Kathryn Allan's Blog

In addition to running Academic Editing Canada, I'm an Independent Scholar of disability studies and science fiction (specializing in cyberpunk and feminist SF). I'm the proud co-editor (with Djibril al-Ayad) of Accessing the Future, a disability-themed SF anthology; editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure; and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. My PhD thesis is awesome: Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF [pdf].

Time in the Archives

Thursday, 19 June 2014 14:00

I don’t know what to write about the time I spent in the University of Oregon’s Special Collections reading room in the beautiful Knight Library from May 26 to June 5. There’s not enough distance between the massive information download and today when I write this post. It was only yesterday when I realized that not even two weeks have passed since I returned home. It appears I’ve lost track of time. When I was researching, hours felt like minutes. I measured out time in folders of letters. The first few days back home, I threw myself into re-establishing my normal routine in order to avoid fully acknowledging that something integral in the direction of my life has changed. At the moment, my head is still full of other people’s lives and I only hold back telling their stories by force of will and mental exhaustion. Needless to say, I didn’t expect to come away from my archival research with such an overwhelming mix of intellectual excitement and emotional turmoil (but in a good way).

As the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow, over the course of ten days (from 10:00am to 4:30pm), I power read 1000s of letters in the archived collections of Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Suzette Haden Elgin, and Sally Miller Gearhart. The letters cover the time period from the late 1960s to the 2000s (I kept my search to the 60s to mid-80s). I was privy to the often intimate thoughts of these women, and also to those on the other side of the correspondence. Most significantly, for me, were the letters of James Tiptree, Jr. and Philip K. Dick. There are other notable science fiction writers on that list too, but as they are still living, I’m not quite ready to name them in any kind of public reflection. It’s enough to say that I’ve met many of the great luminaries of science fiction through their inspiring, well-crafted letters.

I returned home with scans of over 500+ letters (1,021 pages in total), and I am expecting scans of another entire series of an important correspondence (which was unintentionally missed during my stay) to be sent to me in the next few weeks. This is a lot of data to process. Now the real work starts. I must intently read each page and begin to make sense of what I’ve learned. I don’t know what any of it really means to my own scholarship yet. A few projects have taken shape in my mind, but I’m simply too close to the original research experience to see what’s in front of me (the whole “can’t see the forest for the trees” kind of deal). If you were hoping for some exciting research revelations in this post, sorry! I need more time to process everything. I need to return fully back to my own time, to the current moment. I am all starts and stops right now but I wanted to post something here to help ground me. This is a beginning.

CFP: Anomalous Embodiment in YA Spec Fic

Wednesday, 04 June 2014 04:10

“I don’t think I am like other people”: Anomalous Embodiment in Young Adult Speculative Fiction.

Editors Sherryl Vint and Mathieu Donner are seeking submissions for a volume of essays on young adult literature entitled Anomalous Embodiment in Young Adult Speculative Fiction.

The large commercial as well as critical successes of such works as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials or Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series have pushed young adult fiction to the forefront of the literary world. However, and though most of these texts themselves engage in one way or another with questions related to the body, and, more precisely, to a body that refuses to conform to social norms as to what a body ‘ought to be’, few academic studies have really explored the relation that young adult fiction entertains with this adolescent ‘abnormal’ body.

In her work on corporeal feminism, Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz suggests that adolescence is not only the period during which the body itself undergoes massive transformation, shifting from childhood to adulthood, but that it is also in this period that ‘the subject feels the greatest discord between the body image and the lived body, between its psychical idealized self-image and its bodily changes’ and that therefore, the ‘philosophical desire to transcend corporeality and its urges may be dated from this period’ (Volatile Bodies 75). Following upon Grosz’s observation, this interdisciplinary collection of essays addresses the relation that young adult fiction weaves between the adolescent body and the ‘norm’, this socially constructed idealized body image which the subject perceives to be in direct conflict with her/his own experience.

