Displaying items by tag: ICFA
Thursday, 21 January 2016 15:59

Disability in Blade Runner (ICFA 2016)

I'm just going to pretend that it hasn't been 6 months since I last posted here. I have reasons!

My favourite conference (and the only one I go to these days), ICFA, is coming up in March. This year I decided that I want to present on one of my all-time favourite films, Blade Runner. Here is my paper proposal:

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“I want more life”—Disability as a Generative Narrative in Blade Runner

One of the pivotal moments of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) happens when the founder of the Tyrell Corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, denies the replicant Roy Batty’s plea for “more life” by saying “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long." In the face of Tyrell’s cruel dismissal, Batty’s desperate violence becomes understandable. Disability studies scholars have taken up Blade Runner as a film about cure (Johnson Cheu) and the consequences of genetic engineering (Michael Bérubé) as they focus on how it recuperates ableist narratives of disability. In her recent book, Disability and Popular Culture, Katie Ellis addresses the ways in which science fiction (SF) films are “producerly texts,” stories that depict stereotypes of disability but that also “offer the possibility of thinking differently about ourselves [...] and offer positive alternatives” (11). Following Ellis’ approach to articulating counter-narratives and using a disability studies framing, I consider Blade Runner as a SF text that unsettles our sense of what disability looks like and what it can be. While I agree with Johnson Cheu’s conclusion that the replicants in Blade Runner (like the disabled today) “are considered second-class citizenry and are stigmatized as such” (204), I want to problematize this straightforward argument by reading the replicants—as represented by Leon, Batty, Prim, Rachael, and Deckard—as generative of a diverse disability identity. Many popular SF narratives focus on the cure or elimination of disability, but Blade Runner places emphasis on the inhumanity of removing individual agency in the process of medicalization.

Alison Kafer, in Feminist, Queer, Crip, asks: “What is it about disability that makes it a defining element of our imagined futures, such that a ‘good’ future is one without disability, while a ‘bad’ future is overrun by it?” (10). Whether the viewer reads Blade Runner as a “good” or “bad” future (Cheu, for instance, calls it a utopia), depends on which characters are the most relatable. I propose that, through the ambiguous figure of Deckard, the audience is forced to confront the experience of disability as both impairment and as a social construction. By recognizing the replicants’ vulnerability and right to autonomy, it becomes clear that each is worthy of “more life.” I will discuss the ways Blade Runner engages with notions of shared human vulnerability and shared bodily difference. The ideal but unrealized outcome in the film is in the proliferation of disability, not in its eradication. By moving the normate/able body out of the centre in favour of the replicant, I hope to show the potential of SF films like Blade Runner to be generative sites of disability narratives about the future.

 

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 14:29

Feminist SF Research FTW (ICFA 2015)

Seeing as my independent scholarship is coming along better than I imagined, I proposed a paper AND a discussion panel for my favourite conference, ICFA (International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts). Both were accepted and I'm already dreaming of the Florida sun in March, smearing on ridiculously strong sun screen, chasing lizards, and swimming in the pool at the con hotel. And doing all that other fun conference stuff too. Below are the abstracts for the paper and the panel. The title of my paper is a play on James Tiptree, Jr's short story, "The Women Men Don't See." [UPDATE: I have withdrawn my paper due to scheduling issues].

 


The Disabilities Men Don’t See: Genetic Engineering, Medical Experimentation, and Institutionalization in Feminist Science Fiction

