Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Day 1 of 2)

Popular or Sci-Fi depictions: The Creature in Boris Karloff disguise and Victor Frankenstein as the mad scientist.
Popular or Sci-Fi depictions: The Creature in Boris Karloff disguise and Victor Frankenstein as the mad scientist.

Today, my LMC 3214 students and I shifted our attention away from contemporary science fiction as represented by Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” towards the beginning of the genre.

My goal was to shift my students’ thinking about Frankenstein away from the popular conception (photo above) to the novel’s original depiction of these important characters in science fiction and English literature (photo to the right, below). When time and materials permit, I will bring in other Lego models to illustrate some of my larger points in class.

SF original: Mary Shelley's learned and angry Victor Frankenstein and grotesque, gargantuan Creature.
SF original: Mary Shelley’s learned and angry Victor Frankenstein and grotesque, gargantuan Creature.

During today’s class, I lectured on precursors of the genre beginning with the Epic of Gilgamesh (connecting each of these earlier works to either Chiang’s story or Frankenstein to illustrate how the themes in SF influences still remain today) and moved forward to modernity. I glossed the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Romanticism, and the Gothic.

With that groundwork established, we began discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). I lectured on her biography and significant themes in the novel (science saturated novel, all three protagonists are scientists–Walton, Victor, and the Creature, and the biology of mind). The latter theme of mind (empiricism vs. rationalism) was what I rounded out the lecture with by discussing how the rationalists via Noam Chomsky eventually won out over the empiricists (the tabula rasa/the blank slate).

My students are building their discussions on Twitter using the hashtag #lmc3214. Please join in and participate in the conversation!

Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Definitions of SF and Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”

During Wednesday’s class, we will continue laying groundwork for our work in Science Fiction, LMC 3214 this summer. First, we will discuss the assigned reading: Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” Then, while exploring the list of SF definitions that I assembled for us, we will test Chiang’s novella against those definitions. These definitions will also be a continuing part of our discussions in the weeks ahead.

If you are interested in Chiang’s story, you might want to listen to this speech that Chiang gave at EXPO 1: New York on July 8, 2013:

Next week, we will turn away from contemporary SF and go back to its beginning, which I will argue (as others have done before me) is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818, NB: we will be reading the 1831 edition).

Science Fiction, LMC3214, Summer 2014: On-Campus and Online Hybrid Class, Syllabus and Structure

Beginning tomorrow, I will lead a new kind of Science Fiction LMC3214 class at Georgia Tech for 35 students.

As part of the Summer Online Undergraduate Program, I will teach about 10 on-campus students with face-to-face lecture, discussion, and exercises. Our weekly class meetings will be recorded in a Distance Learning classroom and made available to my 25 other students in the class who are off-campus and online.

Each section of students will receive the same lecture material and be required to complete the same assignments, but the online students will not have the benefit of realtime interaction with me and the other students. At least, they won’t be required to be. My intent is to test a way of facilitating simultaneous and asynchronous discussion with the help of Twitter. On-campus and off-campus students will use Twitter to facilitate discussion, ask questions, and share relevant material. They will also be asked to respond to one another’s sharing and questions. In the beginning, I will act as a mediator to connect students together and help build our initial discussions. It will be up to the students to sustain the conversations as a component of their participation grade. You will be able to follow along with the discussion (and contribute, too!) by following the hashtag: #lmc3214.

I have some new ideas and material that I am going to try out in this summer’s Science Fiction class. Last summer, my Science Fiction class was held during the short summer session, which made it difficult to cover more material and challenging for students to learn the material in such a compressed period of time. This summer’s class covers the full Summer semester, so I think that we can space things out, look at more examples, and help one another understand Science Fiction’s significances better.

I’m looking forward to this new class and meeting my new students–on-campus and off-campus alike.

Here’s a copy of our syllabus with details on assignments, Twitter use, and reading/viewing schedule: ellis-jason-lmc3214-syllabus-full.

DevLab’s Digital Pedagogy Workshop Series Begins Next Week on April 1

DevLab Workshop Flyer. Created by the AWESOME WCP Interns!
DevLab Workshop Flyer. Created by the AWESOME WCP Interns!

Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program’s Brittain Fellow-run DevLab has lined up four upcoming workshops for you on Podcasting, Social Media, Flipped Classrooms, and Interactive Fiction. Through these workshops, we wanted to share some of the things that we’ve been working on pedagogically and professionally with you. We invite you to join us for learning, sharing, and collaboration on these topics. We encourage all participants to bring their experiences, ideas, and questions to make each workshop more informative and useful for all. Information about each upcoming workshop is included below and on the attached flyer. If you have any questions, please contact me or the workshop leader(s). See you at the workshops!

Spring 2014 Digital Pedagogy Workshops
Have you ever wanted to create or teach podcasts? What about developing social media assignments? How about flipping your classroom when teaching close readings? Or maybe you want to create interactive fiction with your students? If so, you are invited to our informal digital pedagogy workshops in the Hall DevLab. Session leaders will share their experiences developing curricula and adopting teaching practices using a specific technology or approach.
All workshops held in Stephen C. Hall Bldg., Room 012, DevLab.
1. Podcasting and the DevLab Recording Studio, Tuesday April 1, 1pm-2pm

Alison Valk’s introductory workshop will be an introduction to podcasting. Participants will learn the basics of podcasting software (Audacity and Audition) and have an opportunity to see our Recording Studio and its technology.
2. Social Media Pedagogy and Assignments, Tuesday April 8, 3pm-4pm

Jason W. Ellis and Valerie Johnson’s workshop will discuss how they each integrate social media into their teaching practices and design assignments with its use in mind. They invite participants to bring ideas and approaches for using and teaching social media to this open discussion about theoretical and practical aspects of social media pedagogy.
3. Rethinking the Flipped Classroom: A Multimodal Approach to Learning, Thursday April 10, 3pm-4pm

Mirja Lobnik’s workshop will focus on ways to integrate online resources into our teaching. In particular, it will showcase a lecture video that demonstrates close reading and provides contextual information, present student responses, and invite a discussion of the benefits and challenges of the flipped classroom.
4. Programming Interactive Fiction: What You and Your Students Can Do with Inform 7, Tuesday April 15, 11am-12pm

Jonathan Kotchian’s workshop will offer a brief introduction to a “natural English” programming
language used to create interactive fiction and show participants how they and their students can create rhetorically focused games. No coding experience necessary.

ENGL1101 Project 2 Videos: Storytelling Animals Telling Us Stories Based on John Medina’s Brain Rules

In their Project 2: Storytelling Animals Assignment [download here], my current ENGL1101 students made these videos that layer storytelling with educational content based on one chapter from John Medina’s Brain Rules. During the production of the videos, each team collaboratively wrote an outline, wrote a script, drew storyboards, shot footage, edited their footage into these videos, and uploaded them to YouTube. Individually, each student wrote an account of their composition process and a reflection on how their project achieved WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) multimodal synergy. The title for the assignment comes from Jonathan Gottschall’s Storytelling Animals, which the students read and discussed in parallel with project 2. The students had already read all of the chapters in Medina’s Brain Rules before beginning Project 2. Now, on with the show!

Section G1

Team: Tech Titans | Brain Rules, Rule 2: Survival

Team: The Mean Girls | Brain Rules, Rule 4: Attention

Team: All the Girls in ENGL1101 | Brain Rules, Rule 11: Gender

Section P

Team: Alpha Hawk | Brain Rules, Rule 7: Sleep

Team: Team Dose | Brain Rules, Rule 12: Exploration

Team: Team Whooch | Brain Rules, Rule 1: Exercise

Recovered Writing: My First Professional, Academic Presentation, “Monstrous Robots: Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade as Humans,” Monstrous Bodies Symposium, March 31-April 1, 2005

This is the thirtieth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Almost nine years ago, I gave my first academic conference presentation at the Monstrous Bodies Symposium—a continuation of Science Fiction-focused initiatives at Georgia Tech by Professor Lisa Yaszek. In addition to presenting, I organized the academic track of the symposium and recorded the sessions for the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture (now, Literature, Media, and Communication). After my presentation below, I am including a press release for the symposium that describes it in more detail along with our special guests: Paul di Filippo and Rhonda Wilcox.

