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Suvin Today?

A Roundtable Discussion

The Society for Utopian Studies (November 9-12, 2017 in Memphis, TN)

Proposal Deadline: July 8, 2017

Co-Organizers: Gerry Canavan and Hugh O’Connell

Nearly 45 years ago in December 1972, Darko Suvin published the signal sf studies text, “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre.” It was this article that (in)famously introduced “SF as the literature of cognitive estrangement,” and which was later expanded for the equally trailblazing Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (1979). Writing in the introduction to the recent Ralahine Classics edition of Metamorphoses, Gerry Canavan notes that although sf studies certainly predated this text, its publication was a watershed moment, delimiting a foundational discourse for science fiction studies. Indeed, whether in agreement or in strict opposition to Suvin’s work, it is still rare to find sf criticism that does not set out from Suvin. However, in recent years, the “Suvin Event,” as it has come to be known, seems increasingly to garner detractors with ever more calls to dislodge the Suvinian paradigm from the heart of sf studies. These works often proceed in the name of a more nuanced attention to the socio-historical function of genre studies, as a dismissal of the hierarchical ordering of speculative forms, or as an end to sf as a particular form with a particular vocation altogether. Yet Suvin did more than offer a formal definition of sf. While much has been written, particularly in relation to the notion of “cognition” and the formal gatekeeping rigidity of Suvin’s work, the utopian and radical historical materialist aspects of Suvin’s work are often lost or submerged by a long critical commentary that has fixated on its structural weaknesses (whether real or perceived). And this occlusion perhaps goes doubly so for his work in the historicization and internationalization of sf studies.

Therefore, with the 45th anniversary of “On the Poetics” upon us, not to mention the recent republication of the long out of print Metamorphoses in 2016, this informal roundtable discussion invites contributors to re-engage with the Suvin Event.

· In the words of Rhys Williams, how can we continue to break down the walls that Suvin’s “paradigm threw up” and that keep its still vital “living concepts petrified,” in order to free them for contemporary sf criticism?

· Or, following Patrick Parrinder, if the utility of the Suvin moment was already exhausted by 2000, not to mention the more recent withering critique by fellow marxist China Miéville, what is left to salvage from the Suvin Event?

· At the proposed end of the Suvin Event, what surprisingly new utopian anticipations await us?

· What aspects re-emerge – whether in new or altered form – after the updatings, alterations, and critiques?

· What parts of Suvin’s work have been under-attended?

· What has been left undiscovered – or is left to rediscover – at this late moment of zombie neoliberalism and the slow violence of its concomitant environmental apocalypse?

· How – or even, can – we conceive of sf’s utopian impulse in the post-Suvinian critical zeitgeist?

· Alternately, have the critics got it wrong?

We invite participants that take up these or any other aspects of Suvin’s work and the debates over the Suvin Event.

A note about the format: This session is being proposed as an informal roundtable discussion. Rather than the usual 20 minute, written presentations, contributors will be asked to keep their opening comments to a brief 5 minutes. Gerry Canavan, editor of the 2016 Ralahine Classics edition of Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, will then act as a respondent. Our intent is to provide more time for panelists to interact and discuss ideas with one another as well as with audience members than in the usual conference panel setting.

Please email Gerry Canavan ( and Hugh O’Connell ( with a brief (250 words) synopsis or proposal for participation in the roundtable by July 8, 2017.