They Bellow ‘Til We’re Deaf

by Henry on December 16, 2008

This piece by Benjamin Kunkel (whom I usually have time for), is really, really annoying.

The literary novel illuminates moral problems (including sometimes those that are also political problems) at the expense of sentimental consolation, while genre fiction typically offers consolation at the expense of illumination. … The main formal consequence, then, of a withered moral imagination has to do not with subject matter (love, crime, the future) but with character. Fictional character derives from moral choices made, contemplated, postponed, or ignored—morality is the page on which the stamp of character appears—and the signal formal trait of genre fiction is nothing so much as its lack of complex characters. This deficit entangles even an acknowledged generic triumph like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968, and the basis of the 1982 movie Blade Runner) in a certain incoherence. The ironic burden of Dick’s novel is to stick up for the warm-blooded humanity of androids (read: clones), and in this way imply the cold-bloodedness of any society that denies fully human status to some category of person. The rub, of course, is that such sci-fi humanism is quickly overcome with another irony, this one unintentional, since it is the hallmark of genre fiction to treat characters instrumentally, putting them through the paces of the plot according to their function as the embodiment of some general psychological or social category and failing or refusing to endow them with the individuality to be found among the livelier inhabitants of the traditional realist novel and, for that matter, the real world.

The main formal consequence, then, of a withered moral imagination has to do not with subject matter (love, crime, the future) but with character. Fictional character derives from moral choices made, contemplated, postponed, or ignored—morality is the page on which the stamp of character appears—and the signal formal trait of genre fiction is nothing so much as its lack of complex characters. This deficit entangles even an acknowledged generic triumph like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968, and the basis of the 1982 movie Blade Runner) in a certain incoherence. The ironic burden of Dick’s novel is to stick up for the warm-blooded humanity of androids (read: clones), and in this way imply the cold-bloodedness of any society that denies fully human status to some category of person. The rub, of course, is that such sci-fi humanism is quickly overcome with another irony, this one unintentional, since it is the hallmark of genre fiction to treat characters instrumentally, putting them through the paces of the plot according to their function as the embodiment of some general psychological or social category and failing or refusing to endow them with the individuality to be found among the livelier inhabitants of the traditional realist novel and, for that matter, the real world.

This is the highly compromised “individualism” promoted by our collection of futuristic novels: individuality here means escape from the bad collective (cannibals, the corporate state) but does not entail real individuation. Our literary sci-fi novels are bereft of strongly individual characters—the apocalyptic ones even more depopulated than they know, the clone narratives at least bespeaking the anxiety that their characters are redundant—and the ongoing merger of genre fiction (where the reader is accustomed to finding no complex characters) with literature (which no one would think to accuse of being indifferent to individuality) has allowed the liquidation of character to pass virtually unnoticed. And this, it seems, is likely to be among the most accurately futuristic features of the “literary” genre novels: they will have been the harbingers of a literary sea change in which complex characters are rejected by critics and ordinary readers alike as morally unattractive (compared to generic heros), hopelessly self-involved (because capable of introspection), and annoyingly irresolute (because subject to deliberation). These prejudices are already articulate and operative whenever fiction is discussed, thanks in large part to the incomplete literature-genre fiction merger, and the prestige such prejudices acquire through that merger allows them to be expressed without the taint of philistinism.

The argument of the piece (discounting some broader sociological claims) goes something like this. We are seeing a hybridization of Genre (i.e. SF, or as Kunkel calls it, ‘sci fi’) and Literature around a small set of shared tropes, which is a Very Bad Thing, because it vitiates Literature’s fascination with the complexity of the individual, and turns Literary Fiction into a higher class of potboiler.

There are two issues here. First is the claim that Real Literature, above all, concerns character. This is an old debate, which is irresolvable because it fundamentally turns on questions of taste rather than underlying principle (I will note in passing that one of the better deflations of this kind of slightly-fusty-personal-taste-masquerading-as-generalized-principle criticism is N+1’s own early attack on James Wood). There’s a real case to be made that, say, J.G. Ballard’s earlier appropriations of the disaster novel, in which character largely becomes a feature of landscape, was a crucially important literary advance, for all that it does everything that Kunkel says literature shouldn’t do.

