Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Folktales and Science Fiction

A review and response to W.M.S.Russells article 'Folktales and Science Fiction' 

Russell, W. 'Folktales and Science Fiction' Folklore, Vol.93, No. 1. (1982) pp 3-30. Taylor & Fracncis, Ltd. : Folklore Enterprises Ltd. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1260136, Accessed 20.06.2013

In Folktales and Science Fiction Russell explores the variety of connections between folktales and the literary genre of science fiction by discussion in recurrent themes through his own literary experiences. An important discussion within this text is the relationship between 'partly conscious and unconscious' use of folktale material within science fiction. In order to further discuss the article it must be stated that Russell defines a folktale as 'traditional narratives, handed down in speech as well as usually also in writing, and classified into myths (folk science), legends (folk history), and fairy tales (folk literature)".

Through lengthy examples, it is argued that science fiction writers commonly have a long lasting interest in mythology and folk material. This relationship is argued to be nearly inevitable, with the same formulae of folk narratives and themes constantly applied in science fiction works. A lengthily explored example is the example of the popular 'Sleeper' motif, first notably utilised by H.G.Wells in 'When the Sleeper Wakes' in 1898-8*. Russell cites the story of Epimendines of Cnossus of Crete, who falls sleep in a cave and wakes up in increments of every 40 to 60 years, which was first recorded in 4th century B.C. The story then allegedly made it's way to English folk tradition with a tale called 'Rip Van Winckle. Well's When the Sleeper Awakes uses a similar framework, when the Sleeper struggling with insomnia, eventually falls asleep waking up 203 years later in a dystopian situation which he then attempts to solve. Although a clear citation of Wells's familiarity with the original legend is not available, a reference is made to Rip Van Winckle within the novel itself. The motif has been then onwards been a popular form of introduction of science fiction novels, even before scientific advances solved a practical explanation for such a sustained sleep, it has been used to explain the changes and speculations of future societies. In his use of the Sleeper motif, Wells influenced a long chain of science fiction writers, so that, 'In many ways, most of english writers returned, quite unconsciously to the root legend of english literature.'. Thus, by a cycle of literary influence, folktales play an inevitable role in the formation of science fiction literature. However, this use cannot clearly be isolated to the field of science fiction, but is only one example of a how folktales could influence writers unconsciously. On the same note, Russell quotes a previous address of his stating that 'all worthwhile works of ... literature have important points of contact with folktales. For folktales are a very fundamental part of human culture, and ... a very important medium for the transmission of symbolism over long periods.". Although Science fiction writers often work with topics of the future, or work with knowledge contemporary to them to look back at the past ( for example, in the popular theme of backwards time travel), they cannot expel themselves from literary and folk traditions of their past. Furthermore, it is also conceivable that early science fiction writers may have looked to folktales for inspiration on topics relating to theirs, as folktales arguably deal with similar elements of imaginative speculation.

However, he goes on to argue that science fiction often has a specific and more obvious relationship with folktales then other forms of literature. This is first seen explored in the acceptance of science fiction in popular soviet literature, and an immediate reference to the folktale form of the fairytale. Yevgeny Zamyatin described Wells in 1922 as the 'creator of urban fairytales', and the popularity of science fiction writing in the U.S.S.R was described by"Axinow, 'president of the Russian poets' "Soviet",' "as being due to the "Russian peoples fondness for fairytales". Russells argues that few literary genres can claim to have such a strong relationship between the writer and readership at the birth of its genre as science fiction. Often appearing in instalments in pulp fiction magazines, the readership was keen and watchful of the progression of the genre. This relationship is neatly summarised in notable example, Klass's novel of a fan called Joe Doppelberg, and a situation where the writer of a science fiction novel is transported into a alternate universe dreamed of by a fan- "Keith winton is not simply in the universe that Joe Doppelberg has dreamed up- he is in the universe that he thinks Joe Doppelberg would dream up." Philip Klass is further cited as saying "few workers in any art form ever had the experience of so much of their audience looking over their shoulders as they worked.". In this sense, science fiction itself may be viewed as a form of folk fiction. If we accept that science fiction can be shaped by folk culture, it would not then be impossible to conceive that similar narrative structures may be naturally evident in science fiction.

