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11 Three Letters to Science Fiction Studies Along with the concluding essay (this last first published in the academic journal Science Fiction Studies), the following three letters are roadmarks on what was for me a fascinating journey. At a 1978 MLA meeting in New York, Science Fiction Studies’ editors showed me a position paper for comment. The first letter here was my response. With a number of changes, that position paper became the introduction to a subsequent issue. Shortly the editors sent me another paper, this one on the teaching of science fiction. The second letter here was my response. Greatly revised, the paper they’d sent became the introduction to an issue devoted in large part to the problems of teaching science fiction. In the same issue, my two books of SF criticism, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and The American Shore, were most generously reviewed by Patrick Parrinder. I read those reviews in a hotel on the Via Borgognona, two blocks from the Keats Shelley Memorial at the foot of the Spanish Steps, while rain poured outside in the narrow street—and wrote the third letter. The editors responded with an invitation to become a contributing editor. And while I was at it, why didn’t I work the section on SF history from my third letter up into an article? Certainly, I said. Did they have any suggestions as to how . . . ? What followed was one of the most violent editorial processes I have ever been through. And it may have produced the most useful piece in this collection, “Reflections on Historical Models.” To the editors of Science Fiction Studies, who forced me to rewrite, rethink, cut, and rewrite, and rewrite yet again, I am very grateful! (1) A Letter from New York Gentlemen: I have read, and reread, with interest your paper dealing with methodological principles of SF criticism, “Not Only But Also.” Although that sentence is perfectly true, it doesn’t tell you very much. What will tell you something, however, is this. About a week and a 186 starboard wine half before I received your paper, prompted only by my memories of the position paper Darko Suvin showed me over lunch at the MLA meeting, I began an as yet untitled paper, whose first pages I transcribe: “The following call for methodological restrictions in dealing with contemporary science fiction (the science fiction published after 1926, in its first years almost exclusively in American pulp magazines; later, the fiction that borrowed much of its imagery and conceptual organization from that pulp fiction—e.g., works by Huxley and Orwell, despite their thematic debts to Zamiatin—or that conscientiously tried to critique it by example—e.g., certain fantasies by C. S. Lewis), a call for restrictions in our dealings with contemporary science fiction in Science Fiction Studies is made from the position of an absolute belief in academic and critical freedom. Or, to quote from The American Shore, my study of an SF story by Thomas M. Disch: No mode of criticism of the text—biography of the author, syntactic or metric analysis, historical reconstruction of the author’s epoch, parallels (thematic or organizational) with texts written long before or long after the text at hand, computer-assisted analysis of word recurrence—is a priori inappropriate as long as the underlying assumptions of these various modes of critical discourse have been questioned, and we do not make demands on the particular discourse that those assumptions flatly prevent it from ever meeting with anything but mystification. And here we must remind ourselves that the various modes of critical discourse are themselves nodes in a textus: they do not form a hierarchically valued list of methodologies [p. 39]. “At least one commentator on The American Shore, however, has pointed out, in a letter to me, that this book-length study presents itself to the reader almost overwhelmingly as a textual study; that biography of the author and textual comparisons are relegated almost entirely to footnotes or appendices. Then again, historical considerations (such as an actual visit to the neighborhood where much of the story’s action supposedly takes place) are allowed into the body of the critical text proper. All this suggests that these various critical modes, or approaches, do indeed inhabit—at least within my mind—a rather conservative methodological hierarchy. Thus I am forced to turn to those rather problematic ‘underlying assumptions’ to see precisely what they are and how they relate specifically to science fiction. Three...


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