Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962)

“[. . .] Rediscovering the Vision of Science Fiction. We cannot call everything with a monster in it science fiction, but if we make the presence of a hypothesis our standard, then we are free to widen the field considerably. The evolutionary line of science fiction could include not only Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. [1920] and War with the Newts [1936], but even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis [1915] and David Garnett’s Lady into Fox [1922]. We could broaden our definition endlessly, going beyond the commonly accepted idea of the ‘science fiction writer’ to include authors like Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, August Strindberg, Guillaume Apollinaire, Vladmir Mayakovsky, Jules Supervielle, Lu Xun, Sōseki Natsume, Uchida Hyakken, Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Ishikawa Jun, and so on.

“And we could go even further back, to Swift, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante, Apuleius, and Lucian. The pedigree for our literature of hypothesis would eventually trace itself all the way back to the Greeks.

“Viewed in this light, science fiction’s vision is not a narrow branch within literature but part of the mainstream, a literary current far longer and deeper than a movement like Naturalism, for example. Even if this vision does not encompass all of literature, it is a part too important to leave out. And if there is a potential for a boom in science fiction in our country, it will be a great blessing for Japanese literature, afflicted as it is with a shortage of hypotheses. [. . .]”   –Abe Kōbō, “The Boom in Science Fiction” (1962), trans. Christopher Bolton, Science Fiction Studies 88 (November 2002)

“Dante’s Inferno has always been so funny to me…”


“Dante’s Inferno has always been so funny to me because its this really important classic that is constantly referenced, but at the same time it’s really just a burn book. Dante Alighieri is Regina George and he wrote an entire book about a bunch of people he hates and why he hates them. Dante took out his pink gel pen and wrote out in big cursive letters: Achilles is a slut.”   —aphrodarling on tumblr (April 24, 2019)

Regina George is the antagonist of the 2004 film Mean Girls.

Contributed by Kate McKee (Bowdoin College ’22)

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

“Thus [Soaphead Church] chose to remember Hamlet’s abuse of Ophelia, but not Christ’s love of Mary Magdalene; Hamlet’s frivolous politics, but not Christ’s serious anarchy. He noticed Gibbon’s acidity, but not his tolerance, Othello’s love for the fair Desdemona, but not Iago’s perverted love of Othello. The works he admired most were Dante’s; those he despised most were Dostoyevsky’s. For all his exposure to the best minds of the Western world, he allowed only the narrowest interpretation to touch him. He responded to his father’s controlled violence by developing hard habits and a soft imagination. A hatred of, and fascination with, any hint of disorder or decay.

“At seventeen, however, he met his Beatrice, who was three years his senior.”   –Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

For more on this passage, see Dennis Looney, Freedom Readers: The African American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 183-188.

Ariel Dorfman on Literature and the Pandemic (WaPo, June 2020)

“We would do well to learn from writers who were banished from their birth lands or who abandoned them to search abroad for opportunities and perspectives unavailable back home. Just to name a select few, take the achievements of Dante, Voltaire, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, Marguerite Yourcenar, Ernest Hemingway, Mahmoud Darwish, Doris Lessing, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein and Marina Tsvetaeva; or contemporaries Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Assia Djebar and Gao Xingjian, to which I must add an array from my native Latin America, a continent that has known itself through the looking-glass that wandering artists such as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Julio Cortázar, Elena Poniatowska, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa have held up to its readers.

“What joins all these dissimilar figures, from unrelated nations and epochs, is how they transformed the curse of distance into a blessing, the need to see the world afresh. It is a lesson to be celebrated by those who wish to express what the pandemic has wrought as they sift through a landscape turned ferociously upside-down and inside-out. [. . .] Men and women from across the globe who at this very moment are thinking of how to wield the written word as an answer to the frightening uncertainty of events inflicted upon them and their fellow humans, might therefore be encouraged and reassured by the knowledge that the paths ahead of them have already been walked by their exiled brothers and sisters from the past.”   –Ariel Dorfman, “Writers of the past turned suffering into literary masterpieces. They might help us understand how to meet the challenges of our day,” Washington Post (June 3, 2020)

“A White Canon in a World of Color,” by Sierra Lomuto

“I was recently in my hometown of San Francisco, walking through the Mission district on Christmas Eve looking for a place to pop into and get some work done. I had some grading to finish for my Chaucer class. I worked for a bit in a café at Valencia and 24th St. But when it closed early at 4pm, because of the holiday, I made my way toward the local library a couple blocks away.

[. . .]

“Wrapped around the face of the building were etchings of names, six per column, and the first read: Homer, Virgil, Rabelais, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante. My eyes followed the carved words around to the side where they ended, each name digging a pit deeper into my stomach. Here I was, in the heart of the Mission, a Latinx neighborhood for as long as most San Franciscans’ memories can reach back to, and a building that is meant to represent knowledge, learning, community, safety. . . is encased with the names of white men. I wanted this old stone building, this old library in the Mission, to offer me some solace amidst a devastating present, to remind me that knowledge, education, and learning are paths out of socio-economic oppression.

“Instead, it reminded me that those paths too often lead us toward our own epistemological oppression—and do too little for the places and people we came from. The façade of the Mission library reminded me that those paths belong to white men; the rest of us merely walk them. [. . .]”   –Sierra Lomuto, “A White Canon in a World of Color,” Medievalists of Color (March 26, 2019)

James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village” (1955)

James Baldwin, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

“For this village, even were it incomparably more remote and incredibly more primitive, is the West, the West onto which I have been so strangely grafted. These people cannot be, from the point of view of power, strangers anywhere in the world; they have made the modem world, in effect, even if they do not know it. The most illiterate among them is related, in a way that I am not, to Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Aeschylus, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Racine; the cathedral at Chartres says something to them which it cannot say to me, as indeed would New York’s Empire State Building, should anyone here ever see it. Out of their hymns and dances come Beethoven and Bach. Go back a few centuries and they are in their full glory—but I am in Africa, watching the conquerors arrive.”   –James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village,” from Notes of a Native Son (1955)

Read the full essay here.

“The 9 Circles of Hell for Moms”

“My mom-brain has turned to mush! Between my own job and my job as a mom, there’s not much time left in the day to read a book or the newspaper. Even the Singapore Math my son does for first-grade homework confounds me. It’s only a matter of time until I’m not smarter than my fifth-grader.

“In anticipation of my kid learning things that I’ve long since forgotten or never cared about in the first place, I’m trying to brush up on my long division, my algebra and those dreaded classics. Sure, most of my brushing up involves me Googling or Wiki-ing the Cliff’s Notes. But if I were to actually sit down and reread Shakespeare or Chaucer, I’m fairly certain I’d have no time left for feeding and clothing my kids.

“In my studies I came across Dante’s Inferno, which is the beginning of the epic poem Divine Comedy. Inferno, as it turns out, is Italian for ‘hell.’ The 14th-century epic poem tells the story of the writer suffering through the nine circles of hell located within Earth. Kinda sounds like motherhood, no?

“Let’s face it, some parts of motherhood are downright hellish. And while it seems like those sleepless nights with infants or days spent comforting a teething child are hell, they’re not. That’s because those phases end quickly. The real nine circles of hell for moms last longer and make even the most patient woman feel like she is in the middle of an Italian classic.”   –Meredith Gordon, Mom.com (May 14, 2015)

Read the full article here.