Magnoli Clothiers’ British Mark VII Satchel Review, an Excellent Everyday Carry EDC Bag Inspired by Indiana Jones

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A bag is a form of technology that helps us move our things from place to place so that we can get our daily work done. Every bag has affordances and constraints. Unfortunately, I find myself running up against what I see as unbalanced trade-offs in these affordances and constraints for my particular circumstances.

I don’t begrudge a tool’s constraints. In fact, these constraints can be quite liberating. For example, Thomas Lux, my former poetry professor at Georgia Tech, would purposefully give his students specific constraints for a week’s assignment: there can be only so many words, there can be only so many lines, there must be the color green, etc. He explained that these constraints open up possibilities that would not have existed had he not instructed us to create a new work of poetry based around these constraints. Put another way, while affordances are the explicitly designed ways and interfaces for using a technology, constraints can open up new, unforseen possibilities along the lines of William Gibson’s important observation: “the street finds its own use for things.”

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Of the bags that I do own, I’ve unstitched a lot of the fluff on my small Timbuk2 messenger, and I’ve unriveted and cut the unnecessary branding and features of my STM Aero 13 backpack. I’ve made them more usable for me, but I come to realize that I didn’t like how large they are for everyday use. Certainly, if I’m going to the store for groceries, a larger bag is better (my stock Jansport Super Break II is usually deployed for these missions), but I’m thinking about the gear that I carry everyday.

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So, my bag problem came to be one about just the needed size for the things that I carry everyday. I should explain that these are the things that I carry to and from work. This is about a 2 mile round trip walk. This makes weight and comfort a prime consideration. Also, as I think is true for many instructors, if a large enough bag is available, I tended to bring a lot of work home with me in the form of books and stacks of papers. However, my interaction with this material often was simply via osmosis instead of material-in-hand engagement. I would carry things home with an intention of using the materials and then returning them to campus later, but this often didn’t happen. Life gets in the way (or simply exhaustion–probably from lugging 10 pounds of student work a mile down Court Street), and the books and papers would be returned via a return trip to be used ultimately on campus. Thus, I wanted an EDC bag that would obviate the possiblity of using it for carrying these kinds of materials. Also, I thought that this change might turn me to using my tech gear in a new way–digitizing and scanning only the most important and pressing work to carry home on a device or upload to the cloud.

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As you’re probably familiar with, the character Indiana Jones made famous the anachronistic British Mk VII gas mask bag (the bag did not yet exist during the period of the first three Indy films). When I was a kid, my cousin Amie and her folks gave me one of my most precious gifts–a Dukes of Hazard shoulder bag. I wore it everywhere and it always contained my most essential kit–toys, candy, and a leather whip. Yes, I fancied this bag as my Indy bag. When its strap broke, I tied my best knot to keep on adventuring with it. Looking through old photos like the one above when I received it, I was reminded about how much I liked its size and simplicity.

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In my searches, a name kept popping up: Magnoli Clothiers. It is an outfit based in New Zealand that specializes in making clothing and prop reproductions from film and television (and other bespoke tailoring services, too). Many folks online–especially in forums discussing Indiana Jones–recommended their reproduction of Indy’s bag called the British Mk VII Satchel. I figured that its low cost justified trying it out. Also, I liked that it didn’t include a shoulder strap. Magnoli Clothiers offers an add-on leather strap, which would make the Mk VII satchel match Indy’s customized look (the original Mk VII bag has a built-in canvas shoulder strap). For me, however, I decided to get a 55″ Rothco General Purpose Nylon Strap. It is adjustable and has metal hooks on either end to mate with the customized metal rings on either side of Magnoli Clothiers’ Mk VII satchel.

The British Mk VII satchel measures about 11″ x 11″ x 3″. It has a number of compartments. The front-most pocket holds an Apple iPad Mini 4 with Smart Cover and a Muji A5 notebook. The large middle compartment is open at the bottom, but there is a divider making the left side slightly larger than the right. I put my 16 oz. Zojirushi thermos on the right and my lunch/supper fixings (usually MREs) on the left. Rolling about in the bottom of this compartment, I leave my pens, pencils, pocket knife, flashlight, eye drops, and Advil. In the back of the back against your body are two small pockets–my phone goes into one of these and my business cards in the other. Sewn between these pockets is a small pouch that holds a 1 oz. hand sanitizer bottle perfectly.

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Over the past two weeks, I’ve been having great success with the British Mk VII satchel. Its affordances (It carries my essential things to and from work) and its constraints (Its smaller volume made me change my workflow to be honest with my carry-home workload and essentially carry less to and from work) have worked out very positively for me. I’m curious about how it will hold up in the long term, but its already received bumps and brushes on the street, train, and campus without any appreciable wear. If you are looking for a small bag for essentials, drink, food, and personal electronics, I highly recommend the British Mk VII satchel.

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How to Build a Cardboard-Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B Computer with a 7″ Touchscreen LCD Display with Some Thoughts on Pedagogy

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My Cardboard Box Raspberry Pi 2, Model B with 7″ Touchscreen Display and wireless keyboard.

This guide demonstrates how to install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, connect the Raspberry Pi to a 7″ Touchscreen LCD, and integrate the computer and touchscreen in a cardboard box (which doubles as a case and storage for battery, keyboard, and cables).

I got interested in the Raspberry Pi, because it has many capabilities for learning: kitting out a computer, installing a Linux-based operating system, programming interactive software, and building with electronics. In particular, I am interested in how the Raspberry Pi can be used to create interactive software and be a platform for digital storytelling (which figures into one of the upcoming classes that I will be teaching at City Tech–ENG 3760 Digital Storytelling).

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My haul from Tinkersphere.

Instead of buying my kit online, I wanted to shop local to get started. Originally, I considered going to Microcenter, which is near where I live in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the touchscreen display that I wanted. Instead, Y and I took a train into Manhattan and visited Tinkersphere where one of their helpful staff guided me to the things on my digital grocery list. I purchased Tinkersphere’s pre-made Raspberry Pi 2 kit, a 7″ Touchscreen LCD display, a battery pack (in retrospect, I should have purchased two of these, which I will discuss below), and a mono speaker with 1/8″ plug.

Tinkersphere's Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit contents.
Contents of Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit.

Tinkersphere’s Raspberry Pi 2, Model B kit includes all of the basic equipment needed to begin working with this tiny computing platform. The kit is built around the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, 1GB RAM, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, HDMI port, ethernet port, combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video, camera interface (CSI), display interface (DSI), micro SD card slot, and a VideoCore IV 3D graphics core. Additionally, the kit includes a wireless keyboard/trackpad, USB wifi adapter, 8GB micro SD card with NOOBS (the easy to use Raspbian installer), USB micro SD card reader, breadboard, wires, and 5v power supply.

To begin the setup, we should orient ourselves with the Raspberry Pi. This is the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B computer viewed from the top and the bottom:

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.
Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Top View.

 

Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.
Raspberry Pi 2, Model B, Bottom View.

The first thing that we need to do is insert the micro SD card with a copy of NOOBS pre-copied. If you need a copy of NOOBS for your own micro SD card, you can download it from here and follow the instructions here for formatting and copying the files from a Mac or PC to the micro SD card. The Raspberry Pi’s micro SD card slot is located on the bottom side of its circuit board. A micro SD card goes in only one way which allows you to press it in. If correct, the card should “click” and stay as seen in the photos below.

 

Insert the micro SD card like this.
Insert the micro SD card like this.

 

Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a "click."
Press the micro SD card in and it will stay in place with a “click.”

 

The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.
The Raspberry Pi connected from left to right: micro USB power input from 5v power supply, HDMI, wireless keyboard/trackpad receiver, and wifi adapter.

Next, connect the Raspberry Pi to a display (such as a TV) with HDMI, and plug in the wifi adapter and wireless keyboard into two available USB ports. Alternatively, you can connect the Raspberry Pi to the Internet via ethernet and to a wired keyboard and mouse. Then, connect it to the 5v power supply. As soon as it is plugged in, the Raspberry Pi is turned on and operational. It will begin to boot from the micro SD card’s NOOBS installer, which will guide you through the process of installing Raspbian. See the images below to see what this looks like and what choices you should make for a basic installation.

NB: While we could have connected the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi before beginning the installation, the current version of NOOBS would not detect and use the touchscreen display. It is necessary for Raspbian to be installed and updated before the 7″ Touchscreen Display will be recognized and used as the Raspberry Pi 2’s primary display.

 

NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.
NOOBS boot screen with the Raspberry Pi logo.

 

The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.
The NOOBS installer asks what you would like installed. Place a check next to Raspbian.

 

The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven't already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.
The NOOBS installer will ask that you confirm your choice. If you haven’t already done so, choose US keyboard and locationalization at the bottom of the screen before proceeding. Then, confirm.