Folklore can be seen as a direct influence in the use of the 'legendary cycle' in narrative form, and by application of traditional symbolism within science fiction. Epic literature, especially greek tales, are particularly popular in use the genre, "Greek tales appeal especially to embyro science fiction writer". As folk tales draw familiar examples to our minds, it allows the science fiction writer to contrast these motifs with the unfamiliar and strange, or, alternately, to show timeless connections. This link is apparent in a variety of forms, the sceintification of myth, being a clear example- by taking traditional folktales and either applying them in a contemporary context, or by seeking to explain them with science. As mentioned, the recurrence of similar themes and motifs is a striking connection between the two genres, both deal with settings of destruction, creationism, colonialism. This can be argued to reach out toeless apparent similarities, such as the theme of 'robots', though clearly under a different aim, the same concept is time and time again dealt with in folktales. Of the various examples is the clay 'golems' of the jew, who's "eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect', and from my own knowledge of finnish folklore, the 'golden bride' of the Ilmarinen. One possible explanation for abundance of similar themes could be that myth itself could be interpreted as a science of the past. The combination of rational and imaginative thinking in trying to understand the physical world without science as we know it seems to strike a similar note to the process of writing a science fiction work. It may then be possible even to view folktales as an early type of science fiction, without the label and connotations that we associate with the genre today.

Russells concludes with a quote that I too find appropriate to end on, "Each generation, finds for Andromeda a different monster and another rescuer". Though science fiction and folktales seems to spring from opposite ends of a spectrum, they spring from a similar need in human nature to tell stories of our origins, and to predict what may come, leading to inevitable similarities between the two forms.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Response to Susan Sontag's 'On Style'

Susan Sontag’s essay ‘On Style’ starts by analyzing how style is disregarded in the practice of art interpretation. The question of can form have content, and how crucially intertwined they are in their nature is securitized. By overlooking this concept it seems easy to disregard certain key elements of the work, and to misinterpret works as singular statements without a time and place in the history of art.

Sontag argues that the concept of style is overlooked in the aesthetic arts as a simple tool used by the artist, not as important or central to the work as it’s content. However, this form of thinking is rarely applied to other fields, specifically in that of literature, where it is commonly regarded that style and content are completely interlinked. To acknowledge style in art is also to acknowledge a historical and cultural significance, which is disregarded when looking at a work in terms of a ‘statement’. Historical changes can be traced through the styles changing in art, thus proving that by disregarding of such a key element is looking at work in a limited spectrum.

Our experience of artistic works is highly guided by the style of the artist. The experience of looking at scenes of violence or rape is not the same as being subjected to a firsthand experience, the concept of morality is obscured, and every element of the work becomes, in a sense, a fantasy. The content is wrapped in the aesthetic of the artist revealing through his use, either intentional or not, a specific personal judgment or opinion.

Sontag links the concept of the ‘will’ of the artist to their stylistic choices. Thus the hyperdevelopment of styles, such as Art Nouveau or impressionism, can partially be seen as a decisive move of the artist to apply his will to the work of art. Though style can be empathized, and though the skills of the talented artist developed, it cannot be taken away, and will inevitable effect our experience of the body of work and the individual piece.

Lastly, the concept of style does not limit itself to the arts, it is a crucial form in all our actions, from mannerisms to the decisive move to create a work of art. It is interconnected to our will, our output, and our history. The concept of style and content are thus intertwined, and should be treated as such.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Seminar Record

Seminar 1.
Seminar 1.

Starting the day with everyone in the ‘Manufacture and Sustainability’ elective was a great way to re-introduce myself to the other topics involved. After spending the last few weeks focusing on my chosen topic it was interesting to see how other people had faced the subject, specifically on the topic of biomimicry.

We then continued to the King’s cross redevelopment program, stopping by St.Pancras Old Church, possibly one of the oldest churches in London, as it poses an issue of manufacture. When the railway was being built the graves were relocated without consideration creating a social stir. I think this is a prime example of how a lack of a holistic approach to viewing a landscape can overlook issues that could easily be avoided.

Though impressive in size, being Europe’s largest city redevelopment program, what I found most innovative was the concept of multi purpose buildings and public spaces. For example, in the image below you can see the plan for an apartment complex where spaces have been allocated for plot farming. The whole project has a utopian feel to it, combining all elements of a functioning micro society, whilst combining eco friendly building materials, and conserving the local surrounding community.   

Personally, I am skeptical on whether this will be a successful venture as the apartments on the complex are luxury apartments, thus much more expensive that could otherwise be expected of the area, and the shops that are planned for the area seem to be of a high standard. My question is whether this will alienate people from the local community, and will this type of forced development focused on a specific physical section lead to a larger economic gap in the community. As the venture is a new one, we will have to wait and see.

Seminar 2.

As the topic I have focused on, the maintenance of landscapes in terms of both their physical and cultural elements, is quite specific, it has been difficult for me to find peers who are researching similar topics. However, when grouped together with others focusing on politics, environmental policy, and community, I found many topics to which my research could relate.

