- Science Fiction and Cultural Theory: A Reader ed. by Sherryl Vint
Sherryl Vint's Science Fiction and Cultural Theory: A Reader is a very well put together anthology, featuring an imaginative and wide-ranging selection of material, a compelling organisation and excellent editorial commentary. One might be surprised to find that a cultural theory reader contains so little of the classic traditions of cultural theory–no Frankfort School writers, no Birmingham School work, no classic Marxism or psychoanalysis or feminism. Only one piece in the reader, Annette Michelson's 'Bodies in Space: Film as "Carnal Knowledge"', appeared before 1985 (Michelson's essay was published in 1969 and is reprinted here for the first time); nearly half of the selections were published in the twenty-first century. If one can speak of classics in this context, the best candidates are probably Jean Baudrillard's delirious exercise in hyperbole 'The Ecstasy of Communication' (1988), Friedrich Kittler's foundational contribution to network theory 'Typewriter' (1986) and Donna Haraway's breakthrough declaration of the feminist-posthumanist agenda in 'A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century' (originally published in 1985). [End Page 509]
It is not just that these essays are mostly quite recent, or that they range well beyond the subject matter of artistic production that one more typically would find in a reader focused on a narrative genre. Altogether the essays in this volume comprise a sustained argument, the thesis being that, as Vint announces in her introduction, sf is our culture's 'vernacular theory of the present moment' (8). Unfolding from this introduction, the organisation itself and the brief essays heading each section of the reader offer an extended elaboration of this basic hypothesis. The four sections, each containing six essays, are, first, 'Gender, Technology, and the Body'; second, 'The Science-Fictionalization of Everyday Life'; third, 'Media, Mediation, Science Fiction'; and finally, 'Posthumanism'. The topics gathered together in the first section title do a good job of naming the concerns that precipitate the philosophical position named in the final section, while the middle two sections trace an itinerary leading from the initial topics of examination to the concluding philosophical meditation by way of science-fictional narrative and cultural practices.
Vint herself links the first section on gender, technology and the body to the final section on posthumanism in her editorial introduction to the first section, when she says the six essays there unite in 'questioning how interacting with technology shapes the nature of human being' (11). She assigns sf narrative practices an active role in producing this conceptual matrix in her introduction to the second section: 'The myriad ways that technology, subjectivity and sociality have been mutually constituted throughout the history of technological development means that imaginative representations of technology have contributed to the material history of technological development' (87). Section three then 'explores the centrality of sf texts to emerging technologies and techniques of reproduction in cinema and fan cultural practices' (173). The final section builds upon the previous three to construct a genealogy of posthumanism, and argues that posthumanism 'has its roots in sf scholarship but has become a central critical framework informed by discourses far beyond the genre' (231).
In many ways Haraway's 'Cyborg Manifesto' comprises a sort of keynote address for the symposium convened by Vint's collocation and ordering of the other 23 essays. For instance, Haraway's 'leaky boundaries' between organism and machine and between physicality and ideality in the manifesto show up in different ways: in the opening of Kittler's 'Typewriter', when he launches his discussion from the fact that the word typewriter itself ambiguously has 'meant both typing machine and female typist' (28), and when Vint quotes Anne Balsamo's cutting-edge description of technologies as 'assemblages of [End Page 510] people, materialities, practices and possibilities' (12), an approach elaborated powerfully in the essay, 'Gendering the Technological Imagination', included as the final essay in section one of the volume. Similarly, Haraway's declaration that the figure of the cyborg...