To date, most discussions of feminist science fiction (SF) address the subgenre’s engagement with the sexed and gendered body (and, to a lesser extent, the raced and classed body). Despite these necessary readings, I argue that there needs to be greater engagement with the representation of disability in feminist SF. In this paper, I trace some of the ways that feminist SF has shaped the conversation of disability in SF through narratives of genetic engineering (e.g., Joanna Russ’s The Female Man), medical experimentation (e.g., James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”), and instutionalization (e.g., Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time). Framing my discussion with disability studies theory, I will attend to Alison Kafer’s insistence that we must examine what is unsaid or assumed about disability in the creation of an ideal feminist utopia (74, Feminist, Queer, Crip). While the feminist SF writers of the 1970s (and the 1980s) often imagined the problematic “defeat” of disability in their visions of a “better” future, I propose that they nevertheless opened up a space to challenge what it means to be a visible “non-normative” or “deviant” body in a heteronormative and ableist society. More recent intersectional feminist SF works, such as Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl (2002) and Octavia Butler’s Fledgling (2005), have since taken up the complex relationships that exist between disabled, gendered, and racialized forms of marginalization. This paper ultimately advocates for the integration of disability studies—and a rejection of any future founded on the (medical) exploitation and erasure of people with disabilities—in feminist SF scholarship.

 


Archival Research in the Field of the Fantastic

As the field of fantastic embraces intersectional ways of reading, more scholars (at all levels) are engaging with interdisciplinary forms of pedagogy and research practices. Archives of fantastic literature (e.g., novels, zines, pulp magazines, etc.) and the personal papers (e.g., correspondence, fan mail, manuscript drafts, etc.) of authors in the field offer rich sites of investigation that still remain largely untapped. This panel will address issues around the growing interest in archival research, taking up such questions as: What collections are available and at which institutions? How does one develop a project that makes use of archival research? What are the funding opportunities available for archival research? What are the best research and pedagogical strategies to practice while in the archives? How does one make use of archival materials (e.g., navigating copyright/permissions)? What are some of the latest discoveries coming out of archival research in the field of the fantastic? As they discuss these points, the panelists (Kathryn Allan, Gerry Canavan, and Josh Pearson*) will also share some of the insights and findings from their recent and ongoing archival research projects.

*It is possible that another panelist may join us.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

As March approaches, so does my favourite conference: ICFA. After a successful presentation on disability in Star Trek last year, I thought I would stick with the film and television track of the conference. Not only do I thoroughly enjoy analyzing popular films, but it seems that everyone loves watching movie clips during conference papers. Win-win.

This year I am presenting on Rupert Wyatt's reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I've seen all of the Apes movies--was alternatively amused and appalled--and went to see Rise in the theatre (by myself) because I was extremely curious about how Wyatt's film would deal with the offensive racial politics of the earlier Apes films. Rise of the Planet of the Apes did not fail to deliver a similarly problematic narrative of the primate other. And so another academic conference was born. Here is my proposal for my paper/clip show with analysis:

“Some Things Aren’t Meant to be Changed”—Disability in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the Planet of the Apes franchise goes high-tech—both in terms of the films extensive use of CGI to create the lead ape, Caesar, and in its key plot device of the creation and misuse of a “neurogenesis” drug. Referred to as “the cure” for Alzheimer’s disease, the drug ends up significantly transforming the primate mind. Like most cure narratives in science fiction, the film speaks to Western culture’s preference for an idealized “wholeness” and imagines a scenario where only the most physically dominant and intellectually capable survive (represented by the technologically-enhanced chimpanzee, Caesar). As Elaine Graham writes in Representations of the Post/Human, however, it is essential that we interrogate such narratives of the future “ideal” body: “What is at stake, supremely, in the debate about the implications of digital, genetic, cybernetic and biomedical technologies is precisely what (and who) will define authoritative notions of normative, exemplary, desirable humanity into the twenty-first century” (11). As a way to distance itself from the overt racist politics of the original Planet of the Apes series, I argue that Rise of the Planet of the Apes instead emphasizes a normative humanity predicated on the erasure of the “undesirable” ill and disabled body.

