I was listening to the latest SFFaudio podcast and was intrigued by the question posed concerning books in science fiction that had some relation to wisdom. FLOWERS OF ALGERNON was mentioned, as effectively making us feel the distinction between wisdom and intelligence. However, I am a little surprised that in the discussion of SF “wisdom” literature no mention was made of Heinlein’s HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL, which was discussed in episode SFFaudiopodcast 256 as containing a good philosophy of life and of self-culture: http://www.sffaudio.com/?p=51536. To balance that I would include Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS TRILOGY. On the surface Heinlein’s and Butler’s vision of positive human qualities are in opposition, yet both advocate that the prime motivation of humans is resistance and the struggle to be free.
Ursula Leguin’s stories are about gaining wisdom, and she explicitly includes a taoist-inspired perspective of wisdom in both her children’s books and her more adult works. The story of the WIZARD OF EARTHSEA trilogy, but also her ANNALS OF THE WESTERN SHORE trilogy, contain coming of age and coming to maturity narratives that involve coming to wisdom. Leguin also places great emphasis on ecological awareness and the overcoming of patriarchal blindness and oppression.
Frank Herbert in the DUNE cycle was explicitly trying to inculcate an ecological wisdom of affirmation of difference and plurality, and adaptation to complexity and change. Further once one sees that Paul is not finally a hero, but rather an anti-hero, we can see the first book as a critique of the ego narrative or the myth of the hero, as the sort of attitude that takes us away from wisdom into a cynical, manipulative, and ultimately tyrannical relation to life.
I do not wish to give in to TRUE DETECTIVE mania, but I would argue that one of the faces of wisdom is horror. No defintion is given of wisdom, but if it is to be anything different than useful advice on how to get ahead in the rat-race or how to bow your head and be subservient to those who do get ahead, it is about seeing with your own eyes, speaking and acting in your own name. Conventional and conformist masks and filters must fall. Reality is discovered as vaster, but also as weirder and more dangerous than comfort-zone consensus suggests. So I would add H.P.Lovecraft to the list. I think that this is behind Slavoj Zizek’s repeated commenting of John Carpenter’s film THEY LIVE, where donning new spectacles allows them to see through the ideological consensual illusion imposed by infiltrated aliens to control us.
2 thoughts on “ON SF AS WISDOM LITERATURE”
Great selections, thanks for your feedback!!
The podcast episode was quite interesting. In general I don’t much like the new arrival episodes, as I feel informed but not nourished. The fact of starting with your question about wisdom in sf gave unity to much of the discussion and so made it more successful.