Sunday, December 25, 2011

Activism, Science Fiction Studies, and Cultural Studies Covered Briefly in Three Paragraphs

       I'm currently in Minneapolis, trying to get over a mild, but nagging cold.  It's about one in the morning before Christmas.  Why not start a blog posting?  I'm going to try to get back into the swing of writing with a great deal more regularity than I have over the past few months.  More specifically, I plan to return to some of the more academic topics that have gotten dropped a bit lately for more immediately focused projects and polemics.  It's not that I plan to drop that material, but I want to get back to some of the earlier discussions around cultural studies, science fiction, and critical theory that have found less emphasis in the blog lately.  Part of that has occurred because I have been recently been dealing with the potential loss of two chapters worth of my dissertation, but another part has simply occurred because  my thoughts have been focused on a number of immediate political concerns, particularly about the question about organizing the Irvine branch of the local union, and the attempt to create a coalition in defense of public education on campus.  I'm certainly not going to drop this stuff.  I'm still trying to get the local and myself to think about doing the day to day work of organizing, of moving away from the informal friendship structure of the current situation to something that is a genuine rank and file structure.  Additionally, I have some very definite ideas about some experiments that might make good actions for the coalition, and am trying to get Sylvia Federici and George Caffentzis to give a couple talks at the university about the question of debt as well as the history of social movements.

        But I also want to turn to some of the questions that brought me to the institution itself, questions that are themselves, but are a bit more untimely, to use Nietzsche's phrase.  My research for my dissertation has turned increasingly to the intertwined topics of the utopian form and structures of domestic conventionality.  These generic forms find their first major interconnection with the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Critics often write about Gilman's utopian novel, Herland, but ignore the context of its publication, Gilman's self-published magazine, The Forerunner.  The majority of Gilman's novels were published in that magazine, including her major utopian works, Moving the Mountain, Herland, and With Her in Ourland.  These novels were serialized along with popular sociological material, and perhaps more significantly, types of writing that could fit very comfortably within a conventional women's magazine, despite its political content.  In many ways, The Forerunner isn't as exceptional a publication as many seem to think that it was.  Progressive era publications, including women's magazines, often took on serious political topics, and editors of the journals included naturalist author Theodore Dreiser.  What is perhaps unique to the work of the The Forerunner is the attempt to synthesize the utopianism that Gilman derives from the work of Edward Bellamy and link it with the conventions of domestic melodrama.  If Herland frequently operates under the logic of the feminine mystique, the conventional dramas about marriage and domestic life show a curious fascination with long economic exposition, frequently consisting of lists of costs.  In effect, Gilman attempts to negotiate her focus on household domesticity through generic form.

       Additionally, the question of cultural studies remains a continued interest, particularly around questions of subculture, everyday life, and the limits of capital contained in the contradictions contained in the commodity form.  The material that I am working with is obviously intensely commodified, and the rise of the genre of science fiction is linked to the rise of Fordist regime of accumulation, or perhaps more crudely, a society built on mass consumption.  The rise of paraliterature strongly parallels these economic shifts.  This is frequently gestured towards in the Marxist work on science fiction, following Darko Suvin, but it is rarely worked through.  Similarly feminist work does some impressive work of developing an analysis of the subcultural networks that form the critical apparatus of the genre, but don't take on the Lukacsian questions of form and history.  To be honest, I'm not sure if I can do this work within my dissertation, which is focused on trying to produce a type of social formalism, but I think I'm going to try to use the blog to try to ask these questions.  One of the things that I was really fascinated by in the early editorials of science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril was the way that she linked questions of literary quality with the commodity form, ie, the quality of the literature somehow paralleled the production of quality paperbacks, of the existence of hard cover science fiction novels, etc.  There are similar thoughts in some of the criticism of Damon Knight, and even to an extent in the early work of Samuel Delaney.  I think I am going to think through some of those histories more extensively.  In any case, I think that I am going to keep this transitional Christmas post brief, and leave it there.

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