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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Schmerl, Rudolf B.
[Editorial comment: who's afraid of fantasy?],   pp. [176]-[183] PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 179

are the implications of achieving greater
and greater control of nature - think
of the Bomb and the Pill both -
when that control, clearly, rests in
the hands of scattered groups of
accidental men? What is so frightening,
ultimately, about so many visions of the
future conjured up by so many scientists is
that they all rest on concepts of the
purpose of our existence as defined
by someone else, not us. We are told that
we will soon have the power to alter
humanity's genetic stock, to manipulate
group relations, to leave the planet, to
live on the bottom of the ocean, to
multiply unimaginably because we will
eat unimaginable things, and we are asked
to believe that these achievements, if
that is what they are, will cost us
nothing except money. But we know
better. We have read Brave New World
and 1984, Farenheit 451 and A Canticle for
Leibowitz. We recognize the scientist's
lust for power because artists have
described it powerfully. And credibly.
What lies ahead, in the enthusiastic
projections of men whose power can be
doubted no more than their brilliance,
is a world in which their ability to control
our lives will be immeasurably greater than
it is already. No sugar-coating of
smarter progeny, bigger rockets, seaweed
delicacies, mesmerized minorities, or
electronic creature comforts makes that pill
any easier to swallow. And therefore
we may not swallow it. The projections of
Huxley and Orwell, Bradbury and
Miller are far more vivid, if much less
enthusiastic, than those of H. J. Muller
and Wernher von Braun. Historians
of the future, if there are any, may have
an interesting time trying to assess the
influence of twentieth-century
anti-Utopians on the development
of science.
The significance of fantasy lies in its
relation to the real world. To read 1984,
for instance, merely as a sick man's
nightmare, as the despairing prophecy of an
Edwardian with an incurable nostalgia for
the supposedly tranquil days of his
pre-World War I childhood, is utterly to
miss Orwell's real concern. This was to
show that the essence of his projected
world was already forming. But
Darkness at Noon had been written.
Realistic fiction with a political theme is
based on a reality that constantly recedes
from men's consciousness. It seems likely
that, in 1949, the Communist purges
of the thirties had been shoved back in
Western memory by Nazi concentration
camps, the Hitler-Stalin pact by the defense
of Stalingrad, the uneasy awareness
of Communist tyranny by an overpowering
desire for peace. The war had been
won, which meant that today
was an improvement over yesterday,
and tomorrow might be better still.
Against this sort of desperate complacency,
Darkness at Noon had little chance
of making a deeper political impression than
All Quiet on The Western Front.
It happens that fantasy is a peculiarly
appropriate literary method with
which to attack totalitarianism, established
or incipient. Totalitarianism itself rests
on fantasy, about race or history
or supernatural beings or the miracles
to be achieved by unswerving loyalty to
The Cause. The manipulation of time and
space, the invention of mysterious
creatures and magical devices - this
is the stuff of which fantasy has been made
from the beginning. And as a didactic
response to totalitarianism, fantasy
has the advantages of allegory.
Remarque's The Spark of Life, a realistic
concentration camp novel, ends with
the liberation of the camp by the
Americans. It has reminded the reader
of what Hitler's tyranny was, has portrayed
concentration camp life with unusual
vividness, and has demonstrated, by showing
that there are things worth fighting for,
that the war had to be fought. But
ending as it was written, realistically -
almost factually - the novel
does not succeed in making of
Nazism an experience from which any
general conclusion can be drawn.
Fantasy, however, by refusing to deal with
real particulars can be more ambitious
about real generalities. The Nazis in
The Spark of Life are diversified and
credible characters. In Rex Warner's
The Professor, Vander, a Nazi figure, is a
speech rather than a man, a long and
complicated challenge to the reader
to deny the National Legion's - that is,
Nazism's - theory of the nature of
mankind. Warner here sacrifices
characterization to strengthen
his message. Similarly, in the C. S. Lewis
trilogy, Ransom becomes more and more
of an allegorical figure from one novel

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