Friday, 12 January 2018 16:53

Accounting for Happiness

Sometime in September 2017, I had a bad CFS crash. Throughout the summer, I had been doing really well in terms of energy—the best I had felt since I first became sick. So when this particular crash hit in the fall, I was completely surprised. I tried to ride it out, reducing my already light workload for a few weeks, but I wasn’t feeling any better. As it were, my energy levels became worse as whole host of attending health problems sprung up. It felt like I had lost several years’ worth of careful progress. I couldn’t keep working and so I organized a leave from work from October to at least mid-January (the time of this post).

I’m still not well enough to return to my normal editing work routine and won’t be for at least a few more months. This is frustrating, of course, but I’m also finding it hard to get properly upset about my health situation as I would have in the past. Because other than doing what I’m doing—which is getting a lot of rest while very, very slowly increasing my activity—I cannot change it. If anything, I’m more content with my life than I can ever remember. There is so much I want to do in terms of work, writing, and general life stuff, but I have made peace with the fact my timeline for achieving my goals is inherently uncertain and will require many long extensions. I never anticipated that I’d be feeling this exhausted and this fortunate at the same time. In many ways, this current state of overall contentment is a bigger surprise that the September health crash.

Originally, when I first thought about what I’d do during my “time off,” it was finally writing the book on disability and science fiction that I’ve been researching for the past six years. After all, the vast majority of my scholarly writing and editorial work has happened during the times I was too unwell to edit for paying clients. As it turns out, after prioritizing what energy I have had for dealing with my daily basic needs, there has been nearly nothing left over for luxuries like writing (this essay is a notable exception requiring several weeks in the planning and a day's worth of energy). The snail’s pace of my writing during the past year means a lack of publishable material for this one, which was a situation causing me stress.

Since the publishing of my edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction, I became attached to the idea that my only worthwhile accomplishments were those indexed by internet searches. Basically, if other people could read it and it had my name attached, then I could count it as an achievement. Now I’m pretty sure that this is just the independent scholar’s version of the academy’s “publish or perish” mindset. So what happens after a year, like 2017, where my publishing credits were few, or like the one I am facing now, where I might not have anything published—scholarly or creative—at all? I’m confident that I won’t suddenly wink out of existence. More importantly, as I have come to deeply realize during these past months of illness and recuperation, I have been doing my accounting all wrong.

After a day when my CFS and generalized anxiety were particularly bad, I wrote of list of all of the good things that happened in my life during 2017. The number of things I had published made up only a tiny fraction of the list, which was dominated by much more meaningful self-care work (ranging from successfully completing physiotherapy to re-learning what a proper meal size looks like) and social activities (such as going for long car drives with my partner and keeping in better contact with friends). I put in all of this positive effort into living my best life possible, and while I still crashed hard and long, I am actually happier. Not because of how many words I wrote or what I published, but because of the connections I have fostered and nurtured, with myself and with others, throughout the year. All of this self-realization discussion might come across as trite and plainly obvious but it still feels like a watershed moment for me.

I spend a lot of time alone and I’m inside my head a lot. I have a lot of childhood trauma to unpack, and I’m still figuring out how to live well with the constant companions of CFS and anxiety. For all of my adult life, whenever I’ve felt happy, I was also waiting for inevitable fall. Crisis was always around the corner so I best be prepared. Well, the crisis has come (and will come again), and I’m still chugging along, making the best of the hand I’ve been dealt (which is pretty damn good all things considered). I’ve low energy and I can’t do everything I want to do. I have had to reconceptualise my daily efforts from what “I want” to what “I need,” and then I ask for help to fill in the gap between what I can do and what I cannot. And that is exactly where the source of my happiness lies: in the space that requires me to seek assistance. Because I know that help is there when I need it (such fortune!) and I’m finally learning how to ask for it without shame or guilt.

Even though I am still finding it difficult to get through a regular day without having to lie down and rest every few hours, I am getting through. I’m letting my partner help me more. I’m finding moments to send an email or write a postcard to a friend. I’m still writing when I can. It is all enough for now and for the future too if that’s how things play out. I still don’t feel comfortable with uncertainty and bad habits and routines are hard to break but I’m feeling optimistic today. 2018 is going to be good year as long as I remember to practice patience and gratitude. I am shifting my measures of productive efforts and valued achievements to fit the reality of my lived experience: slow progress to create a deep accounting of care, love, and happiness.

ICFA--my favourite conference (and the only one I now attend)--is coming up next month. This year I have a full slate: in addition to participating on an archival research panel, I will be moderating a discussion panel I organized on "Fantasizing Disability," and presenting a paper on the character Ripley from the Alien franchise. Despite my apprehension around the current US political climate, I'm looking forward to being at ICFA and continuing important conversations about disability representation in genre (because facism is antithetical to disability rights). My abstracts follow:

- - -

Fantasizing Disability

Genres of the fantastic present opportunities to explore worlds fundamentally different than our own, where bodily norms are questioned and disrupted. Fantasy in particular has the potential to create novel relationships to and characterizations of disability. While fantastic worlds frequently imagine diverse bodies (from elvish to gigantic to alien) interacting with each other, the genre often reduces disability to a symbolic medium and disabled characters to one-dimensional stereotypes. Fantasy (as well as science fiction and horror and all of their subgenres) abounds with disability tropes such as the curse of disability, the magical cure as a reward, the disabled villain, the disabled guru who helps the hero, the triumph narrative, and the trope of the “supercrip” (a person who gains compensatory powers for their disability). Given the necessity of integrating inclusive and realistic depictions of human diversity in genre narratives, this panel will address the representation of disabled people and disability in the field of the fantastic. How has disability representation changed since the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales of Rumpelstiltskin and wicked stepmothers? Why has disability become a mark of a character’s evil-doing or, alternatively, pure innocence (and how can we challenge these readings)? In what ways do disabled bodies act as sites of identification for the audience? What opportunities do various fantastic subgenres—from steampunk to fairy tale re-tellings—offer authors and readers in depicting and understanding disability? Located in an intersectional disability studies perspective, this panel will explore both the reductive tropes and transformative potentials of disability representation in the field of the fantastic.

Panelists: Sara Cleto, Derek Newman-Stille, Nisi Shawl, Fran Wilde Moderator: Kathryn Allan

- - -

Beautiful on the Inside: The Alien Perfection of Ripley

Science fiction film has long explored medical science’s quest for perfection of the human physical form. Released in 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien launched one of the genres most successful franchises (spawning four other films) and created the iconic feminist action hero, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver). Drawing on feminist disability studies, my analysis of the Alien films will focus on the character of Ripley and trace the ways her narrative revolves around the anxiety of what lies unseen within the (imperfect) human body and how to achieve an ideal form. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in her foundational work, Extraordinary Bodies, coins the term normate, which refers to “the social figure through which people can represent themselves as definitive human beings” (8) (often in antithesis to the disabled or the “freak”). I argue that Ripley, at first, is this social figure, but by the end of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 1997 installment, Alien: Resurrection, her body has simultaneously become more ideal and more horrible as she transcends normate humanity (from the inside out) to achieve an alien perfection.

