Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Boxes and Circles on the Board

As my science fiction class and I were working our way through Samuel R. Delaney's "Science Fiction and 'Literature'--or, the Conscience of the King," I found myself needing to explicate what Delaney means when he talks about the difference in interpretive space around a "mundane" text like Pride and Prejudice and the interpretive space around science fiction, and what he means by the discourses of such texts. I jumped to the board and drew two small boxes, one to represent Pride and Prejudice and one to represent the first Star Wars movie, and then drew circles around each of those boxes, each circle meant to represent at the same time both the discourses each text partakes in and the realms of possible interpretation of each text. The spheres around Pride and Prejudice, I explained, govern how we read the sentence "Then her world exploded" if it appeared in the novel. We would read it metaphorically. But in a science fiction text, I explained, the interpretive space is much larger. It's not unlikely that "Then her world exploded" may mean just that, and, in fact, it does if we were to talk about Princess Leia in Star Wars. In fact, in her case, it's likely the sentence would carry both connotations.

As I drew those boxes and circles, I had to smile. While Jenny often explains the whole world with a box and a couple of arrows, I try to explain it with a couple of circles and a couple of boxes.

Delaney's final point, for those of you who might be curious, is that we ought to read "literature" as science fiction, a sentiment I've unconsciously shared for who knows how long. He ends:
It is possible that, on the level of values reading literature as if it were science fiction may be the only hope for literature--if, while we're doing it, we don't commit the same sort of historical ruptures that we in science fiction have already suffered at the hands of both editors and uniformed academics. And we must read--and write--science fiction as if it were really science fiction, and not just some philistine hack job purveying the same unitary values as literature but in their most debased form.
Or, to back up a bit to the beginning of his conclusion, he explicitly states his point, and I've just realized he's describing how I read: "I'm talking about the encounter between discourses, between responses, between ways of reading texts, ways of using the interpretive space around them."


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