Transizion

“Science is a way of thinking about reality that takes its objectivity for granted. Fiction is a way of describing reality that assumes the subjectivity of experience—for every fiction, a different way of seeing things, a different reality. The two words together contradict each other. A thing cannot be both “science” and “fiction” at the same time, any more than it can be both “reality” and “fiction.”

“We don’t talk about “reality fiction”; we talk about “realistic fiction,” literature that seems real even though we know it is fictional. But despite numerous attempts to change the name, we do talk about “science fiction.” I suspect the name evokes the central paradox of the genre; science fiction pretends to take the objectivity of the world it describes for granted, yet clearly does not describe the objective world as we know it to be. It is “scientific,” but clearly unrealistic.

“[Darko] Suvin’s “Cognitive estrangement” is the “factual reporting of fictions.” For Suvin, this has the significant effect of separating or “estranging” us from our usual assumptions about reality. “Estrangement” is Suvin’s version of Bertold Brecht’s “Verfremdung,” usually translated as “alienation.” Brecht was talking about describing familiar things as if they were unfamiliar; not quite logically, Suvin borrows the phrase to comment on how science fiction describes unfamiliar things as if they were familiar. But for Suvin the final effect is the same; by Brechtian distancing or by the unfamiliarity of science fictional worlds, we are estranged from our assumptions about reality and forced to question them.”

Text: Perry Nodelman, The Cognitive Estrangement of Darko Suvin, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly Volume 5, Number 4, Winter 1981.

Video: Transizion, Suna Celik [2013].

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