Photos from Europa Report Screening Panel at the Atlanta Science Festival

Europa Report panel: from left to right: Marcus, Gil, Sidney, and me.
Europa Report panel: from left to right: Marcus, Gil, Sidney, and me.

After the screening of Europa Report on March 28, 2014 at Kennesaw State University as part of the Atlanta Science Festival, Gil Weinberg moderated a great discussion between the panel (Sidney Perkowitz, Marcus Davis, and me) and the audience of ~25 people. The audience had great questions, comments, and observations. My fellow panel members brought an exciting range of knowledge to the discussion that taught me a lot in a very short time.

Much of the conversation focused on the authenticity of the film, its relationship to the authenticity of other SF films, and what a film like this teaches (right or wrong) its audience. I was very happy to have had some things to say about SF’s didacticism going all the way back to Hugo Gernsback and his “scientifiction.”

My cousin Ryan Cox accompanied me to the screening and took these pictures of the event.

Science Fiction, LMC3214: New Wave Lecture and Three Story Discussion

Today’s class was like an exclamation point in two ways. First, there was the long stroke of lecture. I lectured on the origins of the New Wave in New Worlds, Judith Merril’s England Swings SF, and Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. I gave my students background on semiotics, modernity/postmodernity, and modernism/postmodernism to anchor the New Wave (alas, arguing for a grand narrative while saying there ain’t such a thing). I talked more in-depth about the writers whose work we had read for today: J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel R. Delany. It was a long lecture, but it was material that I felt was important. Then, the hard dot fell after the pen raised from that long stroke! Students loved, “Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman.” Other students hated it. Students loved, “The Cage of Sand.” Other students hated it. We had a knock-down drag out discussion. It was a beautiful conclusion to a week of lectures, readings, and film viewings. Next week, we continue the New Wave. I will talk about other New Wave writers and we will watch the original Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Looking further ahead next week, we will discuss Feminist SF and watch James Cameron’s Aliens (1986).

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick Event at Los Angeles Central Library TONIGHT

Pawel Frelik shared this on Facebook earlier about a special event related to the recently published Exegesis by Philip K. Dick:

Monday, November 14, 2011 7:00 PM
[ALOUD] at Central Library
The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

Panel Discussion with co-editors Jonathan Lethem and Pamela Jackson, Isa Dick Hackett, and Laura Leslie. Moderated by David L. Ulin, book critic, Los Angeles Times

If you are in the LA area, find out all of the details here.

It should be a terrific discussion by the panelists. As I told Pawel, I am unfortunately geographically challenged at the moment, so I will be unable to make it.

Intellectual Salon (and Great Eats) in Kent, Where Funding and Disciplinarity Is Discussed

Last night, I joined my friends at Bert and Robin Bellinson’s house to break bread and talk about life in the academy with fellow graduate students as well as faculty. These dinners have become a de facto salon in the semi-rural isolation of Kent State University. To top it off, Bert is a daring chef who heightens the experience of mundane foods. On this particular evening, he made a tasty combination of lamb, potatoes, and salad. My favorite food that Bert makes is barbecue, which in my opinion, is second to none (that’s why Y and I asked him to cater our wedding).

Two conversations remain with me today. The first has to do with budget cuts to Ohio education and in particular to Kent State University. According to D, faculty have been enrolled as ‘students’ to in an online class headed by the ‘teacher’, Provost Robert G. Frank. The ‘class’ is titled, “Let’s be Frank: Discussions with the Provost,” and its purpose is to invite faculty to suggest ways that spending can be reduced from their perspective within the university. Unfortunately, graduate students on appointment have not been invited to this conversation, so I have decided to provide my thoughts here.

Kent State could reduce its spending and simultaneously reallocate spending to departments in need through these suggestions. First, I agree with D that the first step in any kind of budgetary cutbacks can only be accomplished by prioritizing spending with the university’s mission–education and research–being the top priority. Everything after the fulfillment of our mission as a place of higher education would receive reduced spending priority. Second, the redesign, defacing, and alteration of the campus should stop immediately. There should be no more expensive, full color, movie screen sized pictures of students with catchy slogans put up on buildings around campus. What is the real purpose behind these tacky displays of largess? Are you trying to convince students that they are in the right place for their education, or are you hitting prospective students with more advertising than substance? Regardless, the money used on those signs could easily fund one, possibly two, associate professorships. Alternatively, that money could have been excised from our expenditures in the past. Unfortunately, they are there now, but no more should be erected.

