Saturday, July 21, 2007

Here Be Dragons: a science fantasy

Utopias of True Speech, objectivity, and invisible unknowable knowers have ghosted human science from the get-go. Be it mathematics, physics, or the scientific method itself, the One Ring to Rule Them All shifts the wearer out of the physical plane, makes them invisible, forces others to submit to their will – and submits them in turn to the power of miracle and danger, the danger and miracle of power. Having survived – or have we? – the Age of Miracles and Dangers, of artificial and augmented intelligence, of robot persons, of nanofactures and nanoplagues, of gengineered cyborganisms and well-nigh immortality, having made it out, over, beyond and through all the monsters we made, I take this opportunity to look back, and to dwell for a moment in dragons. Polemical, yes, to root a vision for the Science Fiction (sf) of Science Studies in Fantasy – sf’s classic other – but, as Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law reminds us and everyday life testifies, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In other words, any vision of either the futures or pasts of technoscience and Science Studies must take magic, mystery, and the impossible very seriously indeed; “Here Be Dragons” proposes to do just that.

Once upon a time human people didn't believe in dragons; once upon a time, they did. “Here Be Dragons”, citing popular histories of cartographic danger, riffs on dragons as depicted in the ancient works of Ursula K. LeGuin and John Gardner, exploiting and expanding on the philosophical old-worldings featured in LeGuin’s Earthsea series and Gardner’s Grendel respectively. In LeGuin, while human mages use the True Speech to cast spells and form the world to their will, they cannot tell lies in it. Dragons, however, whose native tongue is the True Speech, can; like the technoscientists of elsewhere and yesteryear, they twist the True Words to deceptive ends. In Gardner, as Isabelle Stengers indicates in her Penser avec Whitehead, the dragon ventriloquizes the Whitehead of Modes of Thought. Outside of time, beyond the limits of the all-too-human modes of memory and perception, this dragon remembers, like the demiurge-demon of Laplace, the futures. His advice to the monster Grendel? Find a pile of gold, magic rings and all, and sit on it - advice he knows, of course and in advance, that Grendel will not follow.

Knowledge is power: all knowledge is dangerous, self-knowledge doubly so. Here, at this Council in Switzerland, I wonder what is to be the fate of the One Ring, the science (studies) of the futures? Dangerous knowledges, dangerous unknowings, uncertain futures: somewhere between anecdotal theories and situated knowledges, “Here Be Dragons” presents a strange, impossible ethics of knowing alongside an equally strange, equally impossible ethics of ignorance.


Margeaux Temeltas said...

how funny: i once attended a conference on "mapping the disciplines" when i was at university of chicago - i will follow anything with the word map in it - it was fairly dry but one of the speakers presented antique maps directed towards this same project, with "disciplines" that included, in addition to natural science and metaphysics, fields of knowledge such as phrenology and magic.

and i remember thinking at the time, what sort of knowledge lies at the place on the map designated as "Here Be Dragons" ?


Anonymous said...

Sha Lar, you have unleashed one of my all-time favorite creatures (the dragon) into one of my all-time favorite forms of rebellion (fearless philosophical inquiry).

I like the notion of breathing life into the realm of theory by invoking a lifeform. I have been mulling over the implications, for example, of continuous participation in the construction of a SOCIAL ORGANISM. We're INSIDE the dragon wiggling about without a clear view of anything. We have no choice but to focus on the magic of interconnection and consensual hallucination.* Keep in mind that by "we" I'm assuming that the human does not exist in isolation, but is an extension of a larger ecosystem. Hence the magic of dialogue is zoological and polymorphous. Which brings us back to dragons.

-- Ebon Fisher

* In Neuromancer, William Gibson described cyberspace as a consensual hallucination.

Chloe said...

beyond belief....your inquiry is inspiring.

Nia said...

People should read this.

Anonymous said...

I like your comparison that the world is a dragon.