Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.
Dis-Imagined Communities: Science Fiction and the Future of Nations
(A shorter version of this essay appeared in Edging into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation, Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon, eds., University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.)
Science fiction and the Post-National Turn. Readers expect sf to conduct thought experiments about the future of human institutions. These projections are variously plausible and implausible; they may include not only rational extrapolations from current historical trends, but also alternate universes, counterfactual histories, and futures revalued by the recovery of archaic pasts. Given the exuberance and excess of the science-fictional imagination, it should be significant if some powerful contemporary institutions were ignored or excluded from the sf megatext.1 In this essay I will investigate just such an exclusion: the concept of nation. This concept, with its complex history and implications, is so rarely explored in sf’s thought experiments that one might conclude that it has been rejected as something that cannot exist in any future. More surely than even more fantastic social formations, like utopia, or the recrudescence of pre-modern societies, the role of nationality appears unimaginable in sf’s futures.
To paraphrase Nietzsche, we explain the future only by what is most powerful in the present. If we are to conclude from the representations of sf, then we should assume that nations and nationality are not sufficiently powerful to be involved in sf’s imaginary future solutions to dilemmas posed in the present. Nations are not the only such institutions — democracy, for instance, is similarly absent from the sf’s varied scenarios.2 I will argue in this essay that sf has traditionally viewed itself as a genre that transcends nationality and nationalism, and has thus enjoyed the post-1960s development of globalism, which it has predicted for most of the 20th century. I will also argue that this globalizing imaginary is based on a notion of history and historical innovation that systematically, though unconsciously, ignores the role of nationality in the development of individual consciousness, to the extent that sf cannot imagine a future society in which nationality has any significance. This "post-nationalist" — or anti-national — orientation forms the basis for some of the most powerful world-construction models in the genre’s treasury, models that disavow national particularity and bypass the cultural tensions that might emerge in the relationships of self-distinguishing national cultures in the future. Although fully in harmony with globalist theory that perceives the withering away of the nation-state in the age of transnational economic and cultural flows, de-nationalizing sf, I contend, is based less not a purely rational perception of the logic of history, than on the political perspective of the dominant Techno-Powers, for whom national cultural identity represents an obstacle to political-economic rationalization, the foundation upon which their hegemony is based.
James Gunn, a noted science fiction writer and scholar, has offered an elegant definition of the genre that justifies sf’s anti-national leanings:
Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the effects of change on people in the real world as it can be projected into the past, the future, or to distant places. It often concerns itself with scientific or technological change, and it usually involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community; often civilization or the race itself is in danger.(1)
...science fiction could not be written until people began to think in unaccustomed ways. They had, first of all, to think of themselves as a race — not as a tribe or a people or even a nation. Science fiction may contain unconscious cultural or political biases, but there is little tribalism, little rejoicing in the victory over another human group, but rather an implied or overt criticism of the act of war, and there is even less nationalism. (2)
Gunn is surely correct that sf has traditionally viewed itself as an internationalist genre, creating mini-myths about the future of the species as a whole. Even so, that alone does not explain why sf does not include or reflect on the cultural and political aspects of national identity. Rejecting nationalist ideology evidently means that nations, superseded by transnational rationality, should be consigned to the ash-heap of history.
It is not difficult to see why sf would consider nations to be undesirably alien social models. However we define nations and nationality (which we will attempt later), they are unambiguously linked with a kind of collective memory that owes little to scientific rationalization. National solidarity has deeply non-rational sources: language, genealogy and kinship codes, customs and mythic charters, religion, traditional arts, and historical links to specific lands. To feel as part of a nation, one must idealize the arbitrary facts of one’s birthplace and parentage, revere the mysterious knowledge of one’s national language, religion, and mythology, and above all, accept and enjoy distinctive and irreducible differences among human groups. Science fiction’s favored models, by contrast, are fundamentally rationalistic: utopia and dystopia, both of them models striving for universal validity -- the one the fully rationalized society, the other the excessively rationalized society; techno-science (the application of scientific discovery to social life, by replacing irrational traditions with rationalized practices); the reduction of human motives to universal abstractions (ingenuity, heroism, evil, curiosity; race, gender, class, degree of development); social evolution (reason in history, the dynamic historical transformation of social life through scientific principles drawn from natural processes); convergent worlds (the tendency of all worlds to meet and interflow because they follow the same evolutionary principles); and the tendency toward the reduction of phenomena to the most rational explanation. Even the most sublime dimension of science fiction, the sense of wonder, is predicated on the potential of rational techno-historical or natural processes to exceed the wildest expectations and experiences of human beings. Clearly, the premises of national identity do not easily find a niche in such an anti-particularist universe of discourse.
This antipathy to nationality is in step with the leading contemporary globalist and world-system theories. Best articulated by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and the works of Ernest Gellner, most discussions about nations and nationality in the West treat nations as historical epiphenomena of recent provenance, conjured into existence by modernization.3 For Anderson, nations in their modern political forms are the products of bourgeois literary elites who constructed imaginary communities through journalism, novelistic fiction, language reforms, and cultural policy.4 Nations in this view are the ideological constructions of nation-states; they are the imaginary goals of nationalism rather than their primordial origins. The fictive character of nations implies also that they have shallow roots that will not command their populations’ loyalties in the future.5
Globalist theory extends this view. For better or worse, the legitimacy of nation states has been undermined to an unprecedented degree by the driving institutions of the postmodern world. The Internet, global capital markets, multinational corporations, the commodification of all cultural practices in global market terms, and social movements sophisticated in communications technologies have vitiated most of the attractive energies of national identification. Although nation states still exert enormous influence on the world system, their elites and their economies increasingly depend on transnational capital flow. Diasporas, the flows of populations moving either voluntarily or by force across international borders, have irreversibly weakened the conception of a nation as a homogeneous population residing in a defined territory administered by the national state. Mediating these processes are the cultural flows that remove national styles and traditions from their historical contexts.6
It should be clear that this postmodern evolute of modernization theory surmises, even when it does not explicitly affirm it, that the forces controlling the means of global communication and the circulation of information (which now encompasses the world financial system) are transforming the world’s particular societies into provinces in a world system that legitimates the global influence of the Great Technological Powers, who are by and large the heirs of the Great Imperialist Powers of old. Yet when viewed from Chechnya, East Timor, Palestine and Israel, from the perspective of the Lakota, the Maori, and the Inuit, the story of the Wired World-Without-Nations seems less compelling. In general, globalist theory does not imagine that the complex loyalties and histories that inspire national consciousness can still have a significant effect on human history — a view currently shared equally by the Left’s internationalism and Right’s multinationalism. Both view nations as obstacles to progress, and critical theory on the left is particularly apt to condemn national identity for its putative complicity in the racism, gender oppression, genocides, and wars of the past two centuries.7
Opposed to this equation of national consciousness with ideology is the view that there is more to a nation than the cynical control of a population by a bourgeois elite. For these theorists, national cultures create a flexible and tenacious form of human identity. Nations are associations of solidarity that have existed in many political forms, not only the modern nation state, and have demonstrably served powerful affective and cognitive needs of human beings. Nationalist projects derive from, and depend on, a collective sense of shared experiences, values and languages that have continued over several generations. National feeling has power because it "assures collective dignity... for populations excluded, neglected or suppressed in the distribution of values and opportunities," and it provides a way to understand and preserve identity in the face of annihilation, by transferring cultural values and practices to posterity (Smith 182). In this view, nations have existed in complex forms before they became the main legitimizing concept of the modern state.8
Nationality -- and I must emphasize that I distinguish nations from nation-states, and national consciousness from nationalism -- is a difficult concept to manage because of a duality inherent in the concept. The nationalism-nation relation is
perceived very differently by different people, since several obscure questions underlie it: Is nationalist ideology the (necessary or circumstantial) reflection of the existence of nations? Or do nations constitute themselves out of nationalist ideologies (though it may mean that these latter, having attained their ‘goal,’ are subsequently transformed?). Must the ‘nation’ itself — and naturally this question is not independent of the preceding ones — be considered as a ‘state’ or as a ‘society’ (a social formation)? (Balibar 46)
Nations have been extremely varied in their historical instances, yet they maintain certain forms of continuity and identity throughout their mutations (and these may change over time also). Among these elements of continuity are the extension of the analogy of the kinship group to a larger population that may include members who are not biologically related,9 and the further assumption that this is the basis for claims of some form of sovereignty vis à vis other populations. The kinship analogy with family creates deep conceptual problems, for people may be well aware of the analogical character of nations, yet what the analogy means can be different for different cultures at different historical moments. By the same token, political sovereignty is determined by historical tradition and the synchronic possibilities of the present. For all that, individuals who identify themselves as members of a nation consider themselves continuous with earlier generations who may have enjoyed more or less sovereignty and cultural distinctiveness than they do. (It is important here to distinguish nationality from ethnicity. For this context, nationality is essentially defined by the group itself, and it includes a claim to sovereignty, which may be prospective or retrospective. Ethnicity is attributed to others by a dominant national group or state, as a term to limit sovereignty. The dominant nation is "the people"; ethnic groups are always a people.)
