Remembering the Future:

Science and Positivism from Isaac Asimov to Gregory Benford

by Carl Freedman

The Diabelli Variations of Beethoven are acknowledged to constitute one of the finest works of European piano music; but probably not one listener in ten thousand knows (or needs to know) much about Anton Diabelli or his banal, if structurally sturdy, waltz that Beethoven revised to such extraordinary effect.  Conversely, the innumerable hack revisions of the “Ode to Joy”  melody from Beethoven’s own Ninth Symphony–dreary arrangements that can harass us almost anywhere from a department store to a dentist’s waiting room–achieve nothing good except to remind us that the sublimity of Beethoven’s music can make itself heard even through the most inane attempts at “improvement”.     But something very different is at work in Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn for Two Pianos, or in Maurice Ravel’s orchestration  of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, or in Lorin Maazel’s brilliant tone poem The “Ring” Without Words, which is constructed out of instrumental highlights from Wagner’s tetrology.  Different as these latter cases are from one another, what they have in common is that, in each, positive contributions are made by two comparable (if not necessarily equal) artists:  What we value in the hearing depends upon the compositional presence of Brahms and Haydn,  Ravel and Moussorgsky, Maazel andWagner.  Though posthumous collaborations of this sort have long been accepted by the musical public, they do tend to problematize what, in their very different ways, both Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault (among others) have exposed as the author-centered bias of modern cultural consumption.[i] To identify “the” author of any of these musical texts is an ambiguous matter.  In my personal collection of compact discs, Brahms’sVariations can be found under “B”, The “Ring” Without Words under “W”.  But different arrangements could certainly be defensible.

I begin by invoking these musical examples partly because, during the capitalist era, music has retained, to a somewhat greater degree than literature, the collective and collaborative nature that all the arts shared during the Middle Ages.  The literary work whose recent appearance provides the occasion for this paper is a posthumous collaboration roughly similar to the musical instances just cited:  Gregory Benford’s Foundation’s Fear (1997), a contribution to the Foundation series of Isaac Asimov.[ii]  Though Benford has made no attempt to mimic Asimov’s style or narrative manner, his novel fits securely into a fictional universe invented by Asimov; and his debt to Asimov is thus rather more thoroughgoing–indeed, is of a different and higher order–than the concept of “literary influence” normally implies.  Both Asimov and Benford are strongly present in the text, sometimes in a relation of relative harmony and sometimes in a more contradictory way.  Accordingly, Foundation’s Fear offers an especially convenient occasion on which to analyze a few issues of science, epistemology, politics, and narrative as they are represented in the work of two American science-fiction authors of consecutive generations–both professionally trained as scientists and each among the most accomplished writers of his own generational cohort.  Such analysis will be the principal burden of what follows.

But first, it may be useful to provide a little context.  Few readers even casually acquainted with the history of American science fiction will need much introduction to Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy.  Though most of the material in it had been published periodically between 1942 and 1949, the trilogy assumed its final book form with the rapid-fire appearance of Foundation in 1951, Foundation and Empire in 1952, andSecond Foundation in 1953.  I, Robot, Asimov’s first and best collection of robot stories, had appeared a little earlier, in 1950, and the Foundation novels built on that success to establish their author–still in his early thirties when the trilogy was completed–as one of the finest science-fiction writers of his era:  a distinction that Asimov never lost.   The trilogy has only grown in reputation, both critical and popular, as the years have passed.  In 1966 it won a special Hugo award as the best science-fiction series of all time, and it has since been frequently hailed as the highest achievement of American science fiction during the Campbellian “Golden Age”.[iii]  Today, the durability of the trilogy looks more secure than ever, especially when one considers in contrast the fate of Asimov’s contemporaries.  Such landmarks of “Golden Age” science fiction as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1954) or the most renowned novels of Robert Heinlein experience surprising difficulty just staying in print; while the Foundation books can still be bought even in news stands and bus terminals.

