Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Me v.23


It’s about time I showed you all some of what I will be reading over the next few months.  This semester is probably one of the most difficult I have ever had.  Both of my courses are theory-oriented (one on the later works of Jacques Derrida, who some of you have probably heard of, and the other on utopia and science fiction), I have to practice for a Spanish exam, which I’m not close to being prepared for, I am teaching two classes, rather than one and a quarter, and I am finally working on my M.A. thesis, which I’ll probably talk about on this blog at some point.  But at least the things I’m working on are things I enjoy.

So, all but one of the following books are for my utopia and science fiction course, which is probably pretty obvious when you see the titles.  Here’s the image:

And here are the descriptions, from left to right, top to bottom (from Amazon.com or the back of the book):

1.  Utopics by Louis Marin

The first part of this book, a study of Thomas More’s Utopia, provides the elements for a theoretical reflection on utopic signifying practices. The second part is an application of the first: an analysis of utopic and pseudo-utopic spaces. The author’s thesis operates on three levels. The first is of a categorical or conceptual nature; the second is a schematic or imaginary; and the third is aesthetic or perceptive. These three levels are explored in terms of a double methodological preoccupation, both structural and historical.

2.  Alien Encounters:  Anatomy of Science Fiction by Mark Rose

Science fiction has become part of the imaginative landscape of the twentieth century. At its finest it offers a poetics of cosmic vertigo, a vision of ourselves on a small planet immersed in a vastness of space and time, alienated from nature and from ourselves.

Mark Rose’s beautifully lucid study is a distilled assessment of science fiction as a genre. The focus and compactness of the five chapters are reflected in their titles: “Genre”; “Paradigm”; “Space”; “Time”; “Machine”; “Monster.” The characteristic preoccupation of the genre, Rose suggests, is the human in relation to the nonhuman. The nonhuman may be projected into space, as an alien being or a form of inanimate nature, or into some future or alternate time; it may be a literal or metaphorical machine; or it may be found within the human.

Rose’s readings of individual works range from Verne to Wells to Lem’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001. He moves with ease from highbrow to popular literature and from literary to theoretical concerns, providing perspective through references to works of other genres and periods. His continuing themes include the consideration of science fiction as a form of romance, as a mediator between the conviction of free will and the conviction of determinism, as a displacement of essentially religious concerns, and as a mirror of various aspects of the alienated sensibility of the modern era.

3.  Scraps of Untainted Sky by Tom Moylan

A cultural studies examination of the twentieth century genre of dystopian fiction in the political and scholarly context of the evolution of science fiction studies and utopian studies since the 1960s. Focuses especially on the “critical dystopias” of the 1980s and 1990s and examines their interrogation of the sociopolitical and cultural changes wrought by capitalist restructuring and neo-conservative and neo-liberal governments in the United States and Europe. In Scraps of the Untainted Sky, Tom Moylan offers a thorough investigation of the history and aesthetics of dystopia. To situate his study, he sets out the methodological paradigm that developed within the interdisciplinary fields of science fiction studies and utopian studies as they grow out of the oppositional political culture of the 1960s and 1970s (the context of that produced the project of cultural studies itself). He then presents a thorough account of the textual structure and formal operations of the dystopian text. From there, he focuses on the new science fictional dystopias that emerged in the context of the economic, political, and cultural convulsions of the 1980s and 1990s, and he examines in detail three of these new “critical dystopias:” Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Gold Coast, Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower , and Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It .

Dystopian narrative is a product of the social ferment of the twentieth century. A hundred years of war, famine, disease, state terror, genocide, ecocide, and the depletion of humanity through the buying and selling of everyday life provided fertile ground for this fictive underside of the utopian imagination. From the classical works by E. M. Forster, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Margaret Atwood, through the new maps of hell in postwar science fiction, and most recently in the dystopian turn of the 1980s and 1990s, this narrative machine has produced challenging cognitive maps of the given historical situation by way of imaginary societies which are even worse than those that lie outside their authors’ and readers’ doors.

4.  Feminist Fabulation:  Space/Postmodern Fiction by Marleen S. Barr

The surprising and controversial thesis of Feminist Fabulation is unflinching: the postmodern canon has systematically excluded a wide range of important women’s writing by dismissing it as genre fiction. Marleen Barr issues an urgent call for a corrective, for the recognition of a new meta- or supergenre of contemporary writing–feminist fabulation–which includes both acclaimed mainstream works and works which today’s critics consistently ignore.

5.  The Principle of Hope:  Vol. 1 by Ernst Bloch

The Principle of Hope is one of the great works of the human spirit. It is a critical history of the utopian vision and a profound exploration of the possible reality of utopia. Even as the world has rejected the doctrine on which Bloch sought to base his utopia, his work still challenges us to think more insightfully about our own visions of a better world.

“Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope is one of the key books of our century. Part philosophic speculation, part political treatise, part lyric vision, it is exercising a deepening influence on thought and on literature. . . . No political or theological appropriations of Bloch’s leviathan can exhaust its visionary breadth.” — George Steiner

“The Principle of Hope is one of those all-about-everything books characteristic of German culture during the last 150 years. But unlike its direct predecessor, Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, Bloch’s magnum opus. . . reverses Spengler’s world-historical scheme by turning Weltangst . . . into `hope.’ In this placing of `hope’ at the center of a history, an anthropology, and a phenomenology of mankind lies the originality of Bloch’s undertaking.” — J. P. Stern, The New Republic

The Principle of Hope is published in three volumes: Volume 1 lays the foundations of the philosophy of process and introduces the idea of the Not-Yet-Conscious – the anticipatory element that Bloch sees as central to human thought. It also contains a remarkable account of the aesthetic interpretations of utopian “wishful images” in fairy tales, popular fiction, travel, theater, dance, and the cinema.

6.  The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (not for class, obviously)

In one week, Manhattan will be gone.

In one month, the country. In two months . . . the world.

At New York’s JFK Airport an arriving Boeing 777 taxiing along a runway suddenly stops dead. All the shades have been drawn, all communication channels have mysteriously gone quiet. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of a CDC rapid-response team investigating biological threats, boards the darkened plane . . . and what he finds makes his blood run cold.

A terrifying contagion has come to the unsuspecting city, an unstoppable plague that will spread like an all-consuming wildfire—lethal, merciless, hungry . . . vampiric.

And in a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem an aged Holocaust survivor knows that the war he has been dreading his entire life is finally here . . .

And there you have it. Are any of these of interest to you all, or am I showing my academic colors here?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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