Second, even if you accept his argument on its own terms, Kunkel’s insistence (with the exception of the Dick reference quoted above1) on advancing his claims with no reference whatsoever to science fiction novels is grating. The only books that Kunkel really discusses are the hybrids themselves, whose faults are assumed, without any evidence whatsoever, to be the result of their exposure to genre cooties. But dystopian and disaster-type SF aren’t as relentlessly simplistic as he suggests. To take one influential example, M. John Harrison’s SF classic Signs of Life is exactly about the intersection between consumer society, genetics and individual character – while Harrison is anything but a nineteenth century realist (he never assumes that people understand their own characters, or that their inner monologues are in any way coherent), SoL is a rather better novel in Kunkel’s own terms, for all its purported genre nastiness, than any of the examples of literature that he discusses. And there are others – off the top of my head Thomas Disch’s 334 and (in a different way) The Genocides, China Mieville’s New Crobuzon trilogy, and Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang all come to mind as examples of dystopian novels which don’t reduce down to character-free vulgarity in the ways that Kunkel suggests. Perhaps Kunkel could rescue himself by claiming that these novels, to the extent that they are about character, aren’t genre fiction, but then his argument would obviously become a near-tautology (if genre simply consists of fiction that doesn’t emphasize character rather than novels with particular themes or tropes, then the particular tropes that Kunkel identifies as associated with genre wouldn’t have the malign consequences that Kunkel suggests they do.

1 Dick is an especially inapt choice of example – if he is indeed a great writer (and I think that he is, at least part of the time), he’s so because he’s a Kafka of the downmarket bits of America, revealing the absurdity of our situation. Kafka doesn’t get much praise as a psychological realist either, for the obvious reasons.

{ 32 comments }

1

FS 12.16.08 at 5:50 pm

Excellent title reference.

2

John Holbo 12.16.08 at 6:33 pm

Great post, Henry. But I think there’s something to Kunkel’s position if you subtract the unwarranted, since sloppy negativity. (I’ll think about it. But first: sleep.)

3

bianca steele 12.16.08 at 6:39 pm

(whom I usually have time for)

WHY?

One little joke in his druggie-gets-enlightened-and-turns-ethical novel, though — “Yes, Socrates” — I wish I’d come up with it myself. He’s making excellent use of his Ivy League philosophy studies.

4

lemuel pitkin 12.16.08 at 7:17 pm

OK, the Kunkel essay is silly and bad, but Mieville? — come on, that’s airplane reading.

5

CR 12.16.08 at 7:52 pm

China Mountain Zhang? Seriously?

For the record, I think Kunkel’s exactly right. But… I just don’t think it’s such a terrifically bad thing, the flattening of character.

Could you explain again what you mean with the bit about Ballard? He’s just an early version of the hybrid he’s describing, yes? Where an erstwhile scifi writer goes literary(ish) and brings the flat with him…

6

Kaveh Hemmat 12.16.08 at 8:00 pm

My favorite example of thoughtful genre fiction with complex characters: The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. He himself espouses what he calls the furniture theory of literature, which is that the difference between genre fictions and literary fiction is mainly one of different furniture, the most essential elements–plot, characters, &c.–are mostly independent of the furniture. But most of what I like about the Ice and Fire series just wouldn’t work as well outside of the medieval fantasy genre. Not just the fact that there is magic, but our expectations of a fantasy novel–that it’s going to be about heroic characters, that heroism can save the world, the Regular Guy becoming a hero through the intervention of the extraordinary–are important. Even the annoying tendency of fantasy novels in the last 15 years to go on for 600+ pages, with 5 or more novels in a series, he makes good use of that (going on the 5th book now, I think they’re all 500+ pages).

What Martin does is to relentlessly pick apart heroism. His world is rather gritty, people who aren’t born into the aristocracy usually get screwed, heroic/chivalrous nobles who stand by their principles usually end up doing more harm than good. The story is told from different points of view, and every single one of them is a member of the aristocracy, but not empowered–they are all women, children, cripples. It’s not the conventional fantasy plot of Smaller-than-average/Regular Guy David vs a magical/extraordinary Goliath, but inconveniently crippled, female, or very young characters trying to survive in circumstances that aren’t extraordinary, they are more like the typical intrigues of a pre-modern aristocracy in a time of civil war. And they aren’t saved by magic (in fact they often aren’t saved by anything). All that and he throws in little inside jokes for historians.

I suppose it’s true that, by and large, Martin’s characters in Ice and Fire aren’t all that self-reflective, but he uses the presence of expectations and other intertextualities that are highly specific, if not unique to the fantasy genre, to give us something we can reflect on. Martin’s characters don’t do it for us, and I think that’s a very good thing.