Although the mutability of the concept of nation is an obstacle to the sort of clear historical taxonomy desired by social theory, one would think it should offer rich possibilities for the political imagination of science fiction. Consider a few of them: perhaps a Roma state, with no political borders, but international recognition. A powerful, modern Inuit Empire.10 Transformations of traditional cultural alliances, say a Chinese-Australian axis, or a Russian-American confederation. A China with an American political system. A technologically advanced, hegemonic Black African empire dominating the world as the US dominates it now. Two, or even three, independent Jewish states. A nation of Indian women, with its own political structure and borders. A globe in which nations cease to be territorial, operating entirely virtually, yet jealously safeguarding certain traditions. Why then has science fiction — which has been fascinated by the future influence of other aspects of social identity, like gender, race, sexual culture, class, consensus and domination — shown so little interest in the future of nationality?
It was not always so. In the heyday of the nation state at the end of the 19th century, European science fiction generally treated nations as elemental social entities, impossible to dis-imagine. Future war fiction, in particular, routinely depicted collisions between major imperial powers, a model that easily expanded into Social Darwinian fantasies of race wars, like the fashionable Yellow Peril stories.11 But war was not required. National identity was considered as significant an element of character as class, gender and profession. Verne’s protagonists, for example, are almost always identified by their various countries of origin and national stereotypes provided him with a good deal of his character motivation.12
The conventions changed with Wells. He consistently bypassed the problem of concrete representation of national identity through two formative innovations. The first was to depict the shock of the novum on the intimate, everyday social existence of English people, emphasizing the catastrophic transformations of familiar national and regional conditions rather than a global perspective. By depicting the effect of the Martian invasion on a recognizable part of the English countryside, for example, Wells represented the shock as it might be felt by a typical English reader, whose unreflective provincialism, true to the precepts of literary realism, was the best proving ground for universal humanism. Everyday conditions in the South of England stood in for the human condition. Since the invading aliens do not make national distinctions among humans, humans do so at their peril.
Wells’s other major innovation was to displace the novum into the future, where evolutionary processes are sure to produce enormous changes in human institutions. Thus the extravagantly hyperbolized "two nations" of The Time Machine are not in any politically useful way still English. Time and their own historical problems have transformed them into something so different that it is their very humanity that it questioned, not their national identity. With this move, too, Wells made his English nation into a universal model for the future of the human species. By perfecting a way of representing familiar social life either in, or impinged upon by, the future, Wells stayed loyal to the devices of circumstantial realism and evaded the potential contradictions that might arise among a universalist humanism, socialism, and the deep English national feeling.
After Wells, one finds in science fiction mainly assumptions of national naturalness (that is, the use of the author’s and public’s nation as the unreflective natural scene of the action), or the expectation that historical evolution will eventually make nations obsolete. Most decisively, the future of nations was much less a burden for the US science fiction emerging from the pulps than for European writers. The US had largely resolved its national question with the expulsion of the European colonials from its territories, the near-extermination of its aboriginal population and the establishment of economic hegemony over Latin America. Free of the anxiety about foreign invasions that marked English futuristic writing from 1871 on,13 and enjoying the steady expansion of its territory, sf from the Gernsback era on displays a barely conscious American triumphalism.
After World War II and especially the 1960s, science fiction began to imagine, as did much social theory, alternatives not only to nation states (with which it was never comfortable), but also world governments. Most striking of all, writers began to imagine the deterioration of their own societies, which disqualified even their own milieux as potential models for national futures. This spirit of political negation inspired the dramatic turn of sf everywhere: the dark visions of the English New Wave, the countercultural critiques of US fiction, the samizdat bitterness of Soviet science fiction, Japanese catastrophism, and eventually cyberpunk’s slum globe. Science fiction’s future worlds were still divided into competing polities, but existing nations or historical models were generally expunged from the megatext. Where political communities continued to operate, they were replaced by fantastic communities based on abstract principles rather than histories: Male Lands and Female Lands, utopian settlements and the capitalist multinations, Third World worlds, cultures of desire and cultures of repression.
Varieties of dis-imagining. For most of the 20th century, sf has absented nations from future history — not only the possible heirs of our present’s nations, but any imaginary variant of a community with a claim to cultural distinctiveness and political sovereignty in a system of related communities. The tactic does not always work, however. World-construction models are also world-reductions; complex cultural and political social relations may be strategically excluded from science-fictional worlds, but the unconscious dimensions of identity usually make their presence felt even in reduced designs.
Science fiction removes nations as agents or subjects of future history, and national cultures as historical forces, through five basic strategies of displacement, world-models in which national identity is disavowed: transgalacticism/transglobalism; corporate globalization; apocalyptic winnowing; biological displacement; and archaicization.
1.) Transgalacticism: The staple of space opera is the image of galactic or global political entities so vast that national differences disappear into triviality. Constructing conflicts between abstract superpowers, empires and federations, or between a hegemonic state and its abstract population, avoids the need to represent cultural specificity and national politics, and transforms history into a contest of political power justified by a superadded morality or ideology. The galactic space opera, moreover, usually converts problems of cultural variety and social evolution (two areas in which nations have played an especially important role) into matters of charismatic individual leadership.
Asimov’s original FOUNDATION trilogy (1951-53), for example, plays out a galactic history of several hundred years over millions of inhabited worlds. Although the action involves several different planets and planetary clusters, Asimov never presents them as concrete societies, only as political structures (prefectures, kingdoms, confederations, empires, etc.) whose political leaders and diplomatic legates make all their decisions without reference to cultural identity, tradition or communal solidarity. These worlds are abstract counters in the unfolding historical game between the galactic plan of the Foundations and its various dialectical antagonists. In Asimov’s vision, the great number of inhabited worlds implies a diminution of variety, rather than an increase. Like some form of statistical gravity, the multitude of individual cases is drawn into an overarching pattern of metahistorical uniformity.
For the Asimovian galactic history, cultural or national specificity is irrelevant. Only the abstract historical stages of social progress matter for the Plan, and only the individual agents who emerge to facilitate or to block the Plan matter for the plot. The spiral mechanism of ever-more comprehensive stages of development is ultimately interrupted not by a politics emerging from distinct historical traditions, but by a hyperbolically charismatic individual, The Mule. Based on the model of Hitler as evil persuader, the Mule has the power to turn individual humans’ motives to his own ends, substituting for the historical necessity of the Plan his own personal power. The Mule, however, is a mutant, a homeless galactic cosmopolitan, unlike Hitler, whose connection with German national culture and history was not incidental to his power. In Asimov’s galactic system, national cultures and identity are, as God was for Laplace, unnecessary hypotheses.
