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Suvin, Darko

Entry updated 13 March 2023. Tagged: Author, Critic.

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(1934-    ) Croatian-born academic, sf critic and poet, born and raised in the part of Yugoslavia that became Croatia; PhD from Zagreb University, where he taught 1959-1967; from 1968 until his retirement as full professor of English at McGill University, Montreal, he lived in Canada; he now lives in Italy. Suvin has been very closely associated with the development of academic interest in sf in the USA, having been an active member of the Science Fiction Research Association and a co-editor of Science Fiction Studies from its inception to November 1980 (subsequently a contributing editor), and having lectured and published widely on the subject. (His other field is drama, especially the work of Bertolt Brecht.) His books about sf are Od Lukijana do Lunjika ["From Lucian to the Lunik"] (1965 Yugoslavia), Russian Science Fiction 1956-1974: A Bibliography (1976); Pour une poétique de la science-fiction (cut and trans into French from his original English by Suvin 1977; longer English version as Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre 1979; rev 2016), Victorian Science Fiction in the U.K.: The Discourses of Knowledge and of Power (1983) – a text of exceeding valuable criticism, both practical and theoretical, in its splendid blend of scholarly research into early sf, explication of its nature and sociological argument about its ideological setting – and Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction (coll 1988).

The last three books especially constitute (among other things) one of the most formidable and sustained theoretical attempts to define sf as a genre. This was recognized when he was awarded the 1979 Pilgrim Award, while still very much in mid-career, for services to sf scholarship. Suvin's writing has been unwisely dismissed by some readers as too clotted and difficult, and it is true that his critical prose sometimes seems more convoluted than his arguments require. But part of the difficulty results from the praiseworthy scrupulousness and rigour of his complex theses, for which he has had to find a terminology (new to sf studies at least) that is very much based in European socio-formalism; he has often been described as a "Marxist" critic but, while this is not untrue, it is not especially helpful either, as modern structuralism and semiotics also play an important role in his theoretical approach. Suvin sees sf as a "literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment" (see Definitions of SF); it was Suvin who introduced the term "cognition" to sf criticism. One result of Suvin's approach was a contemptuous dismissal of Fantasy as lacking "cognitive believability", a position he softened gradually, but which still retains a narrowly focused charge.

Suvin edited Other Worlds, Other Seas: Science-Fiction Stories from Socialist Countries (anth 1970); H.G. Wells and Modern Science Fiction (anth 1977), a collection of essays by various hands; and, with R D Mullen, Science-Fiction Studies: Selected Articles on Science Fiction 1973-1975 (anth 1976) and Science-Fiction Studies, Second Series: Selected Articles on Science Fiction 1976-1977 (anth 1978), both with R D Mullen; and U S Science Fiction and War/Militarism (anth 2005).

Of marginal relevance to sf and Utopias are Suvin's two volumes of poems, some prize-winning: The Long March: Notes on the Way 1981-1984 (coll 1987) and Armirana Arkadija (coll 1990 Yugoslavia). [PN]

see also: Bibliographies; Critical and Historical Works About SF; Genre SF; Gothic SF; History of SF; Novum; Proto SF; Sense of Wonder.

Darko Ronald Suvin [birth name Darko Šlesinger]

born Zagreb, Yugoslavia [now Croatia]: 19 July 1934 [this birth date has been confirmed despite reports elsewhere of 1930]

works (selected)


nonfiction collections

works as editor


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