Joanna Russ. To
Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction. Introduction
by Sarah LeFanu. Bloomington: Indiana UP (800-842-6796), 1995. xvi+161. $12.95 paper.
Joanna Russ has published science-fiction novels, short stories, and criticism for
thirty-five years and has been active as a feminist for twenty-five, publishing such books
as The Female Man, How to Suppress Women's Writing, and Magic Mamas,
Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts: Feminist Essays. In this new collection of
fourteen essays, four of which were published previously in SFS, between 1975 and 1980,
Russ describes a life spent in literary studies from the heady days of the emergence of
science fiction as an academic discipline to the shattering realization that "our
literature is not about women. It is not about women and men equally. It is by and about
men" (81). Many of the essays bear the marks of having been written originally for
presentation at conferences such as the Popular Culture Association with vast arrays of
information compressed into two or three main points delivered with wit to an audience
neatly divided between "them" and "us" and concluded with bravado.
Russ presents her essays more or less chronologically in two parts evenly divided
between science-fiction and feminist issues. Although she admits the essays themselves
seem less important now than to the young woman who wrote them, she has introduced each
essay with a series of retrospective observations that, taken together, form a history of
how the fundamentals of sf criticism were developed by Lem, Suvin, and Delany, how the
number of undergraduate and graduate courses in sf exploded in the early 1970s, and how
empty-headed conferences and books about "technology" proliferated at the same
time. Russ prefers Star Trek to Star Wars, finding the former
"mildly feminist" (32). By 1980, she was writing about the battle of the sexes
in feminist utopias, finding little of merit in many of them with the occasional exception
of a James Tiptree, Jr. At the same time, Russ describes herself as a feminist and gay
activist as well as a horror-story freak fond of gothic romances and H.P. Lovecraft. She
berates, for their treatment of women, the male feminists who made a feature-length film
of Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog," and thus the first part of her
collection, the part devoted to science fiction ends on a note of despair and resignation
before sf's intransigent sexism.
Part Two, devoted to feminist issues, opens with an essay published in the early
seventies in Susan Koppelman's Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives,
a pioneering anthology used in many of the newly forming Women's Studies programs. Titled
"What Can A Heroine Do? Why Women Can't Write," the essay asserts that women in
literature exist only in relation to the protagonist (who is male). Very few actions are
available to a female protagonist. Bitch or victim, her role is to wait for love to come
to her. Russ found in detective stories, supernatural fiction, and science fiction a
release from such limitation. She felt new myths of Woman were needed, now perhaps
provided in the expanded canon. She wrote amusingly about modern gothics, those
crossbreeds of Jane Eyre and Rebecca, dominated by
"Super-Male," "Heroine," the "Other Woman," the
"Secret," and "Ominous Dialogue." The essay that follows, "On
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley," speculates that Mary might have attained a higher
standard as a writer had she written under happier circumstances, "without the deaths
of children and husband which darkened her life..." (129-130). In "Recent
Feminist Utopias," originally written in 1981, Russ examines some of the more
successful works in this tradition together with six matter-of-factly Lesbian all-female
utopias, finding in them deep concern for forms of simple justice for women and children.
In "To Write Like a Woman," first published in 1986, she explores the more
specific instance of the novels of Willa Cather where male personas become records not of
male but Lesbian experience. The final three essays in the collection, all originally
published in the 1980s as letters to editors associated with feminist publications,
express Russ's growing unhappiness with the feminist critical establishment, which she
accuses of adopting whatever promises "system, control, understanding without effort,
and evasion of hard questions." She challenges those feminist critics who still
hesitate to attach the word "Lesbian" to issues of female solidarity and
eroticism. Angered by the amount of sheer jargon that passes for literary criticism, Russ
pronounces a pox on the house of the academy itself: "The sort of culture English
Departments produce is dreadful. They know so little and leave out so much out of sheer
ignorance; and then there's the stuff they leave out because it's in their interest to do
so. It's an unbelievably narrow education" (176). What follows is silence.
Elaine L. Kleiner, Indiana State University.
Addendum on To Write Like a Woman.
It is customary in reviewing books of this kind--a collection of essays written over a
long period of time and having no single narrow theme--to question whether the book should
exist at all. I want to echo the sentiments expressed by Sarah LeFanu in her introduction
to the book, that the essays herein are addressed, not just to the readers of science
fiction or the readers of feminist literature, but to the general reader, and that they
are are so well written, so well informed, and so highly intelligent that they can be
enjoyed by anyone--by any reader, at least, who enjoys reading essays. I should also like to
draw our readers' attention to an essay that appeared in The New Yorker for
November 27, 1995, "Cather and the Academy," by Joan Acocella, who finds little
to commend in Cather criticism, but who singles out Russ's essay on Cather, "To Write
Like a Woman," for high praise. In sum, this book is special, if only because we need
to have available all the work, fiction and nonfiction alike, of this brilliant but not
especially prolific wrier.
The Origins of Future-War Fiction.
I.F. Clarke, ed. The
Tale of the Next Great War, 1871-1914: Fictions of Future Warfare and of Battles
Still-to-Come. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995.
xiv+382. $39.95 cloth, $17.95 paper.
In 1961, I.F. Clarke published a seminal work in the form of an annotated bibliography
entitled The Tale of the Future From the Beginning to the Present Day. This
pioneering book showed how technological change transformed European conceptions of
historical time, thereby spawning in the seventeenth century a new literary genre
consisting of imagined futures radically different from the present and past. Clarke's
1966 study Voices Prophesying War 1763-1984, enlarged in the 1992 edition, Voices
Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763-3749, focused this vision on a subgenre of
future-scene fiction: stories and novels that projected wars in the future. Clarke tied
the growth of future-war fiction directly to the evolution of military technology from the
Industrial Revolution to the nuclear age, together with the growth of a mass reading
audience. Especially striking was his discovery that the first characteristically modern
fictions of future war appeared in the early 1870s, a direct product of the advent of what
we have now come to call technowar, which hit Europe in the Franco-Prussian War.
The current volume consists of sixteen future-war stories published during that crucial
period between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the beginning of World War I,
together with an introductory essay, notes on the texts, and biographical notes on the
authors. None of the stories maintains any special power as a literary work. Yet, because
many of these works are difficult to obtain and because collectively they are of great
historic interest, The Tale of the Next Great War is a useful collection not only
for sf scholars but also for those interested in relations between militarism in popular
culture and our horrendous century of technological slaughter.
The anthology does, however, display some of the weaknesses and limitations of Clarke's
full-length study of future wars. The criteria for selecting stories are not only
Eurocentric but profoundly Anglocentric: eleven of the authors are British; France,
Germany, and Sweden each have one token tale; there are only two American authors.
Clarke's Eurocentrism makes his introductory essay even more myopic. After all, the advent
of technowar, with an ample display of its horrors, came in the U.S. Civil War, which
Clarke does not even mention. And nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American tales
of future war have come to play an exceedingly important role in shaping the warfare and
militaristic culture of modern times.
The introduction does contain many valuable nuggets, mostly extracted from Clarke's
previous work, especially relating to the propagandistic effects of this fiction on the
mass audience and the creation of the cultural climate for World War I. Even here,
however, there is a tendency toward imprecision and overstatement, such as the claim
"The Battle of Dorking" excited readers "throughout the world" (a
phrase repeated three times). The assertion that "optimism came easily to Wells"
is rebutted by The War of the Worlds, The War in the Air, and The World Set
Free, works briefly mentioned here but discussed with considerable insight in Voices
The absence of any fiction by Wells himself suggests the limits and uses of this
collection. This is not a showcase of the best examples of the subgenre. It is, however, a
valuable resource for scholars concerned with relations between future-war SF and cultural
--H. Bruce Franklin Rutgers University Newark.
A Study of Slipstream Fiction.
Joseph Tabbi. Postmodern
Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995. xii+243. $32.50.
Joseph Tabbi's new study joins such works as Robert L. Nadeau's Readings from the
New Book of Nature and David Porush's The Soft Machine in scrutinizing the
ways in which contemporary U.S. novelists engage with technology. His title promises more
breadth than actually materializes in the volume, which discusses Mailer, Pynchon,
McElroy, and Delillo, with a coda on cyberpunk. One of the most striking absences from
this company is William Burroughs, to say nothing of a whole series of more central
science-fiction authors. Drawing on Thomas Weiskel's The Romantic Sublime and
Slavoy Zizek's The Sublime Object of Ideology, Tabbi sets out to describe a
series of encounters between writers and a "nonverbal technological reality."
