Multiculturalism and the Cultural
Dynamics of Classic American
One of the most persistent players in recent academic arguments over canonization and marginalization is so-called “multiculturalism.” The attitude of multiculturalists toward science fiction as a rule is either dismissive (it speaks for the dominant hegemonic class) or preemptory. In the latter sense, students are sent to find “minority” voices, and when these are not found, to do as Ursula K. Le Guin did in her The Norton Book of Science Fiction and invent them, incorporating writers by force under this heading whose stories do not conform to the generic expectations of the average reader.
More interesting than the fact of a multiculturalist assault on sf is the question: why argue about sf? What power vested in sf is being challenged? It seems rather that the two contestants—multiculturalism and “classic American sf” (so named to distinguish it from Le Guin's “revisionist” kind)—are both responding to the same thing. They share, if nothing else, a common recognition of the failure of constitutional liberalism, as defined in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, in dynamic terms, as a drive to “form a more perfect union” by legislating universal rights, especially when the more abstract right to liberty is linked to a freedom to pursue happiness. However, both the multiculturalist and science-fictionist see the dynamics of American culture to lie not in universal but in special powers. What is more, there is further irony in the fact that both these visions—politically correct and politically incorrect alike—proclaim a dynamic that is basically similar: to promote equal opportunity as the means of generating necessary inequalities. Each is free, in the Napoleonic sense, to rise according to his or her talent. It is instead a matter of how “talent” is defined, and what use it serves. Is it an abstract entity, the means of bestowing some qualitative “empowerment”? Or is it instead something pragmatic, the means of doing something?
It may seem strange to compare multiculturalism, a cultural “theory,” with a literary form, which in relation to theory can only be its medium or vehicle of expression. Yet the master-narrative of sf operates on a strongly mythic level—the