This collection will thus be centred on the representation, both positive and negative, of such body or bodies. From the vampiric and lycanthropic bodies of Twilight and Teen Wolf to the ‘harvested’ bodies of Neal Shusterman’s novel Unwind, YA fiction entertains a complex relation to the adolescent body. Often singularized as ‘abnormal’, this body comes to symbolise the violence of a hegemonic and normative medical discourse which constitutes itself around an ideal of ‘normality’. However, and more than a simple condemnation or interrogation of the problematic dominant representation of the corporeal within young adult fiction, this collection also proposes to explore how such texts can present a foray into new alternative territories. As such, the collection proposes a focus on what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s label the anomalous body, or embodiment re-articulated not necessarily as the presumption of an inside and an outside of normality, but rather as ‘a position or set of positions in relation to a multiplicity’ (A Thousand Plateaus, 244), one which interrogates and challenges the setting of such a boundary by positioning itself at the threshold of normativity.

We are particularly looking for contributions on works which either (1) interrogate, problematize the dominant discourse on normative embodiment present in YA fiction, (2) emphasize, by a play on repetition or any other means, the limitations of the traditional discourse on the ‘abnormal’ or ‘disabled’ body, and signal the inherent violence of such normative paradigms, and/or (3) propose an alternative approach to the anomalous body. Relevant topics include (but are not limited to):

· (Re-)Articulating disability;

· The adolescent as ‘abnormally’ embodied;

· Transcending gender and the sexuated body;

· Medical norms and the violence of ‘normative’ embodiment;

· Bodies and prosthetic technologies, or the posthuman boundary;

· Genetics, Diseases and medication, or transforming the body from the inside;

· Cognitive readings of the body, or how do we read body difference;

· Embodied subjectivities, anomalous/abnormal consciousness;

We invite proposals (approximately 500 words) for 8’000-10’000-word chapters by Monday 15th September. Abstract submissions should be included in a Word document and sent to Sherryl Vint (sherryl[dot]vint[at]ucr[dot]edu) and Mathieu Donner (Mathieu[dot]Donner[at]nottingham[dot]ac[dot]uk). Please remember to include name, affiliation, academic title and email address. Postgraduate and early-careers researchers are encouraged to participate.

CFP - Indigenous Futurism (Extrapolation)

Thursday, 03 April 2014 14:52

I am not keen on publishing in academic journals these days, but this particular CFP is important and definitely worth signal-boosting. If this is an area of interest to you, I highly recommend Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by Grace L. Dillon.

Extrapolation special issue on Indigenous Futurism, edited by Grace L. Dillon, (Anishinaabe), Michael Levy, and John Rieder.

In the last decade and a half, a number of scholars have explored the way that SF throughout the last century and a half  has borne a close relationship to colonial, and later postcolonial history, discourses, and ideologies. One of the most prominent features of colonial ideology in SF has been the widespread assumption that the future will be determined by the technological and cultural dominance of the West, the “progress” of which often entails the assumption that non-Western cultures will either disappear or  assimilate themselves to Western norms. Indigenous Futurism designates a growing movement of writing, both fictional and critical, that envisions the future from the point of view of Indigenous histories, traditions, and knowledges—and in so doing situates the present and the past in ways that challenge (neo/post)colonial ideologies of progress. This special issue of Extrapolation aims to bring together critical and scholarly explorations of and responses to fictional or theoretical and critical work in or on Indigenous SF, where SF is broadly conceived of as including science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, and slipstream.

Topics might include but are not limited to:

· fictional and theoretical confrontations of Western science and Indigenous knowledges
· use of Indigenous traditions in fiction or theory to envision a sustainable future
· responses to and evaluation of Indigenously-inflected SF in any medium from any geographic location
· representation and use of Indigenous traditions in classic SF texts
· Indigeneity and SF adventure fiction, Indigeneity and space opera, Indigeneity and the New Weird
· challenges of publishing and distributing Indigenous Futurism

We invite submissions of 5,000-12,000 words to John Rieder (rieder[at]hawaii[dot]edu) by April 1, 2015. Submissions should conform to the usual requirements of Extrapolation.

