Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Teaching College Writing, Assignment Design: Team-Based Competitive Blogging with Portfolio Integration, July 1, 2008

This is the fifty-second 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.

Before I could accept my teaching fellowship at Kent State University, I needed to take the graduate seminar, “Teaching College English.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take this class from Professor Brian Huot. At the time, I thought my primary concern was putting together my first syllabus, but through the seminar, I learned the importance of meeting student needs, considering outcomes, meeting students on the page, helping students improve their command of rhetoric and multimodality with a portfolio, and considering student work holistically (something that I continue to do with the Georgia Tech WCP’s WOVEN modalities and programmatic rubric).

In this first of four Recovered Writing posts from this seminar, I am sharing a project with support for portfolios. Since I wrote this project, technology and teaching have come a long way, but the ideas in this assignment can be repurposed in many different ways.

Also, I enjoyed looking at the attached screenshots of WordPress circa 2008. I miss the earlier design for WordPress.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Brian Huot

Teaching College English

1 July 2008

Competitive Team Blogging with Portfolio Integration

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BoingBoing crew photo by Bart Nagel, http://boingboing.net/2006/07/30/astronauts-reveal-bo.html

Introduction and Pedagogical Concerns

The five, seemingly innocuous persons in the photograph on the title page are the eccentric collaborative technoculture team of the insanely popular BoingBoing.net blog–“A Directory of Wonderful Things.”[1] They are Mark Frauenfelder, David Pescovitz, John Battelle, Cory Doctorow, and Xeni Jardin. BoingBoing.net began as a ‘zine in the 1990s by Frauenfelder, and later oozed online and evolved into the A-list blog that it is today. Through its various mediums–print, website, and blog–it has been a collaborative effort encompassing the various talents of different persons with complementary skills, abilities, and loves. Additionally, the collaboration of the “Boingers” is not only very synthetic, but also technically required in order to generate the copious content posted to their blog every day. Without this on-going large textual corpus, the popularity and repeat viewership of BoingBoing.net would not have been possible or sustainable.

I believe that BoingBoing’s collaborative blogging model has something to offer our students in an ever-increasingly technologically mediated world. Also, the writing aspect of blogging, which has been talked about in the literature by numerous persons, is a useful tool in the freshman composition and college writing classroom. Another important aspect of the blog is the archival aspect of blogging that lends itself as complementary to a portfolio centric writing classroom. However, team blogging necessitates some aspect to engender caring on the part of students in order to distinguish it as something more than merely writing online. This is achieved by forming groups to create a themed blog based on their major or interests, and requiring each team to report to the class as a whole on the “success” of the blog in terms of viewership and comments. This friendly competitive atmosphere will motivate students to work above-and-beyond in order to have better statistics than their rival groups. Therefore, team based blogging should be considered as another viable multimodal model for college writing courses, because it fulfills a number of important developmental tasks promoted by the Kent State Writing Program.

Competitive team blogging with portfolio integration for the College Writing I classroom is a pedagogical tool aimed at achieving several important goals: providing students a space and theme they are interested in, increasing student investment in a work that they “own” outside the context of the classroom, and improving teacher response by emphasizing explanation over marginal remarks, and embracing multimodal compositional practices by shifting student portfolios from physical media to the Internet.

The theory behind competitive team blogging is that students will care more about the creation, maintenance, and contribution to a collaborative work focused around something that interests them than artificial, individual assignments to be handed into the teacher. Their care for their blog and their writing posted to it will come with an audience larger than the class, department, and school. Reminding students of this broader audience, combined with their real-world data showing the origin of the viewers, should motivate them to work harder on this than assignments for a teacher-only audience.   Additionally, team blogs allow for all written work done by the student to be contained in an archive that’s always present, which encourages students to look back at past work, and more easily prepare revisions based on their own considerations and those provided by their team and the class as a whole.

This document on the implementation of competitive team blogging with portfolio integration contains a step-by-step methodology, a worksheet of topics to cover regarding collaborative blogging, a student handout on blogging and team blogging, and illustrated instructions on creating a collaborative blog with WordPress.com.[2] Additionally, this teaching tool is intended as a guide for teachers, and is aimed at that audience. Each teacher who implements team blogging should tailor its employment to his or her class. Obviously, this pedagogical tool would be much more difficult for someone with a 4/4 teaching load as opposed to a 1/2 teaching load. However, I encourage alterations to this project that makes it practical and meaningful for you and your students.

Methodology

  1. Introduce your students to your methodology and the reasons behind it. Be up-front and open with your students regarding competitive team blogging with portfolio integration. For example, tell them that they’ll be doing “team blogging” all semester, and maintain an emphasis on their contributions to their blogs throughout, and stand firm on the place of team blogging in the classroom. I don’t mean that you should not be a reflective practitioner, but the core idea of team blogging should be maintained and other alterations to lessons and assignments should be made if need be. Additionally, some students may or may not blog, and they may not be accustomed to extended teamwork. You’ll have to teach your students how to do these things, as well as teach them about other aspects of online content creation and commenting (these may be extended throughout the course).
  2. Gather student information. It’s expedient for the teacher undertaking the semester-length team blogging exercise to assign members to each of the groups. This is easily accomplished during the first week of class by requiring all students to email the teacher a numerated list of at least three interests or hobbies as well as their major. The teacher should tell the students the purpose of this exercise, and allow friends to request making their own team as long as they provide a convincing explanation for their team’s focus.
  3. Form teams. Following the gathering of student interests, form the class into four or five teams based on similar or complementary interests. Explain to the class that this will form the basis of their collaborative work over the course of the semester. Allow the students time to get to know one another, exchange contact information, and decide on the final theme and title for their team’s blog.
  4. Develop team roles. Have students review and write critiques or reports about popular collaborative blogging sites such as Gawker, Boing Boing, etc. before class. In class, open discussion about the purpose of blogs and the way in which collaborative blogs handle content creation from a number of authors. This means, guide them through understanding the roles of webmasters, editors, and content contributors. Finally, have the teams pick their first round of roles, which will alternate periodically throughout the semester in order to allow each member a chance to wear a different hat and experience different responsibilities.
  5. Create blogs. Devote a class in the computer classroom to guide the students through creating a collaborative blog with a free service such as wordpress.com (see Appendix 1 for instructions).
  6. Integrating blogs into the writing classroom. Non-graded individual assignments should be tailored as posts for the student’s team blog. If your class isn’t always in a computer classroom, require students to type up and post their handwritten class work before your next meeting.
  7. Building team competition. After four weeks of blogging, prepare your students for weekly group presentations. These presentations should be about five minutes in length for each team, so that no more than half a class is devoted to them. These presentations should include the following information: the editor’s choice of best post, the group’s choice of best post, site traffic numbers, and other interesting information such as incoming links and search terms visitors to their blog used to find their posts. Other ways of increasing competition is to offer prizes at the end of the semester for the best blog, and this can be decided by the teacher or by the class through the use of ranked voting (i.e., the class rates each team as either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc, and the team with the least amount of votes–meaning higher ranking–wins). Cheap prizes such as KSU keychains or t-shirts may be given to the winning team, or the teacher may solicit local businesses for donated giftcards.
  8. Team blog as portfolio. The fearless teacher combines portfolios with team blogs. This would entail having students post all of their assignments, including the required graded papers, to their team’s blog. The teacher may use the comments on those posts to leave feedback, encouragement, and critique on each student’s graded post. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to revise their papers in a new posting, which they must link back to their original post. At the end of the semester, each student must write a post that includes links to their last revisions, which in turn will link back to their earlier drafts. This nesting should facilitate easy evaluation of the portfolio assignments.
  9. Reflective Assignment. For your students’ reflective assignment, they should reflect on the blogging process as well as the writing process that you model for them throughout the semester. They will realize that they will have produced an extraordinary amount of material individually and even more so cooperatively through semester-long blogging, which will add to their developing sense as a writer.

Topics of Discussion Regarding Collaborative Blogging

  • How is online content created? It isn’t “automagically” generated by machines. Real people, with real investments in what is being communicated, are behind the text that you read on your favorite blogs.
  • Online etiquette and protocol. Encourage openness and cooperation and warn against flaming. Even though our blog writing exists out in the Internet cloud, a human being created it, and we must respect the person behind that content. It’s okay to disagree and constructively argue with a writer about his or her content, but it’s not okay to attack the person behind the writing.
  • Team roles. Talk about the differences between the roles of editor and contributors. Encourage group cohesion and support. The editor’s role is not to discourage team members, but instead to encourage them. Additionally, all team members should comment on and provide support for the other members.
  • Intergroup roles. Members of each group should be required to comment on the postings of the other groups. These comments need not be about the content of the postings, but more importantly the ideas and argument communicated by the post’s writer to an online audience.
  • Citations and plagiarism. As in traditional writing, all works and sources should be cited in blog posts. WordPress has a quoting feature, and BoingBoing.net has a good model to follow regarding proper attribution.

Handout for Students

Team Blogging

So, what’s blogging exactly?

Blogging is the maintenance of an online journal, available for all to read, that reflects on your life or a particular subject. For example, I’m a blogger. I maintain a blog about Science Fiction at dynamicsubspace.net. Each day, I write something relating to SF, teaching, or my personal life. Another example is boingboing.net, which is billed as “A Directory of Wonderful Things.” It’s run by several bloggers who post about interesting, political, and fun things that they find on the Internet.

You’re Blogging Now!

Team blogging is the basis for the most popular blogs on the net. Boing Boing, Slashfilm, Gawker, Valleywag, Slashdot, and many others write enormous amounts of content for their readers, because the task of writing is distributed amongst a number of contributors and administered by an editor. Over the course of the semester, each of you will get to experience the different roles in team blogging by developing your own blog in groups. Your team blogs will have a theme or subject that all members will tailor their writing towards. Also, everyone will post their assignments on the team blogs for your peers and I to read and respond to. I want you to own these blogs, so make as much of them as you can for a particular audience with an interest in your theme. To make things more interesting, everyone will have a chance at the end of the semester to vote on the best blog, and that team will get a prize!

I guarantee you that at the end of the semester you won’t believe how much you’ve each written, and how much you’ve progressed as writers. Furthermore, your blogs will explode with content that will interest many more people than students and myself.

Creating a Collaborative Blog with WordPress.com

  1. Sign Up Now! Direct your web browser to wordpress.com and click on the large icon labeled, Sign Up Now!
    image003
  1. Have one student create the blog’s administrator account using the Gimme a blog! option, and then have each team member go through the signup process with the Just a username, please option.image005
  2. Login to WordPress.com using the blog’s administrator account. The pages that follow are from my blog’s Dashboard—dynamicsubspace.net.image007
  3. Click on My Dashboard (upper left). This is the heart of the blog where all management takes place. Now, click on Users (right) to invite the individual team members to the blog.image009
  4. The Manage Users area allows for adding contributors to the blog. At the bottom of the page, have the teams invite each member by their registered email address. Add everyone as Editor so that they can serve that function when called on, as well as contribute to the blog.image011
  5. Now that the housekeeping stuff has been taken care of, have the students log out of the administrator account, making sure to write down that information in a safe place, and log in with their own accounts. Once logged in, have them click on Write and begin exploring the text editing capabilities of WordPress.image013
  6. The Blog Stats are essential for team reflection on the progress and audience of their blog. Returning to “My Dashboard” and clicking on Manage, and then Blog Stats yields a wealth of information about the blog’s readers. This information should be utilized in the weekly team update reports. The graphic below shows the number of visitors over time.image015
  7. Blog Stats continued. These stat boxes show referrers to the blog and the most visited posts on the blog.image017
  8. Blog Stats continued. These stat boxes show search engine terms that lead visitors to the team’s blog, and clicks made by readers from their blog to external sites.image021
  9. Blog Stats continued. At the bottom of the statistics page are raw numbers of views and posts, and incoming links to their blog from other websites and blogs.
  10. Design considerations and other explorations. Encourage your students to try out different themes (My Dashboard > Design > Themes) and other design considerations that reinforce their rhetorical choices.image023
  11. Have students reflect on their own work as well as the work of others in class and on the Internet at large. Who knows, maybe they’ll develop the next “Boing Boing” success level team blog!image025

 

 

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Methods in the Study of Literature, Project 5/5, The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik Publishable Essay, December 10, 2008

This is the fifty-first 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.

If I had to pick one seminar at Kent State University as being the most important to my shifting my thinking and rigor into running gear, it would have to be Professor Tammy Clewell’s Methods in the Study of Literature class. Methods is the introductory class that all PhD students have to take. Each year, a different faculty member teaches this class, and I am glad that the planets aligned for me to take this class from Professor Clewell. My joy for taking this class derives from Professor Clewell’s laser-beam accurate and calmly delivered criticisms. She expected rigor in our work, but she delivered her appraisals and commentary kindly. There was no malace in her demeanor—only the daily expectation of meticulousness, demonstration of preparedness, and application of theory. Her candor about higher education and the challenges of scholarship were eye-opening and appreciated. I was very happy to take another class from Professor Clewell the following year and even more so when she agreed to lead my postmodern theory exam and join my dissertation committee. For all of her efforts teaching, advising, and advocating, I am eternally grateful.

This is the final Recovered Writing post from Professor Clewell’s Methods seminar. Each post is one project from the seminar. They should be considered parts of a semester-long process of entering professional discourse. These are attempts at learning, arguing, and improving. The culmination of this work is the fifth project/post in this subseries—a publishable-length essay, “The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.”

With additional feedback from Professor Clewell and seminar members, I continued my research and expanded my conference length paper into this publishable length essay included below. While all five parts should be seen together as a constellation of my progress in the class, this longer essay is the final deliverable of that very formative period in the Kent State PhD program. I shopped it around, but I decided instead to publish it as-is as a part of this seminar series of Recovered Writing on dynamicsubspace.net.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Tammy Clewell

Methods in the Study of Literature

10 Dec. 2008

The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Ubik has generated a significant amount of discussion in the thirty-eight years following its initial publication in 1969. Much of this criticism avoids rigorous examination of gender roles in the text, particularly the roles of women. For example, Brian McHale includes the novel as an emblematic example of New Wave Science Fiction (SF) that represents, “SF and postmodernist mainstream fiction [becoming] one another’s contemporaries, aesthetically as well as chronologically, with each finally beginning to draw on the current phase of the other, rather than on some earlier and now dated phase” (228). Patricia Warrick most lucidly describes the postmodern aspects of Ubik in her textual and biographical analysis of the novel in which she says:

The power of Ubik…lies in Dick’s perfect yoking of content and form. He is writing of entropy, of a time when things fall apart, when death begins to eat at social structures and at the individuals who live in society, and he uses a form that is itself decayed and nearly worn out. He writes of the struggle between order and entropy, and the form becomes the content. (146)

Beneath the level of form creating content, most of the discussion involving the novel primarily involves economics and class structures. Darko Suvin argues for an elaborate structure to Dick’s writing periods by studying his, “use of characters as narrative foci and as indicators of upper and lower social classes or power statuses” (par. 2). Fredric Jameson continues the discussion on Ubik with a Marxist analysis, and he notes Dick’s postmodern dissolution of history when he writes, “Consider Dick’s capacity to render history. Consumer society, media society, “the society of the spectacle,” late capitalism–whatever one wants to call his moment–is striking in its loss of a sense of the historical past and of historical futures” (346). However, these analyses stop short of any sustained commentary and critique of gender in the text. Peter Fitting tacitly engages this when he writes, “Ubik is…a deconstruction of the metaphysical ideologies and the metaphysical formal implications of the classical bourgeois novel” (par. 14). His critique of the “metaphysical formal implications of the classical bourgeois novel” has to do with the nature of reality and linear time rather than other aspects of the bourgeois novel replicating and reinforcing accepted gender roles. Christopher Palmer talks about sex and sexuality, but only in terms of male sexual fulfillment. He connects sex to consumer advertising when he writes, “Joe Chip’s quest for sexual pleasure strikes us as grubby in the circumstances of Ubik, and anyway is continually frustrated…The implication seems to be that one can find Ubik–which is simultaneously a deity; the ultimate, shiny, and wonder-working, but insubstantial consumer product; and the promise evanescently behind every consumer product. But sexual satisfaction is not to be had” (57). My question then is for whom is that satisfaction intended? In this reading, the answer seems to be for men, which promotes patriarchic hegemony. Ubik becomes a story for and about men as well as men’s “needs.” Yes, there are women, but they are made subservient to the needs of men and the narrative progression centering on the favored narrators: Joe Chip, and his employer, Glen Runciter. Krista Kasdorf’s recent work brings us one step closer to investigating female subjectivity in Ubik through an analysis of thermodynamic entropy in Dick’s novel and Pamela Zoline’s 1967 feminist SF short story, “The Heat Death of the Universe.” Kasdorf, extending the metaphor of entropy to women, writes, “the young attractive women of Ubik can be combined into one type based on function instead of merely by physical description–they are the Maxwell’s demons of the text, and their usefulness is determined by their willingness to expend energy for men” (39). Despite the intriguing aspects of her argument about the function of women in Ubik, I disagree with her reductionist argument to combine the “young attractive women” into one type. Things are more complicated than that within the text. Instead, I argue that the individual representations of the women in Ubik serves as a more useful model to critique and understand gender roles within the novel and their replication and commentary on the real world–historically or in the here-and-now. Therefore, the question stands: How does Dick (re)present women in Ubik, and what does that representation mean?

