[Extraterrestrial (Dublin 2013). Foto Rb]

Andrew Milner, Science Fiction and the Literary Field. Science Fiction Studies, 38.3, 2011, pp. 393-411

Milner builds on Bourdieu’s theory of the arts and literature [1], by expanding in the direction of science fiction.

He adapts Bourdieu’s concept of “literary field”, with poetry as the sector most independent from financial and social pressures, and prose as the most dependent.

In designing the science fiction field, Milner takes into account not only fiction but also drama, and, within his revised science fiction specific literary field, he assigns varying positions to science fiction within mainstream literature, and to the peculiar science fiction avant-garde constituted by sub-genres such as new wave, cyberpunk and so on.

In his conclusion, he comes to “two axioms. The first is that science fiction is a sub-field of the general literary field, with a structure homologous to that of the wider field that simultaneously constructs and is constructed by, produces and reproduces the science fiction selective tradition. The second is that the boundary between the science fiction field and the canonical ‘literary’ field takes a form loosely analogous to that of a membrane - that is, a selective barrier, impermeable to many but by no means all elements - located in the overlap between the science fiction restricted field and institutionalized bourgeois science fiction. From the canonical side, this impermeability tends to allow science fiction to enter the canon, but not to return to science fiction; from the science fiction side, movement is normally permitted in both directions”.

It seems to the present writer that, while constituting an interesting account of science fiction complexity, this way of re-defining science fiction is rather a recapitulation of pre-existing definitions than a totally new approach. 

Milner's conclusion cited above is certainly valid in general. However, in the last two or three decades, due to the restructuring of genres within the contexts of late modernity, science fiction, once it made it into canonical literature, did not necessarily have to be prevented from going back to non canonical status. Science fiction would rather appear to come and go from the traditional literary canon, and to challenge, and influence, canonical definitions of literature.

In the subsequent volume Locating Science Fiction [2], Milner continues and expands his exploration of this genre, supported by Bourdieu, Jameson and Suvin as his main theoretical references.

[Roberto Bertoni]

[1] P. Bourdieu, Les règles de l'art: genèse et structure du champ littéraire, Paris, Seuil,‎ 1992.
[2] Liverpool University Press, 2013.