Pak's discussion of Vandana Singh, but also in Swaralipi Nandi's "The 'Popular' Science: Bollywood's Take on Science Fiction and the Discourse of Nations," which analyzes three Bollywood sf films--Mr. India (1987), Koi Mil Gaya (2003), and Krrish (2006)--from what Nandi describes as "different time periods of postcolonial India" (73), as well as in Suparno Banerjee's "Dystopia and the Postcolonial Nation," which examines dystopia, hybridity, violence, and the state of the postcolonial nation in Ruchir Joshi's The Last Jet-Engine Laugh (2001).
Not all of the essays in the collection balance close reading with broad contextual analysis. Using a broad comparative lens, Angel Mateos-Aparicio Martin-Albo's essay, "The Frontier Myth and Racial Politics"--the longest in the collection--offers a well-developed exploration of frontier mythology and racial politics, focusing on sf texts featuring the colonization of Mars and/or Martian societies. His detailed exploration of Martian metaphors of American politics of space, race, colonization, and cultural and racial hybridization touches on a number of specific texts, including works by Ben Bova, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, and Kim Stanley Robinson.
Conversely, four of the essays in the collection focus fairly specifically on their respective texts, offering relatively close readings that nevertheless engage with a variety of critical perspectives. In the first section of the collection, Michele Braun presents in "Science Fiction as Experimental Ground for Issues of the Postcolonial Novel" an exploration of Salman Rushdie's Grimus (1975) that highlights the text's generic complexities while exploring its science-fictional, magical realist, and postcolonial elements, while Adam Frisch offers in "Forms of Compromise: the Interaction of Humanity, Technology and Landscape in Ken MacLeod's Night Sessions," a reading of Ken MacLeod's Night Sessions (2008) that examines notions of postcolonial hybridity and the relationships between humanity, technology, and landscape. In the second section, Jenn Brandt draws on the critical traditions of science fiction and postcolonial literatures in "Postcolonial Ethics and Identity in Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga" to explore questions of postcolonial ethics and identity in Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga (1998), while in the third section, Katherine R. Broad draws on romanticism and postcolonialism in "Body Speaks: Communication and the Limits of Nationalism in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy" to examine ideas of language, communication, and colonial discourses in Butler.
One of the most unusual essays in the collection is Stacy Schmitt Rusnak's "When 'National' Stops Making Sense: Mexico and Giorgio Agamben's 'State of Exception' in Children of Men," which explores "how Alfonso Cuaron's 2006 film Children of Men, in spite of being set in Britain, functions as an allegory of the current Mexican state as it struggles to define what it means to be both 'Mexican' (local) and global" (174). Rusnak's analysis of postnationalism, biopolitics, and biopower in relation to a transnational Mexican culture is quite compelling, but the allegorical reading of Children of Men seems at times rather tenuous. This is not to say that the scenes from the film that Rusnak references don't symbolically illustrate her arguments regarding citizenship and resistance in an age of globalization; in fact, they do so quite effectively. Rather, the difficulty comes in the connection being argued as an allegorical one, without careful engagement with the implications of the director being Alfonso Cuaron, who was born and educated in Mexico, or of the other "national" contexts of the film. Despite making mention of how Children of Men demonstrates characteristics of New Mexican Cinema, Rusnak spends very little time on the social, cultural, and political contexts of a Mexican director at the helm of an American/British-produced sf feature film adapted from a British novel, despite the potential relevancy of those contexts to moving her arguments beyond simply being allegorical ones. Nevertheless, Rusnak's essay offers a thought-provoking and multi-faceted analysis of the film and its symbolic relation to biopolitics, capitalism, and globalization.
Overall, The Postnational Fantasy is a fairly strong and relatively cohesive collection, and should particularly appeal to scholars working at the intersections of the fields of sf and postcolonial studies. While mostly focused on literary analysis, the collection includes forays into film, online gaming, and media analysis, and while almost exclusively science-fictional in its focus, the critical tools used by the various authors in their respective essays could certainly be applied by those working in other areas of the fantastic.…
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Publication information: Article title: Raja, Masood Ashraf, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi, Eds.: The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction. Contributors: Guzkowski, Adam - Author. Journal title: Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. Volume: 23. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2012. Page number: 314+. © Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 2007. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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