HAWKSBILL STATION – Robert Silverberg (1968)

Hawksbill Station Silverberg (Steir)It is one of the wonders of the written word that a novel about time travel actually functions as a time machine itself – albeit a shaky one. Reading Robert Silverberg’s Hawksbill Station takes us back to the end of the 60ies, but not fully: the possibility of truly experiencing the context in which readers in 1968 read this short novel for the first time is forever lost in time.

According to Lawrence Block, Silverberg wrote 4 books a month at the end of the 50ies and the beginning of the 60ies, “a quarter of a million words a month”. He did so in lots of genres, including “about 200 erotic novels published as Don Elliott” – to pay off the house he bought.

If anything, Hawksbill Station shows that Silverberg was indeed a hardened professional: the prose is rock solid and the pacing is great. But solid prose and great pacing don’t necessarily save a novel from becoming dated. So, has this story about a penal colony for future political prisoners in the early Paleozoic aged well?

I liked the tone of Silverberg’s Dying Inside, and there’s something of that here too in a few short instances of mild satire about revolutionary dialectics. But don’t mistake this for an intricate political book: it is an expanded version of a 1967 novella in which the political angle was mostly absent.

What’s the story about? In a future 1984 the American government is replaced by a “syndicalist” totalitarian regime. That regime sends political prisoners back to a time on Earth with hardly any life – trilobites and moss is about all that’s to be found on barren rocks. They do so via a time machine invented by Edmond Hawksbill.

When the novel starts the penal colony has already existed for years, and has grown to about 140 people – many of them suffering serious mental issues because of their ordeal. The story is centered on Jim Barrett, who is chief because of seniority. After half a year with no arrivals, a new prisoner, Lew Hahn, materializes, and he is a bit of a mystery. The other narrative pull is the backstory of Jim, who we get to know as a 16-year old joining the underground resistance almost by chance, and who we follow right up until he is sent back in time. Those flashbacks – that were not in the novella – are about half of the book.

In an article for Strange Horizons Alvaro Zinos-Amaro writes that “this secondary strand tends to dilute the powerful claustrophobia of the prisoners stuck in the past. Every time we are brought back to the “present” the narrative provides a measure of relief, allowing us to escape the men’s predicament.”

I see what Zinos-Amaro means, but I’m not sure I agree, as I think the “powerful claustrophobia” doesn’t really work in the first place. The mental troubles of most of the men is described sketchily at best, and when Silverberg does dwell on it, often cartoonish. The most striking example is one guy who turned homosexual because of sexual deprivation (the colony has no women), but then decides to stop raping his fellow prisoners, and instead tries to make a woman out of dirt which he hopes lightning will animate. When it turns out he doesn’t seem to have sculpted a vagina, other characters comment that he might be changing orientation again. I don’t want to fault Silverberg for dated notions about sexuality, but things like that don’t help evoking claustrophobia in this contemporary reader. I thought D.G. Compton’s Farewell, Earth’s Bliss – about a penal colony on Mars – did a better job in portraying isolation and what it does to a small society.


The flashbacks do provide a fairly interesting yet typical arc of youthful idealism to older political detachment. And while Silverberg offers an interesting analysis of the USA being fundamentally conceived as a conservative system that didn’t change structurally since it was founded (contrary to countries like France or Germany), there’s not much else that’s really interesting on the political front, because he avoids being outspoken – aside from those few easy shots at dialectics.

Writing in the political climate of his Cold War age he doesn’t make clear choices : the “syndicalist” new government isn’t left nor right. The counter-revolutionaries seem to be modeled on the Russians, at least in name – some characters are described as “Khrushchevist with trotskyite leanings”, and similar denominations – but what they want doesn’t seem to be much more than reinstalling democracy. So don’t expect deep economical or political analysis – it seems as if Silverberg just picked the default revolutionary thought available to him at the time, and only used them as labels to add a bit of color, because that would be easily recognizable for his readers, and feel ‘contemporary’ too.