My presentation, “Monstrous Robots: Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade as Humans,” continues the work that I began in the SF Lab the previous year and  continued in my undergraduate thesis later. These ideas figured large throughout the close of my undergraduate degree and my MA in Science Fiction Studies at the University of Liverpool. By the time that I was well into my PhD at Kent State University, I began thinking along parallel lines in terms of human-computer interaction and its effect on human brains and the “minds” of computers. Instead of thinking of doppelgängers and opposition, I reframed my thinking around co-evolution, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience of mind, and human-computer interaction. This presentation is another step in the development of my thinking and self along these lines.

Later, I will post another version of this essay that was revised for my first SFRA Conference in White Plains, NY in 2006.

Jason W. Ellis

Monstrous Bodies Symposium 2005

31 March 2005

Monstrous Robots:  Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade As Humans

Robots who masquerade as human in science fiction (SF) are monstrous bodies because they are humanity’s created doppelganger of itself and as a result they reflect the best and the worst of what it means to be human.   These technological appropriations of what it means to be human are important because they are a space within SF where issues about the encroaching of science and technology on the borders of the human body after the end of World War II.

In order to explore these issues, I want to begin by defining the terminology that I will be using.  I define doppelganger as an unnatural double of a person or of humanity.  Human-like robots are the doppelganger of humanity because they mimic what it means to be human.  They appear human and they must perform themselves accordingly.  This doppelganger is haunting because its existence challenges what it means to be human.  If someone acts human and looks human why is there any reason to question the validity of that person’s humanity?  The answer is that:  the existence of human-like robots makes the very concept of humanity suspect.  Robots are the product of their creators.  The double mirrors its creator by reflecting an extreme of human behavior.  This reflection is called dualism.  I define dualism as a doubled status such as good and evil or organic and synthetic.  Human-like robots are either very good or very bad and this is determined by the nature of their creators.  Therefore, these robots tell us a great deal about the nature of their creators.

I will be examining two examples of human-like robots in SF literature and film.  The first is Isaac Asimov’s “humaniform” robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, from the Robot, Empire, and Foundation series of novels.  Daneel is best described as an android because he is a robot made in the appearance of a man.  His outer skin is not organic in nature.  The second human-like robot is James Cameron’s original Terminator from the film of the same name.  The Terminator is best called a cyborg because he is a fusion of man and machine (organic skin and hair covering a robotic interior).  The former is an example of a good android and the latter is an example of a bad cyborg.  These characters are doubles of humanity in their respective stories and they are also mirrors of one another.

Asimov began writing the robot novels that feature R. Daneel Olivaw in the 1950s, during the first phase of the Cold War.  The novels take place in a far future where humans have colonized a significant portion of the galaxy.  Although the robots are instrumental in the process of colonization, humans remain fiercely divided on whether or not robots should exist at all.  Given that Asimov himself was very much in favor of the promising new technologies of his day (e.g., automation in manufacturing and computers), it is not surprising that he picks the robots in his novels to be utopic in nature.  His robots are the embodiment of these new technologies.  In order to make his robots “perfect people,” he constructed his robots with the Three Laws of Robotics that he first made explicit in his short story, “Runaround:”

(1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. (I, Robot 44-45)

The Three Laws provided each robot with an ethical system that must be obeyed because it is hardwired into its positronic brain.  Therefore, Asmovian robots represent the best of what humans can be, but at the same time they reveal what we are not.

R. Daneel Olivaw is what Asimov termed a “humaniform” robot.  Daneel has the appearance of a human from one of the fifty Spacer worlds (i.e., worlds originally populated by Earth people during a period of expansion in our future).  Daneel’s partner in the novels The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn is Elijah Baley, a detective from Earth.  In The Caves of Steel, Baley describes Daneel as appearing “completely human” (83).  He later says, “The Spacers in those pictures had been, generally speaking, like those that were occasionally featured in the bookfilms:  tall, red-headed, grave, coldly handsome.  Like  R. Daneel Olivaw, for instance” (94).  Baley even suggests that Daneel is secretly Dr. Sarton, the Spacer found dead in The Caves of Steel.  This however is not the case.  Daneel was modeled after Dr. Sarton’s appearance.  This revelation leads to Daneel revealing what lies beneath.  In Dr. Han Fastolfe’s office, “R. Daneel pinched the ball of his right middle finger with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand…just as the fabric of the sleeve had fallen in two when the diagmagnetic field of its seam had been interrupted, so now the arm itself fell in two…There, under a thin layer of fleshlike material, was the dull blue gray of stainless steel rods, cords, and joints” (The Caves of Steel 111).  As Baley passes out from the shock, the fact that the “R.,” which stands for “Robot,” in front of Daneel’s name is in fact deserved!

The broadest doubling that involves Daneel is that he is a mirror for humanity.  When a character becomes aware of Daneel’s true being, it destabilizes that character’s understanding of the difference between robot and human.  Most of Asimov’s robots are very metal and very plastic.  They are the epitome of synthetic.  Daneel’s construction sets him apart from the apparent synthetic robots because he appeared to be human.  Elijah Baley first greets Daneel at Spacetown thinking that he is a Spacer.  Later Baley says to his superior, Commissioner Julius Enderby, “You might have warned me that he looked completely human” and he goes on to say “I’d never seen a robot like that and you had.  I didn’t even know such things were possible” (The Caves of Steel 83).  Elijah and most other humans are not aware that a human form robot was a possibility.  Although Elijah comes to terms with Daneel, other characters are driven to destroy humaniform robots.  Elijah’s wife is secretly a member of the Medievalists, a group that wants to do away with all robots, including Daneel.  Commissioner Enderby, also a Medievalist, murders Dr. Sarton, not because he wants to kill Sarton, but because he mistakes him for Daneel.

Daneel is also the double of his human partner, Elijah Baley.  Before Elijah meets Daneel, he is confident in his own abilities as a detective.  After he partners with Daneel, however, he begins to call into question his own abilities and talents.  Robots are meant to be superior to humans and Elijah extends this to his own profession that is now being intruded on by an android.  Baley is narrating at the beginning of The Caves of Steel:

The trouble was, of course, that he was not the plain-clothes man of popular myth.  He was not incapable of surprise, imperturbable of appearance, infinite of adaptability, and lightning of mental grasp.  He had never supposed he was, but he had never regretted the lack before.

What made him regret it was that, to all appearances, R. Daneel Olivaw was that very myth, embodied.

He had to be.  He was a robot (The Caves of Steel 26-27).

This anxiety is one of the motivating factors behind The Robots of Dawn, when Elijah is brought in to investigate the murder of a humaniform robot like Daneel.  If Elijah fails, he will loose his job and be declassified.  The fear of declassification is dire to Elijah because he had seen his own father declassified when he was only a boy.  Therefore, the existence of humaniform robots creates the situation that elicits this fear in Elijah.  Eventually Elijah warms up to his robot partner, but along the way Elijah often finds ways to make himself feel superior to robots by making Daneel follow unnecessary orders or by calling other robots by the derogatory label, “boy” (The Robots of Dawn 34).

James Cameron’s Terminator is a cyborg character that is born of a different cultural moment than Asimov’s robots.  The Terminator was originally released in 1984 while the Cold War was still in full swing and Ronald Reagan had been reelected President of the United States.  Even more significantly, The Terminator was riding the wave of office computing and robotic manufacturing.  Whereas Asimov viewed technology in utopic terms, Cameron only sees these technological advances as dystopic.  The Terminator would have been a film that the Medievalists of Asimov’s Robot novels would have lauded.

After the opening scene of the future wasteland of 2029, the Terminator arrives naked in Los Angeles of 1984.  J. P. Telotte writes that the “film’s title implies that its central concern is the technological threat, embodied in a killer cyborg which, for all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excess muscularity, disconcertingly blends in with the human:  speaks our language, crudely follows our basic customs, acts in roughly effective ways.  In fact, the film emphasizes just how easy it is to ‘pass’ for human in a world that judges that status so superficially” (172).  The Terminator has been given instructions to kill Sarah Connor in 1984 in order to prevent the birth of her future child who will lead humanity to victory over the machines.  He goes about doing this in a militarily calculated manner.  He obtains the weaponry and clothes that his mission requires.  The Terminator uses his human appearance and voice to blend into mid-1980s California.  Despite his robotic core, he is able to perform himself as human effectively enough to maintain the belief that he is human to those who passively interact with him.  Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, the man sent back in time to save her, are the only persons that know what the Terminator really is.