7

Watson Aname 12.16.08 at 8:20 pm

2500+ pages? I certainly hope his characters are complex.

8

Aulus Gellius 12.16.08 at 9:04 pm

A further grumble: I really, really wish people would try to avoid this kind of casual slippage between “the literary novel” and “literature,” as if they were basically synonymous. In fact, of course, the novel is one particular modern literary medium, with its own idiosyncracies; and without this particular myopia, it becomes pretty obvious that complex characters aren’t as central to literature as Kunkel wants them to be. It would be pretty hard to defend, e.g., Lucretius, or Petrarch, or even Bunyan (who’s almost a novelist) on a pure standard of psychological complexity and realism. (Kunkel’s argument might still have merit, but it’s important to recognize its limited scope.)

9

Matt 12.16.08 at 10:10 pm

“and the signal formal trait of genre fiction is nothing so much as its lack of complex characters. “

Please. Well-articulated snobbery is still nothing but snobbery. Kunkel seems to resent that these other less-pure genres aren’t staying tidily in their ghettos.

Too damn bad.

10

Matthew Kuzma 12.16.08 at 11:11 pm

It is absolutely too narrow a definition of literature to say it’s about great individual characters. And for more counterexamples of great sci-fi characters, take the short story “I Am Legend” which not only has a non-archetype character, one who reacts realistically to his losses and his unfortunate lot, but is entirely about that character and his decisions.

11

Matthew Kuzma 12.16.08 at 11:24 pm

I’d also like to point out how hopelessly off-base his attempt at film criticism is. Calling 28 Days Later a “B+” movie because it aspires to art but fails, implies that all those blockbusters that never really aspired to art are suddenly “B movies”, a term that more commonly means low-quality pulp movies made with low budgets and simple aspirations, than the mere crowd-pleasers like Animal House or Top Gun or Die Hard. Those are not B movies; Parts: A Clonus Horror is a B movie.

12

CR 12.16.08 at 11:52 pm

In case anyone’s interested, I’ve written a rather Holbonically-long response to Kunkel’s piece over on my own site.

13

Sebastian 12.17.08 at 12:23 am

“this one unintentional, since it is the hallmark of genre fiction to treat characters instrumentally, putting them through the paces of the plot according to their function as the embodiment of some general psychological or social category and failing or refusing to endow them with the individuality to be found among the livelier inhabitants of the traditional realist novel “

Yikes. Clearly someone who confuses the fact that 99% of everything is crap with the idea that a particular genre is incapable of having good characters.

And who says that the literary novel isn’t just its own form of genre fiction?

Why in the world are we supposed to believe that the traditional realist novel has non-instrumentally treated characters on a regular basis? Most characters in realist novels come in one of three varieties:

A) The misunderstood and oppressed thinker who eventually exposes some hideous hypocrisy in institutions;

B) The ‘woe is me’ oppressed character who is so horribly put upon by things that ordinary people deal with in real life all the time;

C) The ‘woe is me’ oppressed character who deals with an improbably serious series of nasty events.

Sometimes we even get a mix of these! Ohhh, daring.

Now SOME of these end up being good characters in good novels. But most of them don’t. Just like other genre fiction.

14

bob mcmanus 12.17.08 at 1:19 am

I think Kunkel does have a point, tho he phrases it tendentiously.

To the degree that Speculative Fiction is an indentifiable genre separate from literary fiction, it is in the emphasis of environment and contingency on character & plot. The way in which the imagined world of Androids determines the behavior of cops & cyborgs is the foreground of the book, in a way that Elsinore or the NY of Cheever or Roth are not. Perhaps we do need to explore the differences between mainstream works dealing with environmental deyerminism (Joseph Andrews?) and SF.

Environmental determinism, or contingency transcended, is at the heart of SF. Otherwise, why bother to create the environments?