Second, I believe that the administration, particularly the president, provost, and other top administrators, should volunteer to take a substantial pay cut. Would it not only save the university money if the administrators, who are among the highest if not highest paid persons at Kent State, slashed their paychecks to save the university money and signify their dedication to making the university succeed financially? Also, the administration doing this would send a strong signal to the faculty who some believe should take a pay decrease (remember: food stamps are an option to make ends meet).

Third, the school should not take money away from academics to support its underperforming sports teams. Irregardless of the success or failure of Kent State’s teams, the money for supporting a robust program should come from other means than detracting from the educational and research missions of a university. I understand that sports are a way to attract students and donations while providing a revenue stream to the university through ticket sales and merchandising, but there should be a public and strict adherence to a no-academic money for spots policy.

And finally, the administration should publicly reject the proposed clock tower or what looks tragically like a sniper’s nest. Some school administrator(s), wants to renovate the public parking area in front of the student center to reduce parking for a green space crowned with a stage and clock tower. Unfortunately, this clock tower, which will further cost the university money that it shouldn’t spend or should spend elsewhere, looks reminiscent of the observation tower at the University of Texas, which has experience student shooting tragedies in 1966 and 2010. Furthermore, Kent State has its own dark history with student shootings on May 4, 1970. Obviously, a single or all administrators with authority of this proposed project have no sensitivity or empathy toward the historic events and the people involved. We do not need a new structure on campus with no clear purpose that conjures images of these tragic events. Furthermore, it looks like a sniper’s nest with visibility over much of the central campus. I would feel uneasy walking in that large area with this much more dangerous Eye of Sauron watching over me.

The second topic of discussion had to do with disciplinarity, or the adherence to discipline. One person at the table, who is not an English Literature PhD, was troubled by the tensions within the English discipline. Unfortunately, some of us English Literature folk did not feel that our discipline needed justification, but some folks rallied with a strong defense of the discipline and its historical development. As I have said to others, I believe the strength of English, or in my application Cultural Studies, is that it ties into other disciplines. It is an aggregator, diffuser, and processor. Our discipline ties together seemingly divided disciplines through the unifying network of culture.

The argument was made that English literature should be concerned with literature and nothing else. Literature, however, is dependent on everything within the human limit of the universe. What has been experienced, could be experienced, will be experienced finds its way into literature and other cultural works, or texts in the general sense. The social, psychological, and science all play a part in the construction of texts through the creative effort of people. It seems silly to think that we should agree to read literature divorced from the reality all around us as if literature itself was walled away from the rest of the universe. In fact, literature and texts are imbued with and by the universe and all that humanity knows and imagines about the universe. There is no one continuum of narrative possibilities that can be studied using antiquated concerns, but instead, narrative extends in all directions, in all dimensions. To worry only over the grammar, meter, or other nuts-and-bolts issue with literature and texts seems to tie the hands of intellectuals who obviously have much more to offer (as evidenced by the explosion of critical approaches to literature and culture) not only in regard to the historical contextualization of a text but also in regard to the many ways cultural works create meaning and categorize our understanding of the world. I don’t believe that English Studies or the broader moniker Cultural Studies needs to justify itself as long as its practitioners can each articulate in a meaningful way the pedagogical and research purposes of their work–particularly as the university continues to develop more interdisciplinary approaches to doing the work of an increasingly (or perhaps differently) complex world.

It was a stimulating evening, and I would like to thank B and R again for hosting these wonderful salon-like dinners.