Admittedly, however,  the celebrity of the Foundation trilogy has enjoyed a curious sort of latter-day boost.  Three decades after apparently completing the Foundation saga,  Asimov unexpectedly returned to it.  He first published a pair of sequels that continue the story past the conclusion of Second FoundationFoundation’s Edge (1982) andFoundation and Earth (1983)–and then tried the reverse strategy, filling in the prehistory of the trilogy with Prelude to Foundation (1988) and the posthumously published Forward the Foundation (1993), his last fictional work of any sort.  Whether Asimov was wise to treat an established classic as if it were part of a vaster work-in-progress remains an open question.  He himself  oddly claimed that returning to the Foundation material in 1982 “was not my own notion but was the result of a combination of pressures from readers and publishers that eventually became overwhelming”.[iv]   This is not  plausible.  By the 1980s Asimov was in his sixties, and his fame and fortune were about as irrevocable as such things can be; however ardently his publishers and fans may have desired more Foundation novels, it is hard to see how they could have successfully pressured Asimov to write them unless he had wanted to do so in the first place.  Yet the apologetic tone of this  comment does have some justification.  Though the later books are by no means without interest, and though they have certainly contributed to the continuing commercial viability of the original trilogy, it is doubtful that they will, in the long run, enhance the luster of the work completed in 1953.   Though they may add interesting details here and there, their overall tendency is to mangle, or at least to obscure, the beautifully wrought construction of the trilogy.  The episodic narrative structure of the latter, though perhaps originally necessitated by the practical exigencies of periodical publication, is exactly the right device to give the trilogy the multisecular sweep that the plot requires.  The Seldon Plan itself is allowed to function as, in effect, the protagonist of the story, which is able to maintain both narrative tension and continuity through a chronological span many times the length of an individual human life.  By keeping the fate of the Seldon Plan at the center of readerly attention, Asimov is able to extend the temporal duration of his story while maintaining a genuinely novelisticstructure in the trilogy, which in less skillful hands might well have degenerated into a mere chronicle.   Few works of fiction, indeed, present so solid and satisfying an architectural structure–which, however, becomes somewhat occluded as the clearly defined trilogy is expanded into a mere “series” of indeterminate scope.  In the analysis that follows my references to Asimov will mainly concern the original Foundation trilogy, though I do not believe that closer consideration of the later books would alter any of my fundamental conceptual points.

Asimov’s death in 1992 might have been supposed to mean that no further Foundation novels would be produced.   But, at the initiative of the Asimov estate, a new trilogy is now being written.  Foundation’s Fearis its first volume, and the next two, tentatively entitled Foundation and Chaos and Third Foundation, are at this writing still in preparation by Greg Bear and David Brin respectively.  Though it is obviously far too early to say much about this new trilogy as a whole, at least one generalization does already seem warranted.  The quality of Benford’s contribution, and of the previous novels published by Bear and Brin, tend to indicate that this project is to be distinguished from a distressing phenomenon in current science fiction that it may superficially seem to resemble:  namely, the proliferation of “franchise” novels in which hack writers produce new stories using the general situations and sets of characters associated with big-name novelists, who permit such use of their creations in exchange for a percentage of the profits.  Though there may be exceptions, such work does seem analogous to Muzak arrangements of Beethoven (or of the Beatles).  But in Foundation’s Fear, as I have already tried to suggest, the Benfordian tendency is as strong as the Asimovian, and the work as a whole must be understood as a genuinely dialectical collaboration.

