THE ROAD TO LEGITIMATION (II): TEACHING SF WITHIN ENGLISH STUDIES IN SPAIN

As part of the work I’m doing to write my current work-in-progress, the article “Science Fiction in the Spanish University: The Boundaries that Need to be Broken”, I have sent a message to the very active e-mail list of AEDEAN (the AsociaciĂłn Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, www.aedean.org). In this message I have asked my colleagues in the field of English Studies in Spain who has taught SF and who has published on this genre.

I think that building a consistent bibliography is something I will have to postpone to another moment but, in the meantime, I’ll comment here on the answers received regarding the teaching of SF in the English Departments of Spain. I have also asked a number of Spanish colleagues working in Departments of Spanish, Literary Theory and Humanities about their activities concerning SF, with the added problem that there is not a comprehensive list similar to the one that we, AEDEAN members, use (and enjoy!).

AEDEAN is quite a big association, with more than 1,000 members. Yet, I have received messages only from 9 (there are at least a dozen other members, as I know, who have produced doctoral dissertations and publications on SF but they have not contacted me, surely for lack of time). Of these 9 specialists, only 6 offer details of their teaching. I’m summarising these details here, as these colleagues have also emailed me syllabi which I have decided not to attach to this post for the sake of brevity.

Juanjo Bermudez de Castro, a part-time associate teacher at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Department of English) and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Linguistics), teaches at UPM an SF course addressed to students of Engineering (Electronics, Chemistry, Electricity, Mechanics, Industrial Design). If I understand Juanjo correctly, he actually teaches English language but uses the course as an excuse to teach SF which, he tells me, students love. He uses El Hombre Ilustrado by Ray Bradbury, the films Moon, Blade Runner, and I Robot, the TV series Black Mirror, etc.

Pere Gallardo, now of Universitat Rovira i Virgili, formerly of the Universitat de Lleida is, no doubt the most experienced teacher of SF within English Studies in Spain. He taught ‘Narrativa UtĂČpica’ within ‘Filologia Anglesa’ between 1995-1996 and 2000-1, and is now teaching ‘Literatura i Societat’ (since 2013-14) within the new degree in ‘English’. Pere has also taught a long list of seminars and tutored a long list of TFGs. However, he no longer teaches SF at MA level nor does he supervise any doctoral dissertations because the programmes at URV within which he used to do so have been suppressed. I had the chance to share with him back in 2009-2010 the course “Science Fiction and the Concept of Change” within the MA ‘Cultural Studies in English: Texts and Contexts’, for which I am infinitely grateful. Pere names no particular authors or texts because, as he tells me, the list is too extensive


Alberto Lázaro, of the Universidad de Alcalá, tells me that he has used texts by the SF author he knows best as a researcher, H.G. Wells, in the third year survey course ‘British Fiction’. The module on the Victorian novel includes segments from The Time Machine. The syllabus also includes in the contemporary fiction module a section called ‘Trends towards fantasy: science fiction, the heroic fantasy and the horror story’.

Ángel Mateos Aparicio, of the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha in Ciudad Real, is currently teaching a fourth-year elective, ‘Literatura Anglonorteamericana y Canon’. The course is divided in two parts: detective fiction and SF. Ángel tells me that this is so in case students don’t like SF or have no experience of the genre, as it is common. His reading list includes: Isaac Asimov’s On Science Fiction (extracts), Brian Aldiss’s “Out of the Gothic” from Trillion Year Spree, John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”, Byron Haskin’s film The War of the Worlds, Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian”, Philip K. Dick’s “Impostor” and “Adjustment Team”, William Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum” and “Red Star, Winter Orbit” and, finally, Andy and Larry Wachowsky’s Matrix.

Bill Phillips of the Universitat de Barcelona tells me that his course ‘Literatura i Conflicte’ (2011-14) included Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. He claims that (I translate) “Considering the interest the students showed and the debates inspired by the novel, this is the most productive text I have ever taught”. Apparently, students were also interested in Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country (taught 2012-13) but found Ursula K. Leguin’s The Dispossessed (taught 2014) boring
 Bill mentions that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein used to be part of the syllabus for ‘Literatures en anglĂšs del ss XVIII i XIX’. Bill’s colleague Prof. Jackie Hurtley seems to have taught perhaps as early as the 1980s a course on utopia.

