Saturday 21 November 2015

The value of science fiction for history

There is no more vivid encapsulation of an historical moment than that which is captured in a futural vision that no longer passes for futuristic. They are troves, these archaic futurities.

This is part of my ongoing semi-obsession with the film Silent Running (1972). It quite beautifully articulates a very particular understanding of what an environment is – an understanding that now stands out as being something from another era altogether. And the fact that it does so through such a rich medium serves more important purposes than the simply illustrative (although there's that too).

Of course, when reading or watching science fictions past, it is often striking just how much they get right and there is far more to such texts and reels than their out-datedness. But there is something particularly striking in moments that jar with the present rather than resonate with it. Something irreducibly valuable.

And all of this is why I would much prefer to pursue a 'history of ideas' than an 'intellectual history.' How staid and textureless is the latter as a flag for thought? That is not to condemn the close, focused concern with the texts that such a term designates, far from it. It is just to prise open the possibility of there being no useful or interesting distinction to be made between 'cultural' history and that of the 'intellectual.' To regard the separation of 'high' and 'low' not so much with scorn as with humour. (What is funnier than the vain, indignant defence of a hierarchy that has already crumbled?)