The sublime in this context figures as a "powerfully significant failure to
signify," as a series of representational crises where categories break down.
Technology thus replaces nineteenth-century Nature as a huge network and system,
tantalizing the writer by its sheer scale and promise.
The first of Tabbi's chosen writers, Normal Mailer, is presented as attempting to
reconstruct a lost centre. The discussion at this point gives us tantalizing glimpses of
manuscript drafts which Mailer did not include in his published works. One such sketch,
"Alpha and Bravo," outlines the notion of psychic division which Mailer then
developed at length in An American Dream. The more prominent and sustained
encounter with technology, however, occurs in Of a Fire on the Moon, where Mailer
struggles to appropriate his subject because NASA has packaged it so neatly. The drama of
that book is more complex than the impression Tabbi gives of a writer meeting a nonverbal
object. Apart from the status of the mooncraft itself, Mailer records his constant
frustration at the PR mediation of the event which drastically reduces his capacity for
imaginative commentary. Tabbi makes some attempt to weave the much-discussed topics of
Mailer's dualistic sensibility and theatrical formation and re-formation of persona into
direct relevance to technology, but the result is forced. Nor does it quite explain how
the unlocated "media speak" of Why Are We In Vietnam? can be read as a
technological rounding of consciousness.
When Tabbi moves on to Pynchon the crispness of his argument rises noticeably and he
produces outstanding and subtle discussions of the wariness towards all systems built into
Gravity's Rainbow. Psychological and technological domains repeatedly intersect;
the rocket, for example, embodying a dream of transcendence. Tabbi finds in Pynchon,
Delany, and other novelists an abiding belief that "our collective creations are
capable of producing a connected whole incomprehensible to any one mind in the
collective." This pursuit of a chimerical totality results in a prose style which
reproduces the reality of modern science by articulating a field of internal connections.
Tabbi gives a sensitive close reading of those sections of Gravity's Rainbow
which revolve around the German technician Franz Pökler whose rhetoric constantly
oscillates between insecurity and uncertainty. His predicament reflects that of the reader
who encounters two different and unresolved modes of representation causal connection and
analogical integration. It is a measure of Tabbi's self-scrutinizing intelligence that,
just as Pynchon refuses to reconcile these modes, so he too avoids giving the impression
of resolving the different facets of Pynchon's work into a tendentious whole.
Throughout Postmodern Sublime Tabbi takes issue with those critics of a
deconstructive turn who content themselves with demonstrating internal paradoxes within
literary works. For example, he refuses a self-referential reading of Joseph McElroy's Plus,
taking its subject instead as a "mind in space at tempting to reconstitute itself by
interacting with the outside world." In this work Tabbi does not oppose the natural
and the technological but proposes an explanation of how McElroy is "writing the
body." It is a "compositional self" which emerges, possibly comparable to
the narratives of Ronald Sukenick and Raymond Federman (two more novelists on the border
of the sf genre) who demonstrate an awareness of the technology of the novel itself in
their ongoing experiments with disruptive typographical experiments. In the case of Don
Delillo, Tabbi focuses on Libra and Mao II as marking a turning-point in
his career. Both concern protagonists "who fail in their attempts to merge with
history" and thus represent a move away from Delillo's earlier acceptance of
political and corporate systems. Tabbi designates these narratives "hybrid
fictions," works which mix genres and discourses. It is no surprise that Tabbi should
take brief bearings here from The Executioner's Song as a kind of collage
assembly; and Mailer's more recent study of the Kennedy assassin, Oswald's Tale,
would be further grist to Tabbi's mill in its use of KGB recordings. Although one of
Pynchon's few nonfictional pieces is called "Is it OK to be a Luddite?," Tabbi
interestingly demonstrates that his authors are not hostile to technology as such but are
alert to the expressive potential of its products. It is a pity that he makes no mention
here of Philip K. Dick, who constantly dramatizes the surreal life of electronic
contraptions and consumer objects. Although Tabbi argues that the highbrow/lowbrow
distinction collapses (does anyone still believe in this?) when he is briefly considering
cyberpunk, his own preference in subject lies with the intricate and complexly written
fictions of figures like Delillo and Pynchon. But that is no criticism. Postmodern
Sublime is a suggestive and valuable rereading of a number of key contemporary
novelists, and on the whole does an impressive job of demonstrating the complex shifts in
symbolism and discourse produced in their fiction by technology.
--David Seed University of Liverpool.
Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz.
Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (800-621-2736), 1995. x+261. $45.00 cloth, $14.95
Projecting the Shadow is itself a cyborg built of disparate theoretical
components. On the surface, it displays the terminology and pessimism of postmodern
critics like Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson. At heart, however, its sensibilities
are animated by such mythopoetic thinkers as C.J. Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Robert Bly.
With (appropriately) mixed results, the authors use film to show how technology has
impelled society to reconfigure Western myths and initiation rites.
Rushing and Frentz begin by discussing technology within the context of postmodern
philosophy. The turn from modernism to postmodernism has emphasized fragmentation in
society, the environment, and the individual. Baudrillard thus proclaims the usurpation of
the human subject by its own objects as technology simulates life. Jameson, meanwhile,
describes a technologically induced schizophrenia and the death of the utopian impulse.
While Rushing and Frentz find some merit in these assessments, they refuse the
common to postmodernism.
A "transmodern" alternative is proposed. Transmodernism to an extent reclaims
the centered subject of modernism. It affirms the existence and value of the spiritual
while rejecting the evacuation of meaning seen by postmodernism. Guided by Jung's depth
psychology, Rushing and Frentz champion the inner psyche. They adopt a Jungian vocabulary
and posit a startling methodology. "A transmodern mode of inquiry is more a matter of
a psychic readiness than it is the deployment of any set of pre-established critical
operations," they announce. "In fact, insofar as any method entails a formal set
of procedures that others might learn and apply objectively, transmodern criticism is
amethodological" (50). SFS readers familiar with Scott Bukatman and Donna Haraway
will be challenged by the assertion that "the critic listens to what a text in this
case a film has to say. Such a stance requires experiencing it 'by the personality as a
whole,' living with it on an unconscious as well as a conscious level" (50).
Rushing and Frentz "listen" to films that rework the archetypal hunter myth.
Chapter Three delineates this myth as it progresses through a tripartite sequence over
time. In the Indian hunter phase, the "Indian boy" (55) leaves his tribe to hunt
a wild animal with sacred weapons. He feels a spiritual affinity with his prey, kills it,
and returns the meat to the tribal community. In the frontier hunter phase, the
"white frontiersman" (57) mimics this ritual but loses sight of the sacred
elements. His weaponry and lack of spiritual restraint lead to slaughter, and the hunter
becomes estranged from society. In the technological hunter phase, complex tools are
fashioned in the creator's image to accomplish the hunt. The creator loses control of his
tools and acquires the status of prey.
Subsequent chapters trace the hunter myth progression in specific films. Jaws,
for example, depicts an emasculated hunter--Police Chief Brody --ho discovers the heroism
and aspects of Self needed to defeat his prey by working with a savage man (Quint) and a
technological man (Hooper). The shark variously represents: "'the conquered
continent' (83), submerged capitalist anxieties about the efficiency of the system in
destroying its own" (84), "the ability of feminine sexuality to disrupt the
patriarchal system" (85), and "the frontier hunter's repressed spirituali
ty" (87). Chapters Five and Six examine, respectively, The Deer Hunter and The
Manchurian Candidate. In the former, the hero leaves his Pennsylvania
"tribe" to fight in Vietnam. As a prisoner of the Viet Cong, he undergoes a
version of the "mythic descent" and explores the nature of his repressions
(110). The Russian roulette games symbolize random, out-of- control technology. In The
Manchurian Candidate, technology assumes the role of hunter, capturing Gls and
brainwashing them into weapons to be used against the United States.
