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Fiedler, Leslie A

Entry updated 3 April 2023. Tagged: Author, Critic.

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(1917-2003) US critic and author, active from around 1940, whose piercing and mythopoeic views on the relationship between American culture and literature were first expressed in "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey" (June 1948 Partisan Review; assembled in An End to Innocence: Essays on Culture and Politics, coll 1955), where he argued that the inexpressive but obvious homoerotic (often interracial) doublings embodied in so many American novels exposed a profound tendency to escapism and denial in the American psyche. The influence of Sigmund Freud on this and similar speculative assaults is perhaps most evident in No! In Thunder: Essays on Myth and Literature (coll 1960) and Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology and Myth (coll 1996). It has not been difficult to apply this pattern of analysis to American sf: Space Opera perhaps, but in particular Time Opera, where familial intensities may "plausibly" govern grotesqueries of plotting.

In Love and Death in the American Novel (1960; rev 1966), Fiedler describes sf as a "typically Anglo-Saxon" form, although later, somewhat less convincingly, in Waiting for the End (coll 1964), he states that "Even in its particulars, the universe of science fiction is Jewish". His reasons for this claim relate to his general sense that sf comprises a transgressive, transformative set of texts which recruit and supply screed to The New Mutants – see "The New Mutants" (Fall 1965 Partisan Review) – whom, less than presciently, he associated with the 1960s counterculture. Consistently with this line of thought, he long espoused the work of sf writers who seemed to embody this transgressive newness, most notably Samuel R Delany. Several volumes of his variously assembled essays include studies of authors of interest; The Devil Gets His Due: The Uncollected Essays of Leslie Fiedler (coll 2008), as an example, includes acute studies of James Branch Cabell, Philip José Farmer, Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut.

O Brave New World: American Literature from 1600 to 1840 (anth 1968) with Arthur Zeiger provides an extremely inclusive conspectus of texts from the period designated; In Dreams Awake (anth 1975) assembles sf stories of interest, though almost all of them were extremely familiar to experienced readers. Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided (1983) is an invigorating if sometimes eccentric examination of Olaf Stapledon. Fiedler was himself an infrequent writer of fiction. A short story, "What Used to be Called Dead", was sold in the early 1970s to Harlan Ellison's «Last Dangerous Visions» project, and remains unpublished. The Messengers Will Come No More (1974) is an sf novel whose backstory – Forerunner races who embody the Male and Female principles contend over the nature of human (and other) planetary societies, shaping them (see Uplift) in the course of their aeons-long dispute – hearkens back to the long strife between opposed Secret Master cultures that shapes E E Smith's Lensman sequence; but the surface, which tends to ornate Fabulation effects, does differ significantly. [JC/CPa]

see also: Definitions of SF.

Leslie Aaron Fiedler

born Newark, New Jersey: 8 March 1917

died Buffalo, New York: 29 January 2003

works (selected)

nonfiction (selected)

works as editor


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