While art and literature inherently don’t need to have political intentions, it is neigh impossible to escape ideological undercurrents. I think there is truth in Louis Althusser’s dictum “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence”, and so that relationship unavoidably has an effect on writing too. As such, and especially given the subject matter of the book, it is a bit of a missed opportunity Silverberg didn’t try to communicate his political thoughts better, but I get it: he tried to write an entertaining book first – that house, you know. So a political manifest this not, even though it isn’t too bad as a short sociological sketch of a fictional case study.


I can easily forgive some factual mistakes (the early Paleozoic and Late Cambrian are not the same, and both also feature much more life forms than he describes – maybe science wasn’t sure on that front in the 60ies), but I’m frankly baffled by – spoiler – new arrival Lew Hahn’s psychology: if they were never sure whether prisoners actually survived time travel to begin with, surely his mission was possibly suicidal?

I also think some readers today might take offense in the way Silverberg portrays Barrett’s thoughts on his girlfriend Janet in the flashbacks, even though there is a certain realism to the matter.

Finally, the time travel aspect of this book is not the focus, but overall well done: the basic idea of using it as a form of banishment is good, and there are a few interesting details too. On the other hand: while the mechanics are clearly not the novel’s point, I’m not sure if that excuses Silverberg for being sloppy & illogical about it. How does one install a receiving station in the past? And why? It doesn’t seem necessary given stuff that materializes elsewhere too? Silverberg wrote a whole lot on time travel: that article by Zinos-Amaro mentions 9 other novels and 10 short stories on the matter, so if that is your thing, there’s more to explore.


Anyhow, Silverberg can write, so much is clear. For a laudatory 21st century review, I refer you to Joachim Boaz’s Ruminations, for whom the claustrophobia did work. He also highlights Jim Barrett as a character, and while I agree that his personal arc is well done, interesting and with sufficient depth, I would not say he is “one of best realized characters I’ve ever come across in science fiction”.

All and all, if I’m honest, I think the audience for Hawksbill Station – published in the UK as The Anvil of Time – has become very limited today. Having said that, if you are a fan of Silverberg this is a must-read, and if you’re big on vintage science fiction of the 60ies you shouldn’t hesitate either if you happen to find this in a second hand shop – should be cheap, and reading it flies by. I do think I liked The Man in the Maze better though.

I still have copies of Silverberg’s Downward to Earth and The World Inside on my TBR, and I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually – books like these are great palate cleansers in between other stuff, and whatever the quality, they always offer some welcome historical perspective.

Hawksbill Station Silverberg (Alexander)


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45 responses to “HAWKSBILL STATION – Robert Silverberg (1968)

  1. Is it exhausting to read a book and be thinking so much about it? Especially for a fluff piece of SF?
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a snob who thinks SFF isn’t “real literature” but at the same time, most of it IS escapist and as such doesn’t have a deeper, underlying meaning that people like you and Joachim seem to need in their books. After reading this review, I have to wonder, are you creating more out of the story than it actually contains?

    I realize the above could be taken as an offensive statement, but it isn’t meant to be, but a real question. It’s also why I DO follow you and J. Getting a completely different viewpoint on a book, or a time of books, is what being a reader is all about. I might think your completely wrong and off the choochoo tracks, but at least I’ve been exposed to your thoughts.

    Your point about Silverberg just churning out the books makes me realize that not much has really changed in 70’ish years. It’s that just now the authors tend to combine about 5 of those books into 1 so we feel like more is being written.

    You talk about this not necessarily being to a modern audiences taste. Do you think societal changes have made that much of a difference in what people are willing to read, or not read? I’m not talking about that stupid college kid who doesn’t know anything except what his twitter friends say, but actually educated people who think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are all good questions, thank you.

      I wouldn’t say I really really thought about all this while reading it, or at least, it doesn’t really require an effort, these thoughts simply come naturally. The only things that take some effort is taking a bit of notes, but for a book like this that’s also fairly limited, and reading a bit of reviews & articles in preparation of the review. A book like Ada Palmer’s is much, much more mentally taxing – even if I wouldn’t review it.