SFS readers are advised to ignore these early chapters and concentrate on the second
half of the book. In Chapter Seven, Rushing and Frentz deliver a nuanced account of Blade
Runner. Rick Deckard and the replicants stage a double hunt where "hunter"
and "weapon" track each other as prey amidst the trash-strewn wilderness of Los
Angeles, AD 2019. The replicants comprise their own tribe, "a sheltering circle from
which they venture to hunt for more life" (150). As hunters, Roy Batty and his
Nexus-6 kin enact the sins of their makers, albeit with more passion and spirit than the
putatively human denizens of Los Angeles. Deckard's loss of human identity is contrasted
with the replicants' search for their own. He learns "how to be human and to
recognize his consubstantiality with technology" in the arms of the replicant, Rachel
(158). Batty, for his part, learns to respect other life. He and Deckard practice the
sacred hunt during their climactic rooftop fight; hunter and hunter become one and atone
for each other's Fall in the presence of a dove.
Solid explications of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day
follow. Blade Runner's double hunt is bled of all sanctity and withers into a
single, profane one. The technological weapon turns on its creators and humanity becomes
the prey, a tribe of victims scrabbling for survival. In T1, Sarah Connor simply combats
Skynet and its minions. Rushing and Frentz observe that "much of the film's black
humor derives from the masterly way in which the Terminator uses humans' own technology
against them" (170). In T2, however, humans use technology to defeat technology and
re-spiritualize their tribe. The beginning of the film presents a steely, emotionless
Sarah Connor who has abdicated her parental persona. A terminator materializes and fills
this vacuum for young John Connor, while Sarah is inspired to acknowledge her emotions and
to find empathy for those who created Skynet.
As their treatment of Blade Runner and the Terminator films suggests,
Rushing and Frentz discern potential in the human/technology interface. "If we push
past our postmodern pique...we might open ourselves to some unexpected transmodern
possibilities," they state in their conclusion. "That hope is that we may
reclaim our spiritual ground, reconnect with our communities, reunite the scattered parts
of ourselves, and call our technological shadows by name" (203). Tutelary figures and
initiation rituals are necessary. Rushing and Frentz cite the mythopoetic men's movement
as a praxis to emulate, but call for participation by both genders. Introspection emerges
as the precursor for accepting technology as part of ourselves.
It is difficult to criticize Projecting the Shadow, even though it forms a
crazy amalgamation of concepts. Rushing and Frentz's prognosis is compelling, yet not
elaborated in any detail. Their reliance on categories like the "Indian boy" and
the "white frontiersman" smacks of gross essentialism, of course, but condemning
Jungian archetypes as totalizing...that ways lies tautology. Also open to question is
Rushing and Frentz's tendency to impute all manner of Jungian symbolic signification to a
textual fixture, as they do with the shark in Jaws. One is tempted to cry
"polysemy" and assume a stance of post-structuralist superiority. But then,
there are moments when the symbolic readings cast films in a new light. The analyses of Blade
Runner and the Terminator films prove welcome additions to the corpus of
genre cinema criticism, in particular. Perhaps this indicates a niche for Rushing and
Frentz: as a complement to Bukatman, Vivian Sobchack, or J. P. Telotte's recent work in
the same area, Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film
(University of Illinois Press, 1995).
Neal Baker, Dickinson College.
Medicalized Biopowered Body.
Linda Badley. Film, Horror and the Body Fantastic. Contributions to the
Study of Popular Culture #48.Westport, CT: Greenwood Press (800-225-5800), 1995.
Given the academy's rather recent bestowing of approval on interdisciplinarity and
cultural studies, it is scarcely surprising that several genres once considered frivolous
or merely "popular" are now receiving critical sanction. Chronologically, one
could map the emergence of, say, the horror film genre as a legitimate subject of academic
study in the five years separating Carol Clover's 1987 article on slasher films and her
1992 book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The
former appeared in Representations, complete with a leadenly defensive
staving-off of assumed objections to the genre as critically unworthy, and the latter,
published by Princeton University Press, included the same article, nicely stripped of its
earlier rhetorical defensiveness and confidently presumptuous of a reasoned critical
hearing. Equally symptomatic of horror's now legitimate stature is the publication of at
least five new books in the past four years: Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws,
Walter Kendrick's The Thrill of Fear (1991), Barbara Creed's The
Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (1993), David Skal's The
Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror (1993), and now Linda Badley's Film,
Horror, and the Body Fantastic.
Like the other critics of horror--and, indeed, like those of the gothic
generally--Badley invokes familiar psychoanalytic paradigms, except that she distinguishes
her work as concerned, not with mere Freudian models, but with "post-Freudian"
discourses on the body. As Badley points out, horror, which is one of the most
"physiological of genres" (11), has "become a fantastic 'body language' for
our culture" (3). And her explicit project is to articulate the
late-twentieth-century retooling of horror films as a reflection of the shift in the
cultural perceptions of the body in the '80s and '90s. Naturally, given such a focus, she
argues sensibly for the merging of sf and horror--with such films as Blade Runner,
the Aliens trilogy, Robocop, Terminator and Terminator 2--and
emphasizes their combined representation of the Frankenstein monster as the fantastic
"medicalized 'bio-powered' body" (70), as cyborg, zombie, and as, preeminently,
a mystifying or overdetermined metaphor for late-twentieth-century cultural anxieties
about the bodily violations of medical technology, aging, AIDS, venereal diseases, death,
and the like. To make her point, Badley ranges freely over the manifestations of those
anxieties from texts as popular as Michael Jackson's Thriller videos to those as
academic as Sartre's No Exit. And, in many respects, she does an admirable job,
particularly in her chapter on "Frankenstein's Progeny": the cyborgs,
substantial ghosts, and patch-work monsters whose representation of the "postmodern
soul" is that of the "fragmented bourgeois ego literalized as a 'body in
Much as Badley makes a good case for the confluence of contemporary horror films and
contemporary theorists of the body, however, she frequently sabotages her own project on
rhetorical grounds. Perhaps in some mid-'90s version of Clover's '87 anxiety about the
legitimacy of her subject matter, Badley inundates us with references to critical
"authorities," be they post-structural heavyweights like Jacques Lacan, Tzvetan
Todorov, or Julia Kristeva, or be they any newspaper or magazine critic or reviewer who
has ever written about the horror films Badley examines. In the midst of an argument for
contemporary horror's rejection of cinematically tired representations of the Oedipus
complex, for example, Badley turns to David Cronenberg's Scanners, which
literalized the concept of "mind blowing" and mind control in physiological
terms (Brophy 8-9). Scanners also announced that the new Armageddon was an
"intimate apocalypse," as Charles Derry puts it: "it is not the earth that
explodes, but one's head" (173). Cronenberg's biological vision of things Derry finds
"at the very center of the contemporary horror film" (174). His iconography
reflects the impact, among other things, of postmodern discourse theory.... By the 1980s,
as Vallie Export has noted, the body had become the symbol of the "real." (26)
While one wouldn't want to read symptoms of oedipality into Badley's relationship to
authority--which, in the preceding case, necessitates the invocation of four different
critical references in a meagre five sentences--her constant, earnest effort to
"name" the critics nevertheless obscures her own observations to the point that
one wonders whether she is producing an argument or a compendium of sources. And her
emphasis on the contemporary evolution of the horror film, which seems to compel Badley to
critical completism, equally prompts her to measure historical distinctness through an
overuse of the prefix "post"--from "postmodern philosophy," to
"postfuturist film texts," the "post-Freudian era," the
"post-Freudian body fantastic," and "postliterate culture," to name
only a few--and to lapse into an irritating tendency to refer to the '90s in the past
tense, as if, somehow, we had all achieved a sort of pisgah vision of the decade's culture
and ideology by virtue of our knowledge of, say, 1993.
But then again, part of Badley's argument about the horror film's transformations since
the '80s has a great deal to do with live burial. According to her, not only has horror
rejected sexual repression as no longer horrifying, but it has adopted instead the
cultural repression of death as constitutive of its primary horrifying subject. That
Badley focuses on the horror's apparent obsession with the death of the body at the end of
the twentieth century is not in itself problematic, and her case for such films as
Cronenberg's The Fly, the Nightmare on Elm Street films, and Tim
Burton's Beetlejuice is fairly strong. What is problematic, however, is both her
critical insistence on dubbing death and dying "Thanatos" a term which she
incorrectly attributes to Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and elsewhere,
and which she uses, equally incorrectly, as interchangeable with "death"and her
odd assertion that contemporary horror and its "post-Freudian body fantastic"
reside in the "post-Freudian era." If horror films are intent on representing
the uncanny repression of death (or, as Badley would have it, "Thanatos"), in
earlier works, how is such an intention symptomatically "post- Freudian"? Or,
from a critical perspective, how does Badley's reading of horror films as displaying,
among other things, the repression of Thanatos, the pre-oedipal state, pre-oedipal and
phallic mothers, the oral phase, infantile polymorphous sexuality, and female masochism,
jibe with their supposed "post- Freudian" sensibility?