15

Tessa Dick 12.17.08 at 1:19 am

Actually, the androids in Phil’s novel are human. The novel is a metaphor for black slavery. That is why some of the humans fail the empathy test that was devised to detect androids, and why some of the androids can pass the empathy test.
~~~

16

Righteous Bubba 12.17.08 at 1:25 am

To the degree that Speculative Fiction is an indentifiable genre separate from literary fiction, it is in the emphasis of environment and contingency on character & plot.

Could Last Exit to Brooklyn have been Last Exit to Mogadishu?

17

bob mcmanus 12.17.08 at 1:25 am

Of course, in some cases ordinary narratives are dressed up in imaginary environments…e.g, young rationalist rebel liberates self from fundamentalist religious society. sometimes simply for commercial reasons. SF sells. But there remains a difference if the story is set on Mars rather than Utah.

18

bob mcmanus 12.17.08 at 1:44 am

I have long resisted tendencies to try to conflate the methods of genre fiction (at its best) with mainstream literary fictions. Of course, they do overlap.

Dark Suvin says the key difference between literary and speculative fiction is cognitive estrangement. I think the imaginary worlds of speculative fictions do act on the reader in ways character & plots do in literary fiction. The world of Androids forces moral work on the reader in the way that Faulkner’s South or the world of Kafka does. Or Lilliput.

19

sara 12.17.08 at 4:05 am

Ursula K. Le Guin dealt with this decades ago in “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown” — countering the high-culture critic’s assertion that there were no literary characters in SF on the order of Woolf’s Mrs. Brown.

20

Bruce Baugh 12.17.08 at 4:21 am

Kunkel’s wrong about Dick. One of the constants in Dick’s work is that the imitation human is never the true human, and never become it. Androids don’t dream of electric sheep. Palmer Eldritch left the human race. And so on. Ursula Le Guin brought this to my attention at one of her conversations at Orycon some years back, noting that Blade Runner exactly inverts Dick’s point. She’s right, too – it’s an excellent film, but there’s no room in Dick’s worldview for Deckard or Rachael to be anything but very sophisticated imitations. Whatever the spark of humanity is, they can’t have it.

21

Ehrsaadts Gle´ 12.17.08 at 4:34 am

Kunkel oversimplifies as much as anyone here. So here’s the rundown:
Great art is not cerebral. “Literary” fiction is fiction that has transcended its genre: Jane Austen began with a genre. What comes down to us as literary fiction is the art not of naming but of architecture and description. What is written as literary fiction is often little more than mannerism and affect. Cerebral and speculative fiction, “philosophical art,” begins from ideas and assumption. By the definitions used by all here the Iliad and the Odyssey would be genre fiction.

22

arcseed 12.17.08 at 6:17 am

Bruce, that’s an odd reading of Dick. What about We Can Build You? In which whatever the spark of humanity is, while Lincoln and Stanton may or may not have it, Pris almost certainly doesn’t. The worldview of the characters Dick writes in Androids doesn’t have room for the androids to be anything but imitations, but I think that’s a hard thing to pin on Dick himself.

What I do think is that Dick isn’t particularly interested in the question. Replicants and androids and cyborg space prophets are plot devices that he made up to tell the story. What Dick wants to know is: what is that spark of humanity? Do some (real) people have it while others don’t? Why?

23

minneapolitan 12.17.08 at 3:21 pm

it is the hallmark of genre fiction to treat characters instrumentally, putting them through the paces of the plot according to their function as the embodiment of some general psychological or social category
See Twist, Oliver and Valjean, Jean

And how is late-twentieth-century-middle-or-upper-middle-conflicted-individualist not a psychological, social category? Fah.

Also, re: B-movies, I’m not sure that this is a useful category with which to talk about contemporary film. Traditionally, the B-movie was a film put out by a major studio that didn’t feature a major star, but still had a cast and crew drawn from the studio’s stable. A lot of Robert Mitchum’s early work for instance. Slapdash genre stuff with no stars and no name director is more like Z-grade. Since we don’t have the studio system to kick around anymore, B-grade doesn’t make sense, since there’s no one to have a B-list.

24

Bruce Baugh 12.17.08 at 6:36 pm

Arcseed, if you read Dick’s essays and speeches you’ll find this theme of real and fake humanity running all through it, from almost the beginning of his career right up to his death. Lawrence Sutin’s The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick has a bunch on this. From Dick’s 1975 essay “Man, Androids, and Machine”:

