NOETIC ESTRANGEMENT: on some commonalities between science fiction and philosophy

I once argued (in a blog post published in 2014) that Science Fiction as a genre is based on a pluralist logic of noetic deterritorialisation, allowing one to privilege the themes of alterity, non-identity, difference, divergence, plurality, intensity, and becoming.

A good example of this can be found in Gene Wolfe’s tetralogy THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, which I discussed in two posts.

In one post I concentrate on the incipit to the first volume of the tetralogy: GENE WOLFE AND NOETIC ESTRANGEMENT: the incipit to The Shadow of the Torturer | Xeno Swarm (

In the second post I discuss the work in more general terms: GENE WOLFE AGAINST RELATIVISM: ontology, indeterminacy, pluralism, and tradition | Xeno Swarm (

This noetic deterritorialisation characteristic of sf as a genre leads to a relative prevalence of a logic of alterity, which Jean-Clet Martin , referring to A.E. van Vogt’s null-A cycle, analyses in terms of a non-Aristotelianism that rejects the principle of identity.

Dissolving mainstream, or »major », literature’s dominant narcissistic and territorialised forms, Science Fiction deflates the monistic sphere of identity and of the finite in favour of the pluralistic foam of intensities and infinities.

This pluralist logic can be found also in many thinkers working within the tradition of Continental Philosophy, and many of their ideas resonate with science fictional themes. This makes sense in terms of the drive of key Continental philosophers to think outside identities in whatever form.

Perhaps this can lead occasionally to a distorted reading of SF texts, or even to cherry-picking the themes and concepts that confirm one’s prior orientation, but this is rather the exception, and the commonalities between the two genres are the primary concern and influence

Indeed, I think it is a good methodological principle in reading Continental Philosophy when confronted with « high » concepts to seek SF examples and explorations.

For example, I was re-reading Heidegger’s INTRODUCTION TO METAPHYSICS (as one does) and I was struck by the SF resonances in his use of the words « inception » and « foundation ».

In the film of the same name « inception » is presented as a seemingly impossible task, but perhaps only exceedingly rare. The danger of inception is that it may produce a pathology, a disconnection from the real and entrapment in a phantasm. Heidegger talks of « inception » in the ancient Greek invention of philosophy and of its pathological side, the oblivion of Being as such.

Heidegger also speaks of « foundation » as the pathological covering over of Being that is perpetrated by metaphysics and of the need to go outside metaphysics and foundations in favour of another type of thinking, that he still calls « philosophy » at this stage of his intellectual development.

This idea of « foundation » along with Heidegger’s descriptions of history and science led me to envision Asimov’s Foundation trilogy in a new light. The first foundation is based on the science of psycho-history and its laws, but the so-called « Second Foundation » is not a foundation at all.

The Second Foundation (SF) is implemented by a group of people whose interventions are based on a knowledge of the ordinary course as predicted by psycho-history and of an ability to deal with the extra-ordinary. This provides us with a good analogue of the philosophers in Heidegger’s sense.

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