The artistry of Asimov’s trilogy has not always been appreciated, and the following analogy may be useful.  It was once the accepted commonplace about Bernard Shaw’s drama that Shaw’s real achievement as a writer was not to have created works of art but to have advanced and popularized a certain body of ideas.  First decisively refuted by Edmund Wilson,[v] this notion is now completely in ruins, and the truth concerning Shavian drama can be seen to be almost precisely the opposite:  namely, that Shaw’s grasp of ideas is shaky at best, and that his interest in them is rarely that of a serious thinker, but that he masterfully uses ideas, rather as a composer uses notes, to craft marvelously wrought aesthetic wholes–works of art, indeed,  whose artistry is so polished that, in accordance with the classical principle of ars celare artem, it is hardly even visible to the casual eye.   Much the same description applies, I believe, to the Asimov of the Foundation trilogy.  Like Shaw, Asimov is a proudly and self-consciously “cerebral” writer, disinclined to represent passion or to explore the unconscious impulses that drive the human soul.  Instead, he is most comfortable when dealing with the workings of the mind at its highest levels of conscious control and resolution.  He is “intellectual” in the sense that intellectual issues provide most of the grist for his artistic mill; but it does not follow that the chief interest of his writing for the reader is therefore intellectual in any discursive sense.  On the contrary, Asimov, like Shaw, uses intellectual matter for wholly artistic ends.   The delineation of the phases in the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire and the correlative rise to galactic dominance of the Foundation exist less for serious historiographical speculation (in the manner, for example, of Olaf Stapledon) than for the construction of a plot that preserves narrative suspense across several centuries.  This is a considerably more difficult achievement than might be suspected.  For the temporality of narrative, and especially of narrative suspense, is normally linked to the chronology of the individual human lifetime; and suspense is usually extinguished with the death of the ego.  But the historiographic device of the Foundation trilogy allows Asimov to sustain suspense on a multisecular scale.  The Seldon Plan–a purely intellectual entity whose status as such is emphasized by its painstaking mathematical  elaboration at the hands of the psychohistorians of the Second Foundation–transcends the mortality of its eponymous originator.  Functioning, as we have seen, as the protagonist of the trilogy, it becomes a more actual and vital fictional presence than any traditional “character”.  It would, I think, be difficult to name another fictional work in which a mere futurological scheme (or, indeed, a cognitive plan of any sort) is so successfully made into the object of such powerful readerly investment.  Even the Mule–who emerges in the second volume both as the most vividly portrayed human psyche in the entire trilogy and also as the deadliest antagonist of the Seldon Plan–is, for most readers, a less compelling and even less sympathetic force than the Plan itself.  If, as I have suggested, Asimov is Stapledon’s inferior in philosophical sophistication, he is far superior to the British author in his novelistic skill at handling material seldom thought to be tractable to the novel form.

Indeed, Asimov’s skill at sustaining dramatic tension tends to camouflage the considerable intellectual shallowness of his novelistic raw materials.  One of the main artistic accomplishments of the Foundation trilogy is the invention of psychohistory (an achievement parallel to his other great invented science, robopsychology in I, Robot and the other robot stories).   Little more than “a set of vague axioms” before the advent of Hari Seldon, psychohistory is transformed by Seldon into a “a profound statistical science” and is used by him and his successors as the chief intellectual tool with which to craft the all-important Seldon Plan.[vi]  Though none of its methods is ever described in detail–and still less do we ever see the mathematical equations that are held to constitute the true conceptual core of psychohistory–Seldon’s science is essentially a technique for predicting the future.  Operating on the well-known actuarial principle that the behavior of people in the mass can be rationally foreseen in ways that the behavior of a given individual cannot, psychohistory is in effect an applied social psychology that allows the long-term tendencies driving worlds and galaxies to become visible to the scientific investigator.  Beyond this very general level of detail, however, Asimov is not only vague but somewhat inconsistent in describing psychohistory.  Usually, psychohistory is held to be fundamentally statistical, its results a matter of averages and probabilities rather than of certain predictions.  Yet not only are the mathematical probabilities themselves absurdly exact, but there is also a good deal of talk in the novels about historical “inevitability” (most memorably, perhaps, at the conclusion of Part One of Foundation and Empire).  And the emotional temperature, so to speak, with which psychohistory and the psychohistorical Seldon Plan are regarded by the sympathetic characters often seems to imply a certainty so dogmatic as to be virtually religious in cast–as, for instance, in the voluntary “martyrdom” at the end of the trilogy, when a band of psychohistorians is sacrificed in order to outwit the First Foundation and to save the Seldon Plan.  In this contradiction, which spans the trilogy as a whole, there is, perhaps, an echo of a conflict between two quite different conceptions of science in Asimov’s mind:  on the one hand, his manifest awareness of post-Heisenbergian physics, with its indeterminacies and probabilities; on the other hand, what seems to me an emotionally more basic latent attachment on Asimov’s part to the older, more positivistic model of science, with its “onto-theological” (as Derrida would say) assumptions of certainty and the full presence of rational meaning.