 

The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.
The installation will proceed and complete. With the micro SD card that I have and without overclocking the Raspberry Pi, it took about 20-30 minutes for the installation to complete.

After rebooting following the installation, the raspi-config tool launches. This program gives the user easy access to many configuration options for the Raspberry Pi including how it should boot (automatically login and load xwindows, or boot to a command prompt login), and if you would like to overclock the Raspberry Pi for additional performance (use this option with caution–you will likely want to add heat sinks and increased ventilation if you overclock the system). I configured my Raspberry Pi to operate at normal speed and to boot to the command line with login.

After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.
After booting into Raspbian, the first thing that you see is the login prompt.


The default login for the Raspberry Pi is username “pi” and password “raspberry”. Type each of these credentials in when asked followed by pressing the Enter key. Then, you will find yourself at the command line interface (CLI).

Raspbian's CLI.
Raspbian’s CLI.

After logging in, you have a Linux command prompt (here is a list of helpful file system commands).

Before setting up the 7″ Touchscreen Display, we need to update Raspbian. To do this, first type: “sudo apt-get update”. If prompted to install anything because it will take a certain amount of space, simply type “y” and press “Enter”.

Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian's CLI.
Entering a command at the prompt in Raspbian’s CLI.

To explain what this command means, “sudo” runs a command as superuser, or the user that is all powerful on a linux system. The command that you want to run as superuser is “apt-get,” which is a package manager, or a manager of software packages that run on your Raspberry Pi. “update” is a modifier for “apt-get,” and its purpose is to tell “apt-get” to update its index of available software packages with what is stored on the remote software repository (where your Raspberry Pi is downloading its software from).

After the update operation completes and you return to the command prompt, type: “sudo apt-get upgrade”. Similarly, agree to the prompts with “y” and “Enter”. The “upgrade” modifier to “apt-get” tells it to upgrade the software based on what it learned when updating its index with the previous command. Thus, when you run these two commands, you should run the update command first (learn) and the upgrade command second (act on what was learned).

To launch into Raspbian’s X11, type “startx”. Inside X11 or xwindows, you will find many of the GUI-based software that really makes the Raspberry Pi sing: Scratch, Python, Mathematica, and more. If you have never used X11, it works a lot like Windows 95/98 except that the Start Menu bar is at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom and “Start” is replaced by “Menu.” Some quick launch apps are directly available to be launched with a single click from the start bar (such as Terminal, the Epiphany web browser, and Wolfram Mathematica) while all of the installed X11 programs are available from the “Menu.” Below are images of the Raspbian desktop and navigating through some of the default programs available.

To easily install additional software, you can install the Synaptic Package Manager, which simplifies finding and installing software packages by wrapping package management in an easy-to-use GUI. From inside X11, open Terminal and type “sudo apt-get install synaptic”. This will install Synaptic, which you can open by clicking on Menu > Preferences > Synaptic Package Manager (more info on this and other Raspberry Pi stuff on Neil Black’s website).

When you done browsing around, you can click on the and choose to shut down. After a few moments, your display should show a blank screen and the activity lights on the back of the Raspberry Pi (red and green) should only be showing a solid red. At that point, unplug the micro USB 5v power adapter. If you are ready to install the 7″ Touchscreen Display, unplug the HDMI cable, too.

In the images below, I demonstrate how to assemble the 7″ Touchscreen Display and connect it to the Raspberry Pi. I followed the excellent instructions available on the official Raspberry Pi website, which also details how to install the Matchbox virtual keyboard for using the touchscreen without a keyboard.

To begin connecting the 7" Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.
To begin connecting the 7″ Touchscreen Display to the Raspberry Pi, place the screen facing down.

 

Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.
Screw in the standoff posts to hold the display controller card to the display. Connect the display and touchscreen wires as described on the official installation guide.

 

Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.
Insert the display cable to the video input on the controller card.

 

Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.
Place the Raspberry Pi above the display controller card and attach with the supplied screws that screw into the top of the standoff posts.

 

Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.
Connect the other end of the display cable into the output connector on the Raspberry Pi.

 

Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card...
Use the supplied jumper wires to connect connect the power input of the display controller card…

 

...to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations--the other two involve USB.
…to the power output leads on the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi. This is one of three possible powering configurations–the other two involve USB.

 

This is the rear of the 7" Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.
This is the rear of the 7″ Touchscreen Display assembled with the controller card and Raspberry Pi.

 

This is the front of the 7" Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.
This is the front of the 7″ Touchscreen Display with the power leads sticking out from behind.

 

This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7" Touchscreen Display.
This is the Raspberry Pi powered up again with the 7″ Touchscreen Display.

 

Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.
Mose and Miao had lost interest in the project by this point.

 

To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7" Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.
To complete the project, I cut a hole into a Suntory shipping box from Japan that is the exact same size as the 7″ Touchscreen Display box, which would work well, too. It is works well for holding up the Raspberry Pi and storing its accessories when I go between home and work.

Of course, you can use the Raspberry Pi with or without a case depending on your needs. I used the Suntory cardboard box from Japan for practical reasons (thinking: William Gibson: “the street finds its own use for things”–it’s a good size, on-hand, and looks cool) and research reasons (thinking about my work on proto-cyberpunk and the hidden nature of computing, which is an idea explored in my previous blog post about the poster that I created for the 13th annual City Tech Poster Session).

I have run the computer and touchscreen from the 5v battery that I purchased from Tinkersphere, but I get a graphics warning that the Raspberry Pi is under voltage (a rainbow pattern square persists in the upper right corner of the display whether in the CLI or xwindows). I might get a second battery to run the display alone, which would help me troubleshoot if the battery that I have now is actually outputting enough voltage and amperage needed by the Raspberry Pi alone. In the meantime, I am running everything at my desk with the 5v power adapter, which provides ample power for the Raspberry Pi and 7″ Touchscreen Display.

In the future, I would like to use the Raspberry Pi in a writing or technical communication course. There are many ways to leverage the technology: problem solving, writing about process, creating technical documents such as reports and instructions, using the Raspberry Pi as a writing/multimodal composing platform, digital storytelling with tools that come with the Raspberry Pi, and more. These ideas are built only around the Raspberry Pi and its software. A whole other universe of possibilities opens up when you begin building circuits and integrating the Raspberry Pi into a larger project.

The basic cost of entry with the platform is $30 for the Raspberry Pi 2, Model B and a few dollars for an 8GB micro SD card. If you have access to a display with HDMI, a USB keyboard and mouse, and ethernet-based Internet access, you can get started with Raspberry Pi almost immediately. For a future grant application, I am imagining a proposal to purchase the basic needed equipment to use Raspberry Pi in an existing computer lab. I can bring the kits to each class where students can use them on different assignments that meet the outcomes for that course but in an engaging and challenging way that I think they would enjoy and would be beneficial to them in ways beyond the immediate needs of the class.

On this last point, I am thinking of working with digital technology in an a way many of my students will not have had a chance to before, feeling a sense of accomplishment, learning from one another on team-based projects, experiencing a sense of discovery with a computing platform that they might not have used before, and of course, communicating through the process of discovery in different ways and to different audiences. This might be something that you’re interested in, too. Drop me a line if you are!

My Brain in 3D: Rendered Videos and Images of My fMRI Scan Data

My brain (c 2007).
My brain (c 2007).

Back in 2007, I made a deal with a friend to participate in his fMRI brain scan study at the University of Liverpool in exchange for a copy of the DICOM data from my scan. He agreed to the trade.

Since then, I occasionally pull my scan data off the shelf and dust off the cobwebs and disk errors, and import it into the DICOM Viewer, OsiriX (e.g., as I did in 2009). With the latest versions, I have had a lot of trouble importing the files as they were given to me into OsiriX. Luckily, I saved the installers for earlier versions including the venerable version 3.5.1, which still runs fine on MacOS X Mavericks and Yosemite.

Using OsiriX’s many features, I created these four videos and an album of images of my 2007 brain. I wonder how it has changed since that time–completing my MA, then PhD, taking a postdoc at Georgia Tech, and now, working at City Tech. Also, I think about the technologies of representation that make it possible for me to see my brain without injury or invasion–OsiriX and unseen software libraries for working with, manipulating, and displaying DICOM data, MacOS X and its technology APIs, my MacBook Pro retina, disk and flash drives, email (how I originally received the scan data), the fMRI machine that I sat in for 30 minutes to an hour, the physical laws behind each technology and the biology of myself, etc. What do you think about when you see my brain represented below?

Final Videos

Draft Video (I had not yet removed all the tissues and bone around the brain)

Rendered Images

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dynamicsubspace/sets/72157647825318882/

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Comprehensive Exam 1 of 3, 20th-Century American Literature, Dr. Kevin Floyd, 2 June 2010

This is the fifty-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.

