Archive for the ‘ Science Fiction ’ Category

Annotation: Johannes Hauser’s “Structuring the Apokalypse” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Hauser, Johannes. “Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. Philologie im Netz. 37 (2006): 1-32. Print.

In this essay Hauser asserts that Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange exhibits apocalyptic features as a narrative “of a world on the brink of border-defying chaos” (3). He calls attention to the literal topographical shifts in the novel that destroy national boundaries, re-erecting them in new locales. But in spite of this seeming chaos, Hauser argues that Yamashita presents a very structured novel. “Chaos and order” are therefore “not only opposing poles; they are parts of the representation of a reality” where readers must grapple with an aesthetic of instability, constant movement, and transformation, which are characteristic of the contemporary globalized world (4).

For the purposes of my own research Hauser’s discussion of “Technological identities” is particularly relevant (6). Hauser asserts that Emi adopts an anti-identity politics where she anxiously attempts to present herself someone as far from a stereotypical Asian American female as possible. Yet Hauser notes that her extreme anti-identitarian stance only reinforces her “veritable fear of ‘falling’ into any category” (6). He suggests that Emi turns to “modern computer and communication technologies” in her attempt to fashion a non-ethnic identity (7). But Hauser emphasizes that she merely emerges as an “ethnic cyborg,” where “her behavior is simultaneously deeply invested in paradigms of ethnic ascription and of technological progress” (7). He goes on to describe how Tropic of Orange presents a world run by “[i]nformation technology,” where the media scrambles to report exciting news and people rabidly consume that information as they are continuously bombarded with more updates (8). Hauser accentuates that despite Emi’s efforts to fashion a “non-identitarian identity” by relying on information technologies, that media “is not free of ideological content, its potential to distribute contents on a mass scale allows it to spread engendered and racializing categories globally” (7, 8). He asserts that because of her hatred for the corporate multiculturalism that ethnically brands her, Emi is compelled to establish an almost organic, biological relationship with media technologies which places her in an even more precarious situation as she becomes “defenseless against their contents, be it a multinational marketing campaign, the accentuation of consumerism, or abusive ethnic and racial stereotypes” (10).

In contrast to Emi, Hauser notes how Gabriel exhibits a kind of “ethnic nostalgia” (11). He notes how Gabriel attempts to construct a vacation home in Mexico, which he imagines to be an exotic space that simultaneously connects him to his ethnic roots. But Hauser emphasizes that Gabriel actually establishes a kind of colony in Mexico, introducing foreign trees to an environment that will not support their growth. He ultimately suggests that “Gabriel’s nostalgia creates spaces which are as unreal – and as compromising – as Emi’s technophilian cyberspace’ (12). Hauser significantly notes how Gabriel eventually gets drawn into virtual reality all together by the end of the novel.

Hauser goes onto describe the magical realist elements of Yamashita’s narrative, suggesting that “Magical realism defines a highly complex spatial representation in the novel… It breaks up causal linearity which sets this narrative mode into analogy with the moving tropic and the transition in geography” (14). He also makes a provocative observation about the magical realist moment where “Rafaela meets Bobby in her dream” in which the “vision, the situation and the scenery bear a resemblance to cyberspace in their barren emptiness and the cyber-sexual implications” (14).

In his essay Hauser not only describes how Yamashita blurs the borders between transnational and local spaces but also the distinction between the biological and technological. He notes how human beings are presented as machine-like workers, while the organ trade treats human organs as spare mechanical parts. Hauser asserts that this “blurring of the boundary between organic life and man-made technology” is both a reflection of the effects of globalization as well as popular works of science fiction and cyberpunk. He calls attention to some potentially problematic discourses and representations, suggesting that “[i]f machines are like organic beings, human beings can also be treated like mechanical objects” (17). Hauser then goes on to describe Manzanar’s vision of LA as an organic, “cyborg city, partly human, partly machine” (25).

He finally concludes his essay with a pointed discussion of how the structure of Yamashita’s novel, which deliberately encourages “reflective activity on the part of the reader” (28). Hauser asserts that Hypercontext Grid at the beginning of the narrative is a kind of map Yamashita gives her readers “with which to ‘drive’ in the book” (28).

Annotation: Katherine N. Hayles’ “The Posthuman Body” (1997)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectu here.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Posthuman Body: Inscription and Incorporation in Galatea 2.2
and Snow Crash.” Configurations 5.2 (1997): 241-66. Print.

