09 November 2004

Leftist Science Fiction in The New Yorker

Maud Newton links to a "Talk of the Town" piece in The New Yorker that begins with this paragraph:
For the past several years, Robert Max Jackson, a professor of sociology at N.Y.U., has taught a freshman honors seminar called "What If? The Art and Science of Imagining a Society That Never Was," in which he poses a series of outlandish questions--what if we could live for hundreds of years? what if a device were invented that would tell you conclusively when someone was lying?--and assigns the science-fiction novels of Isaac Asimov and Ursula K. LeGuin. Jackson, who describes himself as "well left of liberal," likes science fiction because it represents "an effort by someone to alter the rules of life and the social order and then to try to make it make sense." He understands that this can have sinister applications. "I would say that we live in a world where a group of conservatives within the Republican Party would like to do that," he says.
It's a particularly superficial and silly "Talk of the Town" piece (that's saying something!), but the idea that imaginative literature can help us understand our lives is one I support. I'd certainly choose different texts from Asimov and LeGuin, or at least additional texts, and the determinedly leftist bent of the class (as portrayed in the article) is annoying. I'm not against teachers having opinions or sharing them with their classes -- I worship at the altar of Howard Zinn, myself -- but I think it's important for a teacher to challenge students' ideas and ideologies. It's odd that a class in political imagination would, seemingly, restrict the type of imaginings allowed. A leftist teacher using conservative texts (Oath of Fealty anyone?) would be likely to create a fairly interesting class...

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