On Embracing Ambition

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 16:06

A few weeks back I tweeted: “After leaving academia, I had to really think about what I wanted out of life. I have far more ambition now than I ever did before.” For whatever reasons, the sentiment resonated with a lot of people and the positive response I received prompted this post.

The entire time I spent in academia, from undergrad through to the completion of my PhD, is best characterized as deadline oriented. Write a paper. Submit. Receive grade. Apply for next course/program/degree. Rinse and repeat. Of course, there was a lot more complication to that process, but the way in which I approached every year of my higher education was essentially the same: meet pre-existing deadlines and fulfill pre-existing requirements. The end goal was the degree, obviously, but I can’t honestly say that I was driven by a specific sense of ambition. “I want to be a professor” was not so much a statement of ambition as it was an assumption of the final outcome of my academic efforts. Once I realized that a professorial life was not in my future, I was faced with a question that I had been avoiding for the entirety of adult life: What do I want to do?

As a person who most often did what was expected of me—I truly excelled at listening to authority figures—it was extremely difficult to not have my efforts directed by an outside force when I found myself no longer a graduate student and unemployed. In my mind, I was a failure. I tried to work for my spouse. That experiment failed spectacularly within a few weeks. In those first long months out of my PhD program, I can only imagine how awkward and challenging it was for my partner to have me (unconsciously) looking to him for the direction and guidance in my life that he couldn’t provide. My housekeeping and pet tending efforts were doubled. But a spotless house and an increasingly spoiled cat did nothing to give me purpose. I was depressed for quite a long while (and it certainly didn’t help that I was coping with chronic pain, which, at that time, was quite severe and debilitating). I was completely adrift without institutional structure. I had no deadlines to meet. I had no ambition.

Graduate school showed me what I didn’t want—an academic career—but it also provided me with experiences of work that were outside of any possibilities I was exposed to as a child. People can, and do, make a living from researching, writing, and exploring difficult and new ideas. There wasn’t any discussion of an intellectual career happening outside of academe, but I read enough to know that independent scholarship—respected, widely read, and transformative engagement—does exist. When I made the mental leap to thinking of myself as an independent scholar, all of the institutional rules of "what is possible and who can do what" started falling away. Freed from other people’s deadlines, I started making my own. The first goals I set were small: set up a website, read a book, write a blog post. Then they started to grow: present at a conference, start a business, edit an essay collection. Each time I devised of and completed a project of my own choosing I became more confident in myself. And I started wanting more.

I want to write a book. I want to write a screenplay. I want to edit science fiction. I want to be an invited keynote speaker. I want to be the next big theorist. I want to never limit myself to the options in front of me. I want to go beyond the obvious outcomes of my current labour and find new ways to grow as individual.

To make my new found ambition public is both terrifying and liberating. Part of me worries that people will say, “who does she think she is?” Another part whispers to me that these dreams are too big for such a small person. But there is also an ever increasing desire to try. I finally understand now that I am only a failure if I don’t take risks. I spend much of my time alone and it is easy to become lost in my own world. My newly found ambition pushes me to write, to learn, to reach out to other people. I have no idea what my future holds but I no longer feel like I am staring into some horrible directionless void. Instead, I am curious and eager to find out what I’ll be doing at this time next year. While not every project I dream up will work out, some of them will.

When asked about her best advice to writers, Octavia Butler (in Bloodchild, p. 144) said that it was to persist: "It’s a truth that applies to more than writing. It applies to anything that is important, but difficult, important, but  frightening. We’re all capable of climbing so much higher than we usually permit ourselves to suppose. The word, again, is 'persist'!"

I have ambition. I will persist.


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