Estranging history: alterity and capitalism in speculative fiction
Vergara Ibacache, Tomás
Speculative fiction has been traditionally studied in Marxist literary criticism, following Darko Suvin’s paradigmatic model of science fiction, according to a hierarchical division of its multiple subgenres in terms of their assumed inherent political value. By drawing on an alternative genealogy of Marxist criticism, my dissertation attempts to achieve a non-hierarchical understanding of the estrangement connecting all varieties of speculative fiction. The objective of my thesis is to outline the political potential shared across the full spectrum of speculative fiction, along with its specific narrative strategies by which it critically engages with its historical context of production. My main point of contention is that speculative fiction performs an estrangement effect on historical reality that can potentially render visible the role of fantasies in the organisation of capitalist social practice. This narrative effect enables an anamorphic perspective by which the novel interprets and interrogates and conceptualises historical reality in a totalising manner. Each chapter deals with texts that productively engage with their context of production and are exemplary of major currents in contemporary speculative fiction. Chapter 1 deals with China Miéville’s Bas-Lag trilogy and its metaphorical use of Weird manifestations to assert a Marxist understanding of economic crises and promote revolutionary praxis. Chapter 2 examines neo-slave narratives in Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and argues that these novels implement speculative fiction tropes to render visible the afterlives of slavery in contemporary conditions of existence. Chapter 3 explores contemporary dystopian fiction in Jeff Noon’s Falling out of Cars and Mike McCormack’s Notes from a Coma, showing how the texts challenge cultural studies of postmodern schizophrenia. Chapter 4 analyses the use of social reproduction as the basis for patriarchal violence in the feminist narratives of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Anne Charnock’s Dreams Before the Start of Time.