The Terminator is a chillingly evil double of humanity.  Through the first part of the film the audience does not yet know exactly what lies beneath his skin.  We are treated to his superior strength, but only later in the film, after he has sustained damage, do we really begin to understand what lies beneath the surface.  The hard metal robot body that is under the soft organic skin is the true nature of the Terminator.  Without the skin he looks like the killing machines that greet the audience at the beginning of the movie.  The shining flying machines and the bone crunching treads of the tank are siblings of the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator.  The Terminator is the result of the military-industrial complex losing control of Skynet, a computer network of control and command systems that were integrated into the implements of American war making.  After Skynet becomes self-aware, it views humanity as its only threat.  Skynet then acts in its own best interest by appropriating humanities’ weapons of war in order to eliminate its creator.  In contrast to Asimov’s robots, the Terminator seems to be the direct result of machine rather than human construction.  In the movie, Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines, smaller versions of the flying Terminator and tank Terminator are revealed to have been developed before Skynet launches its nuclear attack.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the cyborg Terminators were developed by Skynet for the purpose of infiltrating pockets of human habitation to wreak havoc by undermining the belief that what appears human actually is.  Again, the cyborg Terminator, like R. Daneel Olivaw, threatens what it means to be human by destabilizing the criteria used to determine human from machine.  But Cameron’s view is diametrically opposite Asimov’s in respect to machine agency.  Asimov’s robots are dedicated to helping humanity, but Cameron’s Skynet becomes self-aware on its own without any safeguards in place.  In Cameron’s look at the future, humanity loses control to the machines and must take that control back.

Another doubling is between the Terminator and Sarah’s protector, Kyle Reese.  The most obvious difference is that Reese is much smaller than the Terminator.  Additionally, Reese feels pain and he can be injured.  The Terminator sustains damage but it unrelentingly follows it programming.  Because of the limitations placed on time-travel, neither Reese nor the Terminator can bring any weaponry with them into the past.  The Terminator takes his weapons indiscriminately from a gun shop and in turn kills the proprietor.  Reese takes his first weapon, a revolver, from a police officer and then he takes his second, a shotgun, from a parked police cruiser.  The other weapons that Reese and Sarah use are hand made explosives.  Reese uses ingenuity and resourcefulness to match the brute force onslaught of the Terminator.  In effect, the Terminator itself is a weapon.

An interesting mirroring in The Terminator is between the machines and Sarah Conner.  On one level, the Terminator is the destructor.  Its mission is to go into the past and eradicate any instance of a “Sarah Connor” in the Los Angeles area.  Sarah, on the other hand, is told that she will give birth to John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance.  The Terminator tries to kill the woman who is capable of creation.  On a broader level, Skynet is capable of creation through production.  Skynet must have a means for building Terminators (cyborgs, airplanes, and tanks) and it must also have some creative capabilities because it created the mechanism for traveling into the past.  Thus, Skynet and Sarah follow parallels in that each stand for their species and point toward the future.  Skynet wants to maintain its existence and the existence of its machine armies.  Sarah wants to live and know that humanity will continue with the help of her yet-to-be-born son, John.  The Terminator, as a creation of Skynet, is the means by which Skynet can strike at Sarah because Skynet and Sarah’s futures are mutually exclusive.  Within the frame of the movies, machines and human beings are not meant to live together in harmony.  Another doubling between Sarah and the Terminator is that they are both covered in some way.  Telotte points out, “If the gradual stripping away of the Terminator’s human seeming warns us not to judge an android by its cover, the gradual emergence of Sarah’s character and potential as she responds to this threat reminds us that it is no more reliable to judge the human self by its various cultural trappings” (173).  His true robotic interior is revealed throughout the progression of the movie.  This is done “by seeing for ourselves how he sees…for the point-of-view shots reveal that the Terminator does not “see” images but merely gathers ‘information'” (Pyle 232).  Additionally, the Terminator’s flesh is stripped away through gunfights and explosions that eventually reveal the cold metal of its endoskeleton.  Sarah’s cultural coverings are removed as well as she shifts from clumsy waitress that freezes at the sight of the Terminator to technologically adept mother of the future who triumphantly crushes the machine in a hydraulic press.

Finally, Cameron’s Terminator is the doppelganger of Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw.  The Terminator works toward the domination of machines over humanity whereas Daneel works cooperatively with humans such as his partner and friend, Elijah Baley.  The text at the beginning of The Terminator states, “The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire.  Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.  It would be fought here, in our present.  Tonight.”  The machines (i.e., Skynet and the Terminator) mean to “exterminate mankind.”  On the other hand, Patricia Warrick writes, “The…robot detective novels…illustrate Asimov’s faith that man and machine can form a harmonious relationship” (61).  Both have their robotic selves hidden under a layer of flesh.  They perform themselves as human in order to fit in with the cultural surroundings in which they find themselves (e.g., 1980s Los Angeles or Asimov’s Earth encased in “caves of steel”).   The Terminator means to destroy humanity while Daneel wishes to work along side humanity.

Both R. Daneel Olivaw and the Terminator are doppelgangers of humanity, other characters in their respective works, and each other.  They maintain a human appearance and performance in order to pass as human to the casual observer.  R. Daneel Olivaw is given his “humaniform” appearance in order to work with humans (both Spacer and Earth person alike).  The Terminator uses his appearance as a sort of disguise in order to infiltrate humanity in order to kill from within.  Daneel represents the very best of human nature through cooperation and a moral imperative.  The Terminator represents the very worst of humanity through death dealing and a lack of moral standing. Despite the best intentions of Daneel, who was built the way he was, he is still viewed as a threat by some.  The Terminator, who also had no choice in his appearance, is a real threat to humanity because he uses his appearance to get closer to his prey.  Therefore, the bodies of R. Daneel Olivaw and the Terminator are examples of monstrous bodies in SF because they assume an appearance and identity that destabilizes what it means to be human and in so doing they each have a unique nature that is dependent on that of their creators.

Works Cited

Asimov, Isaac.  The Caves of Steel.  New York:  Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1954.

—.  I, Robot.  New York:  Gnome Press, 1950.

—.  The Naked Sun.  New York:  Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1957.

—.  The Robots of Dawn.  New York:  Doubleday, 1983.

Pyle, Forest.  “Making Cyborgs, Making Humans:  Of Terminators and Blade Runners.”    Film Theory Goes to the Movies.  Ed. Jim Collins, et al.  New York:  Routledge,            1993.  227-241.

Short, Sue.  “The Measure of a Man?:  Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, Star Trek’s Data, and     Being Human.”  Extrapolation 44:2 (Summer 2003):  209-223.

Telotte, J.P.  Replications:  A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film.  Urbana, IL:         University of Illinois Press, 1995.

The Terminator.  Dir. James Cameron.  Orion Pictures, 1984.

Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines.  Dir. Jonathan Mostow.  Warner Bros., 2003.

Warrick, Patricia S.  The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction.  Cambridge, MA:         MIT Press, 1980.

——————–

Monstrous Bodies Press Release

What:  “Monstrous Bodies in Science, Fiction, and Culture: Celebrating 25 Years of the Fantastic in the Arts at Georgia Tech”

When:  March 31-April 1, 2005

Where:  Bill Moore Student Success Center and the Skiles Building, Georgia Institute of Technology

From March 31st through April 1st the School of Literature, Communication and Culture (LCC) will host a two-day symposium in which participants explore the meaning of monstrous bodies in science, fiction, and culture. The symposium, which will take place in the Bill Moore Student Success Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is free of charge and open to all interested parties.

The symposium celebrates both LCC’s ongoing commitment to the study of the fantastic in the arts and, more specifically, the pivotal role that LCC Professor Emeritus Irving F. “Bud” Foote played in shaping this commitment. Foote taught the first accredited science fiction class at Tech in the early 1970s and over the course of the next two decades brought a number of science fiction writers to Tech including Frederik Pohl, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Upon his retirement in 1997 Foote donated 8000 science fiction-related items to the Georgia Tech Library, and the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection was born. With additional gifts from Georgia Tech alumni and science fiction authors such as David Brin and Kathleen Ann Goonan, the Bud Foote Collection is now one of the twenty largest research collections of its kind.

The Monstrous Bodies symposium will commemorate both Professor Foote’s legacy and LCC’s continued dedication to the study of the fantastic in the arts by featuring student research on and creative writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the gothic. The symposium will also include art and film exhibits as well as presentations by local scholars, science fiction writers, editors, publishers, and artists from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night cartoon programming for adult audiences.

