Timothy Miller (Sarah Lawrence College)
Medieval European literature played a defining role in the development of modern fantasy fiction, and genre fantasy has already received a great deal of critical attention in the academic study of medievalism. By comparison, the complex relationship of genre science fiction to the Middle Ages has been sorely understudied, and this session will include papers that consider either or both of the topics in its title, that is, on the one hand, the appearance or influence of "the medieval," broadly conceived, in modern science fiction. Such papers might examine how certain works of SF (re)construct the medieval: fruitful examples would include a text like Frank Herbert's Dune, where neo-feudalism prevails; time travel novels in which contemporary characters return to an imagined Middle Ages; SF narratives written by medievalists (such as C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy); or space operas that follow romance or folkloric formulae. Alternatively, papers in search of "science fiction in the Middle Ages" might apply to medieval texts concepts central to the academic study of science fiction -- Darko Suvin's "cognitive estrangement," Fredric Jameson's theory of utopia, and so on -- or examine any set of medieval discourses, impulses, or individual works that might be productively understood as some kind of equivalent to contemporary SF. Examples here might include dream visions in which the narrator traverses the celestial spheres, tales of impossible gadgets, or narratives of alchemical success or folly. Finally, papers that argue from a perspective denying the compatibility of the medieval worldview and the rationalist-empiricist discourse of science fiction would also be welcome. This session will advance our understanding of the place of (proto-)science in medieval fictions, but also attempt to account for the frequent reappearance of the medieval in the distinctly modern science fiction genre, which often takes pride in its modernity and defines itself against pre-Enlightenment epistemologies.
This session will explore the reception and reconstruction of the Middle Ages in contemporary science fiction narrative, but also invites reconsiderations of the appearance of proto-scientific discourses in medieval literature itself, in search of possible connections between these phenomena. Accordingly, individual papers may address modern and/or medieval texts: neo-medieval science fiction masterworks such as Frank Herbert's Dune, where neo-feudalism prevails; time travel novels in which contemporary characters return to an imagined Middle Ages; SF narratives written by medievalists (such as C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy); space operas that follow romance or folkloric formulae; or any medieval text with natural-scientific ambitions of its own (dream visions, marvel tales, alchemical ruminations, bestiaries, and more). By bringing SF theory and medievalizing science fiction in dialogue with the science and fiction of the Middle Ages, this session will advance our understanding of the place of (proto-)science in medieval literature, while also perhaps shedding light on the unexpectedly frequent reappearance of the medieval in the distinctively modern genre of science fiction genre, which so often takes pride in its modernity and defines itself against pre-Enlightenment epistemologies.