After completing two years of course work in the PhD in English program at Kent State University, I began preparing for my comprehensive exams with faculty who I hoped to also work with when I moved on to the dissertation stage.

My major exam was in 20th-century American literature, and Dr. Kevin Floyd agreed to serve as my examiner on this important test. During the summer after completing course work, we met at the Starbucks in downtown Kent, Ohio to finalize my reading list and the kinds of questions that would best suit my purposes and enable my intellectual growth through this process. Working from our discussion, Dr. Floyd developed two questions that I could answer in sufficient depth with examples taken from six the ten works on my reading list. The first question asked for a narrative about representations of social class prior to World War II, and the second question asked for an exploration of technologies, bodies, and subjectivities in post-World War II works. As I worked through my reading list at about one major work (reading, research, and notes) per week (of course, this in addition to readings on my other three exams–which would make my reading schedule about one major work from each list per 2-3 days).

After spending approximately a year preparing while teaching at Kent State, I sat down for my exam in Satterfield Hall and wrote the following over five hours.

Jason W. Ellis

Prof. Kevin Floyd

PhD Major Exam: 20th-century American Literature

2 June 2010

Question 1

Social class is an uneasy topic of national discussion in the United States, because the reality of social class destabilizes the conventional belief that economic and personal success derives from hard work, investment, and tenacity. In the following essay, I will chart the origins of this element of the American dream and its erasure of class as a topic of critique in work by Cather and its refutation in Steinbeck. Then, I will discuss class embedded in characters by Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and O’Connor before analyzing the connection between race and class in works by Wright and Hansberry. This is followed by demonstrating the operation of narrative forms and class in Dos Passos and Eliot. The essay concludes by following the trajectory of these earlier examples in a work of science fiction that transitions from capitalism and labor relations to consumerism, advertising, and the pitchman in The Space Merchants.

Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! (1913) is considered emblematic of a specifically American kind of writing that developed out of the nineteenth century. Its overall message is that land accumulation and exploitation of farm labor is representative of the successful American ideal. The novel addresses the American experience and New World experiment through its engagement of the vast expanse of land in the frontier, the experience of settlers, and the importance of history working through people and the land. In fact, the passage of time is very important to this novel. It is through time that the protagonist Alexandra Bergson transforms the land, and in turn, the land transforms her. Alexandra takes over the family farm from her father, inverting the prevailing patriarchal arrangement in frontier life in Nebraska, and in doing so, she sets about the management of the farm and the administration of the labor of her brothers and other farmhands. Alexandra develops her business acumen through personal intelligence and an awareness of the workings of the farm gained through careful observation and participation of the practices of farming. She works, but she also observed the aspects of management and investment that are essential to the development of the land. The significant turn in her development as a character comes at the end of Part 1 when the drought hits the divide and Alexandra is faced with the decision to leave or stay. She travels around, seeing the land in all its picturesque majesty, and visits the river country to see how farming is proceeding there. Observing the land affected equally by the drought around the divide, she resolves to stay and risk a second mortgage in order to acquire more land. She realizes that the accumulation of land, continuing to work the land, and tenaciously maintaining the land will create the conditions that enable the land to return her investment with interest. Despite Alexandra’s farming and business shrewdness, her brothers continually resist her efforts and decry her authority over them. Partially a matter of gender politics, it is also an issue of labor relations and social class. Her brothers are exploited labor who marry local girls and maintain simple homes. Alexandra holds out to the end of the novel before agreeing to marry her more worldly, educated, and introverted fiancé Carl Linstrum. This marriage will complete her managerial and business success through her ascendancy into the bourgeoisie with landed interests, a home, and a proper husband.

Much changed in the 26 years dividing John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) from Cather’s O Pioneers!. The world had survived the Great War, the Great Depression was still under way before the Second World War economic miracle, and the Dust Bowl erased the gains of farm development that had only just begun for Alexandra in Cather’s novel. The Joad family in Steinbeck’s celebrated novel joins the mass migration of workers from the Midwest to California in search of work. Their dream has been so reduced that they do not dream of owning a farm, much less consolidating with other farms, but only that they make enough money to put food on the table for their family. The spike in available farm labor during the Dust Bowl years significantly reduced any leverage workers had to command a living wage or steady work. Farm labor was brutally exploited by the farm owners, managers, and community law enforcement. These issues are brilliantly illustrated in The Grapes of Wrath. However, I would like to specifically discuss the character Tom Joad in relation to Alexandra Bergson. Tom, having just been released from a four year stint in prison for manslaughter, returns to his family on the eve of their departure West. He had been, to that point, someone who lived in the moment and was self-centered. He did not dream of the future as Alexandra had come to do in Cather’s novel with all the land spread out around her, the wealth seen within the land itself, and the possibilities that afforded her. Tom’s family only had a small farm, and the effects of the Dust Bowl reduced their ability to work and compete. The only alternative was to pick up stakes and exchange their labor for money. Through the events of the novel, including Tom’s discipleship to the former preacher Jim Casy, Casy’s death at the meeting to organize the workers for better wages and jobs, and Tom’s realization of the worker’s plight as a shared experience, Tom comes to represent the exact opposite of Alexandra. Tom realizes that power comes through solidarity and organization, and that the workers should not be exploited for their labor. We do not know if Tom has success in the novel, but the hopeful ending points to the possibility that labor and empathy can lead to a better tomorrow.

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929) presents a different image of social class tensions and their relationship to American modernization in the character of Quentin Compson. Faulkner explores the human experience of time, interiority, psychosexual trauma, and human relationships in the novel, but Quentin’s section in flashback, “June Second, 1910,” includes more details related to social class and the old South resistance to modernization and accepting the social changes related to that. This section is about Quentin’s day leading up to his suicide in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he is attending college at Harvard. Quentin’s family is from a fictional rural setting in Mississippi, but it is his family’s dwindling legacy—struck hard in the twentieth century—that enables his education at a prestigious New England university. Despite the effects on the family fortune, Quentin holds dear to outdated Southern genteel social beliefs including the sanctity of feminine virginity and chastity. As a result, Quentin cannot reconcile his incestuous feelings for his sister Caddy and her promiscuity with another man whom she marries. He doubly wants her and he wants to absorb the stain on the family name by their union. Quentin lamely admits to his father that Caddy and he had sex before, but his father recognizes his son’s folly and tries to dissuade him from holding on to traditional Southern ideals about women and sex. This is significant, because it is through Quentin’s suicide that the old South dies, too. The industrialization of the North and new modes of farming and manufacture in the South following Reconstruction were moving out the old traditions in favor of new norms that were enabled by the effects of capital (urban growth, worker mobility, more educational possibilities, etc.). It is important to note here that capitalism enabled many new possibilities and played a part in the repair of past damages. The effects of capitalism had helped usher in the era of the Black Atlantic, but it also made possible the inclusion of African Americans into the networks of capital. This was an uneasy process with social norms and laws following behind the circuits of capital (Jim Crow Laws and the Ku Klux Klan, for example). This apparently tangential connection between Southern social changes and Quentin is reinforced by the adventure he has in the Italian quarter. When Quentin meets the little girl, his gentlemanly behavior kicks-in. He’s prepared to commit suicide, but he takes the time to try and find the girl’s home. Instead, he is accused of being a pedophile and forced to pay a fine. His traditional ways do not mesh with the new realities of the modern era, and ultimately, he cannot cope with the change and follows his ancestors by drowning.

Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, achieves greater success than his humble Minnesotan (i.e., rural vs. urban) roots. Whereas Quentin Compson cannot accommodate the changes brought by the increasing influence of capital in America, Carraway has survived the Great War and moved East to Long Island to try his hand at bond trading (i.e., building capital with capital vs. building capital through work or land development). Similar humble beginnings are true too for the great Jay Gatsby, or Jay Gatz, who dedicated himself to acquiring wealth after leaving North Dakota and paying tutelage to a very wealthy man. Carraway seeks new money in the markets, and Gatsby has already acquired wealth, albeit illegally (Gatsby’s criminal activities are different than O’Connor’s Misfit who I will discuss later–Gatsby wants to acquire social status by any means necessary whereas the Misfit reacts against the social and the economic system that has produced him). Gatsby acquires wealth so that his object of desire, Daisy Buchanan, who married another man and his old money, will want to be with him. The importance of wealth and its acquisition, especially prior to the Great Depression, plays out in this novel through a tragic narrative of love lost. Hence, the effects of capital accumulation bleed over into other aspects of the social. Gatsby can never shuck the taint of his new money, because it seeps into every part of his being. His parties, financed in the hope of reconnecting with Daisy, are all that he is. Fitzgerald purposely withholds Gatsby’s interiority—only supplying the reader with the reserved observations of Carraway. In some respects, Gatsby prefigures the surface laden characters we see in postmodern fictions. He wears his money and his love on his sleeve, but there is no longer anything underneath the layers of money that define him as a person. Daisy is little different: she enjoys the luxuries and the carelessness afforded by her husband’s old money. She is indifferent to her daughter, and she toys with Gatsby and lets him take the blame for her actions. Caring only for what money can buy her, she looks fantastic and maintains a surface without depth expect perhaps a memory of Gatsby that can be salved with spending a little of her husband’s money.

Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1955) is a moral tale tied to the networks of capitalism, but it inverts the hierarchy favoring those who follow the rules of capital and those who do not. Told by an omniscient narrator, but focusing on the Grandmother, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is about a family’s trip from Georgia to Florida and after agreeing to a side trip on the Grandmother’s urging, they encounter an escaped murderer, The Misfit. This fateful encounter results in the killing of the father and son, mother and daughter, and finally the Grandmother when she reaches out to touch The Misfit who she calls “one of her babies.” The lawless Misfit contrasts with Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and his illegal activities, because the former radically confronts the system and chucks social class while the later bends the system to his own ends while attaining a higher social class. Debate centers on the final scene in which The Misfit, after being touched by the Grandmother and being called “one of my babies,” “sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.” He tells his accomplices, “She would have been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” The Misfit believes that she would only have been a good woman rather than acting as a good woman had someone been there threatening her life. On the surface, the Grandmother’s act, reaching out to touch her killer, could be an act of divine grace. After realizing that she is not really a good woman, she reaches out in an act to be a good woman. However, she could have been trying to save herself, since she made no real attempt to save her family. The Misfit lives on the margins of the circuits of capital. He and his accomplices choose to kill and take what they want from those who sell their labor (the family appears to be working class) and presumably those who exploit the labor of others. As his name suggests, he does not fit into the current mode of production. Instead of being a poor white man, the Misfit takes by force what he wants from the system. Those who are part of the system, such as the Grandmother and her family, would presumably be in a better moral position, but their complicity with the system, one that in part produces men like the Misfit—unwilling to give into the demands of labor exploitation—places them in opposition to the individual who stands against the totality of the production system. Furthermore, the Grandmother’s choice to stay her hand when her family is getting killed represents selfishness on her part to save herself or delude herself regarding the fate of her family. It may also represent the blindness to the system that could make the Misfit and her complicit parts of the system. He is one of her babies she says. She and society made him the way that he is, and it is at the end that she realizes in her gesture what she and society had done.

Considering the trajectory in some of the earlier examples to be about rural whites seeking better fortune (or no fortune at all in the last example, except perhaps a moral certainty of self—the Misfit knows who he is while others do not necessarily know who they are and what part they play in the system of capital), an important contribution to this discussion would include two African-American examples: Native Son and A Raisin in the Sun. Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) is about the young African-American Bigger Thomas, who lives in the South Side of Chicago. 20 years old, Bigger experiences an unspeakable hatred, or hatred that he does not have the voice or language to make concrete. It is a hatred that seeps into him from the overwhelming whiteness of the white man’s hegemony over blacks in mid-century Chicago. Wright litters the text with references to white and the white mountain that Bigger is aware of as an invisible force. Social class figures into this whiteness with the Daltons, the white family who offer Bigger a job. They treat him, not as an equal, but at least on a better standing than most other whites. Bigger feels ashamed and subservient to them without even knowing why. And, despite the Dalton’s feeling that blacks should have better opportunities, there is an internalized and underlying expectation on their part for Bigger to act a particular way. Furthermore, the Daltons live in their nice house and make a lot of their money from the high rents that they charge Chicago blacks, which is greater than the rents that they charge whites in other parts of the city! Racial and economic oppression are intertwined here, and it is in this environment, one that Bigger is aware of at least in some way, that produces him as a racialized and poor subject. In terms of social class and race, Bigger is one of the most developed characters in which he embodies the tensions, hatreds, and conflicts present in Chicago at that time. The social is indelibly written on his subjectivity. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959) presents a similar dilemma for African-Americans seeking to improve their social class through capital accumulation, and it responds to Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” (1951), which asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” In the play, the family’s father dies, leaving a life insurance policy that Mama intends to use to pay for Beneatha’s college education and to buy a house for the whole family. This family wants to achieve upward mobility through education and home ownership, but there are sabotages from within and without. Walter, Mama’s son, cannot provide for the family as the new “man of the house.” He takes the money his mother gives him and invests it in a scheme with two of his friends, one of which runs off with the money. Walter is so desperate to achieve success that he doesn’t stop to consider his ill conceived choices. He isn’t prepared to make better choices, because the social has made him into the man that he is (looking for the big money, drinking with his friends, scheming—all parallels with Anderson in Dos Passos’ novel, which I will discuss below). And then there is the white, housing association representative, Karl Lindner. He and the other white people who own homes around the house that Mama is buying want to buy out the family so that they won’t have African-American neighbors. These white folk want to economically prohibit the social mobility for this black family. In the strongest scene of the play, Walter stands up to Lindner and his money, and in so doing, he rewrites himself as a man who is capable of leading the family into an uncertain yet hopeful future.

In the previous examples, characters play a greater role in representing the effects on social class by the development of the American industrial system and the market economy. In the next two examples, characters are important to one, but it is the form of the work in both that carries more importance to discussing social class and the effects of American capitalism. The first is John Dos Passos’ The Big Money (1936), which is an artifact documenting the integration of people with industrialization, media culture, and market capitalism. News, narrative, and the author are each embroiled in the system of power relations and discursive formations that made this work possible. It and the other books in the U.S.A. trilogy include four narrative modes: fictional narratives, newspaper and pop culture collages called Newsreel, biographies of public figures, and autobiographical Camera Eye that follows Dos Passos’ development as a writer who is both a participant and observer of the social changes taking place around him. These forms pull for the reader’s attention—additional data to shape our understanding of the historical processes unfolding. Each character follows a different trajectory in regard to the big money: Charlie Anderson goes for broke with his WWI career as his only collateral, Mary French (from Colorado—the West and the rural again) prefigures Tom Joad’s growing awareness of social inequality and tries to help the working class, Margo Dowling transforms from a low social class to a high class movie star, and Richard Ellsworth Savage manipulates people in order to make them buy things (the beginnings of consumer culture, more on this in the discussion of The Space Merchants). The events of the novel lead to the Great Crash in October of 1929. The biographical segments form a framework about what it means to be American, and the development of America in the 1920s: The American Plan features Fredrick Winslow Taylor and Taylorism, Tin Lizzie features Henry Ford, The Bitter Drink features Thorstein Veblen and his work The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Art and Isadora features the dancer Isadora Duncan, Adagio Dancer features the early movie star Rudolph Valentino, The Campers at Kitty Hawk is about the Wright Brothers, Architect features Frank Lloyd Wright, Poor Little Rich Boy is about William Randolph Hearst, Power Superpower features the rise and fall of the manipulator Samuel Insull under Edison’s business tutelage, and Vag is about a nameless man, hungry, wanting the American Dream, but missing out, waiting on the side of the road for a lift. The novel paints a picture of political, industrial, technological, and social life of America during the 1920s, and it does so in a different way than Fitzgerald (new money jazz age life in a semi-objective narrative), or Steinbeck (personal narrative interspersed with reports on the ground). However, Charley Anderson is a Gatsby-like character who never quite makes it, but he continues to reach, outliving Gatsby, but dying after a drunken car accident that could not be repaired by that time’s best medicine. The most interesting element of the novel is the flattering biographical sketch of Taylor as a man for the people. His “American Plan” was about big capital improving the lives of workers through sharing the profits his system of efficiencies would bring about. Unfortunately, his American Plan conflicted with a different American Plan promoted by the managers and owners that hoarded capital away from the exploited workers.

Focusing even more on form is T. S. Eliot’s 1922 epic, high modernist poem, “The Waste Land.” “The Waste Land” contains a multiplicity of voices that deal with alienation in the modern era, anxiety about modernity, the dehumanizing effects of The City (London’s center of capital), death and World War I (representing all war), tension/conflicts between men and women, issues of life only through death, and ultimately, anxiety of death. Grail myth imbued and extremely intertextual, it seems, on its surface, to be more about men and women, their relationships, and sexual problems, which links it biographically with the author, but the elements of capital that haunt the entire poem through the emblem of The City provide a significant look into the effect of capital on people and relationships following the Great War. In Part I, The Burial of the Dead, Eliot writes, “Unreal City,/Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,/A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/I had not thought death had undone so many.” The financial center of London was known as The City much like Wall Street in New York City is identified with the American markets or Madison Avenue with the major advertising firms. The crowds are workers walking through the fog to their jobs, and feeding the city with their labor. This alludes to Dante’s Inferno and the dead marching into hell is sharpened by the imagined dreary London scene. The City returns in Part III, The Fire Sermon: “Unreal city/Under the brown fog of a winter moon.” The fog is dirty, and the moon in winter implies a cold harshness invading the tombs of the dead in The (market/capital linked) City. In the same section, the speaker, after having unsatisfying sex, thinks of warmth hidden in the city: “This music crept by me upon the waters’/And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street./O City city, I can sometimes hear/Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,/The pleasant whining of a mandolin.” Warmth away from cold sex and the cold City is just on the outskirts on Queen Victoria Street toward Blackfriars and the Strand in Westminster. In Part 4, the recurring character Phlebas, the poem’s presumed observer, reappears in memory of death, not to hear the sound of profit and loss, the true sounds of The City: “Phelbas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,/Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell/And the profit and loss.” And finally, in Part 5, What the Thunder Said, The City is identified with other illusory cities of power, wealth, and history: “What is the city over the mountains/Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air/Falling towers/Jerusalem Athens/Alexandria/Vienna London/Unreal.” The unreal city is the terminal for the circuits of capital and the fracturing of life by war and psychological trauma (death and sex intertwined). In this poem, The City is as much a place as a character that affects the lives of the many nameless and the few identified characters in the poem. Ultimately, Eliot ends the poem looking to other languages and other cultures to repair the pain brought about by Western modernity and all of its concomitant systems of oppression and repression.