In the 1960s and after, space operas became much more interested in cultural differences among worlds. Yet even here the cultures were embodiments of abstract principles rather than complex historical societies. Le Guin’s Hainish novels, for instance, were exemplary at the time for their realism, yet the many cultures of the Ekumen were clearly, and unapologetically, tendentious. New mutations of space opera have recently appeared from Samuel R. Delany (The Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand), Eleanor Arnason (Ring of Swords), Iain Banks (The Culture novels, especially Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, and The Bridge) , and Dan Simmons (The Hyperion Cantos, Endymion) among others, each of which shares a deep suspicion of Western conceptions of culture, but also ambivalence about the legitimacy of any culture’s values.
Simmons’s Hyperion (1989) is especially interesting in this context. Simmons consciously models his transgalactic polity as a version — a dispersed replay, in fact — of earthly human history. The galaxy is replete with colonies and protectorates — "sixteen thousand known human societies," "one hundred seventy six Webworlds, two-hundred some colonial protectorates, eight thousand explored planets" (67), linked by several kinds of matter-transmission technology, under the umbrella of the galactic government that is explicitly named the Hegemony. Each colony has a dominant culture characteristic of a historical human community: there is Hebron, a planet for the Jews, there in Barnard’s World, an academic corn-desert imitating the 19th century American midwest, there is Qom-Riyadh, the home of the New Order Shiites, and so on. Human collectives are descended from terrestrial communities that once migrated from the now-defunct Old Earth. So close are the lines of descent, that Simmons actually invokes the anachronistic problems of national identity. For example, one of the central protagonists, Fedmahn Kassad is the child of the star-crossed earthly people known as Palestinians:
... he and his family lived in the slums of Tharsis, human testimony to the bitter legacy of the terminally dispossessed. Every Palestinian in the Worldweb and beyond carried the cultural memory of a century of struggle capped by a month of nationalist triumph before the Nuclear Jihad or 2038 wiped it all away. Then came their Second Diaspora, this one lasting five centuries and leading to dead-end desert worlds like Mars, their dream buried with the death of Old Earth. (116)
The Palestinians suffer from homelessness, deserts, refugee camps, slums — the same historical stalemate after 2538 (the date of the novel’s action) as in 1982.
Simmons’s transgalactic order is a deliberate pastiche of human history; each commune, each person, each military campaign, each brand of beer, is merely an evocation of now-mythic earthly history. Surprising grotesque combinations occur — like Zen Gnosticism, New Order Shia, etc. — but these are merely combinations of ancient elements. By the novel’s end, the Consul, most attractive of the protagonists, admits he has joined the hated enemies of the Hegemony, the Ousters, who have been able to create new things only because they have escaped the cultural system of the Hegemony.
Hyperion is a self-reflective space opera, a premier example of the classic genre’s postmodern mutation.14 Its theme is space opera itself, and the difficulty of imagining histories and cultures different from our own. Versions of our present nations appear five centuries from now because the Hegemony’s population is incapable of beginning anything new. Yet, ironically, in this novel about the tiredness of the idea of nations and traditional groups, Simmons creates an image of something he doubts: an imaginary nation. One of his worlds, Maui-Covenant, is in some ways merely a simulated Polynesian island, whose original charter was to "save the dolphins" from extinction on Earth. Simmons transforms this New Age cliché into a rich culture in which humans, dolphins, and "motile isles" — living islands that move themselves with "treesails" and gather nutriment from the oceans with enormous root systems — have formed a "Covenant of Life." The Maui-Covenanters invent new technologies to integrate themselves more deeply into their conscious, common ecosphere.
Maui-Covenant is also a pastiche world: part Japan, part Hawaii, part Samoa. But, perhaps unintentionally, Simmons populates it with exactly the kinds of social, political, and ecological factors that lead to a collective awareness of distinctiveness and sovereignty. It is telling that it is the destruction of this culture by the Hegemony, after years of resistance struggles, that inspires the Consul to betray his system, and to side with the Ousters. Couched deep in Simmons’s glib and showy science fiction is an threnody for an imaginary national culture.
2.) Corporate Globalization. In the world system dear to cyberpunk and tech noir the powers of the state have been usurped by profit-driven corporations, while the functions of communal solidarity have been reduced to the level of weak local and professional groups -- gangs, squats, hackers, black-marketeers, indentured laborers, etc. In space-based futures, the newly colonized planets, asteroids, and space stations are owned and run as industries by private monopolies in dark partnerships with world governments.
In cyberpunk especially, the concept of nation, with its implication of some historical homogeneity through time, has been made obsolete by the dramatic heterogeneity of human, primarily urban, society. There is no national community to legitimize a state, nor is there a state that might consolidate a national constituency. The privileged setting for all significant action in the future is the postmodern metropolis, which behaves as a self-operating city state, rather than a national center. (There are almost too many of these teeming, culturally polyglot metropoli to list. The most influential by far was the Los Angeles of 2019 in Riddley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); soon to be followed by William Gibson’s BAMA (Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Area) Sprawl (in Neuromancer ; Count Zero ; and Mona Lisa Overdrive , dozens of Japglish New Tokyos in anime, the monstrous New Yorks and Moscows of Jack Womack’s Ambient (1987) and Terraplane (1988), and the centrifugal Southern California of Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992).)15
In the corporatized world, legitimacy and identity themselves are made dramatically problematic, since the source of the global corporations’ power is their technological manipulation of consciousness and physical integrity. The body politic seems to dissolve as the human physical body is constantly destabilized. Solidarity with others is extremely tentative and limited, since personal identity — i.e., solidarity with oneself — becomes unmanageably fluid. On the corporate globe, self-identification with a territory becomes problematic when physical space becomes virtualized; with religion, when states of consciousness can be artificially induced; and with history, when memory and perception can be manipulated in the brain. The global corporations thus trade in the destruction of traditions and cultures, and all those feelings of continuity and solidarity that require a sense of integration with a society larger than one’s mortal self. Where space opera was particularly congenial for the displacement of superpower relations, the virtualized metropolis of cyberpunk aptly displaces contemporary globalization.
For cyberpunk writers, the problem of imagining a role for nations in the future is more difficult than for space-operators or archaicizers. Cyberpunk aims to depict the deterioration of the conditions of the present, and nation-states are exemplary forms of human community (and one might say of historical complacency, ripe for attack) in the present. This concern has inspired some unusually respectful responses to nationality. As the near-future of corporate globalization becomes realized, nations and nation-states come to represent bases for resistance. It is in this vein that William Gibson, in an afterword written for the Hungarian translation of Neuromancer (and alluded to in the Ace hardback Anniversary edition in English ), seemed to apologize to the peoples of Eastern Europe for not prophesying the collapse of the Soviet Union.16 Bruce Sterling has also treated nations as important components of his near-future novels, especially Holy Fire (1996), in which the literally rejuvenated heroine sojourns in a futuristic Europe. The novel shows some canny foresight; for example, all European countries and their languages are referred to by their own national names. Prague is now Praha everywhere, Milan is Milano, Finland is Suomi, Germany is Deutschland, Hungarian is Magyar, etc. But in the end, Holy Fire is not truly about politics and nations, but about generation-gaps and styles. Sterling’s Europe is invisible except for its bohemians, the only group in European society that Sterling considers significant: the artists and beatniks of the various style-capitals, and gypsies, the Ur-bohemians. In his representation of the Roma Sterling reveals that he is not truly imagining nations, not even the nation of the gypsies with whom he shows much sympathy. The novel depicts an idealized stereotype, who, in a longevity- and nanotech saturated future still behave as they are perceived to behave in any Hungarian or German country market of 1996 — essentially parasitical on the urban population, happy in the cracks of the health- and self-consciousness system, models of "vividness" in their mobility and naturalness. Needless to say, there is no consideration of the political dimension of Roma self-awareness, a matter which a European sf writer would immediately question, since the demographic and political changes in Europe’s future will certainly involve the political status and collective cultural identity of the Roma to a degree not dissimilar to the importance of African-American political and cultural status in US politics. Sterling, however, requires only model bohemians for an over-regulated world.