To answer this question, Joanna Russ’ significant Second Wave Feminist (2WF) essay from 1974, “The Image of Women in Science Fiction,” serves as an important starting point to engage Ubik and its representation of women. Her essay is published only five years after Ubik, and one year before her own groundbreaking New Wave SF work, The Female Man. In the essay, Russ argues that the majority of SF lacks an imaginative extrapolation of sex, gender, and sexuality. She summarizes her paper by writing:

            The title I chose for this essay was “The Image of Women in Science Fiction.” I hesitated between that and “Women in Science Fiction” but if I had chosen the latter, there would have been very little to say.

There are plenty of images of women in science fiction.

There are hardly any women. (Russ 57)

For Russ, “images of women” lack, “speculation about the personality differences between men and women, about family structure, about sex, in short about gender roles” (54). Instead of imagining gender roles other than those rooted in the past or present, she finds that what’s often generated is, “the American middle class with a little window dressing” (54). However, there are some examples of extrapolation that require biological oddities or reengineering rather than a re-imagining of the interaction between men and women in a future space.

For all the literary experimentation as well as critiques of capitalism and subjective experiential reality in Ubik, women are subjected and subordinated to male hegemony through the reinforcement of “images of women.” I don’t agree with the way the text reinforces these images, but it is essential to uncover and analyze these images as part of a feminist reading. This reading will determine whether these images of women are a reinforcement of male hegemony or a commentary on the feminist struggles during 2WF.

There are several aspects of images of women in Ubik. First, all of the women, save one briefly in chapter five, are subordinated to narration and internal dialog of the favored male protagonists. Without a deeper, psychological voice, the women characters are flattened into images. They lack the depth of their male counterparts. Second, the women are immediately identified by physical appearance and sexual attributes, most notably through the characters Ella Runciter, Pat Conley, and Wendy Wright. And third, the women are literally miscounted in relation to male characters–more on this later.

Ella Runciter, like the other female characters in Ubik, is constructed as a mere image, because she is presented and restrained by the sexualized descriptions of her body and sexual desirability. Her full name, revealed in the penultimate chapter, is Ella Hyde Runciter. She is framed as the perpetually twenty-year-old dead wife of Glen Runciter. Also, her first name, Ella, sounds like a child’s name, possibly derived from Stella, Isabella, or perhaps whimsically, Cinderella. Her maiden name, Hyde, brings up two questions: Is she hiding from the real world in half-life, or does male authority, signified by her husband, hide her away from the world through the masculinized half-life technology provided by the Beloved Brethren Moratorium?

There are two “encounters” with Ella in Ubik, and each is loaded with physical images of the character, revealing her subjection to male hegemony. The first appearance of Ella takes place in chapter two, when Glen visits her at the half-life moratorium to speak with her on dire business matters. She is described as, “upright in her transparent casket, encased in an effluvium of icy mist…with her eyes shut, her hands lifted permanently toward her impassive face. It had been three years since he had seen Ella, and of course she had not changed. She never would, now, at least in the outward physical way” (Dick 11). Ella is described most effectively as Runciter’s “dead wife,” because she is encased in a casket, with her hands posed just-so in relation to her “impassive face.” The casket conceals her “pretty and light-skinned” body, and her closed eyelids cover her “bright and luminous blue” eyes (Dick 12). Additionally, her “impassive face” indicates that she lacks agency on the real world. Runciter chooses when to visit with Ella, without any apparent way for Ella to request or demand an audience with her husband who hasn’t visited her in three years. In terms of her appearance to someone inhabiting the real world, she cannot change “in the outward physical way,” further reinforcing her lack of dynamism, choice, and ultimately, future in the real.

Ella, in the moratorium described above, and in the world of half-life, is a character constantly seen rather than seeing. Dick describes Ella very differently in the next-to-last chapter, when a dying and increasingly sexually frustrated Joe Chip, riding in a cab, spots Ella walking along the sidewalk. The narration illustrates her as a “girl” with a “slow, easy gait,” “window-shopping,” and she’s “a pretty girl, with gay blond pigtails, wearing an unbuttoned sweater over her blouse, a bright red skirt and high-heeled little shoes” (Dick 203). In two sentences she’s described as a “girl,” despite her twenty years, and her body is eroticized by the juxtaposition of “gay blond pigtails,” implying youth, and her adult attire modified by the words: unbuttoned, bright red, and little.

Ella is made more of an objectified image when Chip learns her identity, and exclaims, “You’re the other one…Jory destroying us, you trying to help us. Behind you there’s no one, just as there’s no one behind Jory. I’ve reached the last entities involved” (Dick 206). Chip objectifies her doubly, first as a sexual object with “gay blond pigtails,” and now, as an “entity.” She responds to Chip by saying, “I don’t think of myself as an ‘entity’; I usually think of myself as Ella Runciter,” to which Joe adds, “but it’s true” (Dick 206). Granted, there is a sarcastic element to Ella’s response, but nevertheless, it’s interesting that she “usually [thinks] of [herself] as Ella Runciter,” than knowing and claiming herself as a female subject. Also, her agreeing with Chip, further implicates herself in her own objectification as an “entity” and not a human subject. Instead of a female subject, or a human being, she is reduced to existence as an “entity.” An entity usually refers to a thing, rather than a person. This is an objectified labeling by the favored male narrator enforcing the real world’s male hegemony on Ella within the psychological, dream-like world of half-life, which in a sense, is an even more despicable enterprise considering that her psyche is undermined in addition to her body.

The final aspect of Ella’s creation as an “image” rather than a woman comes when she reveals her plan to Chip about his future in half-life. She tells him, “I have a very selfish, practical reason for assisting you, Mr. Chip; I want you to replace me. I want to have someone whom Glen can ask for advice and assistance, whom he can lean on” (Dick 206). This seemingly innocuous scheme reveals the facsimile nature of Ella’s existence. She pointedly tells Chip that she wants him to replace her. Granted, she’s nearing her point of departure from half-life into rebirth, but the straight-faced manner in which she delivers this plan indicates that her role as provider of Ubik and advice, as well as role as wife, is interchangeable. Her being an interchangeable image or part further serves to objectify her as merely a “cog in the male dominated machine.” Furthermore, no one is suggesting that Chip be swapped out for one of the female characters. Despite her youthful, sexualized entrance on the stage of half-life, her plan for replacement eliminates any other desires whether they are personal fulfillment, sexual, or otherwise. Therefore, she, by this admission of replacement, relinquishes any possibility of human subjectivity and she is laid bare as an “image of women in science fiction.”

Considering Ella as an “image of women in science fiction,” is there the possibility of a redemptive reading of Ubik? Reading Ella as a cyborg as defined by Donna Haraway has the potential for interpreting her image in the novel. Haraway defines a cyborg as, “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149). Ella is transformed through the technological mediation of her body on cold-pac life support, and the audial technology that facilitates the conversion of her thoughts into voice, and a live speaker’s voice into thought–what Runciter calls, “impediments to natural communication” (Dick 12). She is a “hybrid of machine and organism,” because her life and interaction with the real world is made possible and mediated by technology. Additionally, Ella is repeatedly referred to as a machine in need of “[cranking] up” and Runciter fears she’s “worn out” (Dick 7 and 12). Through her life encased in cold-pac, as her being seen as a body within a casket, she is termed more machine than human. The hybridization of half-life as being between life and death, mirrors Ella’s own hybridity of flesh and machine. Furthermore, Ella’s subjectivity as a cyborg is, in Haraway’s terms, “a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century” (149). This reading of the image of women in Ubik reveals something about the acceptance and reinforcement of stereotyped gender roles in culture perpetuated by works of SF.

In the preceding examples, Ella is represented as an image and not a realized subject with her own voice. Connected to her image is the sexual language surrounding her cyborg encapsulation in half-life. Haraway points out that, “far from signaling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight couplings” (152). Nothing could be further from the truth in Ubik. Half-lifers’ intermingle minds and experiences through a shared hallucinatory experience. Unfortunately, this facilitates what the moratorium owner describes as, others “may have gotten into her because of her weakened state. She’s accessible to almost anyone” (Dick 18). The phrases “gotten into her” and “she’s accessible to almost anyone” are sexually laden and imply rape, particularly considering the “getting into her” involved an adolescent boy. Therefore, Ella’s cyborg subjectivity is more of a disturbing bodily nightmare than a political space of “pleasurably tight couplings.”

Another significant image of women in Ubik is the character Wendy Wright. Unlike Ella, Wendy is Runciter’s employee, which places her in a subordinated position in relation to the male corporate head. Additionally, she’s bound to the organization through her wages in order to exist in the future coin-operated world and “tyranny of the homeostatic machine” (Dick 81-82). As an employee, Wendy’s particular inertial ability isn’t described as it is with the majority of the other members of the team, which weakens her position as an active participant in the team’s mission to the moon. Also, her name is significant. Like Ella, Wendy is a childish name, derived from Gwendolyn and reportedly first used as a girl’s name in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904). Her last name, Wright, is phonetically the same as “right.” This, along with Chip’s desire for Wendy might be what leads him later to say, “You know who I feel like talking to?…Wendy Wright. She’ll know what to do. I value her opinion. Why is that? I wonder. I barely know her” (Dick 90). However, Chip’s not knowing a woman very well is irrelevant to his male patriarchal objectification. She fits into a mold he created in his mind for the ideal woman, and within that role, she’s made to be the image that Chip wants.

Wendy’s objectification by Chip is best illustrated in an important passage in chapter five. In addition, the passage frames Wendy as the token Marilyn Monroe actress/character/persona on Runciter’s team to the moon. The narration presents Wendy in the following way:

As always, when the opportunity arose, Joe took a long, astute look at the girl whom, if he could have managed it, he would have had as his mistress, or, even better, his wife. It did not seem possible that Wendy Wright had been born out of blood and internal organs like other people. In proximity to her he felt himself to be a squat, oily, sweating, uneducated nurt whose stomach rattled and whose breath wheezed. Near her he became aware of the physical mechanisms which kept him alive; within him machinery, pipes and valves and gas-compressors and fan belts had to chug away at a losing task, a labor ultimately doomed. Seeing her face, he discovered that his own consisted of a garish mask; noticing her body made him feel like a low-class windup toy. All her colors possessed a subtle quality, indirectly lit. Her eyes, those green and tumbled stones, looked impassively at everything; he had never seen fear in them, or aversion, or contempt. What she saw she accepted. Generally she seemed calm. But more than that she struck him as being durable, untroubled and cool, not subject to wear, or to fatigue, or to physical illness and decline. Probably she was twenty-five or -six, but he could not imagine her looking younger, and certainly she would never look older. She had too much control over herself and outside reality for that. (Dick 58-59)

In this passage, there is a confluence of order and entropy. Wendy represents order through eternal, idealized femininity. Juxtaposed with Wendy, Joe is made aware, through his desire for this woman he idealizes, that he has a mere mortal body with processes that “had to chug away at a losing task, a labor ultimately doomed.” Part of being a human subject is the fact that death is a part of life. For Joe, Wendy is removed from the reality of death, and therefore, is a mere image, like the nymph or fairy–removed from time, and from a subjective reality of agency. In this way, Wendy’s beauty, as seen through Chip’s gaze, puts her in a casket much like that of Ella Runciter. Ella’s half-life existence removes her from agency in the real world, much like Chip’s objectification of Wendy creates a statue-like immortality. In fact, Wendy is very much described the same way as Ella in that Wendy, “looked impassively at everything.” Chip doesn’t want to join with her in a union of equality, but rather, he saw her as a, “girl whom, if he could have managed it, he would have had as his mistress, or, even better, his wife.” Therefore, Wendy is boxed into an eternal ideal as if she were already encased in cold-pac like Ella Runciter. This aspect of the novel is particularly disturbing in that wives of the choosing of the male protagonists are framed through the glass window of cold-pac and half-life existence. They are refused subjectivity so that they may be acted on explicitly by males, supposedly active in the real world.

Wendy’s image of immortality and unchanging womanhood in the early part of the novel contrasts heavily with her reaction to the explosion on the moon, and her ultimate dissolution as an image/character. During their anti-climatic escape from the moon base, Wendy asks Chip why Pat Conley didn’t use her time traveling ability to obviate the detonation. This interrogation on her part is the one act attributable to her person, but the only result is Pat laughing in her face. Wendy’s powers are negative and therefore, non-active on the world. She has to go to someone else, in this case, another woman, to act on the world. This reinforces Wendy’s powerlessness as a woman in the world of Ubik, and it questions Pat’s motivations and desires, which I will turn to later.

Juxtaposed with Wendy’s image of woman as constructed by Chip is the bodily effects that transform her following the detonation on the moon. Wendy is the first of the team to vocalize the entropic changes taking place on their bodies, which contrasts with Chip’s belief that, “Probably she was twenty-five or -six, but he could not imagine her looking younger, and certainly she would never look older. She had too much control over herself and outside reality for that” (Dick 59). In the face of Chip’s fantasy, Wendy questions and reports, “Did it age us? I feel old. I am old; your package of cigarettes is old; we’re all old, as of today, because of what has happened. This was a day for us like no other” (Dick 75). The ever youthful image of Wendy is shattered by her realization that “I feel old. I am old.” However, Chip doesn’t respond to Wendy’s epiphany, which indicates that he’s unwilling to acknowledge that his position as part of privileged male patriarchy with its benefit of creating desired objects is challenged by a potential female subject.

Wendy’s potential as a female subject is never realized within Ubik. Instead, her death reinforces her image-ness. In the morning after Al Hammond tells Chip that he’ll convince Wendy to sleep with him in his hotel room, Chip awakes to an empty room. Investigating after the moratorium’s owner arrives, they find something in the closet:

On the floor of the closet a huddled heap, dehydrated, almost mummified, lay curled up. Decaying shreds of what seemingly had once been cloth covered most of it, as if it had, by degrees, over a long period of time, retracted into what remained of its garments. Bending, he turned it over. It weighed only a few pounds; at the push of his hand its limbs folded out into thin bony extensions that rustled like paper. Its hair seemed enormously long; wiry and tangled, the black cloud of hair obscured its face. he crouched, not moving, not wanted to see who it was. (Dick 99)

Repeatedly, the body is referred to as “it.” Chip resists identifying the body, because that would connect the “huddled heap” with a flesh and blood person. Eventually, “he stared silently…at the shriveled, heat-darkened little face. And knew who this was. With difficulty he recognized her.

Wendy Wright” (Dick 100). The “shriveled, heat-darkened little face” is the only identifying feature with which to connect this ashen body with the once entropy-evading ideal called Wendy Wright. In some ways, Chip accepts her death as the burning coal of his revenge on the entropic forces acting upon him and the others. Unfortunately, Chip’s attempts at indiscretion with prostitutes in Des Moines eradicates any possibility that he actually cared for Wendy. She’s made into another image of women that can be discarded and forgotten. Thus, Wendy is denied, like Ella, any possibility as a desiring subject by a favored male protagonist. Furthermore, she’s idealized as a desired object, and anything outside those boundaries, obviates her and another form of patriarchy, Jory, devours/burns her alive.

Through Ella Runciter and Wendy Wright, women are constructed images rather than realized human subjects. Ella is encased in cyborg enhancing cold-pac, silent to the real world, and unable to act beyond the veil of glass covering her face. Wendy is a pin-up girl among Runciter’s team of inertials, lusted after by the male protagonist, and unable to live up to the ideal of her constructed image. A third, and much more problematic image in Ubik, is Pat Conley. Pat is a desired object, and not a desiring subject. However, she employs her desirability to manipulate the men that would otherwise control her. In this way, she does attain a certain subjectivity. Yet, whatever gains she makes as a sadistic manipulator of men, she looses in the end when she is devoured like the others by the half-life presence of the fifteen-year-old boy, Jory.

Pat’s image is fashioned early in the novel when a psionic talent scout tells Joe Chip that she’s a “sweet number,” and after his first gaze on her, he thinks to himself, “My god…she’s beautiful” (Dick 21, 24). Then, the narrator describes Pat:

She wore an ersatz canvas workshirt and jeans, heavy boots caked with what appeared to be authentic mud. Her tangle of shiny hair was tied back and knotted with a red bandanna. Her rolled-up sleeves showed tanned, competent arms. At her imitation leather belt she carried a knife, a field-telephone unit and an emergency pack of rations and water. On her bare, dark forearm he made out a tattoo. CAVEAT EMPTOR, it read. (Dick 24-25)

First, it’s interesting that the adjective “ersatz” is employed in relation to Pat. Besides the obvious connection to her fake “canvas workshirt,” it doubly points to her body beneath the shirt. This, combined with her tattoo, “CAVEAT EMPTOR,” implies a warning regarding her being not genuine. Furthermore, her not being genuine suggests a copy or image like quality to her being. This combined with the men’s gaze generating a desired object results in Pat’s being initially constructed as an image of women.

