28 de agosto de 2019

Borders in the Beyond: Aspects of Coloniality in Science Fiction

This MA Thesis applies critiques of coloniality to the content of sci-fi films in order to see how sci-fi allows us to reframe, repeat, or go beyond the problems of contemporary existence in the modern / colonial world. Directed by Marina Vishmidt at the Dutch Art Institute.

Borders in the Beyond: Aspects of Coloniality in Science Fiction

This MA Thesis applies critiques of coloniality to the content of sci-fi films in order to see how sci-fi allows us to reframe, repeat, or go beyond the problems of contemporary existence in the modern / colonial world. Directed by Marina Vishmidt at the Dutch Art Institute.

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Borders in the Beyond: Introduction

ENG —

Scholar Darko Suvin argues that the genre of sci-fi is distinguished from fantasy because the world narrated is founded on logical scientific hypothesis as opposed to magic.1 It’s a space of experimentation where the imagination and intuition, as well as ordered and rational thought, collaborate. It’s a critical space that allows us to imagine possible futures, denaturalizes what we understand as normal, and helps us become familiar with outside elements yet to come (or that we can already intuit as very close to us).

In everyday life, we often perceive things only superficially, that is, we see things how they appear to us. To truly see things we must overcome our blind perception and this is only possible when they become estranged. This process of estrangement is, according to Russian literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky, the essential task of any art.2 Distancing leads to an understanding of things not having to be as they are. An inability to understand that things could be other than they are is a failure to imagine, an inability to enter the critical space that sci-fi opens.

Intractable features of our contemporary existence include the interpenetrating systems of coloniality and capitalism. It’s hard to imagine our world without these oppressive and exploitive systems. They present significant cultural and ideological limits, as Jameson wrote: “Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”3 With its many narratives of apocalyptic scenarios, sci-fi invites viewers to witness the end of capitalism as the end of the world. For those of us who wish to see beyond capitalism, a possible task before us is to transform Reagan and Thatcher’s motto “There Is No Alternative to Capitalism into There is No Alternative to Utopia.4

In his work Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions,5 Fredric Jameson lays out a genealogy of the sci-fi novel. Jameson asks: in an age of globalization, where social and economic inequality is increasing, is the concept of utopia still meaningful? Showing how the representation of otherness (alien beings) serves to explore the relationship between utopia and reality Jameson concludes that the relevance of the genre for the present is in the medium’s ability to abstract from facts: supporting the playful juxtaposition of immediate understanding or common knowledge with historical and scientific premises.

The modern sci-fi novel, shaped by the appearance of new narrative forms,6 is the historical expression of a new mode of cognition which began to unfold in the beginning of the 19th century – the dawn of capitalism. The mode of cognition expressed in the novel dealt with the transformation of value and the rhythms of life. Modern narrative symbolized the end of cyclical temporality: time as recurrence. And the beginning of linear temporality: the abstract and empty conception of the future that we call progress. At a time when scientific and technological advances are part of everyday experience, sci-fi narratives have the social function of familiarizing the readers or viewers with rapid innovation, and preparing consciousness for the impact of change. Jameson argued that sci-fi appeared to distract us, not from real life, but precisely from our defense mechanisms against that reality.7

Sci-fi promulgates a method to apprehend the present as history, and this is independent of the pessimism or optimism of the imaginary future world that is the pretext for that defamiliarization. Suvin defines sci-fi as “a literary genre whose necessary conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, whose main formal device is to imagine an alternative framework.”8

  1. Darko Suvin, ‘The State of the Art in Science Fiction Theory: Determining and Delimiting the Genre’. Science Fiction Studies 6.1 (1979): n. pag. Print.
  2. Shklovsky, Viktor, and Alexandra Berlina. ‘Art, as Device’. Poetics Today 36.3 (2015): 151–174. Web.
  3. Fredric Jameson, ‘Progress Versus Utopia; Or, Can We Imagine the Future?’ Science Fiction Studies 9.2 (1982): 147–158. Print.
  4. Suvin, 1979.
  5. Jameson, 1982
  6. The structural features of the contemporary historical novels, according to György Lukács, starts with a central character standing in the middle between the representatives of two or more main historical forces in conflict. Having such a main character as the centre of the narrative makes it possible for the writer to portray all the main historical protagonists from the inside and therefore the consciousness of their time and history as something they actively construct in struggle. See, György Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. London: Merlin, 1971.
  7. Jameson, 1982.
  8. Suvin, 1979.