Panel Event, A County Darkly: Philip K. Dick in the OC

I don’t dig the event’s name, but I really wish that I could be there for it. A County Darkly: Philip K. Dick in the OC will bring together authors Gregory Benford, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock, and critics Rob Latham and Jeff Hicks to discuss the influence of Dick’s life in Orange County, California on his work. Too far away for me, but I would welcome a comment from anyone who can make it there on May 21. The details are below:

TITLE: A County Darkly:  Philip K Dick in the OC

TIME:  Friday, May 21, 12-2 PM

PLACE: Humanities Gateway 1030, University of California, Irvine campus


Science Fiction Authors:
*Gregory Beford
*Tim Powers
*James Blaylock

Science Fiction Critics
*Rob Latham
*Jeff Hicks

Moderator: Jonathan Alexander

ABOUT: This panel presentation will consider the inter-relationship of
Philip K. Dick’s work and his life in Orange County.  Spending the last
ten years of his life in the OC, Dick composed some of his most important
SF works here.  In many ways, the OC is a peculiarly Dickian space, with
managed communities and a veneer of the unreal.  Conversely, Dick’s late
novels (A Scanner Darkly, VALIS, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer)
seem at least partly inspired by Dick’s life in Orange County.  Our
panelists will explore such connections, bringing the work of the
century’s most noted SF author to bear on our cultural imagination of
Orange County, while also bringing our imagination of the OC to bear on
possible interpretations of Dick’s work.

A light lunch will be served.
Please RSVP to Ms. Iveta Cruse at by May Monday, May 17, 2010

Supposedly Different College Writing Classroom Dynamics

My hypothesis walking into my two classrooms in Moulton Hall at Kent State University this semester was that my morning classroom would facilitate discussion better than my afternoon classroom.  The reasoning behind my assumption was that the morning classroom has a great big central table with almost enough room for my 25 students to sit around it, and the afternoon classroom has “United Nations” style forward facing rows of tables in a distance learning enabled room.  My experience as a student and hearing others’ experiences led me to believe that sitting in a circle, so that all classroom participants, students and instructor, may see one another, produced better discussion.  It seemed like the traditional classroom layout of students facing forward and seeing the backs of one another’s heads stifled inter-student discussion and promoted instructor led lecturing.

img_0535Morning Classroom


Afternoon classroom

Now that we’re about to begin week 11, I have found over the semester that the conversations and discussion in the classrooms are nearly the same.  I suppose that it comes down to the students and the instructor.  My morning students talk just as much as my afternoon students.  In both cases, sometimes the conversation takes off organically, and other times I employ wait time, begin with writing prompts, or call on individual students to begin the conversation.  The one thing that I have noticed the most is that students in my afternoon class might develop sore backs from turning around in their chairs to see who’s talking or to address another student directly.  

There are a myriad of other possibilities that could contribute to the way my two classes engage in discussion despite the different classroom configurations.  My concern about the different classroom layouts may have contributed to both classes having good discussions, because I may have tried to get the afternoon class more energized or my observation and reflection on the earlier class may have honed my approach in the afternoon class.  Additionally, the students in the afternoon class may be a group of students that don’t need face-to-face contact to engage in lively discussion.  

This is certainly not an extensive survey of classroom dynamics, but it was a lesson that I was glad to learn and wanted to share.  I want both of my classes to be active and I want my students in both classrooms to have an equally positive and enriching experience.  I’m very glad that my assumptions about the classrooms didn’t come true.  

A short note on recent classroom activities:  This past week, we had a slow march into Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey, because I wanted to engage the students in two short writing assignments based on a documentary on the film version of 2001 that showcases the technology they would encounter in the book and film (which we will begin watching Friday), and a passage from the book on dissatisfaction and using our imaginative foresight to devise personal plans for overcoming person dissatisfactions.  This past Friday, my students shared their short dissatisfaction essays out loud in class, and we had some fruitful conversation in both classes based on that work.

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and the SFRA Email List

This past weekend I read Benedict Anderson’s seminal work, Imagined Communities (1983, rev. 1991), and I immediately began drawing connections between Anderson’s thesis and the recent conflicts on the SFRA email listserv.  Anderson seeks to theorize the nation, and he argues that the nation is, “an imagined political community–and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (6).  His definition for nation has utility in the theorization of SFRA and its online email community.

The Science Fiction Research Association is a professional organization for the promotion of SF scholarship and it is composed of a variety of SF scholars, but how do its members conceptualize the organization?  What is it that makes us a community, and what is viewed as divisive and community breaking?