Indeed, one of the more troublesome aspects of Badley's book is her critical
positioning, or its apparent instability. While she establishes an interesting
relationship between the represented body in contemporary horror films and contemporary
theoretical discourses on the body in her introduction, and while she continues her
awareness of that relationship into her chapter on Frankenstein's progeny, she seems to
lose track of it as the text progresses. The last few chapters on David Lynch's Blue
Velvet, Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves, Cronenberg's Dead Ringers
and Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs are basically refutations of Laura
Mulvey's "male gaze" of 1975a construct which has been refuted so often over the
last twenty years that it plainly deserves a decent burial, which Mulvey herself has long
since recanted, and which Badley implicitly rejects for its "base in Freudian
psychoanalysis" (143). Given that Badley herself seems dependent on the paradigms of
Freudian psychoanalysis, given that she is wholly reliant on the construct of the gaze as
a locus of spectatorial power, given that she ends up arguing for such ideas as Demme's
offering of an "aesthetic of female spectatorship" (148), her use of early
Mulvey as the proverbial straw-woman smacks a bit of bad faith and a bit of critical
impoverishment, despite the number of theorists who get mentioned repeatedly.
When Badley concludes Film, Horror, and the Body Fantastic with her comment
that horror "has figured in the current project to reclaim Thanatos, the other, the
feminine" (158), this apparent change of emphasisin which the reclamation of Thanatos
and the Other are articulated as the primary emphasis and horror simply the figural medium
or textual vehicle for reclamation serves to signal what goes awry in the book itself.
Ultimately, Badley has a good starting premise about horror films' articulation of
body-based cultural anxieties, and as long as she sticks to the body as the construct
under examination, she offers interesting readings. But her increasing emphasis on the
somewhat shopworn "male gaze" critique belies the potential newness of her
approach, and her ongoing emphasis on other critical authorities suggests that the book
might be largely useful as a reference tool.
--Nicola Nixon Concordia University.
Essays from an Academic Utopia.
Robert A. Latham & Robert A. Collins, eds.
Modes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Twelfth
International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press (800-225-5800), 1995. xxi+234. $69.50.
The annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, held in a
paradis artificiel nominally in South Florida, comes as close to utopia as academic humanity is
ever likely to be able to stomach. Perhaps the chief of its manifold beauties is its
eclecticism. Traditional hierarchies laid aside, creative writers, professors, artists,
graduate students, and, most fabulous of contemporary beasts, professionally- unaffiliated
readers, mingle in a state of undifferentiated beatitude, floating freely from sessions
devoted to the Moreaus (Doc and Gus), to ones on the Kings (Art and Steve).
Many critics of the previous eleven ICFA conference volumes have worried about this
eclecticism. They have doubted, for example, whether anyone would be interested in a
similar compilation from the MLA Conference. But this is to miss the point. At MLA, all
the professional hierarchies based on rank and canon (or anti-canon) are firmly in place.
At ICFA, people attend because they are interested in the subject of fantastic literature,
not because they want to further their careers. Academic job advertisements for
specialists in the fantastic appear only on St. Tib's Eve when the Yellow River is running
clear. The presenters at ICFA, therefore, have no excuse not to be interesting. What the
conference volumes should do is to preserve the heady eclecticism of the conference by
offering the best of the refereed submissions (editors are usually spoiled for choice),
and placing the readers in some minimal conceptual frame in which they might look their
The editors of this volume have chosen twenty-five papers from the about three hundred
delivered at the twelfth ICFA in 1991. There are six subsections: Politics, Technique,
Race and Gender, Nature, Religion, and (the inevitable catch-all) Revisions, though these
subsections are quietly forgotten after the Contents pages. Subjects are very varied--too
varied in our age of specialists to offer in many cases more than an impression of general
competence or better to this reviewer. But such a reminder of the cramped horizons of our
expertise is another of the beauties of ICFA and its works. Moreover, the conference
volumes have always been priced with academic libraries, not private individuals, in mind.
Someone seeking further information on Ancient Near Eastern Imagery of the Sacred Tree may
well be drawn by the adjacent article on French Natures Mortes painting of the Seventeenth
Century--and thence by contiguity to Totemic Animals in Shakespeare and beyond.
Of the national literatures, the American fantastic is the most copiously represented:
Thomas Pynchon, William Gibson, Nathanael West, Pauline Hopkins, Joanna Russ, Ursula Le
Guin, and Gene Wolfe. Jacques Cazotte, George Sand, Boris Vian and Louis Aragon represent
the French fantastic; E.T.A. Hoffmann and Novalis, the German; Shakespeare and Charles
Williams, the British. Strange bedfellows are subjected to scrutiny: Mark Twain and Frankenstein,
Kathy Acker and William Burroughs, Manuel Puig and Margaret Atwood, and (strangest of all)
T.S. Eliot and Abram Tertz. There is a piece on Scottish Feminist fantasy; there are
comparisons between H.G. Wells's and George Pal's versions of The Time Machine
and between Roger Carman's and Frank Oz's Little House of Horrors; and there is a
notelet from Brian Aldiss on the distinctions between British and American fantasy. The
editors have more than competently dealt with the vast range of reference in several
languages that is perhaps the greatest editorial challenge of these volumes.
The best, and longest, piece in the volume is also the first selection: "The
Politics (If Any) of Fantasy" by Brian Attebery, who delivered this piece as his
Guest Scholar address at the Conference. It is an elegant and timely reminder of the way
that good fantasy is at once political yet resistant to orthodoxy, be it of the left or
right. Atterbery notes that what we in our material Western world of "dead
commodities" call the impossible might be more positively viewed as another reality
that fantasy invites us to visit. When we are there, the Other become Self, we find that
the tidy and poisonous dualities that structure our thinking start to break up, and as
Attebery puts it, if we're lucky, the untruth shall make us free.
--Nicholas Ruddick University of Regina.
Wells in The World's Classics.
H.G. Wells. The
Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau.
Edited with an introduction
by Patrick Parrinder. The World's Classics. Oxford UP, 1966. xliv+229. $7.95 paper.
H.G. Wells. The Invisible
Man. Ed. David Lake. With an Introduction by John Sutherland. The
World's Classics. Oxford UP, 1996. xxxix+160. $6.95 paper.
All five of Wells's most admired sf novels are now available in this series of
paperback editions which stresses textual accuracy as well as learned commentary, the
other two being David Lake's The First Men in the Moon and the Hughes-Aldiss War
of the Worlds (both 1995). Patrick Parrinder is general editor for works in the
series by Wells; if I understand correctly his remarks in recent issues of TLS,
it is unlikely that further books by Wells will appear in this series or in inexpensive
volumes with fully-edited texts, for the Wells Estate (whose copyrights are in force in
Europe for another 20 years) has sold reprint rights to publishers less concerned than OUP
with textual matters, and it is felt unlikely that the US market alone would be sufficient
for editions of this kind of Wells's less popular works.
Both TM and IDM have been much written about, but it would be unwise
for any one studying and/or teaching Wells to ignore Parrinder's introduction and
explanatory notes, for he can always find something fresh and stimulating to say on Wells.
On the other hand, since IM has perhaps been the least studied of Wells's major
novels, I think it can be said that John Sutherland's introduction is the best critique of
the book that has yet appeared.
An Important Reference Work.
Hans-Edwin Friedrich. Science Fiction in der deutschisprachigen
Referat zur Forschung bis 1993. Ein
Referat zur Forschung bis 1993. Internationales Archiv für
Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur, 7.Sonderheft. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer
Verlag, 1995. 493pp.