Juan Antonio Prieto of the Universidad de Sevilla has emailed me the syllabus corresponding to the courses he used to teach, in English: “HĂ©roes y monstruos en la literatura y en el cine de ciencia-ficciĂłn norteamericanos” (doctoral course 2007-8, 2008-9, with a second renewed edition in 2009-10), and “Narrativas apocalĂ­pticas en la ciencia-ficciĂłn norteamericana” (MA course, 2012-13). Regrettably a recent reform has eliminated this course.

Juan Antonio Suárez, of the Universidad de Murcia, pioneered the introduction of cyberpunk with the doctoral course “Postmodern Aesthetics and Society: Cyberpunk Fiction” (1996-7). His ‘Licenciatura‘ survey course on contemporary American Literature included William Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemmonic”. He tells me that after years of not including SF in his teaching he has re-introduced the genre in his syllabus as a “symptom of the progression of the digital” (my translation). He uses one week to lecture on literature and computers: computer-generated literature, computer-mediated literature and literature about the digital environment.

Finally, myself. My ‘Licenciatura’ elective on short fiction, ‘Narrativa Curta’ 2005-6, was divided between Gothic and SF–I included in it Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man” and tales from I, Robot, also Dick’s “Minority Report”. In the same academic year I taught the doctoral seminar “Enemy Alien, Alien Enemy: Wars in Science Fiction and Film” which included Wells’s War of the Worlds, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman’s Forever War. I’m now teaching (2015-16) a third/fourth year elective, ‘Prosa Anglesa: Considering SF as a Genre’ with an ambitious reading list composed of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Octavia Butler’s Dawn and Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon. Perhaps for the first and the last time, depending how the transformation of the four-year BAs into three-year BAs progresses.

What conclusions can we draw? Obviously, the position of SF is extremely fragile within English Studies in Spain despite the enormous importance of this genre for anglophone culture. If my information is correct and complete, I can safely say that only Pere Gallardo seems in a position to teach SF regularly, albeit limited to BA courses and not even using a label that clearly announces the contents of his course. This is typical. Ángel Mateos Aparicio’s decision to split his course into detective fiction and SF, and my own decision to split ‘Narrativa curta’ between Gothic and SF is also symptomatic of a peculiar situation: our students, as I have found out first hand, are not SF readers. This is a classic paradox of the English Departments in Spain: what is very popular among Anglophone individuals is often totally unknown for teachers and students. The name ‘Terry Pratchett’ for instance rings hardly any bells.

I believe that we will eventually find an audience though perhaps this will require using still for a long time to come other labels under which to teach SF. This will never be a case of students demanding to be taught SF (as they ask me to be taught Harry Potter). Perhaps, paradoxically, the teacher best positioned to reach a wide readership interested in SF is Juanjo BermĂșdez, the colleague who teaches the future Engineers at UPM.

I hope this post is not read as a lament for what is not happening but as a call to do more for SF in English Studies within Spain
 Why? Very simple: because this is a genre that matters enormously in the culture we teach and do research on. And because no other literary genre is as well-equipped to understand not just our future, but, mainly, our present.

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2 thoughts on “THE ROAD TO LEGITIMATION (II): TEACHING SF WITHIN ENGLISH STUDIES IN SPAIN

  1. Dear professor,

    I am a post doctoral student from the University of Seville, member of AEDEAN and active reader of the neglected SF in the academic world in Spain. Congratulations on your excellent work and webpage.
    I must say that I was one of the few (actually THE ONLY ONE STUDENT) who chose the optional subject “Narrativas apocalípticas en la ciencia-ficción norteamericana” during my M.D studies at the University of Seville. I remember having discussed this issue with Dr. Michael Gronow, who taught the subject so enthusiastically, and he agreed with your view in every single aspect that you approach in this revealing post.
    When I was writing my doctoral dissertation about the importance of the teaching of literature as an interdisciplinary tool, I remember exploring this field and the reluctance and resistance of lecturers to admit or even reccognise the relevance of SF. It was absolutely evident the lack of interest and knowledge.
    I regret this sad situation and hope that sooner than later SF is taken into real consideration for a comprehensive understanding of the literary world.
    Thank you.
    Kind regards,
    Esther.

  2. Esther,
    Thank you very much for your message and for your support. I’m amazed you were the only student to have chosen what sounds like a very exciting course!! I’ll do my best to enlarge the field of SF, I simply do not understand where the root of the resistance lies…
    Thanks!
    Sara

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