This insightful, playful monograph from Golston does exactly what it advertises: modeling poetics based on how poetry (and some parallel artistic endeavors) has filtered through a century-plus of science fiction. This is not a book about science fiction in and of itself, but it is a book about the resonances of science-fiction tropes and ideas in poetic language.
The germ of Golston’s project is a throwaway line in Robert Smithson’s Entropy and the New Monuments about how cinema supplanted nature as inspiration for many of his fellow artists: “The movies give a ritual pattern to the lives of many artists, and this induces a kind of ‘low budget’ mysticism, which keeps them in a perpetual trance.” Golston charts how the demotic appeal of sci-fi, much like that of the B-movie, cross-pollinated into poetry and other branches of the avant garde.
Golston creates what he calls a “regular Rube Goldberg machine” of a critical apparatus, drawing on Walter Benjamin, Roman Jakobson, and Gilles Deleuze. He starts by acknowledging that, per the important work of Darko Suvin to situate science fiction critically, the genre is premised on cognitive estrangement. But he is not interested in the specific nuts and bolts of science fiction as it exists but rather how science fiction has created a model not only for other poets but also for musicians and landscape artists.
Golston’s critical lens moves around quite a bit, but he begins with familiar enough subjects: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mina Loy, William S. Burroughs. From there he moves into more “alien” terrain: Ed Dorn’s long poem Gunslinger, the discombobulated work of Clark Coolidge. Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and Jimi Hendrix all come under consideration. The result of Golston’s restless, rich scholarship is the first substantial monograph on science fiction and avant-garde poetics, using Russian Formalism, Frankfurt School dialectics, and Deleuzian theory to show how the avant-garde inherently follows the parameters of sci fi, in both theme and form.
“Golston’s writing is beautifully pitched, alive with a sort of dark excitement. We are, after all, undertaking journeys without a known destination, journeys that can take us deep into the earth’s core or up into the starry void. Golston certainly theorizes these itineraries—Benjamin, Deleuze, Jameson, and others are active presences here—but his expository prose is also braced by popular idiom and by the wild vocabularies his exemplary texts evolve.”
—Peter Nicholls, author of George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism
"Michael Golston’s new book is a grand turning and re-turning of the irrealities of sci-fi beamed out of a literary critical Zeiss projector, illuminating the alienness that needs to be palpable for the real science fiction of poetics. For readers of formally active poetry, this is a necessary, consequential intervention—and it is also more fun than criticism ever realized it could (should) be."
—M.R. Hofer is a professor of English and the director of literature at the University of New Mexico. He serves as the editor for the UNM Press Series Recencies: Research and Recovery in Twentieth-Century American Poetics.
"Golston takes his readers on a mind-bending romp through twentieth-century experimental poetry, from the futurisms of Velimir Khlebnikov and Mina Loy to Clark Coolidge's crystallography, Sun Ra's Afrofuturism, and Evelyn Reilly's reflections on styrofoam. Poetic innovators, he shows, have been consistently influenced by science fiction not only in some of their themes and memes, but more fundamentally in their formal experimentations. Science fiction poetry, a perpetually overlooked genre, is not only alive and well, but has roots running rhizomatically back to the early twentieth-century avantgardes. Landmark theorists of culture from Walter Benjamin to Deleuze and Guattari similarly ground some of their most important metaphors in science fiction, opening up a new universe of science fiction-grounded criticism. A riveting read for readers of poetry and science fiction alike."
—Ursula K. Heise is a professor in the Department of English, serves as Marcia H. Howard Team Chair in Literary Studies, and serves as the director at the Laboatory of Environmental Narrative Strategies at the Institute of Environment and Sustainability at the University of California Los Angeles.