This evaluation of the scholarship up to 1993 on the genre of popular literature called
science fiction, as written in the German language, is an astonishingly wide-ranging,
detailed, and critically astute survey that contains a number of surprises even for those
well-read in the field. The author considers sf and sf research from the perspective of
Germanistic studies, and his work is primarily an overview of research on sf published in
the German language; other works are considered only insofar as the had an influence on
the Germanistic discussion of sf; on the other hand, the author aimed at also including
scholarship that discusses German texts. In particular Friedrich stresses the contribution
of American sf scholarship to the discussion of German sf In fact, the first major study
of German sf was written by an American. It is Edwin Martin John Kretzman's Ph.D. thesis
at Brown University, "The Pre-War German Utopian Novel (1890-1914)," which has
been completely ignored by subsequent research. Only the chapter published as "German
Technological Utopias of the Pre-War Period" in Annals of Science 3 (1938:
417-30) was known, but nobody realized that this was only an excerpt from a longer work.
Neither William B. Fischer in his excellent The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz,
Hans Dominik and the Development of German Science Fiction (1984), nor Peter S.
Fisher in Fantasy and Politics: Visions of the Future in the Weimar Republic
(1991), nor the comprehensive survey of German sf, Manfred Nagl's Science Fiction in
Deutschland (1972) refers to it. From Friedrich's summary it would appear that
Kretzman's thesis not only is comprehensive, discussing some 200 "Utopian"
novels but also achieves a theoretical level that is superior to that of J.O. Bailey's
later Pilgrims through Time and Space (1947), the pioneering study of American
sf. In Germany, a parallel to Kretzman's work is found only in Roland Innerhofer's Dr. habil. thesis, Deutsche Science Fiction 1870-1914: Rekonstruktion und Analyse einer
Gattung, forthcoming in April 1996 from Boehlau Verlag in Vienna (at 580 Austrian
shillings), in which he considers especially the themes and motifs of flight,
interplanetary travel, world catastrophes, and communication, as well as the methods of
Jules and his influence in the German-language countries.
The best survey of the sf of the Weimar republic was also written by an American, Peter
S. Fisher (Fantasy and Politics, 1991), while what Friedrich considers to be the
proper beginning of Scheerbart research is a thesis at Rice University, Karl-Heinz Boewe's
Paul Scheerbart: Romanthemen und Erzdhitechnik (1969). At one point Friedrich
deplores that after Manfred Nagl's extensive analysis of German sf, which he considers to
be methodically highly advanced and based on a rich sample of materials, but annoyingly
flawed because of its spiteful-moralistic standpoint and its uncritical affirmation of
ideological Marxist criticism, the topic of German sf has been left wholly to
"enthusiastic fans and American germanists" (178).
And that is Friedrich's criticism of German sf scholarship in general: that it is too
ideological, that there is insufficient differentiation between narrative and expository
texts, that the problems of narration are neglected, that the Utopian roots of sf are
taken for granted. He criticizes Nagl, the most important German Marxist sf researcher, as
having little sympathy for literature, as approaching the fictional nature of literature
biasedly and superficially, that he is prone to generalizations that leave no room for
balanced, differentiating evaluations. He charges Nagl with a Manichean world view, a love
for theories of conspiracy, and an animism critical of ideology. Nagl has abolished the
subject of research, as it were. Another problem with German sf research, aside from its
sometimes heavy ideological bias which was especially virulent in the sixties and
seventies, and perhaps most so in German fan circles, is the tendency to see science
fiction as heir the old utopias and to construe a line of venerable forenunners of sf. An
older German term for sf which is still in some use today, is "utopisch-technische
Zukunftsromane," i.e. "utopian-technological future novels," which
suggests a close relationship to the building of a better, more ideal world, although this
most often is not the case.
The author traces the various lines of thought in sf criticism in great detail, gives
insightful analyses of the broad trends as well as particular studies, offers sensible
criticism and suggestions as to what is missing and on possible lines of enquiry in the
future. He even shows considerable sympathy for the efforts of fans, which he considers
methodically and theoretically not of much consequence but which provide a valuable source
for biographical and bibliographical materials not available elsewhere, since sf has been
widely ignored by literary scholarship.
Friedrich starts his book with an introduction discussing the characteristics, methods
and contexual peculiarities of sf as well as sf definitions.
The main texts consists of ten broad sections, each followed by corresponding
Section 2 discusses bibliographies, encyclopedias and reference works, section 3 the
reception of sf in the press and in other media, including fanzine criticism, as well as
poetological essays. Section 4 is devoted to works that distinguish between the sf of the
West and Soviet "naucnaja fantastika," including special studies on problems of
definition, language in sf, theological aspects, psychoanalytical interpretations, the
relationship of sf and science, motifs and themes in sf. Section 5 deals with
"Science Fiction, Utopias, and Utopias of Progress" (including a sub-section on
feminist utopias). Section 6 considers "Zukunftsromane," "utopische
Romane," and science fiction in German literature as seen in global reviews, Section
7 with "scientific fairy tales" (Lasswitz's term for sf), "technological
future novels" and "future war novels" the whole development of the genre in
Germany up to 1945, with special subsections on Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik, Paul
Scheerbart, and Utopian films. Section 8 is devoted to the development after 1945, taking
cognizance of the separate developments in the German Democratic Republic and the Western
states: Austria, Switzerland, and the German Federal Republic. Juvenile sf forms a special
branch which has generated a lot of writings discussing the didactic aims of this kind of
Section 9 deals with sf as a segment of trivial literature: the special editions of
commercial lending libraries (long since killed off by TV and the rise of the paperbacks),
and the "Heftromane," the small, newsstand-distributed booklets of 64 or 96
pages whose most famous representative is Perry Rhodan. Fantasy (including horror
fantasy) is discussed as a commercial subgenre of sf. In Section 11, finally,
extra-literary aspects of sf are discussed, sf in other media, including fanzines, reader
research, and the activities of the "Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende
Schriften," a German censorship office for the protection of young people, whose most
famous victim was Norman Spinrad's with The Iron Dream, which was held to present
a danger of converting German youths to Nazism.
As far as I can see, Friedrich has missed no works of any consequence. His compilation
offers not only a wealth of information which the interested researcher could find until
now only with enormous effort but also sympathetic and penetrating analyses of the
strengths and weaknesses of the scholarship discussed. Of course, one can always point to
some errors and mistakes, but such nitpickings to do not detract from the value of the
whole. Some of the easily spottable errors are that he gives "scientification"
as Hugo Gernsback's early coinage for science fiction, calls Foundation an
American magazine, and misspells throughout the book the name of the German fan Kurt S.
Denkena as "Dedenka."
--Franz Rottensteiner Vienna.
The Ghost in the Machine.
J.P. Telotte. Replications:
A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film. Urbana & Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1995. 222pp. $13.95 paper.
The central argument of this gracefully written and unpretentious volume is that
"the image of human artifice, figured in the great array of robots, androids, and
artificial beings found throughout the history of the science fiction film, is the single
most important one in the genre." Such replications of human function and being and
the dramas of identity they generate can be tracked through time, marking "the
interactions between the human and the technological that lie at the very heart of science
fiction" (5). Historically played out in sf cinema through the figures of robots,
androids, cyborgs and other technological "doubles" of the self, this central
"fantasy of roboticism" (9) articulates increasing human ambiguity about the
ambiguity of being human in the face of our own ever-increasing capacity for artifice.
Telotte attributes this ambiguity to both the desire and fear that surround our relations
with technology and its creative/destructive power to mirror, interrogate, extend,
transform, and dissolve our human being. The power of technological replication
"exercises its seductive potential by...offering to make us more than we are to grant
us a nearly divine sway over life and death" while also "fundamentally devaluing
human nature" (17) insofar as it becomes indistinguishable from or inferior to human
artifice. Broadly tracking the history of the genre, Telotte notes the paradox of, on the
one hand, the structural reversibility between the human and its
technologically-constructed double and, on the other, the functional asymmetry and
historical oscillation whereby we project ourselves into and as the technological
"other" until our replications become "more human than human." Thus,
the human reasserts itself revalued in the technological. Indeed, Telotte sees the genre's
teleology as "headed less toward showing the human as ever more artificial than
toward rendering the artificial as ever more human, toward sketching the human, in all its
complexity, as the only appropriate model, even for a technologically sourced life"
These rather general statements point to both the strengths and weaknesses of Replications.
