Monday, January 5, 2009

Back When All Our Minds Were Wild . . .

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Okay, this post is all about me, and so inherently less interesting than when I'm talking about ideas, things, or other people. You may want to give it a skip.

Anyway, I've been blogged -- or rather, a ten-year-old story I wrote is discussed at length at The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro, who is DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University. Here's what a blurb on his home page (yes! English professors have blurbs too! is this a great age or what?) says about him:

"Shaviro explains to us in his airy way the mistakes of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Saussure, Chomsky, even Lacan (though Foucault is, like Shaviro, pretty much infallible) while citing as authorities various comic books and science fiction authors - as well, of course, as Burroughs and his cinematic interpreter, David Cronenberg."

It really says something about our times that this no longer seems startling. I can remember when academics wouldn't even look at science fiction, never mind comics.

Here's how Prof. Shaviro opens his blog:

Michael Swanwick’s 1998 short story “Wild Minds” (which I found in the collection The Best of Michael Swanwick) offers a different angle on the issues most recently raised by Scott Bakker’s Neuropath. The story is set in a future world in which “the workings of the human brain were finally and completely understood” by science. As a result, traditional “education” is no longer necessary, since everything can be “learned” by direct bioelectrochemical manipulation: “anybody could become a doctor, a lawyer, a physicist, provided they could spare the month it took to absorb the technical skills.” The complete understanding of the brain also renders traditional notions of guilt, crime, and punishment irrelevant. The narrator of the story has committed a murder; but he recalls that “a panel of neuroanalysts had found me innocent by virtue of a faulty transition function and, after minor chemical adjustments and a two-day course on anger control techniques, had released me onto the street without prejudice.”

There follows a thoughtful discussion of the story with references to "flexible accumulation," humanist nostalgia," the "valorization" of capitalism, and "instrumental reason" -- all quotation marks his, I hasten to add; this is an eminently readable essay -- which closely adheres to the intentions of the story as I wrote it.

I'd quibble that Shaviro's essay too readily dismisses religious belief as delusive and compensatory. (The Church would argue that hyperrationality is itself delusory and compensatory.) But he's under no obligation to follow every thought I wrote down to the same conclusion I came to, now is he? What he's doing here is using my story as a platform to examine ideas he finds interesting.

He also finds implicit in the story an observation I agree with but hadn't explicitly thought before: "... the posthumanity that so many of us have imagined over the last several decades is largely a corporate fantasy."

All of which makes me extremely happy. Science fiction writers are pushovers for being taken seriously.

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1 comment:

Orange Mike said...

I'm sorry we won't be seeing you at Chattacon this year; your presence in 2008 was quite a pleasure.