BalkanMagazin :: SCIENTIFIC FANTASY AS A MIRROR OF REALITY 1900-2000 (4): THE GOLDEN AGE (1950-1973)

Simultaneously with the Cold War, nuclear and thermonuclear bombs and Eisenhower’s threatening doctrine of “mass retaliation”, as well as the strengthening of the Monroe Doctrine, America entered a period of incredible economic development and prosperity. Big farms, big houses, big lawns, big cars, big refrigerators, big Coca-Cola, big burgers and big tits, have just become part of a new ideological sexy packaging of symbols known as the “American way of life”.

Damon Knight, in the novel “Hell’s Sidewalk”, criticizes the psychiatricization of American society and McCarthyism, which destroys the free will of citizens

Consumer madness

During that time, Europe tightened its belt and built destroyed, dreaming of overseas prosperity and imperceptibly entering Americanization. A group of American science fiction authors took advantage of that moment and with their prose began a strong critique of the consumer society personified in liberal capitalism. Probably the most notable were members of the New York “Futurists” Frederick Paul and Cyril Cornblatt with their novel “Advertising Democracy” (1953).

Pole and Kornblat’s satire is deeply rooted in their daily lives, which have lost all meaning except consumption. In their novel, advertisements became the basis of social functioning, creating in people the need for financiers, industrialists and traders to sell them appropriate products. “Completely unnecessary, so essential,” marketing experts suggested.

In this new system, crime was no longer viewed from a moral and judicial standpoint, but from a commercial point of view: “To kill during a private war between two firms is a sadly bad behavior. To kill without notice is a commercial crime.” Such a social structure not only led to the destruction of people, but also to the destruction of the planet Earth. However, the neoliberals, in the race for ever-increasing earnings, did not see this as a problem. They thought that it was enough to awaken consumers’ desire to go from another Earth to another planet.

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The lack of paper during the war created small-format books for the entertainment of soldiers at the front, later called the “pocket book”

Engaged writers

Putting on the stage a dystopian, hyper-consumer society ruled by advertising agencies and marketing experts, they directly criticized the emerging materialist madness, and indirectly pointed to the beginning of an ecological catastrophe. Somewhat later, these two authors, with their novel The Gladiator of the Law (1955), portrayed a consumerist, hedonistic world in which human life is valued as a commodity. In their novel, the world is ruled by opaque corporations and lawyers specializing in business, and ordinary people are kept in obedience and oblivion through various reality shows. Entertainers have become social models and are better seen than members of society who really contribute to understanding and improving our existence.

Damon Knight’s novel “Hell’s Sidewalk” (1955) portrayed an ideal society in which all persons were placed under psychological control, which led to the disappearance of crime. However, when the system failed, the treatment became worse than the evil itself. In the tradition of dystopia, Knight continued to criticize American society, which has lost its freedom of reason and sought solutions in the offices of psychiatrists and psychotherapists. He also criticized McCarthyism and its totalitarian tendencies that destroyed free will in citizens.

Similar to European authors Chapek and Huxley, the authors of the new American science fiction began to address adult readers. Their goal was no longer to entertain consumers, but to ask the reader questions about the world and events. In this way, American science fiction writers became what Sartre called “engaged writers.” “The engaged writer knows that the word is action; he knows that ‘discovering’ equals ‘changing’ and that he cannot discover without anticipating change. He has abandoned the impossible dream of making an unbiased picture of society and human conditions,” he wrote. is Ž-P. Sartre in his essay “What is Literature?” (1948).

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“Science fiction is a description of reality,” Ray Bradbury said of his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Fun as a substitute for cognition

New American tendencies in science fiction literature also helped general economic prosperity. The lack of paper during the war managed to remove a good part of the “pulp” production from the market, but also to create small-format books, intended for the entertainment of soldiers at the front. Post-war publishers preserved the format and simply called it a “pocket book.”

The competition of new publishers has contributed to the publication of not only popular works from the past, but also the stimulation of contemporary works. Also, the novels began to appear in periodicals sold at newsstands, only to be later united in books called “fix-ups”. In that way, the former periodicals, which fell into oblivion after reading, gained new life on the shelves of libraries.

At a time of great changes in the world of publishing, Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” (1953) was published, a dystopia in which, for the sake of absolute power, books are burned, a symbol of human knowledge and spirituality. Bradbury’s novel was not only a critique of the fascist tendencies of McCarthyism, but also spoke of the destruction of culture, a theme begun in the “Martian Chronicles.” The author also criticized the decision of intellectuals not to oppose the strengthening of subculture and hedonism in modern society. In Bradbury’s opinion, there were “several ways to burn a book” and the most insidious was to make people incapable of reading through the absence of culture, spiritual laziness and misinformation.

“I have written only one science fiction book and that is ‘Fahrenheit 451’, based on reality. Science fiction is a description of reality,” Bradbury once said. The novel “Fahrenheit 451” was a multiple critique of the society in which the author lived. The disappearance of culture was accompanied by growing hedonism, that is, self-knowledge was replaced by easy fun and escapism. In the author’s world, there was a struggle between the book (thinking) and the screen (entertainment), which led to the destruction of knowledge. Bradbury’s pessimism only gained real significance today, when thinking, analysis and cognition irrevocably gave way to speed, superficiality and passivity.

The book has definitely lost its relevance in front of ubiquitous screens, but so have people lost the power of knowing themselves. “Every reader, when he reads, is a reader of himself. The work of a writer is only a certain kind of optical instrument offered to the reader so that he can see what, without this book, he would not be able to see in himself,” Marcel Proust wrote in one. of the most beautiful definitions of “reading a book”.

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In his book “Memories Found in the Bathtub”, the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem writes about the disappearance of paper, and thus about the disappearance of our culture and modern civilization.

Sajmak’s praise of slowness

A few years after Bradbury’s novel, the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, in his book “Memories Found in the Bathtub” (1961), will think about similar issues through the idea that some disease has attacked paper. With the disappearance of paper, not only has our culture disappeared, but also the traces of modern civilization have disappeared, and no spiritual heritage has been left for generations.

In his stories and novels, Bradbury’s contemporary, Clifford Sajmak, deepened the paradox of science fiction as a mirror of reality, and spoke about his world with as little progress as possible. His heroes were not young adventurers, nor intelligent scientists, but old men. Sajmak did not see old age as weakening and approaching death, but as the crowning of life, a long-awaited moment accepted with gratitude. Another feature of his stories was the physical location of events in valleys surrounded by wooded slopes, dusty roads, large estates and tall wooden houses.

French critic Michel Merger called Sajmak’s depiction of the unusual at a rural crossroads “cosmic regionalism”. The old man, house and nature, the three basic elements of Sajmak’s world, pointed out that the human future is not in the endless technological and economic progress, characteristic of the fifties, but in thinking, which sociologist Pierre Sanso described as “praise of slowness”.

By the way, Sajmak’s ultimate idea resembled Bradbury’s world in which technological progress is less significant. The essence of a better life lies in turning to the inner life and the moral side in human relations.


Source: Balkan Magazin – Aktuelnosti by www.balkanmagazin.net.

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