      But I agree – this is more or less fluff. But I’m interested to try and discover what texts communicate structurally/philosophically/etc. about their context, author, etc. It’s simply something I like to do, I’m wired that way. But sure, in a sense any such interpretation is adding things to the story, as most of it can’t be ‘proven’ as such. On the other hand, in this case, I don’t think I’ve imbued this novel with lots of new/additional meaning. The only thing that’s really an interpretative issue is that I think Silverberg avoided taking a political stance. The rest of my review is just my own reaction to the book.

      Really excellent point about the bloat in contemporary fiction, I hadn’t thought about it that, but I really think you are right. On top of that, the paperback pocket format of this one, with 192 pages, wouldn’t be much more than 100 pages in a present day hardcover format I think.

      As for changing times: I think it just is a matter of becoming dated. It’s not so much things like woke and societal changes like that – although for some it might be a part of it – but just the subject matter and the prose tone that becomes dated. Like you say, this novel is mainly fluff, meant for entertainment, and so whether or not the reader is educated or older than a teenager doesn’t really factor that much I think: people who read this stuff back in the days, or read similar contemporary stuff today, want to be entertained, and that’s harder if you’re constantly reminded about the fact that this is an ‘old’ book: there’s the prose for one, but also the content: things like “trotskyite” aren’t part of the discourse anymore. It’s harder for SF too by the way, because lots of the future predictions are obviously off, and so that also snaps you out of your suspension of disbelief, and hinders being entertained. (Fantasy has it much, much more easy I think in that respect – as have books like Dune – basically a science fantasy too, set so far in the future it is hard to be nulled by real life.) So I think the only people that would enjoy books like Silverberg’s today are either people approaching this from an historical/intellectual angle, or people that were young in the 1960ies with nostalgia for what they read in their teens/20ies.

      I hope I’m making myself clear – don’t hesitate to shoot some more thoughts, they spawn interesting tangets.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What motivated you or initiated you reading this novel?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another good question! The answer is threefold.

      I used to try and read a significant chunck of the classics of SF, and because of that I read Dying Inside by Silverberg, it’s in the Masterworks collection. I liked that, and decided to read some more Silverberg, so I bought a bunch cheap second hand.
      I also try to read some of Joachim Boaz’ recommendations, as I explained in my review of Compton’s Farewell, Earth’s Bliss. This is one of those, and as it it thematically liked to Farewell, I picked Hawksbill this time around.
      Finally, I read these 60ies titles to keep my reading varied. As I said, they are excellent palate cleansers: short, usually not that deep, easily read. I find that they work well in between bigger, more serious books. Plus, I like the additional factor of gaining a bit more understanding of (cultural) history, and the history of the speculative genre each time I read one.

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      • Thanks for elaborating! It’s always interesting to see how others pick and choose. 👍

        Liked by 1 person

        • What’s your main strategy on that front? You read a lot more than me, so how to keep the oven burning with good bricks?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have a constant flow of ARC reads – I request and often enough get them. That fills my need for contemporary books very well.
            As for backlists, I have a huge tbr that I can select from. I split time between ARC novels by selecting from some best of lists (like award lists) and filling in novels on a whim.
            The last one is more chaotic and I’m happy that way – it can be a random select from my tbr, or some book from my shelf that stares at me, or whatever.
            All that doesn’t mean that I get a high quote of 5 star reads. I made my peace with that and don’t raise the bar too high. My reads typically take a couple of days only, and I allow much slack wrt quality. If it ain’t good, the next one will hopefully do it!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh, my 5-star rating is very low: 6 out of 38 reads last year. No matter what you do and how carefully you select, most books disappoint a bit. And the older I get, the more critical I get.

              I probably have quite some 5 star reads on my TBR (I naively think), I could read them all first, but it would be a long dry spell afterwards.

              As for the ARCs: you request those just based on the blurb?

