The OF Blog: Thoughts regarding the recentering (or perhaps decentralization) of SF/F

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thoughts regarding the recentering (or perhaps decentralization) of SF/F

On Monday, Strange Horizons republished in print form a lecture given in June 2013 by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay called "Recentering Science Fiction and the Fantastic: What would a non-Anglocentric understanding of science fiction and fantasy look like?"  There is a lot to be unpacked here, too much indeed for a single blog post, so what I am going to do here is provide an annotated outline of discussion points that I may cover in the future.  Hopefully this will spark further thought and discussion from others, both native Anglophones and those who come from other traditions:

  • In discussing SF/F, more thought should be given to the various cultural strategies developed to cope with sometimes drastic changes in material life.  Too often, literary discussions that aim to cover non-Anglophone/Western matters fail to address this properly.  I suspect there cannot be a singular date or even range of decades assigned to matters dealing with how national literatures dealt with "modernity," if even such a term can be applied to developments outside certain cultural traditions.
  •  In addition to the books that Chattopadhyay cites, I would like to add Cynthia Duncan's Unraveling the Real:  The Fantastic in Spanish-American Ficciones and Mariela González's 2013 Premio Ignotus-nominated study of Rafael Marin's seminal work, Lágrimas de Luz:  postmodernidad y estilo en la ciencia ficción española to the mix for discussion of local literary/cultural traditions versus those imposed upon (or adopted with little to no coercion) from foreign cultures.
  • In discussing national scenes such as Spain and Portugal post-1980s, Brazil after the mid-20th, or Eastern Europe before, during, and after communist rule, perhaps space could be devoted to analyzing how science fiction output was encouraged and regulated by reading bodies within those nations.  To what degree do these traditions resemble those of the US and UK?  In what significant ways do they differ?  Is there a greater or lesser conflation of reader and writer in these countries and if so, how do these developments affect the interpretations of what constitutes SF/F?
  • In those countries where the local writers use English as the medium of communication (in part thinking of Filipino SF/F, but this is applicable to several other countries), how are tropes utilized and perhaps subverted to suit the readers' expectations (local and perhaps foreign as well, depending upon the writer)?
  • What are the experiences of women writers in non-Anglophone SF/F communities?  One thing often left unaddressed or cover in a cursory fashion is how women writing (or perhaps reading, since one does not necessarily exclude the other) from the perspective of non-UK/US cultures view and express gender in their writings.  
  • If one is to decentralize (perhaps a better term than recentering, if understood that decentralization does not mean a complete collapse of a concept of a "center") SF/F to avoid Anglocentrism, does this mean there should be a further eroding of the conceptual limns between "realism" and "speculative," between what haunts and what is concrete?  Thinking of works by writers such as Gonçalo M. Tavares, Ismail Kadare, Angélica Gorodischer, César Airas, and Jean-Marie Blas de Robles, among several others.
  • Finally, can "SF/F" even survive a closer examination of presumed key components when filtered through various national lens?  Or could it be that SF/F may just be one part of a spectrum of literatures that are written/told in fashions that reflect local concerns?

As I said above, these are potential articles and certainly there are few definitive answers that could be provided.  All I can do, as a multilingual critic, is continue to filter through discussions in the European languages that I can read (keeping in mind that it is only a sliver, albeit a large sliver, of the spectrum of discussions taking place in dozens, if not hundreds, of languages) and try to promote works by those writers whose fiction is worthy of greater attention even if few or none of their works have yet to be translated into English.  Conversations are difficult to have when only a few nearby can understand all that is being said, but I do think that if those further away are made aware of what is being discussed (in this case, those diver concerns that constitute SF/F), then perhaps greater efforts can be made to include those who may now exist at the peripheries of the field.  Whether or not this decentralizes the conversation (which I suspect) or recenters it, as Chattopadhyay argues, is up to the readers to determine.  All I can do is provide water for the horses to consider drinking.

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