From the supposedly terrestrial Bildungsroman to the logbooks of space cruisers to the galactic encyclopaedia: extraterrestrial literature is a multiform, but above all invasive species. It not only tells stories about space. It comes from outer space. If you really want to understand it, you can't expect a history of motifs or knowledge, but must be prepared for a trip through the dark back alleys and backyards of the Gutenberg Galaxy. On the way it will become apparent: From Kepler to Captain Future, the terrestrial conception of space, even in its most blatant projection of colonialist fantasies, forms a gateway open to space and its inhabitants, all non-human and non-terrestrial alike. The most radical interpretation of extraterrestrial contact is therefore by no means the much-cited invasion from outer space, but the discovery that the human narrative only acquires its real meaning from outside, only from other planets.
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Philipp Theisohn, born in 1974, is Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Zurich. His research interests include futurology and extraterrestrial literature, among others.