Garland-Thomson further writes that: “When our embodied ways of being in the world come to be understood as disabilities or when we understand our way as disabled, we then enter the category” (“The Story of My Work”). Applying this framing to my reading, I am particularly interested in such moments of recognition in the Alien films: when, and in what ways, does Ripley see herself in the alien, as being something other than “normal”? In my discussion, I will address how Ripley relates to the non-normate bodies of the androids (as represented by Ash, Bishop, and Call) and of the aliens—each body offers a possible design for human physical perfection but differs in their interior authenticity (e.g., blood) and organic function (e.g., reproduction). In a universe where the alien body is declared perfect (as repeated throughout the films by various agents of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation), what then constitutes the ideal human? Through my analysis of Ripley, I hope to continue demonstrating the generative potentials of bringing a disability studies framework to science fiction in exploring the social and medical definitions of humanity, as well as in expanding the future possibilities of disability identity.

Speculative Vegetation: Plants in Science Fiction


Call for Papers (Edited Collection)

Plants have played key roles in some of the most notable science fiction, from prose to graphic novels and film: John Wyndham’s triffids, the sentient and telepathic flora in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” the gene-hacked crops of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, the agricultural experiments of Andy Weir’s The Martian, the invasive trees and mechaflowers of Warren Ellis’s Trees, and the galactic greenhouses of Silent Running represent just a few. Plants surround us, sustain us, pique our imaginations, and inhabit our metaphors — and yet in some ways they remain opaque. As Randy Laist writes in Plants and Literature (2013): “Plants seem to inhabit a time-sense, a life cycle, a desire structure, and a morphology that is so utterly alien that it is easy and even tempting to deny their status as animate organisms” (12). The scope of their alienation is as broad as their biodiversity. And yet, literary reflections of plant-life are driven, as are many threads of science fictional inquiry, by the concerns of today.

Throughout human history, plants have supported as well as controlled populations; influenced and revised how we think about ourselves, nature, temporality, and history; fostered technological innovation; and raised new legal issues, such as biomatter copyrights and the borders of non-human personhood. Even though speculations about terrestrial and extraterrestrial plant-life have ever abounded in science fiction, we are only just beginning to understand plant communication, kinship systems, and intelligence. Following the rise of fields such as ethnobotany, agricultural phonobiology, and phytophenomenology; the embrasure of ecology, environmental philosophy, and ecocriticism; and the concomitant increase in concern regarding our fragile and endangered planetary ecosystem, this edited collection is timely, if not overdue.

Science fiction allows us to speculate further on what — or who — plant life may be while exploring how we understand ourselves in relation to the mute (?) sentient (?) world of flora. Thinking about plants differently changes not just our understanding of plants themselves, but also transforms our attitudes toward morality, politics, economics, and cultural life at large. How do the parameters of good and evil, villainy, heroism, and responsibility shift when plant-based life comes into play? How do plant-based characters or foci shift our understandings of institutions, nations, borders, and boundaries? What roles do plants play in our visions of utopian and dystopian futures? How do botanical subjectivities impact our empathic reactions? Our understandings of sentience and agency? How does the inclusion (or exclusion) of plant-based life impact the genre of science fiction?

This volume will be the first to investigate the importance of plants in science fiction. We encourage contributions contending with diverse works from any and all global, national, extranational, or regional positions and all periods. In particular, we welcome essays which consider genre with broader ethical, political, aesthetic, and historical concerns tied to the representation of botanical subjects and subjectivities in science fiction across all media.

Authors are encouraged to consider, but are not constrained to, the following topics and subjects:

Authorship/readership: plant-based authors/readers

Ecocriticism/Green studies: ecology, human/animal/plant interaction and interdependence; anthropomorphism vs. plant subjectivity and agency

Empire: postcolonialism, colonialism, anti-imperialism, pastoral, anti-pastoral

Ethics: individual responsibility, corporate responsibility, global responsibility; carbon trading

Green activism: ‘eco-terrorism’; indigenous lands; environmental legislation; non-human personhood

Habitats: space exploration and colonization; extraplanetary agrarian systems; diasporas, migration, borderlands; heterotopias, utopias, New Edens, dystopias; wilderness vs domesticated

Hybridity: botanical technology; plant-animal / plant-human hybrids; arcologies

Medicine: drugs, poisons, health, ability/disability

Monstrosity: plant-animal / plant-human hybrids; dehumanization; zombification

Narratology: plant perspectives, subjectivities, narrators and/or focalizers

Sentience: consciousness, collective intelligence, ontology, posthumanism

Symbolism: plants as symbols, metaphors, metonymies

Time: alternate time scales; histories; chronologies (“tree rings”)

Value: capitalism, plants and finance; weeds, crops, ornamental

War and peace: weapons, agents of destruction; agents of salvation

Prospective contributors to this edited collection should send an abstract (300-500 words) and brief CV or short biographical statement to Katherine Bishop (kbishop[at]sky.miyazaki-mic.ac.jp), Jerry Määttä (Jerry.Maatta[at]littvet.uu.se), and David Higgins (dmhiggin[at]gmail.com).

For full consideration, abstracts are due by 30 April 2017. Completed essays of between 4,000 and 8,000 words will be due by 30 November 2017 for a projected publication date in 2018.

Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Special issue: The Intersections of Disability and Science Fiction

Guest editors: Ria Cheyne (Disability and Education, Liverpool Hope University) and Kathryn Allan (Independent Scholar, Canada)

“No other literary genre comes close to articulating the anxieties and preoccupations of the present day as clearly and critically as SF, making it a vital source of understanding advances in technology and its impact on newly emerging embodiments and subjectivities, particularly for people with disabilities.”

--Kathryn Allan, Disability in Science Fiction

Reflecting the status of science fiction as a genre that spans multiple mediums and audiences, this special issue of JLCDS seeks articles that explore the intersection(s) of science fiction, disability, and disability studies. What possibilities might science fiction or science fiction theory offer to disability activists and the field of disability studies? How might disability theory, or a disability-informed approach, enrich or transform our understanding of science fiction as a genre or as a mode of thought?

Topics might include, but are not limited to:

Representations of disability in science fiction literature, comics/graphic novels, film, art, music, video games, or television, and their implications for our understanding of genre and/or disability.

Science fiction fan culture (including conventions, fanfic and other forms of fan production).

Science fiction and prosthesis.

Science fiction and eugenics/genetic engineering.

Science fiction and the posthuman.

Accessibility and science fiction environments.

The political and ethical consequences of imagining future worlds with or without disability.

The figure of the alien or cyborg in science fiction and/or disability theory.

Disability and queerness in science fiction.

Disability and indigenous futures in science fiction.

Science fiction, disability, and medical humanities.

The influence of disability activism on professional or fan-based science fiction production.

Submissions that consider how disability intersects with other identity categories are particularly encouraged. The guest editors welcome contributions from independent scholars.