Relying on the previous passage, it’s intriguing that Pat’s image is described in masculine terms. First, her name is androgynous, and it’s only later that the reader sees Pat introduced as “Patricia,” and that’s in an alternative reality created by her in which she’s married to Joe Chip. As “Pat,” she is a masculinized image of women with work clothes, “hair…tied back and knotted with a red bandanna,” “rolled-up sleeves,” “tanned, competent arms,” and her having a tattoo. She evokes the image of Norman Rockwell’s painting, Rosie the Riveter, albeit without the halo. As an image of women, she’s set apart from the other, more feminine female characters in the text, which includes Ella and Wendy. She has a masculine physique and a laborer’s job as a maintenance person on the “subsurface vidphone lines in the Topeka Kibbutz,” where, “Only women can hold jobs involving manual labor” (Dick 25-26). In light of these revelations, she appears to be a female subject from a Jewish collective community that inverts predominant male patriarchal norms from the era of 2WF. Therefore, Pat appears to be a female subject that problematizes male/female roles and challenges male patriarchy.

However, Pat’s challenge to male patriarchy doesn’t remove her status as desired object, because she is never revealed as a desiring subject. If she is shown to be desiring, it’s a desiring of emasculating males (e.g., assuming Chip’s debt, and making up new house rules while essentially performing a striptease in front of him), and taking a sadistic pleasure in observing men in pain (e.g., watching Chip ascend the stairs in Des Moines while entropic forces are breaking down his body and not making any attempt to help him) (Dick 32-34, 170-179). She makes Chip the object of her delight in regards to inflicting pain, or observing pain. For these examples, she inverts the desired object/desiring subject dynamic, albeit only temporarily. Her gains as a desiring subject (i.e., one who desires to invert male patriarchy) are quickly lost when she leaves Chip on the stairs. She’s eventually consumed by Jory, the fifteen-year-old boy who’s actually orchestrating the strange affairs in half-life that Chip and his team are experiencing. Jory tells Chip during their first showdown, “I ate her out in the hall by the elevator.” There’s the literal reading that Jory devoured Pat, but another reading is that he “ate her out” in the sexual sense of cunnilingus. On the one hand, this would imply a male giving a female oral sexual pleasure, but this is made gross and potentially painful considering Jory’s “Gray, shabby teeth,” “grubby tongue,” and “great shovel teeth” (Dick 196, 198). The twist for Pat is that she believes that it was her powers facilitating the entropic deaths of the others as well as the temporal reversion from 1992 to 1939. However, these actions took place on the will of the male boy, and his implied adolescent sexual subjugation of others via his devouring oral fixation. Jory represents a sort of mega-male patriarchy in that all half-lifers represent desired objects for him, the only desiring subject. His status as desiring subject pulls the rug out from beneath Pat’s subjectivity, because the impetus behind her desiring is removed as she herself is consumed by the entropic heat death experienced by the others.

To conclude, it appears that images of women in Ubik just don’t count. This is alarmingly illustrated by a mathematical error in chapter four. It begins with Runciter gazing about his office, and thinking, “And so it went: five females and–he counted–five males. Someone was missing” (Dick 57). Prior to this, four female characters are named in the office: Edie Dorn, Tippy Jackson, Francesca Spanish, and Wendy Wright, as well six males. Also, he only pauses to count the men (albeit incorrectly). Following the passage above, the narration continues, “Ahead of Joe Chip the smoldering, brooding girl, Patricia Conley, entered. That made the eleventh; the group had all appeared” (Dick 57). Pat Conley increases the number of female inertials to five, whereas in the incorrect count, there should be six female inertials. Instead, there is an unacknowledged weighting of inertials towards men. This undocumented mistake or purposeful inclusion begs the question: Do women in Ubik really count? Ella Runciter’s loss of agency as a half-lifer would indicate no. Wendy Wright’s claim as the first of the team to die a lonely, accelerated entropic death further demonstrates this. And, Pat Conley’s false belief of destroying Runciter’s team with the use of her time traveling psionic power also implies the inability of women to act on the strange world of Ubik. Therefore, these images of women lack signification afforded to (male) human subjects caught in the subjective postmodern world Dick (re)creates in Ubik, and reinforces what Russ decried as the “cultural stereotype” of “masculinity equals power and femininity equals powerlessness” (55).

A feminist reading of this text in regard to Russ’ concept of “images of women in Science Fiction” can be problematic. On the one hand, there’s the reading that this novel absolutely objectifies women and does so in particularly demeaning ways. Essentially, they are formulated as nothing more than parts in a male dominated machine, easy to replace, and ready to serve. However, my reading of the text holds that the images of women in Ubik are commentary on Dick’s historical present within New Wave SF and more importantly, 2WF. This is evidenced by his later work, particularly the fully realized female subject, Angel Archer, in his last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982). Ubik, and Dick’s other novels, are deserving of further attention regarding gender roles, and I believe that there is much more to say about the interrelationships of gender and capitalism that, unfortunately, I could not address in the scope of this paper.

Works Cited

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Dick, Philip K. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.

—. Ubik. New York: Doubleday, 1969.

Fitting, Peter. “Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/fitting5art.htm&gt;.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-181.

Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

Kasdorf, Krista. “Ubiquitous Entropy and Heat Death in Philip K. Dick and Pamela Zoline.” Thesis. Florida Atlantic University, 2006. Proquest/UMI Microform 1435298.

McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Palmer, Christopher. Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2003.

Rockwell, Norman. Rosie the Riveter. 1943. Private collection. 2 December 2007 <http://www.artchive.com/artchive/R/rockwell/rockwell_rosie.jpg.html&gt;.

Russ, Joanna. “The Image of Women in Science Fiction.” Vertex 1.6 (Feb 1974): 53-57.

—. The Female Man. New York: Bantam Book, 1975.

Suvin, Darko. “P.K. Dick’s Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View.” Science Fiction Studies 2:22 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/suvin5art.htm&gt;.

Warrick, Patricia S. Mind in Motion: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Methods in the Study of Literature, Project 4/5, The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik Conference Paper, November 29, 2008

This is the fiftieth 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.

If I had to pick one seminar at Kent State University as being the most important to my shifting my thinking and rigor into running gear, it would have to be Professor Tammy Clewell’s Methods in the Study of Literature class. Methods is the introductory class that all PhD students have to take. Each year, a different faculty member teaches this class, and I am glad that the planets aligned for me to take this class from Professor Clewell. My joy for taking this class derives from Professor Clewell’s laser-beam accurate and calmly delivered criticisms. She expected rigor in our work, but she delivered her appraisals and commentary kindly. There was no malace in her demeanor—only the daily expectation of meticulousness, demonstration of preparedness, and application of theory. Her candor about higher education and the challenges of scholarship were eye-opening and appreciated. I was very happy to take another class from Professor Clewell the following year and even more so when she agreed to lead my postmodern theory exam and join my dissertation committee. For all of her efforts teaching, advising, and advocating, I am eternally grateful.

This is the fourth of five Recovered Writing posts from Professor Clewell’s Methods seminar. Each post is one project from the seminar. They should be considered parts of a semester-long process of entering professional discourse. These are attempts at learning, arguing, and improving. The culmination of this work is the fifth project/post in this subseries—a publishable-length essay, “The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.”

While my third project’s argument was a complete disaster, the feedback that I received on it enabled me to find a better approach supported by a stronger argument and more persuasive evidence in the fourth project. I went through three drafts before arriving at the conference-length paper included below.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Tammy Clewell

Methods in the Study of Literature

29 Nov. 2008

The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Ubik has generated a significant amount of discussion in the thirty-eight years following its initial publication in 1969. Brian McHale includes the novel as an emblematic example of New Wave Science Fiction (SF) that represents, “SF and postmodernist mainstream fiction [becoming] one another’s contemporaries, aesthetically as well as chronologically, with each finally beginning to draw on the current phase of the other, rather than on some earlier and now dated phase” (228). Patricia Warrick most lucidly describes the postmodern aspects of Ubik in her textual and biographical analysis of the novel in which she says:

The power of Ubik…lies in Dick’s perfect yoking of content and form. He is writing of entropy, of a time when things fall apart, when death begins to eat at social structures and at the individuals who live in society, and he uses a form that is itself decayed and nearly worn out. He writes of the struggle between order and entropy, and the form becomes the content. (146)

Beneath the level of form creating content, most of the discussion involving the novel primarily involves economics and class structures. Darko Suvin argues for an elaborate structure to Dick’s writing periods by studying his, “use of characters as narrative foci and as indicators of upper and lower social classes or power statuses” (par. 2). Fredric Jameson continues the discussion on Ubik with a Marxist analysis, and he notes Dick’s postmodern dissolution of history when he writes, “Consider Dick’s capacity to render history. Consumer society, media society, “the society of the spectacle,” late capitalism–whatever one wants to call his moment–is striking in its loss of a sense of the historical past and of historical futures” (346). However, these analyses stop short of any sustained commentary and critique of gender in the text. Peter Fitting tacitly engages this when he writes, “Ubik is…a deconstruction of the metaphysical ideologies and the metaphysical formal implications of the classical bourgeois novel” (par. 14). His critique of the “metaphysical formal implications of the classical bourgeois novel” has to do with the nature of reality and linear time rather than other aspects of the bourgeois novel replicating and reinforcing accepted gender roles. Christopher Palmer talks about sex and sexuality, but only in terms of male sexual fulfillment. He connects sex to consumer advertising when he writes, “Joe Chip’s quest for sexual pleasure strikes us as grubby in the circumstances of Ubik, and anyway is continually frustrated…The implication seems to be that one can find Ubik–which is simultaneously a deity; the ultimate, shiny, and wonder-working, but insubstantial consumer product; and the promise evanescently behind every consumer product. But sexual satisfaction is not to be had” (57). My question then is for whom is that satisfaction intended? In this reading, the answer clearly is for men, thus promoting patriarchic hegemony. Ubik becomes a story for and about men as well as men’s “needs.” Yes, there are women, but they are made subservient to the needs of men and the narrative progression centering on the favored narrators: Joe Chip, and his employer, Glen Runciter. Krista Kasdorf’s recent work brings us one step closer to investigating female subjectivity in Ubik through an analysis of thermodynamic entropy in Dick’s novel and Pamela Zoline’s 1967 feminist SF short story, “The Heat Death of the Universe.” Kasdorf, extending the metaphor of entropy to women, writes, “the young attractive women of Ubik can be combined into one type based on function instead of merely by physical description–they are the Maxwell’s demons of the text, and their usefulness is determined by their willingness to expend energy for men” (39). Despite the intriguing aspects of her argument about the function of women in Ubik, I disagree with her reductionist argument to combine the “young attractive women” into one type. Instead, I argue that the individual representations of the women in Ubik serves as a more useful model to critique and understand gender roles within the novel and their replication and commentary on the real world–historically or in the here-and-now. Therefore, the question stands: How does Dick (re)present women in Ubik, and what does that representation mean?

To answer this question, Joanna Russ’ significant Second Wave Feminist essay from 1974, “The Image of Women in Science Fiction,” serves as an important starting point to engage Ubik and its representation of women. Her essay is published only five years after Ubik, and one year before her own groundbreaking New Wave SF work, The Female Man. In the essay, Russ argues that the majority of SF lacks an imaginative extrapolation of sex, gender, and sexuality. She summarizes her paper by writing:

The title I chose for this essay was “The Image of Women in Science Fiction.” I hesitated between that and “Women in Science Fiction” but if I had chosen the latter, there would have been very little to say.

There are plenty of images of women in science fiction.

There are hardly any women. (Russ 57)

For Russ, “images of women” lack, “speculation about the personality differences between men and women, about family structure, about sex, in short about gender roles” (54). Instead of imagining gender roles other than those rooted in the past or present, she finds that what’s often generated is, “the American middle class with a little window dressing” (54). However, there are some examples of extrapolation that require biological oddities or reengineering rather than a re-imagining of the interaction between men and women in a future space.

For all the literary experimentation as well as critiques of capitalism and subjective experiential reality in Ubik, women are subjected and subordinated to male hegemony through the reinforcement of “images of women.” First, all of the women, save one briefly in chapter five, are subordinated to narration and internal dialog of the favored male protagonists. Without a deeper, psychological voice, the women characters are flattened into images. They lack the depth of their male counterparts. Second, the women are immediately identified by physical appearance and sexual attributes, most notably through the character Ella Runciter. And third, the women are literally miscounted in relation to male characters–more on this later.

Ella Runciter, like the other female characters in Ubik, is constructed as a mere image, because she is presented and restrained by the sexualized descriptions of her body and sexual desirability. Her full name, revealed in the penultimate chapter, is Ella Hyde Runciter. She is framed as the perpetually twenty-year-old dead wife of Glen Runciter. Also, her first name, Ella, sounds like a child’s name, possibly derived from Stella, Isabella, or perhaps whimsically, Cinderella. Her maiden name, Hyde, brings up two questions: Is she hiding from the real world in half-life, or does male authority, signified by her husband, hide her away from the world through the masculinized half-life technology provided by the Beloved Brethren Moratorium?

There are two “encounters” with Ella in Ubik, and each is loaded with physical images of the character, revealing her subjection to male hegemony. The first appearance of Ella takes place in chapter two, when Glen visits her at the half-life moratorium to speak with her on dire business matters. She is described as, “upright in her transparent casket, encased in an effluvium of icy mist…with her eyes shut, her hands lifted permanently toward her impassive face. It had been three years since he had seen Ella, and of course she had not changed. She never would, now, at least in the outward physical way” (Dick 11). Ella is described most effectively as Runciter’s “dead wife,” because she is encased in a casket, with her hands posed just-so in relation to her “impassive face.” The casket conceals her “pretty and light-skinned” body, and her closed eyelids cover her “bright and luminous blue” eyes (Dick 12). Additionally, her “impassive face” indicates that she lacks agency on the real world. Runciter chooses when to visit with Ella, without any apparent way for Ella to request or demand an audience with her husband who hasn’t visited her in three years. In terms of her appearance to someone inhabiting the real world, she cannot change “in the outward physical way,” further reinforcing her lack of dynamism, choice, and ultimately, future in the real.

Ella, in the moratorium described above, and in the world of half-life, is a character constantly seen rather than seeing. Dick describes Ella very differently in the next-to-last chapter, when a dying and increasingly sexually frustrated Joe Chip, riding in a cab, spots Ella walking along the sidewalk. The narration illustrates her as a “girl” with a “slow, easy gait,” “window-shopping,” and she’s “a pretty girl, with gay blond pigtails, wearing an unbuttoned sweater over her blouse, a bright red skirt and high-heeled little shoes” (Dick 203). In two sentences she’s described as a “girl,” despite her twenty years, and her body is eroticized by the juxtaposition of “gay blond pigtails,” implying youth, and her adult attire modified by the words: unbuttoned, bright red, and little.

Ella is made more of an objectified image when Chip learns her identity, and exclaims, “You’re the other one…Jory destroying us, you trying to help us. Behind you there’s no one, just as there’s no one behind Jory. I’ve reached the last entities involved” (Dick 206). Chip objectifies her doubly, first as a sexual object with “gay blond pigtails,” and now, as an “entity.” She responds to Chip by saying, “I don’t think of myself as an ‘entity’; I usually think of myself as Ella Runciter,” to which Joe adds, “but it’s true” (Dick 206). Granted, there is a sarcastic element to Ella’s response, but nevertheless, it’s interesting that she “usually [thinks] of [herself] as Ella Runciter,” than absolutely declaring herself as a human subject identified as Ella Runciter. Also, her agreeing with Chip, further implicates herself in her own objectification as an “entity” and not a human subject. Instead of a female subject, or a human being, she is reduced to existence as an “entity.” An entity usually refers to a thing, rather than a person. This is an objectified labeling by the favored male narrator enforcing the real world’s male hegemony on Ella within the psychological, dream-like world of half-life, which in a sense, is an even more despicable enterprise considering that her psyche is undermined in addition to her body.

The final aspect of Ella’s creation as an “image” rather than a woman comes when she reveals her plan to Chip about his future in half-life. She tells him, “I have a very selfish, practical reason for assisting you, Mr. Chip; I want you to replace me. I want to have someone whom Glen can ask for advice and assistance, whom he can lean on” (Dick 206). This seemingly innocuous scheme reveals the facsimile nature of Ella’s existence. She pointedly tells Chip that she wants him to replace her. Granted, she’s nearing her point of departure from half-life into rebirth, but the straight-faced manner in which she delivers this plan indicates that her role as provider of Ubik and advice, as well as role as wife, is interchangeable. Interchangeability implies commodification and objectification. Despite her youthful, sexualized entrance on the stage of half-life, her plan for replacement eliminates any other desires whether they are personal fulfillment, sexual, or otherwise. Therefore, she, by this admission of replacement, relinquishes any possibility of human subjectivity and she is laid bare as an “image of women in science fiction.”

