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Alien Constructions

Alien Constructions

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    Alien Constructions
    Book Description:

    Though set in other worlds populated by alien beings, science fiction is a site where humans can critique and re-imagine the paradigms that shape this world, from fundamentals such as the sex and gender of the body to global power relations among sexes, races, and nations. Feminist thinkers and writers are increasingly recognizing science fiction's potential to shatter patriarchal and heterosexual norms, while the creators of science fiction are bringing new depth and complexity to the genre by engaging with feminist theories and politics. This book maps the intersection of feminism and science fiction through close readings of science fiction literature by Octavia E. Butler, Richard Calder, and Melissa Scott and the moviesThe Matrixand theAlienseries.

    Patricia Melzer analyzes how these authors and films represent debates and concepts in three areas of feminist thought: identity and difference, feminist critiques of science and technology, and the relationship among gender identity, body, and desire, including the new gender politics of queer desires, transgender, and intersexed bodies and identities. She demonstrates that key political elements shape these debates, including global capitalism and exploitative class relations within a growing international system; the impact of computer, industrial, and medical technologies on women's lives and reproductive rights; and posthuman embodiment as expressed through biotechnologies, the body/machine interface, and the commodification of desire. Melzer's investigation makes it clear that feminist writings and readings of science fiction are part of a feminist critique of existing power relations-and that the alien constructions (cyborgs, clones, androids, aliens, and hybrids) that populate postmodern science fiction are as potentially empowering as they are threatening.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79582-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Science Fiction’s Alien Constructions
    (pp. 1-34)

    Upon their release at the turn of the twenty-first century, theMatrixfilms had an immediate impact on popular imagination in the United States. The Hollywood-produced science fiction trilogy triggered questions about reality, self-determination, and resistance while setting new standards for film technology. With its clever plotline and breathtaking special effects, the trilogy became both a blockbuster hit surrounded by the usual media hype and an inspiration for academic debates.The Matrixalso introduced a new female character to our cultural imagination: the movie-going public fell hard for Trinity, a strong, smart, action-driven resistance fighter and the hero’s romantic interest....

  5. PART I Difference, Identity, and Colonial Experience in Feminist Science Fiction

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 35-42)

      Born in 1947, the science fiction author Octavia E. Butler was raised in Pasadena, California, by her mother and grandmother, as her father died when she was very young. The women in her life worked hard to support their families, and Butler learned early about the invisibility and economic vulnerability of working black women. She learned to love reading science fiction when she was a child, and she started writing when she was only ten years old.¹ In 1978, inContemporary Authors, Butler recalled:

      When I began to read science fiction, I was disappointed at how little . . ....

    • 1. Cultural Chameleons: Anticolonial Identities and Resistance in Octavia E. Butler’s Survivor and Dawn
      (pp. 43-66)

      Octavia Butler’s work foregrounds the experiences offemalecharacters and therefore can be understood as part of a feminist tradition in science fiction literature. However, her representations ofblackheroines differentiate her writing from much of feminist science fiction. In 1984, Ruth Salvaggio noted in her article “Octavia Butler and the Black Science-Fiction Heroine”:

      In a sense, Octavia Butler’s science fiction is a part of the new scenario [created by feminist science fiction], featuring strong female protagonists who shape the course of social events. Yet in another sense, what Butler has to offer is something very different. Her heroines are...

    • 2. The Alien in Us: Metaphors of Transgression in the Work of Octavia E. Butler
      (pp. 67-102)

      Octavia Butler’s fiction acknowledges the complex construction of gender in relation to factors such as race and class, and the desire to find representations that correspond to one’s own experiences, not those of a “master identity” that constructs them as other.¹ Butler’s writing shares with feminist theories examined here the insistence on multiple subject positions grounded in particular historical moments, the idea of “identity as a site of differences” (Braidotti,Nomadic Subjects157), not sameness. In accordance with these theories, Butler conceptualizes multiple subjectivity as an element that has grown from fragmentation, displacement, and loss. In its contradictory makeup and...

