Posts Tagged ‘Fahrenheit 451’

Commissioned and ready long before he left us.

Shortly after hearing the news of Ray Bradbury’s death yesterday morning, I was asked if I would be interested in writing a tribute/obituary.  I passed on the opportunity.  This was partly because my schedule would not permit me to quickly write and publish anything that would do him justice, but it was also because I hadn’t fully thought through what Bradbury’s legacy means.

Despite thinking a bit about Bradbury’s work all day yesterday, I’m still not sure I have a grasp on this latter point.  I read a fair number of mainstream obits/tributes last night (I’ve so far avoided SF sites and fanpages) and none seem to get it right.  I do, however, know what they get wrong.  A number of writers, most memorably to me this writer at Slate who professes to be a “sci-fi nerd” (and has issues with how to use “however” properly), are falling over themselves trying to distance Bradbury from science fiction as a genre.  This is the same thing that happened when J.G. Ballard died–people thinking they are doing  a deceased writer a service by situating him as a serious writer of so-called “literary fiction” instead of that low-brow crap they call “genre fiction.”  In the wake of Ballard’s death, Ursula K. Le Guin rebuked this tendency in a manner I could never hope to replicate, so I’ll just point you toward her piece “Calling Utopia a Utopia.”  I’d love to see the same type of reply from her on the reception to Bradbury’s passing. (As a side note, Le Guin spoke on Bradbury here in Eugene at the public library not long ago as part of the NEA’s Big Read, which featured Fahrenheit 451 as the primary text.  She cares about that book and about talking straight about genre fiction.)

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A friend recently proposed an interesting exercise in hypothetical course design where one must select a single American novel for each decade of the 20th century to create a teachable arc for the century (and justify said choices).  Given my own interest in genre, I figured I’d adopt/adapt it for utopian/dystopian fiction (dropping the “American” requirement) to see what kind of survey of the genre I might teach (and what works I’d be willing to drop per only having one choice per decade).  The difficult part about conceptualizing this as an actual course is there is no way I would be able to teach this without starting with More’s Utopia and some other relevant earlier texts (Campanella? Bellamy and Morris? Wells? etc.) or doing a bunch of work up front introducing literary utopias via describing those works that lead up to what is really the dystopian turn in the genre that takes place at the beginning of the 20th century.  Not that I couldn’t do the latter, but I’d much  rather have students at least read More to begin.

That problem aside, I’ve still tried to follow a structure that makes sense for how an actual course might play out: works build on previously read works to allow for connections to be made, I begin with shorter texts rather than hitting students with something big and hard to start, and finish with less time-intensive texts so that students in the midst of final papers and finals prep would hopefully still make time for them.

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