Its strength is that it presents a solid and chronological trek through the genre's
history that is clear and cogent in its readings of those paradigmatic texts selected to
embody the volume's central thematic. Its weakness is that, despite citation of major
cultural theorists such as Haraway, Foucault, and Baudrillard and insightful readings of
specific films, the volume tells us little new about the genre because its attempts at
historical and cultural specificity are relatively cursory and in the service of a
universalizing and fuzzy humanism. Certainly, Telotte is aware of the limits of his study
and explicit in telling us that it "stops short--as history, as explication of the
genre, and as cultural commentary" (i 94). What, then, do we get instead? A modest
"vantage" point on our "technological doubles" via readings of a
selective group of films that are intelligently glossed in terms of their specific
thematics, but unfortunately put into only the most general relation to the historical and
cultural conditions of their production and reception.
Chapter 1, "Our Imagined Humanity," raises some general theoretical issues
and discusses the "fantasy of roboticism" in relation to literary and dramatic
texts such as Shelley's Frankenstein, Poe's "The Man That Was Used Up"
and "Maelzel's Chess-Player," Capek's R.U.R., and, more significantly,
in relation to science fiction writers Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and Jack
Williamson, Stanislaw Lem, and William Gibson. The aim of this "overview of a robotic
mythos" (51 ) is to contextualize the film analyses to follow and, in a limited way,
it does so. However, it also sets the book's mode of generalization about technology,
culture, and history, a mode that, through default, assumes the sameness of cultural
difference as it asserts the genre's historical specificity.
Chapter 2, "The Seductive Text of Metropolis," quickly introduces
the work of early film-makers and goes on to focus on Lang's Metropolis (1926) as
paradigmatic of the ambivalence surrounding technology found in "early cinematic
images of human artifice" (58). Telotte's insightful analysis articulates the
homology between the film's seductive images and "special effects" and its
narrative: "Metropolis seems self-conscious about how these images can make
us desire the very technological developments whose dangers it so clearly details. It is
almost as if Lang, in order to keep his 'special effects' from becoming too seductively
'special,' had decided to foreground seduction itself, especially through his central
image of human artifice, to lay bare its work ings" (59). Unfortunately, however, the
cultural specificity of Metropolis is almost completely elided (much as is Lem's
work in Chapter 1). That the film is German, what it might have to do with the history of
technology and its culture and, indeed, what it might have to do with ours (given the
book's predominant, if unmentioned, emphasis on American cinema) are issues that become
subordinated to a general point and trajectory that lose substance as they are put in the
service of a rather general argument.
Chapter 3, "A 'Put Together' Thing: Human Artifice in the 1930s," considers
films that foreground "violent efforts to redefine the human body as some sort of raw
material, waiting to be reshaped, reformed by a scientific capacity for artifice"
(86). Focusing on Frankenstein (1931), Island of Lost Souls (1933), and
Mad Love (1935)--which problematize the generic boundaries between horror and sf--Telotte
is able to productively analyze the "image of the body under dissection, rendered as
a thing to be explored, mastered, and reshaped" (74). These "mad scientist"
movies are not merely "modern versions of the Promethean myth," but
"operate more in the Pygmalion mold, as they address what it means to fashion or
refashion the human" (87) and dramatize the effect of the modern scientific spirit as
the devaluation and subjection of the human. Reflecting a doubling of creator and created
in which "the human [is] at odds with itself" (88), these generic hybrids
dramatize both the desire for god-head and the overwhelming anxiety that we "might
too readily assist in our own grotesque reconfiguration" (89).
Chapter 4, "A 'Charming' Interlude: Of Serials and Hollow Men," addresses sf
serials of the 1930's and 1940's. At a time when Hollywood features gave us "little
evidence of...technological fascination" (94), serials not only frequently featured
robots and automata, but also were, themselves, machine-like constructions standardized in
design and narratively predictable. The "imaginative worlds" of Flash Gordon and
Buck Rogers both "depend on and stand for the forces of dynamic power, control, and
undifferentiation forces that explicitly in the course of their narratives, but implicitly
in their every use, promise to turn the individual into a component part in some large
machine, part and product in a serial process" (98). However, Telotte notes, the
robots of the serials were relatively "empty" threats, "hollow" men
who played out human rather than technological will--more like The Wizard of Oz's
Tin Man than the darker and more complex technological doubles to follow.
Chapter 5, "Science Fiction's Double Focus: Alluring Worlds and Forbidden
Planets," deals with the fantasy of roboticism in the "golden age" of the
1950s through a focus on Forbidden Planet (1956). Not only does the film feature
"Robby the Robot" (a replicant prominently functioning as a replicator), but it
also "fashions a world practically full of doubles...doubled characters, repeated
actions, and most importantly a thematic concern with duplication or imitation" (114)
that emerges from and ultimately destroys both its central figure Dr. Morbius and the
entire planet. For Telotte, Forbidden Planet is paradigmatic of a growing
cultural awareness not only of the seductions of simulation, but also "a lack in the
double, a danger in the simulacrum that justifies the warning its title sounds"
Chapter 6, "Lost Horizons: Westworld, Futureworld, and the World's
Obscenity," addresses the increasing conflation and confusion of the human and its
simulacrum in 1970's sf. Gone are the differences marked by mechanical robots and in their
place--our place--are less easily detected androids. With recourse to Baudrillard's notion
of obscenity as complete "displayability," Telotte glosses this shift as
corresponding to the increasing collapse of "private life and public spectacle"
in a "media-suffused environment" (132) which translates "'private scenes,'
the space of desire, into public space" (136) such as Disneyland and, in sf, Delos.
Thus, Westworld (1973) and Futureworld (1976) both model and critique
"the culture of schizophrenia that much of modern life and especially our artifice
seem to promote" (139).
Chapter 7, "Life at the Horizon: The Tremulous Public Body," suggests that sf
film in the 1980's recasts this schizophrenic vision of artifice by figuring its
"subversive character" in a master trope that projects into our technological
double the desire for "freedom and expression, even as it is pressed to be the
perfect, servile subject of society" (149). Focusing on Blade Runner (1982),
Robocop (1987), Cherry 2000 (1988), and Total Recall (1990) as
texts which "respond to the blurred boundaries, the lost horizons foregrounded by our
artifice," Telotte argues that these films both "speak of their own constructed
nature and of the sort of public images of the self that the movies typically
project" (165) and also affirm "how much of the human inevitably
remains...despite our long history of repressing, denying or 'de-realizing' the self"
Chapter 8, "The Exposed Modern Body: The Terminator and Terminator 2,"
uses the chapter's eponymous films (1984, 1991) as "fitting caps" for the
volume's "discussion of human artifice" (171). Both films reveal the
constructedness of being, and also urge that we not judge human beings by their
"covers." The "new gloss on the nature of the self in a postmodern and
inevitably technologized environment" is that the body as it appears is
"infinitely variable, deceptive, and regenerative" (177). Telotte, by way of
Robert Romanyshyn, concludes that these and other recent films about human artifice
provide both symptoms of and occasions for critical distance. They not only show us how we
reduce being "to the status of things," but also allow us, "by reexamining
that distant and superficial view of things...by peeling back the artificial surface and
looking into our depths," to "recognize how much we have 'lost touch with
things'...and begin to reclaim the self" (183).
Replications is an accessible volume that might make a very good introductory
text for undergraduates who haven't much experience with interpreting either films or
science fiction. Because of its brevity and over- arching generality, however, it may be
less than satisfying for those who are looking for a closely tracked archaeology or
complexly developed genealogy of "the robotic mythos" and its relationship to
specific changes in American culture's romance with technology, to science fiction as a
popular film genre, and to the very technologies of representation that enable the motif
its visible appearance on screen.
-Vivian Sobchack, University of California at
Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston, eds. Posthuman Bodies. Indiana University Press, 1995. x+275.
$35.00 cloth, $17.95 paper.
