SF humanism, literary fiction and indie rock

Science fiction is the first human literature

That’s Ken MacLeod attempting the most extreme claim possible in defence of SF. I don’t buy his rosy view of SF as humanist, or that “mainstream [literature] is mostly about things we share with other animals – love and hate, war and peace, dominance hierarchies, sex and violence“. But I don’t have to: he’s just turning the contrast right up to clarify the picture.

Also makes me realise how twisted it is that my ideas of ‘being human’ are all in opposition to being cold-hearted, calculating, machine-like, etc. i.e. to me, ‘being human’ generally means ‘being animal’.

I’ve never read Heinrich Böll, but this interview makes me want to for the first time.

I also guiltily enjoy the grumbling about mainstream American literature. It’s an easy bogeyman, and hardly a new one: male, middle-class, academic, urban, dull. The most common hate figure is Jonathan Franzen, or at least his critical canonization. It’s striking how many writers whose (online) work I enjoy come out with similar criticism. But I don’t read enough novels to judge if it’s accurate, and I don’t have enough historical perspective to know if it is more than the perpetual siege of the centre by the periphery.

Much the same with indie music. Take Sasha Frere-Jones:

I’ve spent too many evenings at indie concerts waiting in vain for vigor, for rhythm, for a musical effect that could justify all the preciousness….Where is the impulse to reach out to an audience—to entertain? I can’t imagine [James Brown or the Meters] retreating inward and settling for the lassitude and monotony that so many indie acts seem to confuse with authenticity and significance.

That isn’t the most interesting version of this critique, just the one I have to hand. IMO the race angle is more a symptom than a cause — the fundamental problem involves social and economic power, geographical centralization of the chattering classes, critics facing practical incentives to discuss the cultures they know and understand. In short, it’s The System. Or it’s The Kyriarchy, to use this decade’s terminology — the idea is the same.

ETA: less convinced by both these arguments the more I think about them.

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