Darko Suvin’s “Metamorphoses of Science Fiction” Essay
Darko Suvin’s “Metamorphoses of Science Fiction”
In Darko Suvin’s “Metamorphoses of Science Fiction,” Suvin argues that science fiction should be considered its own literary genre. The reason he believes science fiction is distinct from other literary genres is because of its transforming aspects. Suvin describes science fiction as the literature of “cognitive estrangement,” which includes a “novum”. It is his belief that both cognition and estrangement must be both present and interactive in science fiction.
Although it can be argued that science fiction is not its own literary genre because of its similarities to myth, fantasy, and folktale, it is significantly different from these genres because of its ability to cause the reader to think in a new way about something that is familiar to him/her. Science fiction should be its own literary genre because of its unique ability to cause readers to re-think everyday assumptions. This is important, because if we were not open to change, we would not be able to advance as a culture.
Suvin calls this idea estrangement, which he defines as “something that confronts a set normative system … with a point of view or look implying a new set of norms” (4); meaning something that appears normal, is incorporated with something unknown. Estrangement, thus, would be the process of separating or distancing ourselves from the real world and allowing our minds to imagine or create something that doesn’t exist or might exist in the future. It is taking things that are familiar and making them unfamiliar or taking two things that are meant to be together and separating them from each other.
So cognitive estrangement would be the separation or escape from our cognitive thinking or what the reader sees as the real world and allowing his/her mind to imagine and create something that is not of the real world. Suvin uses the example of the transforming mirror, which causes “a reflection of but also on reality” (10), which means a reflection of what is real and also how the viewer thinks about reality from a strange or new perspective (through the introduction of the novum).
This causes his/her view of reality to be transformed. In “Metamorphoses of Science Fiction,” Darko Suvin defends his cited definition of Science Fiction as its own literary genre, by providing examples and pointing out the similarities and differences arising from the comparison of science fiction to myth,folktale, and fantasy. Suvin says that myths are similar to science fiction in the aspect that they both incorporate the usage of estrangement.
However, he points out that there are also many differences between them as well. Science fiction sees the norms of reality as transformable and changeable, whereas myths are the complete opposites. They “conceive human relations as fixed and supernaturally determined”(8). This mean that the lives of characters are already made for them and that they do not have the ability to change what will happen to them. Folktale is also similar to science fiction where it defies the rules and laws of the empirical environment.
However, folktales go above and beyond transforming the empirical environment, it creates a “closed collateral world indifferent to cognitive possibilities”(8). This means that in the world created in a folktale, anything is possible. He uses the example of a flying carpet, stating, “The flying carpet evades the empirical law of physical gravity”(8). This quote shows the difference between folktale and science fiction because a folktale creates something that is completely unfamiliar whereas science fiction takes something familiar and makes it unfamiliar.
Similar to folktale, fantasy causes tension between the “arbitrary supernatural phenomena and the empirical norms they infiltrate. ”(8) This means things that are completely unfamiliar to the reader intrude into what they see as real. For example in Harry Potter, wizards and witches “infiltrate” the real world without non-magical people knowing. This can cause confusion, because it does not completely create its own world, and it does not go by the rules and laws of our world, so it is in between the two worlds.
Overall, in “Metamorphoses of Science Fiction”, Suvin creates a clear systematic approach to the defense of his definition of Science Fiction as “the literature of cognitive estrangement” and why it should be its own literary genre. He provides sufficient and convincing evidence to reinforce his claim by using identifying principles of science fiction, making comparisons, and providing an insightful explanation of his views.