Literary Research, Science Fiction and Society:Elements of Methodology
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العدد 16 ديسمبر 2012 N°16 Décembre 2012

Literary Research, Science Fiction and Society:Elements of Methodology

Hichem SOUHALI
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          يعد هذا المقال محاولة تنظيرية  للإشكالية المنهجية المتعلقة بالأدب‘  حيث أصبحت مفاهيم الأدب والمجتمع معقدة وشائكة بالنسبة للخيال العلمي بصفته فرعا مهمشا على الرغم من رؤيته  الاستشرافية ونود هنا توضيح مدى صعوبة البحث في نوع استعاري خيالي مستمد من فكرة المدينة الفاضلة (يوتوبيا)و.يتعلق الأمر هنا بعناصر بحث في الخيال العلمي وتحديدا الخيال العلمي السياسي .أما اختيارنا لروبار .ا هينلين  فهو مقاربة تقوم على تعدد التخصصات وتكاملها في هذا المجال من حيث المنهجية والرؤية.   

Cet article est une réflexion théorique autour des problèmes méthodologiques relatifs à la recherche en littérature. Les notions de littérature et société deviennent complexe lorsqu’il s’agit d’aborder la science fiction:genre marginal et pourtant si visionnaire. Nous avons soulevé la difficulté d’investir un genre fantasmagorique, utopique et souvent illusoire.  Dans cet article, il est question d’éléments de recherche en science fiction, et plus précisément de la science fiction politique.  Robert A. Heinlein fut choisi  pour illustrer une démarche pluridisciplinaire autour de l’objet et de la méthode.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Hichem SOUHALI

University of Batna

Introduction 

Literature has been responsible of a great number of social and cultural changes all over the world, at different ages. All over, wherever there is a glimpse of liberticidal temptations (the muting of press, the imprisonment of intellectuals, or the persecution of dissidents), literature emerges as a mythical savior to counter-act all forms of obscurantism, and further, awaken the people to the surrounding threats:threats that are not forcibly seen the common mortals.

Literature is predicated on a set of ideological principles that overshadow rhetoric and aesthetic considerations. These principles are united in one idea; the concept of subversion. The majority of literary authors endorse creative writing to out-speak a certain discontent. A great majority adopt a taboo-breaking posture for egocentric or altruistic reasons. Authors evolve in an iconoclast, rebellious, and insolent manner for the sake of deploring ostensible injustice, and trying to figure out solutions to end it.

 

Taboos include a wide range of areas running the gamut from religion, to sexuality, passing by morals, political doctrines, and economy. In politics Noam Chomsky describes the indispensable role of literature in what he calls "Orwell's Problem". That is a state apparatus, adopted by dictatorships, to inseminate an ensemble of beliefs within the social unconscious in order to manipulate their outlooks on such fundamental things as:lifestyles, thought, language, and culture. Chomsky undertakes an insightful meditation on the power of literature to harass people onto changing their minds, and questioning their certainties about society and history:

"…I've been always resistant consciously to allowing literature to influence my beliefs and attitudes with regard to society and history. There are things I resonate to when I read, but I have a feeling that my feelings and attitudes were largely formed prior to reading literature. (…)Literature can heighten your imagination and insight and understanding, but it surely doesn't provide the evidence that you need to draw conclusions and substantiate conclusions. I can think of things I read that had a powerful effect on me, but whether they changed my attitudes and understanding in any striking or crucial way, I can't really say. People certainly differ, as they should, in what kinds of things make their minds work.I don't really feel that I can draw any tight connections "[1]

The underlying affirmation displayed in the above excerpt presents a series of obsessions over absolutism and propaganda. It can act as an anti defamation tool:an alternative to the casual discourse formatted by politicians. It does a certain work of simulation on reluctant brains. It acts on the anesthesia provoked by propaganda, and endows people with extra-lucid vision of their environment in its full ugliness and anomalies. Literature and writing in general, cannot be dissociated from political protest. Even apolitical works are the definition of politicization, as not writing about politics is a political move. There is (in literature)a constant endorsement of strong attachment. The Latter binds literature to some political discourse. The main motives gravitate around the vague idea that writing nourishes outstanding political resolution, and ongoing (disturbing)philosophical corpuses, as well.

