Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview
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Introduction:
The Anthropology of the Alien

George E. Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin

The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find) Is not to think or act beyond mankind.

-- Alexander Pope

Our title, the "anthropology of the alien," sounds like a contradiction in terms. Anthropos is man, anthropology the study of man. The alien, however, is something else: alius, other than. But other than what? Obviously man. The alien is the creation of a need -- man's need to designate something that is genuinely outside himself, something that is truly nonman, that has no initial relation to man except for the fact that it has no relation. Why man needs the alien is the subject of these essays. For it is through learning to relate to the alien that man has learned to study himself.

According to Pope, however, man who thinks beyond mankind is foolishly proud. Indeed, many aliens, in SF at least, seem created merely to prove Pope's dictum. For they are monitory aliens, placed out there in order to draw us back to ourselves, to show us that "the proper study of Mankind is Man." But this is merely showing us a mirror. And many so-called alien contact stories are no more than that: mirrors. There are two main types of this contact story: the story in which they contact us, and the story in which we contact them. Both can be neatly reflexive. The aliens who come to us are, as a rule, unfriendly invaders. And they generally prove, despite claims to superiority, in the long run to be inferior to man. This is the War of the Worlds scenario, where the invasion and ensuing collapse of the Martians serves as a warning to man not to emphasize (in his pride) mind at the expense of body -- not to abandon a human, balanced

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