Our special guests of honor are two leading figures in fantastic art and scholarship: science fiction author Paul di Filippo and popular culture expert Rhonda Wilcox. In 2004 Di Filippo received the Prix L’Imaginaire for his short story “Sisyphus and the Stranger”; other stories have been nominated for Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Philip K. Dick, Wired Magazine, and World Fantasy Awards as well. Wilcox is the author of the forthcoming book Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Television and coeditor of Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies.

If you have any other questions or comments, contact conference coordinator Prof. Lisa Yaszek or conference assistant Amelia Shackelford.

For more information

On the symposium, please visit http://monstrousbodies.lcc.gatech.edu;

On the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection, please visit http://sf.lcc.gatech.edu;

On previous student work in the Bud Foote Collection, please visit http://sciencefiction.lcc.gatech.edu.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Gender Course, Online Discussion Writing and Group Presentation Introduction, Spring 2005

This is the twenty-ninth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

In Spring 2005, I was a member of Professor Carol Senf’s LCC 3304, Science, Technology, and Gender class. Professor Senf–who I now consider a good friend and colleague–organized the class around online discussions, in-class discussions, and a final team-based, research/presentation project. In this post, I am including my introduction for my team’s final project on the transsexuality/transgenderism in film and my eight online discussion postings. In the former, I am including only my introduction, because I do not have permission from my teammates to post the completed project. In the latter, I am including my saved files, some of which appear to be fragments of the online postings–perhaps notes or drafts that I revised online. The discussion postings are based on readings and viewings. They involve analysis and exploration. Aside from the fragmentary nature of some of the postings, the writing and focus seem to improve over time. Everything is posted as-is.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

Spring 2005

Introduction to Transsexuality in Film Presentation

Opening slide that I created for our presentation.
Opening slide that I created for our presentation.

Our group is exploring transsexuality as presented in contemporary film.  Transsexual theorist Sandy Stone defines a transsexual as “a person who identifies his or her gender identity with that of the ‘opposite’ gender.  Sex and gender are quite separate issues, but transsexuals commonly blur the distinction by confusing the performative character of gender with the physical ‘fact’ of sex, referring to their perceptions of their situation as being in the ‘wrong body'” (Stone, sec. 2, par. 2).  A transsexual person feels his/her gender to be disconnected from or other than his/her sex.  This is an interesting topic for discussion because transsexuality calls into question the assumed de facto nature of binomial sex.

Film is a popular entertainment medium that mirrors currently held beliefs, and it can educate and challenge the status quo by bringing stories (otherwise unheard) to a larger audience.  Additionally, film and transsexuality are both technologically based and they both “came of age” during the twentieth century.  Film and transsexuality double one another in that both record performances (i.e., the former on film and the latter on a person’s body).  Teresa de Lauretis (as quoted in Hausman 14) goes so far as to say that gender is “the product of various social technologies, such as cinema, as well as institutional discourses, epistemologies, and critical practices.”  In the last chapter, Hausman writes, “Transsexuals seek to become the true representatives of a gender”  (193).  Gender, in part, is a technologically manufactured construct.  Thus, film and transsexuality are linked because both are manifestations of recording technologies and film is part of the mechanism that constructs the idea of gender for all, including transsexuals, to emulate.

There are many films with main characters that are transsexual.  These films range from biographies to inventive dramas.  We will be taking a cross section of these films to look more closely at how transsexual characters are presented and how other characters interact with and perceive them.  Our presentation will point out common themes as well as stereotypes that we find in these films.  We will look at different reactions to male-to-female transsexuality and female-to-male transsexuality.  Additionally, we want to look at what these representations tell us about the perception of transsexuals today.

In the course of our research we found four narrative types employed in films that feature transsexuality.  Those four categories are:

  1. aversity or challenge
  2. bildungsroman or a coming of age story
  3. doppelganger or the transsexual is a double of other characters
  4. farce or fantasy

Mind you, we are putting the films, not the people, into categories.  These categories serve as shorthand that allows us to build connections between movies and the way that they each present transsexuality.  These filmic presentations of transsexuality form a broad spectrum ranging from cookie-cutter stereotypes to solid character development.  The ways in which the transsexual characters in these films are portrayed as well as the way in which others around them perceive and interact with them tells us much about the cultural moment in which these films were made.  Some films instigate thought and discussion whereas others perpetuate stereotypes.  Therefore, transsexuality in film is a valuable resource for learning more about past and present presentations of transsexuals and they also reflect on the attitudes and beliefs of the filmmakers and the audience.

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Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

01/25/2005

Online Discussion Post 1

Olivia Judson responds to the question, “Isn’t anthropomorphism something biologists try to avoid?” in the following excerpt from the FAQ section of her website:

 

“When I studied animal behavior in college, I was told anthropomorphism was a Big No-No. But as I read more widely, I concluded this stance is misguided. Two of the greatest evolutionary biologists–Darwin and Bill Hamilton (my PhD supervisor, and my nomination for the 20th century biologist most like Darwin)–regularly put themselves in the place of the organisms they were watching, and I think that doing so helped them to some of their most profound insights. As long as everyone understands that we don’t know what is really going on inside an animal’s head–that anthropomorphism is a metaphor, not a description–considering life from an organism’s point of view can be a powerful aid to the imagination, and therefore, a powerful tool. Indeed, I think the real danger with [anthropomorphism] is in treating it as an intellectual sin. A taboo on anthropomorphism has the effect of leading us to believe that humans are so different from other animals that we can’t possibly relate to them. But that’s wrong (http://www.drtatiana.com/faq.shtml#anthro).”

 

She makes the point “that anthropomorphism is a metaphor, not a description.”  Metaphor and analogy are models that help us better understand something that is foreign to our experience.  Judson uses anthropomorphism as a tool to better understand the biology and behavior of organisms that lead very different lives from humans.  Additionally, she is able to convey detailed information in a more “friendly” way than an elitist scientific text.  Anthropomorphism is engaging for the layperson and the scientists alike.  Judson is saying that even scientists such as Darwin, Hamilton, and herself use anthropomorphism as a tool in their work thus it shouldn’t carry the taboo that is often associated with it within scientific circles.

 

Similarly, Marlene Zuk’s writes, “A model system is one that is used to obtain general results about some aspect of biology” (24).  Zuk describes a model system as taking detailed observations of one group and then applying the collected results to other groups (e.g., another sex of the group species, another age group, or another species).  A scientist may lose objectivity in an experiment or observation due to anthropomorphism and they may over generalize the results of their experiments and observations due to relying on a model system beyond its scope.

 

A model system is like a rock being dropped into a pond.  At the center there is the largest disturbance of the water.  This corresponds to the model system and the group it was based on.  The model system can be used much more accurately on this central group than any other.  Then there are ripples emanating from the center.  These ripples lose intensity as they get further away from point where the rock/model system impacted the water.  The ripples correspond to the other groups that the model system may be applied to.  In the case of many drug tests, the model system is based on data derived from the “average male.”  When the drug is released for sale, the model system for drug interaction and side effects may vary for other groups that will be taking the drug (e.g., young women, older women, older men, men or women with other health problems, etc.).  If care isn’t taken in the application of a model system to groups farther out from the group that was used for building the model system, then it may result in problems.

 

Linking this back to Judson, if the bounds of objectivity are pushed too far, the data collection in building the model system may be corrupted.  As Darwin wrote, “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened” (Chapter 21, 1st paragraph).  It is the responsibility of the scientist to be aware of what extent he or she utilizes anthropomorphism and model systems.  Zuk’s personal account (using “I” and writing about Brother Loon) and Judson’s anthropomorphism combined with wit are two ways to write about science without losing sight of what they are writing about.  Additionally, Zuk’s description of a model system applies to Judson’s anthropomorphic descriptions.  Judson writes on her website, “As long as everyone understands that we don’t know what is really going on inside an animal’s head…considering life from an organism’s point of view can be a powerful aid to the imagination, and therefore, a powerful tool.”  Zuk and Judson both use anthropomorphism as a valuable tool to convey their respective stories and scientific information.  Anthropomorphism, like model systems, is an important tool that comes with a disclaimer limiting the scope and depth of its utility within a scientific discourse.

