Monday, July 23, 2007

A Face for Radio, a Voice for Text, A Pending Podcast to Bookmark

by Ken Houghton

As noted previously, I spent the post-July 4th weekend at Readercon in Burlington, MA. And while the panel discussing Karen Joy Fowler's work was adequate (as noted below, this is mainly due to Maureen of EOB fame, the other panelists, and the participation of Ms. Fowler herself), I can honestly say that the other panel I moderated, "See It Like Saruman: Reconciling Fantasy and Progress" was well worth hearing. And you may well get a chance, as it is one of two panels of which the convention team plans to post an audio recording.

The panel participants were Judith Berman, John Crowley, James Morrow, and Michael Swanwick. (The panel begins with my reading an excerpt from this essay (PDF), so it also included a de facto cameo by The Most Dangerous Perfesser.)

It was, in part, an economics panel, and—though I managed not to use the phrase "creative destruction"*—the sense of utility leading to choices, and the overriding theme of changing perspectives due to the Enlightenment, development, and the categorization of Karl Marx's work as "a Utopian Fantasy" probably makes it worth your attention from that perspective.

The Megan McArdles among H. economus will be horrified that we "didn't think everything through."** The rest of the world knows that Tolkien didn't either:
History is written by the winners. That explains why Tolkien never mentions that the destruction of Fangorn Forest and other efforts towards industrialization by Saruman significantly raised the standard of living for the wild men of Dunland, in fact creating (for the first time in Middle Earth) a comfortable middle class. While there is a natural opposition between the romantic and pastoral ideal embodied in traditional fantasy and the Enlightenment ideal of progress (especially in its modern industrial and technological modes), we don't believe they are completely incompatible. What works of fantasy have attempted to accommodate both? What interesting new direction might the heroic fantasy novel be taken if the true positive effects of modernization were acknowledged?

Anyone else wonder why the ten rules of Heterodoxy *** (see Figure 2 at bottom) are essential, especially when discussing Macroeconomic issues?****

*This is not really a Good Thing.
**English translation: share her obsessions. What is the price of eggs in Bolivia, again?
***Max presents a, er, more effusive version here.
****I personally don't consider it coincident that the Nation piece on Heterdoxy closes with George Akerlof's AEA keynote address, since it is Akerlof's discussion of the effect of informational asymmetries that is given short shrift in introductory Economics courses, despite having occurred a couple of generations ago.

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