Please email a 500 word proposal to cheyner[at]hope[dot]ac[dot]uk and kathryn[at]academiceditingcanada[dot]ca by March 15, 2017. Contributors can expect to be notified by April 26, 2017. Full drafts of the selected articles will be due by December 6, 2017. Please direct any questions to either guest editor.

Thursday, 02 June 2016 14:32

How to Create a Dissertation Timeline

At the start of this year I made the tough decision to phase out my dissertation coaching services. While I really enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with clients—and I worked with and learned from some awesome people—it wasn’t sustainable for my business in the long-term, especially as my editing services have become more focused on projects that require longer periods of my attention. Although I will no longer be coaching, I still care about helping people finish their degrees so I want to share this useful planning exercise for any PhD student who is ABD: a Dissertation Audit.

Many of the requests I received for dissertation coaching came from PhD students who had been away from their program or project for several months or more due to illness, family, or work related issues. The majority of my clients found restarting the thesis process overwhelming and just weren’t sure how to get back into their work. Across the board, most PhD students severely underestimate the time it takes to write a thesis, which makes it stressful and disheartening when they miss their original anticipated deadline. Since everyone has different demands on their attention, energy and available work hours, I developed a series of questions (below) to assess the state of the existing project and identify all the resources they had available (and the ones they still needed) in order to create a reasonable and achievable timeline for completion.

 

Dissertation Audit

The first and most important question to ask is: “Do I want to complete my dissertation (and why)?” If your answer is yes, then go through this list of questions to reaffirm your decision to proceed and figure out the kind of time and resource committment that will be required to meet your goal of completion. Keep in mind that these categories overlap (e.g., the time you have available to complete your dissertation may be dependent on when your funding runs out).

Dissertation Draft(s)

  • How much of the thesis have you already drafted?
  • How much of the existing writing can be kept?
  • How much still needs to be written?
  • Do you have feedback for revisions from your supervisor and committee? How long will it take to revise your existing chapters based on the feedback?
  • Do you have a detailed outline for the entire thesis? If yes, is the outline still relevant and achievable? If no, then take the time to create an outline, start by listing (by paragraph or by subtopic) all the elements in each chapter of your current draft(s).

Research

  • Which texts have you read? Are they still relevant to your project?
  • What texts still need to be read/consulted?
  • If you still need to continue researching, make a list of all the books and articles you need from library. How long will it take for you to read the books? Are there materials that must be requested from another institution (and require additional time to process)?

Time Considerations

  • Is there a firm institutional deadline that you must meet (before funding ends or before you need to re-enroll and pay additional tuition)?
  • How much time do you have available to research and write (by the day, by the week)? Be honest with your limits and add extra time for unexpected delays and life stuff (e.g., if you think it will take 10 days to update your research resources, give yourself 13 or more days when you make your timeline).
  • Have you discussed a timeline for completion with your supervisor and committee? Are there dates when they will be unavailable (at a conference or on sabbatical)?
  • How long does it take for your supervisor and/or committee members to read and give feedback on drafts? Make sure you set clear expectations with them. You need to have your supervisor and committee on board with your timeline!

Supervisor and Committee

  • What kind of support and time is available from your supervisor? Set up an in-person meeting with them to discuss expectations and your proposed timeline for completion. Request (at minimum) monthly progress check-ins in person or over phone/email.
  • What kind of support and time is available from your committee members? Discuss with your supervisor about when to contact your committee members for feedback on drafts. How long will committee members have to respond?

Financial Considerations

  • What are the institutional deadlines for funding and tuition costs (per semester)? Figure out the cost to remain in your program for at least one year past your ideal date of completion.
  • How much personal savings are available to you? What are your financial supports outside of PhD funding?
  • How much are supplemental materials and services necessary for the completion of the dissertation (e.g., childcare, copyediting, coaching, cost of paper for printing of thesis, interlibrary loan charges, etc.)?

Other Supports and Commitments

  • Do you have familial commitments that require accommodation while working on the thesis (childcare, eldercare, spousal support, etc.)? What are your arrangements for dealing with these commitments?
  • Does your family support your thesis efforts? Do they give you the necessary time to focus on your project? Discuss boundaries and expectations for a quiet work space with the members of your household.
  • Are you working part- or full-time as you complete your dissertation? Is your employer supportive of your efforts? Can they allow you time away (if requested) to focus on the completion of your project?
  • Do you require academic coaching or editing services? Have you discussed these options with your supervisor? Determine the cost of those supplementary services and set aside the necessary time to accommodate them.
  • Are there any other resources that you require to finish your dissertation? Remember that making time for self-care (physical and mental) is important!

The application period for the 2016-17 Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship is now open! If you have any interest in feminist SF or in the authors whose papers are housed at the University of Oregon's Libraries Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), then I strongly encourage you to apply. These collections are a treasure trove of cool ideas.

Find out all the details about the Le Guin Feminist SF Fellowship (and the Centre for the Study of Women in Society) here.

This is also a good excuse to give an update on the state of my fellowship research, which is still on going. I admit that I wish I was further along but I've made peace with the fact that I only have so much time and energy to dedicate to my writing. That said, I am constantly picking away at the hundreds of (scanned) letters that I returned home with. I think that the biggest challenge--aside from finding the time when I am both well enough to work and not committed to my day job--is dealing with the affective aspect of the research. I was not prepared to be so emotionally undone by what I read in the letters (in particular those of Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., Suzette Haden Elgin, and Sally Miller Gearheart). Finding a balance between a scholarly reading and a personal one has been tough, but I think I've finally found the approach that is right for me. Writing about Russ' letters for the WisCon Chronicles (link below) was a real turning point for me in this respect. I basically have realized (and embraced) that I am a creative non-fiction writer at heart (dare I say, an essayist!), so interweaving my own story with those of the women whom I am studying is how I can best honour their work.

My current project is still a book-length one, but instead of being a primarily academic text, it is going to be a series of essays tracing how I came to my disability identity through reading science fiction. My archival research will significantly inform several of the essays (as winning the fellowship was a watershed moment in both my scholarly and personal life). I hope to have this essay collection mostly drafted by year's end but I'm allowing a longer timeline. My writing pace is definitely a slow burn these days.

All this said, here's everything I have published to date relating to my Le Guin Feminist SF Fellowship research:

2013 Proposal for the fellowship, "Locating Dis/Ability in Utopian Feminist Science Fiction"

2014 Interview (conducted when I was at the UO archives)

2015 Transcript of "Ethics and Methods in the Archive: A Roundtable Conversation at ICFA 36"
[published in the Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction, Vol. 3(1)]

2015 Letter, "Dear Tiptree, Dear Alice [with Notes]" in the award-winning Letters to Tiptree (Eds. Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce, from Twelfth Planet Press)

2016 (forthcoming) Essay, "Learning to Love Joanna: Letters on Feminism, Anger, and Courage" in The WisCon Chronicles (Vol. 10) (Ed. Margaret McBride, from Aqueduct Press).

I'm excited and keen to share more of what I learned from my archival research. I know that I am an infrequent blogger, but watch this space for updates in the future!

