Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Conversation about 2312

If you've read Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, which has gotten probably more attention than any other book published in our genre last year, I'm confident you'll be interested to read Vandana Singh's post reporting on her own reading of the book. I reviewed 2312 myself, for Strange Horizons. I knew at the time I turned it in that my review was in no way comprehensive, particularly that there were thorny difficulties that I thought of as resulting from the main characters' extraordinary privilege. In my private conversations with Vandana since then (which in turn prompted me to reflect further), it struck me that I'd been presuming that the characters' assumptions of privilege had been meant to be read critically, with irony. Ironic readings, I was compelled to acknowledge, are explicitly generous readings in which the reader adds a layer of interpretation that may or may not be explicitly invited by the text and that in any case a multitude of readers will not automatically lavish on the text. I believed the choice of Swan for the main character, and the critical depiction of her thinking, attitudes, and behavior, itself elicited an ironic reading. (Probably because I myself am in the habit of serving up horribly flawed main characters I expect readers to read against.) Arguably, I simply found the text I wanted to find.

But Vandana's reading resonates powerfully for me beyond her focus on the novel's main characters precisely because the book's structure and style would have allowed the emergence of other voices and perspectives. I also agree with her statement
The baldly stated notion that that humans are “meant to inscribe ourselves into the universe” is not that different from the kind of ideology that justified the British plunder of India, or the French and Dutch mangling of Africa — manifest destiny on a solar system scale.
This notion of human's inscribing themselves into the universe is not a new idea (or assumption) for Robinson. Some of his characters in the Mars Trilogy, for examples, believe this fervently. I've come to wonder if Robinson himself believe it-- or whether, again, its an idea he's implicitly critiquing.

After reading Vandana's post, you'll also want to check out Niall Harrison's post here: This conversation, I'm sure, will (and needs to) continue.


Ethan Robinson said...

I haven't read 2312 yet, which is silly of me, but I think about this kind of thing with KSR pretty frequently--from the way I read the Mars trilogy, at least, I wonder if the "inscribing" thing is something he's deeply ambivalent about, feeling it has a very deep appeal on some aesthetic and/or spiritual level (?) but also recognizing problems with it...?

In the Mars trilogy of course Sax initially stands for the "pro" position and Ann for the "con", and I think it's telling that the trilogy moves to its conclusion specifically through their positions' moving together--a movement I tend to feel KSR thinks is equal but to me feels much more heavily weighted towards Sax, in part because, after all, Ann's position is by the end long ago no longer she's forced into compromise, while Sax chooses it (it's more complicated than this, but for a blog comment...)

Just quick incoherent thoughts...really should pick up 2312 and catch up on all the talkings...

Timmi Duchamp said...

That's an interesting point, Ethan. My own perception is that Ann's position was utterly defeated.

I think 21st USians tend to have a fairly naive view about compromise, the definition of the "moderate" position & "fair" outcomes. But then I doubt we'd ever have arrived at the current political status quo if we (collectively speaking, which I don't mean anyone to take literally) didn't. I think people have forgotten the moral of the Solomonic approach to justice-- the "compromise" position in the case of the two women fighting over possession of a child would have entailed cutting the child in half (i.e., killing it). A part of our aversion to "extremes" (& Ann's position, of course, unlike Sax's, comes off as the extremist position in that debate) is the valorization of the middle-- even when the political perspectives made to represent "opposing" views seldom allow representation of three-quarters of the spectrum to the left of what pundits have decided is the "center."

What is "moderate" is assumed to be what is "reasonable," almost a priori. It makes the depiction of political debate & its workings really tricky. & I'm afraid mostly we get it wrong.