Envisioning Banality

“There is no real and no imaginary except at a certain distance. What happens when this distance, even the one separating the real from the imaginary, begins to disappear and to be absorbed by the model alone? Currently, from one order of simulacra to the next, we are witnessing the reduction and absorption of this distance, of this separation which permits a space for ideal or critical projection…”

“Reality was able to surpass fiction, the surest sign that the imaginary has possibly been outpaced. But the real could never surpass the model, for the real is only a pretext of the model. The imaginary was a pretext of the real in a world dominated by the reality principle. Today, it is the real which has become the pretext of the model in a world governed by the principle of simulation. And, paradoxically, it is the real which has become our true utopia-but a utopia that is no longer a possibility, a utopia we can do no more than dream about, like a lost object. Perhaps the SF of this era of cybernetics and hyperreality will only be able to attempt to “artificially” resurrect the “historical” worlds of the past, trying to reconstruct in vitro and down to its tiniest details the various episodes of bygone days: events, persons, defunct ideologies-all now empty of meaning and of their original essence, but hypnotic with retrospective truth. Like the Civil War in Philip K. Dick’s The Simulacra; like a gigantic hologram in three dimensions, where fiction will never again be a mirror held to the future, but rather a desperate rehallucinating of the past. We can no longer imagine other universes; and the gift of transcendence has been taken from us as well.


“Classic SF was one of expanding universes: it found its calling in narratives of space exploration, coupled with more terrestrial forms of exploration and colonization indigenous to the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no cause-effect relationship to be seen here. Not simply because, today, terrestrial space has been virtually completely en- coded, mapped, inventoried, saturated; has in some sense been shrunk by globalization; has become a collective marketplace not only for products but also for values, signs, and models, thereby leaving no room any more for the imaginary. It is not exactly because of all this that the exploratory universe (technical, mental, cosmic) of SF has also stopped functioning. But the two phenomena are closely linked, and they are two aspects of the same general evolutionary process: a period of implosion, after centuries of explosion and expansion. When a system reaches its limits, its own saturation point, a reversal begins to takes place. And something happens also to the imagination…”

“From this point on, something must change: the projection, the extrapolation, this sort of pantographic exuberance which made up the charm of SF are now no longer possible. It is no longer possible to manufacture the unreal from the real, to create the imaginary from the data of reality. The process will be rather the reverse: to put in place “decen- tered” situations, models of simulation, and then to strive to give them the colors of the real, the banal, the lived; to reinvent the real as fiction, precisely because the real has disappeared from our lives. A hallucination of the real, of the lived, of the everyday-but reconstituted, sometimes even unto its most disconcertingly unusual details, recreated like an animal park or a botanical garden, presented with transparent precision, but totally lacking substance, having been derealized and hyperrealized…”

Jean Baudrillard and Arthur B. Evans. “Simulacra and Science Fiction (Simulacres et science-fiction)”, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3, Science Fiction and Postmodernism (Nov., 1991), pp. 309-313


They know it when they see it.


“Most viewers seem to have little difficulty in staking out some fairly clear territory from which to start thinking about the science fiction film, and certainly are not much troubled by […] fundamental questions of generic boundary or definition – all concerns that are seemingly best left to critics and academics. Anyone who has watched even a few science fiction films, episodes of a Flash Gordon serial, or several episodes of the Star Trek or Babylon 5 television series, for example, would probably argue that he or she could, with little hesitation, decide if a certain work belongs within the science fiction category. That sense of certainty probably springs from the fact that the typical viewer easily recognizes particular hallmarks, visual icons that, over the course of many years, have helped constitute a common signature that cultural consensus or historical use has by now assigned to the genre. Included in this broad category are such things as character types, situations, clothing, lighting, tools or weaponry, settings – all those elements that have often been described as the “language” of the genre, and much of which has been long established in the popular consciousness thanks to the corresponding literary tradition and its reliance on illustration, on visualizing its “what if” scenarios.”

Telotte, J.P. “Introduction: The World of The Science Fiction Film, Chapter, Genre Determinations.” Science Fiction Film.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. pp16-17.

