Counter-Projects: William Morris and the Science Fiction of the 1880s
This essay is based on two of my books, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction and Victorian Science Fiction in the UK.1 In the first, I argue at length for a theoretical and historical definition of science fiction as a fictional genre ‘whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, … whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment’, and which is narratively dominated by a hegemonic ‘fictional novum (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic’ (MSF, pp. 7–8, 63). I further argue that this means a feedback oscillation between two realities. The science fiction narrative actualises a different — though historical and not transcendental — world corresponding to different human relationships and cultural norms. However, in science fiction the ‘possible world’ induced by the narrative is imaginable only as an interaction between two factors: the conception which the collective social addressee of a text has of empirical reality, and the narratively explicit modifications that a given science fiction text supplies to this initial conception. The resulting alternate reality or possible world is, in turn, not a prophecy or even extrapolation but an analogy to unrealised possibilities in the addressee’s or implied reader’s empirical world; however empirically unverifiable the narrative agents, objects or events of science fiction may be, their constellation in all still (literally) significant cases shapes a parable about ourselves.
KeywordsCatalysis Expense Dine Verse Ethos
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- 5.W. A. Watlock, The Next Ninety-Three ( London: Field and Tuer, 1886 ).Google Scholar