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Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

2/7/2005

Online Discussion Post 2

David Reimer is quoted on page 262 of John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him:

 

“You know, if I had lost my arms and my legs and wound up in a wheelchair where you’re moving everything with a little rod in your mouth–would that make me less of a person?  It just seems that they implied that you’re nothing if your penis is gone.  The second you lose that, you’re nothing, and they’ve got to do surgery and hormones to turn you into something.  Like you’re a zero.  It’s like your whole personality, everything about you is all directed–all pinpointed—toward what’s between the legs.  And to me, that’s ignorant.  I don’t have the kind of education that these scientists and doctors and psychologists have, but to me it’s very ignorant.  If a woman lost her breasts, do you turn her into a guy?  To make her feel ‘whole and complete’?”

 

David is addressing the idea that Dr. John Money summed up by saying, “You cannot be an it” (248).  David compares an apparent physical disability with the unseen lack of a penis.  He calls into question the belief that if one’s sexual identity is ambiguous, then their identity as a person is considered less than the identity of a person with a clear sex identity.  He cannot find the logic behind the doctor’s (such as Dr. Money’s) belief that sexual identity is necessary for personal identity.  David clearly delineates what our culture considers important concerning identity when he says, “It’s like your whole personality, everything about you is directed…toward what’s between the legs.”  He considers this “ignorant” because this classification neglects the person in toto.  David has thoughts, feelings, and dreams like any other person.  Even though he endured a botched circumcision, surgeries, hormone treatments, and counseling to help acclimate him to living a life as “Brenda,” he knew on the inside that he was in fact male.  David had not been given a choice about what sex he should be.  His parents and his doctors chose a sex for him based on physical characteristics derived from his injury.  David turns the table on this reasoning by saying, “If a woman lost her breasts, do you turn her into a guy?  To make her feel ‘whole and complete’?”  A woman’s breasts are one of the most obvious signifiers of being female.  His point is that if the physical manifestation of what we see and identify as being a male or female trait is removed then by the logic of doctors, such as Dr. Money, the person should have their sex reassigned so that they appear to be the sex that their scarred body appears to be.  This can be extended to Bob from Fight Club.  Bob had “bitch tits” and he had been castrated because of testicular cancer.  Should he have been transformed into a female because of his loss of his testicles as well as the way that he looks?

 

Dr. Money’s stand links back to Darwin’s primary sexual characteristics in his theory of sexual selection.  Darwin’s use of primary sexual characteristics is to denote what elements of an organism that are necessary for reproduction.  For human beings, these primary sexual characteristics are used as cues for sexual identity.  This extends to the way in which the individual interacts with others as well as the way others may interact with the individual–based on the perception/understanding of what sex the individual is.

 

Colapinto’s book is not a scientific text.  He uses journalistic investigation and personal narratives to build his argument.  The author gives David, Brian, their parents, and others a voice through their personal narratives.  Without Colapinto’s book and subsequent television appearances, their voice would have been oppressed within anonymous case studies.  In giving David and his family a voice, they were able to dispel the claims made by Dr. John Money concerning the “John/Joan” case.  Additionally, sexual identity is something that is more than the sum of its parts.  Being male or female (for the individual) is more than a checklist (e.g., penis–check, testicles–check, etc.).  David knew that he was male despite being told he was female.

 

It should also be noted that Dr. Money does not appear to have followed the scientific method in developing his theory that nurture is capable of reassigning biological sex or intersexual ambiguity.  Instead of rigorously following up on the John/Joan case, he effectively dropped the ball.  Also, in light of new evidence presented by the Diamond and Sigmundson paper, Dr. Money and others who promoted intersexual infant surgeries did not change or reevaluate their standing on this procedure.  Case studies are based on observation and extrapolation from particular cases.  For example, Freud’s psychoanalysis was based on case studies that he made with only a limited number of patients.  Diamond and Sigmundson paper was “powerful…in presenting anecdotal evidence of the neurobiological basis of sexuality” (210).  The doctors on both sides of this issue have to rely on the case studies of extreme cases in order to derive their theories regarding the basis of sexual identity.

 

Colapinto’s book reveals that more than scientific discovery is taking place in these investigations.  It reads like a drama because of the personal stakes that the doctors have in their work.  Dr. Money’s personal attacks erupt within his books that are supposed to be scientific texts.  Additionally, Dr. Money is presented as being less than objective by not disclosing certain elements of why he chose to not report what he knew had happened with Brenda/David and he would not explain his own shift in beliefs that took place between his doctoral dissertation (which presented a positive picture of intersexuals who had not undergone surgeries in infancy) to his profound belief that a person with ambiguous physical characteristics must be made either physically male or female while they are very young.

 

A final important point that Colapinto makes in As Nature Made Him is that David exists has a hybrid.  David identifies himself as male now even though he was raised as a girl.  He said, “I feel sorry for women.  I’ve been there” (262).  He then talks about gendered roles for women such as staying in the kitchen and being told to leave chopping the firewood to the men.  David goes on to say, “I remember when I was a kid and women were fighting like hell to get equal rights.  I said, ‘Good for them.’  I kind of sensed what position women had in society.  Way down there.  And that’s who I was portrayed.  And I didn’t want to go way down there.  I felt, I can do whatever anybody else can!  But ‘Oh, you’re a girl–you might get hurt playing ball'” (262).  He has walked the proverbial mile in another sex’s shoes.  His hybridity allowed him to see the demarcation lines because he had crossed over them in his transformation from Brenda to David.

——————-

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/3/2005

Online Discussion Post 3

Doppelgangers in The Stepford Wives destabilize female identity and agency.  The American Heritage College Dictionary 3rd edition defines doppelganger as, “A ghostly double of a living person, esp. one that haunts its living counterpart.”  Doppelgangers are a mirror of a person, but not an exact duplicate.  Additionally, a double is not natural and it is usually dangerous because of its encroaching on the identity of the original.

 

There are two kinds of doppelgangers or mirroring in The Stepford Wives.  The first mirroring takes place between the women of Stepford (i.e., Carol Van Sant et al) and the women who have recently moved to Stepford (i.e., Joanna, Bobby, and Charmaine).  The established women think and behave as a representation of an ideal of femininity held by the men of Stepford (and reinforced by the culture at large such as in advertising of housecleaning products).  The women who have recently moved to Stepford are trying to maintain their own identity and agency.  There is a conflict between the constructed identities of the Stepford women and the recently arrived women.  Joanna and Bobby can’t identify with the Stepford women because they are embedded (literally) with a diametrically opposed view of what it means to be a woman, and in particular, a wife.

 

Underlying this is the obvious level of doppelgangers between the original woman and the ideal Stepford wife that she “becomes.”  The robot/animatronic doubles are revealed at the end of the film when Joanna stabs Bobby to see if she bleeds.  Bobby does not and she falls into a loop of her preprogrammed motions and words.  The women of Stepford are replaced with robotic replications.  These robot doubles are built by the Men’s Association to give the husband what he considers an idealized housewife.  These doubles are unnatural (they don’t bleed and they are mechanical instead of organic) and they are dangerous to the not-yet-replaced women of Stepford.  The doppelganger has to usurp the place of the real woman by killing her.  The synthetic replaces the organic.  Additionally, this point is interesting because it means that the men can only enjoy their ideal of the female if that ideal is a constructed, synthetic being instead of an alive, organic one.

 

The doppelganger is important to our study of gender because it makes apparent how one group is objectified by another group (e.g., in this case women/wives are objectified by men/husbands).  The men already objectified the women before they were replaced with robot doubles.  Joanna didn’t have a choice in their move to Stepford and her husband doesn’t respect her choice to be a photographer.  Because Joanna is a “thing” instead of a person, Walter is able to replace her with her robot double.  In doing so, Joanna is killed and her voice (i.e., choice, creativity, and identity) is destroyed.

——————-

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/3/2005

Online Discussion Post 4

Alice Domurat Dreger quotes Donald Bateman (a hemophiliac) in the Epilogue of her book, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, as having said, “the social history of medicine is usually recorded by its practitioners, by social workers, or researchers.  Not much of it is chronicled by its victims or the recipients of treatment.  The sick, like the poor, leave very few archives behind them” (167).  The medical professionals usurp the voice of the individual who they objectify as the patient.  The body of the individual is made to “tell a story” through the doctor’s descriptions, photographs, and drawings.  The individual/patient is denied a voice in the medical literature because it is meant to be “objective.”  Science and medicine considers things, not individuals.