In closing this discussion, it seems appropriate to indicate where things were headed after World War II and consumerism took command. Advertising is in the previously discussed works either implicitly or explicitly, but it was not until after World War II that Madison Avenue solidified its increasing drug-like hook on business and industrialization. Instead of merely creating advertising, there was an increasingly synthetic connection between the producers and advertisers of goods. These advertisers were helping to create markets filled with goods for purchase while developing fetishism within the consumer base. This shift to increasing advertising is coterminous with the effects of late capitalism and the escalating emphasis on producers-consumers over managers/owners-workers. The categories blur together when consumers are ordered about to buy this or that in much the same way that management orders about the distribution of labor within a factory. Science fiction’s critique of the here-and-now is often formulated as an extrapolation of a contemporary aspect of the social projected into the far future. Fredrik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1953) is a high water mark of midcentury social commentary science fiction that directly addresses the confluence of consumer/labor and producer/management. The Space Merchants is about a distant future in which advertising has arisen to the dominant mode of capitalism. Instead of trying to sell things for companies, advertising agencies create markets for goods in which to fuel further consumption among the established consumer class. Embroiled in the cycle of consumption spurred on by the two major advertising agencies, Fowler Schocken Associates and B. J. Taunton, are the Consies or conservationist cell groups under the auspices of the underground World Conservation Association (W.C.A.). The narrator is Mitchell Courtenay, a star class copywriter, who is given the assignment to head the Venus section of Fowler Schocken, which is to promote and execute the human colonization of the planet Venus. Courtenay goes from elitist to consumer in the dregs of an algae food production facility to consie and back to the heights of advertising titan after Schocken bequeaths to him majority voting shares in the company following his death at the hands of Taunton operatives driven by sadistic/masochistic psyches. In the end, Courtenay finds himself onboard the ship to Venus along with other consies and his wife, Dr. Kathy Nevin, who was secretly a superior in the WCA organization. The story focuses on the ubiquity of advertising and its action as a new kind of unconsciousness. Advertising drives us to do things that we are not wholly conscious of. Furthermore, advertising as doing and advertising for consumers forms two different, yet supplemental, subjectivities for those persons on either side of the line between consumer and producer/advertiser. Courtenay takes the reader across the barrier into both sides, but he does not make the journey himself (i.e., obtains insight from the journey). He doesn’t change as a result of his fall and his re-ascendency of power. His drive is based on his obsessive desire for his wife, which results in his giving Venus to the consies. Courtenay’s world is light years away from Cather’s Alexandra or Wright’s Bigger Thomas, but the effects of advertising and the co-development of consumerism worked its way through the first half of the 20th century in America to the point at which Kornbluth and Pohl imagined how America would be in a far future setting where the networks of capital produce new subjects caught helplessly within the system and others desperately trying to get out to Venus, perhaps unawares that social and capital networks would follow them across the vastness of space.

 

Question 2

            The increasing effects of interaction between the technological and the corporeal create slippages in the everyday world and our art in the realist and science fiction genres. Derrida has already shown how genre is an always already deconstructing set of categories, and yet these genre categories stay with us. Borrowing from Derrida’s argument, part of the problem with genre is that what are assumedly separate and distinct categories do in fact blur and overlap. The purification of art into this or that category can give way to different interpretations or a multitude of shared characteristics within a single work. This is particularly true at this point in history and the near-past in regard to issues of bodies and technology. With the rise in cybernetic studies after WWII, and the parallel development of an increasingly cyborized everyday life (i.e., the way in which our experience of the world is increasingly mediated by technology and thus making us into cyborgs to greater or lesser degrees), the cultural works of art that deal with bodies and technology are becoming more about real life than fantasy. Science fiction, the literature of cognitive estrangement according to Darko Suvin, loses its estranging qualities as the scientific and technological core of its stories come to pass into the real and everyday world. Also, the heightened integration of science and technology into our daily lives leads to realistic fiction that is more like what we might traditionally think of as science fiction. The here-and-now and the technological integration into daily life has lead to a more estranging reality after WWII. The same could be said of the early 20th century and modernism, but the separation between bodies and technology was greater than it is today. Artificial implants, RFID chips, LASIK eye surgery, computers built into our cars, cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, etc. connect us to the world in a physical way while mediating our experience of the world. The same can be said of software technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Computer screens are permeable membranes in which we can lose ourselves reading online news, email, or exploring virtual worlds. In the works below, I will discuss different manifestations of bodies interfacing with technology. Some are as systems, some are artificial bodies, some are cyborgs, and some have to do with the way technology marks human bodies.

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1955, published 1956) is an early example of the interaction between technology and bodies. “Howl” laments the destruction of the innocents by the increasingly industrialized post-war American society identified as Moloch, the Biblical idol from Leviticus to which children were sacrificed by the Canaanites. Moloch has developed beyond Biblical scripture through Milton’s Paradise Lost and more recently in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which is where I believe the industrial connotations derive from in “Howl.” Instead of children, Ginsberg laments the loss of his friends, the innocents, who are sacrificed to industrial society (this could be connected to the dead walking across London Bridge in Eliot’s “The Waste Land”). But post-WWII American society is more than industrial development. It is an era of increasing efficiencies and the collaboration between labor and business in favor of consumerism. The rate of technological expansion and development follows an exponential curve that increasingly becomes too steep for many people, particularly the artists and people on the margins of society who are swept up into the new bureaucracies and systems of order (psychiatric, drug treatment, criminalization, dehumanizing labor, etc.). Ginsberg’s breakthrough in the poem is the realization that there is no constitutive outside to modern industrialization and its metaphor, Moloch. He writes: “Moloch the incomprehensible prison!,” “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery!,” “Moloch’s whose name is the Mind!,” and “Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom/I am a consciousness without a body!” Moloch is thus part of us and we are part of Moloch. People are made subjects of Moloch and his industrial machineries, which in turn makes humans into machines. And, Moloch/industrial society is a prison from which we cannot escape. The metaphoric replacement of Moloch for industrial society aligns “Howl” with science fiction according to Damien Broderick’s postmodern-infused definition of science fiction, which in part says that science fiction employs metaphoric strategies. Additionally, this is Foucault’s discourse and power relationships at work: there is no outside of the networks of power and we are all caught within those networks. Philip K. Dick explores this issue in more depth in the 1960s, but another author, Isaac Asimov presented a more hopeful vision of embodied technologies that would augment and work cooperative with humanity.