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  3. Silverberg is hit and miss with me. Like you, I admired Dying Inside but my real favorites Downward to the Earth and “Sailing to Byzantium.” I read the novella version of “Hawksbill Station” not too long ago and liked the idea and setting, but I’m not sure I’d want a whole novel of it. Often when I read Silverberg I admire him as an impressive hack writer. He’s like the old pulp writers who could churn out a solid readable story in any genre quickly for any magazine. I always wondered if he just took more time on Downward to the Earth and that’s why it seems so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I think that’s a fair characterization of the man, based on the 3 novels I read. Your comment does make me very curious about Downward to Earth, but I probably won’t read that before the end of 2022. Sailing to Byzantium hadn’t appeared on my radar yet.

      As for the novel vs. novella: the flashback parts actually read like a different story, so it’s not a novel with just more of the trilobites, the barren rock and the claustrophobia.

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  4. Here’s how Silverberg is remembered by our CSF database. He has a total of 73 works in the system. That’s a lot. But only one novel and three short stories made it to the final lists. His works probably compete with each other, hurting some of them in our system.

    https://csfquery.com/SearchResult?person=Robert+Silverberg&mincite=1&category=all&sortby=7

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I guess so, that’s interesting. And also in their genesis: maybe if he would have written less, he could have spend more time fleshing out his worlds & stories, and on quality control.

      Like

  5. Great review! It’s a no for me. I’ve read Dying Inside and it was ok I guess. But I’ve never read a synopsis of a Silverberg book and then wanted to read it. The SF elements in his stories always sound so dull. But anyway, I enjoy reading reviews of them.

    The way you describe the premise of the penal colony in prehistory made me wonder what the added value was of setting it in prehistory at all. If the colony had been on a deserted island somewhere on the west coast of Australia, would the story have been that much different?

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    • Good question. The time travel is one way, and they are on an Earth that is devoid of all life, except trilobites and moss. That adds to the psychological horror for sure. On an island, they could still dream of being rescued, or make a raft or something. As Silverberg aims for a bit of psychological horror here, it is a slight but significant difference.

      The other SF element is the future prediction: the USA devolving into a autocratic system. Not very original, but kinda interesting in the light of recent events.

      It’s basically a no for me either, but as I said above, these are great as palate cleansers, and occasionally some of these 60ies pockets are gems, so I don’t mind the investment – I always go in with low expectations, and they are quick reads either way.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’ll end up rereading Julian May’s series (Saga of the Pliocene Exile, 4 books) one day, out of teenage nostalgia. She uses the same idea, but adds the fact that the prisoners discover that the past Earth they’ve been sent to is home to two alien races that have crashed on our planet, at war with each other (but they didn’t leave a trace in the archeological record). The prisoners get caught up in between. The aliens also have magical powers if I remember correctly, so it has a bit of a fantasy vibe as well. I read it in a Dutch translation and absolutely loved it when I was 14.

      I just read up on it a bit, and the first book even won the Locus.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating review and great comments, I really enjoyed reading this. 🙂 The only Silverberg I’ve tried is Sailing to Byzantium and I couldn’t get into it. Perhaps it was me, but I thought it dull and meandering without really going anywhere. I remember it being *very* descriptive. After reading James’s comment above, maybe I’ll give it another try.

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  7. Thanks for another thoughtful review.

    I read both the novella and novel versions of Hawksbill Station a few years back with an eye to writing a review. It never materialised so I’m going to use your comments to try and focus some of my thoughts on these works and Silverberg too.

    I feel that the novella is superior to the novel. I read it first and found that the claustrophobia that many speak of was apparent. In the absence of flashbacks and any sideways relief from life in the Palaeozoic the sense of isolation was, for me at least, effectively conjured.

    Because I liked the novella I perhaps foolishly decided to press on immediately to the novel. The story to my mind suffers from its expansion.
    The worldbuilding he indulges in to conjure both the political scene and revolutionary movement of late 20th century USA failed to impress me. His vision of what constitutes a revolutionary movement, for instance, seems to be drawn straight from the history of the American Revolution in the late 18th century. Perhaps not a problem in a fictional work. But to my mind attempting to conjure a revolutionary movement in these terms while writing amidst an actual emergent revolutionary period in the late 1960s speaks to Silverberg’s distance from contemporary leftist politics, let alone his projections of a fictional future.

