"Serving the Spirits": Emergent Identities in Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring‪.‬

Extrapolation 2005, Fall, 46, 3

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Publisher Description

In a recent article for Science Fiction Studies Istvan Csicery-Ronay makes the claim that "sf is the genre of empire" (241). Csicsery-Ronay cites that, in support of his claim, the "conditions for the emergence of sf as a genre are made possible by three factors: the technological expansion that drove real imperialism, the need felt by national audiences for literary-cultural mediations as their societies were transformed from historical nations into hegemons, and the fantastic model of achieved techno-scientific Empire" (231). In Csiscery-Ronay's formulation the nascent genre of science fiction parallels and responds to not only the techno-scientific progression experienced in the West in the nineteenth century but also to the corresponding imperial impulse that sees the colonisation of peoples, land and cultures, the complexities of which can be mediated in the imaginary spaces offered by sf. Whilst there is clearly a correlation to be drawn between science fiction and empire, I would be wary of homogenising the experiences of empire, and science fiction's response to it, within a given temporal moment or geographic space. Indeed, science fiction's ability to map new worlds with words could offer a correlate with the early travelogues of European explorers. The "sensawonder" that adherents to the genre cite as its main attraction bears a striking similarity to the awe and wonder which, as Stephen Greenblatt suggests, was "the central figure in the initial European response to the New World" (14). In its generation of awe in the possibilities of new worlds, sf echoes the European's supposed discovery of uncharted land. Sf responds, then, on a number of levels, to the colonialist's experience of Empire. Thus some sf texts can be situated as offering a worldview that correlates and expresses the Imperialist view of colonisation. Whilst sf encodes the experience of Empire it need not, as Csiscery-Ronay argues, be limited to the coloniser's perspective: "To say that sf is the genre of empire does not mean that sf artists seek to serve the empire" (241). Like all colonial artefacts, sf narratives may be appropriated, and "written back." The genre's ability to imagine and re-imagine colonial relations offers a space for fictions that whilst colonialist in framework need not necessarily be imperialist in their ideological impetus. However, in order to resist what postcolonial theorist Stephen Slemon refers to as "the purchase of genre ... [the] contract between text and reader and thus a set of centralizing codes" (31), the narrative logic of sf needs to be examined to detect whether it encodes a worldview that substantiates the politics of Empire. If so, an agenda of resistance can only be articulated if these "centralizing codes" are queried. Helen Tiffin describes this process as a "counter-discursive strategy" arguing that these strategies "involve a mapping of the dominant discourse, a reading and exposing of its underlying assumptions, and the dis/mantling of these assumptions from the cross-cultural standpoint of the imperially subjective 'local'" (23). Tiffin's thesis that postcolonial literatures offer "fields" of resistance suggests that it is the articulation of the specific, subjective and localised that is able to subvert the hegemony of imperialist-centred discourses. That these counter-discourses can only ever be partial and incomplete is, Slemon suggests, part of the "untranscendable ambiguity of literary or indeed any contra/dictory or contestatory act which employs a First-World medium for the figuration of a Third-World resistance" (37). What this means is that writers who wish to articulate a postcolonial perspective in discourses predominantly employed by and associated with the coloniser must necessarily interrogate the epistemological framework within which they write: they need to examine "ways of knowing" and how those "ways of knowing" work to construct the worlds they inhabit.

Professional & Technical
22 September

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