ATP (adenosine 5'-triphosphate). Read any basic molecular biology text, and you'll find
something like "ATP is a molecule that upon hydrolysis, releases energy to drive many
of the chemical reactions in cells." ATP is also the acronym for A Thousand
Plateaus, the influential work by Deleuze and Guattari that might in turn be said to
provide the energy that drives many of the reactions in Posthuman Bodies. The
posthuman is, of course, postdefinitional. Or better, continually open to redefinitions
and binary-smashing oversignifications. After reading the thirteen texts that comprise the
volume (including the Introduction), I'm inclined to view the posthuman as the phenome
nological field refigured as a phenomenological cell. Many of the essays draw cellular
rhetorical energy from A Thousand Plateaus (ATP), to talk of post humanity in
terms of political strategies of recombination, random mutation, and viral attack. As
enacted here, the posthuman is, most insistently, an assemblage of noun-verbal and
verb-nounal phenomena with a queer, in-your-face feel. Resonance. Interference.
Redistribution. Intensity. Flow. Emergence. Coition. Coalition. Reterritorialization.
Deterritorialization. Depredation. Mutation. Infection. Contagion. Vibration.
Disintegration. Hybridization. Ambiguation. Channeling. Swarming. And then a swarm of
becomings. Becoming-subject. Becoming- multiple. Becoming-lesbian. Becoming-insect,
Becoming- landcrab (yes!) to name but a few.
This ATP-energy, suffusing across a whole volume, does tend to make one uncomfortably
aware of inhabiting a particular theoretical moment. Yet it is one of the great strengths
of Posthuman Bodies that the editors, in their Introduction and choice of essays,
build a complexly layered sense of conversation and convergences among
theoretical-political-cultural discourses from post-colonialism to feminism to queer
theory to the arts and artifacts of film, literature, medico-systems, cyborgs, aliens, and
other becoming-entities. In this light, Halberstam and Livingston are careful to displace
what they view as the utopian notion of inter-disciplinarity. "These
narratives show how the body and its effects have been thoroughly re-imagined through an infra-disciplinary
interrogation of human identity and its attendant ideologies" (4; italics mine). Infra-disciplinarity
works, not by transcending, but by the stealth and perversion of a spy plane that crosses
space at an odd-low angle with respect to detection systems, subverting them and rendering
them visible at the same time. (Here, the author of this review engages in a suspect infra-mixing
of biological and military metaphors that is toute la rage.)
Posthuman Bodies has four sections: "Multiples"; "Some
Genders"; "Queering"; and "Terminal Bodies." an appropriate
mutation of Scott Bukatman's Terminal Identities. Many of the essays deal with
subjects pertinent to sf, especially sf considered in its culturally expanding state.
Allucquere Rosanne Stone leads the volume with "Identity in Oshkosh," a
continuation of her previously published discussions of "multiples." Having
drawn together the avatars of virtual reality and her notion of a post-surgical,
post-transsexuality, here Stone usefully draws a third multiple onto the field, so-called
Multiple Personality Disorder, to suggest that being multiple is the posthuman condition.
Steve Shaviro gets the agent provocateur award for his "Two Lessons from Burroughs" in which he proposes a "biological approach to postmodernism" (38). Shaviro champions violent viral replications and insect strategies such as swarming. He
suggests that we find out about the other by becoming other, by posing "the question
of radical otherness in biological terms, instead of epistemological ones.... resolving
such a problem would involve the transfer, not of minds, but of DNA" (47). Memo to
Calgene: Clear the lab of frogs and tomatoes. Susan Squier traces the lineage of three
images: the ectogenic fetus, the surrogate mother, and the pregnant man, from Mary
Shelley's Frankenstein to Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Jolley, and Angela Carter.
Some of the best essays appear in the final sections, "Queering" and
"Terminal Bodies." Three of these engage with sf texts and films. Camilla
Griggers' "Phantom and Reel Projections: Lesbians and the (Serial)
Killing-Machine," does not address sf, but must be mentioned. Griggers writes of
Aileen Wuornos, a homeless prostitute labeled by the press "the first lesbian serial
killer." Ignore the stupefying overdose of ATP in the opening paragraphs. It wears
off quickly. This is the essay in the volume that most effectively confronts the question:
And what of the bodies of poor people? Griggers shows how the body of the "lesbian
predator" is used to "channel and then screen a potential contagion of violence
erupting from the breakdown of the sex-gender system in the so- called healthy'
heterosexual social body" (168-69). In the final two and a half pages of the essay,
Griggers delivers a tour de force articulation of the complex significations
attaching to our "re-membering" of Aileen Wuornos.
In "Reading Like an Alien," Kelly Hurley discusses a number of sf films that
fall under the rubric of body horror, "a hybrid genre that recombines the narrative
and cinematic conventions of the science fiction, horror, and suspense film in order to
stage a spectacle of the human body defamiliarized, rendered other" (203). Hurley
questions the practice of reading body horror as catharsis or the return of the repressed.
She argues convincingly that the subgenre presents an "alternate species logic"
and an "ontological challenge." This is a challenge that operates via
signification overload to rupture more conservative readings of the logics of sexual
identity, difference, and the category of the human. As a bonus, Hurley inadvertently (?)
provides the moment of high-theory comedy when she terms the armpit "a hugely
undertheorized zone" (212). Finally, Eric White's "Once They Were Men, Now
They're Land Crabs" is a fascinating discussion of "bodily nomadism" in
three B sf films and Alain Resnais' My Uncle in America. These "evolutionist
films," White argues, enact the human body as an evolutionary time bomb of latent
non-human parts. Humans get in touch with their inner crab monsters, killer insects, land
crabs, and rodents, revealing a "disturbing truth--namely, that human nature' is not
except as a monstrous amalgam of the non-human" (245).
Posthuman Bodies contains some fine essays. And the cumulative effect is even
better. I came away with a helpfully enhanced sense of the ways in which bodies and
"the body" are conductors and constructors (the editors would say
"nodes") of emerging political and cultural currents. But I have my complaints.
Although the editors thankfully eschew the excesses of what I would call, without
referring to biological males, "the boys with toys" set--those whose gleeful
posthumanity manifests as the urge to merge with the sleek, orificeless objects d'tech on
the Fetish page of Wired--they do make some awfully big claims. Claims about the
death of history as a useful way of processing meaning; about the demise of western white
male metaphysics and attendant metanarratives; and about the post-historicity of the
posthuman, all capped by the post-Nietzschean proclamation that "the human is
dead." Call me a tired old feminist, but I still want to ask: Whose history? For whom
are these statements meaningful? Fortunately, one of the best essays in the volume takes
up these questions directly, and its inclusion speaks to the editors' integrity: they are
walking the walk.
Carol Mason, in "Terminating Bodies," worries the worrying question of
cyborgism as a myth that might be appropriated by right wing militarists and the queerest
posthumans alike. Mason proposes focusing "on the historical and discursive interplay
among bodies rather than on the bodies themselves," on "cyborgism as a reading
practice that reveals how subjectivities are made and remadehow they are reproduced"
(226). She challenges the editors' posthistoricity and mounts "a defense of history
as a safeguard against a cyborgism that swings both ways" (228). What follows are two
related and highly useful exemplars of just the type of reading practice she advocates.
Mason performs an analysis of the "discursive machinery" that shapes the
relationship between Sarah Connor, the white mother-revolutionary of Terminator 2,
and Miles Dyson, the black inventor of an automated defense system, Skynet, that threatens
biological humans with genocide. She contends that the "real" cyborg in the film
is not the body of the Terminator, but Connor-Dyson. "They work together as a
reproductive machine lubricated by these historical residues... specifically a history of
eugenics, lynchings, and population and reproductive control" (228). "It's the
examination of contingent and perpetual process of historical and discursive re-production
that can allow us to better locate, articulate, and specify the aims of this
'political unity' or 'posthuman' 'we'" (237).
Mason then moves to a similarly conducted discussion of the abortion debate, providing
a corrective to some of the excesses of the Introduction, and indeed, the excesses of
cyborg discourses at large.
--Ann Weinstone Stanford University.
The Story of Jules Verne--the
Brian Taves and Stephen Michaluk, The Jules Verne Encyclopedia. Lanham, MD, &
London: Scarecrow Press (800-462-6420), 1996. xvii+257. $54.50.
This long-overdue book is a noteworthy publication for three reasons. First, it helps
to provide an understanding of how the legendary French author Jules Verne, creator of the
Voyages Extraordinaires and reputed "Father of Science Fiction," became
a cultural icon throughout the English-speaking world. Second, it offers a new and
revealing glimpse into how the 19th and 20th-century media industry (e.g., publishing
houses, Hollywood producers, newspaper journalists, et al.) censored and adapted Verne's
original works to fit their own ideological agendas. Third, this book will have immense
practical value to all those interested in Verniana collectibles--from stamps, to old
Verne paperbacks, to those pricey leather-bound first-edition translations of Verne's
But, to literary scholars, the most important feature of The Jules Verne
Encyclopedia--its documentational "crown jewel"--is that it contains the
first truly reliable and comprehensive guide to all the English-language editions of
Verne's works published in Great Britain and the America from the 1860s to the present.
