I’m putting together a teaching portfolio – whee, fun – and I’m going through whatever I can stick in there to make me look attractive. I’m including this essay I wrote for The Sociological Cinema (amazing resource) and I had forgotten most of it – and the last couple of paragraphs are still poignant for me. As I’m thinking more and more about why I write and what I really want to get out of it and why I think it’s important, I’m seeing more and more ways in which those things connect to the rest of what I do.
Writing is teaching and writing is learning. It’s a toolkit and the tools are incredibly versatile. We ignore this to our detriment.
Fiction in general – and speculative fiction in particular – is not merely escapism. It’s conceptual voyaging. It’s pushing beyond what we know into what we can grow to understand. Myths and legends are all-too-often dismissed as untrue; what this attitude fails to recognize is that the deepest, most foundational stories are persistent precisely because the best of them are vectors for the most profound elements of who we are, of how we understand ourselves to be, of where we imagine we might go. These things may be harmful, they may reproduce things that we find undesirable, but we need to understand them on their own terms before we can act.
In my course, I characterize most forms of social inequality to be based on myth – on origin stories. We’re better than these other people. This thing is bad. This is what it means to live a good life. This is what justice looks like. And when we find the worlds these myths create to be undesirable, we depend on the ability to imagine the alternatives to work toward those alternatives.
Sometimes understanding these alternatives involves spaceships and robots. Or it can. And sometimes it’s better when it does.