But the conflict in the Foundation trilogy between positivism and genuine science is also deeper and more complex than that.  For what, really, is psychohistory after all?  What are the historical determinants of this imagined historical science?  As a working-class Jewish intellectual coming of age in the New York City of the 1930s, the young Asimov lived in a world in which popularized (not to say vulgarized) versions of Marxism and of Freudian psychoanalysis were all but ubiquitous.  It is thus unsurprising to recognize that psychohistory is, in one aspect, just another entry in the long list of attempts at synthesizing Marx and Freud.  Psychohistory is, after all, a master science of history (as historical materialism was often thought to be by the young Asimov’s contemporaries) and one grounded in human psychology (to which psychoanalysis was widely held to provide the essential keys).   Yet there is no evidence that Asimov ever attained any scholarly acquaintance with the writings of Marx or Freud; and such evidence is least of all to be found in the concept of psychohistory offered by the Foundation trilogy itself.   For what Asimovian psychohistory most fundamentally represents in relation to Freudo-Marxism is nothing other than the reduction of science to nineteenth-century positivism:  or, in other words, the evacuation of that specifically dialectical perspective crucial for both Marx and Freud.   Perhaps the most obvious point here is that the tendency toward dogmatic certainty that I have noted in psychohistory is radically at odds with the provisionality that, as Louis Althusser and many others have noted, is central to all dialectical standpoints and above all to those of Marx and Freud.[vii]  Both psychoanalysis and historical materialism recognize that the nature of the objects they address and the number of variables at work in the overdeterminations they study render certain kinds of precision specious:  the kind, for example, that attempts to state, Seldon-like, the probability to two or more significant figures that given historical or psychic events will occur.  It would, indeed, be difficult to think of a historical approach more fundamentally alien to Marx’s own than Hari Seldon’s project of detailed historical prediction; and it is perhaps worth noting that, contrary to certain rumors, Marx’s conceptual precursor  Hegel also rejected prediction as an aim of historical science.   In contrast not only to Marxism or psychoanalysis but also to such a genuinely dialectical invented science as Solaristics in Stanislaw Lem’sSolaris (1961), Asimovian psychohistory is  embarrassingly overconfident.