Monday, 22 February 2016 18:03

Valley Fold

I am slowly teaching myself the art of origami. I only started learning it at the New Year so my skills are still rudimentary but I take great pleasure in every lopsided unicorn or too creased flower blossom I create. One of the most basic folds in origami is called the valley fold, which is quite simply folding the paper so that the crease is at the bottom, the paper pointing upwards on either side in a vee shape. When creating origami figures, this kind of inward fold can become quite complex as you make a series of folds on top of one another all in one smooth motion. While simple at the start, a valley fold is the beginning of something magical, lending hidden support to a narrow spine or mapping the way to the next folds to come.

Like a square of origami paper, I have been turning inwards. I have largely withdrawn from the world of internet chatter, specifically deleting my one social media account. After several years as a Twitter user, I found myself being both drawn to and devastated by the platform. It didn’t matter how well I culled my following list or muted people, I left every interaction with Twitter feeling worse than I had begun. Most discussions on Twitter (and wherever people gather virtually) seem to boil down to “us vs. them” and I was always worrying about which side I was supposed to be on. I’m not afraid of conflict but I long to see the person behind the words. The staccato effect of social media is too overwhelming, a stream of emotions mixed up the point where I lose context of what’s being said. I lose myself.

As I turn inwards, I am also moving away from identifications with large communities. When I left academia six years ago, I eagerly dove into the world of science fiction fandom and hoped that I would find a home there. I have not. I gave it a really good go--I went to conventions, I joined Twitter, I edited a short story collection--but fandom is not for me (at least not the way it is now). I think that I come off as too academic for fandom (and as too fannish for academia). As an independent scholar of science fiction, I confuse the categories. That’s okay, I get it. It’s just that I hate feeling adrift. I like being alone but I am tired of feeling lonely. I recently wrote an essay about Joanna Russ for the next issue of the WisCon Chronicles, and it helped me find comfort with my constant feeling of not belonging. Russ wrote about how she was always looking for, finding, and losing community. Of course I don’t fashion myself the next Joanna Russ but her letters poignantly describe the same fears and worries and desires that I have about community. And that shared identification is a form of belonging, is it not? I’ve now folded Russ’s words into myself and they give me encouragement to move forward.

At first I was worried that these mental valley folds signaled a larger retreat inside of myself that precluded growth and creativity and social connection. Since I left social media and rejected its illusion of connectivity, however, I feel so much better being alone. Instead of logging on to read a stream of strangers' tweets, I have been slowly writing emails to the people I am genuinely interested in. I’m always limited in energy but I’m making more of what I have. Most surprisingly, this inwards turn has caused a stream of words to spill out on to paper. There is so much that I need to write out, to explore and to explain. Something huge inside has finally shaken loose of anxiety and doubt and it wants out! I think writers call this “finding your voice” and it is wonderful.

Here I am. If you want to connect with me, I’d be happy to hear from you. Send me an email (I also have lots of paper and stamps and postcards)!

[Author's Note: This article was first published as "Disability in Science Fiction" in SF 101: A Guide to Teaching and Studying Science Fiction. Eds. Ritch Calvin, Doug Davis, Karen Hellekson, and Craig Jacobsen. Science Fiction Research Association, 2014. Ebook. The original intended audience was science fiction scholars not familiar with disability studies (as such, the language may not be accessible for everyone). I retain the rights to this text and I want to make sure that more people have a chance to read it. Since the time the article was published, my research has grown and changed but I think that what I wrote is still worth sharing.]

__ __ __

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.

— Elaine Graham, Representations of the Post/Human

It’s a crip promise that we will always comprehend disability otherwise and that we will, collectively, somehow access other worlds and futures.

— Robert McRuer, Crip Theory

Introduction

In “Disability and Narrative,” Michael Bérubé observes that the genre of science fiction, with its plethora of “mutant supercrips” and “posthuman cyborgs,” “is as obsessed with disability as it is with space travel and alien contact” (568). He goes on to note that “sometimes disability is simply underrecognized in familiar sci-fi narratives” (568), and points to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (with its Voigt-Kampf empathy tests to identify rogue androids, or marking “specials,” neurologically injured people, to prevent them from reproducing) and Gattaca (“which is not only about eugenics but also about passing as nondisabled,” 568). Bérubé’s appraisal that “sometimes” disability in SF is underrecognized is extremely kind—given the overwhelming number of characters with disabilities and scenarios of cure and modification in SF, there really should be more published analyses of disability in SF scholarship. The lack of attention to disability in SF studies is a problem. For one, the exclusion of the study of disability in SF extends the cultural sidelining—theoretically and practically—of people with disabilities in the academic engagement with genre; and second, it also neglects to condemn the repeated instances of the erasure, “curing,” prosthetization, and negative marginalization of people with disabilities in SF novels and films. When people with disabilities are turned into props and tropes (or left out completely) in narratives of a collective human future, it is imperative that SF scholars begin to call out—as we do for instances of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia—outdated, humiliating, and harmful images of disability.

 

Disability Studies Basics

Disability studies (DS) concerns itself with the social and cultural construction of disability; it is interested in challenging, questioning, and undoing the aura of deficiency and lack that attends different kinds of bodies in our popular cultural representations. Lennard Davis explains that “[i]mpairment is the physical fact of lacking an arm or leg. Disability is the social process that turns an impairment into a negative by creating barriers to access” (Bending Over Backwards 12). Impairment itself, as many DS scholars point out, is also a normative construct—as bodily or cognitive difference should not be equated with the sense of deficiency that attends the word—but Davis’s definition is a useful starting point. Access, in the context of DS, refers not only to the physical and environmental barriers around which people with disabilities must navigate, but also to the social, economic, cultural, and political forces that limit the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities to be active agents in their own lives. The distinction between impairment and social process is central to DS because, as a field of inquiry, it seeks to expose the ways in which some bodies are construed as “problem bodies” (Chivers and Markotić),[i] “visibly vulnerable” (Shildrick),[ii] “extraordinary” (Garland-Thomson),[iii] deviant, and non-normative. By construing the “abnormal” body as disabled and in need of medical intervention, cure, or rehabilitation in order to make it “normal,” we elide the fact that human bodies exist along a spectrum of variation and ability.

Tobin Siebers articulates how DS seeks to expose the systems of social meaning that establish who gets to be a “quality human being”:

Unlike the medical approach, the emerging field of disability studies defines disability not as an individual defect but as the product of social injustice, one that requires not the cure or elimination of the defective person but significant changes in the social and built environment. Disability studies does not treat disease or disability, hoping to cure or avoid them; it studies the social meanings, symbols, and stigmas attached to disability identity and asks how they relate to enforced systems of exclusion and oppression, attacking the widespread belief that having an able body and mind determines whether one is a quality human being. (3-4)

SF has long commented on what characteristics determine a “quality human being;” from the outset of the genre, novel and visibly different bodies are marked as monstrous (think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster) worthy of either fear or pity, while rehabilitated or technologically-imbued bodies become superheroes (e.g., Marvel’s Professor Xaviar of the X-Men, and Star War’s Luke Skywalker) or supervillans (e.g., Magneto of The Brotherhood of Mutants, and Darth Vader). When interpreting SF texts—whether literature, poetry, film, comics, music, or graphic novels—it is important that critics, as Rob Michalko states in The Difference That Disability Makes, approach disability “as something to think with rather than about” because “disability is mimetic. […] Society is reflected in disability in terms of how society interprets disability” (168). Additionally, in the analyses of disability in SF, Ato Quayson cautions his readers: “To say that the literary model [of disability] provides an analogue to reality does not mean that it is the same as that reality” (30)—in other words, when scholars make arguments about the representation of disability in SF, they must also be cognizant to not ignore or discount the lived realities of diabled people.