1.      Science Fiction and Politics

Beside non fiction, Science Fiction monopolized the exploration of consistencies and inconsistencies; actions and reactions; the "self"and the "other"altogether in imaginary, but politicized contexts. Science Fiction is concerned with the search of an absolute truth. But the irony lies in its predication on the unreal, or the not-yet-real. Out of this confrontation, a formidable stylistic figure is born. The genre manifests peculiar defiance towards propaganda (including all literary genres), but employs propagandist schemes to oppose the mainstream propaganda:fear, sensationalism, subliminal imagery…and so on.

This risky position of Science Fiction made of it the object of despise of all forms of literary expressions. The "serpent-de-mer"of SF being political struggle, drove confrontation with other genres on political grounds, involving the supremacy and hierarchy of one genre in comparison to others, and the burning question of literary legitimacy and respectability. Each genre (Roman Noir, Heroic Fantasy, and Erotic Literature, for instance)claims a deem "natural"right to rule of genre-specific literature. Historically (time being the maturation factor to genres), it was SF which triumphed over the other genres, merely because of its crystal clear affiliation with political matters. The engagement in political discourse comforted SF in its relentless quest for legitimacy.

In its laborious mutation, SF fiction established frail criteria; a sort of genre standards; compulsory for academic recognition. These high standards provide that the only receivable works would be those which blend high aesthetic exigencies with (more or less)punctual reference to political questions. A failure to observe the golden rule, would result in a degradation of a work down to the category of leisure, and entertainment. The place given to propaganda and counter-propaganda is similar to Smith’s (1939)own conception:

 

'Propaganda' is not used here as an invidious term. It is used to describe works consciously written to have an immediate and direct effect upon their readers' opinions and actions, as distinguished from works that are not consciously written for that purpose or which are written to have a remote and indirect effect. It is possible that conventional critics have learned by now that to call a literary work 'propaganda' is to say nothing about its quality as literature. By now enough critics have pointed out that some of the world's classics were originally 'propaganda' for something[2].    

 

SF and Literature in general consented to play with/against propaganda to contribute in creating a social effect. The latter can be a commentary, a manifest, or a call for revolt. Excessively paranoid (some would say schizophrenic), literature began to render the imperceptible fluctuations of communication schemes; calling for scandal every time there is a smell of propaganda.

 

Literature and power enticed a necessary question on the possible co-existence of the tow of them in the public sphere. Despite their seduction-flirt-rejection relationships, literature and politics score mutual accusations ranging from lobbyism and blackmailing to persecution and even annihilation attempts. The "serpent-de-mer"shows again in the form of a legitimate question:can there be literature without politics?

2.      Literature and politics:A necessary relationship?

Modern literature (1914-1945)had been deeply marked by the teachings of the two World Wars; specters of totalitarianism and dangerous drifts occupied the minds, and works of writers – with one question:how come? In the aftermath of WWII, literary men questioned the rapidity with which humanity descended so promptly on the threshold of apocalypse.

Accusative fingers pointed political propaganda as the first diffusion, and convincing mode. Mistrusted and suspicions prevailed over politics, language, and communication in general. The decade of McCarthyism confirmed those fears; paranoia ruled. People started to question the truthfulness of political discourse, and the veracity of historical facts.

 

"Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes:it is not simply due to the bad influence of this or that individual writer."[3]

Orwell expertly hooks the major problematic of literature and political power. He points the weakness of language[4] when it becomes the hostage of demagogic political intentions. Orwell accuses lobbies, corporations and oligarchies of several things. The gravest one is the perturbation of the logical order, onto the "fascization"of the world via the manipulation of words. The only rampage would be the instinctive vigilance of writers; able to detect and assaults the drifts premises. 

Modern writing expects devoted rejections of inhumane thoughts:despotism, fanaticism, injustice…etc. Moreover, a tacit belief in the necessity of vigilance vis-à-vis power and its representatives was created. Another handy move was the deliberate deconstruction of iconic imagery surrounding cult figure (Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Peron…etc). The cult for evil, and evil representation were definitely demonized; the very little sympathetic thought towards despots is reprehensible by a feeling of guilt.

André Malraux[5], the color-bearer of this modern thought has achieved a considerable intellectual contribution. He rendered an on-the- spot testimony of the post-war social horrors and the distortion of reality, within modern democracies, when it comes to endangering the political interests of any given country. Imitated by Hemingway (For Who the Bell Tolls), Jones (The Thin Red Line)and others, Malraux has forced everyone to look into the troubled relationships politics have with literature, causing, all the way, some conceptual lash backs to the notions of truth, evil, acceptance, adjustment and iconoclasm. 

