4 November - [Serious/Speculative/Science] Fiction: Towards a Reader-Oriented Theory of a Genre’

Department of English

Dr Ciarán Kavanagh

Wednesday 4 November 2020 3-4 pm. Please email c.gallchoir@ucc.ie for registration
Wednesday 4 November 3-4 pm Please email c.gallchoir@ucc.ie for details of how to register

Critical writing on science fiction has a tendency to treat it as a damsel in distress. A feminised genre, absorbed in pulpy, adolescent tales of derring-do and damsel rescuing, itself requires rescuing by either a masculinised critic, and their serious eye, or a masculinised writer or canon-former. The redeemable aspects of the genre are rescued from the adolescent tower, and ennobled with a purified generic title (speculative fiction, slipstream, magical realism, weird, etc.). This, too, is a game that authors and editors play and thereby reinforce. Ursula le Guin, perhaps most famously, has consistently requested that her work not be referred to as science fiction, but as speculative fiction. The divide extends into the structures of academic discourse, where the shorthand of ‘SF’ is standard not only because of its compactness, but because it functions, itself, as a compact between (S)cience (F)iction and (S)peculative (F)iction: referring to whichever suits the occasion, without pressing the critic to deploy the latent value judgement potential to either label. Seriousness, therefore, and the means of attracting and maintaining it from readers, is a generic feature of SF. This paper explores the role of seriousness in SF through an analysis of the two subgenres of SF that most endeavour to attract it: Hard SF, characterised by scientific rigour and extensive explanation, and cyberpunk, denoted by a superabundance of unexplained technofabulation. (This analysis is situated at the beginning of a research project that is so new that it doesn’t yet (officially) exist, so discussion will be very welcome.) Dr Ciarán Kavanagh has recently finished his PhD, “Refiguring Reader-Response: Theorising Experience in Postmodern Fiction”, which he completed under the supervision of Dr Alan Gibbs in University College Cork. His research is oriented around reader-response theory, through which he focuses on the variability of reading experiences in contemporary Anglophone literature. He is currently in the process of writing a proposal for a postdoctoral research project on the generic features of science fiction in the internet age, with an understanding of genre as an interpretive touchstone differently formed by different readers and reading cultures. His recent publications include an article in Open Cultural Studies (De Gruyter) on embodiment, the grotesque and Ballard’s Crash, a topic on which he also has a forthcoming article in an edited collection, Powerful Literary Fiction Texts.

College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences

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