Science Fiction as a Mode of Awareness

Patrick Nagle, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

Ivan Csicsery-Ronay, in his essay "The SF of Theory," posits SF (short for science fiction), not only as a type of literature, but a way of understanding the world:

SF, then, is not a genre of literary entertainment only, but a mode of awareness, a complex hesitation about the relationship between imaginary conceptions and historical reality unfolding into the future. SF orients itself within a conception of history that holds that science and technology actively participate in the creation of reality, and thus "implant" human uncertainty into the nonhuman world.

SF has become a form of discourse that directly engages postmodern language and culture and has (for the moment at least) a privileged position because of its generic interest in the intersection of technology, scientific theory, and social practice. Since the late 1960s, when it became the chosen vehicle for both technocratic and critical utopian writing, SF has experienced a steady growth in popularity, critical interest, and theoretical sophistication. It reflects and engages the technological culture that is coming to pervade every aspect of human society. The irresistible expansion of communications technologies has drawn the traditional spheres of power into an ever-tightening web of instrumental rationalization. Simultaneously, the culture of information has rewritten the notions of nature and transcendence that have dominated Western societies for the past few centuries, replacing them with an as yet inchoate world-view we might call "artificial immanence" — in which every value that previous cultures considered transcendental or naturally given is at least theoretically capable of artificial replication or simulation. In this sense, SF has become a mode of discourse establishing its own domain linking literary, philosophical, and scientific imaginations, and subverting the cultural boundaries between them, and in its narratives producing and hyperbolizing the new immanence. It regularly employs drastic new scientific concepts of material and social relations, which in turn have influenced our conceptions of what is imaginable or plausible. And it has become an aspect of the quotidian consciousness of people living in the post-industrial world, daily witnesses to the transformations of their values and material conditions in the wake of technological acceleration beyond their conceptual threshold.


Works Cited

Last modified 18 December 2006