Friday, February 22, 2008

History and The Forever War (1974)

The Forever War (1974), a work of science fiction written more than three decades ago? I'm aware this question carries with controversial assumptions--Must we have an orientation? Can we?--but I do think a questioning of initial orientation is useful, particularly when we write about it in public.

One approach I have mixed feelings about brackets the form and content and takes fictional works of the past as evidence of a particular sentiment, in the case of Haldeman, it would be opposition to the Vietnam War (which ended, of course, a year later in 1975). I suppose one might conceive of analogous approaches to other works of literature--Orwell's 1984 or even Terminator or Terminator 2 (evidence of some fear about technology). In short, the narrative is taken as historical data, providing concrete evidence of some opinion or pointing in the direction of Zeitgeist.

Outside the academic context I'm familiar with, I think this approach/orientation is pretty widespread. "Oh, the novel is responding to X," would be the refrain. I'm not even quite sure how to name it. Is it naive cultural historicism? (Actually, I'm sure that "Oh, the novel is responding to X" could encompass countless interpretive orientations.)

But let's continue with this provisional approach. There are countless problems with it, most notably that it brackets all considerations of form and most consideration of any content that conflicts with the interpretation. Yet I don't think the reductionism is necessarily bad. For one, being able to speak about novels and film in this way connects us up at least preliminarily with larger projects of social and cultural history.

So I'm attracted to the idea of beginning with this, shall I say "popular" approach, and, identifying some of its aporia and contradictions, proceed in an iterative, dialectical manner.

So let's begin. What are the developments (political, social, technological, etc...) that this book provides evidence of? (I suppose I should say I'm not entirely clear on what kind of evidence I'm talking about. I suppose at a minimum, it provides evidence of some level of awareness of such developments, such as I (and others writing about Haldeman) recognize them.)

  • Vietnam War (~1959 to 1975)
  • Human Spaceflight to other Planets / Moons: Apollo Moon landing July 20, 1969.
  • Human Spaceflight: USSR: Yuri Gagarin (April 12, 1961).
  • Expanding Knowledge of Solar System: Pluto was only identified in 1930. Titan identified in 1944. Charon, Pluto's moon (not the Charon in the book), was identified in 1978.
  • Relativity: 1905?
  • Search for extraterrestrial intelligence: First SETI conference in 1961.
  • Wormholes: Term coined by physicist John Wheeler in 1957.
  • Relevance of countless cultural events and movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
  • nth wave overpopulation fears? Worldwatch founded in 1974...
  • Psychopharmacology: 1950s on..
  • Computers doing probability calculations (See p. 200): Fourth generation Computers: November 15, 1971, Intel releases the 4004, first commercial microprocessor.
  • Laser weapons: First working laser in May 1960. Introduced to public in 1959. "The LASER, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation"

No doubt we need more additions..

There are so many problems with this approach. I think you can count several peaking out even from my description.