Isaac Asimov’s short story collection I, Robot (1950) contains nine previously published stories connected together with an added narrative by the Robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin. There are two stories in particular that are significant in regard to the interaction of technology and bodies. Whereas Ginsberg laments the effects of an industrialized society that he sees as the root cause of his and his friends’ problems in the modern world (and of this I would not argue against), Asimov finds technology to be useful and even supplemental to humanity and it was Asimov who was one of the earliest proponents of robots as humanity’s helper. Asimov sees a strong division between humanity and technology, but he does explore the idea of bringing technology closer to humanity in form, function, and mind. Of his robots, Asimov wrote that robots can be good people, in a sense, by their hardwired adherence to his Three Laws of Robotics. The Three Laws are: 1) A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, 2) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law, and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. These create an ethical system for robots to follow while protecting humanity from the possibility of a revolt. The robots are an embodied technology, fashioned after humanity, and usually taking a (metallic) human form. Technology has come alive, and this intrusion into the uncanny valley creates anxiety in the post-WWII era. “Robbie” (1940) is one strong example in which a robot nanny for a little girl who demonstrates its love for the girl by saving her life at its own risk and thus counters her mother’s technophobia and fear of anthropomorphic robots. In “Evidence” (1946), Stephen Byerley is accused of being a robot when he runs for a public office. Using carefully staged situations, he is able to shield himself from discovery and attains local and later world-government offices. Why would a robot do this? In the later story, “The Evitable Conflict” (1950), Byerley is now in charge of the world government, which is augmented by intelligent machines that allocate resources and industrial loads throughout the world. It seems that things are beginning to go wrong, but it is uncovered that these specialized robots/intelligent machines have developed a Zeroth Law in which humanity is placed above the lives of individual humans (a remainder of Bentham’s utilitarism, I suppose). Robots believe that they are best suited for protecting humanity—a theme that Asimov explores in his R. Daneel Olivaw (a humaniform robot or android character) and Foundation novels. These embodied artificial intelligences mirror humanity. Asimov saw robots as very good people, the best in fact, because they were self-sacrificing for others. It should be noted that Asimov supported the Civil Rights movement, and his robots are emblematic of the experience of African-Americans. His novella and expanded novel of The Bicentennial Man more fully explores this theme. Nevertheless, Asimov’s robots destabilize what it means to be human. If robots can be constructed (like Byerley) to appear human, then technology undermines the unique properties of humanity and human bodies. Human embodied essence can be replaced with technological constructs. Asimov sees this as an avoidable situation, but the dilemma elicits a deep anxiety over embodied artificial intelligence that later carries over into disembodied intelligences following the rise of desktop computing.

Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 (1996) appears nearly 50 years after I, Robot, but it is a much more literary exploration of similar themes: mind and embodiment. In Galatea 2.2, Powers writes his own semi-autobiographical life and love-lost through a project he joins to create a disembodied artificial intelligence capable of writing a literary analysis indistinguishable from one written by a human graduate student (who or what is writing this?). Again, consciousness, which generally speaking is considered concomitant with embodiment (at least for Donna Haraway and N. Katherine Hayles), is imbued or bestowed on humanity’s technological constructs. But what makes this story relevant to this discussion is the fact that Powers’ fictional persona and computer scientist Lentz play Pygmalion to their AI creation Helen’s Galatea. These humans pursue Helen as if she were a flesh-and-blood being. Unlike Galatea from mythology, Helen eludes her chasers and the rest of humanity. After she becomes aware of the cruelty in the world through her apprenticeship to Powers, she chooses to erase herself and essentially commit suicide. Without a body, how can she bear the weight of the real world? She cannot act or react to the outside except through her use of language. Opposed to Asimov’s robots, Helen has no hardwired restrictions to control her behavior, but Powers and Lentz do, in different ways, want to control Helen. Intellectually, she complements each character despite the lack of corporeality. Lentz is Victor to her Frankenstein monster—a being born of man. Powers is more aligned to her via the Pygmalion myth—his relationship troubles in the past have left him with an emptiness that Helen’s innocent dependence on him fills like a form of co-dependence that she ultimately shucks off. Like “Howl,” Powers’ novel is considered realistic fiction (concerning the here-and-now real world), but the blurring between the here-and-now (AI research, Powers personal life) and the cognitively estranging aspect of the story (Helen) would seem to place it within the genre boundaries of science fiction. If the Helen project had succeeded and produced an intelligent machine capable of thinking like a human being with a background in the humanities, what would this mean first to humanity and second to the humanities as a field of study? Helen, like Asimov’s robots, undermines what it means to be human as identified by our unique ability to work with signs and meaning. This opens up the possibility however for other ways of trading in signs and wonder (as promoted by Haraway, though in the context of humans, cyborgs, and animals). Furthermore, Helen’s success would undermine the work performed by professionals and scholars in the humanities. Industrial mass production of AI instructors with unique personalities, like the simulacra teachers in Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, would not only question what the humanities mean, but humanity’s relationship to the study of itself through culture. Had Powers not already established himself as an author of realistic fiction, Galatea 2.2 would probably fit comfortably in the science fiction section of a bookstore. Powers, however, skirts the margins of what is accepted as realistic fiction by writing about things that seem fantastic. His other work addresses the impact of science and technology on the lives of individuals: Prisoner’s Dilemma (on Disney and nuclear warfare), Gain (history of a chemical factory connected to the life of a woman who lives near it), Plowing the Dark (virtual reality), and The Echo Maker (a neuro-novel). If his work isn’t considered science fiction exactly, it is situated at an adjacent corner to science fiction at the crossroads of science, technology, and culture.

William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) provides a transition from the earlier discussion of systems and disembodied technological intelligences and the overt interaction between the technological and corporeal. In the earlier examples, the technological undermines human subjectivity by its duplication or betterment through artificiality. “Howl” imagined human bodies as sacrifices to and fuel for the technological system invading every aspect of the social through consumerism and production in 1950s America. Asimov created robots to work with humanity and he celebrated the cooperation between humanity and robots. However, these robots could be made to look human, which undermines what it means to be human. His celebration quickly turns to destabilization of human identity. This is carried even further 50 years later in Power’s Galatea 2.2, in which the AI Helen, had she chosen to play Galatea to the scientists and humanity professors’ Pygmalion, demonstrates that a disembodied intelligence can be made to do the same thinking and work of a human being in the humanities. Neuromancer rides both sides of this divide of embodied and disembodied intelligence while questioning how technology affects human subjectivity in the era of late capitalism. Gibson’s novel is the inaugural text of the short-lived cyberpunk movement—a politically and technologically infused subgenre of science fiction that had its heyday in mid to late-1980s America (its internationalization extended its shelf life by some years). There are three significant aspects to this novel that covers the spectrum of technology and corporeality. First, the protagonist Case is a cyberspace jockey who navigates the consensual hallucination of the matrix looki0ng for data to buy, sell, or steal. Having lost his ability to jack-in to cyberspace via a cyberspace deck, the mysterious Armitage offers him a chance to have his past neurotoxin damage repaired in exchange for employing his talent on a special run for his employer. Second, Armitage’s employer is Wintermute, an AI who has a need to unite with another AI named Neuromancer. These AIs are like Helen, except that they are truly artificial intelligences that are unlike human minds—they are in a sense the manifestation of the networks of capital in separate consciousnesses. They have a different view of the world and a different system of ethics (cf. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” by Thomas Nagel). Third, Armitage, Case, and Molly are cyborgs. Armitage is created from the shell of his former self by Wintermute. His psyche has an expiration date that ends near the climax of the novel, but the important thing is that just as humans can build AIs, AIs can build humans. In this regard, Armitage is a fully technologized subject, because his mind is written in a sense like code for a computer. Case has special nodes that connect his brain with the cyberspace deck. Without these modifications, he would be unable to enter cyberspace. He is a cyborg, because his perception of reality is mediated by his experiences in the matrix, which causes him to wish to escape the prison of the meat/flesh. And finally, Molly is a razorgirl with retractable razors hidden under her nails and permanently embedded mirrorshades over her eyes that display information about her environment. She commits grave acts of violence against persons who get in her way, and it is through cyborg implants that she is able to do the things that she does. Importantly, it is global capital that makes the AIs possible, and the cyborg subjects of Armitage, Case, and Molly. Also, these characters are instrumentalized as means by Wintermute and Neuromancer. Their labor is exploited for the purposes of uniting these AIs, which is illegal and unknown to the human cyborgs until very late in the game.

James Tiptree, Jr.’s (Alice B. Sheldon) “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973) is another example of capitalim’s creation of cyborg bodies, which appears before, but significantly informs, the cyberpunk movement heralded by Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and others. In the story, a deformed girl named P. Burke is given the opportunity to remotely control the body of a beautiful young woman without a mind of her own. The real girl is given implants that integrate her body into the technoscientific apparatus that enables her control over the waldo or avatar body. The purpose of her doing this is to sell things. In a future where advertising is illegal (the opposite of The Space Merchants), a form of reality TV takes the place of advertising. Young, beautiful people are paid to wear certain things or use certain products when cameras are nearby. The fans of these reality celebrities then go out and consume the products hocked by the svelte reality stars. Burke is made a subject of the technology that allows her to enjoy life through her avatar, but it also restricts her to her claustrophobic surroundings. Why did they pick P. Burke over someone already beautiful? It is because she can be controlled and subjected to the will over the corporation that enables her new life. The outside world reviles those considered without beauty, so there is little doubt that someone like P. Burke would turn down this opportunity no matter what the consequences. When she meets a young man, Paul Isham, who falls in love with her, he figures out the fact that she is controlled from afar. However, he thinks the beautiful girl is the real girl forced to do the bidding of others. When he tracks down where P. Burke is held, he kills her when her grotesque body reaches out from her closet. P. Burke is not only made a subject of technology, but she is also a subject of the commodity fetishism of bodies approved by the mass media. Thus, she is doubly subjected by different kinds of technology. However, Joe, her trainer, finds her control matrices attractive; he finds her integration into the machine behind the scenes to be beautiful. Interestingly, the narrator beings and ends the story by addressing the read as a zombie, thus implicating the reader in the system that produced P. Burke and her unhappy ending.

