American Studies | Seminar in AMST: Science &/or Speculative Fiction after the Second World War
G751 | 33690 | Kilgore


Fall 2011

Research in Aesthetics, Genre, and Form Boundary Trouble:  Science
and/or Speculative Fiction after the Second World War

De Witt Douglas Kilgore

Meets with Eng-L740

Course Description

In the immediate postwar world British novelist C. P. Snow argued
that science and the humanities are two hostile camps so irrevocably
different as to make them “two cultures.”  His diagnosis sparked a
contentious debate between literary and scientific intellectuals that
continues, though often in a minor key.   In plain sight but
overlooked the literary practice called “science fiction” also came
of age at the time, gaining a mainstream audience and attracting
writers who were serious and ambitious.  Playing with generic
protocols and engaged with contemporary literary trends they
challenged SFs pulp traditions seeking room to freshly, sometime
shockingly, express the social, psychological and technical tenor of
their time.  In doing so SF writers transgressed the putative divide
between science and literature.  In the process they produced
fictions and careers that sought to slip generic boundaries,
crossbreeding with extramural forms, practicing a genre that often
seems on the point of evaporation.
This seminar will recover science fiction's professional maturation
in the intellectual and cultural ferment that marked the last half of
the twentieth century.  We will trace the genre’s social and
aesthetic trajectory in its American and British registers, following
a transatlantic conversation containing points of unanimity and
difference.  We will consider the reformation of the genre in the
1950s as a significant site of cold war thought and feeling; the
counterpoint enacted between the genre’s public role as the voice of
the Space Age and the “inner-space” experiments of its radical “New
Wave” in the 1960s; the tremendous impact of second-wave feminism
during the 1970s as hard science fiction is articulated as a generic
core; the rise of cyberpunk in the 1980s; the genre’s engagement with
postmodernism; and the current debates swirling around the New Weird
and slipstream.  We will also be concerned both with how the gender
and race-based exclusions that shape the genre's dominant traditions
have been resisted by those minority and women writers who otherwise
work within the referential system of genre conventions.  Here we
find the impact of insurgent subjectivities that produce cyborg,
postcolonial, and queer futurities.   Writers that we are likely to
consider are Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany,
Joanna Russ, William Gibson, China Mieville, Octavia E. Butler,
Margaret Atwood, and Michael Chabon.
This seminar also engages current scholarship that diagnoses the
aesthetic and epistemological transformation of science (speculative)
fiction from its mid-century investment in the discourses of
modernity and empire to its millennial incarnation as a container for
radical alterity.  Judith Merril, Fredric Jameson, John Rieder, Brian
McHale, Sherryl Vint, Rob Latham, and N. Katherine Hayles are among
the critics and scholars who will provide critical context and
theoretical perspective for our work during the semester.