The politicization of literature and fictionalization of politics have blurred the considerations of literary theory and helped the emergence of Science Fiction; an apparently harmless apolitical genre, but which can be perverted to the maximum. Modern writers[6] (from which came the greatest Science Fiction minds)consider themselves and society as being in psycho-historical crisis.  Through essays and novels, they dramatically depict what dangers can ensue when history is forgotten and neglected.

More accurately, literature – as one formidable expression of human genius- contains fertile grounds for intellectual debate. One can merely question of the role of literature in achieving progressiveness. How many human/humane advances did literary creations help to settle? Or, from a universal perspective, what are the effects of writing on the development of mass ideologies and thinking systems? Obviously, a look at the monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), at political pamphlets (MeinKampf, The Communist Manifesto)or any 1990’s nihilistic fiction (American Psycho, Generation X)would confirm the view that writing (Fiction/ Non-fiction)is generative of thought, debate, behaviour and ultimately models, religions, social and moral to name only a few.

Science-fiction as genre was tremendously liberating for authors and incontrollable minds. Freed from the conventional restrictions (logic, coherence, authenticity), SF gave birth to the best and worst portrayals of the future of the future; mankind, technology, power and other aspects of human activity. In the vast realm of sci-fi production, appears elite made of much respected authors, who were hailed, not only for the delightful entertainment they supply, but also for the subtle and pertinent views they expose. Jules Verne, Frank Herbert, Philip Dick, and H.G. Wells have earned cults status. Furthermore, they set basis of nowadays SF bases and myths.

3.      Heinlein A Special Case

Robert Heinlein is a separate example of a particular controversial author. This immensely rich oeuvre is ambiguously considered by critics as one insightful vision of the future. Whereas for others, it is the work a twisted mind. The heating conflicts around Heinlein are centred on his Novel:Starship Troopers. But what in position does Heinlein situate his view of Utopia in front of two monuments of dystopian fiction:Nineteen Eighty-four andA Brave New World. 

The most sensitive part of Starship Troopers is its fascistic resonance. Indeed this anticipation fiction narrates the heroic crusade of an army of multiracial young men and women against the devastating danger of ravenous "Bugs". A threat - menacing the planet –, and the world (USA)as a strong, mesmerizing confederation holds the keys for salvation. This Utopian depiction of power issues in the future contrasts sharply with the usual pessimism of two sci-fi novels (1984andBrave New World), which, statically, tend to foresee the future as a darkly oppressive logical consequence of men’s past and present deeds.

As it is described, in Heinlein’s novel, humanity finally overcame basic conflicts (religion, race natural, natural richness, cultural differences…)and focused on one meaningful and universal enemy:the bugs.  The idyllic image would barely stimulating questioning save that the Heinlein Utopia is intrinsically based on authoritarianism, self-abnegation, monolithically structured thought, militarism, and ultimately holistic thinking. In The Novels of Huxley (Inspired by the Hitler[7] model)and Orwell (Inspired from the Stalinian[8] model), Fascism is attacked, and shown as the greatest wickedness man has ever created and performed.

 

Yet, Fascism remains a galvanizing term, often misused, confused or simply mistaken. Thus, we approached these multifaceted issues from different angles, political, philosophical, anthropological, educational and aesthetic. As a matter of fact, the enumerated aspects of the Starship Troopers Federation are essentially those of any fascistic regime. Furthermore, the ambiguous personality of Heinlein (often libertarian)makes this pamphlet highly misleading. There is a crypto-fascist subtext that contrasts with the emancipating discourse of Stranger in a Strange Land. On the other side (Brave New Worldand1984), the stigmata of WWII and the Red Scare, are back-lashes reminding the current world of how (more)horrible the planet would be under the rule of totalitarian dictators. Thus, Starship Troopers’ value lays in the reception of that work. Heinlein readers can be confused as to the inconsistency of the author’s editorial line.

4.      Object and Method

On the uses of studying Utopian SF, one must bear in mind that literature, as a timeless and edgeless artistic expression, magnetizes readers in a whirlpool of emotional and intellectual challenges; confronting them to different levels of complex issues – dealing with society, unspeakable feelings, and the joy of identification and understanding. Heavily communicative, literature installs a sort of intimacy between the creation and the reader to reach a quasi-orgasmic aim, consisting in understanding the intention of the writer via a seductive game of encoding and decoding.

