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"SF as fantasies of political agency"

September greetings! It's the beginning of my favorite time of the year.

Happy birthday to marthawells and aragornlover. May you both have a wonderful day and a fantastic year to come!

My heart and thoughts go out to maidoforange, terrylj, llembas, and everyone else affected by Gustav.

The classes I'm teaching for Belmont University began mid-week last week, so this is the first full week for us. (For those of you who don't know, Belmont has been chosen to host the U.S. "Town Hall" Presidential Debate on October 7.) I am teaching two upper-division seminars this semester:

Worlds Gone Wrong: The Dystopian Tradition

Over the centuries, thinkers have used dystopias -- stories of worlds gone wrong, of worst-case scenarios -- to warn their contemporaries about what they viewed as dangerous trends in politics, economics, science, religion, and/or popular culture. This class will consider a variety of historical and current dystopias in literature, film, television, and music. Students will explore the specific conditions that inspired these dystopias, the general warnings inherent in them, and the broad trends in dystopias over time. Students also will generate and analyze their own dystopian visions and consider what they tell us about our understanding of and concerns for the world today.

Native American Film and Fiction

When Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday penned House Made of Dawn in 1968 (and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969), he inspired a new wave of contemporary Native American literature. Authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie, among others, have inherited his leadership role in contemporary Native literature, and they have used this medium to explore the historical experience and present-day realities of their people. Similarly, Cheyenne/Arapaho director and producer Chris Eyre, with his pathbreaking 1998 film Smoke Signals, ushered in a new era of Native American cinema. Today Native film flourishes through both major and independent productions; these movies capture the contemporary urban Native American experience as well as reservation life and historical memory. In this class, students will trace the development of modern Native American literature and film and analyze the artistic choices made in both in order to understand better the past and present of Native America.

I've already learned that I'll be able to offer my upper-division Harry Potter seminar again in Spring 2009:

Harry Potter and His Predecessors

This course discusses the ancestors to the Harry Potter phenomenon, examines the specific works and traditions that inform the Harry Potter universe, and, most importantly, considers why the Harry Potter books and films are so popular today. In the process, students analyze 1) how the young readers' fiction of a given historical period prioritizes certain lessons and values, 2) what this tells us about the way a culture conceptualizes childhood in a given era and how this changes across time, and 3) how the lessons and values of young readers' fiction can reinforce and/or subvert the mainstream status quo. This course takes both a theoretical and historical approach to popular literature in general and J.K. Rowling’s works in particular.

"In fact, if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe much SF as fantasies of political agency."
- Lois McMaster Bujold, Guest of Honor Keynote Speech from Denvention 3



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 1st, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Sounds cool!

I would totally attend "The Dystopian Tradition", if I could :))) *envies students*
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you! :)
Sep. 1st, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
That's exciting that Belmont will be hosting one of the debates!

Ooh, I want to take your dystopia course, though the commute would be a bitch!
Sep. 1st, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
I bet it would be worse for me!
Sep. 1st, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
*checks your profile*

Okay, you win!
Abbie [wordpress.com]
Sep. 1st, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Haha! It would be hard for her, too...which is why the class is exclusively online.

P.S. I'm pretty sure our campus misses your face, Dr. Amy!
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:58 am (UTC)
Aw, thank you! I do miss the campus, too. And Bongo Java, and Sam & Zoe's, and Starbucks... hmmm, see a pattern here? LOL.

Speaking of the campus, I hope your new semester is off to a terrific start! How are things with you?
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:57 am (UTC)
LOL! Luckily my seminars migrated into the virtual world after my move last year - I wouldn't want to commute to campus (which is now almost a seven-hour drive) either! But you still beat me for distance.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:55 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! :)

We moved last year, and so I became a virtual prof as my seminars relocated online. I wouldn't want to have to commute to my classes either, otherwise! LOL.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)
Even cooler according to the geek in me!
Sep. 1st, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
Hello! *waves*
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
Hey there! *waves back* :)
Sep. 1st, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on hosting the debate--maybe. I hope that the FBI doesn't end up moving into your community the way they raided those evil vegan activists in Minneapolis this week! Talk about dystopian....!
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
Excellent point! I think I'm especially glad I'm a virtual prof now, thanks to our move, and I'll be watching from miles away (not to mention not having to find a parking place...!)
Sep. 2nd, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
Okay, just reading about the dystopian class right now sounds like great jazz -- mainly because I just finished reading Little Brother last week. All too possibly real, that.
Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:41 am (UTC)
Hey, that's on the reading list! :)

Absolutely chilling and far too close to home, isn't it?
Sep. 3rd, 2008 04:28 am (UTC)
upcoming classes
Looking forward to Native American Film and Fiction when this class is over. Your Harry Potter class sounds interesting, I'll have to see if I can fit that one in.
Sep. 3rd, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)
Re: upcoming classes
Thank you so much! I'd love to see you in the Harry Potter class. The reading list for the Native American Film and Fiction class is up on the class website; look for the syllabus very, very soon. Have a great day!
Sep. 4th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, does the second course touch on the phenomenon of phony American Indian writers?
Sep. 9th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Good question! It doesn't, actually - I haven't found a way to carve out the time, unless it comes up in discussion - but my "Native American Identity" class usually deals with that when we get into issues of authenticity and such (a la the debate about Ward Churchill, etc.).
Sep. 8th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
Bujold made that statement in a bookstore appearance here in San Diego a few months ago, and I can see it in volume three of the Sharing Knife series, which I'm thinking about nominating for the Prometheus Award. The first two volumes were very much a story of a couple; the third turns more to the community that coalesces around them.

But I think I would say that sf grows out of two different fantasies of political agency. One is the constructive rationalist tradition that goes back to Wells, and before him to Auguste Comte's Religion of Humanity, where rational men plan an orderly society run by dedicated administrators in the service of humanity. The other is the "final frontier" tradition whose classic exponent is Heinlein, especially the Heinlein of the juveniles, where advanced technology lets us get out to sparsely population places where self-reliance is at a premium.

The interesting thing about Firefly is that it contains both futures and both versions of political agency, and explores their conflicts—including the attraction between Mal and Inara, and between Kaylee and Simon, two couples in which the first member embodies the frontier tradition and the second the technocratic tradition.
Sep. 10th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you're considering nominating the The Sharing Knife: Passage for the Prometheus Award. It richly deserves it. I'm quite impressed with the Lakewalker and Farmer dymanics in that one. As you say, it really has become a story about these communities.

I very much like your distinction between the two different fantasies of political agency, and the the way the two Firefly couples embody them. I was fortunate enough to follow Firefly Executive Producer Tim Minear last year at UCLA: he talked about libertarianism in the show, and I followed by talking about the intellectual tradition of the frontier narrative in the series. Our discussions overlapped very effectively, and I was pleased to see how aware and conscious he was of what the show accomplished and conveyed.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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