First, You Learn How To Read

November 8, 2009 at 9:57 pm (Art, Books, How, Science Fiction and Fantasy, The Fantastic) (, , , , , , , , , )

“A lot of the contemporary writers outside of the SF world who interest me seem to be moving more and more away from the metaphorical tendencies that literary criticism has encouraged and fed off of for so long — a writer like Aimee Bender, to take just one example, writes stories that can feel, at times, like parables, and yet they just don’t work when interpreted that way; they fall apart and dissolve. This is a strength, not a weakness — they shatter any one meaning and can only give pleasure to a reader willing either to suspend the interpretive impulse altogether and take the story literally, or to a reader who is comfortable holding multiple possible interpretations in mind at once. SF readers tend to be very good at the former, and it’s a perfectly acceptable and justifiable position — indeed, one that most authors, I’d guess, would endorse: close attention to what the words, sentences, and paragraphs actually say.”

-Matthew Cheney, “The Inadequacies of Allegory

“I realized that good reading is a matter of learning the protocols and applying them with understanding and sensitivity to a particular genre…If one doesn’t know the correct protocol or misidentifies the genre, one is likely to misread something—in the sense, at least, that there is a “best” or even a “good” reading based upon the author’s intention or a consensus of experienced readers…If one should try to read Alice in Wonderland as if it were a science-fiction novel, one would ask skeptical questions about how Alice could fall down a rabbit hole without hurting herself or where the mass came from to make her grow so tall (or how her bones could support her) or where the mass went when she shrank. All these are inappropriate questions, of course, but if fantasy is approached skeptically, it evaporates; one cannot read it. On the other hand, if one should read hard science fiction without asking skeptical questions, as if it were fantasy (a much more common event), the reader would miss the most important aspect of hard SF, the fact that it creates a functional world that is different from but consistent with the world in which the reader lives.”

-James Gunn, “The Protocols of Science Fiction

“The subjunctivity level for a series of words labeled naturalistic fiction is defined by: could have happened…     Fantasy takes the subjunctivity of naturalistic fiction and throws it in reverse…the level of subjunctivity becomes: could not have happened
But when…any correction of images that indicates the future appears in a series of words and marks it as s-f, the subjunctivity level is changed once more: These objects, these convocations of objects into situations and events, are blanketly defined by: have not happened
In naturalistic fiction our corrections in our images must be made in accordance with what we know of the personally observable…
[T]he corrective process in fantasy is limited too: when we are given a correction that is not meaningful in terms of the personally observable world, we must accept any pseudo-explanation we are given. If there is no pseudo-explanation, it must remain mysterious…
The subjunctive level of s-f says that we must make our correction process in accord with what we know of the physically explainable universe. And the physically explainable has a much wider range than the personally observable.”

-Samuel Delany, “About Five Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Words” (The Jewel Hinged Jaw)

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