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Journal Article

Dialogical Twins: Post-Patriarchal Topography in Two Stories by Kim Stanley Robinson

Carol Franko
Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 22, No. 3 (Nov., 1995), pp. 305-322
Published by: SF-TH Inc
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240453
Page Count: 18
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Dialogical Twins: Post-Patriarchal Topography in Two Stories by Kim Stanley Robinson
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Abstract

Two recent works by Kim Stanley Robinson, "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" (1991) and A Short, Sharp Shock (1990) are "dialogical twins" in that they examine the same problem of human subjectivity as a relational and historical process. Both tell a story of a rational male subject in a violent world, and both use the struggles of this broadly representative protagonist to question gender-neutral explanations of the modern human condition. Both narratives are preoccupied with memory and with "topography," with mapping physical, historical, and psychic journeys. Both Everyman protagonists travel to a physical and historical end that demands the question "what next?" Both stories suggest that we can't imagine a better "what next" unless we reconsider Western Civilization's master narrative of how humans get to be rational adults. This narrative presumes two conditions for personhood: complete differentiation from and conflict with others whose own subjectivity must remain problematic for the rational subject. Thus selfhood is defined as an autonomy suspicious of and in conflict with other selves, and this supposedly unique and inevitable mode of subjectivity is used to explain the continuing strife in human relations. By retelling this same old story vividly, Robinson's "twin" stories question its adequacy, suggesting that the master narrative of how humans become rational subjects is not the full and coherent map it purports to be. Instead, both stories suggest that the master narrative is "androcentric," conflating human with male human, and positing the female as exemplary "Other," who symbolically represents the lack of both reason and subjectivity in order to undergird the position of the rational male subject. "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" and A Short, Sharp Shock call attention to how cultural space has been "gendered" according to this androcentric, binary model of sexual difference. In different ways, both stories retrace the male public and female private, or domestic, spaces that have structured experience at least since the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the middle class and of capitalism. Both stories estrange readers from this "gendered geography" by reversing or otherwise disrupting its public/private topography. Finally, both struggle to tell an "other" story of subjectivity embodied in both female and male humans, and founded on relations other than the imperative to differentiate from and then to dominate or submit to the "Other." Robinson's male protagonists resist being "written" as exemplary rational subjects who must doubt others' subjectivity in order to believe in their own. Homeless, since they don't fit into the narratives of post-Enlightenment patriarchy, these subjects-in-crisis, melancholy travelers, are feeling their way to a post-patriarchal landscape.

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