Projects in various stages of completion
Speculative title: 'The Ruin of Man: Anxiety Surrounding Nuclear War in American Literature and Popular Culture 1945-60'
American psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton describes the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as traumatic, rupturing events for American consciousness in the twentieth century. One way this trauma can be investigated is through a study involving mainstream literature published at the time. In this paper, I will examine the effect of the nuclear arms race on American culture and society during the Cold War years as expressed through the medium of popular fiction.
This paper suggests that sf texts of the time were not penned for a hysterical society avidly reading sf to titillate or verify their fears, these stories were often crafted (like Nan Randall’s ‘Charlottesville’) to educate – even if through fantastic scenarios. In this paper, I will analyse how four representative texts communicate varied anxieties over a potential nuclear war. These sample texts represent a speculative step forward, moving beyond (although commenting implicitly on) Hiroshima and Nagasaki to speak of the potential Cold War turned hot. In the process, I examine how these texts respond to and challenge a society soothed by government propaganda; I explore what messages were enshrined within the texts and discuss what warnings were issued. The notion of human ‘ruin’ in these texts (as reflected by the prospective title) articulate biological degradation from blast and fallout, but also refer to damage to society, infrastructure, and morality.
Texts considered: Judith Merril’s ‘That Only A Mother’ (1948), Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son (1952), Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon (1959), and Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7 (1959).
Stage: final draft complete
Timeline: submission to journals late 2016
SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES
Speculative title: Ascending or Descending? The Question of Disability, Body Dissociation, and Mind Uploading in Contemporary Science Fiction Television.
This paper uses science fiction to investigate the ‘mind uploading’ into biological and/or non-biological machines. Building on the work of Singularity theorists including Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, as well as investigating movements such as the LifeNaut project, this paper examines ideas of posthumanity that feature separating consciousness from the biological body. This paper unearths some of the primary hopes and fears highlighted in science fiction over ‘ascension’ and ‘uploading’.
Vinge describes fiction which features technological acceleration as fixed around the term ‘dilemma’. Indeed, through offering a close reading of Dr Amanda Perry from Stargate Universe (2009-11) I will explore how the character enshrines debate surrounding ‘mind-uploading’. As a ‘genius’ scientist and quadriplegic, Perry is described as “brilliant” but with “certain limitations”. Perry represents many Singularity concepts: her consciousness is separated from her disabled body and initially downloaded into host bodies, she later exists as a disembodied consciousness, and finally she is uploaded into the ship’s computer as a functioning program. Perry’s disembodied condition is described as both “freeing” and “constraining”. Despite longing to be free from her biological shackles, Perry eventually misses human contact. In her quest to experience physicality, she endangers the ship and crew which results in the quarantine of her program.
This paper uses Perry as a platform from which to discuss the positives and negatives of mind uploading. For thinkers, such as Kurzweil, the ability to engage in higher intellectual pursuits without the body is a step towards higher evolution. However, through examining Perry’s ‘ascension’, I will highlight problematic areas of disembodiment and ‘uploading’ including: gender, sexuality, disability, the location of ‘self’, identity, space and the main binary of body/mind.
Stage: first draft complete (converted and expanded from conference paper)
Timeline: submission to journals early 2017
URBAN EXPLORATION AND APOCALYPSE STUDIES
Speculative title: Exploring Apocalypse: Forbidden Spaces and Hidden Dimensions
In Star Man's Son (1952) Andre Norton describes a future world post nuclear apocalypse. This paper has two interconnected parts. In the first part of the paper I discuss how the protagonist, Fors, embarks of an exploration of the ruined former civilisation and presents the reader with the strangeness of gazing upon the ruination of the reader's own civilization and culture. As I explain, for the Cold War reader, Norton's ruins anticipate the destruction of their own world and thus the ruins simultaneously represent disappearance and remembrance whilst acting as a warning regarding the nuclear threat. Here the philosophy of the ruin will be discussed in detail.