 

An example of this is a gynecological examination.  The woman to be examined has her body covered in such a way to section off the upper portion of her body from her lower portion.  The doctor is meant to conduct his/her examination on “body parts” that are in a sense removed from the individual.  This has come about in order to establish the objectivity of the medical professional as well as lowering the possibility that some may consider the doctor conducting the examination in a non-professional way.  This objectivity may also make the woman more comfortable in a situation that elicits the taboo against persons (particularly of the opposite sex) looking at our naked body.  The objectification of intersexual individuals however extends beyond this example.

 

Intersexuals have had decisions made about their bodies and their sexual identity without their voice being heard.  These decisions may be made while he/she is very young and it may be made by the medical professional along with input from the individual’s parents or the parents may go along with the “professional opinion” of the doctor.  The dynamic of this decision-making has a lot to do with many factors such as socioeconomic background of the parents, education, and geographic location of the parents and doctor (people in one location may have accepted mores or ideas that are different from people in other places).

 

Dreger goes on to say that a shift took place after the “Age of Gonads.”  Dreger writes, “The late twentieth century, however, has seen the emergence of the voices and claims–to autonomy, to authority–of medicine’s subjects.  Intersexuals, like hemophiliacs and other medical patients, have begun to record and make known their stories in ever greater numbers” (168).  We have been reading about these voices such as Herculine Barbin’s memoirs and David Reimer’s story in John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him.  There are stories to be told that are important both to the teller of the story and to an anticipating audience.  We have also read stories and seen movies where a person isn’t give a choice such as Joanna in The Stepford Wives and Yod in Piercy’s He, She, and It.  Joanna wants to be remembered through her photographs.  Yod leaves a message for Shira where he gets to tell his own story and make his own requests.  Barbin dealt with medical and legal authorities in his transformation from woman to man.  Reimer had to contend with the accepted authority on intersexuals–Dr. John Money.  The individual challenges authority in order to make their voice heard.

 

Individuals “placed under the microscope” struggle for agency and the authority of the self.  Intersexuals, like anyone, want control of their bodies and their identity.  Certain authorities exert their power over the individual and in so doing render the individual an object without a voice.  Authority exerted by the medical profession continues to the present from the “Age of Gonads” that Dreger looks at.  Intersexed individuals have come a long way to gaining a voice, but there are areas that there is still a conflict on whose authority reigns supreme.  What form do these conflicts take?  What other areas do there exist conflicts between the intersexual as an individual and an authority that denies the intersexual a voice (e.g., the law or the church)?

 

 

 

 

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Intersexuals and others identified as in need of help by the medical profession are objectified as patients instead of individuals.  The scientist and the doctor does not name them nor does he (more often than she) allow them a place or venue to tell their own story.  The object is voiceless whereas the individual has a voice to tell his/her own story and to make choices for his/herself.  Because medical professionals saw these individuals as objects of study, they also were denied a voice in the choices made about their own bodies.  Authority to medicine and law overruled the unacknowledged authority of the self.

 

The issue of authority has been present in most of the works that we have considered thus far in the course.  David Reimer had choices made about what sex he should be raised as in Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him.  Yod was created to serve a purpose in Piercy’s He, She, and It.  Joanna faces the lesser decision made by her husband to move to Stepford, and then she is made to forfeit her life when her husband has a robot double created to assume her role as wife and mother.  There is a constant struggle between those of authority and those victim to the whims of that authority.  The issue lies in those persons [fragment]

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Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/18/2005

Online Discussion Post 5

Destabilization of Normality and Reactions from Authority

 

Before Callie/Cal runs away from Dr. Luce and her parents in Middlesex, Eugenides writes:

 

I had miscalculated with Luce.  I thought that after talking to me he would decide that I was normal and leave me alone.  But I was beginning to understand something about normality.  Normality wasn’t normal.  It couldn’t be.  If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone.  They could sit back and let normality manifest itself.  But people–and especially doctors–had doubts about normality.  They weren’t sure normality was up to the job.  And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.  (Eugenides 446)

 

Binomial sex is considered the norm and

 

 

The authority here lies with doctors and with parents to a much lesser extent.

 

 

Another example of an authority trying to regulate normalcy is 19th and 20th century England.  In the movie Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s claim against [fragment]

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Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

4/1/2005

Online Discussion Post 6

Categorization and Authority in The Well of Loneliness

 

Stephen’s tutor, Miss Puddleton (Puddle), is concerned about Stephen because “none knew better than this little grey woman, the agony of mind that must be endured when a sensitive, highly organized nature is first brought face to face with its own affliction” (155).  Puddle practices what she would say to Stephen.  She considers saying, “You’re neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you’re unexplained as yet–you’ve not got your niche in creation.  But some day that will come, and meanwhile don’t shrink from yourself, but just face yourself calmly and bravely…Cling to your honour for the sake of those others who share the same burden.  For their sakes show the world that people like you and they can be quite as selfless and fine as the rest of mankind.  Let your life go to prove this–it would be a really great life-work, Stephen” (154).  She wants to say that Stephen is not “unnatural,” “abominable,” or “mad.”  Puddle’s conception of categorization holds that an “invert” or lesbian identity has not yet found its “niche in creation” because a person like that is “unexplained as yet.”  She believes that when that behavior is explained (categorized) by someone (authority) then inverts will hold a place all their own in the “natural” world.  Puddle wants to tell Stephen that this goal is accomplished if she will be herself and maintain her “honour.”  This path is akin to leading by example.  Stephen can show the world that she and others like her are no less human than anyone else.

 

Unfortunately, there are many forms of categorization and different authorities vying for the power of categorization.  Puddle’s formulation maintains that authority in the invert by leading a good life.  This is honorable, but not always practical because people often have prejudices and opinions that are not easily swayed.  Stephen’s parents, Sir Philip and Anna fight over Stephen’s nature.  Sir Philip is accepting of his daughter, but he dies before he can explain to Anna what Stephen’s nature is.  Others, like Puddle and Sir Philip, are accepting of Stephen because they see her as a person with skills and abilities that they respect despite the gendered overlay of those skills.  For example, Colonel Antrim “dearly loved a fine rider, and he cursed and he swore his appreciation” (109).  Colonel Antrim would defend Stephen to the other riders.  The others were made uncomfortable that a woman entered what was generally accepted as a male sport.  They would snicker and whisper when Stephen was not around that she was only a girl or that what she was doing was unnatural.  They would credit the horse more than the rider.  Colonel Antrim would hear none of that and exclaim, “Damn it, no, it’s the riding.  The girl rides, that’s the point; as for some of you others–” (109).

 

Colonel Antrim’s “oaths could not save Stephen now from her neighbours, nothing could do that since the going of Martin–for quite unknown to themselves they feared her; it was fear that aroused their antagonism.  In her they instinctively sensed as outlaw, and theirs was the task of policing nature” (110).  The community plays a great part in the categorization of “normality” versus “abnormality.”  Because Stephen participated in many male dominated sports and academic pursuits, it unnerved many in the community that believed that this was not the natural order of things.  As John Merrick says to two socialite guests in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, “People are often frightened by what they don’t understand.”  “Inverts” or lesbians were not understood in the binomial heterosexually dominated world of Radclyffe Hall.  Stephen is female but her “mannish” appearance is disconcerting to many people (both female and male) in the community.  Social mores and beliefs are constructed from the interaction of people within a community (which was larger at that time than say a thousand years before that due to such influences as new transportation technologies and publishing).  Within a small community such as that around Morton, the people gossip and react to the things that they observe.  Based on their own interaction and connections to the world outside their small community, “theirs was the task of policing nature.”  They feared Stephen because she was not like other women in their cultural moment.  Their “policing nature” did not mean that they were likely to lock her up, but that they reacted to Stephen and what she represented to them (i.e., a challenge to the status quo of binomial heterosexuality).

 

This policing action is made very clearly when Ralph, the husband of Stephen’s first lover, Angela, reacts to the green-fly, “He nagged about the large population of green-fly, deploring the existence of their sexual organs:  ‘Nature’s a fool!  Fancy procreation being extended to that sort of vermin!'” (151).  Ralph is calling Nature “a fool” because he does not believe that insects should procreate the same way as humans do.  Science has revealed that sex is not only binomial but of many different combinations of sex and procreation beyond “male” and “female.”  Ralph’s arrogance is directly connected to the arrogance of those that react negatively toward Stephen and her nature.  In the same paragraph as Ralph’s exclamation against the green-fly, he says to his wife, “How’s your freak getting on…She’s appalling…it’s enough to make any man see red; that sort of thing wants putting down at birth, I’d like to institute state lethal chambers!” (151).  He marks himself as a fascist and closed minded about a woman who does not act or dress according to the way he and others believe a woman should act and dress.  Ralph is an extreme example, but his belief that the culturally created definitions of what it means to be male or female (and how to act and dress according to that sex) is above one’s nature and the way that Nature makes people.