Disability studies scholars Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell observe the tendency to frame the disabled body as “primitive throwback” to an earlier time in human development: “In a culture that endlessly reassures itself that it is on the verge of conquering Nature once and for all, along with its own ‘primitive’ instincts and the persistent domain of the have-nots, disability is referenced with respect to these idealized visions. As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without ‘deviancy’” (Cultural Locations of Disability 32). With its focus on “curing” Alzheimer’s disease and improving “natural” (but limited and “primitive”) cognitive abilities through medical testing on apes, along with a sustained focus on the animals’ institutionalization in “care” facilities, Wyatt’s film makes problematic ableist connections between primates and people with disabilities. Reading Rise of the Planet of the Apes with disability studies in mind, I want to address issues of agency, compassion, and the drive to “overcome” physical and cognitive differences. While there is a claimed desire to “cure” people, the lone female in the film, Caroline, nevertheless tells the (white, straight, able-bodied, and male) protagonist Will, “some things aren’t meant to be changed.” Where does this line of thinking—as well as the imagined apocalyptic consequences of creating “the (failed) cure”—situate people with disabilities both in the present and in the imagined future?

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Last year when I went to ICFA, my only hope was that people would be nice to me. It was my first time trying on the “Independent Scholar” label and I worried that no one would pay much attention to anything that I had to say. Happily, however, this was a groundless concern and I ended up having an extremely positive experience (which spawned this post). This year, I went to ICFA with a different set of hopes and fears (but mostly excitement).

Since last March, I have made some good headway in my independent scholarship, most notably my soon-to-be published (in August) edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. In addition to that book, I also have several peer-reviewed articles/chapters in process, as well as a few non-academic bits of writing floating about (my favourite being the Afterword I wrote for Outlaw Bodies). I viewed this year’s ICFA as the start of my official debut as an Independent Scholar (capital letters and all). I knew that I would be meeting and talking with a great deal of lovely people, but I still had some anxiety about the reception of my latest work. My previous papers had arisen out my doctoral research, all thoroughly vetted and evaluated by my thesis committee. My research and writing about disability in science fiction, though, has happened in the comfortable bubble of my home office. While I have had a passing conversation or two about disability studies in the past year--and obviously have been engaging with it in depth for my collection-- I hadn’t yet tested my new knowledge base on the spot, in front of a room of my colleagues. So I worried. What if I interpreted the theory wrong? What if everything I have read is embarrassingly out dated? What if nobody cares?

As usual, I was stressing about nothing. It turns out that I do know what I am talking about. Of course I still have so much more to read and learn, but I am definitely on the right track. One of the highlights of the conference for me was talking for hours with another disability studies and genre scholar, Derek Newman-Stilles (visit his wonderful blog, Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy). Next year, we want to organize a panel discussion on reading disability in genre literature. We both agree: The timing is right, the interest is there, and disability is an identity position that deserves greater engagement within genre studies. With such conversations in mind, I have left ICFA feeling a great sense of forward momentum in my scholarship. I have finally found my niche and connecting with so many supportive people warmed the long burnt out cockles of my academic heart.

I also left ICFA with a renewed sense of advocacy for graduate students and underemployed adjuncting PhDs. There is still a lot of work to do around raising awareness and developing plans for action around the job market (both academic and non-academic). I talked with at least 10 grad students who had no exit plan at the end of their degrees. Most were clearly struggling to fully comprehend the financial reality about to befall them once they left their programs. I also talked with many sad and angry adjuncts--far too few actually enjoyed their current job position or felt any optimism about their future as academics. Now that I am operating on the outside, the stratification of labour within the academy is even more obvious…and more appalling. I can no longer imagine being within that system and needing to fight a daily battle for fair and equitable employment. In the upcoming years, I would like to see some sort of panel discussion that addresses alternative work strategies for genre scholars. The science fiction and fantasy fan communities are robust and might offer previously unconsidered opportunities for MAs and PhDs wanting to engage with genre in a meaningful (and perhaps paying) way. This year I had several grad students and TT faculty directly ask me about my independent scholarship, so the interest in non-traditional academic career paths is definitely there.

