Academic journal article Utopian Studies

China Mieville and Mark Bould, Eds. "Symposium: Marxism and Fantasy." Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

China Mieville and Mark Bould, Eds. "Symposium: Marxism and Fantasy." Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory

Article excerpt

10.4 (2002): 39-316. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers. Single issue $17.50.

THE BRITISH JOURNAL Historical Materialism "sees its primary goal as the 'revitalisation and extension' of the theoretical scope of classical Marxism ..." As part of that project, two of the editors--Mark Bould and the British SF/fantasy writer China Mieville (author of the award winning novel Perdido Street Station [2000])--have put together a symposium on "Marxism and Fantasy." The Symposium is an important reopening of the question of fantasy's dishonored status. In so doing, they challenge Darko Suvin's influential dismissal of fantasy as mystification when juxtaposed to the "cognitive estrangement" of science fiction. Reversing Suvin's priorities, Mieville argues that instead, "sf must be considered a subset of a broader fantastic mode" (43).

This overdue reconsideration of fantasy literature is now underway. As Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. points out in his review of the Symposium, the editors of Science Fiction Studies recently dropped the barring of discussions of fantasy, changing the Statement of Purpose of the journal from: SFS publishes articles on "all forms of science fiction, including utopian fiction, but not, except for purposes of comparison and contrast, mythological or supernatural fantasy," to what Csicsery-Ronay (an editor of SFS) admits is a "more weasley" position: the editors now solicit articles and reviews "on science fiction broadly defined" (my italics, 289). In any case, as Csicsery-Ronay points out, it has become harder and harder to maintain the earlier distinctions between fantasy and SF. In the Symposium, for instance, Carl Freedman reluctantly (and briefly) reconsiders his own "dismissal" of fantasy (in his Critical Theory and Science Fiction [2000]), in light of the importance of works like the Neveryon series of Samuel Delany. (1)

In this sense, the decisive part of this Symposium lies in China Mieville's "Editorial Introduction" and in Mark Bould's "The Dreadful Credibility of Absurd Things: A Tendency in Fantasy Theory," in which the two editors lay out the rudiments of a new Marxist theory of fantasy, one which reverses the long-standing critical prejudice against it. Bould begins his essay with the observation that although there has been an outpouring of fantastic literature and film, and of studies of the fantastic, over the past thirty years, Marxist considerations of the fantastic have tended to follow (and to be limited to) Suvin's dismissal of fantasy as a "subliterature of mystification." Bould's essay, and the Symposium more generally, are attempts to redress this imbalance. He begins by reviewing the study and criticism of the fantastic since the appearance of Tzvetan Todorov's authoritative structuralist analysis, The Fantastic, in 1975. Bould carefully critiques and lays out the by-now familiar inadequacies of Todorov's theory, before going on to the definitions of Rosemary Jackson (Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, 1981), and Jose Monleon (A Specter is Haunting Europe: A Sociohistorical Approach to the Fantastic, 1990).

But the real meat in Bould's essay is his own attempt to "jerry rig" a theory of the fantastic which could rectify the errors and absences of these earlier theories, by focusing on a theory of the subject. Using Althusser's concept of interpellation and Freud's description of paranoia, Bould suggests that a theory of the fantastic might be constructed in these terms:

   [P]aranoia can be used to describe the force which holds the
   fuzzily-determined subject together, the shuttling between
   the vast array of subject positions on offer, which must in
   some way be reconciled with each other if the subject is ever
   to feel unified or whole. This is the role of fantasizing.
   This is how we construct ontologies.

      Fantasy fiction, in both its broad and narrow senses, draws
   upon this force, this continual location and dislocation. … 
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