Considering Ella as an “image of women in science fiction,” is there the possibility of a redemptive reading of Ubik? Reading Ella as a cyborg as defined by Donna Haraway has the potential for interpreting her image in the novel. Haraway defines a cyborg as, “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149). Ella is transformed through the technological mediation of her body on cold-pac life support, and the audial technology that facilitates the conversion of her thoughts into voice, and a live speaker’s voice into thought–what Runciter calls, “impediments to natural communication” (Dick 12). She is a “hybrid of machine and organism,” because her life and interaction with the real world is made possible and mediated by technology. Additionally, Ella is repeatedly referred to as a machine in need of “[cranking] up” and Runciter fears she’s “worn out” (Dick 7 and 12). Through her life encased in cold-pac, as her being seen as a body within a casket, she is termed more machine than human. The hybridization of half-life as being between life and death, mirrors Ella’s own hybridity of flesh and machine. Furthermore, Ella’s subjectivity as a cyborg is, in Haraway’s terms, “a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century” (149). It should be noted that Haraway’s Third Wave Feminism affinity politics structured around the idea of the cyborg comes much later historically than the text to which I’m applying it. As such, my reading of the image of women in Ubik reveals something about the acceptance and reinforcement of stereotyped gender roles in culture perpetuated by works of SF.

In the preceding examples, Ella is represented as an image and not a realized subject with her own voice. Connected to her image is the sexual language surrounding her cyborg encapsulation in half-life. Haraway points out that, “far from signaling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight couplings” (152). Nothing could be further from the truth in Ubik. Half-lifers’ intermingle minds and experiences through a shared hallucinatory experience. Unfortunately, this facilitates what the moratorium owner describes as, others “may have gotten into her because of her weakened state. She’s accessible to almost anyone” (Dick 18). The phrases “gotten into her” and “she’s accessible to almost anyone” are sexually laden and imply rape, particularly considering the “getting into her” involved an adolescent boy. Therefore, Ella’s cyborg subjectivity is more of a disturbing bodily nightmare than a political space of “pleasurably tight couplings.”

To conclude, it appears that images of women in Ubik just don’t count. This is alarmingly illustrated by a mathematical error in chapter four. It begins with Runciter gazing about his office, and thinking, “And so it went: five females and–he counted–five males. Someone was missing” (Dick 57). Prior to this, four female characters are named in the office: Edie Dorn, Tippy Jackson, Francesca Spanish, and Wendy Wright, as well six males. Also, he only pauses to count the men (albeit incorrectly). Following the passage above, the narration continues, “Ahead of Joe Chip the smoldering, brooding girl, Patricia Conley, entered. That made the eleventh; the group had all appeared” (Dick 57). Pat Conley increases the number of female inertials to five, whereas in the incorrect count, there should be six female inertials. Instead, there is an unacknowledged weighting of inertials towards men. This undocumented mistake or purposeful inclusion begs the question: Do women in Ubik really count? Ella Runciter’s loss of agency as a half-lifer would indicate no. Wendy Wright’s claim as the first of the team to die a lonely, accelerated entropic death further demonstrates this. And, Pat Conley’s false belief of destroying Runciter’s team with the use of her time traveling psionic power also implies the inability of women to act on the strange world of Ubik. Therefore, these images of women lack signification afforded to (male) human subjects caught in the subjective postmodern world Dick (re)creates in Ubik, and reinforces what Russ decried as the “cultural stereotype” of “masculinity equals power and femininity equals powerlessness” (55).

Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. Ubik. New York: Doubleday, 1969.

Fitting, Peter. “Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/fitting5art.htm&gt;.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-181.

Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

Kasdorf, Krista. “Ubiquitous Entropy and Heat Death in Philip K. Dick and Pamela Zoline.” Thesis. Florida Atlantic University, 2006. Proquest/UMI Microform 1435298.

McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Palmer, Christopher. Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2003.

Russ, Joanna. “The Image of Women in Science Fiction.” Vertex 1.6 (Feb 1974): 53-57.

Suvin, Darko. “P.K. Dick’s Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View.” Science Fiction Studies 2:22 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/suvin5art.htm&gt;.

Warrick, Patricia S. Mind in Motion: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

 

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Methods in the Study of Literature, Project 3/5, New Wave Deconstruction in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, November 8, 2008

This is the forty-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.

If I had to pick one seminar at Kent State University as being the most important to my shifting my thinking and rigor into running gear, it would have to be Professor Tammy Clewell’s Methods in the Study of Literature class. Methods is the introductory class that all PhD students have to take. Each year, a different faculty member teaches this class, and I am glad that the planets aligned for me to take this class from Professor Clewell. My joy for taking this class derives from Professor Clewell’s laser-beam accurate and calmly delivered criticisms. She expected rigor in our work, but she delivered her appraisals and commentary kindly. There was no malace in her demeanor—only the daily expectation of meticulousness, demonstration of preparedness, and application of theory. Her candor about higher education and the challenges of scholarship were eye-opening and appreciated. I was very happy to take another class from Professor Clewell the following year and even more so when she agreed to lead my postmodern theory exam and join my dissertation committee. For all of her efforts teaching, advising, and advocating, I am eternally grateful.

This is the third of five Recovered Writing posts from Professor Clewell’s Methods seminar. Each post is one project from the seminar. They should be considered parts of a semester-long process of entering professional discourse. These are attempts at learning, arguing, and improving. The culmination of this work is the fifth project/post in this subseries—a publishable-length essay, “The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.”

In this project, “Drafting a Relevant Argument,” we created the kernel of our argument for a conference paper (Project 4) and a longer publishable essay (Project 5). I had great ambition for this short paper, but I realized later—thanks to feedback from Professor Clewell and others in the seminar—that my approach to deconstruction was completely off base. This feedback was immensely useful to my thinking and reconceptualization of my argument in the projects 4 (conference paper) and 5 (publishable essay).

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Tammy Clewell

Methods in the Study of Literature

8 Nov. 2008

New Wave Deconstruction in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Philip K. Dick’s 1969 novel, Ubik, is the quintessential New Wave Science Fiction (SF) novel, because the author challenges accepted social frameworks, questions individualized versus universal experiences of the world, and draws on the soft sciences such as psychology and parapsychology. This work, originally written in 1966, was produced during a time of experimentation by a number of SF authors including J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Douglas Mackey describes it as “a landmark in Dick’s development,” and, “not only is it generally considered to be one of his best novels, it marks the first distinct appearance of the transcendental element in his work” (92). The “transcendental element” is the substance of the title, Ubik. As its name suggests, Ubik is ubiquitous, and it signifies a great many things including, among others: soap, beer, coffee, and a transcendent god.

The permutations of Ubik are initially eluded to as epigraphs to each chapter. These increasingly bizarre advertisements and warnings about the potential and danger of Ubik combine with the disjointedness of the narrative. The reader is unable to pin down a meaning for Ubik, in the same way that the narrative following the explosion on the moon that supposedly kills Runciter, but spares Joe Chip, lead technician, and ten anti-psi inertials (persons having the ability to nullify psionic abilities such as pre-cognition and mind reading). The counter-intuitive regression of time in the narrative, and the transformation of modern artifacts to their Platonic essences (e.g., coins transform from a present date to an earlier one, or a La Salle turns into an older Ford Model A) creates problems for character and reader alike. Darko Suvin claims in an early essay on the novel that, “there is a serious loss of narrative control in Ubik” (par. 23). I disagree with Suvin’s argument, because what he views as its “loss” is actually a positive gain. The SF author and critic, Stanislaw Lem, asserts that, “I think, however, that the critic should not be the prosecutor of a book but its defender, though one not allowed to lie: he may only present the work in the most favorable light” (par. 18). This paper’s “favorable light” begins with the work of Peter Fitting, who writes, “Ubik is not only a deconstruction of the metaphysical ideologies and the metaphysical formal implications of the classical bourgeois novel, but also of what (in Solaris) Lem has described as the anthropomorphic presuppositions of science and of SF” (par. 14). Fitting claims that Ubik deconstructs the bourgeois novel and its commonsense worldview by, “breaking through the psychological and perceptual confines imposed on us by capitalism” (par. 16). Dick breaks through by introducing both psychological as well as metaphysical conundrums into the text that challenge not only his character’s perception of reality, but also that of the reader. However, Fitting’s argument is based deconstruction as a metaphor analogous to the fragmentation in the narrative following the explosion on the moon.

This paper goes farther than previous criticism in an exploration of its often cited non-meaning. In fact, Ubik’s meaning derives from its postmodern aspects including narrative fragmentation and deconstruction (in the Derridian sense) of commonly held beliefs. I argue that binary opposites and the deferment of meaning throughout the text generates what may be called a meditation on the nature of reality and the dissolution of objectivity.

It’s necessary to briefly describe the story before continuing the analysis. The narrative develops following the afore mentioned sneak attack on the moon by a group of industrial espionage psis perpetrated on Runciter and his group of anti-psis. The inertials escape for Earth with Runciter in cold-pac, but Joe Chip, the favored narrator, soon notices that entropy threatens the survivors’ existences. Chip and the surviving inertials discuss various theories about what’s happening, but they never fully discover the reason or mechanism for the entropic regression taking place around them and to them in the form of an accelerated death. The strange things taking place to Chip and the others is explicitly described in the text, but the overall form of the narrative into episodes of failed discovery reveals a continual deferment of meaning and resolution. In fact, many of the long running debates over the novel concerns interpretations of what actually happens and what the ending, or more accurately non-ending, actually means.

The meaning of Ubik first arrives in the ubiquity of binary opposites, which include life/death, order/entropy, heat/cold, and positive/negative. First, life and death are integral elements of the progression of the story. In the opening pages of the novel, Runciter responds to an imminent crisis by saying, “I’ll consult my dead wife” (Dick 4). He isn’t going to use a Ouiji board by candlelight. Instead, he flies to Herbert Schoenheit von Vogelsand’s Beloved Brethern Moratorium in Switzerland. Moratoriums are places where the dead still live with the help of cold-pac, or cryogenic storage in a state of half-life. Technology is utilized to keep the half-lifer from going over the brink of death, and facilitate two-way vocal communication between the half-lifer and the outside world. Life is clearly favored over death, and Dick employs half-life as a mediator between the two. In doing so, half-life breaks down the binary categories of life and death by providing a third alternative where there was none before.

Parallel to the life/death binary is order/entropy. Life is aligned with order, and death is connected to entropy or disorder. Both in the universe and in Ubik, entropy is an encroaching threat. This begins on the moon following the explosion. On board their fleeing spaceship, Joe pulls out a cigarette from his pocket and finds it, “dry and stale, [it] broke apart as he tried to hold it between his fingers. Strange, he thought” (Dick 75). This manifestation of entropy has to do with the breakdown of organic matter. A further example of this is the foreshadowing of death on the same page when Wendy Wright tells Joe and Al Hammond, “I feel old. I am old; your package of cigarettes is old; we’re all old, as of today, because of what has happened. This was a day for us like no other” (Dick 75). In the following chapters, the progression of age is something affectively felt, and shown dramatically when individuals including Wendy succumb to entropy and wind up as, “a huddled heap, dehydrated, almost mummified” (Dick 99). After the loss of most of his compatriots, Joe Chip begins to feel the onslaught of entropy. In the regressed past of 1939, the narrator says of Chip, “He perceived himself in one mode only: that of an object subjected to the pressure of weight. One quality, one attribute. And one experience. Inertia” (Dick 173).   The inertial weight that Chip experiences is the rapid advance of age as part of the strange phenomena overtaking the survivors. Near death, Chip is saved by the once believed-to-be-dead Runciter armed with a spray can of Ubik. The cloud of Ubik restores Chip in body and mind, but it raises more questions for Chip and leads to him discounting earlier theories about what’s going on. Ultimately, Chip is told by Runciter that Chip and the others died on the moon, and that they are now in half-life. Runciter is alive in the outside world, and communicating with Chip. Therefore, the things that Chip sees are simulations of the mind within half-life, but they are not generated exclusively by him.

There are other forces at work within half-life, and they are Jory, a teenager in half-life that feeds off the psyche of other half-lifers, and Ella Runciter, Runciter’s dead wife. Jory and his two other personalities, Matt and Bill, created the regressive world that Chip and the others find themselves in following the explosion. In many ways, this process of simulation and devouring is a game for Jory. Ella Hyde Runciter on the other hand is one of many other half-lifers who resist Jory’s voracious appetite, which resulted in the development of Ubik within the world of half-life. This aspect of the novel combined with the mysterious Ubik substance is where Dick introduces the “transcendent element.” It’s not necessary to muddle in the metaphysical aspects of reincarnation that Dick alludes to, but it’s poignant that there is another layering of binary opposites. Ella connects to order, and Jory represents entropy. She’s clearly positive for helping Chip, and she’s a “pretty girl, with gay, blond pigtails, wearing an unbuttoned sweater over her blouse, a bright red skirt and high-heeled little shoes” (203). Jory on the other hand is negative, selfish, and wicked. Also, he’s described as, “an adolescent boy, mawkishly slender, with irregular black-button eyes beneath tangled brows,” and having “shabby teeth,” and, “a grubby tongue” (Dick 195-196). Chip believes that after having met Ella and Jory that’s he pulled back the curtain of his half-life menagerie. He says, “You’re the other one…Jory destroying us, you trying to help us. Behind you there’s no one, just as there’s no one behind Jory. I’ve reached the last entities involved” (Dick 206). However, this isn’t the case, and the deconstruction is revealed. In the final chapter, Runciter tells Chip good-bye and walks away from Chip’s cold-pac casket. When he tries to tip the attendant, he discovers that his money has transformed into coins with Joe Chip’s face, just as Joe Chip’s money had Runciter’s face, and the last line of the novel is, “This was just the beginning” (Dick 216). The author’s deliberate problematization of narrative resolution complicates where the end actually lies. Clearly, Jory and Ella are not the final “entities involved,” and Dick gives the reader a clue with the final epigraph at the beginning of that chapter. He writes:

I am Ubik. Before the universe was, I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, they do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the which no one knows. I am called Ubik, but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be (Dick 215).

Ubik is described as an all encompassing order. It is, as its name suggests, ubiquity–appearing in all places. Therefore, Ubik flattens the binary opposites of Ella-order and Jory-entropy, because each are a part of its greater whole.

However, this cannot be full solution to the novel. Dick is playing with the nature of the mind and the ability of the mind to create reality. Also, the general consensus is that the actions taking place in the novel are taking place in half-life. They may involve different individuals as a sort of mass hallucination, or the events may be within the mind of one individual working out a rationalization for their existence following the explosion on the moon. In this light, the final epigraph is more telling about the nature of reality that Dick is questioning within the novel. Through imagination, we each have the ability to be god within our own mind. Jory creates a world for Chip and the Runciter inertials, but so can any one of them create a world and act on it through will alone. Dick even touches on this when Jory regresses Ubik to a pre-spray can state. Chip, “poured whatever energy he had left onto the container. It did not change” (Dick 209). Even though he could not directly transform the regressed container of Ubik to its modern form, his will ricocheted off in another direction bringing a television commercial spokeswoman from the future with a fresh can of Ubik. Thus, Chip acts on his environment, much as the god-like Ubik does in the last chapter’s epigraph.

Dick draws on the binary opposites of life/death, order/entropy, and internal/external to create a meditation on the nature of reality. As Patricia Warrick has pointed out, Dick said in speeches and essays that, “the material for the novel came primarily from a series of dreams” (145). However, she goes on make a beautiful analysis of the novel that fits into the deconstructive overall whole of the novel. She writes:

The power of Ubik…lies in Dick’s perfect yoking of content and form. He is writing of entropy, of a time when things fall apart, when death begins to eat at social structures and at the individuals who live in society, and he uses a form that is itself decayed and nearly worn out. He writes of the struggle between order and entropy, and the form becomes the content (146).

This final aspect of the novel creates an additional layer connecting the binary opposites of order and entropy with form and content. Form is an ordering of the text, and the content has that form imposed on it. In this case, the content pushes back against the form. The content’s uncertainty manifests itself in the form. It’s a straight story in the sense that the book proceeds from one chapter to the next, each preceded by an epigraph, but within the form is the dual forces of time. Objective time going forward, and a subjective time enforcing regression to older essences opposing it.

Ubik is a novel that challenges objective, privileged frameworks by revealing how subjective mind world building and interaction is an uncertain enterprise. The novel’s ending is ambiguous as well as amorphous, because the author leaves little clues as to its resolution. Meaning is deferred ad infinitum, because the thesis contained in Ubik promotes uncertainty as the fabric of reality due to the subjective nature of the mind. In fact, Warrick, who performs a biographical analysis of Ubik in relation to Dick’s life, claims Dick doesn’t know the answers to the many questions his text raises. However, she writes, “He can speculate, as he does in the novel, but here he refuses to provide an answer for anyone else. Each man must make the intuitive leap to his own answer” (Warrick 144). This is the general idea of the final chapter that the reader must engage the text on a level beyond content. It’s a philosophical puzzle, perhaps without a definitive answer, but one worthy of and even necessitating consideration. Ubik requires the reader to consider the implications of these puzzles, and to work them out in his or her own mind–the place of literal and imaginative world building.

Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. Ubik. New York: Doubleday, 1969.

Fitting, Peter. “Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/fitting5art.htm&gt;.

Lem, Stanislaw. “Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/lem5art.htm&gt;.

Mackey, Douglas A. Philip K. Dick. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1988.

Suvin, Darko. “P.K. Dick’s Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View.” Science Fiction Studies 2:22 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/suvin5art.htm&gt;.

Warrick, Patricia S. Mind in Motion: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

 

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Methods in the Study of Literature, Project 2/5, Postmodernism and Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, October 10, 2008

This is the forty-eighth 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.

If I had to pick one seminar at Kent State University as being the most important to my shifting my thinking and rigor into running gear, it would have to be Professor Tammy Clewell’s Methods in the Study of Literature class. Methods is the introductory class that all PhD students have to take. Each year, a different faculty member teaches this class, and I am glad that the planets aligned for me to take this class from Professor Clewell. My joy for taking this class derives from Professor Clewell’s laser-beam accurate and calmly delivered criticisms. She expected rigor in our work, but she delivered her appraisals and commentary kindly. There was no malace in her demeanor—only the daily expectation of meticulousness, demonstration of preparedness, and application of theory. Her candor about higher education and the challenges of scholarship were eye-opening and appreciated. I was very happy to take another class from Professor Clewell the following year and even more so when she agreed to lead my postmodern theory exam and join my dissertation committee. For all of her efforts teaching, advising, and advocating, I am eternally grateful.

This is the second of five Recovered Writing posts from Professor Clewell’s Methods seminar. Each post is one project from the seminar. They should be considered parts of a semester-long process of entering professional discourse. These are attempts at learning, arguing, and improving. The culmination of this work is the fifth project/post in this subseries—a publishable-length essay, “The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.”

In this project titled, “Bibliography and Analysis of Critical Trends,” students explored the discourse surrounding an idea or work for further development in the subsequent projects. In my case, I was interested in exploring postmodern theory through a discussion of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik. In this essay, I defined my approach, provided a reading list for my research paper, and discussed its importance in the wider field of postmodern studies and Dick studies. My final project transformed into a very different argument due in large part to Professor Clewell’s in-class questions and commentary after I read the next project (next post) to the class in the form of a conference presentation.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Tammy Clewell

Methods in the Study of Literature

10 Oct. 2008

Postmodernism and Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

            The postmodern and biomedia critic Eugene Thacker said, “postmoderm is ‘whatever.’” Despite its flippant appearance, “whatever” is at the heart of postmodernism in the twentieth century. Postmodern literature is self-reflexive and intertextual. It may break the fourth wall, and challenge everything including language, culture, societal structures, and norms. Additionally, it provokes the reader to become engaged in the narrative itself, rather than passively accepting the framework advocated by the author. It embraces ambiguity, non-linearity, and continuity. They are disjointed, unstable, and contradictory. Postmodern texts reveal a suspicion of and disbelief in modernity’s grand narratives.

Postmodern study came into its own with Jean-François Lyotard’s 1979 treatise, La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge), which gives the most highly regarded elucidation of postmodernism. In this work, he defines the postmodern as, “incredulity toward meta-narratives” (Lyotard xxiv). He argues that grand narratives (e.g., narratives of science, morality, or progress) have broken down into nodes dispersed in a network to which we are connected. Therefore, subjectivity arises during discourse and engagement of particular nodes, like the possibilities in a quantum waveform, collapses in the absence of discourse.

Lyotard’s postmodern project has its challengers, most notable among them is Jürgen Habermas, who questions whether the non-meta-narrative of postmodernism is actually a meta-narrative. Habermas’ argument in “Modernity versus Postmodernism,” misses the point that postmodernism is doubt. It’s a skepticism of meta-narratives, and not a wholesale discrediting or absolution of meta-narratives. Additionally, Lyotard regards the postmodern condition as a phase texts must go through prior to becoming modern.

Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene (1976) and The God Delusion (2006), attacks postmoderism for it’s ‘whateverness.’ This is understandable, because his thoughts on biology and religion necessitate meta-narratives. However, his paradigmatic shift from focus on the biological organism to the gene as being the driving force of natural selection is a postmodern concept. Instead of a progressive accumulation of scientific knowledge, there are crises and fractures in scientific thought and belief that results in a new framework or worldview.

Furthermore, Noam Chomsky’s views on postmodernism, as noted in a Usenet post in which he wrote, “Since no one has succeeded in showing me what I’m missing, we’re left with the second option: I’m just incapable of understanding. I’m certainly willing to grant that it may be true, though I’m afraid I’ll have to remain suspicious, for what seem good reasons” (par. 12). Chomsky claims not to get postmodernism from Derrida to Lyotard, and he’s willing to concede that he’s “incapable of understanding.” That being said, he “[remains] suspicious” of the claims of postmodern theorists. The fact is that he doesn’t ‘get’ postmodernism, and in this posting, he denounces it, because of his lack of understanding. Needless to say, this is a weak argument on the part of Chomsky, and his misunderstanding is an unvoiced acknowledgement of the postmodern, because of his skepticism.

In regard to Philip K. Dick’s novel, Ubik, there are debates on the theoretical methodologies to engage the text. An early issue of Science Fiction Studies, a long running journal in the field, was devoted to Dick’s works including Ubik. In that issue, Darko Suvin, one of the early theorizers of SF, wrote a Marxist textual analysis of Dick’s works across divisions of his creative career up to that time. Suvin takes issue with earlier papers by Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris and The Cyberiad, and Peter Fitting, Director of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, associate professor of French, and former chair of the Society of Utopian Studies. Fitting performs a postmodern reading of Ubik using Marxist terminology and deconstruction, and Lem’s paper argues critics should defend the novel’s ambiguities and disjointedness rather than prosecute it. Suvin’s response appears torn between the new, amorphousness of Dick’s works, and the old meta-narrative of SF tropes and Marxist power levels and narrative foci. This debate came about only six years after the first publication of Ubik. The discourse surrounding this novel has continued to the present.

Later analysis of Ubik, such as that by Fredric Jameson and Christopher Palmer perform Marxist readings of the text, while Douglas A. Mackey does talk about the commodity aspects of Ubik, he centers his analysis on the dissolutive aspects of the narrative as well as Dick’s conception of reality. Brian McHale makes the case that New Wave SF, which began in the 1960s was a precursor to true dialog between postmodernism and SF, and it’s in the 1970s that, “SF and postmodernist mainstream fiction become one another’s contemporaries, aesthetically as well as chronologically, with each finally beginning to draw on the current phase of the other, rather than on some earlier and now dated phase” (228). He includes Ubik as one work of SF that falls into this latter group of the truly postmodern. Peter Stockwell uses Ubik to illustrate the concept of frame replacement, which is the reversal of integral character attributes (e.g., alive versus dead in this case) in The Poetics of Science Fiction. And, Carl Freedman explores plot structures of SF and the construction of reality through Dick’s works including Ubik in his book, Critical Theory and Science Fiction.

There are a number of academic conferences focused on postmoderism, SF, and Philip K. Dick. In June 2007, the English Division of Nottingham Trent University hosted PKD-Day, a one day symposium about Dick’s works. Each year at Norwescon, The Philip K. Dick Award, a highly regarded SF prize, is given to the best new SF published as a paperback original in the United States. Postmodernism and SF are subjects of entire conferences as well as panels on a number of the larger general ones. The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, Science Fiction Research Association, and the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts, each have annual conferences that engage these topics. Also, the Modern Language Association’s annual conference includes panels on postmodernism and SF in relationship to a variety of discourses.

Within the discourse encompassing Ubik, there are still many aspects of the novel in need of critical analysis internally as well as externally. What I mean by internally is that there are themes, tropes, and characters in the novel requiring further analysis, and likewise, externally refers to a number of texts produced before and after Ubik that are in dialog with it. Within this space, I will find a niche substantial enough to support my arguments regarding the text in my upcoming paper.

Bibliography

Work in the Field

McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage. New York: Random House, 1967.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Aldiss, Brian W. “Dick’s Maledictory Web: About and Around Martian Time-Slip.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975): 42-47.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979.

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

Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity Versus Postmodernity.” trans. Seyla Ben-Habib. New German Critique 22 (1981): 3-14.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

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

Simons, John L. “The Power of Small Things in Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man in the High Castle.’” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 39:4 (1985): 261-275.

Durham, Scott. “P.K. Dick: From the Death of the Subject to a Theology of Late Capitalism.” Science Fiction Studies 15:2 (1988): 173-186.

Fisher, William. “Of Living Machines and Living-Machines: Blade Runner and the Terminal Genre.” New Literary History 20:1 (1988): 187-198.

Huntington, John. “Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity.” Science Fiction Studies 15:2 (1988): 152-160.

Mackey, Douglas A. Philip K. Dick. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1988.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

McCaffery, Larry, ed. Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

Palmer, Christopher. “Postmodernism and the Birth of the Author in Philip K. Dick’s Valis.” Science Fiction Studies 18:3 (1991): 330-342.

Stilling, Roger J. “Mystical Healing: Reading Philip K. Dick’s ‘VALIS’ and ‘The Divine Invasion’ as Metapsychoanalytical Novels.” South Atlantic Review 56:2 (1991): 91-106.

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Zoreda, Margaret Lee. “Bakhtin, Blobels and Philip Dick.” Journal of Popular Culture 28:3 (1994): 55-61.

Chomsky, Noam. “On Postmodernism.” Usenet, rec.arts.books. 13 November 1995. 20 October 2007 <http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/chomsky-on-postmodernism.html&gt;.

McNamara, Kevin R. “’Blade Runner’s’ Post-Individual Worldspace.” Contemporary Literature 38:3 (1997): 422-446.

DiTommaso, Lorenzo. “Redemption in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.” Science Fiction Studies 26:1 (1999): 91-116.

Lee, Gwen and Doris Elaine Sauter, eds. What If Our World Is Their Heaven?: The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick. New York: Overlook Press, 2000.

Youngquist, Paul. “Score, Scan, Schiz: Dick on Drugs.” Cultural Critique 44 (2000): 84-110.

Yaszek, Lisa. The Self Wired: Technology and Subjectivity in Contemporary Narrative. New York: Routledge, 2002.

James, Edward and Farah Mendlesohn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Enns, Anthony. “Media, Drugs, and Schizophrenia in the Works of Philip K. Dick.” Science Fiction Studies 29:1 (2002).

Readings of the Text

Fitting, Peter. “Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975). 19 October 2007 <http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/fitting5art.htm&gt;.

Lem, Stanislaw. “Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans.” Science Fiction Studies 2:1 (1975): 54-67.

Suvin, Darko. “P.K. Dick’s Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View.” Science Fiction Studies 2:22 (1975): 8-22.

Warrick, Patricia S. Mind in Motion: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.

McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.

Hoberek, Andrew P. “The ‘Work’ of Science Fiction: Philip K. Dick and Occupational Masculinity in the Post-World War II United States.” Modern Fiction Studies 43.2 (1997): 374-404.

De Cock, Christian, “Of Philip K. Dick, Reflexivity, and Shifting Realities: Organizing (Writing) in Our Post-Industrial Society.” Social Science Research Network (2000). 18 October 2007 <http://ssrn.com/abstract=650686&gt;.

Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 2000.

Luckhurst, Roger. “Vicissitudes of the Voice, Speaking Science Fiction.” Speaking Science Fiction: Dialogues and Interpretations. Eds. Andy Sawyer and David Seed. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2000.

Stockwell, Peter. The Poetics of Science Fiction. New York: Longman, 2000.

Palmer, Christopher. Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2003.

Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

 

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Methods in the Study of Literature, Project 1/5, Literary Area and Reading List, September 25, 2008

This is the forty-seventh 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.

If I had to pick one seminar at Kent State University as being the most important to my shifting my thinking and rigor into running gear, it would have to be Professor Tammy Clewell’s Methods in the Study of Literature class. Methods is the introductory class that all PhD students have to take. Each year, a different faculty member teaches this class, and I am glad that the planets aligned for me to take this class from Professor Clewell. My joy for taking this class derives from Professor Clewell’s laser-beam accurate and calmly delivered criticisms. She expected rigor in our work, but she delivered her appraisals and commentary kindly. There was no malace in her demeanor—only the daily expectation of meticulousness, demonstration of preparedness, and application of theory. Her candor about higher education and the challenges of scholarship were eye-opening and appreciated. I was very happy to take another class from Professor Clewell the following year and even more so when she agreed to lead my postmodern theory exam and join my dissertation committee. For all of her efforts teaching, advising, and advocating, I am eternally grateful.

This is the first of five Recovered Writing posts from Professor Clewell’s Methods seminar. Each post is one project from the seminar. They should be considered parts of a semester-long process of entering professional discourse. These are attempts at learning, arguing, and improving. The culmination of this work is the fifth project/post in this subseries—a publishable-length essay, “The Image of Women in Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.”

In the first project, each student defined his or her specialization and created a reading list. Since this was at the beginning of my tenure at Kent State as a PhD student, my concentrations and reading list changed over time. However, it was incredibly useful to set a draft of this important framework down in writing at this point of my academic career.

 

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Tammy Clewell

Methods in the Study of Literature

25 Sept. 2008

Project #1: Literary Area and Reading List

I am declaring twentieth-century American literature as the focus of my doctoral study at Kent State University. American literature produced during the past century is mapped onto a variety of movements and genres that serve as guides rather than absolute categories, because many authors inhabit more than one category and they are organic structures connected in many ways by multiple networks of history, technology, and culture. Significant movements include Modernism (Pound and Williams), the Harlem Renaissance (Wright and Hurston), the Lost Generation (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, and Dos Passos), the Futurians (Asimov, Pohl, Kornbluth, and Merril), the Beat Generation (Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs), New Journalism (Capote, Wolfe, and Thompson), New Wave Science Fiction (Dick, Ellison, and Delany), and Postmodernism (Pynchon, Reed, Vonnegut, and Gibson).

Within this network of literature, I make the best connection with Postmodernism and post-World War II Science Fiction including New Wave. New Wave began as a British SF movement with Michael Moorcock taking over the editorship position at New Worlds magazine in 1964. Noteworthy British New Wavers include Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, and J.G. Ballard. What’s important about New Wave is that it is the point at which SF matures. It is characterized by literary experimentation, incorporation of the soft sciences (e.g., psychology), breaking accepted social norms, and focusing on characters. In America, the movement’s touchstone is Harlan Ellison’s 1964 edited collection, Dangerous Visions. It included works by Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delany among many other SF authors from both sides of the pond. Other major American New Wave authors include Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Roger Zelazny. My interest in Postmodernism comes from the fact that it co-evolves with New Wave and the two movements share many similar themes and concerns such as post-capitalism and challenges to the individual.

I choose Philip K. Dick’s 1969 SF novel, Ubik, for the subject of a paper exploring the significance of this work in relation to a dialog with other works such as Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions (1973). The novel is about Joe Chip, a man with psychic blocking powers employed by a company that hires out such persons to protect corporate interests. Following an ambush on assignment, Chip is put into “half-life,” or cryonic storage, because his injuries are too severe for immediate repair. While in half-life, he is threatened by a predatory psychic also in half-life and the only protection is a ubiquitous commercial product called “Ubik.” Dick questions the nature of reality and the individual’s connection to reality through consumerism in Ubik. Additionally, he destabilizes the nature of reality for his characters as well as the reader.

This work, originally considered mere genre fiction, should be reexamined with greater seriousness. The author’s other works are in continuous print and there is greater recognition of his work thanks to the many filmic interpretations including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002), and A Scanner Darkly (2006), as well as the recent Library of America publication of Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (2007), which includes Ubik. Also, other SF authors have gained increased attention in recent years such as the inclusion of Ursula K. Le Guin in The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume E: Literature since 1945.   Therefore, Ubik deserves increased consideration and further analysis in order to situate it within the larger framework of literary texts and culture in which it is situated.

Twentieth-Century American Literature Reading List

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening (1899).

London, Jack. The Call of the Wild (1903).

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle (1906).

Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! (1913).

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland (1915).

Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval (1916).

Sandburg, Carl. Chicago Poems (1916).

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Renascence” (1917).

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburgh, Ohio (1919).

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. A Few Figs From Thistles (1920).

Cummings, E. E. Tulips and Chimneys (1923).

William, Carlos Williams. Spring and All (1923).

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby (1925).

Stein, Gertrude. The Making of Americans (1925).

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises (1926).

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927).

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury (1929).

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms (1929).

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying (1930).

Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth (1931).

Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! (1936).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men (1937).

Dos Passos, John. U.S.A. (1938).

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

Wright, Richard. Native Son (1940).

Welty, Eudora. A Curtain of Green: And Other Stories (1941).

Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943).

Hersey, John. Hiroshima (1946).

Lowell, Robert. Lord Weary’s Castle (1946).

Warren, Robert Penn. All the King’s Men (1946).

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).

Mailer, Norman. The Naked and the Dead (1948).

Merril, Judith. “That Only a Mother” (1948).

Pound, Ezra. The Pisan Cantos (1948).

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman (1949).

Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot (1950).

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye (1951).

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man (1952).

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood (1952).

Steinbeck, John. East of Eden (1952).

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Player Piano (1952).

Kornbluth, Cyril M. and Fredrick Pohl. The Space Merchants (1953).

O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955).

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems (1956).

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (1957).

Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch (1959).

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22 (1961).

Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle (1962).

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962).

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar (1963).

Bellow, Saul. Herzog (1964).

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast (1964).

Dick, Philip K. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965).

Ellison, Harlan. “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965).

O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965).

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood (1966).

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49 (1966).

Sexton, Anne. Live or Die (1966).

Ellison, Harlan. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967).

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968).

Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

Dick, Philip K. Ubik (1969).

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969).

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Warren, Robert Penn. Audubon (1969).

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971).

Levin, Ira. The Stepford Wives (1972).

Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo (1972).

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Breakfast of Champions (1973).

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed (1974).

Delany, Samuel R. Dhalgren (1975).

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony (1977).

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff (1979).

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980).

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple (1982).

Mamet, David. Glengarry Glen Ross (1984).

Gibson, William. Neuromancer (1984).

DeLillo, Don. White Noise (1985).

Morrison, Toni. Beloved (1987).

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash (1992).

Powers, Richard. Galatea 2.2 (1995).

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club (1996).

Roth, Philip. American Pastoral (1997).

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, World War I Literature, Presentation on Weapons and Tactics, 31 January 2008

This is the forty-sixth 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.

During my second semester at Kent State University as a PhD student, I was a member of Professor Robert Trogdon’s World War I Literature seminar. Professor Trogdon created a terrific syllabus of readings and facilitated insightful discussions. While we focused on the prose and poetry surrounding or focused on WWI, I found it to be a uniquely suited class for thinking about the history of science and technology in early 20th-century literature. My greatest success in this class was my final paper on H.G. Wells’ “The Land Ironclads” and the invention of the British tank, which I continued writing after the class and eventually presented in shortened form at SLSA and published in the prestigious Wellsian journal. The essay included below is a paper that I wrote for a presentation on the weapons and tactics of World War I. This early research in the class and my previous reading of H.G. Wells led me to pitch “The Land Ironclads” essay idea to Professor Trogdon.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Robert Trogdon

World War I Literature

31 January 2008

WWI Literature Presentation – Weapons and Tactics

            The Great War illustrates the disconnection between the vast technological developments at the turn of the century and the implementation of those new technologies in the waging of war. Whereas the new weaponry of the Great War would go on to be used in innovative ways in World War II, the overall strategies employed, particularly on the Western Front, was that of attrition. However, there was certainly a number of innovations, and the networks of war making and technology fed into one another, which eventually produced new weapons and tactics that left an ineradicable mark on history.

The most recognizable aspect of the First World War is trench warfare. The Western Front stabilized early in the war after the Allies and Central forces were unable to outflank one another. This stalemate initially prompted a breakdown in imaginative thinking regarding strategies to breakthrough, which resulted in enormous losses. Essentially, troops in forward trenches would charge forward toward the exposed “No Man’s Land” while their artillery fired on enemy positions. Aside from the uneven terrain due to artillery craters, these front line soldiers encountered a new impediment to crossing to the enemy lines: barbed wire. It was first patented by Joseph Glidden in 1874 in the United States. In use, it was stretched parallel to the front trenches of each side to prevent advances from the other side. Soldier caught in the barbed wire were gunned down and left to die hanging.

Germany revealed its first advantage early in the war through the extensive use of machine guns, which they had stockpiled in the years leading up to the war. The first machine guns used in First World War were typically tripod mounted, and were water, oil, or air cooled (predominantly the first). Despite their weight, a crew of several soldiers could easily setup a machine gun quickly from a defensible position, or it may be hidden within a secure enclosure. These machine guns had a theoretical sustained rate of fire of up to 600 rounds per minute, but firing was often limited to controlled bursts rather than continuous use due to the possibility of overheating. The first self-powered, force recoil machine gun was patented by Hiram Maxim in Britain in 1883. The British had access to the Maxim oil-cooled gun and the Vickers water-cooled gun, both in .303 British caliber, but their numbers were limited, because, “the British army high command could see no real use for the [machine gun that Maxim] demonstrated to them in 1885; other officers even regarded the weapon as an improper form of warfare” (“Machine Guns” par. 9). However, the Germans had no such qualms about the use of machine guns, and they made an almost identical copy called the Maschinengewehr 08 (MG08) that fired 7.92x57mm Mauser rounds. At the outbreak of war, Germany had “approximately 12,000 MG08s…available to battlefield units” (“Maschinengewehr” par. 5). Due to the weight of the gun, it’s cooling requirements, and heavy consumption of ammunition, the machine gun was originally a defensive weapon. German soldiers more than aptly demonstrated its defensive capabilities to the Allies during the first phase of the war. Later, machine guns were adapted to mobile platforms such as carts, tanks, airplanes, and ships.

Artillery served a central offensive role in trench warfare. It served a clearing function by cutting through barbed wire defenses in No Man’s Land, though with lackluster success. Additionally, it supported infantry soldiers by first attempting to weaken the enemy’s defenses and ability to return fire, and leading the way during advances past enemy lines. However, this didn’t always work out as planned, which was evidenced by the Allied losses at the battle of Verdun after their 1.5 million shells left only “superficial” damage to Germany’s well fortified deep trench system (Robbins 56).

There are three types of artillery: guns, howitzers, and mortars. Guns are very large, long barreled machines that fire a large projectile. Howitzers are shorter range artillery weapons with a short barrel, and fire a smaller projectile. And finally, mortars are easily conveyed by troops in trenches and fire small projectiles nearly vertically that fall down onto the enemy. Initially, these used shrapnel rounds to attack troops, but later in the war there was a shift to high explosive rounds.

Poison gas, which was first used in the Great War, is another offensive weapon employed throughout the conflict. Simply put, poison gases are chemical agents tailored to kill, maim, and/or serious disable enemy soldiers. The first use of poison gas (excluding early forms of tear gas) took place at Ypres salient on 22 April 1915 when the Germans utilized favorable winds to carry 150 tons of chlorine gas to the French lines. The gas of choice in the war initially was chlorine, which was easily produced, but difficult to release. That problem was solved through the use of canisters and later shells. Chlorine gas breaks down tissues, particularly in the lungs, when it dissolves in water producing hydrochloric acid. The common cause of death by chlorine gas is asphyxiation due to the destruction of lung tissue and the accumulation of fluid. A poison gas arms race developed after the use of chlorine. As one side developed protections in the form of masks and breathers, the other side would redouble its efforts in creating a more deadly chemical that circumvented those protections. Other well-known gases developed during the Great War include the toxic, mucous membrane irritant phosgene, the paralyzing hydrocynanide, and the blistering agent dichlordiethyl sulphide, or mustard gas (Hartcup 102 and 106). Both sides of the war developed poison gas, delivery systems, and protections, and these agents were used throughout the war.

Poison gas, artillery, machine guns, and barbed wire promoted an unimaginative solution to the war through attrition. These weapons were employed without a retooling of the methods of warfare in an age of intense technological development. However, three technologies provided the promise for new ways of seeing and thinking about warfare at the turn of the century: tanks, airplanes, and submarines.

Motorized tractors in warfare were considered as a possibility following the development of petrol-based engines. However, the first image of the modern battle tank was envisioned by H.G. Wells in his 1903 short story, “The Land Ironclads,” which reveals the battle potential of mechanized warfare in a thinly veiled bourgeoisie triumph over the simple proletariat. Appropriately enough, the British were the first to develop a tank for deployment in the Great War. Unfortunately, its strategic potential was limited by planning and numbers when first unleashed on the Western Front on 15 September 1916 at Flers Courcellette (Hartcup 86). This first model of British tank is described as, “cumbersome and unreliable,” and, “whose movements as yet inspired more awe than fear amongst those Germans who observed it” (Robbins 56).   Germany developed approximately twenty tanks in response, but there was only one reported tank battle between British and German tanks during the war (Hartcup 91).

Another new technology used in the war were airplanes. They were initially used for aerial reconnaissance, but their role evolved as the conflict progressed. The number of aircraft produced increased during the war, and they were outfitted with two means of attack: machine guns and bombs. Both of these involved major engineering work. Machine guns, mounted on the fuselage of the aircraft had to be synchronized with the propellers so that bullets would pass between the rotor blades as the plane was in flight. Bomb delivery evolved from hand dropping shells and grenades to mechanically releasing heavier bombs, which necessitated the invention of bomb sighting mechanisms. Furthermore, the development of air to ground warfare precipitated the inauguration of air-to-air combat. The airplane didn’t have as central a role in operations as in World War II, but it was seen as the future well before the Great War in H.G. Wells’ 1908 novel, The War in the Air.

A third and final major weapon in the Great War is the submarine. The German Unterseeboot or U-boat is an underwater submersible with a diesel power plant for continuous underwater operations, and it was equipped with a deck gun, torpedoes, and (optionall) mine laying capability. Without detection mechanisms early in the war, Germany was able to declare the waters around Britain a war zone and thereby effectively wage unrestricted warfare. However, this position was relaxed momentarily following the diplomatic fallout after the RMS Lusitania sinking by U-20 on 15 May 1915. Later, Germany shifted to unrestricted submarine warfare beginning on 1 February 1917, which precipitated the United States’ involvement in the Great War.

These are only a sampling of the technology, weapons and tactics utilized in the First World War. Others include flamethrowers, grenades, improved infantry rifles and bullets, British Q-ships, new battleships, the battlecruiser, improved naval guns, naval mines, and zeppelins. There are two final points that I would like to make about these technologies and their uses. First, the technology at the turn of the century influenced the war, and the war influenced the development of new technologies. And second, these technologies left a lasting mark on the physicality of future technologies as well as the human bodies engaged in their use from 1914 to 1918.

Works Cited

Duffy, Michael. “Machine Guns.” FirstWorldWar.com. 3 May 2003. 30 January 2008 <http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/machineguns.htm&gt;.

—. “Maschinengewehr.” FirstWorldWar.com. 3 May 2003. 30 January 2008 <http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/mgun_mg.htm&gt;.

Hartcup, Guy. The War of Invention: Scientific Developments 1914-1918. New York: Brassey’s Defense Publishers, 1988.

Robbins, Keith. The First World War. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984.

Wells, H.G.. “The Land Ironclads.” Selected Stories of H.G. Wells. Ed. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Random House, 2004.

—. The War in the Air: And Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Final Paper, “Transsexual Technology: The Political Potential of Gender Shifting Technologies,” May 8, 2008

This is the forty-fifth 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.

This is the last of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University.

At the time, I was heavily interested in Michael Bay’s Transformers and the roots of his film in the 1980s Japanese toys and cartoons of the same name. On another project, I was thinking about how Transformers heralded a new kind of SF cinema–a project shelved and likely a future Recovered Writing post in its own right. In this project, I was thinking about how Transformers are gendered in various ways and how technologies in general are assigned genders that shift and transform–hence this research paper. Below, I am including my proposal followed by the resulting essay to illustrate how the project itself shifted and transformed from its genesis to its conclusion. I presented a short version of this essay at the annual Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in 2008 (this will likely get resurrected as a Recovered Writing post, too–with a link back to this post).

Proposal:

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

20 April 2008

Paper Proposal: Reversing the Order: Transsexualizing Technology

            Transsexual and transgender discourse often situates transsexual identities as being facilitated or created by technology (e.g., medical or scientific–technology of the modern era). This creates a hierarchy in which the transsexual is subordinated to technology. Without the social changes facilitated by technology in the modern era and the medical classificatory and surgical techniques developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, transsexuals as a group would not have group identification or the means for transforming his/her sex to match his/her self-identified gender. Furthermore, it would not have made possible Sandy Stone’s insightful posttranssexual subjectivity.

Technology features centrally or implicitly within any discussion involving the transformation of bodies to a desired, gendered subjectivity. Janice Raymond’s charged and condemning work, The Transsexual Empire (1979), is the early touchstone work of the last three decades of transsexual/transgender discourse, and technology significantly in her argument. Raymond sometimes pities transsexuals as falling into the medical-technology matrix that facilitates male-to-female (MTF) transsexual transformations, while simultaneously railing against what she terms the MTF penetrative act of men subverting feminism. Admittedly, she is approaching this from a radical lesbian feminist perspective predating the coalition politics of the 1980s and 1990s, but the prime factor of her work is the technology that makes transsexual transformation possible.

Over a decade later, Sandy Stone, a sound engineer turned queer scholar who Raymond outed in The Transsexual Empire as infiltrating a women-only record label, responded to Raymond’s claim that transsexuals rely on appropriating the feminist political project for their own ends. In her “A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” Stone calls not only for a transsexual politics, but also a reconfiguration or re-imagining of transsexuality. Again, technology lies just beneath the surface in her argument as well as in the anecdotes of her own life. This is even further reinforced in her recent book, The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age (1995).

Following Stone’s groundbreaking work, technology continues to be a significant aspect of transsexual/transgender discourse. In her introduction to the transgender special issue of GLQ, Susan Stryker writes, “transsexual technology would be my vehicle for what Jacques Lacan called, in another context, ‘an impulsive leap into the real through the paper hoop of fantasy’” (151). Despite her gesture toward a “transsexual technology,” Stryker, as liberated as she is by accepting for herself the transsexual sign, is still bound by the realities of “regulated technologies” that make transition possible (151-152). It is the purpose of this paper to invert the hierarchy of technology and transsexual subjectivity. The floating sign of technology (representing multiple technologies for diverse purposes and the engineering and science that promotes a progressive increase, circulation, and sprawl of that technology) is as much made possible by transsexual subjectivity as that subjectivity is made possible through reconstructed, refigured, and transformed bodies (there is more to be said about non-surgical transgender subjectivities in the paper).

A unique, and as yet critically unexplored, work that is situated at the convergence of technology, subjectivity, and gender is Michael Bay’s recent film, Transformers (2007). Beneath the surface of otherworldly, human technology doppelganger robots fighting it out within a Global War on Terror narrative, the Transformers themselves enter into transsexual/transgender discourse. Their necessary “passing” and aping unnecessary gender roles (some interestingly in the film and others significantly cut) indicates a deeper narrative that connects to transsexual discourse. Additionally, the rich history of the Transformers franchise dating back to the mid-1980s in the United States, also presents further correspondence between embodied technology and transsexuals.

Beginning with a discussion of Transformers and transsexual/transgender discourse, I establish a deconstructionist argument against the technology-transsexual hierarchy. I show how, through example and recent scholarship, transsexual subjectivity and technology do not necessarily supersede one another in any necessary order. Technology and transsexual subjectivity is shown as operating within a decentralized network of possibilities rather than in a one-to-one causative relationship. Through this argument, I aim at Stryker’s charge that, “As a field, transgender studies promises to offer important new insights into such fundamental questions as how bodies mean or what constitutes human personhood” (155). Personhood is neither part of or given to technology is a subordinate sense, but rather, situated within a diffuse, rhizomatic network.

 

 

Working Bibliography

Bay, Michael, dir. Transformers. Perf. Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Peter Cullen, and Hugo Weaving. Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures. 2007.

Elliot, Patricia and Katrina Roen. “Transgenderism and the Question of Embodiment: Promising Queer Politics?” GLQ 4:2 (1998): 231-261.

Furman, Simon. Transformers: The Ultimate Guide. New York: DK Publishing, 2007.

Morris, Meyer. “I Dream of Jeannie: Transsexual Striptease as Scientific Display.” TDR 35.1 (Spring 1991): 25-42.

Namaste, Ki. “‘Tragic Misreadings’: Queer Theory’s Erasure of Transgender.” Queer Studies: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Anthology. Ed. Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason. New York: New York UP, 1996. 183-203.

Raymond, Janice G. The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979.

Stone, Allucquère Rosanne. The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

Stone, Sandy. “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Patrick D. Hopkins. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1998. 322-341.

—. “Split Subjects, Not Atoms; or, How I Fell in Love with My Prothesis.” The Cyborg Handbook. Ed. Chris Hables Gray. New York: Routledge, 1995. 393-406.

Stryker, Susan. “The Transgender Issue: An Introduction.” GLQ 4:2 (1998): 145-158.

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Final Paper

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

8 May 2008

Transsexual Technology: The Political Potential of Gender Shifting Technologies

Summer blockbusters are a guilty pleasure produced with A-list actors and actresses, formulaic plots, and fantastically expensive special effects edited together into two hours of mind-numbing heteronormative reinforcing cinematic bliss. These movies, which are often disregarded and resigned to low culture status by film scholars, nevertheless touch the lives of millions of viewers. In direct and tangential ways, the images on the big screen affect the audience. The images may represent real world debates or events of the here-and-now. They may indirectly lead to a chain of associative thoughts originally only gestured by the flashes of light on the screen. It is the latter that led to the genesis of this essay.