3.) Apocalyptic winnowing - In the apocalyptic catastrophe subgenre, a small fraction of humanity survives the near-annihilation of the species. The survivors are deprived of the conditions of civilization — mainly other people with whom they might co-operate and re-establish complex social relationships and institutions. Typically, they degenerate into tribes. The genre often treats this reduction of human civilization as a form of historical purification, or at least an opportunity to begin the civilizing process again from scratch.
The exemplary text of this genre is George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949), which depicts in stages the slow recovery of humanity after it is nearly annihilated by an unidentified plague. Stewart traces the steps of social evolution from the isolation of a tiny number of individual survivors, to their bonding in nuclear families, co-operation among families, the establishment of taboos and the first violent constitutive acts of the state. The families’ descendants establish a quasi-Native American tribal culture that transforms what little scientific knowledge it remembers into lore about powerful ancestors, a Nietzschean forgetting elegiacally approved by Stewart. The emphasis in most fictions of apocalyptic winnowing is less on the character of the purifying catastrophe (we never learn whether the plague of Earth Abides was an irresistible natural disease or a consequence of technology), than on the new conditions for human social evolution. The implication is that nations historically emerge from large populations that depend on technology to satisfy their basic social needs, eventually attaching more value to their techniques than to the relationships between humans and the world that those techniques were developed to mediate.
This genre seems to be have a particular affinity with the West Coast of the U.S., where ties to European and Asian historical traditions are loose, and where a certain mythology of ecotopian harmony embodied in extinct aboriginal Native American cultures has popular currency. Perhaps the most important exemplar of apocalyptic winnowing is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (1985) (a work with interesting connections with Stewart’s neglected masterpiece).17
Always Coming Home is an ambitious metafictional experiment. Le Guin braids many different genres of telling, from the committedly anti-narrative anthologization of the Kesh people’s folktales and songs, to an elegant and straightforward first-person narrative of a mixed-nation girl, Stone Telling. As she grows, Stone Telling moves through the society of her mother, the pastoral Na Valley people (who include the Kesh), to the tribe of her father, the patriarchal and hierarchical warrior society of the Condor people, ultimately to return to the Kesh with a full appreciation of their peaceable culture.
The novel is set in a future California that has been completely reconfigured by geological cataclysms. Millions perished at the time, but the survivors reinvented social structures and cultures, and have now passed their traditions down for generations. The Na Valley culture is based on a composite of certain aboriginal Native American cultures; the people are organized in a complex of clans and voluntary associations, they grow crops and herd animals, they celebrate seasonal festivals and perform customary rituals, and for the most part remain in the valley, communicating mainly with other valley towns. On the whole, their lives are peaceful; their culture is humorous, down to earth, and unflappably tolerant. In an interesting, and problematic, twist, Le Guin shores up the post-catastrophe Californian utopians by allowing them access to certain kinds of technology inherited from the old tech days (like solar powered looms), as well as to a network of artificial intelligence devices that act as dispassionate libraries for all who request information from them. Since this network also has stations on other planets, we must assume that there are pre-catastrophe human colonies in space that either have no interest in returning to the Earth or are unable to do so. However, they probably possess a lot of pre-catastrophe tech that the terrestrial communities could learn about; apparently none of them do.
Opposite the pastoralists are the warlike Dayao, the People of the Condor. Where the Kesh are tolerant and anarchistic pagans, with no gender or political hierarchies, the Condor people are exaggeratedly monotheistic, violently patriarchal, and organized in slave-holding warrior societies that oppress women of all classes. While the Kesh are generally literate, the Dayao forbid writing to all but the male elite. The Kesh live in a loose association of villages and cultivate their cultures locally, while the Dayao centralize every aspect of their culture: in their leader (the Condor himself), their State, and their central capital City. The Kesh are, of course, historically unambitious and easy-going; the Dayao are imperialists.
In terms of our discussion, Le Guin pits not only two diametrically opposed cultures against one another, clearly favoring the pastoralists over the warriors. She also pits a people who share loose kinship associations and cultural practices against a group that has organized itself into an abstract state. The Dayao have identified with their totem rather than their region, and they have codified all their cultural practices. They have become identified with the City, engineering, and the war machine. While the Kesh are glad to be without history (they speak of the historical period of humanity as the time "when they lived outside the world" ), the Condor men are establishing their one true transcendental narrative.
The book is self-consciously utopian in many ways — and Le Guin plays with contradictions openly, occasionally with irony. Yet at the heart of Always Coming Home is an ideological antagonism that is simplistic even in the utopian tradition: between the localistic, clan-based Kesh society where power is distributed in a myriad ways, and is essentially peaceful, harmonious, skillful in managing conflict, and jealous of its smallness; and a hierarchical, patriarchal, racist, militaristic, monotheistic society representing the zero-degree of the modern, scientific state. In terms of the future of nations, Always Coming Home presents the simplest possible view: there are immanentist, ecofriendly communes, who do not permit themselves to even think of themselves as distinct political entities, and there are centralizing, transcendentalist, self-aggrandizing proto-national states.
4.) Biological displacement - With biological displacement, science fiction elides the distinction between national culture and race, and allows the political-cultural problems of nationality and ethnicity to slip into the context of racial difference. It does this through the depiction of the alien.
The alien is one of science fiction’s most important contributions to mythopoeisis. It is the nexus of the science-fictional societies’ barely avowed, and often wholly disavowed, feelings about human relationships that deviate from cultural norms. Yet for all the freedom the alien provides the science fiction writer, it is constrained by a fundamental ambivalence in almost all its manifestations. The alien is ontologically other only by virtue of its being biologically other.
Aliens’ biological relations to humans are most often depicted as a nebulous kind of species difference, and thereby, in the case of humanoid aliens with cultures of their own, science fiction performs much the same imaginary sleight-of-hand as the concept of race. It permits the dominant members of a culture to see aspects of themselves objectified in others, while also disavowing them, by placing the others beyond a non-negotiable, essential line of separation. As a result, human national-political, ethnic, class and gender differences are distanced beyond mediating human institutions. Rapprochement is possible only accompanied by the anxiety that differences may prove to be intractable and even dangerous; or at the risk of violating a taboo about which the central protagonists are deeply ambivalent, and the audience is ontologically confused. Is difference between an alien and a human being a fundamental one that prevents interbreeding, as in animal biology, and, by analogy, the exchange of desires and projects? Are the human institutions that have to do with relations across biological generations — family, clan, gender, nation — biologically exclusive, or merely culturally circumscribed?
Race insinuates the model of species difference into relations among members of the human species. It purports to name qualities deeper than expression, and consequently deeper than culture and politics. Race implies forces that cannot be examined in oneself, and yet which may manifest themselves at any time. The insidiousness of race lies precisely in this precondition for its being imagined at all, lying beneath all conscious articulations, all sharing of premises, all decisions. When race is in play, it implies that nature supersedes culture.