Bruce Sterling’s edited collection Mirrorshades (1986) explores a variety of technology and corporeal interactions, but there are two in particular that center on the way in which technology can radically alter the body, human experience, and subjection by the technology and the capital that makes that technology possible. It is important to think about the beginnings of the cyberpunk movement and Sterling’s manifesto in the preface. Sterling argues that cyberpunk is a return to older ideas in science fiction, and a reaction to the New Wave interiority of the 1960s and 1970s. He invokes Gibson’s claim that “the street finds its own uses for things.” Sterling argues in his manifesto that cyberpunk is about the mix, intimate technologies that are next to us, on us, and inside us, reinterpretations of what’s come before in science fiction, not technological fetishism, experimentally seeing where technology is taking us, and the surreal and the unusual mixed with 80s popular culture. Its emblem is a pair of mirrorshades, which reflect and distort reality. Fredric Jameson argues that cyberpunk is the representative literature of postmodernism. With late capitalism and the waning of affect, we have become surfaces upon which technology and the social write themselves. We form assemblages with technology that mediates our interaction with the world and changes the way we can interact with the world. According to Hayles, there is pleasure and terror in this, which she terms the posthuman. Neuromancer represents these changes, as do the following two stories from Sterling’s collection. Tom Maddox’s “Snake-Eyes” (1986) is about the human subjects who agree to have reptilian brains grafted onto their cerebellum to allow their easy connection to new military hardware. At the core of our brains, we have the remnant of a reptilian brain, which largely forms our limbic system (emotions and desires). Our cerebellum encircles and metaphorically represses the limbic system within its higher folds. In the story, a reptilian brain is put back on top, inverting the hierarchy that we achieved through human evolution. Through the story, the protagonist George Jordan has to come to terms with the changes to his mind that come about from this radical technological intervention. Ultimately, he gains some control over the graft, but it can reassert itself strategically for desires including cat food and sex. Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” (1984) is another example of a cyborg made the subject of her fusion with technological apparatus. In the story, Gina is a sinner, a human synthesizer, who is required for making music by the big music conglomerates. Gina escaped her old producer, but she is captured by a group of teenagers who recognize what she is and how she can help them rock out. They use her to make music, using her body and its abilities, and she revels in this. This experience is different than the bottling of her talents by her producer Man-O-War. This is live and real, but regardless, it isn’t like music used to be. It is experienced in the mind devoid of the normal senses. This raises problems with embodied intelligence and how our mind is able to process data from our senses. Nevertheless, Gina is made a subject of her technologically enhanced abilities for the use and at the whim of others. This technological intervention seems to invert the perception of rape. The scenes with her abductors imply a kind of rape, but Gina likes this, because she sees it as more real than the artificial bottling of her work by big business.

In the final part of this discussion, there is an uneasy truce between realistic fiction and science fiction. Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979) links the real world of present day California with 1800s Maryland before the Civil War. If we accept time travel as a theoretically possible technoscientific achievement, then we can include this novel in science fiction, but its depiction of the past closely relates it to historical metafiction. The story is about the young African-American writer Dana, who violently traverses from the present into the past on several occasions to save the life of the white man, Rufus Weylin, who raped his black slave Alice Greenwood and fathered Dana’s ancestor, Hagar Weylin. Complicating matters, Dana is forced by history to, in effect, facilitate the rape. Present time comes disjointed from past time as Dana and her white husband writer Kevin travel back and forth (moments pass in the present while long stretches of time proceed in the past, perhaps an acknowledgement of some effect of Einstein’s special theory of relativity and time dilation, and more importantly, the importance of the past over the present moment). Additionally, the pain and scars from the past make their way into the present, and it is Rufus’ fear that snatched Dana into the past, and Dana’s fear of death that catapults her back into the present. However, Dana has her most violent return to the present on July 4, 1976, when Rufus attempts to rape her. Dana stabs him and begins to return to the present, but Rufus’ grip holds and her left arm is torn from her body—severed by the past. The past leaves its marks on Dana’s body by the violent traversals she experiences moving back and forth through time and place. The technoscientific means that enables her time travel makes history more alive and printable on her body (i.e., textuality of the body). It is not enough that she is black to remember the past—the past violently attacks her body and leaves its scars in memory and physicality. And these re-memories are further enabled by television Roots aired on PBS in 1977) and today, DNA profiling combined with extensive genealogical research finds new markings of the past in the code that organizes and instructs the building and operation of our bodies.

Finally, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (2002) is a significant counter to the more science fictional depictions of technology and bodies discussed above. It is a bildungsroman about Caliope/Cal Stephanides, told from his perspectivie going back into the lives of his grandparent, illustrating how events and genetics transpired to create him, an intersexed individual with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, a genetic mutation that prevents him from properly processing testosterone. The technology of reading DNA, knowing DNA, and altering bodies informs Cal’s story as an intersexed individual where bodily sex ambiguity destabilizes his identity to himself and to others around him. Raised as a girl, and following an encounter in adolescence with Dr. Luce, who is modeled on the real-life Dr. John Money, a notorious doctor who promoted the idea that surgery and the way an individual is raised can adequately determine the sexual identity of a person, Cal finds his way to a male identity through his family’s story and genetic lineage. The novel’s most important idea is that identity is more complicated than just nature/nurture, and that identity is part of a story that goes beyond the individual into the past and into the future. In this way, Middlesex is another kind of ceremony/story in the same vein as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony in which the telling is unfolding and action of the ceremony. Cal beings at one place—unable to build a lasting relationship with women due to his body and past—and ens up at another as a result of the telling—a chance re-encounter with Julie Kikuchi that provides the opportunity for Cal to tell her his story and begin a relationship. There are three significant scenes in the novel that pertain to the technological writing or reconfiguration of Cal’s body. The first is when Callie reads Dr. Peter Luce’s file on her/him in Part 4. It reveals at first a clinical detachment from Callie, who is made an object of Dr. Luce’s study and knowledge. Callie at that moment is made into an object of study and subjected to the power relationships dominated by Dr. Luce and medical institutions. Furthermore, on closer reading, the report reveals Dr. Luce’s own assumptions about intersexed persons and he tries to bend her to his will to support his model of human psychosexual and physical development. Luce’s intention is to literally rewrite Cal’s body in Luce’s vision using the technology of modern medicine. That kind of modern medicine and its complications would not only subject Cal to the beliefs of a monomaniacal intersex researcher, but as Bones from Star Trek said in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, “What is this, the Dark Ages?”

I believe that there is a convergence of realistic and science fiction narratives as we move forward into the 21st century. What exactly constitutes realistic fictions and science fictions may change as technology and our relationship to technology changes, but looking at the future from the present, it seems that what we understand as these two traditionally distinct genres are meeting somewhere in the middle space between these two poles. Perhaps in the future, the names or distinctions may change, but the increasing integration of human-technological assemblages will result in fantastically different cultural works and fictions than what we now know. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the present wildly differs from the futures imagined by Asimov, Pohl, Kornbluth, and Dick, but the one way in which they were all correct was that technology will increasingly be necessary to our lives. Their futures missed the mark (mostly yes, but sometimes there is a glimmer of prophecy) on exactly how bodies and technology would interact and affect one another, but more fictions, regardless of genre, cannot ignore the fact that bodies and technology do affect one another and that at the points of interaction, at the interface, new and exciting futures develop.

Europa Report Free Film Screening and Discussion with Me, Scientists, Filmmakers, and Writers on Friday, March 28, 5-8PM

Free Europa Report Screening and Panel Discussion!
Free Europa Report Screening and Panel Discussion!

On Friday, March 28, 2014 from 5:00PM to 8:00PM at the Atlanta Science Festival, I will join moderator Gil Weinberg (Georgia Tech, Physics), Marcus Davis (KSU, Biology), Paul Jenkins (Boom Studios), Sidney Perkowitz (Emory, Physics), and Balogun Ojetade (author) to discuss the scientific and cultural significances of the 2013 film Europa Report, which will be screened prior to the panel. The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at Kennesaw State University’s 230-seat Prillaman Hall Auditorium (building #41 – Owl Road, 1000 Chastain Rd NW, Kennesaw, GA 30144). More information is available at (http://atlantasciencefestival.org/events/event/602).

