Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy

By Gary Wastfahl; George Slusser | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Introduction:
Masters of the Literary Universe

Gary Westfahl

Since the words “author” and “authority” derive from the same Latin root (augere, to make to grow), it is only natural for some authors and unsophisticated readers to regard authors as the major forces controlling literature. After all, according to this view, authors are the ones who create and shape their traditions and their works, and so they should be regarded as the definitive arbiters of the meaning and the value of their works.

Yet members of the academy see matters differently. From their perspective, it is trained critics, not authors, who are best qualified to delineate literary traditions and to read, evaluate, and interpret literary texts. And, since they are the ones who largely determine the authors and works that stay in print, receive continuing attention, and are taught in school curricula, scholars and critics do exercise eventual, if not immediate, control over literature, deciding that certain texts and genres should be enshrined or “canonized” as fit subjects for research and pedagogy, while other texts and genres should be “marginalized,” exiled from literary scholarship and literature classes.

Of course, their hegemony does not emerge from an amicable consensus; rather, critics constantly dispute which works and writers should be included in the canon of officially sanctioned texts, and which ones should be excluded from that pantheon. Traditionalists insist that time-honored talents should maintain a central position in literary study, while insurgents champion a number of previously marginalized figures under the aegis of feminism, postmodernism, multiculturalism, gay and lesbian studies, or popular culture. Debates may ostensibly be based on aesthetics, but they are inextricably linked to ideological and personal concerns that can devolve into purely political questions: who in the community of scholars gets to decide what is literature and what is not literature? Each group claims the power to answer the question and challenges the judgments of rival factions.

The thesis of this volume is that the literature of science fiction offers unusually fertile grounds for an examination of these continuing processes of literary canonization and marginalization. For science fiction has been one major bone of

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