There is a closely related point here that is equally important.  Despite the evidently “practical” aims of the psychohistorical Seldon Plan–the establishment of a new political force to replace the dying Empire and eventually to attain galactic dominance–there is a fundamental sense in which Seldon’s methodology, like all versions of positivism, is essentiallycontemplative rather than transformative and dialectical.  Though psychohistory is based on the study of the masses, the masses in psychohistorical understanding are wholly passive.  They are classical billiard-ball-like particles acted upon by pre-deterministic quasi-Newtonian forces that they can never influence nor understand.  Whereas truly dialectical science is based on the mutual, reciprocal determination of theory and practice (paradigmatically in the revolutionary or therapeutic situations for Marx and Freud respectively), psychohistory is an undialectical theoreticism that positivistically detaches itself from its supposed objects of knowledge.  The artificial separation between knowing subject and known object leads, as contemplative epistemologies almost invariably tend to, towards the investing of all meaningful agency in an elite and aloof clerisy:  represented in the trilogy even more by the mental scientists of the Second Foundation than by the physical scientists of the First Foundation.  Though Asimov  may, in his depiction of the Second Foundation,  be consciously or semiconsciously reflecting a widespread misinterpretation of the Leninist party, the notion that history could be directed by the conspiratorial maneuvers and ever-more-elaborate equations of the psychohistorians is basically opposed to both Marx’s and Lenin’s genuinely dialectical theories of how history is made by the millions.  It should, of course, go without saying that Asimov was very far from the only American intellectual of his generation to misunderstand historical materialism (and psychoanalysis) in positivistic terms.  On the contrary, a genuinely heroic intellectual effort might well have been required for one of his formation to avoid such misunderstanding.  And the crucial literary-critical point here is, of course, that the positivistic vulgarity of psychohistory is on one level justified by the artistic success of the trilogy:  just as the shallow sub-Nietzschean (and even sub-Bergsonian) vitalism of Bernard Shaw is often justified by his dramatic brilliance.

Gregory Benford’s intellectual relationship to Marx and Freud is seldom close enough even for positivistic misunderstanding–his lack of acquaintance with Freud, at least, is perhaps sufficiently suggested by his use of the solecism subconscious (p. 22, for example)–and a strain of Asimovian positivism is by no means absent from Foundation’s Fear.  It is most blatantly signaled in certain academic scenes (scenes that the novel’s Afterword overtly relates to Asimov’s world-view), where Benford aims some rather heavy-handed satire at what he takes, not without reason, to be a silly and fashionable intellectual relativism.  This move would, indeed, be theoretically welcome, were it not for the fact that the text seems to assume a positivistic empiricism as the only alternative to a sterile, regressive relativism:  a confusion made explicit in the Afterword, where Benford attacks unnamed “deconstructionists” for having allegedly “attacked science itself as mere rhetoric, not an ordering of nature, seeking to reduce it to the status of the ultimately arbitrary humanities” (p. 422).  Though one need not  (and cannot) defend those whom Benford does not cite, the pertinent conceptual point would surely be that, as with all other discursive modes,  the ordering of nature achieved by the physical sciences cannot proceed in epistemological innocence of its own rhetorical forms; while Benford’s careless dismissal of the human sciences (or “the humanities,” in the jargon of the modern American university) as “ultimately arbitrary” is a misunderstanding neatly analogous to the equally widespread notion that Einsteinian relativity amounts to the view that everything is relative.

Yet in Foundation’s Fear, as often elsewhere in Benford’s fiction, it may be especially profitable to heed D. H. Lawrence’s injunction to trust the tale, not the teller.  A more traditional and character-centered novel than any in Asimov’s original trilogy, Benford’s text narrates a period in Hari Seldon’s life as he struggles to develop psychohistory; the book ends as the concept of the Foundations is just beginning to form in his mind.  Along the way, the novel displays a more searching and philosophically acute interest in the internal structure of psychohistory than Asimov (who is more occupied with the operational effects of his invented science than with its inner workings anyway) ever does.  Though the full conceptual mechanism of psychohistorical theory is never exhibited, a number of tantalizing hints are dropped; and the most significant of these have a decidedly dialectical and anti-positivistic cast.  Benford’s Seldon, unlike Asimov’s, seems to grasp that the core problem of any theory of history must involve a new interpretive problematic (in something like the Althusserian sense), and not the mere accumulation of factual detail:  “Only sets of equations which did not try to keep track of every detail could work” (p. 27).    At one point he even seems to approach the Walter Benjamin of the Theses on the Philosophy of History–perhaps the most important actual twentieth-century essay in historical theory–in understanding that, since there is “no point of reference outside history itself” and “no uncontested past”,  there can be no positivistic division between fact and value in historical study:  The overall goodness of the Empire is named as “the arena of broad agreement” (p. 42)  among historians.    Rather more elaborate but in its essence equally dialectical–though paradoxically phrased in somewhat empiricist language–is another passage describing the workings of Seldon’s mind, one that seems to contain more than a glimmer of the mutual determination of knowing subject and known object:

