Science Fiction and the City

Critic Fredric Jameson–perhaps more well-known for his book Postmodernism: Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (and the essay that inspired the book) has also written on sf (Science Fiction), noting that it is a ‘spatial genre’:

“We thus need to explore the proposition that the distinctiveness of SF as a genre has less to do with time (history, past, future) than with space”.

—Fredric Jameson, “Science Fiction as a Spatial Genre,” 1987, 58

With implications for urban cultural studies, he also notes that:

Many SF cityscapes and utopias seem to me to participate in this curious paradox: that what signals the constructed, invented, artificial nature of SF as a genre—the palpable fact that an author has strained her or his invention to contrive some near or far culture’s city (and to make it somehow distinctive and different from those of rivals or predecessors)—that very lack of ontological density for the reader, that very artifice and unbelievability which are surely disastrous in the most realistic novels, is here an unexpected source of strength, feeding into the more traditional SF estrangement effects in a curiously formal, reflexive and overdetermined way. (54)

See also an online paper titled “Architectural Representations of the City in Science Fiction Cinema” and the blog Science Fiction & the City (from which the above image is taken).

Urban Voices: Jane Jacobs

Interest in Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) is hardly on the wane… a new scholarly edited volume on her legacy is due out this year (2012) titled The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs edited by Diane Zahm and Sonia Hirt and featuring an essay by Saskia Sassen. There’s also an instructive/educational video with a similar title Jane Jacobs’ Urban Wisdom (It is fairly basic, but includes interviews with Jacobs).

Although the notion of the city as an organism had been used by 19th-century planners (Haussmann, Cerdà), Jacobs recuperated it while arguing that the city was too complex of an organism to be reduced to a static plan. See her classic work The Death and Life of Great American Cities.