  6. PART II Technologies and Gender in Science Fiction Film

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 103-107)

      The alien (re)constructions we encounter in some feminist science fiction literature challenge conventional notions of female bodies as ʺdifferent.ʺ While, historically, scientific discourse and popular belief have relied on biology to construct and create sexual difference,¹ in science fiction narrativestechnologiesare central to this process of ʺotheringʺ womenʹs bodies. As Linda Janes puts it inThe Gendered Cyborg, ʺIn the case of the alien and android creatures that represent a defining trope of the science fiction genre it is, of course, actually technology, rather than biology, that reproduces gender and thereby challenges conceptions of what it is to be...

    • 3. Technoscience’s Stepdaughter: The Feminist Cyborg in Alien Resurrection
      (pp. 108-148)

      As of 2005, four films in theAlienseries have been produced in the span of 18 years:Alien(1979),Aliens(1986), andAlien³ (1992), referred to as the “trilogy,” andAlien Resurrection(1997).¹ I agree with Stephen Scobies in “What’s the Story, Mother? The Mourning of the Alien” that despite the differences in directors and production crews, the movies can be treated as “one extended work” (80), based on the unity provided by the protagonist, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver in all four movies), and the visual representation of the alien. In addition, the expectations of the audience...

    • 4. Our Bodies as Our Selves: Body, Subjectivity, and (Virtual) Reality in The Matrix
      (pp. 149-176)

      WhenThe Matrixwas released by Warner Brothers in 1999, it was an immediate blockbuster hit. Sending its message packaged in a dazzling array of special effects and a superstar cast, the film questions established notions of body, identity, and reality. At the center of the film, in terms of both narrative and form, lie experiences of reality structured by technology and the ways in which these experiences shape cultural and personal identities. The relationship between technology and identity has been widely discussed in various discourses, including those on science fiction narratives.¹ As Claudia Springer puts it inElectronic Eros,...

  7. PART III Posthuman Embodiment:: Deviant Bodies, Desire, and Feminist Politics

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 177-182)

      Bodies are produced at the intersections of technology, race, class, and gender. Within science fiction, social power is often sexualized, while the narrative drive focuses on other aspects that do not thematize gender hierarchies. The texts I examine here—Richard CalderʹsDead Girls, Octavia E. ButlerʹsImagoandWild Seed, and Melissa ScottʹsShadow Man—emphasize sexual difference and the process of regulating desires for ʺunfamiliarʺ bodies by declaring them as perverse. The different regimes depicted share an obsession with defining the ʺnormativeʺ versus the ʺdeviant,ʺ which Foucault has defined as crucial for sexual regulation in Western history. If we...

    • 5. The Anatomy of Dystopia: Female Technobodies and the Death of Desire in Richard Calder’s Dead Girls
      (pp. 183-218)

      The beginning of the new millennium is defined by globalization—in all its diverse and conflicting manifestations. While Western superpowers reinforce their dominant position politically and economically, one aspect of leftist discourse is concerned with the ramifications of a technologized globalization that reinscribes power relations into racialized and gendered bodies. Feminist voices point to the invasion of the female body and its social environment by technology and call for the examination of what Anne Balsamo terms “technologies of the gendered body.”

      Since globalization is driven by technology, late capitalism is defined by the commodification of biotechnologies and research. Therefore, a...

    • 6. Beyond Binary Gender: Genderqueer Identities and Intersexed Bodies in Octavia E. Butler’s Wild Seed and Imago and Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man
      (pp. 219-258)

      As I stood in line to pick up my ticket at a movie theater in South Philadelphia on a Saturday night in 2003, I got caught up in the fever of anticipation that had the crowd around me buzzing—theMatrix Reloadedobsession had me firmly in its grip. Afterwards I could not shake the nagging sense of disappointment that dominated my reaction to the movie. It was the same reaction I had had toThe Matrix—disappointment in the unimaginative ways in which the film represents how individuals envision themselves while in the Matrix. The concept that we project...

    (pp. 259-264)

    When people ask me what my book is about, the answer “intergalactic feminism” usually evokes a puzzled look and a polite “How interesting?” The explanation “I look at science fiction’s relationship to feminist theories” earns me an “Ahh—how interesting!” usually followed by the question “But why?” The theoretical and textual explorations presented here make a case that feminist theorists should pay closer attention to science fiction’s alien constructions and understand that science fiction offers valuable tools for feminist theorizing.

    The science fiction texts discussed in this study are diverse in their representations, in terms of both content and medium....

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 265-298)
    (pp. 299-316)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 317-325)