In the second part of the paper, the dual danger and delight of Urban Exploring is investigated. Urban Exploring is an act of trespass onto derelict and abandoned properties in an effort to document and explore the forbidden space. Fors, in Star Man's Son, explores the derelict cities post apocalypse and looks for artefacts. Similarly, the urban explorer ventures into former hospitals such as 'Denbigh County Asylum' in North Wales to photograph decomposing medical records. Arguably, part of the enjoyment of post-apocalyptic texts is the related potential to explore the forbidden unchecked. The want to venture forth into decay is perhaps a psychological desire to occupy history and defy the rules which bar access to a part of the human realm.
Regardless of the pleasure one might experience in ruination there is always a sense of inescapable loss associated with destruction. This paper explores both the sublime terror and awe experienced in penetrating these spaces of ruination, using Star Man’s Son as an example of Cold War pre-emptive urban exploration.
Timeline: write up mid 2017
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
CONFERENCE PAPER: 'Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: projected fictional landscapes based on the memory of nuclear holocaust', Memories of Conflict, Conflict of Memories International Conference, University College of London
CONFERENCE PAPER: '(Future Apocalypse Now', Memories of the Future, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL, May 2014
TALK: Talk for Institute of Contemporary Arts, Exploration: Ruined Things, May 29, 2016. Images here.
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
CONFERENCE PAPER: Ascending or Descending? Ideas of the Singularity in Stargate Universe', Current Research in Speculative Fiction, University of Liverpool, June 2014.
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
PhD: A reworking of three chapters from my PhD thesis '(How) is this a man? The fear of human disappearance and dehumanisation through the development of technology as reflected in selected western science fiction post 1945'.
Conference paper (peer-reviewed, award winning, funded): 'The Pursuit of Legal Rights for AGI in the Speculative Future', Beyond AI 2013, University of West Bohemia, November 2013.
Conference paper: 'The Technologically Rapine', Current Research in Speculative Fiction, The University of Liverpool, June 2013.
Conference paper: 'Technophobia and Technoparanoia: Looms, Luddites, and Laptops', Fear and Loathing, University of Kent, May 2014.
SCIENCE FICTION AND THEORY
Speculative title: Being Human
What does it mean to be 'human' in the 21st Century? How have contemporary technological developments impacted what might be termed as the 'human condition'? Reflecting on historical, philosophical, and legal definitions of the human, this text engages with wider dominant conceptions of how the human has been termed and viewed in popular discourse. Through literature, mainly science fiction, I will explore how key and influential texts of the 21st Century have explored, extended, challenged, and debated what the term 'human' can mean. Later chapters address cyborgs, androids, artificial general intelligence, nanotechnology, and bio-objectification. Not only will the book work through how the human (as species) has fallen under pressure through technological and cultural developments, but also how artificial entities - in some discourses - complicate 'human' as a term by replicating or claiming 'humanness'. Terms like 'person' and 'life' will also be interrogated.
Stage: early conceptualisation
Timeline: proposal 2017
RELATED WORKS/ INFLUENCED BY:
CONFERENCE PAPER: 'Technology, psychological doubling, and genocide. how remote technology facilitates "evil" acts as explored through science fiction after World War II', Evil and Human Wickedness 14th Global Conference, Interdisciplinary.net, April 2013.
My next major project will focus on the aftermath of international crises such as Bhopal, Centralia, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Hiroshima, and Love Canal, asking how these fracturing events are explored in literature. I am particularly interested in the representation of displacement, migration (through evacuation), and life-changing injury with its personal and communal consequences. I intend to travel to Russia, Japan and other key sites to conduct research and take photographs, this will contribute to the portfolio of work that I have developed as a member of the prestigious Atomic Photographer’s Guild and extend my research methods, incorporating a strong visual aesthetic into the project.
The second project major project I will undertaking focuses on transhumanity especially in online contexts. This project will not only reimagine the infrastructure of the human but also explore how global and networked communities complicate and recalibrate ideas of geography, nation, and identity. I am fascinated by how borders between online and offline spaces are becoming increasingly meaningless at a time when national borders are being shored up. By examining the ambition in transhumanist thought for mind-uploading into advanced ‘shells’, I will investigate how the use of avatars paradoxically creates heightened connectivity but also greater displacement. This work develops another strand of my research profile, on the virtual human and disability studies, which considers the fragile relationship between person and place and the location of ‘self’ in cyber cultures. I will examine in detail the complex issues of identity, exile, dispersal, and digital migrancy that emerge from reducing self and community to data.