Anxiety over sexual power and purity underlies most articulations of alien-human contacts, as it does most conceptions of race. Aliens permit the anxiety to be exaggerated or refined in fantastic displacements. From the Bug-Eyed Monsters absconding with Anglo-blondes on the covers of the pulps and C.L. Moore’s Medusa-like alien-lover in "Shambleau" (1933), to the incarnations of erotic repression, the Phi-creatures, of Lem’s Solaris and the cosmos-inseminating monoliths of 2001, the alien has always disturbed the deep-lying connection between biology and human culture. Popular forms of sf are often explicit about it. The various Star Trek series, for example, have taken this anxiety and ambivalence as an overarching theme, since their medium permits them to revisit alien contacts in many forms. ST is particularly concerned with ambivalence of trans-national/trans-racial/trans-species erotic desire. Over the years the series have depicted hundreds of alien-human romances and flirtations. The task has been made simple by Gene Roddenberry’s initial decision to employ the theory of panspermia, that life throughout the universe derives from the same source and is inclined to the same sorts of evolutionary developments of morphology.18 Alien-human relations are central to ST, but it lacks any definition of alienness. Many important characters are the offspring of mixed-species unions.19 If the morphological and physiological differences between alien species do not prevent physical union and communication with humans, are the aliens actually analogies for different nations, whose alienness is a matter of culture and history? The biological differences of aliens from humans appear to be significant, but there is no telling how significant. While ST attempts to figure tolerance by displacing racial difference onto alien-human difference, it reproduces the very confusion that inspires confusion about race among real humans, conflating cultural difference with putative natural difference.20
Eleanor Arnason’s Ring of Swords represents an original subversion of this complex of ambiguities. Arnason brings humans, expanding through the galaxy much like Federation units from Star Trek, into collision with an alien warrior species, known as the hwarhath, who are doing much the same thing. The hwarhath are so familiar from the sf-megatext that their first appearance seems faintly parodistic. They are tall, fur-covered males, with flat faces, blue eyes, and bar-pupils — traits that combine elements of Star Wars’s wookies, future simians from Planet of the Apes, and highly evolved goats. They also adhere to a complex code of warrior honor and are strictly homosexual. In this, too, they bear an almost too-close resemblance to terrestrial warrior societies, especially samurai and the Freikorps. They are similar enough to be distorted mirror images of the human, like almost any television extraterrestrial, but with a twist.
The narrative seduces the reader to assume that the hwarhath are less complex than humans because they have excluded women, and presumably families, from their culture — and not incidentally, the zone of inter-gender contact where the anxieties about race come to the fore. At first, we assume that the aliens probably reproduce themselves artificially or through the enslavement of women, as in the various Manlands of feminist dystopian fiction. The sexual element of alien-human contact comes unusually quickly to the foreground, however, in the relationship between Nick Sanders, a human "traitor," and a Etin Gwarha, a hwarhath general. To complicate matters, Sanders had no homosexual history before his liaison with Gwarha, and so cannot be considered somehow "naturally" drawn to the hwarhath sexual culture. This twist also skews the conventional subtext of alien-human erotic connections. The contact (with its displaced referent of cultural interaction and communication) is deviant by both terrestrial and hwarhath standards (who have not accorded full ontological status to human beings); consequently, the connection remains marginal and cannot be turned to either species’s advantage. Since no reproduction is involved, there is no contest about power to control reproduction. The contact between the species must apparently be defined either in terms of competing forms of biological male dominance-behavior (complicated by the evident lack of hwarhath females to dominate), or explicitly as cultural difference.
The sexual connection between Nick and Gwarha excludes the vexed female term from the relationship between species. Anna, the human female who acts as the reader’s surrogate in the action, at first appears to be the potential romantic center (one of Arnason’s many deft manipulations of reader’s expectations), and gradually comes to be seen as the outsider, barred from the culture/biology ambivalence by the femaleness that would normally in science fiction put her in the middle of it. As the action progresses, readers realize that instead of suppressing the female, Arnason’s situation frees Anna to act as a cultural go-between with the hwarhath women, who, it turns out, are the central governors of moral-cultural values of the aliens and their human enemies. Through Anna and the hwarhath women, the aliens are shown to be diverse in traditions, regional histories, dialects and interpretations of the dominant codes. Arnason thus subverts the traditional value-hierarchy associated with nationality, i.e., a norm-enforcing patriarchy (or fratriarchy) dominating the reproductive power of women like Le Guin’s Condor people. Among the hwarhath, cultural consciousness is of such a high order that it guides the morality of its members — and it is the women who control physical reproduction and the politics of sexual union, as well as the strategic, prophylactic separation of the genders. The hwarhath women ensure the species survival of their own nations, and not incidentally that of human beings.
By playing with the expectations of sexual ambivalence and the racialization of aliens, Arnason shows she is aware of the confusion that biological displacement brings to questions of culture-contact. Although in Ring of Swords the concept of nation and national culture has been displaced into a biologically different species, Arnason prevents the association of aliens with race, bringing the question of communication among conscious, self-defining traditional cultures with claims to both political and personal autonomy, to the fore.
5.) Archaicization. - In its long tradition of archaicization, science fiction represents tightly integrated social groups organized in anachronistic structures. Some of these groups have maintained their structures against historical change through physical isolation (consciously, as in Mennonites of Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow , or by accidents of history, like the benighted planet Arkanar in the Strugatskys’ Hard to be a God ); others have adopted archaic forms in reaction to modernity or its collapse. This category sometimes overlaps with apocalyptic winnowing, for the human remainder in the latter category more often than not is depicted returning to archaic, usually tribal social forms.
Arguably, settled societies in the age of space-travel, mass diasporas, and technologies of identity must be archaic to some degree, because their interactions are too slow and local to have any effect on the pace and scope of the fiction’s dominant world. Science fiction is fond of societies that operate by rules associated with primitive cultures — from the lost races (isolated in the past as well as in space), quasi-Native Americans and frontier space-stations, toga-clad utopians and Amazons in military societies, all the way to contemporary science fiction’s fascination with aboriginal cultures and the voodoo deities that populate Gibson’s cyberspace. Archaicized science fiction societies are not usually intentional allegories for nationality; they function mainly to limn the contours of the imaginary modernity of most science fiction. Very rarely does an archaic quasi-nation flourish at the end of an science fiction tale — and almost never does it seriously influence any aspect of the world order. An important exception is the Tribe of Lost Children of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), an inspired depiction of a post-holocaust cargo cult and an homage to Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980).21 The tribe of children forces Max to fulfill their prophetic myth by returning them to the desolate city of Tomorry-morry Land. The film ends with the tribal fires on the roofs of Sydney’s "high-scrapers," implying that the tribe may yet repopulate the waste land with fidelity and honor, and defeat Barterown’s world of primal capitalism and pigshit Underworld.
One of science fiction’s very rare experiments in linking the future of nationality with archaic societies is Mike Resnick’s Kirinyaga (1998). In a series of linked stories, Kirinyaga depicts the settling and eventual decline of a pre-modern East African culture, the Kikuyu, in the artificial environment of a biospheric satellite. The Kirinyaga colony’s spiritual leader, the mundumugu (shaman) Koriba, is a Western-educated intellectual who has repudiated modernity, and the "artificial tribe known only as Kenyans" (21). Koriba maintains cultural purity by insisting that only pre-modern practices be followed, even when comfort, health and personal dignity suffer. The mundumugu recounts the hopes and gradual dissolution of the experiment in elegant moral fables.
Kirinyaga is striking not so much for its emulation of African storytelling style in the context of science fiction, but for the original way it reproduces the contradictions that have characterized the depiction of utopia since More. At the outset, the Kirinyaga colony attempts to re-establish a traditional culture by simulating its territorial conditions on an earth-orbiting satellite. Not only is the pure Kikuyu culture protected from modernity by the hyper-modernity of "Maintenance," the meta-utopian administration of the satellite. The Kikuyu culture, with its myths and fables intimately associated with Kenyan geography, and its desire "to live as one with the land" (93-4), is reproduced in physically de-territorialized form, floating in space.