Models followed the gritty, experienced world, he reflected.  They echoed their times. Clockwork planetary mechanics came after clocks.  The idea of the whole universe as a computation came after computers.  A worldview of stable change came after nonlinear dynamics. . .      [p. 148]

Since the models named are not, evidently, being dismissed, the dialectical perspective is maintained, if somewhat implicitly: The mechanisms of knowing are understood as themselves determined, and not as operating unproblematically in epistemological innocence.  Finally, the passage, late in the novel, that is intended to represent Seldon’s most decisive breakthrough in formulating psychohistory ultimately amounts to nothing other than a re-invention of the pre-eminent dialectician of all historical theory before Marx, namely Hegel himself:

This was new, profound.

It meant that for all these millennia, the Empire had grown a kind ofself-knowing unlike any way of comprehending that a mere human had–or even could have.  A deep knowing other than the self-consciousness which humans bore. . . .

Psychohistory had discovered an entity greater than human, though of

humanity.                   [p. 393]

The World Spirit, as Benford implies, continues to be a fruitful, if necessarily idealist, mode of organizing the particulars of the human narrative:  the knowledge attained by historical science is understood to be inseparable from the self-knowledge of the historical process itself.[viii]  Whereas Asimov’s rather inhuman and virtually godlike Seldon is occupied with the quasi-actuarial prediction of the future, bit by preposterously precise bit, one might say that Benford’s all-too-human Seldon is, in more authentically conceptual and scientific fashion, interested in remembering–that is to say, in re-membering–the future out of a dialectical understanding of the past.

It may be tempting to relate the more dialectical and philosophical cast of the Benfordian than the Asimovian strain to Benford’s training (and continuing professional career) as a physicist, and thus one presumably more in touch with the epistemological revolutions of modern science than Asimov, trained a generation earlier in the (then) comparatively  empirical discipline of biochemistry.  At least equally important, however, and certainly more manifest in the letter of the text, is Benford’s more rigorous involvement with history itself–a subject of which the young Asimov, despite his well-known debts to Gibbon and to Robert Graves, often seems rather innocent.   Indeed, for all its overt concern with psychohistory, Asimov’s trilogy displays little rootedness in the historical tradition, and, in predictably Santayanian fashion, often repeats the history it seems to forget:  as, for example, in the trilogy’s first volume, where the text seems to be quite oblivious of the way that the exploits of the merchant traders recall a heroic phase of early-capitalist development, a phase mainly obliterated by the monopoly capital dominant at the time of writing.  Benford, by contrast, more concretely anchors psychohistory in actual history.  And this is true not only directly, in the relative theoretical sophistication and historical alertness with which Benford represents the development of psychohistory in Seldon’s mind, but also indirectly, in perhaps the most impressive literary tour de force of the novel:  I mean the revivification, as computer-driven simulations,  of  Voltaire and Joan of Arc.  On the level of plot mechanics, this story is actually somewhat tangential to the main Seldon-centered narrative ofFoundation’s Fear.   But on a deeper conceptual level,  the subplot of Voltaire and Joan–achieved with both dramatic flair and scholarly erudition–makes a real dialectical contribution to the formation of psychohistory.   The apparently unlikely pair are taken to represent, respectively, Enlightenment skepticism and mechanistic materialism, on the one hand, and, on the other, Catholic faith.  They also incarnate the contrasted principles of merry sensuality and pleasure-negating asceticism, and eventually figure as the principals in perhaps the most unexpected sexual romance in modern science fiction.  The overall literary effect is not only to give the text a backwards-looking dimension–without which any forwards-looking dimension is necessarily abstract, and, in an important sense, unearned–but also, and more specifically,  to insinuate some of the intellectual syntheses of psychohistory. For the precarious balance between the views of the odd couple Voltaire and Joan “rhymes” with the balance within psychohistory between quantifiable data and conceptual intuition–the latter being an element in the Seldonian formation that Benford repeatedly stresses, in contrast, again, to Asimov’s more positivistic representation of psychohistory as one-dimensionally factological.   The courtship of Joan and Voltaire is, indeed, finally nothing less than an allegory of the dialectic itself, and the novel is noteworthy for the way it refuses to allow either of the philosophical pair to gain decisive pre-eminence over the other (though one may well feel that the proudly masculine and proto-scientific Voltaire engages authorial sympathies to an extent that the feminine, somewhat naive Joan never quite does).