This detailed bibliography is of unprecedented scope and accuracy. And it will undoubtedly
become one of the standard reference texts on Jules Verne for all researchers, collectors,
and librarians for many years to come.
Although this 100-page primary bibliography (with its accompanying "Title Cross
Reference" index) stands as the innovative cornerstone of The Jules Verne
Encyclopedia, there are a variety of other historical documents, essays, and
interviews which chronicle the rise of Jules Verne's popularity in the English- speaking
world. Included, for example, is the story of the first American Jules Verne Society, a
collage-like "autobiography" pieced together from all known interviews with the
author, a visit to Verne's hometown (circa 1949), the first American translation and
publication of Verne's translated short story "The Humbug," an analysis of the
differences between the original French versions of Verne's novels and their (often
terribly bowdlerized) English translations, a discussion of various world-wide philatelic
tributes to Verne, and a perceptive study of Hollywood's many cinematic adaptations of
Inevitably perhaps, The Jules Verne Encyclopedia does have its flaws. The most
glaring is the following: the text is continually marred by an unseemly number of
typographical and spelling errors, misprints, misplaced illustrations, misattributions,
and garbled French titles all of which necessitated a lengthy 19-page "Corrections and
Additions" sheet (available from Brian Taves, e-mail "email@example.com"; phone
202-675-4525). These editorial mistakes are both annoying and inexcusable in a publication
of this caliber. They should have been corrected by Scarecrow Press's copy-editor long
before the book went to press. It is my understanding (as one who helped to proof the
manuscript) that the authors requested these changes to the galleys, but that they were
either ignored or the corrections were somehow overlooked in the publisher's rush to get
this book onto the market.
Further, it must be acknowledged that the overall focus of The Jules Verne
Encyclopedia is not literary. With the possible exception of Taves's fine essay at
the beginning, it seeks neither to analyze Verne as a writer nor to understand Verne's Voyages
Extraordinaires in the context of world literature or the genre of science fiction.
Not surprisingly, therefore, one finds very little bibliographic information about the
large amount of literary criticism devoted to Verne published over the past few decades
(even those monographs and articles available in English). One reason, of course, is that
the main consumer market targeted by this publication is the general public and collectors
of Verniana. While it is true that the latter--probably more concerned with the
completeness of their individual collections or the value of their Verne books as objets
d'art--might not have found such a chapter of great interest, an annotated secondary
bibliography of this sort, even a brief one, would nevertheless have added greatly to the
value of this text as a research tool for all students and scholars of literature.
Despite these minor quibbles, however, I found The Jules Verne Encyclopedia to
be both highly informative and authoritative. I strongly recommend it as essential reading
for all aficionados of Jules Verne.
The Question of Genetic Engineering.
Naomi Mitchison. Solution Three. Afterword by Susan M. Squier.
NY: Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 1995. 183pp. $10.95 paper.
Over the last two decades there has been a surge of feminist writings that attempt to
envision how to solve the problems of race, war, sexual division, and aggression. Naomi
Mitchison, a schoolmate of Aldous Huxley, has all her long life been a social reformer,
birth-control advocate, and Scottish nationalist (she ran as Labour candidate for
Parliament in 1935). Now in her nineties, she has written nine books of fiction and five
of nonfiction. In her work she poses and offers solutions to problems in far-reaching
ways, dealing with clones (descendants of an individual produced through asexual
reproduction) and meiosis (cell division in the germ-cell line during the formation of
eggs and sperm). As is pointed out in the afterword by Susan M. Squier, Mitchison is best
known for Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) and for Not By Bread Alone
(1983), a depiction of Western genetic engineering. With Solution Three, a 1975
futuristic novel, now reprinted by Feminist Press, Mitchison topped off a career of
science-fiction writing that had begun in her high-school days with anticipations of
discoveries in science and of feminist proposals and debates that followed on discoveries
in the scientific community.
Solution Three is timely now, as those with a sexuality different from
dominant policies and norms face severe consequences in our own society. I've taught
undergraduate classes utilizing science fiction, even the old nineteenth-century utopias
like Mizora: A Prophecy. The topic of genetic engineering for ideal aims always
comes up, usually introduced by conservative students who find nothing objectionable in
parents being allowed to terminate a pregnancy if the examination of the embryo indicated
that the child would have a sexual preference not to their liking, just as they might if
it were Down's syndrome that was detected. Teaching this book would be a good way to
address directly the vast social issues raised by genetic empiring. Also, teaching the
book together with the biography of Mitchison by Jill Benton (Naomi Mitchison: A
Biography, London, Pandora, 1990; rpt. 1992) would be an excellent way to show how
those with far-ranging thoughts are often pushed to the frontiers of imagination by the
realities of active involvement in a not-so-ideal, but very real, life.
--Batya Weinbaum Angel Fish Press.
Writing at the Border.
Mark Valentine.. Arthur Machen. The Border Lines Series. Seren Books /
Dufour Editions (610-458-5005), 1996. 147pp. $32.00 cloth, $16.95 paper.
Judging from family photographs my wife and I saw in our research for the collection of
his letters (Kent State Press, 1994), Arthur Machen was a strikingly handsome young
Welshman at the turn of the century, with a brief and sonorous career on the stage and
thus, perhaps, a precursor of a Richard Burton or an Anthony Hopkins, who lived long
enough, till 1947, to become a London curmudgeon of a literary man on the model of Samuel
Johnson. Further, in an inscription we found written in a set of his books, Machen makes
the following Johnsonian pronouncement so characteristic of his later conservative
idiosyncracies, "... in the last resort, all science is a lie" (70). But the
reason that Machen should be of interest to SFS readers is exactly because of this
aggressive and belligerent questioning of science in our time and, indeed, of all things
"modern." Machen had the brash nerve continually to raise large and philosophic,
even theologic, questions in the mixed- genre books he produced and like Johnson, he
coupled this audacity with a profound fear of the imagination. Thus his
"sorcery" stories such as the famous "Great God Pan" (1894), which
helped to establish the bride-of-Satan and vampire genre, were continually balanced by
his "sanctity" writings about the ritualisitic value in literature itself. Like
Johnson again, Machen loved to travel in spirit, had a fine appreciation of
"colonials," and was fascinated by America and Americans. He had the taste of a
clubman for convention-like salons such as we find in SF fandom; and he evolved a long
publishing history of complicated texts that may be studied as an example of the interface
in our century between the pulps, or hack work, and literature. Because he valued
friendship, he also left many literary letters. So we think Machen's life and work
represent a number of exciting fields of study to help us understand the development of
popular culture in our scientific age and its links to the literature of the past.
Mark Valentine's new overview of Machen's long career in writing is part of a Welsh
series with the lucky label Border Lines. This label refers to writers from the border
area between Wales and England (think of Gray's poem "The Bard"), and Machen
certainly qualifies since he was born in Gwent and often writes about Celtic mysteries.
But even more it is the borderline position of Machen in modern writing, which I sketch
above and which has resonance with all SF and fantasy, that comes to mind and that
challenges Valentine. But I do not think that what we need now is another general overview
of Machen. In terms of overall literary criticism, Valentine is not nearly as good as
Wesley Sweetser in the 1964 Twayne book; and in terms of the important discussion of
Machen's relation to the horror genre, S.T. Joshi in his 1990 book on the weird tale is
more penetrating than Valentine. What we need now is text preservation and biographical
scholarship. This short book by Valentine has no index, and the documentation is very
selective at best. It is almost as though Valentine will cite a source only if he has it
at hand, and there are many quotations here that are not documented at all. I recall
hearing in graduate school how Hazlitt would quote from memory often when he did not have
books with him, but I expect that Valentine is no Hazlitt. In any case, many of the
interesting and useful links between the life and the work in the case of Machen are still
to be uncovered. I hope that Valentine or someone else will keep at it.
--Donald M. Hassler Kent State University.
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