Friday, 24 July 2009

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Thanks to Adam Roberts, even academics writing books about comics are insufferable elitists. If you hadn’t noticed, one of my esteemed co-bloggers recently exploded the internet, such that people are saying things like: Oh, I see. Popular is bad. Common feeling among self-defined elites. That would be Kevin Standlee, responding to Rich Puchalsky and I on one of Adam Robert’s many other blogs. The three of us are, in Standlee’s estimation, elitists who hate science fiction: Oh, I see, you’re saying that anyone who likes SF is stupid. Those words were written in response to a post that argues: [T]he very heart’s-blood of literature is to draw people out of their comfort zone; to challenge and stimulate them, to wake and shake them; to present them with the new, and the unnerving, and the mind-blowing. And if this true of literature, it is doubly or trebly true of science fiction. For what is the point of science fiction if not to articulate the new, the wondrous, the mindblowing and the strange? I would frame that argument differently: when I read science fiction, I want to replicate the wonder my nine-year-old self experienced when he first read Frederik Pohl’s Gateway. I had never considered the possibility that the universe might be littered with the archeological remains of civilizations snuffed out before the proto-pre-dawn of human history. The thought of it was so sublime that, a decade later, I watched five seasons of Babylon 5 trying to recapture it. Not that I’ve stopped, mind you, but when you consider the sheer volume of science fiction I’ve consumed in the twenty years since I read Gateway, I think you can see why that experience is increasingly illusive: more often than not, what I read contains ideas I’ve already encountered, so the only avenue to awe is through the quality of execution. There are exceptions—Perdido Street Station being the one example, Adam’s conceptually audacious novels being another—but they merely apply meat to Adam’s claim that the nominees for the 2009 Hugo Awards fail to engender what proper science fiction should; namely, Schopenhauer’s sublime: [I]f the beholder [of a work of art] does not direct his attention to this eminently hostile relation to his will, but, although perceiving and recognizing it, turns consciously away from it, forcibly detaches himself from his will and its relations, and, giving himself up entirely to knowledge, quietly contemplates those very objects that are so terrible to the will, comprehends only their Idea, which is foreign to all relation, so that he lingers gladly over its contemplation, and is thereby raised above himself, his person, his will, and all will—in that case he is filled with the sense of the sublime, he is in the state of spiritual exaltation, and therefore the object producing such a state is called sublime. If Schopenhauer’s baroque prose doesn’t do it for you,, even though he attributes to Kant an elaboration that properly belongs to Schopenhauer, Žižek’s nice and pithy: The Sublime is therefore the paradox of an object which, in the very field of representation, provides...

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