Serpents & Birds

“As filtered through Horace and the power of Roman literary institutions, Aristotelian notions of genre provided the very foundation of the neoclassical critical system. […] Perhaps the most celebrated cause of this period is the battle over the ultimate generic crossbreed: tragicomedy. Ever the incontrovertible naturalist, Horace had set limits on the poet’s right to mix genres: ‘it does not go to the extent that savage should mate with tame, that serpents should couple with birds, or lambs with tigers’. Reacting strongly against the medieval grotesque tendency to mix the sublime and the ridiculous, the sacred and the secular, the tragic and comic, seventeenth century French neoclassical critics and first found it impossible to accept the new composite. Yet little by little the production of new plays […] broke down critical resistance and led to the acceptance of the hybrid genre.


“For our purposes, one particular lesson stands out from this unexpected development. That a new genre should be born in an expanding culture hardly provides cause for surprise. More important is the way in which this genre develops out of the coupling of two genres previously thought diametrically opposed. In spite of the Horatian committment to keep genres seperate and the neo-Aristotelian refusal to recognize genres not mentioned by Aristotle, the rise of tragicomedy demonstrates the possibility of generating new genres through monstrous mating of already existing genres […].

During the latter half of the 18th Century, a new genre began to edge its way between tragedy and comedy. At first called the ‘serious genre’, as opposed to classical genres, deemed incapable of dealing with contemporary reality, the new genre was designated the ‘weepie genre’ (genre larymoyant) biy its conservative opponents. Eventually baptized simply ‘drama’ (drame) by its radical supporters […] this is the theatrical form that would eventually give rise to melodrama – the most popular theatrical mode of the nineteenth century and cinema’s most important parent genre…”

Rick Altman. Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute. 1999. pp 4-5.

Nostalgia for the Future


“Space music can […] be best regarded as an outgrowth of easy-listening that is even further removed from the musical foreground. Beautiful music supplies ghost tunes of the originals, whereas space music distills the ghost tune’s mood, its sound, and a smidgen of its style and reprocesses it into an “original” composition once again, this time unanchored to any distinct emotional or historical context. It avoids nostalgia mainly because its uncertainties force us to look back and ahead simultaneously. It derives power from the clash between the musician’s emotions and the space station granduer of high-tech gadgets and computer wizardry. Some of its best examples suggest science-fiction fantasies rooted in comic books and optimistic space tales. Space music thus celebrates a nostalgia for the future as it paradoxically looks ahead toward unsolved childhood mysteries…”

Joseph Lanza. “Violins From Space”. Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy Listening and Other Moodsong. [Revised and Expanded Edition]. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2004. pp 189-90.

New Vision of a Visionless World


“Over the last seventy-five years it has been science fiction, more than any other genre, that has appropraited [the Hegelian] vision and continued to develop it. In 1926 Hugo Gernsback published the world’s first magazine dedicated to science fiction, and even in the introduction to that first issue, science fiction was already designated as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” Here, the ideas of “science”, “vision” and “future” (suggested by “prophecy”) are already clearly indicated. From these three ideas emerged the golden age of the forties, followed successively by other grand “prophetic visions” such as Robert Heinlein’s Future Histories series and Issac Asimov’s Galatic Empire series (1950-52).

“Ironically, it was precisely at this time that grand narratives like these were becoming obsolete in the real world. The thirties marked the dawn of science fiction and at the same time saw the Nazi’s narrative give birth to Auschwitz and witnessed the Marxist-Lenninist narrative turn into Stalinism. By this time, science fiction’s American consumers were probably aware that it was the uncontrollable spread of these “sciences” and “prophetic visions” that was causing the world to fall apart. Of course, people cannot live without some sort of dream or vision…

“This essence of the genre hasn’t changed much. On its surface, of course, science fiction has gone through a huge transformation since the forties. […]. If someone were to ask what characteristic lies at the core of science fiction, I believe that many fans would still say it is the “grand narrative” or “grand vision.” For science fiction to be science fiction, some kind of vision must be proposed, even if it is a vision of science’s failure or of a dark, foreboding future.In the eighties, cyberpunk filled this role. It was not that the worlds of cyberpunk lacked vision, these authors captured readers’ attention precisely because of their elegant new vision of a visionless world.

“At the core of the science fiction genre lies the paradoxical doctrine that it must continue to depict visions, even when grand visions are impossible. In other words, it is in science fiction that the ideal of the nineteenth century philosophy – the desire for the whole of twentieth century philosophy had to reject – still lives and breathes.”

SF as Hamlet: Science Fiction and Philosophy, Azumi Hiroki [trans. Miri Nakamura], in Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Romay Jr & Takayuki Tatsumi [eds]. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007. pp 77-78.