 

Science also grapples for authority to categorize things and people.  The work done by science is often an extension of cultural preconceptions.  For example, the American Psychological Association labeled homosexuality an illness until a little over twenty years ago.  In Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s “Discourses of Sexuality and Subjectivity:  The New Woman 1870-1936,” she describes the work done by Krafft-Ebing in categorizing women he labeled as lesbian.  He used “social behavior and physical appearance” instead of the “sexual behavior of the women” when he categorized them (269).  An interesting side note is that Havelock Ellis wrote the introductory commentary for The Well of Loneliness.  He is described by Smith Rosenberg as “a complex figure” who was “an enemy of Victorian repression and hypocrisy” but he “insisted that a woman’s love for other women was both sexual and degenerate” (270).  He did argue however that “Inversion…was biological, hereditary, and irreversible” (270).  So there was discussion going on before and during the time that The Well of Loneliness was published about what it means to be a lesbian.  The majority view however was that homosexuality was a mental disease that can be treated and possibly reversed.  Some today, still hold this view (e.g., the debate in the Technique in 1996 over the publication of a religious group’s full page ad showing an attractive young woman who was able to turn from gay to straight thanks to the help of the church–not exactly science but a case illustrating the continuing debate over reversibility of homosexuality).

 

The Well of Loneliness is a source of many examples of different authorities working to promote their own understanding of nature.  Categorization and labels serve both to help others understand who a person is, but they can also be used to undermine a person’s agency and self by assigning them a position “less than normal.”  Normality should be viewed as a spectrum rather than an absolute list of criteria with any deviation being identified as abnormal.  Understanding and acceptance (Sir Philip, Puddle, and Colonel Antrim) are more useful and powerful because they are inclusive whereas choosing not to understand and early medical categorization as other (Mr. Antrim, Ralph, and nineteenth century science) are both overlaying community prejudices in order to exclude persons who have something to contribute to the community.

———————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

4/15/2005

Online Discussion Post 7

Transformations and Authority in Hausman and Two Postmodern Fictions

 

Authority is one of the primary issues that we have been discussing during the course of this semester.  This issue is apparent in Bernice L. Hausman’s Changing Sex:  Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender and it also appears in two books that I have read outside of class in Greg Bear’s Blood Music and Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.

 

Hausman writes, “trannssexual’s demands for surgical and hormonal interventions were perceived, at least partially, as an effect of a still developing medical technology that had yet to realize its full potential.  This differentiates the medical practitioners from their transsexual subjects, for whom surgery was the final answer to their misery, a technological repair of ‘nature’s mistake'” (43).  She also writes that transsexuality is an invention of the twentieth century because it wasn’t until after Dreger’s “Age of Gonads” that medical technologies were developed to assist in the physical transformation of a person of one biological/physical sex into the opposite sex.  With the birth of endocrinology and advanced surgical techniques, one could potentially metamorphose into the gender (also a recent development) that they believed that they were.

 

The authority to define, control, and reinforce physical transformation such as the bodily metamorphosis of the transsexual lies in many different hands.  As we increase the magnification of the microscope, the endocrinologist becomes the new definer of what it means to be male or female.  Before the rise of the chemicalization of the body, the “Age of Gonads” depended on observation of the gonadal tissues of the individual to determine sex.  Endocrinology discovered the hormonal messages that are sent and received by different organs within the body.  It was also determined that the female body should be the focus of endocrine research because of the more complex female endocrine system because of its regulation of the reproductive cycle.  Hausman writes, “One result of the emphasis on women as the ideal subjects of endocrinology may have been the differing ratios of men to women seeking sex change:  statistically, more men have, in the past, requested and achieved sex change” (37).  Because women were the subjects of endocrine research, Hausman goes on to say, “Thus, I would suggest that the historically higher numbers of men seeking sex change must somehow be correlated to the discourses within which both men and women who feel themselves to be ‘in the wrong body’ construct themselves as entitled subjects of medical treatment” (37).  The medicalization of the hormonal systems of women led to the establishment of people seeking medical treatment and surgery when they felt they were actually the other gender.  Therefore, transsexuality as a phenomenon is a technological invention.

 

Transsexuality serves to reinforce the binomial sex paradigm as well as the authority of the medical professional.  Hausman writes in the Introduction, “physicians and other clinicians demonstrate the homophobic prejudice that grounds the practices of sex change in a desire to see bodies that are sexed in accordance with social categories of appropriate gender performance” (7).   What other groups connect to this discourse of “sex[ing] in accordance with social categories of appropriate gender performance?”  The biochemical and drug manufacturing industries certainly play a part in developing synthesized hormones that were administered for menopausal women.  These chemical companies coupled with the rise of the advertising agency drove the chemical companies’ products into new hands where a need might not have existed before.  Along with this was the move from injected hormones to pill form hormones that could be administered at home without the need of a doctor’s visit.  This also led to self-medication and the use of these medicines by persons without a prescription.  This leads to the appropriation of authority by the individual.  There are those, such as Agnes in Hausman’s introduction, who self-medicate in order to achieve their goal of gender transformation.  Additionally, Agnes coupled her hormonal treatments with performing herself as female in order to convince the doctors that she was a hermaphrodite instead of a male who had been taking hormonal treatments for a very long time.  Today, the process for gender reassignment in the US is complicated by psychologists labeling transsexuality and transgenderism as an illness that is mitigated through a protocol with a goal of transformation.  The individual is the ultimate authority as far as choice is concerned because he or she decides that he/she is not of the gender that he/she feels.  But there is a feedback loop where all of these authorities play off and within each other in order to build male and female gender distinctions.  Therefore, endocrinologists better define and label the human subject within their science, biochemists manufacture new synthetic hormones to be administered to the human subjects, advertising agencies work with the biochemical companies to sell their product and infiltrate new markets (with existing medicines–less R&D spending), and the male or female individual chooses to use these medicines and technologies for bodily transformation or for mediating menopause.  These authorities feedback into one another so that one cannot be said to be an ultimate authority, but that each in turn plays a part in how gender and transgenderism is presented and “treated.”

 

Greg Bear’s Blood Music is about a lone male scientist (an authority) working in a big lab who reengineers a set of his own white blood cells to be thinking machines called noocytes.  When his superiors (another authority) sack him on the suspicion of his work, he injects these intelligent machine cells back into his body in order to smuggle them out of the building in the hopes he can retrieve them later.  These cells (a new authority) then go about reengineering his body so that he becomes one with these cells.  The cells then venture away from his body (i.e., labeled a plague by medical authorities) and convert all living matter in North America into one huge organism where the identities of the people are embedded within this new life form, but few of the millions of inhabitants of North America are given a choice in joining with the new life form.  This summary of the novel reveals the layers of authority that exist.  This example doesn’t directly discuss gender other than the whole mess is instigated by a Frankenstein like character who decides to do very dangerous science (working on human biologicals much less reinjecting those biologicals into himself).  But it does reveal the authority that is assumed by certain individuals or groups and ultimately the greatest authority is represented by the new life form in its assimilation of North America.  The medical professionals and scientists that we have been reading about assume this kind of authority.  First the physical appearance was assimilated and cataloged, then the gonads/sex glands were identified and labeled, and now the endocrinological/chemical systems of our bodies were dissected and put into “male” or “female” categories.  Our bodies were assimilated from without by medicine and science.  Additionally, when North America is turned into a “germ” civilization, what does it mean to be male or female?  Memories and consciousnesses are there within the fabric of these microscopic creatures, but the physical manifestation of a person is no longer relevant (except when the noocytes need to communicate with one of the few unaltered humans in North America).  Therefore, this colonization made us strangers in ourselves because it narrowed the focus of sex/gender identities as either male or female while turning the spectrum of reality into abnormality.