The fundamental problem for the Kirinyagan Kikuyu is that their culture is a simulation far more artificial than the supposed artificiality of the multi-ethnic modern nation state of Kenya. They attempt to preserve their traditions and sovereignty in isolation from the very history in which their original national culture developed. To achieve its sovereignty, Kirinyaga has to accept conditions of dependency far greater Kenya’s. Land, weather, seasons, and all other natural forces that influence the concrete material culture are simulated by Maintenance. Moreover, the desire for cultural purity is in bad faith, since the mundumugu is the sole possessor, not only of Kikuyu lore, but of the programming code that allows him to communicate with Maintenance and to administer the weather. The culture therefore becomes an emanation of a single individual’s will, rather than the adaptive, organic evolution of practices. The mundumugu pretends to administer magically, but in fact he depends on the technocenter’s co-operation with him. Not even the language of Kirinyaga is authentic, since Koriba makes no attempt to impose the use of Kikuyu, which he considers a dead language. Swahili is used instead — a language whose status as the lingua franca of East Africa is arguably quite as artificial as the modern nation-state.
Kirinyaga, in sum, is more dependent on the powers that operate Maintenance than the Kikuyu ever were on the British. In fact, if there is a utopia in Kirinyaga, it is the invisible society that is willing to create the conditions for a social experiment on such a scale, and for so little evident reward. If the world were truly sufficiently corrupt to warrant the restoration of Kikuyu cultural purity, it would long ago have used the Kirinyaga biosphere for more corrupt economic and political purposes.
Resnick wishes to show his respect for the Kikuyu culture, and Kirinyaga is an attempt to construct an elegy for such organic cultures in the medium of sf — an unprecedented attempt at synthesizing the archaic and the hyper-modern. These pre-modern nations are noble, he seems to say, but not viable. There is a conscious moral: every nation that withdraws from the world-system will eventually want to rejoin it at the expense of its historical traditions, and it will not create new culture of its own. Nations are necessarily doomed. But there are unconscious morals as well: national consciousness is the work of powerful individuals who act in bad faith; nationality deprived of territory is a matter of empty symbols only; traditional culture is always pure, and purity cannot survive under modern conditions.
The pleasure in the depiction of Kirinyaga’s nobly doomed Kikuyu derives from the containment of the archaic, the spiritual, and the cultural, within the narrative and the story just as in the satellite. Our sympathies are very much with the narrator, despite his acts of bad faith and his rigidity, because the modern world is already a failed experiment. The reader is left with the feeling of noble spectatorship, as a dignified experiment in removing oneself from the pettiness of bourgeois Western history fails. One almost hesitates to ask why Maintenance, so generous with its satellite biospheres, seems to have done nothing to improve the Earth.
Kirinyaga is unique in its careful focus on an archaic nation’s imaginary point of view. But it is of a piece with those metropolitan science fictions that idealize archaic societies at the moment they insure the conditions of their destruction. Missing from both is the concept of a nation that is collectively committed to sovereignty and also creatively impure.
The Japanese Future. Although works and writers have emerged that at least wonder about the dis-imagining of nationality, the general trend in recent years has been in the opposite direction. The collapse of Communist governments brought with it the collapse of state-subsidized non-commercial science fiction in Eastern Europe. Translations of American pulp science fiction have inundated the markets, and with them the image of American-inspired multinational capitalist hegemony. It has become so difficult to sell science fiction written by nationals, that in Hungary, for instance, the most successful Hungarian writers feel compelled to use English-sounding pen-names.22
In Japan, this de-nationalization of science fiction has perhaps gone furthest. It is well-known that manga (comics) and anime ( animation based on manga-style graphics), of which science fiction is a primary genre, traditionally downplay specifically Japanese features, and employ highly exaggerated stylization of European, especially Anglo-American, elements. Characters’ faces and bodies bear little trace of Asian appearance, and settings are usually urban spaces in which English street- and shop-signs are at least as common as Japanese.23 The sf stories usually have no concrete connection with Japanese history or contemporary social life; in science fiction genres of anime conflicts are always in some transglobal non-place with no specificity, combining elements of Asian and U.S. metropoli.
Similarly, Japanese science fiction employs cyborgs with obsessive regularity. Central protagonists are often robots or cyborgs, and the futuristic cities they inhabit are so wired that they are cyborgized in their own right. Japanese science fiction rarely presents the cyborg state as inherently negative; it may inspire ambivalence, but rarely condemnation. For every bad cyborg there is a surplus of good ones. The cyborg is, as Donna Haraway has written, not a creature of nature. Its origin is always in question, and whatever its first state was, it was never purely biological. By the same token, it does not reproduce itself biologically. It does not provide origins. Cyborgs are by definition not linked to traditions, to families and clans, and to traditional nations. They are separated from any organic community (for their membership can only be virtual and artificial),24 and the proliferation of positive cyborgs in Japanese anime marks not only a fascination with high-technology, but also an attempt to imagine what personal identity might be like after the full deconstruction of traditional communal loyalties.
Many, if not most, of sf-anime’s cyborg protagonists are beautiful women (also with stylized non-Japanese features) who are inevitably displayed with exaggerated sexual allure. Inevitably, these female cyborgs become concerned about romance and reproduction, which would also reproduce traditional quasi-biological communities. In some cases, as in Armitage III: Poly-Matrix (1997), the most advanced female-form cyborg series is endowed with the ability to mate with human males. In The Ghost in the Shell (1996), on the other hand, the cyborg heroine is "impregnated" by another cyborg, raising the prospect of the displacement of human cultural and social reproduction into a cyborg nation.
Japanese science fiction is characterized by a marrow-deep ambivalence about postmodernity. It is, in a sense, in a unique position in the current world system: it is one of the most recently colonized post-colonial nations and was also, by the end of World War II, the most advanced pre-modern one. The contemporary Japanese state, for all its global economic power, is inherited from the structure imposed on the Japanese by the American victors after World War II. Masao Miyoshi has argued that the Japanese nation state constructed by the colonizers was a counterfeit, "having neither a discrete history nor logic that would convince the newly independent citizens of its legitimacy or authenticity" (80). In the case of Japan, American "nation building" imposed what Westerners considered to be the culmination of political evolution on a society whose historical logic was completely different and of no less ancient pedigree. Defeated into Western modernity, the Japanese were forced to imagine a future that was not truly theirs, yet which they would have to embody.
In Miyoshi’s terms, after independence Japan "had to renegotiate the conditions of the nation state in which they were to reside thereafter" (81). The renegotiating occurred in a fairly secure manner, at least as far as the political sphere was concerned, largely because Japan was forbidden by the victors from maintaining an armed forces or intervening militarily on foreign soil. The substitution of a Western nation state for an organic Japanese nation was reflected in Japanese science fiction, the caretaker of the popular images of the future, through a pervasive sense of destruction. The Godzilla films’ regular destruction of modern Japanese cities was one side of it;25 another side was the most popular Japanese science fiction novel of the 1970s, Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks (1973) which tells of the destruction of the Japanese islands in a precisely rendered volcanic cataclysm. From this perspective, the de-nationalization of characters and settings in manga might be taken as another depiction of the destruction of national identity.
An interesting turn may be taking place, however, in Japanese science fiction, to reclaim, if not Japanese nationalism, then a sense of national identity as a theme in science fiction. I would like to discuss two, perhaps unlikely, examples of this national turn, Masato Harada’s Gunhed (1996), a rare live-action version of a popular science fiction manga of the same name, and Patlabor 2 (1995), an anime made by Mamoru Oshii just before making Ghost in the Shell.
