Monday, July 24, 2017

Science Fiction and Language

So, in my previous post I mentioned my online Writing for Online Media class that I'm in the midst of teaching as part of Fordham's summer session, and I also want to note that I'm doing what's called a hybrid class, mostly online with occasional in-class meetings. And the hybrid is class is a new version of a class I've been doing during the regular school year in a regular way for many, many years. It's a class on Science Fiction Film and TV, formerly called The Science Fiction Genre, and originally called Science Fiction Film.

So, anyway, given that I'm in the midst of that class as well, I thought it was about time to post about the panel discussion I organized for the New York Society for General Semantics back on March 1st on the topic of science fiction. Here's the description of the session:

Science Fiction, Language, and General Semantics

Science fiction has long been associated with spaceships, alien beings, futuristic technologies, and the like. But the genre has also provided an opportunity to speculate about the future of human consciousness, about modes of perception and communication, and about language and symbols.

Not surprisingly, general semantics, as a discipline based on applying a scientific approach to thought and action, has influenced science fiction in a number of ways. Science fiction writers such as A.E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert were familiar with general semantics and incorporated concepts learned from Alfred Korzybski and S.I. Hayakawa into their novels and short stories. Through them, the influence of general semantics spread to the fiction of Philip K. Dick, and the films of George Lucas. Moreover, novelists William S. Burroughs and L. Ron Hubbard were students of general semantics, while a fictional (and less than flattering) version of the Institute of General Semantics appears in the Jean Luc-Godard film, Alphaville.

More generally, questions concerning language, meaning, and consciousness have been incorporated into science fiction narratives, for example the presence of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation in The Matrix, references to Julian Jaynes in HBO's remake of Westworld, and in the problematic nature of translation in stories such as Samuel R. Delaney's Babel-17, Stanslaw Lem's His Master's Voice, and the recent film, Arrival.

Clearly, this is a topic for discussion that is, in many ways, out of this world.

As for the participants on this program, well, here's the listing:

Marleen S. Barr, Science Fiction Critic and Novelist

Paul Levinson, Past President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and Novelist

Lance Strate, NYSGS President and Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University

Ed Tywoniak, Editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics and Professor of Communication, Saint Mary's College of California

All right now, enough of the preliminaries, let's move on to the program itself, or rather, the video recording of the panel discussion:

Science fiction may not have the greatest reputation in literary circles, but when it comes to the exploration of not only outer space, intellectual space, no other genre or type of narrative can quite do what science fiction does, whether it's about language, thought and action, or media and technology, or society and culture, or simply the nature of the universe, life, and time bound and unbounded.

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