Yet if, as I have tried to suggest, Benford’s contribution to the Foundation series is in some important respects an intellectually richer and more compelling achievement than Asimov’s original trilogy, it is important to remember that (as Gregory Benford would surely be the first to insist) the subtleties of Foundation’s Fear are made possible only by the extraordinarily inventive fictional architecture established decades earlier by Asimov.  To recur to one of the musical examples with which I began this paper:  It is at least arguable that Lorin Maazel’s The “Ring” Without Words is a more finished and consistently brilliant musical achievement than any actual Wagner opera.  Yet without Wagnerian opera Maazel’s extraordinary symphonic poem would not and could not exist.  Maazel, one might say, outperforms Wagner, but in a performative space of Wagner’s own invention.  To suggest that a somewhat analogous relation exists between the Foundation trilogy and Foundation’s Fear is appropriately high praise for both Asimov and Benford.

[i] The Barthes reference is to a great many of his writings but perhaps most obviously and directly to “The Death of the Author” (in Roland Barthes, Image Music Text, tr. Stephen Heath [New York:  Hill & Wang, 1977]).  The Foucault reference is to”What Is an Author?” (in Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. Donald Bouchard, tr. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon [Ithaca:  Cornell, 1977]) .

[ii] Gregory Benford, Foundation’s Fear (New York:  HarperPrism, 1997).  Page references will be given parenthetically.

[iii] For example:  “[Asimov’s] great Foundation trilogy. . .is rightly considered by many as the peak work of the Golden Age.”  Baird Seales et aliaA Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction (New York:  Avon, 1979), p. 11.

[iv] Isaac Asimov, “Author’s Note,”  Prelude to Foundation (New York:  Bantam, 1989), p. ix.

[v] Wilson writes,  “The truth is, I think, that [Shaw] is a considerable artist, but that his ideas–that is, his social philosophy proper–has always been confused and uncertain,” and then goes on to substantiate this assertion at considerable length.  Edmund Wilson, “Bernard Shaw at Eighty,” The Triple Thinkers (New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1976), p. 171.  This volume was originally published, in somewhat different form, in 1938.

[vi] Isaac Asimov, Foundation (New York:  Avon, 1966), p. 7.

[vii] Perhaps the most pertinent Althusserian texts in this regard are “Contradiction and Overdetermination” and “On the Materialist Dialectic,” both in Louis Althusser, For Marx, tr. Ben Brewster (London:  NLB, 1977).

[viii] Gregory Benford himself (in whose presence an earlier version of the current paper was orally delivered) categorically denies that either this passage or the novel as a whole owes any significant debt to Hegel.  I have thought it fair, or at least interesting, to record here his dissent from my description of his work; but, as the journalists say, I stand by my story.  The intellectual influence of Hegel has, over the past two centuries, been so pervasive that it is possible to be deeply affected by Hegelian philosophy with little more conscious volition or awareness than are required to catch a cold; and I remain convinced that the author ofFoundation’s Fear has a very serious and advanced case of objective idealism.  I should add that Greg’s personal kindness and co-operation were important to me in the preparation of this paper, and that, as ever, our numerous intellectual disagreements were conducted in an entirely good-humored way.


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