Bear with me while I tell you a story about “a boy and his first car” (Clines 32). Actually, I’m more interested in the car than the boy, because the car also happens to be a robot from another planet. Michael Bay’s 2007 special effects extravaganza, Transformers, has many obvious connections to embodied autonomous technology and the Global War on Terror.[1] After watching the film on several occasions, an easily missed, but altogether compelling image lifted from the screen into real world queer studies discourse. This has to do with the tongue-tied, computer generated character, the Autobot Bumblebee,[2] who bodily transforms between the anthropomorphized otherworldly robot soldier in the Autobot-Decepticon war, and vehicular Earth technology, namely a yellow Chevrolet Camaro.[3] What struck my attention was the way this alien robot engages gender through human language in contrast to the other gendered robot characters in the film. The other Autobots and Decepticons assume a recognizable male voice, emphasizing a bodily male gender associated with male pronouns, while Bumblebee vacillates between aped male and female voices from Earthly cultural artifacts–radio, television, and film. The sexually ambiguous body of the towering robot warrior is also lacking a definitive gender sign due to, as Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) describes it, “you talk through the radio?” Bumblebee remixes gendered voice performances to generate his/her own voice–his/her own subjectivity and the mechanism through which this character communicates is the radio. Bumblebee’s “transgender” vocalizations include Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Star Trek Chief Communications Officer Uhura saying, “Message from Starfleet, captain,” followed by Orson Welles as Professor Pierson in the Mercury Theater radio production of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds observing, “Through the inanimate vastnesses of…space.”[4] Thus, Bumblebee uses these and other definitively gendered voices to construct his own narrative and voice in order to interact and engage the clearly heteronormative discourse established by the teenage love interest subplot of Sam and Mikaela (Megan Fox).

There is another important aspect of Bumblebee’s gendered voice that brought the film into focus with queer theory. That has to do with the character’s “vocal processor.” The Autobot medical officer Ratchet says, “His vocal processors were damaged in battle. I’m still working on them.” While he says this, he extends an array of red laser light at Bumblebee’s throat that gives Bumblebee obvious discomfort. The interesting gendered pronoun usage by Sam and Mikaela, which assumed Bumblebee to be male, and Bumblebee’s doctor’s likewise use of the pronoun “his,” marks the transforming Camaro as a male amongst other male gendered anthropomorphized robots. Thus, the gender signifier of voice is a central aspect of Bumblebee’s robot subjectivity within the heteronormative network in which it’s placed, and that enforced transformation is a painful one.

What struck me about Bumblebee’s character was that he represents a wholly technologized form of transsexuality. As a transforming robot, capable of reconfiguring its body, and inventively playing with gendered voices for linguistic communication, Bumblebee gestures toward an idealized transsexual subjectivity–one, sans the technological gatekeepers such as psychologists, endocrinologists, and surgeons, that lies at the intersection of bodily transformative technologies and the transsexual subject, which I define as a human subject established by the bodily need, enacted as a demand, to transform the body from one set of sex signifiers to its heterosexual opposite such that the outward appearance mirrors an interior gender belief. Thus, Bumblebee and Transformers joins queer theory discourse as a representation of transsexual embodied technology on the big-screen.

Before returning to the example of Bumbleebee, where does technology fit into transsexual discourse? Transsexual studies has long centered on cultural explanations and manifestations of the transsexual through a historical analysis. However, a split in the discourse developed, which Susan Birrell and Cheryl L. Cole gesture towards in their sports media study of the Renee Richards outing on the tennis court. Birrell and Cole, drawing on Anne Bolin’s “Transsexualism and the Limits of Traditional Analysis,” points to the, until recently, predominant modes of transsexual analysis:

The knowledge that organizes our understanding of transsexualism has been divided into two major approaches: clinical approaches that characterize the psychiatric and psychological research and are based on a medical model in which transsexualism is constituted as an individual problem…and sociocultural approaches taken by ethnomethodologists and anthropologists, which focus on “the relationship of…transsexualism to the culture at large.” (Birrell and Cole 4)

However, underlying the clinical and the sociocultural approaches to studying transsexualism is technology. Transsexual subjectivity depends on the transformative potential of technology to facilitate the desired bodily change. Bernice L. Hausman provides a convincing argument that transsexual subjectivity is dependent upon technology in her influential work, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender. I agree with Hausman regarding the influence of technology on the development and creation of transsexual subjectivity. Medical technologies materially substantiate the transformations of bodies from one physical sex to another. Her argument challenges cultural critiques of transsexuality, which disregard the importance of technology in constructing transsexual subjects. However, I find that technology, even if glossed over, is still of primary importance to cultural/historic and technological subjectivity arguments. Thus, I see technology as a common denominator of these ideologically opposed discussions. If you map these two opposing arguments along a Cartesian plane on X and Y axes, then my argument is at a right angle to these, projecting outward into three dimensional space along the Z axis. I argue that technology, marked by its convergence with transsexuality and delineated by gender, substantiates culturally in much the same way that transsexuality subjectively manifests itself via Hausman’s techno-central argument. This leads to a number of questions. How do transsexuals affect technology? How do gender signifiers operate on technology? What is the transformative potential of technology within a cultural context? Is there such a thing as “transsexual technologies?”

In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to uncover the confluence of technology with transsexual subjectivity. Hausman’s argument is about technology creating transsexual subjectivity. That is clear enough, but what about technology and its appearance in cultural critiques? The most recognizable and possibly acerbic example in this category is Janice Raymond’s 1979 work, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. From a radical feminist perspective, she makes a totalizing argument that “male-to-constructed-female” transsexuals rape women by subversively penetrating the women’s movement, or as Sandy Stone summarizes it, “I read Raymond to be claiming that transsexuals are constructs of an evil phallocratic empire and were designed to invade women’s spaces and appropriate women’s power” (324). There’s an interesting Cold War charm to her subversive critique of transsexuals tapping into the hard-fought gains of women during Second Wave Feminism. She specifically outs Sandy Stone, a transsexual, for subverting the woman-only operated record label, Olivia Records through her employment as a sound engineer. This initiated a public dispute, not between Stone and her employer, but over the supposed betrayal of a transsexual in a woman-only domain (Hausman 144:8).[5] Therefore, the text is tangentially engaged with Cold War paranoia of subversion from the invading Other, which further connects it to the overarching technological apparatus of the Cold War’s military-industrial complex.

A more significant aspect to Raymond’s book is her use of technology-laden words in the text. She insists on the use of “constructed” throughout The Transsexual Empire. She gestures toward a critique of “‘nature’ versus technology” (Raymond 1). Also, she discusses chromosomes and a clinical etymology of the term “transsexual” (Raymond 4-5 and 20-21). Furthermore, she says of the “fetishization” of the female body by the male-to-female transsexual:

In this sense transsexualism is fetishization par excellence–a twisted recognition on the part of some men and incarnated in the usurped female biology. This usurpation of female biology, of course, is limited to the artifacts of female biology (silicone breast implants, exogenous estrogen therapy, artificial vaginas, etc.) that modern medicine has surgically and hormonally created. Thus transsexual fetishization is further limited not even to the real parts of the real whole, but to the artifactual parts of the artifactual whole. (Raymond 31).

In this passage, Raymond equates transsexualism to fetishism that is attained through medical techniques and technological artifacts that carry the signifier of female. Therefore, technology is a deep-seated element of the touchstone example of transsexual cultural critique, and there is, even here, a motion toward the transsexual instantiation by technology (i.e., a built or constructed subjectivity).

Michel Foucault’s 1978 (English trans.) The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction provides an important link between the cultural and technological critiques of transsexuality. In this work, Foucault presents a paradigm shifting idea regarding the employment and diffusion of power. Instead of the classical notion of institutions and governments wielding power from above, he argues convincingly that power is diffuse and interpenetrates subjects on a local level, yet he maintains a certain distance from individual subjectivities in his theory. For this formulation, there is no constitutive outside. What he terms the knowledge/power dynamic is a network encompassing us all, with interaction producing the effects of power.

In his formulation of the knowledge/power dynamic, Foucault talks about “technologies of sex” in this significant passage:

This history of sexuality, or rather this series of studies concerning the historical relationships of power and the discourse on sex, is, I realize, a circular project in the sense that it involves two endeavors that refer back to one another. We shall try to rid ourselves of a juridical and negative representation of power, and cease to conceive of it in terms of law, prohibition, liberty, and sovereignty. But how then do we analyze what has occurred in recent history with regard to this thing–seemingly one of the most forbidden areas of our lives and bodies–that is sex? How, if not by way of prohibition and blockage, does power gain access to it? Through which mechanisms, or tactics, or devices? But let us assume in turn that a somewhat careful scrutiny will show that power in modern societies has not in fact governed sexuality through law and sovereignty; let us suppose that historical analysis has revealed the presence of a veritable “technology” of sex, one that is much more complex and above all much more positive than the mere effect of a “defense” could be; this being the case, does this example–which can only be considered a privileged one, since power seemed in this instance, more than anywhere else, to function as prohibition–not compel one to discover principles for analyzing power which do not derive from the system of right and the form of law? Hence it is a question of forming a different grid of historical decipherment by starting from a different theory of power; and, at the same time, of advancing little by little toward a different conception of power through a closer examination of an entire historical material. We must at the same time conceive of sex without the law, and power without the king. (Foucault 90-91, emphasis mine)

Foucault is working through the ouroboros relationship that he establishes between power and the discourses of sex. In his analysis, he focuses on sex and its bodily pleasures rather than gender. Furthermore, he talks about a “technology of sex,” which refers to the institutions responsible for codifying, categorizing, and pathologizing sex, especially in the nineteenth century. However, these “technologies of sex” have positive potential, and they serve as the means by which Foucault shows that power is diffuse, because if these developments were merely top-down prohibitions, they would not have unsanctioned positivity. He is interested in the micropolitical interactions and distributions of power, and the “technologies of sex” are part of that network.

Gender must be incorporated into this account of “technologies of sex” in order to formulate the relationship between transsexual subjectivity and technology.   Teresa de Lauretis does this in her significant essay, “The Technology of Gender,” which is included in her 1987 collection, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. In this essay, she expands on Foucault’s notion of “technology of sex” to also encompass a “technology of gender.” Her approach integrates with this paper’s original example, because she uses her film theory background to discuss gender as representation and the way film is itself a “technology of gender.” She builds on Foucault’s work when she writes:

A starting point may be to think of gender along the lines of Michel Foucault’s theory of sexuality as a “technology of sex” and to propose that gender, too, both as representation and as self-representation, is the product of various social technologies, such as cinema, and of institutionalized discourses, epistemologies, and critical practices, as well as practices of daily life.

Like sexuality, we might then say, gender is not a property of bodies or something originally existent in human beings, but “the set of effects produced in bodies, behaviors, and social relations,” in Foucault’s words, by the deployment of “a complex political technology.” But it must be said first off, and hence the title of this essay, that to think of gender as the social or bio-medical apparati, is to have already gone beyond Foucault, for his critical understanding of the technology of sex did not take into account its differential solicitation of male and female subjects, and by ignoring the conflicting investments of men and women in the discourses and practices of sexuality. Foucault’s theory, in fact, excludes, though it does not preclude, the consideration of gender. (2-3)

She connects with Foucault’s theory of sexuality by pointing out how Foucault’s ideas and her own are the “product of various social technologies.”   Importantly, she makes the move to show that sexuality and gender are not embedded in bodies, as is sex. However, de Lauretis theorizes below the level of Foucault, because she goes down to the level of individual, gendered subjectivities whereas Foucault maintains a distance away from the level of the person. Also, this is not to say that Foucault’s theory cannot accommodate the individual, but it was not the extent of his project. Therefore, de Lauretis digs deeper into the subjective in order to uncover the meeting of gender and technology.

She develops the idea of “technology of gender” by first describing that, “The construction of gender is the product and the process of both representation and self-representation” (de Lauretis 9). Gender is represented within the social either by gendered subjects or by technologies that represent it. Also, gender is “constructed” and “produced” from “processes.” It is here, that she directly gestures toward what I term “transsexual technology,” which I will discuss shortly. She continues to elaborate on this when she writes:

The construction of gender goes on today through the various technologies of gender (e.g., cinema) and institutional discourses (e.g., theory) with power to control the field of social meaning and thus produce, promote, and “implant” representations of gender. But the terms of a different construction of gender also exist, in the margins of hegemonic discourses. Posed from outside the heterosexual social contract, and inscribed in micropolitical practices, these terms can also have a part in the construction of gender, and their effects are rather at the “local” level of resistances, in subjectivity and self-representation. (de Lauretis 18)

For de Lauretis, gender is constructed through “technologies of gender” as well as by “institutional discourses.” Furthermore, the manifestation of gender production takes place on the micropolitical level involving individuals. The “technologies of gender” are of most importance to this paper’s project to address the gendering of technology and the transsexually aligned transformative potential of that technology, and its relationship to the persons engaged in its use.

Now, we arrive at the other end of the transsexual discursive spectrum. Raymond’s seething cultural study embedded with unrecognized technology gives way to Foucault and de Lauretis’ separate and respective arguments about the interconnection between sex and technology, and gender and technology. It is from this overarching discourse of transsexuality, sex, gender, and technology that Bernice L. Hausman wrote her remarkable 1995 book, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender. Her convincing thesis in the book is that transsexual subjectivity is made possible by the intervention of technology, that without technology, transsexuality would not be possible as a phenomenon or a subject position. As she remarks:

The emergence of transsexualism in the mid-twentieth century depended on developments in endocrinology and plastic surgery as technological and discursive practices. This would seem to be a self-evident claim, insofar as “sex change” is impossible without the technological and ideological support provided by medical practitioners and the medical establishment. However, these links between medical technology, medical practice, and the advent of “sex change” in the twentieth century have been ignored by most scholars who study the subject, who more usually understand transsexualism as representative of a transhistorical desire of some human subjects to be the other sex. (Hausman 2)

Hausman makes it evident that transsexualism and the desire for surgical intervention inextricably links transsexuality and technology. Her argument convincingly shows that there is more going on at the level of transsexual subjectivity than an evolutionary desire for bodily sex change. As she details later in the book, the convergence of medical practice, psychology, endocrinology, and surgical intervention all made possible the transsexual subject. Without these things, the key element for desire and knowledge of the possibility of change would be eliminated, and there would be something categorically different than what is now understood as the transsexual subject. Thus, as she goes on to say, “transsexuals are subjects who choose to engineer themselves” (Hausman 9). Furthermore, the demand for bodily transformation is what distinguishes the transsexual:

By demanding technological intervention to “change sex,” transsexuals demonstrate that their relationship to technology is a dependent one. Ostensibly, the demand for sex change represents the desperation of the transsexual condition: after all, who but a suffering individual would voluntarily request such sever physical transformation? Yet it is through this demand that the subject presents him/herself to the doctor as a transsexual subject; the demand for sex change is an enunciation that designates a desired action and identifies the speaker as the appropriate subject of that action. Demanding sex change is therefore part of what constructs the subject as a transsexual: it is the mechanism through which transsexuals come to identify themselves under the sign of transsexualism and construct themselves as its subjects. Because of this, we can trace transsexuals’ agency through their doctors’ discourses, as the demand for sex change was instantiated as the primary symptom (and sign) of the transsexual. (110)

The interaction between the transsexual and the medical professional, gatekeeper of the transformative pharmacological and surgical technologies, via the demand made on the part of the transsexual, constructs transsexual subjectivity. Additionally, Hausman expresses it more clearly, “That the demand for sex change became the key signifier for transsexualism demonstrates the centrality of technology to the consolidation of transsexual subjectivity–asking for technologically mediated sex change is in one and the same gesture to name oneself as transsexual and to request recognition as a transsexual from the medical institution” (129). This is what distinguishes transsexuality from other Foucauldian “technology of sex” categories. The transsexual claims this subjectivity for his/herself through the performative act of demanding technological intervention, whereas other marginalized groups need not make demands for technological transformation to be considered, for example, gay subjects or lesbian subjects.

The transsexual demand for transformation illustrates the integration of technology with the transsexual subject, and it is this point that connects to my earlier question of “inverting” the relationship of technology and transsexuality. However, where does gender fit back into this picture? I have been discussing the transformation of bodily sex to match the transsexual’s internal formulation of gender. Hausman observes, “It is possible that the concept of gender identity gone awry (that is, the conviction of being the other sex) covers over some kind of subjectivity that would more openly demonstrate the dependence of transsexualism on a demand for technological intervention–a demand, in other words, to engineer oneself as a human subject” (137). In other words, technologically mediated bodily intervention may have more to do with human subjectivity than gender per se. However, she later addresses the issue of gender and subjectivity:

Gender, which has been theorized as the dominant determinant of subjectivity in transsexualism, serves to mask other divisions central to the phenomenon (as well as to the contemporary cultural formation) through a strategy of containment. The transsexual’s investment in traditional gender ideologies serves as a cover for another, more radically destabilizing structure of subjectivity–a compulsive relation to technology through which the transsexual demands recognition as a subject of the other sex. Rather than its “first cause,” the sex/gender system represents the goal of transsexualism. Demanding physical transformation through surgical and hormonal technologies, transsexuals seek admittance into the cultural system of gender difference as its recognizable subjects. (139)

So, not only are transsexuals aware that their gender doesn’t match their bodily sex, but the realization of transformation provides access to “the cultural system of gender difference as its recognizable subjects.” Technological transformation is the access card for navigating gendered culture. With the undesired sexed body, the transsexual is unable to engage those aspects of culture that are limited to or provided for particular gendered subjects. Therefore, the technological alignment of bodily sex and gender provides the transsexual subject a certain carte blanche regarding gendered social life.