 

DS Looking at SF

In their foundational work, Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell argue that: “Alternative ways of comprehending disabled bodies and minds are often best explained within experiential forms, such as personal narratives, performance art, and films, rather than in the objectifying realms of ‘research’ about disabled people” (4). Synder and Mitchell read SF films—such as Gattaca, Unbreakable, X-Men and X2—as “counter discursive forays” into the presentation of disability on film (167). Unlike the typical non-SF flick, where viewers watch various freak encounters being played out, Synder and Mitchell argue that in SF, disability is central to the plot (167). Focusing on disability in classic horror film, Angela M. Smith, in Hideous Progeny, also speaks to the negative portrayals of atypical or unusual bodies figured in genre film. While perhaps not as overt in the films of today, disability has long been the marker of all things unpleasant and unwanted in genre cinema. Discussing films such as Frankenstein (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), and Freaks (1932), Smith emphasizes the eugenic propaganda that equated physical and cognitive difference with moral and racial deviance: “Consequently, the films hint, race, devolution, and deformity may be artificially created rather than biologically determined. They are material certainly, but forged in the somatic exterior, a eugenic fiction sedimented at the level of body signifiers” (154).

Johnson Cheu’s essay, “De-gene-erates, Replicants and Other Aliens: (Re)defining Disability in Futuristic Film” is an oft cited text that addresses disability in the context of utopian (or, depending on your outlook, dystopian) SF narratives. Discussing the films Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Gattaca, Cheu writes:

If disability, as a social construction, exists on more than a theoretical plane, disability should be present as a social stigma in the future. This is not to suggest that bodies are immaterial in Utopian societies. Quite the contrary, bodies exist in Utopia which occupy a social stigma of being unfit, sub-human, inferior, that shows the very existence of disability as a social construction. (202)

Cheu’s attention to narratives of utopia speaks to the pervasiveness of the notion of the “ideal body” or, to again borrow Siebers’s phrasing, “quality human being,” throughout SF—SF scholars can (and should) read for disability in SF texts where disability appears to be a non-issue. Alison Kafer, in Feminist, Queer, Crip, performs an insightful reading of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, pointing to the significance of what is unsaid or assumed about disability in the creation of an ideal feminist utopia. “Disability and the disabled body,” Kafer writes, “are problems that must be solved technologically, and there is allegedly so much cultural agreement on this point that it need not be discussed or debated [within the narrative]” (74). She then underscores one of the main tensions surrounding disability in SF: “Utopian visions are founded on the elimination of disability, while dystopic, negative visions of the future are based on its proliferation” (74). Regardless of whether SF is utopian or dystopian, the presence or lack of disability in a text often speaks to its implicit assumptions of what constitutes the ideal future human.

 

Common Categories of Disability Representation in SF

Given the dearth of book length works that focus on disability in SF, scholars who currently pursue this intersectional work draw on a diverse number of literary and theoretical texts to guide their readings. One of the most recent influential studies of disability coming out of literature studies is Aesthetic Nervousness by Ato Quayson. Preceding his discussion of “high culture” novels by Samuel Beckett, Toni Morrison, Wole Soyinka, and J. M. Coetzee, Quayson identifies nine main categories of disability representation in literature:

1. Disability as null set and/or moral test

2. Disability as interface with otherness (race, class, and social identity)

3. Disability as articulation of disjuncture between thematic and narrative vectors

4. Disability as bearer of moral deficit/evil

5. Disability as epiphany

6. Disability as signifier of ritual insight

7. Disability as inarticulable and enigmatic tragic insight

8. Disability as hermeneutical impasse

9. Disability as normality (52)

All of these categories are also present in SF and, as such, offer the uninitiated SF scholar a way into critiquing disability in the genre. In addition to using Quayson’s formulation to frame disability, Snyder and David Mitchell offer the theory of “narrative prosthesis,” which proposes that disability acts “as a crutch upon which literary narratives lean for their representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical insight” (Narrative Prosthesis 49). In my experience studying SF with DS in mind, I have begun to trace the ways SF shapes these disability categories/narratives in specific ways that are unique to SF. For the purposes of this essay—and to further address the gap in critical literature on the topic—I have formulated a list of (sub)categories of disability representation in SF. My list is in no way exhaustive, but it nevertheless offers a way to begin the serious work of analyzing the ways in which people with disabilities are defamed and de-humanized in SF. In SF literature and film (broadly defined), I observe the following common categories, or “narrative prostheses,” of disability representation:

1. Disability as a condition in need of cure

2. Disability as a condition to transcend

3. Disability as out of sync (with normative time)

4. Disability as creator of the cyborg or posthuman

5. Disability as creator of the superhuman (the “super crip”)

6. Disability as distinction of the non-human

 

Disability as a Condition in Need of Cure

In the vast majority of SF texts, wherever there is disability there is the attendant narrative of cure. As I have previously written in the “Introduction” to Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure:

the medical characterization of the disabled body as requiring cure—in order to become “normal”—has become part of our larger cultural construction of disability. There is a great deal of pressure to rehabilitate, or to “make normal,” the disabled person or otherwise risk condemnation from both the medical and social communities. The ideology of the perfect body—and our ability to make imperfect bodies perfect through medical intervention—is woven throughout our various social discourses, and the onus to be a perfect body rests on both the abled and disabled alike. (Allan 9)

The move to “cure” the body of its various differences, however, speaks more to the normative anxiety of controlling “the problem” body than to satisfying the desires and goals of people with disabilities. Margrit Shildrick, in her exceptional work, Embodying the Monster, states that: “Regardless of ethical intent, those on the receiving end of (limited) beneficence are never able to claim equal agency while their vulnerability remains. Vulnerability is positioned, then, as that which impairs agency in the ‘damaged’ other while inspiring moral action on the part of the secure self to make good the perceived lack” (77). “Curing” disability, therefore, is a process that serves to maintain and create “quality human beings” (Siebers), and SF is a genre that continuously reiterates cure narratives with scant ethical or moral reflection. Of the six disability-in-SF categories that I have identified, disability as a condition in need of cure is the most complex and wide-ranging.

Within the basic structure of a cure narrative, there are the following specific kinds of cure (again, this is not a complete list, but a starting point for further exploration): genetic testing and eugenics (this includes the use of reproductive technologies used to identify and eliminate potential disability); neurological enhancement for cognitive difference; and prosthetic and surgical correction of physical difference (as well as modifying dis/abled bodies to better suit alien environments).