    This may be more of a problem for someone like myself who has been involved in far-left organisations (particularly in the late 1980s and 1990s). Certainly, having both an intellectual and experiential relation to revolutionary politics left me cold when reading Silverberg’s attempts to fashion a believable movement from what seemed like a schoolboy’s appreciation of 1776.

    But I feel that this speaks to wider problems regarding Silverberg’s work. Much is made of the fact that the man was the literal writing-machine. But is this such a wonderful thing? It makes me think of Marx’s comments to his friend Engels regarding what he had been reduced to: a machine that eats books and shit out words (I paraphrase, but it’s not far from the actual quote).

    This struck me recently reading what is considered one of Silverberg’s best short fictions: “Sundance” (1969). The story is cleverly constructed and compelling in its own way. But his viewpoint character, a man who identifies as a Native American, rings hollow to my mind. To be sure, I am not making a case for an author only writing what he knows, or not being allowed to write from different perspectives. But in this case at least I feel that his second hand knowledge betrays the perspective that he is trying to evoke.
    When Silverberg does write what he knows, for instance in “Dying Inside”, the results are much more impressive. But here I feel I am gaining too much insight into his character. Again, I am not saying that either an author or even more so their subject matter, needs to pass a test of political purity or correctness. However, I have found that distinctly misogynistic ideas surface with an alarming regularity in his work. For instance, the utterly cruel and pointless comments that Barrett thinks about his girlfriend in the novel of Hawksbill Station.

    I’ll stop here. My comments are rapidly turning into an essay. Thanks again for the review and the opportunity for providing me with a soapbox. And I haven’t even commented on your intriguing reference to Althusser and ideology!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated, as well as the interesting reply. Feel free – I don’t mind essay length answers at all!
      .
      Even though some of the mental stuff seemed cartoonish, I can imagine it being more powerful in a novella – Compton’s book worked better for me because the narrative did not leave Mars indeed.

      As I said, I don’t think Silverberg was aiming for real political realism here, and that shows indeed. I do think he more or less succeeds in portraying a kind of youthful pull towards revolution that is not necessarily linked to political content or viewpoints, but just a result of someone’s sociological surroundings and exterior motivations like wanting to belong to a group, get a girl, etc. With real political organizing it has not that many connections I guess, and I’m glad you confirm this, there seems a giant distance indeed between himself and the reality of his time. The political thinking he shows in the book doesn’t really surpass the level of cold war propaganda. As I wrote, that’s a missed opportunity – entertainment is fine, but why not aim for entertainment that has depth too, that is, more depth than Jim Barrett’s character development?

      While I admire a man who can churn out books, but you are right too: as I replied to James as well, in the end it would have been better if he had spend more time on quality control & fleshing out his worlds & stories. If he had done that, chances are that his works would have dated less easily. But I guess that simply was not his goal. Writing for Silveberg seems to be more about money paying the bills than art, from what I’ve read in interviews. I have no inherent problem with that, but it’s a factor when judging quality.

      As for the remarks about the girlfiend: there’s indeed a certain misogynic quality to that, or at the very least, they show a man thinking the bodily appearance of women is important, and at the same time having a paternalistic stance about it, and also a feeling of superiority towards her, and he’s also struggling with the fact that he doesn’t find her fully attractive but still is attracted to her. On top of that, he clearly starts loving her. As I read it, he was never explicitly cruel to her – just in his thoughts. I think real human feelings can be similarly paradoxical.

