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[Xmca-l] Re: The history of science fiction and imagined worlds
Yes, I was impressed. But mostly I was impressed by how cramped,
ethnocentric and also present-centric Saler's view of imaginary worlds
The argument, as I understand it, is that the colonization of
imaginary worlds only begins with Sherlock Holmes, because it is only
with Sherlock Holmes that people began to deliberately "believe" in a
fictional creation and "disbelieve" in the actual creator. That is,
adult play only begins with people who were the peers of my
grandparents. Hoaxes, myths, and religions may also be imaginary
worlds that are inhabited by large numbers of people, but they do not
signify, because the effort of believing in them in order to inhabit
them is not differentiated from believing in them because you think
they are true.
Of course, the distinction between the conscious, volitional
"suspension of disbelief" and non-conscious, non-volitional delusion
is very much older than this. At the end of Don Quixote, the old man's
neighbors try their very best to convince Don Quixote to go on
inhabiting the novelistic world he has created for them, and fail;
there is no suggestion that they do this because they believe the old
man's world is real. There was a spate of similar novels in English in
eighteenth century (e.g. Charlotte Lennox's "the Female Quixote"), and
Jane Austen's first novel, Northanger Abbey, is a romance about a
woman whose whole attraction is that she actually assumes only the
very best motives in real people, and reserves her fascination with
ill will for the reading of Gothic novels; when she meets with a
genuinely nasty character (General Tilney) for the first time, she
imputes Gothic motives to him where there are only mundane and
mercenary ones, and the novel ends with the half disenchantment of the
heroine and half enchantment of the General's son, both quite
deliberately acts of metacognition.
But as with so many things, the Chinese thought of it much earlier.
"Journey to the West" started out as "fan fiction" of a particular
kind of Buddhist adventure novel, and became parodistsic. "Dream of
the Red Chamber" is about a stone left over from when the world was
made, which is reincarnated by a sensitive young man who falls in with
one cousin and marries another. It is also about a garden, built for a
one day visit to her family by one of the Emperor's concubines, which
eventually bankrupts the family. But the children of the family are
allowed to run wild there, and they indulge a wide variety of fancies:
at various places we are told that various parts of the novel, and
even whole families, are simply willful fictions in the minds of
others. Actually, in the days before mass printing, almost every
fiction manuscript was passed around in a community (rather as Jane
Austen's manuscripts were shared in her family) and "Dream of the Red
Chamber" was probably finished by someone else (the last third of it
was written well after the death of the author, but computer analysis
has not definitively proven that it was written by someone else).
I think that the reason we tend to make howlers like Saler's is that,
like fish, we just can't see the water we swim in, and we keep
thinking that our own age is somehow uniquely modern, and the
preoccupations of our own brands of irrealist and realist thinking
(e.g. between art and science, between rationality and wonder) are the
last word and not merely latest one. I spend a great deal of the time
that I spend writing half-listening to eighteenth century operas,
which are in very obvious ways imaginary worlds which we enter only by
voluntarily checking our linguistic assumptions in the cloakroom. In
less obvious ways, it seems to me, these imaginary worlds are
interested in a clash that we no longer take very seriously. It's the
clash between a form of knowledge which is broadly humanist, because
empirical, and one which is narrowly rationalist, because puritanical.
The humanist agenda demands that the opera must end in an act of
forgiveness (as the Count is forgiven in the Marriage of Figaro). The
strictly rationalist agenda forbids this (because forgiveness by its
very nature is a kind of diremption of justice). Don Giovanni gets
around this problem by making repentance a precondition for
forgiveness, and then by arguing that the truly damnable will never
repent, not even as they are actually being damned.
We still see traces of this clash between empiricistic humanism and
merciless rationalism in my own field, language teaching. There is the
humanist belief in words--empirical, temporary negotiations of meaning
between human beings--and the rationalist belief in the inflexible,
innate laws of grammar. But elsewhere it seems to have been subsumed
in the general opposition between art and science that we find in
Saler's talk. Part of the point of my book is really to try to revive
it--in the form of a humanizing dialogic tendency in story telling
versus a more rationalizing narrativistic one.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
By the way...the index of the book has at last been fixed, and
everybody and their grandchildren can download the first two chapters
for free at....
(Yes, even xmca postings sometimes carry promotions...think of it not
as an interface between the virtual world and the real one, but only
as yet another interface between this virtual world and the next one!)
On 24 September 2014 12:10, mike cole <email@example.com> wrote:
> Just trying to keep some minimum level of continuity in the discussions,
> Greg. Maybe its just my problem alone, but I think one or two others suffer
> from the same difficulties.
> My intention is to watch both and consider them together. If that's a
> mistake, my loss! I do not watch TED talks as a general rule, but when they
> are specifically called out by xmca members as relevant, seems like a
> relatively painless way to figure out what other participants in the
> discussion are trying to communicate.
> Easier than reading, for example, *Who's Asking*? !! :-)))
> Rockin chair mike
> On Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 7:38 PM, Greg Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>> I thought the other tread was beginning to descend into "reality" more than
>> I care to (or perhaps worse, spiraling downward into the abyss of an
>> epistemologically-minded social constructionism - is there a there there?).
>> Seemed like good reason to soar in the imagination (yes, Mike, I know that
>> you prefer to invert that metaphor and "ascend to the concrete" - which
>> makes me wonder what you mean by "the concrete"? Reality? Or something
>> else? A "made real"?).
>> But I'd agree that it is on point with a "making"-oriented social
>> constructionism (trying to avoid using that awful word "ontological"?).
>> Anyway, I think this is the Haidt talk that John Cummins was proposing:
>> I'm wondering if people are a bit fed up with the Ted talks since it can be
>> tough to find 20 minutes to watch/listen to a Ted talk and they can be hit
>> or miss.
>> But I would again strongly recommend the Saler talk I originally sent in
>> this email. I thought David Ke, in particular, would find it interesting
>> (or at least point out where it is wrong). David?
>> On Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 6:59 PM, mike cole <email@example.com> wrote:
>> > I thought the other tread involved imagination as a central component,
>> > Greg.
>> > So not clear why this is a distraction. (Or am i in the wrong
>> > here?).
>> > Can you find the Haight TED talk that was recommended to us? Perhaps the
>> > two talks will aid the discussion.
>> > mike
>> > On Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 7:37 AM, Greg Thompson <
>> > wrote:
>> > > Apologies for distracting from the "real world" discussions on the
>> > > thread, but I came across this Ted talk and thought that others might
>> > > interested in the history and role of imagined worlds in politics:
>> > > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUtErxgz7Mo
>> > >
>> > > But perhaps it is worth tracing otherworlds and "the otherwise" to
>> > > such as those of Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne, and Rabelais.
>> > >
>> > > Seems like imagining other worlds has always been a deeply political
>> > >
>> > > -greg
>> > >
>> > > --
>> > > Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>> > > Assistant Professor
>> > > Department of Anthropology
>> > > 882 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
>> > > Brigham Young University
>> > > Provo, UT 84602
>> > > http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
>> > >
>> > --
>> > Development and Evolution are both ... "processes of construction and re-
>> > construction in which heterogeneous resources are contingently but more
>> > less reliably reassembled for each life cycle." [Oyama, Griffiths, and
>> > Gray, 2001]
>> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of Anthropology
>> 882 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
>> Brigham Young University
>> Provo, UT 84602
> Development and Evolution are both ... "processes of construction and re-
> construction in which heterogeneous resources are contingently but more or
> less reliably reassembled for each life cycle." [Oyama, Griffiths, and
> Gray, 2001]