Some good sentences on science fiction

I’ve been looking at G. K. Chesterton’s theology lately, but today I came across this:

The modern man no longer presents the memoirs of his great grandfather; but is engaged in writing a detailed and authoritative biography of his great-grandson. […]there is something spirited, if eccentric, in the sight of so many people fighting over again the fights that have not yet happened; of people still glowing with the memory of tomorrow morning. A man in advance of the age is a familiar phrase enough. An age in advance of the age is really rather odd.

Cranky curmudgeon is cranky, I guess. Chesterton’s own futurism was marvelously boring:

Very few words are needed to explain why London, a hundred years hence, will be very like it is now, or rather, since I must slip into a prophetic past, why London, when my story opens, was very like it was in those enviable days when I was still alive. The reason can be stated in one sentence. The people had absolutely lost faith in revolutions. […] That vague and somewhat depressed reliance upon things happening as they have always happened, which is with all Londoners a mood, had become an assumed condition. There was really no reason for any man doing anything but the thing he had done the day before.

What’s marvelous about this is how it recapitulates the Arendtian claim that the human condition demands novel and unforeseeable speech and deeds to renew our shared world and, simultaneously, so that individuals can distinguish themselves. Chesterton treats this need for novelty and distinction as if it were somehow an adolescent failing beyond which all adult societies must grow. John Holbo adds:

Then: everything erupts in glorious medievalism! Logically, it should be allowable for any imaginative treatment of the future of science, or the possibilities of science (up to and including fairly flagrant impossibilities) to count as [science-fiction.] But that means, potentially: things stay the same.

Of course, this is the sensible entailment of the claim that science-fiction isn’t about the future but rather rehashes the problems of the present. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” In contrast, the future is where and how we live right now.





One response to “Some good sentences on science fiction”

  1. […] on September 18th, 2012 I try to defend conservatism sometimes. I also like Chesterton. Here’s one reason why: In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, […]

Second Opinions