This text is part of an essay called “Estrangement and Cognition” by Darko Suvin. The essay is about the way that readers and theorists can identify a piece of writing as Science Fiction (SF) and why the author thinks that SF deserves more respect academically. When we study genre, in this case SF, we look at the ways that texts within a genre are similar to each other as well as how they are different from other genres. This essay tells us that SF is an intellectual genre, and that the philosophical value of a text dictates its literary value. Understanding some key phrases in this text may help us understand its meaning, for example:
the historically crucial shift of the locus of estrangement from space to time
This phrase means that as SF has evolved the focus of science fiction has changed from showing “estranged” places (for example outer space, or distant undiscovered parts of Earth) to showing “estranged” time (for example the future, or the past, or a re-imagined version of the past). In this case, “estranged” refers to a place or time being distant, alien and potentially unwelcoming or unfriendly. Estrangement in SF is shown in opposition to realism in other literary genres.
a systematic survey of such functions and devices
This refers to a common way that genres are identified and discussed in literary theory: looking at all of the different functions (for example, where a genre sits in the greater literary scene) and devices (the elements inside a story that makes it similar to other stories in that genre). The author of this text is telling us that they will not be going through a list of these when they talk about SF.
all the estranging devices in SF are related to the cognition espoused
In this essay, Suvin is using the term “cognition” to refer to thoughts about the world around us. The “estranging devices” the author refers to are the ways that a piece of writing can be estranged from the reader, for example by portraying a very different place or time. In this sentence Suvin is differentiating SF from other genres that use estrangement, like mythology or fantasy, by telling us that the device used to create estrangement (for example the story being set on another planet) in SF is directly linked to the philosophical ideas that the writer wants to convey. Suvin is saying that the how of SF writing (the literary devices like character, plot and setting) is related to the why of SF writing (the author’s intellectual reflections on the nature of reality and the political or moral “lesson” of the writing).