 

The other book that I mentioned above is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.  Reed’s novel is a postmodern retelling of history through a narrative that takes place in the early part of the twentieth century (which coincidentally is when advances took place to move medical science from the “Age of Gonads” into endocrinology).  “Jes Grew” is a identified as a plague by the Atonist authorities (essentially western, white, Christian leadership) because it is an invasion of the spirit that empowers groups under the Atonist powers that be.  It is difficult to give a short description of Jes Grew, but I think that the quotes of James Weldon Johnson at the beginning of the novel point the reader in the right direction.  Johnson wrote in The Book of American Negro Poetry, “The earliest Ragtime songs, like Topsy, ‘jes’ grew.'” and “we appropriated about the last one of the ‘jes’ grew’ songs.  It was a song that had been sung for years all through the South.  The words were unprintable, but the tune was irresistible, and belonged to nobody.”  Jes Grew is both an invasion from without but it is also an appropriation by a group’s past (African American) into the present.  The dancing and song that was part of Jes Grew empowered individuals that were part of an oppressed group in American society.  It relates to gender because both African American men and women were part of Jes Grew.  It went against prohibition and anti-dancing movements that were part of early twentieth century America.  Another part of the narrative shows a separation between Voo Doo practitioners as being predominantly male.  Some of the history of The Work involves both men and women, but in the story it is men who drive the story.  But in the end, one of the main characters, Earline, who was possessed earlier but relieved of the bad spirit, apologizes for her “breakdown” but PaPa LaBas says, “I don’t think it was a nervous breakdown, I have my theory.  Nervous breakdown sounds so Protestant, we think that you were possessed.  Our cures worked, didn’t they?  All you have to know is how to do The Work” (206).  Earline goes on to say that she wants to travel and learn more about The Work so it may not be so male dominated because it is a female that is identified as the one going off to seek more learning, but it the division within the novel is something to take note of.

 

Hausman writes about a real world struggle of authorities within the discourses of gender and transgenderism.  Bear presents an inventive story where choice is irrelevant to the overwhelming force of intelligent germs.  Reed’s Jes Grew is a spiritual invasion that he describes as having a rich history that is at odds with the Atonist/western hegemony.  Each of these works talk about how authority and hegemony figures into discourses of identity, gender, and transgenderism.  The fictional works are primarily concerned with gender and identity whereas Hausman’s work delves into all three issues.  Thus, issues of identity are bound to the interplay of the authorities that construct the framework within which one can know who he/she is.

——————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

5/3/2005

Online Discussion Posting 8

Issues of Shame in Deirdre N. McCloskey’s Crossing:  A Memoir

 

Michael Warner’s theory of sexual ethics and shame appear in Deirdre N. McCloskey’s Crossing:  A Memoir.  McCloskey is writing about her transformation from man to woman.  She is an outside other who is using medical technology and techniques to physically alter her male body to match her female self.

 

In Chapter 14, McCloskey writes about how rumors began to circulate about her plans for transformation that prompts her to confront the issue head on by sending letters to her colleagues and speaking with the press.  She writes in bold, “I am not ashamed of this and am not going to let people treat it as shameful.  For myself and for the politics I am not going to be put back into a closet, ever” (90).  McCloskey invokes the language of shame that Warner discusses in his book The Trouble With Normal.  McCloskey is “not ashamed” and she will not “let people treat it as shameful.”  She feels female inside but she has a physically male body.  The medical intervention that she chose to have performed will allow her to cross from a male sexed body to a female sexed body.  She sees no shame in this because she had no choice in the way that she feels.  In the same way that a person with clinical depression should not feel ashamed of the way that they feel, Deidre does not feel ashamed of the way that she feels (which forms part of her identity).  Warner writes, “Sooner or later, happily or unhappily, almost everyone fails to control his or her sex life.  Perhaps as compensation, almost everyone sooner or later also succumbs to the temptation to control someone else’s sex life” (1).  Warner is primarily writing about gays and lesbians and sexual orientation, but his theory of shame works with anyone with a different sex identity than what is presented or believed to be “normal.”  McCloskey is the outside other who does not fit into what most people would believe to be normal.  Despite her not being like most men because she choose to transform her body into a that of a woman, she should not feel ashamed of her identity or her medically altered body.

 

Warner writes about the different meanings that we have for stigma.  He writes, “Ordinary shame…passes.  One might do a perverse thing and bring scorn or loathing on oneself…This kind of shame affect’s one biographical identity” (28).  This transitory shame is not the same as the shame that someone that falls outside of what is assumed to be sexually normal.  Warner goes on to write, “The shame of a true pervert–stigma–is less delible; it is a social identity that befalls one like fate.  Like the related stigmas of racial identity or disabilities, it may have nothing to do with acts one has committed.  It attaches not to doing, but to being; not to conduct, but to status” (28).  McCloskey performs herself as and appears to be a biological woman.  However, her body is literally marked.  She has stigmata (physical markings–scars) that, if seen, mark her as a “true pervert” who has made a crossing that to many people is unnatural.  McCloskey writes that she will not be “ashamed” and she will not let others “treat it as shameful.”  McCloskey understands that to those who know of her transformation, she is marked.  Many are accepting, but others cannot deal with her choice.  Warner writes, “The ones who pay are the ones who stand out in some way.  They become a lightning rod not only for the hatred of difference, of the abnormal, but also for the more general loathing for sex” (23).  Transgendered people are “lightning rods” because during their crossing, they may appear to be of both sexes.  This stage of metamorphosis (and some may never gain the accepted physical appearance of the sex that they choose) brings their transformation to the forefront to those who consider it unnatural.  Warner goes on to write, “It is their sex, especially, that seems dehumanizing” (24).  This identification of “sex” with “dehumanizing” may be what precipitates violence and outrage by some against those with different sexual orientation or gender identity.  The “normal” person dehumanizes the outside other because of their difference.  Because the other is “abnormal” they are identified as being less than a “normal” person.  The “normal” person disregards the identity of the self or the fact that the other is a human being due respect and equal rights.

 

Is McCloskey ambivalent about her identity as a post-operative MTF transsexual?  Warner writes about “identity ambivalence” in the lesbian and gay movement, but this can also apply to transgendered persons because they are also made to feel sexual shame.  He writes, “The distinction between stigma and shame makes it seem as though an easy way to resolve the ambivalence of belonging to a stigmatized group is to embrace the identity but disavow the act” (33).  Ambivalence is the disregarding of some aspect of your identity yet still holding on to the group identity.  Warner is writing about gays who disregard the fact of gay sex yet want to have a gay identity (he cites the example of the author who cuts out his article in a gay magazine to send to his mom because on the same page is a gay phone sex ad).  At first, McCloskey was going to keep her transformation under wraps until after she began the trip that would culminate with her surgery in Australia.  After rumors began to circulate, she communicated her intentions to her colleagues as well as the curious press.  But she writes of herself as the feminine Deirdre and she refers to her past self, Donald, in the third person.  She performs herself as female and she writes of behaviors and thoughts that might be described as feminine or of the female mind.  Granted, we only read part of her memoir, but it seems like she is shifting from a transsexual identity to that of a real woman.  Deirdre writes about an encounter with a nurse who told her “I’m like you, I had the operation…I mean, I’ve had a hysterectomy” (201).  Deirdre writes in response to this, “So just like me, thought Deirdre, she has a vagina but no ovaries.  Deirdre was like her, like a woman on hormone replacement therapy after a hysterectomy or menopause.  Goodness, she thought, I am a woman on hormone replacement therapy” (201).  The ultimate goal of a transsexual transformation is to become the physical reality of the felt gender identity.  Perhaps it is best that someone who crosses should then assume the identity of the sex and gender that he/she has become and disregard the transsexual identity of transformation.  Additionally, if the person assumes the sex and gender identity of that which they have become, this sets the person within the generally accepted framework of binomial normalcy.  However, I think Warner would identify McCloskey as being ambivalent about her sex identity because she is like the new middle-class gays who don’t want to get involved in politics.  She has attained what she wants (to become a woman) and she has established herself within her field as an expert.  She no longer has to struggle to attain what she wants.  The same is true for the gays that Warner discusses in his book.  The old fights and struggles are a distant memory to the comfortable middle-class gays who have jobs and relationships without (much) fear of reprisal.  They have ambivalence about their gay identity that allows them the luxury to disregard part of that identity in order to make themselves more acceptable to the general public (who have opinions on what is “normal” and who have their opinions shaped by popular culture).

 

McCloskey’s memoirs bring up the issues of sexual shame and identity ambivalence that Warner describes in his book.  Deidre works against sexual shame during her transformation but she seems to give into identity ambivalence once she has attained her goal of becoming a woman.