Next week I am off to the Eaton/SFRA conference and I am feeling, overall, a lot more confident about my scholarship going into it. I still have some of the same groundless worries bouncing around at the back of my brain, but I am getting so much better at ignoring them. When I was in grad school I could not have imagined this life that I have carved out for myself. While I have no clear goals for the future outcome of my independent scholarship, I am starting to make long(ish) term plans (e.g. write a book). Whenever my anxieties creep up now, I remind myself: an uncertain future is also a flexible one. And thank Cthulhu for science fiction.

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Mothering Monsters: Technology, Reproduction, and the Maternal Body in
Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber

Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl (2002) and Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000) explore the ways that reproductive technologies have the capacity to reshape human being in unexpected and frightening ways. Drawing on corporeal feminism (of Margrit Shildrick and Elizabeth Grosz, most notably), I interrogate the ways in which Lai and Hopkinson explore issues of monstrosity, maternity, and reproduction in posthuman worlds. Cloning meets reincarnation in Salt Fish Girl, as Lai traces the journey of durian-odoured Miranda from adolescence to motherhood. I examine the ways reproductive technologies, like cloning, intersect with environmental pollution and hybrid diseases to create a threatening maternal body that has no need for men. Lai reflects that “now we step out of moist earth, out of DNA new and old, an imprint of what has gone before, but also a variation. [...] By our strangeness we write our bodies into the future” (SFG, 259). Miranda’s struggles with corporeal indeterminacy and “seepage” are reflected, I argue, in Midnight Robber’s Tan-Tan. Like Lai, Hopkinson exposes the particular vulnerability and monstrosity inherent in maternity as Tan-Tan struggles with self-actualization and non-normative embodiment. Straddling the worlds of technology (Toussaint) and unadulterated nature (New Half-Way Tree), Tan-Tan becomes a contested site of the posthuman mother – her child is directly connected to the Grande Anansi Nanotech Interface: “[His] little bodystring will sing to Nanny tune, doux-doux. [He] will be a weave in she flesh” (MR, 328). Reading these two texts as exemplars of feminist post-cyberpunk SF, I ultimately propose that Lai and Hopkinson situate the monstrous maternal body as both vulnerable and technologically adaptable. Salt Fish Girl and Midnight Robber articulate the dangers inherent in adopting any new technology, but remain optimistic that the maternal body will continue to replicate on its own terms and in unforeseen ways.

 

Proposed Bibliography

Anatol, Giselle Liza. “Maternal Discourses in Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber.” African  American Review. 40.1 (Spring 2006). 1-14. Print.

Barr, Marleen, Ed. Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in  Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Lanham: Rowman and  Littlefield Publishers, 2000.  13-34. Print.

- - - . “’We’re at the start of a new ball game and that’s why we’re all real nervous’: Or, Cloning – Technological Cognition Reflects Estrangement from Women.” Learning From Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia. Ed. Patrick Parrinder. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. 193-207. Print.

Braidotti, Rosi. “Cyberteratologies: Female Monsters Negotiate the Other’s Participation in Humanity’s Far Future.” Envisioning the Future: Science Fiction and the Next Millennium. Ed. Marleen Barr. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003. 146-172. Print.

Doane, Mary Ann. “Technophilia: Technology, Representation, and the Feminine.” Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs and Cyberspace. Ed. Jenny Wolmark. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. 20-33. Print.

Graham, Elaine. Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens, and Others in Popular Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Print.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1999. Print.

Hopkinson, Nalo. Midnight Robber. New York: Warner Books, 2000. Print.

Lai, Larissa. Salt Fish Girl. Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2008. Print.

Lee, Tara. “Mutant Bodies in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl: Challenging the Alliance Between Science and Capital.” West Coast Line 38.2 (Fall 2004): 1-11. Print.

Morris, Robyn. “’What Does it Mean to be Human?’: Racing Monsters, Clones and Replicants.” Foundation (Summer 2004): 81-96. Print.

Rogan, Alcena Madeline Davis. “Tananarive Due and Nalo Hopkinson Revisit the Reproduction of Mothering.” Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Ed. Marleen S. Barr. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2008. 75-99. Print.

Shildrick, Margrit. Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self London: SAGE Publications, 2002. Print.

Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007. Print.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
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