These creatures are among us, although morphologically they do not differ from us; we must not posit a difference of essence, but a difference of behavior. In my science fiction I write about about them constantly. Sometimes they themselves do not know they are androids. Like Rachel Rosen, they can be pretty but somehow lack something; or, like Pris in We Can Build You, they can be absolutely born of a human womb and even design androids – the Abraham Lincoln one in that book – and themselves be without warmth; they then fall within the clinical entity “schizoid,” which means lacking proper feeling. I am sure we mean the same thing here, with the emphasis on the word “thing.” A human being without the proper empathy or feeling is the same as an android built so as to lack it, either by design or mistake. We mean, basically, someone who does not care about the fate which his fellow living creatures fall victim to; he stands detached, a spectator, acting out by his indifference John Donne’s theorem that “No man is an island,” but giving that theorem a twist: that which is a mental and a moral island is not a man.

25

Brandon Harvey 12.17.08 at 7:29 pm

While I don’t love me some Kunkel that much, I have to grant him at
least a little more wit than this. His use of the phrase “read” here
means, I think, that he takes Dick to be using the idea of the android
to be talking about something else. His shorthand is “clones”, but I
think he’s really indicating a larger (modern) tradition of clones,
doubles, doppelgangers, and synthetic men (a la Mary Shelley), all
part of how literature has been grappling with the idea of the human
in the last couple hundred years. I have no problem with Kunkel
gesturing in that direction.

I do think he’s being blithe when he assumes that E. M. Forster’s
distinction between flat and round characters === a transhistorical
distinction between genre fiction and literary fiction. His
deployment of the word “withering” to help him make this case — on
one hand, something healthy, growing, and *natural*, and on the other
hand the same specimen, distored, denatured, and starved . . . — is
a withered form of argumentation.

As we see in some of the follow-up to Kunkel, we can produce various
examples of literary fiction — fiction that has been important in how
we self-conceive and self-represent — with no round characters.
Pilgrim’s Progress and so forth. That is to say, there most
definitely have been very good books that are nonetheless about things
*other* than representing compelling human personalities (just as
there have been paintings other than realistic portraits!).

However, a serious engagement with the question of how to represent a
human being, in writing, often produces really great results.

What’s common, amongst Pilgrim’s Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, Mary
Shelley’s Frankenstein, Godel Escher Bach, and Nancy Drew novels, is
not to take up that question at all. They use entirely received and
derivative ways of representing human figures and their actions and
speech. Simply because they are concerned with other things.

Why people need to automatically assign moral value one way or the
other — POINT: moral value accrues to making characters round;
COUNTERPOINT: no it doesn’t — is just a dumb thing about people.
It’s a dumb thing about Kunkel, and it’s a dumb thing about the people
outraged by Kunkel.

But, in defense of people, it also has something to do with the fact
that representing round characters is really hard (as is painting
interesting realistic human figures). Cultural value often
accumulates around things that are hard. And also around human
self-picturing. Self-picturing has, and confers, power, and we invest
emotion into convincing pictures, and release it through those
pictures. We want to understand ourselves, and our place, in the
scheme of things, by seeing fragments of ourselves in those pictures.

But . . .. that’s not *all* we want to do, which Kunkel seems to be
deliberately forgetting. We also want to solve crimes, visit future
worlds, etc. And these are additional ways in which we (perhaps more
indirectly) self-picture.

26

Mikey in Plano 12.17.08 at 11:55 pm

So, I’m not sure I understand Kunkel’s piece entirely. Is he arguing that somehow genre fiction, in this case, a couple of sub-classes of sci-fi, is apparently mostly (for the last 20 something years) barren of good characterization, because of some limitation of the genre itself, or perhaps the writers attracted to it? Or something? As opposed to “literature” which is gloriously full of it? Or, to put it a bit more causticly, to indicate my level of skepticism, novels written by New England adulterers for New England adulterers about New Englanders committing, ahem, adultery (and occasionally, fornication) somehow lend themselves more readily than genre fiction to illuminate moral and political problems, and love as well? Really? I’ve got to be missing something.

As concerns PKD, I’ll allow that Dick had his problems writing fully individualized characters, and that indeed most of his protagonists are uniformly, almost interchangeably bland. I’d also say, to his credit, that Dick often turned this bug into a feature, and that in the case of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the questions “What does it mean to be human?” and “Why is it so hard?” make up the central goddamn themes of the fricking book — and not just this book either, such being a common theme to his later works, even ones that have much better, more interesting and individualized characters.

To put this another way, does Kunkel think that writing fully individualized characters is easy? Hmmm.

I’m probably being too harsh. I do find his dystopian from gothic, apocalyptic from quest derivation interesting, even useful.