Genetic testing and eugenics: Snyder and Mitchell comment that “the updated eugenics of the present day, called genetics, examines conditions in bodies that are classed as ‘mutant,’ ‘tragic,’ ‘coding errors,’ ‘suffering,’ ‘unhealthy,’ ‘deviant,’ ‘faulty,’ and ‘abnormal’” (19). Looking at Gattaca, Unbreakable, X-Men, and X-Men 2, they argue that these “films foresee a dystopic future where various incarnations of the gene police provide evidence of a new eugenics on the near horizon of our social context” (167). This kind of eugenic policing is evident throughout SF novels (e.g., Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World), and even in the explicitly socially-conscious subgenres like feminist SF—both Piercy’s Women on the Edge of Time and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man celebrate the “defeat” of disability through the use genetic engineering. In addition to the elimination of disability in utero, many SF texts explore the possibilities of genetic therapy. Davis refers to genetic therapy as a “sci-fi scenario” (101), whose process “carries a weighty signification. The defective race must be infected, invaded, and altered by a disease to correct a disease. Thus the invisibility of the prosthesis become linked to an invasion/contamination scenario that we have seen before in countless sci-fi films [such as Alien]” (“Stumped by Genes” 102).

Neurological enhancement for cognitive difference: Despite the recent popularity of characters with Asperger’s (or Asperger’s-like) traits on mainstream TV (e.g., Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, and Abed on Community), most SF narratives that feature individuals who are “neuroatypical” are usually singled out for “curing.” In Elizabeth Moon’s Nebula-winning The Speed of Dark, the lead character, Lou Arrendale, is autistic and leads a productive life; despite being a valued community member, however, Lou ends up choosing to undergo an experimental surgery to make him “normal.”[iv] A similar type of neurological “cure” is performed on Charlie in Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon; like Moon, Keyes relies on the reader’s sympathy and expectation that people with intellectual disabilities want to be better versions of themselves. Dan Goodley and Mark Rapely comment that, “we need to be attentive to the challenges posed by people with the label of ‘learning difficulties’/intellectual disabilities. Such sensitivity is enabled by a view of the world which does not separate impairment and disability as binary oppositions but throws both into the dynamic world of discourse and practice” (“Changing the Subject” 139). Whether encountering obviously negative representations of people deemed to have intellectual or cognitive disabilities (e.g., The Lawn Mower Man) or “kinder” approaches taken under the guise of beneficent cure (e.g., The Speed of Dark, Flowers for Algernon), DS seeks to undo the language that casts people into the medicalized model of disability as bodies to be rehabilitated and cured.

Prosthetic and surgical correction of physical difference: The use of prostheses or surgical interventions to make people with unusual bodies “normal,” or, in many cases, extraordinary, is particularly favoured in SF. Throughout SF’s myriad of subgenres, writers have envisioned bodies that are transformed, modified, and re-made through the use of technology. For example, James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” features P. Burke, a “deformed” and suicidal teenager who, once “saved,” receives advanced technological implants that allow her to control the physically beautiful, but brainless, Delphi. Or, in a more recent turn on the theme, William Gibson’s Lise, in “The Winter Market,” is a sick drug-user who needs to be “propped up in her pencil-thin polycarbon prosthetic” (128). Even young adult SF reiterates the notion of being “cured” through surgical correction: consider the widely-popular Scott Westerfeld series, Uglies, where teenagers undergo an extensive series of physical (and neurological) surgery to become “pretties,” the desired normal (and easily controlled) bodies of the future. When reading this particular disability-in-SF category, it is important to keep in mind the lived mundane and difficult realities of using prosthetics or undergoing (plastic) surgery, because, as Vivian Sobchack observes: “As an effect of the prosthetic’s amputation and displacement from its mundane context, the animate and volitional human beings who use prosthetic technology disappear into the background—passive, if not completely invisible—and the prosthetic is seen to have a will and life of its own” (23). A DS reading of prosthetics and other medical modifications in SF must be careful not to idealize the transformative potential of such technologies while neglecting a discussion of the bodies most often targeted for and affected by such interventions.

 

Disability as a Condition to Transcend

Another popular and prominent representation of disability in SF is the use of technology, usually cyberspace or virtual reality, that projects the “inner self” out of and away from the sick or disabled body. To find examples of this particular narrative, one only has to look at (pre- and post-) cyberpunk: Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (everyone still on Earth uses the Penfield mood organ to dictate their mental state); Gibson’s Neuromancer (Case plugs into his cyberdeck to escape from the pain of the timed lethal poison in his body); and Laura Mixon’s Proxies (children with multiple disabilities are sealed into crèches, living out the rest of their days in virtual reality and through synthetic proxy bodies). The move to imagine a simple (technologically-mediated) transcendence from the body “by ignoring or discounting its needs and sensations is generally a luxury of the healthy and able-bodied” (173) states Susan Wendell in The Rejected Body. She goes on to propose that:

We cannot speak only of reducing our alienation from our bodies, becoming more aware of them, and celebrating their strengths and pleasures; we must also talk about how to live with the suffering body, with that which cannot be noticed without pain, and that which cannot be celebrated without ambivalence. We may find then that there is a place in our discussion of the body for some concept of transcendence. (Wendell 179)

Taking a DS approach to analyzing transcendence in SF means considering the material conditions and kind of body that is being “left behind.”

 

Disability As out of Sync (with Normative Time)

SF classics, from Planet of the Apes to Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, speculate on potential futures (and pasts) through bodies that fail to match the ideal of their present time. Kafer importantly asks in Feminist, Queer, Crip, “Why is disability in the present constantly deferred, such that disability often enters critical discourse only as the marker of what must be eliminated in our futures or what was unquestionably eliminated in our pasts?” (10). The language of time and futurity, an essential characteristic of SF, is present throughout the cannon of disability studies.[v] As Snyder and Mitchell state:

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 32)

There is a refusal to situate the disabled body in the present; only the normative able-body can claim that position, as disability in SF is often shown as a genetic step backwards or as a condition to erase from the future. As the genetically “imperfect” Vincent Freeman concludes in Gattaca: “For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving, maybe I’m going home.” Vincent sees himself as a product of a bygone age before genetic screening, and as such, is best at home with the ancient stars.

 

Disability As Creator of the Cyborg or Posthuman

From classic television shows (e.g., The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) to blockbuster films (e.g., Robocop) to novels (e.g., Martin Caidin’s Cyborg and Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix) the idea of the injured or disabled body remade stronger, better, faster has intrigued both fans and academics alike. Commenting on Donna Haraway’s problematic use of the paraplegic as cyborg—“Perhaps paraplegics and other severely handicapped people can (and sometimes do) have the most intense experiences of complex hybridization” (Simians, Cyborgs, and Women 178)—Kafer argues that “the term ‘cyborg,’ rather than entailing a critique of existing categories and ideologies, is used to perpetuate distinctions between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ bodies, distinctions that have material consequences involving discrimination, economic inequalities, and restricted access” (110). Such criticism resonates throughout DS readings of disability as a condition that creates cyborgs (or posthumans) both in and out of SF.

