Dalziel Lecture – Laughter is from Mars: Science Fiction in the Anthropocene
Annual Dalziel Lecture – presented by Professor John Plotz, Brandeis University.
This talk proposes that we have underestimated science fiction's capacity to represent and critique science and the technological power it wields.
When Joseph Conrad called H G Wells the “realist of the fantastic” he set surprisingly durable terms for understanding science fiction's relationship to actuality. Scholars have argued since about whether the genre principally extrapolates from the present, or speculates on what other economic/political/cultural configurations might be possible.
This talk, by contrast, traces the genre's long tradition of mocking human self-centredness. Recentring our understanding of SF on satire may offer a way to reframe Amitav Ghosh's notion of “the peculiar forms of resistance that climate change presents” to “serious” fiction.
For many decades, science fiction's satiric thrust was Menippean, oriented chiefly against an exaggerated sense of humankind's importance (do you think the world revolves around you?). But the nature of that satire has changed as writers struggled with the fact that humans truly had a world-altering and world-destroying capacity. In the 20th century, the human capacity to destroy the world (atomically, mainly) was satirized by Capek, Lem, Vonnegut, Le Guin and others.
This lecture, after tracing that legacy, assesses SF's newfound capacity to satirize humanity's present destructive power principally by way of N K Jemisin's The Fifth Season, set in a world where people control and create earthquakes with their minds.
Join us for the annual Dalziel lecture, hosted by the English and Linguistics Programme, in memory of Professor Margaret Dalziel.
The Dalziel lecture is also being livestreamed.