Gunhed is in most respects a derivative cyberpunk entertainment, imitating tech noir action films like James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). A crew of professional scavengers composed of Japanese and American roughnecks who speak Japglish with each other flies to an artificial Pacific island, where a rogue computer, Kyron 5, has linked up with other mega-computers elsewhere to take control of the world and eliminate humanity. The crusty scavengers are picked off one by one by gruesome cyber-weapons, until only a Japanese protagonist, paradoxically called Brooklyn, and a sultry gaijin Texas Ranger, Tex, are left intact. It becomes Brooklyn’s job to rebuild a demolished AI-enhanced transformer-tank, a Gunhed, and to fight his way with it past the robotic defense systems to the Kyron 5 core. Although most of the action follows the ritualized episodic pattern of mecha (sf-anime that fetishizes robotic weapons-systems), Brooklyn’s role is unusual. Even though he is handsome and athletic, his manliness is in doubt. He can’t drive a tank or a fly a plane at the outset, he pops cheroots of carrot between his lips instead of cigarettes like his macho cohort, and he is regularly mocked for his wimpiness by the beautiful Tex, who wears black leather and a dominatrix’s smirk. Left with no more support than one of the skillful and agile child-companions found on the artificial island, Brooklyn is encouraged by the increasingly-chatty Gunhed to take command of the tank. Before revving up, Brooklyn dons a Japanese World War II pilot’s helmet, and wears it until his victory, which is decided when he takes possession of the phallic control-crystal of the Kyron 5. In the final scene, as they fly off escaping the exploding island, the now kittenish Tex asks, "do you want to drive?", and puts Brooklyn in the driver’s seat.
Though there is little to praise in the plot, Brooklyn’s character development is an allegory worthy of attention. The sole true Japanese male in the film begins as a decidedly un-macho vegetarian, with a non-Japanese name and with no phallic control at all. By the end, after taking control of the Gunhed (an over-the-top Freudian redundancy if there ever was one) and affecting the style of the last modern Japanese warrior, he is rewarded by the gaijin dominatrix with the drive-shaft, while she relaxes into feminine passivity for him. In the final shot, Brooklyn pops another carotin cheroot between his lips, signifying that for all his new-found spunk, he is still a vegetarian.
Camped up as it is, Gunhed nonetheless tells a tale of the social unconscious. Japanese machismo was utterly stifled by the externally imposed proscription against establishing an armed forces. Brooklyn, whose identity is American-derived, comes into his own when he takes responsibility for his technology and uses force to defend the world. His American anima, who may have only been encouraging him with her prickly irony and seductive style, gladly gives him back his power — which, we know, a carrot eater will not abuse.
In more artistic and serious form, this same tale is retold in Oshii’s Patlabor 2. Like the Gunhed, a Patlabor is an AI-enhanced robot warrior, used by the Japanese police forces of the near-future. The Patlabors and their creators are impressed into an unusual police action after Tokyo comes under attack by unknown forces. At first, it appears Americans are responsible; even when this is disproved, the American forces make clear that they will intervene if social order is not restored in Japan. Under this threat to sovereignty from the former occupiers, and to internal peace by the unidentified terrorists, the Patlabor crew discover that the true source is Tsuge, the designer of the Patlabors, and a former, highly honored Japanese officer who was forced to watch his unit of Patlabors destroyed during a UN peacekeeping mission, when he was forbidden by the UN commander to engage in combat.
As Michael Fisch writes in his important article, "Nation, War, and Japan’s Future in the Science Fiction Anime Film Patlabor II," Oshii’s film intervenes in a national debate about the proper role of the Japanese military following the Gulf War. Oshii makes clear visual allusions to this quandary between the disarmed, wealthy and contented status quo, in which the Japanese are prevented from taking responsibility for their international role by an externally imposed constitutional prohibition, and the possible need to discard the neo-colonial arrangement, and to "renegotiate" Japanese participation in world government. Particularly striking in Patlabor 2 is the subtle and gradual transformation of the graphic imagery in the film. As the police heroine, Nagumo, who was once the antagonist’s favorite student and lover, approaches his headquarters on an abandoned platform in Tokyo Bay, her appearance becomes less and less gaijin, and the public inscriptions and signs are all in Japanese. As she approaches the provoker of Japanese national consciousness, whom she respects despite his violence, the art itself becomes more markedly Japanese. In the final scene, as Nagumo handcuffs Tsuge, he grasps her black gloved hands in his white gloved ones, in an image of Asian complementarity of opposites: white hands holding black, simultaneously in manacles and a handclasp of friendship. As Fisch notes, the ending is disturbingly ambivalent. But graphically, the message is clearer: the national element is affirmed.
Who Imagines the Future? It is difficult to imagine something that one does not care about. It is safe to say that science fiction writers living in the major nations, the "vanguards of technohistory," have little interest in the future of smaller and less central nations, and in response the elites of those nations will have less and less interest in their own, seeing themselves as internationals or singleton multinationals. It is also safe to say that tens of millions of people will move across borders of nation states and find their loyalties divided, and their vision of the future clouded. More and more it will seem that only the techno-historical center will have a future. It is unclear whether the writers and readers of the less central nations, with languages that do not have the ear of power, and histories locked in those languages, will wish to use the tools of science fiction — which are perhaps precisely the tools of hegemony — to imagine worlds in which their descendants will have a role. So far we have seen only the science fiction futures of the nations that think they are empires. We must wait to see whether the nations who think they are nations will imagine different futures.
1. Adapting Philippe Hamon’s and Christine Brooke-Rose’s notion of a megatext (an encompassing encyclopedia of common-knowledge implied by a given fictional text), Damien Broderick uses the term sf-megatext for the network of intertextual connections that link the devices and themes of sf works with each other. Sf contrasts with most genres in the extensiveness of these cross-references. See Broderick, Reading By Starlight. Postmodern Science Fiction. London: Routledge, 1995. 57-63.
2. The absence of concrete speculations on the future of possible democracies is striking, given that most of the sf produced in the world originates in the U.S. Aside from a few satirical visions, like Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1952), only Robert Heinlein explored carefully potential variations of democratic practice. The contemporary exception is Bruce Sterling, whose Islands in the Net (1988), Holy Fire (1996), and especially Distraction (1998) pay detailed attention to the way a democracy might work in the future. In an article written in 1983, H. Bruce Franklin studied 52 U.S. sf films from 1970 to 1982 (stopping just before the release of Blade Runner) for their vision of the U.S.’s political future. Franklin writes: "Not one of these 52 movies shows a functioning democracy in the future." ("Don’t Look Where We’re Going: The Vision of the Future in Science-Fiction Films, 1970-82." Science Fiction Studies 10:1 [March 1083] p. 72.) Since cyberpunk and tech noir had not yet appeared on the screen when the article was published, we can only assume that the situation has worsened since then.
3.Gellner’s main statement is Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983). For relevant concrete case studies, see his "Tribalism and State in the Middle East" in Philip S. Khouri and Joseph Kostiner, ed. Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East (Berkeley: U California P, 1990) pp. 109-126, and "Nationalism in the Vacuum" in Alexander J. Motyl, ed. Thinking Theoretically about Soviet Nationalities. (NY: Columbia UP, 1995), pp. 243-254.
4. See especially Anderson, Chapter 3, "The Origins of National Consciousness," pp.37-46.
5.Francis Fukuyama. The End of History and the Last Man (NY: The Free Press, 1992). p. 298.
Fukuyama bases his analysis of nationalism and nationality solely on Gellner’s work.
