quarta-feira, 4 de março de 2009

¿Que es la Ciencia-Ficcion? - Yuli Kagarlitski


In his Chto Takoe Fantastika (What is SF?--Moskva: Khudozhestvennaya Literature, 1974 352p), Juliy Kagarlitsky, who received the 1972 SFRA Pilgrim Award, sets himself the task of defining SF in a literary and social context, appealing first to the historical antecedents of the genre and then to its main present-day concerns. He limits himself primarily to British and American authors, but the problems upon which he touches are not theirs alone. The low quality of much of the SF produced for the mass market has, in Kagarlitsky's estimation, caused the works of even the best writers to be unjustly slighted. As a result, the positive social role of SF has been minimized or ignored. Kagarlitsky intends that his book should help to remedy this situation.

Selecting several scientific concepts and tracing them through various works important in the history of SF, Kagarlitsky sets off to explore some of the conflicts inherent in the genre. While SF is undoubtedly based in the scientific knowledge and social reality of its time, and while it may use realistic literary devices, its effect is destroyed if the illusion of reality thus created is too complete. On the contrary, as he points out, SF demands a complex interaction of belief and disbelief in its explorations of the unknown aspects of the known. Kagarlitsky suggests a possibly productive comparison of myth with SF: both are only analogues of reality, but while myth is based on faith, SF is based on the "dialectics of the investigative mind."

The fruits of some of the more notable "investigative minds" are examined in the next two chapters. He devotes the second chapter to a brief history of the genre, beginning with Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel and the Renaissance utopian fiction, continuing through Swift and Voltaire's Micromégas, and concluding with works from the Romantic period, of which the most important is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He selects Gulliver's Travels for a closer analysis of the interrelationship of scientific ideas and SF; specifically, the experiments of the Projectors of Lagado demonstrate that Swift was writing from a close knowledge of the scientific advances of his period.

The second and more extensive section of the book (ch.4-9) deals with some of the major elements which have been present in the SF of the last 100 years. Revealing a broad knowledge of the works of many British and American authors, Kagarlitsky devotes particular attention not only to their scientific, but also their social bases. In the chapter "Chronoclasm," for example, Kagarlitsky--referring to works by Wells, Asimov, Lem, Aldiss, Bradbury, Heinlein and others--mentions some of the philosophical and social problems explored through time-travel. Moreover, he suggests that the preoccupation of writers with this device is a measure of their interest in the problems of history and the direction of the future. One result is the relatively new "historical novel about the future," exemplified here by John Wyndham's The Chrysalids.

Chapter 5 is devoted to the discussion of American mass-market SF. Although he deplores its low quality (earlier he had pointed out that in its unquestioning absorption of often pseudo-scientific ideas it resembles myth more than it does true SF), he sees in it, especially in the "space operas," a reflection of the epic element present in all SF, and proposes that it derives its popularity and distinctively American flavor from wholesale borrowing from Westerns. At the same time, he does acknowledge the high quality of much American SF.

In the next three chapters, Kagarlitsky discusses in considerable detail the reaction of SF to the social problems created or threatened by changing conceptions of the world, of man and of the role of technology. He deals with the social uses, as seen by SF, of such concepts as personal immortality, telepathy and robots. This analysis is extended in his last chapter, "SF, Utopia, Anti-utopia," which examines the SF portrayal of societies, ideal or otherwise. Although he has already passed the early utopias in review, he discusses them here in more depth. In addition, he treats anti-utopias such as Wells' Time Machine, Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984 and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, characterizing them as critical evaluations of progress and, incidentally, refuting claims that anti-utopias such as 1984 were aimed against communist states. Finally, he turns to visions of future societies in contemporary SF, enumerating frequent targets such as the desirability of prosperity, over-dependency on machines, or personality leveling. Particularly timely, in view of our present preoccupation with the return to the simple life, is Kagarlitsky's discussion of what he terms the Rousseauist utopia. Utopias such as B.F. Skinner's Walden Two are futile, in his opinion, since they are moving in an anti-historical direction by rejecting progress, and he interprets them as essentially, although not necessarily intentionally, reactionary. He sees the pessimism of many Western SF writers as a function of their limiting themselves to visions of progress only along the lines of bourgeois materialistic societies.

Whether or not one agrees with Kagarlitsky that the utopia for which British and American writers are searching lies in communism, he offers a valuable interpretation of the interaction of SF, and in particular of its basic themes, with society. This is both the strength and the limitation of his approach to what is after all fiction rather than futurology. Perhaps such an exclusive stress results from his popularizing intention, which is here pleasingly fused with solid erudition. Thus, although Kagarlitsky may not, as he confesses in his introduction, have provided a definitive answer to the question "What is SF?", he has instead suggested some promising lines of research on a number of basic problems with which modern SF deals, and on how it historically came to do so.

¿Que es la Ciencia-Ficcion? - Yuli Kagarlitski [ Download ]