Anderson’s thesis can be employed to answer the first question on the conception of SFRA community.  The SFRA email list and the SFRA’s quarterly publication, SFRA Review, promote a sense of “imagined political community.”  This is not to say that all SFRA members share a common political ideology in terms of the left or right.  However, it does mean that SFRA is a discursive community concerned with the politics of SF, and the discussion of SF inherently involves some political aspect whether it has to do with the politics within or brought to a particular work, or the political statement of speaking SF in a literary field that, at least in part, resists the inclusion of SF in literature with a capital “L.”  Furthermore, the list and SFRA Review promotes the discussion of a number of viewpoints and those viewpoints and individual voices are explicitly connected with persons in the field.  As a new academic just entering SF discourse, it was an eye-opening experience to first join the listserv and read my first SFRA Review.  At that moment, I realized that I was part of a community with a shared interest in SF scholarship that I could be a part of and contribute to as well.

Sometimes the SFRA “imagined community” gets caught up on personal politics and political attacks aimed at individuals.  This, of course, it not a pervasive syndrome or disease, but it is a localizable infection that recurs from time to time on the organic-like email list.  Also, this occurrence is not emblematic of the SFRA community at large, but rather a symptom of Internet anonymity and online discussion in general.  The common term for such disruption causing individuals is “troll.”  The troll was an instigator on message boards, whose purpose was to reveal “noobs” or new, inexperienced users with baited questions from the more experienced or “l33t” operators.  There is no place for the troll in a scholarly community that is devoted to the discussion of SF and the professionalization of its members.  We are not concerned with who’s a noob and who’s l33t.  We’re all a part of this community for the same reason, and we’re all in this together.  Ours is an exchange of ideas and not a hierarchization of members with hazing in mind. 

Now, the troll has devolved (a staid SF concept, particularly in the scientific romances of Wells) into a prankster or instigator who often fans the flames of personal politics with vicious attack rather than engaging in egalitarian, civil discourse.  The troll decries this normative civility–“where is it written, and who made the rules?”  The answer to this is simple–those who participate in the “imagined community” of SFRA.  There is an official statement concerning listserv behavior, as pointed our recently by SFRA President Adam Frisch (go to > Memberships > SFRA-L), but the conscientious and dutiful scholar can quickly ascertain the norms of the SFRA “imagined community” easily enough by observing what other members of the community do, and asking other members what they should do to be a part of the community, before selfishly assuming a community resource is their new toy open to their individualized reinterpretation of the scope and focus of that resource.

There are certainly compelling arguments for the free for all hijinks of the recent SFRA multiple persona troll.  I do feel that online listservs and such imagined communities and their resources that facilitate and construct those imagined communities should be anarchistic in nature.  However, anarchy does not mean anything goes.  Instead, anarchy is a form of mutual cooperation based on norms that individuals adhere to rather than pointed to the existing or non-existing explicit rule restraining their behavior.  Anarchy is about individual liberty, but that liberty cannot exceed the liberty of others.  Otherwise, the utopian anarchy shifts into other political realms.  Anarchy, in fact, relies on mutual respect in order not to become an omniarchy.  

Obviously, “imagined communities” are diachronic, and evolve over time.  SFRA and the SFRA listserv will likewise change with its membership and other social and cultural influences.  At almost forty years old, SFRA is relatively young, and the influence of technology is a powerful driving force in its further development, SF aside.  

In closing this post, I would like to share something with all of you that I shared with my first year college writing students the other day.  It’s the image of Earth taken from Voyager I out beyond the orbit of Saturn.  You may see our “pale blue dot” here.  The reason I showed this image to my class, and why I want to share it with you, is to remind us all to put things in perspective before attacking one another about anything.  Sometimes, we have to react, as I did in writing about the recent attacks on my blog.  However, I thought long and hard about this for two weeks before I decided to write what I did.  I think similar reflective practice by community members on the SFRA listserv will focus their arguments on the problem rather than on the person.

Many thanks to Ellen and everyone else who held the ship steady through the asteroid field.  Also, I’d like to remind everyone to keep their escape pods fueled and personal jetpacks handy, because these attacks are endemic to the Internet (and have a history outside electronic media as well) and are not likely to go away.