The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem

The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem

Edited by Peter Swirski
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem
    Book Description:

    Rather than analyzing Lem solely as a science fiction writer, the contributors examine the larger themes in his work, such as social engineering and human violence, agency and consciousness, Freudianism and the creative process, evolution and the philosophy of the future, virtual reality and epistemological illusion, and science fiction and socio-cultural policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7507-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. INTRODUCTION: The Man behind the Giant
    (pp. 3-12)

    Stanislaw Lem is no longer the obscure East European writer who invited prolonged discussions of context when his name began to infiltrate North American circles in the late 1960s. Today Lem is recognized as a literary grandmaster, a provocative and thought-provoking literary critic, and, not least, a sophisticated philosopher, diagnostician, and prognostician of science, tirelessly prospecting the outermost reaches oftechnoscientia incognita.¹ Over a career spanning more than half a century, he has accrued accolades as prestigious and eclectic as the books he has written, some of which are required reading in schools in his native Poland. Scholars declare him...

  4. 1 Smart Robots
    (pp. 13-21)

    1 In recent times a great number of theoreticians and researchers of various disciplinary stripes have been drawn to that subfield of artificial intelligence whichsui generisresembles the study of human consciousness, or, to generalize more carefully, of animal consciousness. What is the basis of such resemblance? The problem can be separated into two parts:architectural(e.g., what kind of neural nets or processors need to be constructed, if any) andtheoretical– this one of a decidedly philosophical flavour. In what follows I will focus on the latter, since the question of a pseudomind’s physical architecture is clearly subordinate...

  5. 2 (Un)masking the Agent: Stanislaw Lem’s “The Mask”
    (pp. 22-46)

    As coding devices penetrate more deeply into the infrastructure of advanced societies, they also inspire commentary on their relation to human cognition. Although implant devices have only recently become available, speculation on how coding enters into the deep structures of thought predates the technological actuality by several decades. At issue are questions of cooperation/competition between conscious mind and aconscious coding, free will and programmed outcomes, gendered enculturation and the non-gendered operation of algorithms, language and the non-linguistics operation of code. Assuming that a substrate of code underlies conscious mind profoundly affects the concepts of agency and subjectivity. While the Holocaust...

  6. 3 Betrization Is the Worst Solution ... with the Exception of All Others
    (pp. 47-71)

    Betrization is a medical procedure posited by Lem in his 1961 novelReturn from the Stars. In this rarely discussed work from his “golden period,” the author models a society in which aggression and the ability to put oneself or others at risk are inhibited to the point of being almost entirely erased. To many readers such invasive surgery, performed early in life on every member of our species, will smack of utopian (or dystopian) fantasy. I would like to contest this view and examine how this science fiction could conceivably become science fact. The following is an attempt to...

  7. 4 A Freudian Peek at Lem’s Fiasco
    (pp. 72-80)

    I first readFiascoalmost twenty years ago, as a translator. The text came to the publisher, Harcourt, in manuscript; the first Polish edition had not yet appeared. In 1985, I felt that I was familiar with Lem’s work: I had read a good deal of his fiction and nonfiction and had also corresponded with the author for a number of years. I felt that I knew his themes, ideas, strategies. More than once, he had complimented me as a reader-critic of his work. And yetFiascowas not only a surprise to me but also an unsettling puzzle.¹


  8. 5 Summa technologiae – Looking Back and Ahead
    (pp. 81-103)

    In his breathtaking kaleidoscope of ideasA Perfect Vacuum, Stanislaw Lem proposed a classification of geniuses into three categories. Those of the lowest – in his schema, third – rank are relatively tame and modest thinkers who do not step too much outside of their time and sense of possibilities. They become famous, rich, and influential (not necessarily all three at the same time) in their lifetime. The geniuses of the second rank have it more difficult: they struggle against the intellectual inertia of contemporaneous society and are accepted only after their death – in the next generation, if they are lucky. And...

  9. 6 Models of Evolution in the Writings of Stanislaw Lem
    (pp. 104-116)

    No faithful follower of Stanislaw Lem’s fiction can overlook the role of evolution in his narratives. Evolution is conceived here in very broad terms: from the history of the entire cosmos, through the process of planet formation, the emergence of life on Earth, the historical development of human societies and their culture, down to the history of knowledge. In his classic work on the relations between ethics and evolution,Evolution and Ethics, Thomas H. Huxley underscored both the universal character of evolutionary processes and their separateness from and incompatibility with the concept of creation. He wrote: “As a natural process,...

  10. 7 Skepticism, Realism, Fallibilism: On Lem’s Epistemological Themes
    (pp. 117-129)

    In a 1992 interview with Peter Swirski, Stanislaw Lem commented that, if he were to state his philosophical affiliation in terms of the “accepted nomenclature,” he would rank himself “in a large measure with the skeptics” (Stanislaw Lem Reader42). In the same context, Lem expressed his irreverence for the natural sciences – an irreverence matched, however, by his dismissal of various religious and philosophical belief systems. Lem further characterized himself as “a kind of wide-ranging heretic” (59). Although he contended that it is not possible “to prove solipsism false” (61), he affirmed the mind-independent reality of the external world. Two...

  11. 8 Lem, Central Europe, and the Genre of Technological Empire
    (pp. 130-152)

    A list of the nations that have produced most of the science fiction in the past century and a half shows a distinct pattern: they are precisely those that have attempted in modern times to expand beyond their national borders in imperialist projects: Britain, France, Germany, Soviet Russia, Japan, and the United States. The most obvious exception to this pattern is the science fiction of Central Europe, represented mainly by Karel Čapek and, even more importantly, Stanislaw Lem. Their works were written for audiences and in languages not only without hegemonistic ambitions but, on the contrary, anxiously placed in the...

  12. 9 Lem on Film
    (pp. 153-171)

    Even if the story remains the same, it is impossible for a film to evoke the particular sign system employed in a literary work. It is therefore crucial to keep in mind that the process of adapting a book involves identifying the elements that should be transposed into a film, rather than following a literary original to the letter. According to Alicja Helman, a film adaptation implies that a literary text has been thoroughly read, even though deliberate changes and transformations made by a film director introduce meanings that may not have been intended by a writer.¹ A filmmaker grafts...

  13. 10 Solaris! Solaris. Solaris?
    (pp. 172-180)

    If you visited Moscow in the early 1990s, for a couple of dollars you could buy one of the most trivial yet symbolic fruits of the revolution that swept away the USSR together with the Berlin Wall – a new and improved matrioshka doll. In the olden days the best you could get was the politically correct variety: a tiny ruddy peasant woman in a babushka, inside a small ruddy peasant woman in a babushka, inside a medium-size ruddy peasant woman in a babushka, inside … anyway, you get the point. After 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet quilt, some...

  14. Stanislaw Lem: A Brief Chronological Biography
    (pp. 181-182)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-194)
  16. About the Authors
    (pp. 195-197)