First of all, Laura is focusing her research on how the attitudes towards arts and creative industries are changing in the political climate of the recession. From her research, she has deducted that people are now much more willing to invest in design objects and high quality products. With the limited amounts of jobs and work opportunities, designers themselves are forced to being more entrepreneurial. For her primary data she has done survey’s of consumer attitudes. In a sense, this links strongly to my research as it is about the attitudes in society and how this can create a certain type of supportive atmosphere. As times are becoming harder, support within a society grows and the need for long lasting solutions becomes clearer.

Michael’s research related to use of semiotics in the image in visual communications to explain environmental issues, and how this influences politics. As a case study, he has looked at the changes in the Canadian press in the 1990’s by analyzing the photographs that were linked with text on environmental issues, often being completely unrelated and focused on selling papers using the element of drama instead of clear journalistic efforts. Furthermore, the use of iconic images that we immediately relate to climate change, such as melting icebergs, drowning polar bears etc., can lead to a sense of detachment format he actual issues involved, making it inconceivable to the average reader how they can positively affect the environment. This research can partially be looked at as opposite force to collaboration in a society to maintain a landscape, which is a central idea to my project. The power of the visual image in an interesting one, and it’s ability to explain complicated issues in a manageable way has been clear to me as it is part of my profession, but rarely have I looked at it’s negative connotations. Though Micheals research highlights the negative in visual communication I think it is important to remember that these same techniques can be used for reinforcing the positive. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Brief: key points

Key points from Chapter 1. of John Berger's 1972 book ways of seeing.

John Berger's Way's of Seeing highlight key moral and technical issues that a lack of understanding of a completely new form of viewing art poses. Firstly, how the technical changes to the way art is made and situated make it impossible to be viewed in a remotely similar way as to when it was made. The essay then goes on to challenge the viewpoint that by mechanical reproduction the masses, or even a seasoned art critic can fully or even partially make use of and comprehend art of the past.

Berger argues that the former sacred role of art has been lost due to the fact that most great works are first viewed at a remote location due to the means of reproduction, the 'pilgrimidge' to go and physically view a work is no longer necessary. Works of art are not restricted to location, thus the complete viewing experience is changed. No longer would you go to see a famous painting already knowing the physical likeness, so the value of the work changes. The conclusions made are no longer based on appreciation of first viewing the work but appreciation of authenticity.

The introduction of photography as an art form also posed a new dilemma- the altered understanding on perspective changed the whole field of (western) art. Man no longer looked at the world independently arranged for himself, as paintings were once arranged from single point perspective, making the viewer unique.

Furthermore, as a technical change in the viewing of art, the whole concept of reproducing means that works are juxtaposed and cropped. The attention of the viewer directed to where the presenter of the work wishes the attention to be, not where the artist intended.

However, Berger's most pressing point is the fear of the issues that a ignorance of these issues leads to. The assumption that now every man can appreciate art equally. The assumption that we should interpret works from the past as works from the present. The change of focus in the value of works of art.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

That Figures...

Just some work that popped into my head when I first heard the figures/(doll?) brief.

Maybe the doll I make will make use of the elements of costume design/be multifunctional as a costume itself?
How will distortion of proportion affect the mood of the doll?
How will my use of material determine the interpretation of character, ie in the Puktake image?
Can a single doll have multiple events/characters? 

Ilona Kivijärvi (b. 1960, Rovaniemi): Puktake 

Patrizia Guerresi Maïmouna

Hercules and Lion, 1928

Patrizia Guerresi Maïmouna

On the Post Apocalyptic World

Follow up on 'A World of Finite Resources"

What concerns me the most about the topics previously discussed is how, as an illustrator, can I highlight or make use of the information given to me on the seminar day. I was considering what I would do if I chose the given topic as my elective, and it struck out to me that communicating the worst case scenario or providing insight into what could happen if nothing is done about changing the linear production loop in our industries. To me, this is a convincing way of creating action to follow through with changes, and as it would be a topic that I would find interesting I can imagine that the same will go for someone else.

As a bit of recreational research I have compiled a few 50's-70's clips/links to series dealing with these topics. Specifically what I find interesting in these clips is that, thought dramatic, the issues are still relevant and should (to an extent) be taken seriously.

The first episode of the series 'Survivors' (1975) in which the 5% of the worlds remaining population try to 'survive', as the title suggests. In the tradition of British television, excessive drama is neatly avoided and it has a fairly serious take on the issues that would ensure if we had to rebuild society (in the 70's).

Though this movie dosn't specifically focus on the topic of resources, this link has a conversation about the last few survivors of the world talking about how the world had been destroyed by the human emotion of fear, also relevant on this topic is one of my faveroite movies, Dr.Stragelove.

And of course, it is impossible to talk about post apocalyptic resource wars without mad max, I chose to link the 2nd movie as it has a much more specific look on oil wars then the first, though there is no attempt to avoid over dramatization.