Thus far, I have demonstrated the progression from the cultural explanations of transsexuality, represented by Raymond, to the more recent developments revealing the convergence of sex, gender, and technology, culminating with the technology enabled, transsexual subject in the works of Foucault, de Lauretis, and Hausman. The internal sex and gender conflict within the transsexual subject serve to evoke the subject’s demand for technological intervention in resolving the sex/gender crisis. What I mean by technology, borrowing from Hausman, is “cultural technologies”, such as those described by Foucault in his theory of sexuality, as well as “material technologies,” such as artifacts and practices, which in this context refer to surgical techniques, hormone treatments, and surgery (Hausman 14-15). Understanding the dual aspects of technology is essential to understanding the means by which transsexual subjectivity comes about. Furthermore, the interpenetration of the transsexual subject with transformative technologies may mark that technology, and implicate technology in general with the sliding signifier of gender. Is technology inherently transsexual? What are transsexual technologies, and how do they operate?

All technology may be conceived as transsexual, because all technology carries the potentially transformative sign of gender. Just as one technology (e.g., artifact, technique, or system) may be repurposed, modified, extended, streamlined, or reconstituted as an element of another technology, that technology may carry different gender signifiers depending on application, setting, subject user, or a host of other culturally constructed representations of gender as applied to or constructed by that, or other, technology.

Returning to the example from the beginning of the essay, consider Bumblebee’s Earth form technology–the Chevrolet Camaro automobile. In the here-and-now, the Chevrolet Camaro is not autonomous and it has no volition of its own. It is a technological artifact designed by teams of engineers, built by factory workers and automated robots, and marketed and sold by men and women around the world with particular populations and cultural considerations in mind. Consumers meet the sellers in the marketplace to purchase the Chevrolet Camaro end product as a stockroom item or a customized special order. Additionally, these buyers are purchasing the images and representations associated with the car that bleed gender.

What does the car signify? For some buyers, it may signify a character from a big-budget Hollywood film as long as it has the appropriate body color and black racing stripes. This signification probably doesn’t hold for other buyers. That’s the point. These technological signifiers are slippery and always shifting. They are complex and effect people in different ways. The car’s body style, accessories, and color all signify different things, with the representations of gender being paramount among those. Technologies carry gender signifiers, and those signifiers may be changed on the surfaces of technology. Cars with one set of signifiers, when sold or traded, may acquire new signifiers by the new owner via re-accessorization or a paint job. Also, these surfaces may be material surfaces or ideological representations maintained within the networks of knowledge/power through the minds of individual gendered subjects. Furthermore, these gendered signifiers create transsexual technology, because technology carries the transformative potential to represent and signify male or female gender while reinforcing and promoting heteronormativity. The culturally created gender signifiers that mark real human bodies, thus creating subjectivity, also marks the technology created and exploited by those human subjects. Transsexuals carry the burden of heteronormative gender signifiers and the very technology that substantiates their subjectivity carries and reinforces that same male-female gender system.

This revisioning of the technology that interpenetrates modern life, as well as constructs transsexual subjectivity, is transsexual in the sense that it carries the potential for gender transformation and it reinforces heteronormativity. However, might this also point the way for new forms of political resistance and gender subversion? If technology is inherently transsexual, might it be deployed to challenge heteronormative gender dimorphism? Can technology be used to modify our understandings of sex, gender, and gendered subjectivity?

I am confident that the answer is yes, and technological challenges to gender via the transsexual technology I have theorized are already underway. A recent example is David Levy’s 2007 book, Love + Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relations. Levy argues that humans will be having sex with robots in the not-too-distant future. This raises questions about the kinds of sex and the gender options human subjects may desire in their technological concubines and gigolos, which is further explored in Greg Pak’s earlier, 2003 film, Robot Stories. Pak’s film, billed as “science fiction from the heart,” is a series of vignettes revealing the way people in the future interact with robot lovers and companions, though not necessarily in the overt technofetishistic way that is the boon of much Science Fiction. Additionally, there are the alt.sex.fetish.robots (A.S.F.R.), or technosexual enthusiasts who fantasize about sex with the technological Other. And, there is the interest in teledildonics, or the ability to have sex at a distance with the mediation of technology, and websites such as fuckingmachines.com, which features women having sex with a variety of remote controlled devices that feature large motors and/or hydraulics connected to an assortment of ersatz penises. A non-motorized example is the Real Doll, a life size and substantive male or female human simulacrum that is also available in a variety of “shemale” configurations–female body with penis, penis and testicles, or penis and vagina. The Real Doll (realdoll.com), already well-known online and from the HBO program Real Sex and The Howard Stern Show, entered mainstream cineplexes through Craig Gillespie’s 2007 film, Lars and the Real Girl, in which Lars (Ryan Gosling) deals with his problems interacting with women by publically dating a Real Doll he names Bianca and treats as if she were alive. And a final example is the obvious strap-on dildo, which provides instant access to the male signifying phallus for a range of sexual situations that break gender and heterosexist norms.

These examples demonstrate the transformative nature of technology to carry shifting gender signifiers further by emphasizing the potential of transsexual technology. Transsexual technologies are tame and explicit. Additionally, there are obvious alliances between transsexual technology and Donna J. Haraway’s cyborg, “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (434). Transsexual technology and its power of shifting gender signifiers integrate into what Haraway calls “cyborg sex.” She writes that, “Cyborg ‘sex’ restores some of the lovely replicative baroque of ferns and invertebrates (such nice organic prophylactics against heterosexism). Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction” (435). Cyborgs replicate rather than reproduce. Cyborg integration with technology substantiates their subjectivity in much the same way as transsexual subjectivity is constructed by technology. Transsexuals are cyborgs in the sense that their bodily existence is mediated by technology. Cyborgs are transsexuals in the sense that they both have the transformative potential embedded in technologically shifting gender signifiers. Transsexual technology is a tendril branching from and feeding back into cyborg and transsexual subjectivities. Thus, it represents shifting gender signifiers and instantiates recoding as well as challenges to heterosexism.

Sandy Stone picked up on the transformative potential of transsexual identity when she wrote her 1991 magnum opus, “The Empire Strikes Back: The Posttranssexual Manifesto,” which is a demand for the status of “speaking subject” without reinscription into heterosexism (Stone 333). However, she writes, “I could not ask a transsexual for anything more inconceivable than to forgo passing, to be consciously “read,” to read oneself aloud–and by this troubling and productive reading, to begin to write oneself into the discourses by which one has been written–in effect, then, to become a (look out–dare I say it again?) posttranssexual” (Stone 336). As Hausman has said, transsexuals engineer their subjectivity through technology. Here, there are obvious parallels between engineering and “writing oneself.” Stone gestures toward moving beyond mere rewriting, into the realm of what she calls the “posttranssexual.”[6] Through posttranssexuality, she hopes to reveal the “intertextual possibilities of the transsexual body” (334). For Stone, the transsexual body is at the interstice of gender, technology, and subjectivity, but it’s bound by the current system of gender dualism. She wants to move the transsexual body into the truly postmodern, which would allow for reinscription of transsexuality and gender in general. Therefore, it’s this powerful aspect of her theory that also applies to the transformative potential embedded in social and material technologies.

Technology–cultural and mechanic–has the transforming potential for creating transsexual subjectivity, and it contains within itself, in all of its myriad forms, the sliding gender modifier also present in transsexual and cyborg subjects. Transsexual technologies’ reflection of gender signifiers transparently empower human subjects to problematize, challenge, remix, and transform the dimorphic gender landscape and ultimately reveal that there is “more than meets the eye.”

 

Works Cited

Bay, Michael, dir. Transformers. Perf. Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Peter Cullen, and Hugo Weaving. Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures. 2007.

Birrell, Susan and Cheryl L. Cole. “Double Fault: Renee Richards and the Construction and Naturalization of Difference.” Sociology of Sports Journal 7 (1990): 1-21.

Bolin, Anne. “Transsexualism and the Limits of Traditional Analysis.” American Behavioral Scientist 31:1 (September/October 1987): 41-65.

Clines, Peter. “Transformers.” Creative Screenwriting 14:3 (May-June 2007): 32-33.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Gillespie, Craig. Lars and the Real Girl. Perf. Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer. MGM. 2007.

Haraway, Donna J. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Patrick D. Hopkins. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1998. 434-467.

Hausman, Bernice L. Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.

Levy, David. Love + Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relations. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

Pak, Greg, dir. Robot Stories. Kino Video. 2004.

Raymond, Janice G. The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979.

Stone, Sandy. “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology. Ed. Patrick D. Hopkins. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1998. 322-341.

 

[1] I presented on this topic in an essay titled, “Michael Bay’s Transformers, the Global War on Terror, and the New Post-9/11 SF Narrative,” at the Association for the Fantastic in the Arts annual conference in Orlando, Florida on 19-23 March 2008.

[2] The term “Autobot” is explained in the film as signifying “autonomous robots,” and Bumblebee’s name is a reference to the character’s name in the original animated television series called The Transformers, which aired from 1984 to 1987 in syndication.

[3] Bay chose Chevrolet’s recent Camaro muscle car concept vehicle as Bumblebee’s Earth mode transformation over the original Volkswagen Beetle. When the Camaro goes back into production in 2009 after a seven-year hiatus, it will reportedly have a 400 hp engine in opposition to the 53 hp Volkswagen flat-4 engine. More on automobile gendering later.

[4] Listening to the mp3 of the original broadcast, available from archive.org, I believe the word “sidereal” was excised during the editing process to make this sequence involving several different voices faster and more cohesive in conveying Bumblebee’s message.

[5] As you sow, so you shall reap. Sandy Stone later became a student of Donna J. Haraway, and produced an influential response to Raymond’s work titled, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” I will return to this in the conclusion.

[6] About her choice to use the term “posttranssexual:” in the front matter of the online version of the essay,” Stone says, “‘Posttranssexual’ was an ironic term, since when this essay was first published everything in theory was post-something-or-other. I was looking for a way forward.   ‘Transgender’ is way better.”

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Elizabeth Freeman’s “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations,” April 15, 2008

This is the forty-fourth 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.

This is the sixth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

15 April 2008

Summary of Elizabeth Freeman’s “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations”

Freeman argues that “waves” or “generations” overlap, borrow, and are potentially incomplete when their supposed time has “passed.”  Instead of gaps between, there are interconnections between the present and past as evidenced by what she calls “temporal drag.”  Her opening example about her student illustrates a temporary crossing (think diachronic) that she calls “temporal drag,” which is a pull exerted by “lesbian” on “queer” that brings it back to a bodily politics.  Drawing on Judith Butler’s work, she points out the progressive repetition with difference in lesbianism along with the Derridean citation precedents.  Freeman argues that drag presents a valuable challenge to progress, and she holds onto the generational approach to political work and identities for the time being.  The Shulie (1997) remake illustrates how it, along with Shulamith Firestone, are part of a “feminist genealogy” that is more paradigmatic than linear (730).  It problematically remixes a visual present with a 2WF/1960s audio past.  Additionally, the video can be considered drag, in the sense of camp, not because of the obvious inverting nature of camp, but because it “[resuscitates]…obsolete cultural text” (732).  The short film connects to the shift in Butler’s work from reiteration to “allegorization,” because the film resurrects “past failures” that figure into a future narrative (732).  Allegory, like ritual, carries meaning through signs over time.  Furthermore, normative gender identities are “symbolic” of “temporal moments” and “experiences of gendered selfhood” (733).  These identities are transportable through time, but carry specific meanings and importance that may be anachronistic.  Queer performativity, as allegory, relies on “collective melancholia,” or a personally held, but collectively shared set of queer experiences, which Freeman calls an “embodied temporal map, a political archive for a contingent form of personhood” (734).  The 1997 Shulie is an interpretation of Firestone in 1967 that reflects on the supposed failure of 2WF politics while offering hope through her Riot Grrrl resemblance.  The anachronistic mise-en-scénes in Shulie (1997) disconnect it from documentary and authority, yet supports an archival past.  Also, it draws connections between her and feminist artists that followed her.  The 1997 film, unlike the original, reveals that gender doesn’t overcome the generation gap, yet evokes a sense of political cohesion between Subrin and Shulie.  Subrin does not fetishize that which came before.  She remembers, challenges, and inverts then and now.  Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970) builds a relationship between feminism and history through Marxism.  Also, she encourages people to think in terms of radical and conservative versions of the politics that travel under the sign of feminism, “rather than in terms of the cyclical history of feminist generational gaps” (740).  Firestone, like Subrin, connects the radical past to her present in order to reveal the threats to radical feminism during 2WF.  The multiplicity of Firestone in the film and in reality points to the temporal fluidity or interconnectedness Freeman is arguing.  One part of that multiplicity is the signifier of the young girl, which appears in queer/feminist cultural works.  The girl sign points to the past as well as to potential in the future.  Also, it reflects Firestone’s project in The Dialectic of Sex that “radical feminism [is] incomplete unless it includes the political and sexual liberation” (741-742).  However, Subrin’s younger Shulie character is “not a child” or “a sexual icon” (742).  Her unidentified status is the vector Subrin employs for illustrating the present feminist/queer movement without the “post” modifier.  Shulie’s responses point to a future based on “experiences that discourse has not yet caught up with, rather than…a legacy passed on between generations” (742).  It’s important for evolutionary or transformative movements to recognize the temporal pull of that which precedes it.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Chandan Reddy’s “Asian Diasporas, Neoliberalism, and Family,” April 8, 2008

This is the forty-third 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.

This is the fifth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

8 April 2008

Summary of Chandan Reddy’s “Asian Diasporas, Neoliberalism, and Family”

Chandan Reddy analyses the confluence of capital and the state in the creation of the figure of the “gay Pakistani immigrant” in this essay.  His interest lies in the crossing of Asian immigrants into the U.S. and their experience, emblematized by Saeed Rahman’s account in the opening quote.  Immigration law is the system that generated the “gay Pakistani immigrant.” This figure challenges a shift in U.S. immigration law that has been reconfigured by neoliberal influences around the constructed idea of the “family.”  Neoliberal economies and policies have shifted focus from serving the individual to promoting capital, which particularly disadvantages diasporic subjects.  Dismantling the U.S. welfare state figures into a distribution of entitlements rather than a redistribution of wealth–capital is advanced rather than labor.  As a result, the poor and immigrants are further disenfranchised by policy under the rubric of security.  In defending the neoliberal American subject, all opponents are labeled/configured as terrorists, which align them in opposition to the catchall words:  “democracy, civil society, and rights” (106).  Gay marriage in the U.S. constitutes a convergence of Foucault’s deployment of alliances and deployment of sexuality, which it centered on the family.  Foucault’s argument that the family extends and consolidates the deployment of alliance links the state and family through law and sex.  Currently, those desiring same-sex marriage, while seeking legitimation, have displaced other queer issues.  The deployment of sexuality in the U.S. is connected to the “nonnational differences…of gender, race, and sexuality” to expand the working classes, and immigration alters those same differences (108).  Using the rhetoric of “family reunification,” the state increases the labor pool while appearing to perform an altruistic function for immigrant noncitizens (109).  Furthermore, the welfare responsibility of incoming immigrants has been shifted from the government to the petitioning families.  The closeting of immigrant persons is not something merely accepted by them, but it arises out of immigration policies and the state’s focus on the family for visa disbursement.  State and federal support of religious welfare organizations over secular ones further an emphasis on heteronormativity.  The end of the traditional welfare state is not a good thing, because it only effects the working and poor, and state involvement in those person’s lives will only take other forms such as within the family and church.  According to Roderick Ferguson, capital seeks any available labor, while the state enforces “a set of racialized gender ideals” (112).  Capital breaks hierarchies while the state enforces/protects heteronormativity along race, gender, and sex lines.  Returning to the gay Pakistani immigrant example, a queer of color critique would not necessarily see the U.S. as protecting gay liberty or this example instituting greater gay visibility in the history of law.  Instead, that critique would show how the gay Pakistani immigrant is formed at the convergence of mandated heteronormativity and the state’s supposed support of sexual freedom.  That figure comes about from the friction between capital and the state.  Furthermore, different gay rights groups may read Rahman’s narrative as a gay Pakistani immigrant in different ways.  Reddy reads the law as an “archive of racialized sexuality,” or a kind of socio-historical archive (115).  The law, as archive, binds historical and social differences including gender, race, and sexuality.  Additionally, the law can be read as a social history of a culture through its development over time. The archive is not passive–it reveals as well as creates subjectivities, and it registers “difference and community” (116).  The author reads the figure of the gay Pakistani immigrant as the “limit of the archive”–the point at which to reverse engineer the archive’s “conditions for existence” (116).