quarta-feira, 25 de setembro de 2013

Under the Shadow of Stanisław Lem -“Polish Social Science Fiction” (“Polska Fantastyka Socjologiczna. Poetyka i Myślenie Utopijne” by Mariusz M. Leś for Urania)

Polish dystopian fiction of the 80′s was usually described as a diagnosis of the totalitarian system and a reservoir of political allusions. I attempted to look at the subgenre from a different perspective, tracking in the footsteps of utopia as a way of thinking, a courage of combining intellectual rigor with imagination. The book “Polish social science fiction” (“Polska fantastyka socjologiczna. Poetyka i myślenie utopijne”, 2008) can be thus seen as a sequel to my 1998 book “Stanislaw Lem and utopia” (“Stanisław Lem wobec utopii”), which proposed a new perspective on Lem’s works, leading to a conclusion that utopia is a means of discovering and organizing values and ideas.

In “Polish social SF” I tried to prove that the cognitive charge carried by them reaches far beyond equations of allegory, which means, it transgresses the popular encryption of the political situation connected with the martial law in Poland (December 1981 - July 1983), and remains more than just a satire on the mechanisms of totalitarianism in Polish reality of the 1970s and 1980s.  Works of Marek Oramus, Edmund Wnuk-Lipiński, Maciej Parowski, Janusz A. Zajdel and others, embed strong allusions though, but they are mostly local. This is partly because of censorship. An analysis contained in my book is meant to show undermining and overwhelming tradition of utopian thinking in works usually interpreted as unambiguous dystopias. This is the foundation, which cannot be reduced to negative experience of totalitarianism. Both utopia and its dystopian counterpart are embedded in a greater meaningful environment of utopian thinking. My view of utopian thinking doesn’t focus on (suppressed and subversive) political activity, but nevertheless it keeps this activity in intentionally radical, intentionally fictitious limbo. Utopianism is interpreted here then as deeply and etymologically rooted in (science) fiction and evaluative cognitive activity, involving knowledge of economics, information technology, the science of control (cybernetics and systems theory), and ethics. A way of understanding our reality rather than social criticism.

The characteristic features of utopian thinking - seen as a conventionally fictitious writing/reading activity - include: complexity, paranoid imagination, apocalyptic imagination and subversion. They are stuck in the genetic equipment of science fiction genre, which can be put to good use in the works manifesting its potential power, but often - sadly - it is wasted. Just as Lem saw it.

Complexity should be associated with the need to construct the framework of fiction different from the empirical world, but potentially coherent, and at the same time not immune to basic assumptions rationalization. It is this assumption to see the legacy of utopia, but you can also see the debt of this kind of fiction to science and scientific hypotheses requirements. However, as the utopia is in the self-conscious play with entrenched ideologies (as 'non-place'), so science fiction has developed the courage to operate conventional fiction and potential states of affairs. Utopia goes thus above and beyond, while creating its own dystopian contradiction, but also goes beyond politics and futurology by putting a priority mark to possibility, not necessity.

Paranoid imagination. Following in the footsteps of the dynamics of utopianism and dystopian fiction, it should be noted that in utopian fiction looking for consequences of basic assumptions simultaneously designate the boundaries, either in restraining the temptation of crossing, or by manifesting transgressiveness. Science fiction with ease - often excessive - launches a global perspective of change and (meta)history. Science fiction instead of fear of irrational manifests a fear of hyperrational system, inscrutable plan, something that - at first glance - seems to be chaotic, but after shifting to a higher plan could possibly (or in fictional fact) infect a perverse complexity. Consistency is always suspicious, never satisfactorily self-explaining, consequently always projects a higher plane or an overwhelming authority.

Apocalyptic narrative is born inside the consciousness of crisis, nourished by the prospect of radical change, as Kermode once wrote. Quite easily it forces a manipulation with our understanding of the past and with our image of the future. With these frictions science fiction, equipped with an apocalyptic dimension so conceived, constantly returns to the flesh. What is particularly interesting to determine the specificity of utopian thinking, is that abstract category of "omniscience" can be embodied in a science-fictional narrative, and often is in Polish social SF. So, apocalyptic imagination means a “fleshy” co-existence of conventionally perceived utopia and dystopia, thanks to a big charge of “the-the-end-is-nigh” obsession.

Mariusz M. Leś, September, 2013 

Science fiction and digital humanities researcher at the University of Białystok


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