      So to me these remarks didn’t feel pointless, but rather honest – it shows how Silverberg possibly thinks himself. But indeed, such feelings have a certain obnoxious quality, yet people like that exist, also today (I’ve only read one book by him, but Houellebeqc springs to mind), and that’s why I wrote they have a certain realistic quality to them. I might even go as far and say they were psychologically the most interesting part of the novel, a kind of crack in the mask of what’s socially acceptable, Silverberg showing his true colors, so to say, even a hint of what Lacan or Zizek mean with ‘the Real’ – even though I don’t understand that much of Lacan at all, so don’t ask me to elaborate on that :). I’m not sure if all of that makes sense?

      As for that Althusser quote: to me it is one of the most profound insights in politics/the human condition ever uttered.

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      • I agree that the “cracks” in Silverberg’s veneer can open upon some of the more interesting aspects in his work. However, I find that the misogyny that I’ve detected in some of his stories is largely non-reflective and unconscious. He simply has nothing interesting to say about it, and its interest is surely in its brute facticity—implicitly, “look upon me and marvel!” Houellebecq, who you mention, at least attempts to account for the miserable characters he presents, insofar as he offers up explanations for their psychopathologies.

        I find that Althusser can often be alluring in a literary fashion. But ultimately I consider his take on ideology wrong, and markedly different to Marx’s (who he claims to be being faithful too—a failing not uncommon among the faithful!). Whereas ideology often represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence, “ideology” is also a moment of these “real conditions”. Althusser, by opposing ideology to real conditions also opens the chasm between the “ideal” and the “real” in a way that undermines his claim to being a materialist, let alone a Marxist (something common among those Marxists and others that chart their descent through Kant, Nietzsche, Freud and Lenin more than Hegel and Marx, to my mind). But this is surely a discussion for another time and place? I will take it up in part in my soon to be finished piece on fake reality…

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        • Yes, agreed that they are non-reflective and unconscious, and as such that’s an important difference with a Houellebecq. But in a way, it is exactly because they are unconscious that I find them interesting – not that they provide more insight, but simply because of the mere fact that they exist. If they were more consciously articulated and he tried to provide some insights it might be better/interesting from an intellectual p.o.v., but here he feeds into what I could call my psychological voyeurism as a reader.

          As for Althusser, your remarks only make me more interested in the piece you are writing. I am not well-versed in the details of Marxism, my background is more in postmodern philosophy & literary critique, and it is as such I encountered Althusser. Your remark that ideology is part of those real conditions is dead-on, but from my limited perspective not necessarily in contrast with Althusser’s quote – but part of that is semantics. As I am unfamiliar with the context of the quote, I trust your judgement on the matter. If you won’t elaborate on why it undermines his claim to being a materialist in your own piece, you are more than welcome to do so here. I’m not sure how to uphold a strict dichotomy between ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ myself, or between material conditions and ideology, these things tend to feed into each other, even though I acknowledge they start from the material reality. But maybe I’m out of my depth here?

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          • You may like two of Silverberg’s short stories I’ve recently read: “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” (1973) and “Schwartz Between the Galaxies” (1974). They are wonderful expressions of Silverberg’s exhaustion in the face of being an SF machine on the back of the post-1968 world.

            It’s been a while since I’ve read Althusser’s essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”. You’re right that Althusser considers ideology a moment of “real conditions”, but for him this relationship is ambiguous: i.e., on the one hand it is historically conditioned, on the other hand it is always already there. Which is to say it is in effect a transcendental condition. This brings Althusser closer to Kant than Hegel (which is no surprise considering how anti-Hegelian he was). But it is a considerable distance from Marx, whose conception of ideology is by no means so Kantian—or psychoanalytic for that matter!

            I feel that a lot of the discussion regarding the “real” and “ideal” has been complicated by Lacan and the Lacanian, to no good end. I am certainly not posing an unalloyed “real” beneath the encrustations of time and sociality. But I similarly find Lacan’s notion of the “real” as about useful as Kant’s notion of the “noumena”.

            My background is a mixed bag. Decades of a somewhat fraught relationship to the far- and ultra-left, with a PhD in philosophy thrown in for good measure. I wrote my doctoral thesis on Guy Debord and the situationists, but in the absence of any academic work and cynicism in the face of the implosion of global capitalism, I find myself drifting back to my first love: SF.