It does seem odd that he didn’t discuss Minority Report. I mean, Cruise and Spielberg? Come on, is it anything other than A-List? It even dealt with politics, federal vs. state vs. individual. Or does Kunkel mean something else by “politics”? Morality and love, too, if I recall correctly, with a fair amount of subtlety. Fuck the outliers, I guess.

27

Kaveh Hemmat 12.18.08 at 2:53 am

@7
The payoff of a 2500-page series is the progression of interactions between many different well-developed characters. But 2500 pages isn’t even that much for fantasy novels these days, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series is seven books, the seventh weighs in at 845. The Harry Potter series should be pretty close to 2500, too.

28

Sebastian 12.18.08 at 5:17 pm

“The literary novel illuminates moral problems (including sometimes those that are also political problems) at the expense of sentimental consolation, while genre fiction typically offers consolation at the expense of illumination.”

I wonder if he only sees illumination of personal moral problems as worthy of attention. It would be odd, as some literary novels do a good job of illuminating societal or social moral problems, but most of them are largely personal. Science fiction, and other forms of fiction, illuminate social moral problems by examining the society itslef, which sometimes cause their focus to be on the society more than the inner workings of the characters. And though many modern science fiction novels adopt the 1st person narrative which is very common in literary novels (and which lends itself to the perception of rounding of characters because we can see their thoughts) many do not, which I would argue artificially creates a sense of distance to a reader who has become used to the comprehensive interiority of the literary novel.

Now I suppose that the literary novelist might respond that all this is best handled by developing deeply rounded interior characters. But part of it is a function of time and space in books. For a realist novel, set in a modern setting, with fairly stock literary novel New England characters, you can jump straight into the interiority of the character because you don’t really have to do anything else to set the stage. For most such novels, the general societal/social/political stage is already set. For a good science fiction novel, none of that is taken for granted. You must set the stage, because the stage is not assumed.

Now bad science fiction novels just draw from the stock scenery associated with science fiction. But literary novels do that too, Kunkel just doesn’t see to realize it because for the most part they don’t even have to mention it directly in the book. It is assumed that the WASPish literary novel reader alreadyknows most of it. Bad science fiction novels have to be explicit about the stock social contexts they draw from because otherwise you wouldn’t know. The typical literary novel doesn’t because it assumes it all implicitly. But for my two cents, a good science fiction novel is often better at examining society because it already has to examine it to set the stage. Good literary novels often get caught looking awkward when they try to tackle such things because they are forced to either deal with them in very limited ways, or they are forced to set the stage in ways that aren’t normal for the genre.

Now I assume he is talking about the good examples of both genres. But there is a lot of drek in both.

29

Martin 12.19.08 at 6:42 pm

It is notable that he pretty much ignores Oryx And Crake before saying:

In sum, when the contemporary novelist contemplates the future—including, it seems, the future of the novel—he or she often forfeits the ability to imagine unique and irreplaceable characters,

It is a funny old article, lots of the specific observations are interesting but so much is based on such a partial selection of texts.

30

Meh 12.19.08 at 9:24 pm

There’s so many issues here, from the failed assumptions of universality in a lot of literary novels, to the reality that 2% of literary novels achieve what Kunkel claims.

However, to keep it short. Have to highlight Sebastian and others who point out that the “literary novels” are in fact a genre, with a set of conventions and shorthand archetypes, including ones about the psychological state, emotions and moral sentiments of the characters.

BUT! The most important question is… if the literary novel is such a great developer of introspection and the moral imagination, why are the devotees (authors and readers) generally so shallow, non-introspective and lacking in moral imagination when it comes to actual conversation, as opposed to communing with pieces of paper?

31

Ray Davis 12.20.08 at 3:01 pm

What Kunkel doesn’t know about genre fills libraries. But to be fair, willful ignorance greatly eases both the production and publication of grand journalistic pronouncements.

32

Nick Mamatas 12.20.08 at 7:58 pm

What actually seems to drive Kunkel’s article is not questions of humanity, but the answer. At least some SF answers the question, “What does it mean to be human?” with “Not a lot.”

Where does this leave the project of politically-engaged realism then? Nowhere but the past, as a comforting bu inaccurate alternative answer. (“What does it mean to be human?” “Oh, everything! Everything! Especially if you’re a white middle-class human from the developed West!”)

Kunkel took a few peeks into the future, didn’t see himself, and freaked. It is what folks from his sliver of the centrist left do.

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