The pleasure ratio gets increased and magnified when a reader gets in contact with science fiction. This genre is predicated on constant renewal and the creation of possible worlds[9]. Through embodiments of teleological speculations (what could, should, would, or must be), this artistic experience endows writers with dissection tools to explore the depths of human nature, in surreal future frameworks.

 

1984, for instance, enabled Orwell to question the tensional connections, existing between abusive power and logical rules (freedom, love, and existence)inside a totalitarian simulacrum of a state. Orwell, thus, unleashed a set of stylistic communicative structures, loaded with allegories, to defend a personal position against full-all despotic regimes. He composed, using science fiction, a genre that is not restrained by logic and rational (common in classical literature), and justifies this use by the capacity of science fiction to venture in creative areas, the access of which is restricted to other genres.

Science fiction gets a noticeable distinction, from other genres, in its imaginative and speculative resources. It has the technical audacity and analytical intelligence that arouse gigantesque potential for criticism and aesthetic expressivity. Regardless of its temporal choices (past or future), science fiction proves to be a ruthless expert-eye-tool in dissecting culture, ethnical tensions, class clash and so on. Its projections into the future enable us to preview the pace of evolution, and the possible drifts. By anticipating the unknown, it comforts men and women in a secure and alert expression mode.

This article is predicated on the study of the Fascist Utopia in science fiction. Studying Starship Troopers may serve as an insightful and inspirational handbook in non-literary issues? Topics of education, patriotism and youth – seen from the scope of a piece of prose – are considered into material life exigencies for the present world.

Put in intertextual and interdisciplinary backgrounds, two questions interpolate the legitimacy of this methodology:the first one wonders about the feasibility of submitting to analysis something which did not come to exist. The second deals with the validity and reliability of criticism of science fiction discourses and their interpretability within the context of a changing world. A third element invites itself adjacently between the two issues; the opposition of culture (text)and nature (context):both of them are randomly either constant or relative (emphasis must be made on the fact that culture is more relative than nature).

The clash between these methodological certainties, ironically, leads the constitution of an intellectual dead zone. The latter is generally studied under interdisciplinary paradigms. The multiplication (and overlapping)of disciplines grants researchers the possibility to investigate "non-droit"zones; those in which providing answers would not be the real objective, but rather the dexterity of the method.

The set of non-answers, unspeakable issues, cul-de-sacs and failure confessions are the strength attributes of interdisciplinary studies. In this field, failure is not a sign of weakness, but rather precious contributions in the concept of incommunicability. This theme has  appeared in Science fiction with the birth of Cyberpunk[10]. The novels we chose to study have been release before the rise of Cyberpunk, but the re-readings of Orwell, Huxley and Heinlein cannot be done aside from the Cyberpunk prism. Heinlein’s novel is to disperse the interpretative paradigms. The two other novels may serve as a theoretical background. Triangulation of several research methods may ensure a full coverage of the topic’s complexity.

5.      Complimentary Intellectual and methodological framework

Our research has been strongly influenced by Gadamer’s methodology. The German intellectual has cleansed a great deal of the methodological doubts encompassing literary research, when started drafting the Utopian deconstruction out of three novels. In his legendary book Truth and Method, he stressed the incongruent incompatibility between "truth"and "method". Not only has he doubted in the abilities to reach relatives truths, but he further extended the same skepticism to natural sciences. In fact the main reproach he formulates toward humanities is their obsessive self-imposed calk of natural sciences methodologies:

 

Because the human sciences prompt this question and thus cannot be fitted into the modern concept of science (...)the idea of science and knowledge on the natural sciences and seeking the distinctive feature of the human sciences in the artistic element (artistic feeling, artistic induction)... inductive have done more to advance the methods of logic than all the professional philosophers

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Hichem SOUHALI, «Literary Research, Science Fiction and Society:Elements of Methodology»

[En ligne] ارشيف مجلة الآداب والعلوم الاجتماعيةArchive: Revue des Lettres et Sciences Sociales العدد 16 ديسمبر 2012N°16 Décembre 2012
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Date Pulication Electronique : 2013-11-05,
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