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            • I can’t comment that much further on Althusser without reading that essay – I’m only familiar with the broad outlines. I would say that being historically conditioned vs. being always there seems a bit like a chicken-or-egg question.

              As for Lacan, I don’t think he is that interesting at all – I’d say he speaks in public in a language so private, to paraphrase Rorty, that it’s more literature/art than anything else, and taking him as a compass to look at reality generally adds to the muddle instead of clarifying things. That said, his description of the Real – which I know mainly via Zizek and some Flemish postmodern poets – provides a good metaphor to describe certain things that happen in artistic practices, and even in our broader reality, that are hard to define otherwise. In a way, it’s just another way to describe/look at the Mystery that is Existence, if I’m allowed the use of caps.

              Your final remark reminds me of something I read recently, about Marxist intellectuals retreating into academia & critical theory because, well, what else was there to do without social revolution coming into being? As such, in the harmless environments of the universities, they were recuperated/neutralized by the capitalist system. Btw, do you really think global capitalism is imploding? Or do I misunderstand that sentence? Either way: reasons enough to be cynical indeed.

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              • I need to reread the Althusser essay.

                I like the idea of Lacan’s “real” as metaphor rather than as a placeholder for the un-representable. Perhaps Hegel’s “absolute” can be taken in a similar fashion, even though he believed in the possibility and even necessity of gaining such knowledge. No doubt my fidelity to Hegel stands in the way of taking him thus!

                I agree with the idea that critical thought/practice is neutralised and recuperated in the university setting. For instance, I tried to retreat into academy but failed—which I suppose can be interpreted as a form of success from the perspective of opposing recuperation!

                I find ‘implosion’ a more appropriate metaphorical description of what is happening at the moment. Capital appears to be reaching an impasse of sorts in the form of climate change, meanwhile fascism is once more on the march—albeit in an altered guise from its last visitation. And the neutralisation and recuperation of critical thought/practice appears to me to be more general than that which resides now in the university sector. I teeter on the verge of utter cynicism but hold on to the possibility of the old mole once again re-emerging. Otherwise, what else is one to do?

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              • I’ll keep it short this time: not much of a choice indeed. The problem with real, significant resistance seems to me that it generally turns out to be harmful to oneself. If it isn’t, chances are that one is just operating in the system itself without much effect. It’s like somebody in Egypt shouted to a camera right after the begin of the Arab Spring: “What can we do? Burn ourselves?”

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  8. Happy new year, bormgans. Hope you are doing well.

    I have mixed feelings on this book. I feel it’s audacious in a way, and feels somewhat edgy and transgressive, but the novel’s politics seem murky to me (a “have your cake and eat it too” amalgamation of left/right cliches), and I don’t think it sustains interest in its final third.

    I’ve read about a dozen Silverberg novels, and my favorite has always been Downward to the Earth, the only one I’d classify as a masterpiece, or close to one. It’s essentially a first-contact tale, with shades of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It contains some good world-building, and some genuinely creepy scenes with aliens. Ahead of its time, it was released well before Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which it sometimes resembles.

    Having fun reading Greg Egan’s Perihelion Summer, based on your review. Egan’s always been a bit too cold and technical for me — I prefer my SF to tilt toward the social sciences – but your review made this one seem a bit different, and I’m loving it so far. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, murky indeed – see the discussion in the comments with Antyphayes for more on that, if you haven’t seen that already.

      Good to read your thoughts on Downward to the Earth, I hope it will be a gem indeed.

      Glad you are enjoying Perihelion Summer, I think if you’re loving it now, you’ll like the rest of the book too. It’s fairly diverse in a way, but I felt it to be of consistent quality. Don’t hesitate to comment if you’ve finished it.

      All is fine here. Wishing you the best for the new year as well!

      Like

  9. Eh, I’m going to pass. Too many better books out there 😉 I’ll pick up Trent’s rec instead, I think: Downward to the Earth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Robert Silverberg Downward to the Earth | the sinister science

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