Saturday, January 31, 2009


It's no coincidence that the specter of drug use looms throughout both Brave New World and Dr. Bloodmoney. As has been pointed out, the supposedly separate [in]formalized pharmacological and illicit drug industries remain potent expressions and realities of late capitalism in the 21st century. The influence of drugs on the human subject is the most explicit example of how the twin vehicles (body and brain) through which we experience and process our everyday lives, are violently impacted by machines and institutions. Through drugs, this occurs at the most intimate physiological and pychological levels.

As in BNW, Dr. Bloodmoney depicts this confluence of media technologies and psychic manipulation into an altered state of consciousness that pervades the social landscape. No one has to think too hard to recall the seemingly endless loop of lunestra, viagara, nuvaring, cialis, clariten, adderol, ad nauseum commercials without seeing the similarities between dys/utopias and the world we actually inhabit. Indeed, hegemonic structures and institutions driven by market forces acting visciously and against the person. And I think it's worth noting. Anaphorically, if necessary.

I'm reminded of Curtis' post last week where he states that capitalism is taking a beating. I would agree. However, I believe it's about time. In fact, capitalism (and its "invisible" market forces) have been distributing its own brand of punishment for centuries now. I believe this is a criticism that both Huxley and Dick share. At another point (forgive me, Curtis, for fixating on your post so heavily),the lack of stories where capitalism saves the day is lamented. I think it should be noted that those stories already exist. They're called the "protestant work ethic" and "social Darwinism" for starters. I would echo the thoughts of Jameson in my opinion that there's no need to make SF on a theme that is so hegemonic as there is nothing phantasmagorical about such a frame. SF also exists to detonate existing paradigms, not merely to underwrite them. Disagreements not withstanding, I have to say Curtis provides food for thought in terms of his pragmatic stance, though I question the characterization of marxian (small "m") critiques as "high society" or "elitist." There's nothing elite about having one's eyes open to material realities. When we make leaps of faith way in advance and to the abandonment of dialogical engagement, we give in to mystifications and rationalizations that have no explanatory power whatsoever. At that point, as Marx (big "M") reminds us -- you choose an opiate of mass appeal.

Which brings me back to drugs as 1) mind control, 2) s[ti]mulated experience, and 3) escapism, i.e. Walt Dangerfield. Walt Disney. Disney World. Dizzy Whirl.

But you know me. When I'm not being salty about my African Americaness, I'm dogging out the magical marketplace. ;-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Jameson’s contribution to Utopian theory prompts us to look at the fictional world presented to us as a rhetorical praxis to neutralize the real. Through Gilman’s constructed world the reader is invited to see the contradictions of existing paradigms. Chief among the social frames examined in Herland have to do with everything from familial relations and gender rules, to the economic exchange system. In fact through Gilman’s narrator, Van, the intersections and contradictions among these frames are shown to emerge from the same will to power. In other words, there is a point at which patriarchy, zero-sum competition, and violence dovetail.

Herland suggests a feminist socialism that, at the time of its 1915 publication, could only ever be the stuff of fiction, not at all in the real world. (It can be argued however that some of the governments of the EU, though not in the least bit Utopic, have begun to institutionalize social feminist values -- as in the cases of the Netherlands and Scandinavia, for instance.) This brings into question certain cultural values that Gilman easily injects with the type of face value expected from a late Victorian.

These cultural values are indeed racial. Evidence of Gilman’s racial sensibilities appears throughout the novel as the author -- through the voice of Van’s “scientifically objective “ narrative, injects an implicit form of white supremacist ideology. Although Gilman takes great pains to appeal to intellectual plausibility by figuring a “highly civilized” country that is insistently white, according to Libby Falk Jones, it is a mark of Gilman’s Utopia to “create meaning within a traditional utopian structure dominated by overtly rhetorical ends” (116). In chapter 5, Gilman explicitly puts it:

"As to the geography -- at about the time of the Christian era this land had a free passage to the sea. I’m not saying where, for good reasons. But there was a fairly easy pass through that wall of mountains behind us, and there is no doubt in my mind that these people were of Aryan stock, and were once in contacts with the best civilizations of the old world. They were 'white,' but somewhat darker than our northern races because of their constant exposure to sun and air" (Gilman 55).

Victoriana not withstanding, the above passage describes racial terms in the most explicit and overt terms possible, which makes Gilman’s elision of female sexuality (and contrasting emphasis on the virtues of motherhood) all the more ironic. In other works the audience is expected to suspend literary belief at the idea of a same-sex race capable of spontaneous generation with the least hint at specific mechanisms, insofar as one unequivocally understands said same-sex race as white – save a healthy tan.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

First Topias Posting

I'm looking forward to reading in the science fiction genre this semester. Thus far, the only sf novels I've ever read have been Black No More by George Schuyler and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Sam Delaney. This I owe to my background in Af Am lit, of course. (Though I've never read Octavia Butler, believe it or not.) I'm very interested in the notion of Topias as a concept and am especially intrigued by the feminist focus on theory. As far as topics and inventions go, I'm curious about it's relationship to base and super structure and hope the readings on Jameson could help shed some light on that for me.