6.Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1996) is the most engaging and influential text on transnational flows and the erosion of the nation state. See also Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization. The Human Consequence. NY: Columbia UP, 1999); Mike Featherstone, ed. Global Culture. Nationalism, Globalization, and Modernity (London: Sage, 1990); Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake, ed. Global/Local. Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1996), and Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi, ed. The Cultures of Globalization (Durham NC: Duke UP, 1998).
7. See Mike Featherstone, "Localism, Globalism, and Cultural Identity" in Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake, ed. Global/Local. Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1996) 46-77; Eric Hobsbawm. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (Cambridge UK: Cambridge UP, 1990); Russel R. Berman’s cogent critique in "Beyond Localism and Universalism: Nationhood and Solidarity" (Telos, Fall 1995. Pp. 43-56), and his contributions to the discussion in "Nationhood, Nationalism and Identity: A Symposium" in the same issue, pp. 77-111. Also, Anne McClintock’s "‘No Longer in Future Heaven’: Gender, Race, and Nationalism" in Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat, eds. Dangerous Liaisons. Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1997. 89-112.
8. William G. McCoughlin draws a distinction between "ethnic nations" and nation states (Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 1986. p. 10); Moore speaks of "tribal nations" (8, 321-3). In an 1831 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the political relationship between the Indian nations and the U.S. government was predicated on "peculiar and cardinal distinctions" that Indian nations are sovereign nations within a sovereign nation. (Mario Gonzalez & Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. The Politics of Hallowed Ground. Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty. Champaign-Urbana: U Illinois P, 1999. p. xlii.) Treaties between the U.S. government and Indian tribes were made formally between nations. In the 17th century English usage, nation referred "to a polity of sufficient integrity and importance, regardless of political structure, to warrant diplomatic recognition and negotiation" (Jennings 36). See Moore also on the emergence of a national language among the Cheyenne (9).
9.Many Native American nations, like the Iroquois, depended heavily on adoptions and "naturalizations" to replace casualties to the population incurred in their many wars (Jennings 37). The Cheyenne also recommended exogamy: "...the Cheyenne nation was predicated not on preserving the biological separateness of the population, but on extending and hybridizing the nation with other groups" (Moore 8).
10. A version of this plays a role in the epilogue of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale (NY: Fawcett , 1985.).
11. I.F. Clarke, "Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900." Science Fiction Studies 24.3 (November 1997) 387-412.
12. Prof. Lidenbrot of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1863) is a pedantic, fastidious German; Phileas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days ) an English gentleman dandy in tweeds; Ned Land of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) a virile Canadian, etc. The great exception in Verne’s oeuvre is Captain Nemo, who, having repudiated all traditional bonds, is stateless as well as nameless. Yet even this was ultimately too discomfiting; Verne revealed in the "sequel" to 20,000 Leagues, The Mysterious Island (1874-5), that Nemo was once an Indian prince who helped lead the Sepoy Mutiny against the British. English readers were, for many years, prevented from enjoying Verne’s stereotyping of British national character; in English translations, passages unflattering to the British were either excised, or assigned to the Germans. (Arthur B. Evans. "New and Recycled Translations of Jules Verne," Science Fiction Studies 19:2 [July 1992] p.262.)
13. Brian Stableford, Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950. NY: St. Martin’s, 1985. p. 33.
14. See Christopher Palmer. "Galactic Empires and the Contemporary Extravaganza: Dan Simmons and Iain M. Banks." Science Fiction Studies 26.1 (March 1999) 73-90.
15. See Wong Kin Yuen. "On the Edge of Spaces: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Hong Kong’s Cityscape." Science Fiction Studies 27:1 (March 2000) 1-21. Wong argues that the cyberpunk/tech noir cities of recent sf film are based on former colonial cities, especially Hong Kong.
16. Neurománc, Örkény Ajtay, trans.Budapest: Valhalla Páholy, 1992. 345-46.
17. The two novels are set in the same region, the hill country north and east of San Francisco Bay. More interesting is that the name of Stewart’s main protagonist, Ish, is almost certainly a link to Le Guin’s family. Although Ish alludes, in keeping with the novel’s Biblical allusions, to a form of the Hebrew word for Man, it is also almost identical to Ishi, the name of the Yahi Indian, "the last stone age man," studied and befriended in the 1910s by Ursula Le Guin’s father, A.L. Kroeber. Le Guin’s Kesh may well be an homage to Ishi’s tribe. The leading work on Ishi was written by Kroeber’s wife and Le Guin’s mother, Theodora Kroeber (Ishi in Two Worlds. A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America. Berkeley: U California P, 1961).
18. Susan Jenkins, M.D. and Robert Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D. The Biology of Star Trek. NY: Harper Collins, 1998. p. 3. In this, Star Trek unwittingly replicates the dogma of the pre-1960 Soviet Writer’s Union, which proscribed the depiction of non-humanoid aliens as a deviation from Marxist-Leninist humanism.
19. There is at least one offspring of a human-Vulcan union (Spock), a Klingon-human union (B’Elanna Torres), a Trill and Klingon union (Jadzia Dax), and a Betazed and human union (Deanna Troy).
20. See Leah R. Vande Berg, "Worf as Metonymic Signifier of Racial, Cultural, and National Differences," in Taylor Harrison, Sarah Projansky, Kent A. Ono, and Elyce Rae Helford, eds. Enterprise Zones. Critical Positions on STAR TREK. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996. 51-68. (Vande Berg analyzes in detail the ambiguity the series expresses about Worf’s Klingon loyalties.)
21.The film’s evocation of Riddley Walker is rarely remarked on, but obvious to anyone familiar with Hoban’s novel about a primitivized post-nuclear England with its own "deformed" dialect. Thunderdome’s tribe speaks the same kind of dialect as Riddley. Interpreting the arrival of Max in their hidden valley as the promised return of their original pilot-savior (a certain Captain Walker), who flew them out of The City in a cargo plane that eventually crashed, the Tribe . welcomes Max with a ritual tel (RW’s word for story), showing how well they have membered their prophetic history. Throughout, the language of the tel is based on Hoban’s future English, even employing specific phrases and syntactical forms. (cf. R.D. Mullen, "Dialect, Grapholect, and Story: Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker as Science Fiction," Science Fiction Studies 27.1 (November 2000) [391-417].) The brilliance of the scene lies, however, in the seamless adaptation of RW’s language and post-holocaust problem of the knowin — i.e., knowledge of nuclear technology — to the specific linguistic habits of Australia and the object-sacralization of Western Pacific aboriginal cultures.
22. Anikó Sohár. The Cultural Transfer of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Hungary 1989-1995.
(Frankfurt a M.: Peter Lang, 1999. Chapter 3 "Hungarian Books as Translations, Or the Strange World of Pseudotranslations." 175-254.
23. Frederick L. Schodt, Dreamland Japan. Writings on Modern Manga. (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1996.) 59-62.
24. Yod, in Marge Piercy’s He, She and It (NY: Knopf, 1991) would be an interesting exception to this rule, if his cyborg nature were not so suspect. Haraway’s cyborg is essentially free from all traditions; it is not a fated creature, and it is in its nature to escape from its original determinations. Yod, as a technical avatar of the Golem of 1600, is certainly not free of historical determinations. He does not appear to reflect on the influence of his material conditions on his mental life — an aspect of cyborg thought that even Schwarzenneger’s T-100 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) shares with Haraway’s cyborg. Indeed, though Yod and the T-100 share some traits (they are both protectors of their peoples’s futures, they are approved surrogates for failed fathers and husbands), the T-100's insistent high-tech materiality makes him imaginatively plausible, while Yod remains an ideal, mocked-up in cyber-cardboard.
25. See Ken Hollings, "Tokyo Must Be Destroyed" in Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, eds. Digital Delirium (NY: St. Martin’s, 1997) 241-252.
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