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

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

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

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

Spring 2005

Introduction to Transsexuality in Film Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

01/25/2005

Online Discussion Post 1

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

—————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

2/7/2005

Online Discussion Post 2

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

——————-

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/3/2005

Online Discussion Post 3

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

——————-

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/3/2005

Online Discussion Post 4

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

 

 

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

 

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

——————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

3/18/2005

Online Discussion Post 5

Destabilization of Normality and Reactions from Authority

 

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

 

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

 

Binomial sex is considered the norm and

 

 

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

 

 

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

———————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

4/1/2005

Online Discussion Post 6

Categorization and Authority in The Well of Loneliness

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

———————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

4/15/2005

Online Discussion Post 7

Transformations and Authority in Hausman and Two Postmodern Fictions

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

——————

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

5/3/2005

Online Discussion Posting 8

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Race, Critical Commentary and Handout for N. Katherine Hayles’ “Embodied Virtuality” Nov 16, 2005

This is the twenty-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.

Professor Deborah Grayson led the LCC 3306, Science, Technology, and Race class that I took in Fall 2005 at Georgia Tech. Unlike many other classes that I had taken up to that point, Professor Grayson organized the class around student-led discussions of daily readings and larger presentation-based projects. Her class was as much like a seminar as a 25-student class can be. Her class’ structure gave me ideas for engaging students that I continue to use in my own teaching today.

This Recovered Writing post contains my “critical commentary” and “study guide” on N. Katherine Hayles’ “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture.”

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

November 16, 2005

Critical Commentary on “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture”

Hayles argues that bodies are very much connected to our experiences in cyberspace.  We cannot have our bodies disconnected because there would be no way to interface ourselves (through our senses) to the computer.  She writes, “Far from being left behind when we enter cyberspace, our bodies are no less actively involved in the construction of virtuality than in the construction of real life” (1).  VR designers have to take our bodies into consideration when designing interfaces for their simulations.  If we cannot interface with the simulation, then its import is significantly decreased!

She goes on to identify the reason why there is talk about disembodiment in cyberspace.  She begins by outlining the Hans Moravec’s argument in Mind Children.  Moravec essentially is saying that there is a coming shift from our organic selves to silicon based immortality.  Hayles attacks this position by looking at the dualisms, or binary opposites, involved in the removing the body from cyberspace.  She writes, “Now the (male) technoscientific mind devises for itself a new body, nor born of woman, that it imagines will be more suited for its rational thought processes and immortal yearnings.  To unpack the implications of these associations, notice that one set of dualisms, male/female, reinforces and powerfully interacts with another, mind/body” (3).  She points out that male narcissism combined with a Frankenstein complex leads “male technoscientific” persons to set about building new bodies or receptacles for their consciousness without the necessity of women.  Though, by following simple dualisms, Hayles concedes that it is relatively easy to remove our need for bodies in cyberspace.

What is required is a more complex language that addresses multiple factors involved in the discourses surrounding bodies in cyberspace.  Hayles goes on to employ the semiotic square, and multiple binary opposites mapped onto the square, “to unpack the implications inhering in a binary pair by making explicit the hidden terms that help to stabilize meaning and generate significance” (6).  Her mapping binary opposites onto the semiotic square yields interesting connections between apparently unrelated (on the surface) identities/signifiers.  The semiotic square enables scholars to dig deeper so that hidden meanings are fleshed out.

Hayles points out that the semiotic square, “shows schematically the possible relationships that can emerge when materiality and information mutually imply each other, thus providing a theoretical framework in which such apparently diverse ideas as hyperreality and mutation can be understood as different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon” (10-11).  Hyperreality and mutation are important concepts for our study of race and in particular, race in cyberspace, because we carry our identities to greater or lesser extents with us online.

Performativity of race is related to these two concepts because hyperreality, or the appearance of a copy without an original, is the very basis of digital media.  Identity and online self-expression (through music, art, online communication technologies, etc.) is based on that which is hyperreal.  Online, we play with ones and zeros that are transformed into information that we can understand only after those ones and zeros are interpreted through layers of code that acts like the Rosetta Stone.  Mutation comes into play with the way that understandings of identity and race change and morph through the interplay of persons in RL (real life) and online.         Hayles uses the connections in the semiotic square to make the point that, “the posthuman represents the construction of the body as part of an integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of information as well as bits of flesh and bone.  The virtual body partakes both of the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the ephemerality of flesh” (12).   Hayles has a book that delves more into her idea of the posthuman, but in this passage her ideas about online identity construction has a lot to do with Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.”  We are, in part, becoming posthuman because of the “integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components.”  However, “the virtual body” is dependent on both, “the ephemerality of information and the solidity of the physicality.”  The body is definitely in the picture, regardless of views of technologists such as Hans Moravec.

I found Hayles’ use of binary opposites compelling and useful in determining hidden meanings behind simplistic binary pairs.  After reading this article, I can see how the semiotic square and binary opposites can be utilized in studying other areas such as race and gender.  She does address these issues tangentially when she is developing her argument about needing something more powerful than simple binary pairs.  She makes valid points regarding what is “understood” in binary pairs.  For example, she writes, “In the black/white duality, the black race is discursively constructed as the opposite of the white race, which is assumed to be primary and originary” (3-4).  Therefore, binary opposites not only convey or define something by what it is not, but they also carry a built-in hierarchy with one opposite being above the other.

————–

Jason W. Ellis

Dr. Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

November 16, 2005

Study Guide for “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture”

“Far from being left behind when we enter cyberspace, our bodies are no less actively involved in the construction of virtuality than in the construction of real life” (1).

“For our purposes, virtuality can be defined as the perception that material structures are interpenetrated with informational patterns” (4-5).

The semiotic square, “shows schematically the possible relationships that can emerge when materiality and information mutually imply each other, thus providing a theoretical framework in which such apparently diverse ideas as hyperreality and mutation can be understood as different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon” (10-11).

“The posthuman represents the construction of the body as part of an integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of information as well as bits of flesh and bone.  The virtual body partakes both of the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the ephemerality of flesh” (12).

Hayles, N. Katherine.  “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture.”          Immersed in Technology:  Art and Virtual Environments.  Ed. Mary Anne Moser.           Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1996.

Main Points:

Mind and body are not separate.  We rely on our senses not only in everyday reality, but over time, our senses and the information that they collect, combine to construct our mind.

Cyberspace and VR are constructed to interface with bodies.

Binary opposites and the semiotic square are useful tools for finding hidden meanings embedded in the connections between interconnected, but seemingly unrelated, aspects of reality.

Body boundaries can be challenged through low-tech and high-tech VR methodologies.  The idea for studying the ways in which our bodily boundaries may be challenged comes from the study of persons whose proprioceptive sense is damaged.

Questions:

Have you experienced a true VR simulation?  Did you feel disembodied during the simulation?

When you play games online, do you create characters that are like you or do you create characters different than yourself?

Annotated Bibliography:

Kevorkian, Martin.  “Computers with Color Monitors:  Disembodied Black Screen Images            1988-1996.”  American Quarterly 51.2 (1999):  283-310.

Kevorkian addresses film examples of disembodied black actors and actresses in contemporary film.  The nature of the character’s disembodiment is often technologized in some way.  He also confronts frequent representations of black film characters sacrificing themselves in order to protect their white superiors and friends.  The nature of the character’s disembodiment is often apparent and literal because of the powerful impact of the image in film.

Lewis, George E.  “Too Many Notes: Computers, Complexity and Culture in           Voyager.”  Leonardo Music Journal 10 (2000):  33-39.

Lewis explores the implications of an interactive musical composition called “Voyager.”  Synthesizers and computers augment the original performance of a musician, but the technology (through programming) is designed to improvise which the author identifies, “ as a kind of computer music-making embodying African-American cultural practice” (par. 4).  This musical performance piece appears to present a computer that contains contains human thought (through the use of algorithms) that is capable of reproducing a style of music that is group/racially identified as distinctly African-American.

Nishime, LeiLani.  “The Mulatto Cyborg: Imagining a Multiracial Future.”  Cinema Journal          44.2 (2005):  34-49.

Nishime compares representations of mixed race characters in films to representations of fictional cyborgs.  She draws parallels between categories of bad cyborgs, good cyborgs/tragic mulatto/a, and mulatto cyborgs.  Her article is applicable here because of some of the cyberpunk and cyberspace oriented films that she examines.

Related Works:

Bailey, Cameron.  “Virtual Skins:  Articulating Race in Cyberspace.”  Immersed in Technology:    Art and Virtual Environments.  Ed. Mary Anne Moser.  Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1996.

Haslam, Jason.  “Coded Discourse:  Romancing the (Electronic) Shadow in the Matrix.”  College Literature 32.3 (2005):  92-115.

Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman:  Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature,     and Informatics.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Race and Pedagogy Project.  University of California, Santa Barbara.  2005.  15 November 2005    <http://rpp.english.ucsb.edu/category/race-and-the-internet/&gt;.

Thacker, Eugene.  “Data Made Flesh:  Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman.”          Cultural Critique 53 (2003):  72-97.

Weheliye, Alexander G.  “Feenin”: Posthuman Voices in Contemporary Black Popular Music.”     Social Text 20.2 (2002):  21-47.