One of the most cited novels for a claimed positive representation of a person with disabilities being an exemplar cyborg/posthuman is Anne McCaffery’s The Ship Who Sang. The human protagonist, Helva, “born a thing” (1), is turned into a “brain ship.” While many scholarly readings of this novel exist, as Ria Cheyne points out, none of them attend to the ableist assumptions that underlie Helva’s supposed freedom as cyborg. Cheyne writes: “Rather than an exemplar of the liberatory possibilities of a cyborg existence, then, I read Helva as a pitiful figure: not because of her initial physical impairments, but because of what is done to her without her knowledge or consent, her lack of freedom, and the limitations her conditioning places on her thought” (145). Many SF narratives portray the “overcoming” of disability (through technological enhancements) as a way to realizing a posthuman future, but, in doing so, they end up eliding the real and damaging ways people with disabilities are characterized as something other than “normal.” As Sherryl Vint comments in Bodies of Tomorrow, “Technological visions of the post-embodied future are merely fantasies about transcending the material realm of social responsibility” (8). A DS approach to reading the cyborg or posthuman figure in SF should take into consideration issues of access: who gets to create, navigate and make use of potentially transformative technology?

 

Disability As Creator of the Superhuman (the “Super Crip”)

Echoing the racist stereotype of the “magical negro,” Colin Barnes describes the “super cripple” (or super crip), as: “the disabled person [who] is assigned super human almost magical abilities. Blind people are portrayed as visionaries with a sixth sense or extremely sensitive hearing. Alternatively, disabled individuals, especially children, are praised excessively for relatively ordinary achievements” (12).[vi] Barnes might as well be addressing the “super crips” of the Star Trek universe. With its insistent optimistic transhumanism, people with disabilities are shown constantly striving for, and often exceeding, “normal” achievements; for example: the deaf, but telepathic, mediator Riva (ST: TNG episode, “Loud as a Whisper”); the exo-skelton clad, brilliant scientist Melora (ST: DS9 episode, “Melora”);[vii] and T’Pol, a Vulcan who struggles to overcome neurological damage that inhibits her ability to control her emotions (ST: Enterprise). The Next Generation’s Geordi LaForge, however, is perhaps the most recognizable character with a disability in Star Trek. In the introduction of the character, Gene Rodenberry describes Geordi as: “racially black and birth-defect blind—although with prosthetic super-high tech artificial ‘eyes’ which can detect electromagnetic waves from all the way from [sic] raw heat to high frequency ultra-violet, making other crewpersons seem hopelessly ‘blind’ by comparison. […] Because of his ‘eyes’, Geordi can also perform some of the functions of a tricorder” (7). In this well-intentioned description, Roddenberry creates the superhuman stereotype: the bulk of Geordi’s character description is dedicated to his disability and technological superiority. By classifying disability as a condition that creates superhumans or “super crips,” SF writers contribute to a culture that sets up people with disabilities with unrealistic standards, and then condemns them when they cannot or do not want to meet them.

Disability As Distinction of the Non-human

The last disability-in-SF category that I want to highlight is disability as a defining quality of the non-human, and, as a result, a threat to the normative, able-body. This category can be located in the earliest examples of SF: H. G. Wells plays with it in The Time Machine, as the misshapen and brutish Morloks (the “working class”) are revealed, in fact, to be advanced humans, and the Eloi, with their lack of human compassion and intelligence, become another kind of dreaded otherness, a failed people, to the Time Traveller. Elaine Graham states:

Monstrosity has long been a trope for invasion, contamination, assimilation and loss of identity, the ascription of monstrous and subhuman traits serving to rationalize xenophobia and prejudice. That which is different becomes pathologized as “monstrous” and thus inhuman, disposable and dangerous; the monster is personified as a threat to purity and homogeneity. So women, racial and sexual minorities, political radicals or those with physical or mental impairments are designated inhuman by virtue of their non-identity to the white, male reasoning able-bodied subject. (Representations of the Post/Human 53)

The narrative hook of characterizing people with physical and mental disabilities as inhuman and threatening to the (usually white, male, straight, able) protagonist repeats itself throughout SF: the mistreatment and containment of the physically and cognitively different, yet gifted, “precogs” in Dick’s “Minority Report;” the beautiful, but stutter motioned, crèche grown Emiko who needs Anderson Lake to save her in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind Up Girl; or, in the Doctor Who universe, home of the ultimate antagonist and creator of the dreaded Daleks, Davros, who is visibly scarred and in a body-encasing wheelchair. Regardless of whether the audience feels sympathy or disdain for such “monsters,” all of these SF narratives dictate clear messages about how much difference is acceptable, who controls their own lives, and, ultimately, who gets to be counted as human.

 

Conclusion

One of my favorite quotes about the importance of being present in science fiction comes, not from a DS scholar, but from Brian Attebery in his book Decoding Gender in Science Fiction: “By using images of the future to describe the present, the popular media invite us to use futuristic scenarios as tests of viability. Any group that cannot negotiate a place for itself in the imagined future is already obsolete” (192). In the vast expanse of SF, there are so few positive representations of people with disabilities in the imagined future. SF scholars need to vocally and publically condemn SF narratives that exploit and humiliate people with disabilities. It is simply not acceptable to ignore films like Iron Man 3, where disabled war veterans are turned into weapons of mass destruction, or Source Code, which centres on the refusal to give agency to a severely injured soldier and where the director takes every opportunity to highlight the “evil scientist’s” use of a cane. DS scholars Snyder and Mitchell end their discussion of representation of disability on screen with: “It is in film that we encounter disability largely as a ‘plight to be conquered’ as long as when the lights come up, we don’t find the same bodies blocking the aisles” (181). While audiences can read the transformation or elimination of physical and cognitive disabilities in SF as an expressed hope that technology will be able to “fix” even the most “damaged” bodies, such stories elide the very real experiences of people with disabilities who constantly encounter a culture that would prefer them invisible or, at the very least, putting on an illusion of able-bodiedness. SF is a wonderful testing ground of viable futures; let us make sure that they are accessible to all.

 

Works Cited

Allan, Kathryn, ed. Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

Attebery, Brian. Decoding Gender in Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

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Cheyne, Ria. “‘She was born a thing’: Disability, the Cyborg and the Posthuman in Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang.Journal of Modern Literature 36.3 (2013): 138-56. Print.

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---. “Stumped by Genes: Lingua Gattaca, DNA, and Prosthesis.” Ed. Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra. The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2006. 91-106. Print.

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---. Staring: The Way We Look. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

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---. “Winters Market.” Burning Chrome. New York: Eos, 2003. Print.

Goodley, Dan, and Mark Rapely. “Changing the Subject: Postmodernity and People with ‘Learning Difficulties.’” Disability/Postmodernity. Ed. Mairian Corker and Tom Shakespeare. London: Continuum, 2002. 127-42. Print.

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---. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Print.

Mixon, Laura. Proxies. New York: Tor, 1998. Print.

Moon, Elizabeth. The Speed of Dark. New York: Del Rey, 2002. Print.

Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time. New York: Ballantine, 1976. Print.

Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print.

Roddenberry, Gene. “Lt. (J. G.) Geordi La Forge.” Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer/Director’s Guide. Web. 20 Aug. 2013. http://leethomson.myzen.co.uk/Star_Trek/ 2_The_Next_Generation/Star_Trek_-_The_Next_Generation_Bible.pdf.

Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. Boston: Beacon, 1986. Print.

Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. Print.

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

Smith, Angela M. Hideous Progeny: Disability, Eugenics, and Classic Horror Cinema. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. Print.

Sobchack, Vivian. “A Leg to Stand On: Prosthetics, Metaphor, and Materiality.” Ed. Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra. The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2006. 17-41. Print.

Source Code. Dir. Duncan Jones. Summit Entertainment, 2011. Film.

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Tidwell, Christy. “‘Everything Is Always Changing’: Autism, Normalcy, and Progress in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Nancy Fulda’s ‘Movement.’” Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. Ed. Kathryn Allan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 153-68. Print.

Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2007. Print.

Wendell, Susan. “Feminism, Disability, and Transcendence of the Body.” The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge, 1996. 165-79. Print.

Further Reading

Davis, Lennard. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London: Verso, 1995. Print.

---., ed. The Disability Studies Reader. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

---. The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2014. Print.

Einstein, Sarah. “The Future Imperfect.” Redstone Science Fiction. June 2010. Web. July 15 2013.

Goodley, Dan, Bill Hughes, and Lennard Davis, eds. Disability and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions. New York: Palgrave, 2012. 91-111. Print.

Grosz, Elizabeth. “Naked.” The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. Ed. Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2006. 187-202. Print.

Hall, Kim Q., ed. Feminist Disability Studies. Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2011. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Socialist Review 80 (1985): 65-107. Print.

Kerr, Anne, and Tom Shakespeare. Genetic Politics: From Eugenics to Genome. Cheltenham: New Clarion, 2002. Print.

Longmore, Paul K. “Screening Stereotypes: Images of Disabled People.” Social Policy 16 (Summer 1985): 31-38. Print.

---. Why I Burned My Books and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2003. Print.

Moody, Nickianne. “Untapped Potential: The Representation of Disability/Special Ability in the Cyperpunk Workforce.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 3.3 (1997): 90-105. SAGE.

Nussbaum, Martha. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2006. Print.

Peace, William J. “Slippery Slopes: Media, Disability, and Adaptive Sports.” The Body Reader. Ed. Jean Moore and Mary Kosut. New York: New York UP, 2010. 332-44. Print.

Shakespeare, Tom. Disability Rights and Wrongs. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Shapiro, Joseph. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York: Three Rivers, 1993. Print.

Squier, Susan Merrill. Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine. Durham: Duke UP, 2004. Print.

Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2011. Print.

Titchkosky, Tanya and Rod Michalko. Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’, 2009. Print.

Vanderhooft, JoSelle, ed. The WisCon Chronicles: Shattering Ableist Narratives. Vol. 7. Seattle: Aqueduct, 2013. Print.

Wald, Priscilla. Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2008. Print.

Watson, Nick, Alan Roulstone, and Carol Thomas, eds. Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Weinstock, Jeffrey A. “Freaks in Space: ‘Extraterrestrialism’ and ‘Deep-Space Multiculturalism.’” Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson. New York: New York UP, 2006. 327-37. Print.

Wills, David. Prosthesis. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995. Print.


Notes


[i] Chivers and Markotić use the term “problem body” to refer to all those bodies that exceed normative boundaries of the acceptable, and to place “an emphasis on the transformation of physical difference into cultural patterns of spectacle, patterns that replicate a range of pathologizing practices that oppress people” (9).

[ii] “What causes unease is not that those named as disabled are helpless—indeed the majority are far from it—but that the inviolability of their bodies, the inviolability that confers an aura of self-mastery, appears to have been breached. They are in other words visibly vulnerable” (Shildrick, Embodying the Monster 76).

[iii] “The meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws, but in social relationships in which one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self identity by systematically imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others” (Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies 6).

[iv] In “‘Everything Is Always Changing:’ Autism, Normalcy, and Progress in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Nancy Fulda’s ‘Movement,” Christy Tidwell compares the two divergent trajectories of progress for people on the autistic spectrum: in The Speed of Dark, surgical intervention leads to a more fulfilling, “extraordinary” life (as Lou becomes an astronaut), whereas in “Movement,” the main character Hannah celebrates the freedom of just being herself.

[v] To note another few examples: In her article, “The Noble Ruined Body: Blindness and Visual Prosthetics in Three Science Fiction Films,” Susan Crutchfield analyzes X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, Death Watch, Until the End of the World. Describing the disabled body in these films, she uses the phrase “body in ruins” for its “indication of a diminished physiology, but also for its connotations of an atavistic throwback, of a historical past now considered obsolete and therefore undesirable” (138). In another DS text that places the disabled body out of time, Tobin Siebers argues, “the ideology of ability makes us fear disability, requiring that we imagine our bodies are of no consequence while dreaming at the same time that we might perfect them. It describes disability as what we flee in the past and hope to defeat in the future” (Disability Theory 9).

[vi] In his list of commonly recurring media stereotypes of people with disabilities, along with “super cripple,” Barnes also identifies popular representations of the disabled person as: pitiable and pathetic; an object of violence; sinister and evil; atmosphere or curio; an object of ridicule; their own worst and only enemy; burden; sexually abnormal; incapable of participating fully in community life; and, normal (7-19).

[vii] There is a notable moment in the episode where Melora identifies the social construction of her disability: “I’m sorry if I seem overly sensitive, but I’m used to being shut out of the ‘Melora’ problem. The truth is, there is no ‘Melora’ problem. Until people create one” (DS9, “Melora”). See Hanley E. Kanar’s “No Ramps in Space” for a critical analysis of disability in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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.

 

 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 17:25

Accessing the Future is out!

I'm a bit behind on this announcement but you can now buy ACCESSING THE FUTURE, a disability-themed speculative fiction anthology co-edited by me and Djibril al-Ayad (Futurefire.net Publishing, 2015).

Stories by Nicolette Barischoff, A.C. Buchanan, Joyce Chng, David Jón Fuller, Louise Hughes, Rachael K. Jones, Margaret Killjoy, Petra Kuppers, Toby MacNutt, Jack Hollis Marr, Kate O'Connor, Sara Patterson, Sarah Pinsker, Samantha Rich, A.F. Sanchez.
Internal illustrations by Fabian Alvarado, L.E. Badillo, Jane Baker, Comebab, Pandalion Death, Rachel Keslensky, Vincent Konrad, Tostoini
Cover art by Robin E. Kaplan
Preface by JoSelle Vanderhooft
Afterword by Derek Newman-Stille

Publishers Weekly gave us a STARRED review! Goodreads reviewers love it! So far, so awesome!

Check out our press page over at The Future Fire, give us a like on our Facebook page. ACCESSING THE FUTURE is available for purchase (paperback or ebook) at Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, and all other online retailers.

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