In her essay Hayles discusses how discourses about the “posthuman” perpetuate a precarious devaluation of the importance of material, embodied existence. The human body is regarded as secondary and even irrelevant as human consciousness carries the core of an individual’s identity and can be downloaded as informational code into another vessel. As posthuman discourses attempt to “configure human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines,” inscription (the signifying capacity of DNA as informational code) is stressed over incorporation (the material aspect of the human body) (242). Hayles argues that Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are science fictional texts that diverge from conventional depictions of the “posthuman” by revealing the enduring importance of the body. Her discussion of Snow Crash will be more relevant for the purposes of my own paper. Hayles examines how the human characters in the novel are essentially presented as computers, as both inscription and incorporation sharply converge. Infected with the computer virus, Snow Crash, the characters are literally turned into automatons and forced to operate according to programmed codes. Hayles ultimately concludes her essay by asserting the importance of acknowledging the great possibilities of contemporary informational technologies without effacing the body as a fundamental aspect of human existence and of being human. I intend to further her argument by examining the treatment of race in posthuman discourses and how avatars serve as one embodied representation of human beings online.

Annotation: Bruce Sterling’s “Slipstream”

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.”, n.d. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Sterling discusses the supposed “death” of science fiction in contemporary society, claiming that while SF used to offer “some kind of coherent social vision” and resonated with what was “actually ‘happening,’… in the popular imagination,” today it is essentially devoid of meaning. He denounces what SF has become, “a self-perpetuating commercial power-structure” that capitalizes on “category marking” and the confidence of having its own prescribed “bookstore rackspace.” Although Sterling’s tone is perhaps too glib and undermines the work of contemporary SF authors, he does point to a significant shift in public attitudes away from traditional science fiction texts to those that occupy a strange in-between space, “writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel.” Sterling labels these works as “slipstream,” a body of literature with its own unique characteristics that, he claims, are “essentially alien to… SF’s intrinsic virtues.” Throughout the article Sterling attempts to identify what the specific qualities of slipstream may be, but the closest he comes to a definition is the assertion: “It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know. These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life.’” By demonstrating how slipstream involves a different kind of fantasy making, one that is inextricably intertwined with mundane, “everyday life,” Sterling proposes an interesting lens for me to examine Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. In addition to analyzing the text as a representative of slipstream fiction, I want to demonstrate how its structural and stylistic intertwining of the bizarre and the mundane also serves as a commentary on the blurring of bodies and boundaries in globalization.

Annotation: E.L. McCallum’s “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction” (2000)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

McCallum, E.L. “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction.” Poetics Today 21.2 (2000): 349-77. Print.

In this essay McCallum asserts the importance of examining the function and role of “real” space in cyberpunk fiction. She argues that while works of the genre are traditionally noted for their innovative representations of virtual spaces through “distance transcending technology” such as the internet, characters still deeply rely on the real material world and it only through physically traversing this realm that certain narrative ends can be accomplished (350). McCallum emphasizes that by shifting the critical focus to “real” space, we can see how “old” colonialist systems and familiar oppressive power structures (race, gender, nationality, class, etc) continue to organize the apparently “futuristic” virtual space. She ultimately asserts that the contemporary cyberpunk genre has its roots in imperialistic adventure narratives such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and fail to transcend the geographic and ideological norms of our current society, making these texts rather conservative. But I argue that rather than lacking the creativity to imagine a more “transcendent” future, cyberpunk authors are interested in exposing familiar oppressions and exploitations in order to emphasize the urgency with which trends such as globalization and corporatization may be severely perpetuated into the future through more insidious means such as the Internet. While McCallum notes important parallels between virtual and real space, she does not explicate how organizational conventions of race, gender, nationality, class, etc are re-inscribed in the “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which I hope to further expand on in my own paper.

With respect to the novel, McCallum importantly demonstrates how the boundary between reality and cyberspace is destabilized. Hiro can move not only in between these two realms, but also through both at the same time, he “can remain hooked into the Metaverse while traversing the real” (366). Unlike McCallum who sees this as a reliance of the virtual on the real, I argue that this moment reveals the potential of this convergence to enhance human agency, where technology can be used to affect change. Therefore, while McCallum concludes her article with the assertion that cyberpunk protagonists do not offer any viable means of resisting or critiquing the corporate culture and that our best hope is to become adept at maneuvering through this reality, in my paper I hope to challenge her defeatist position.

As a slightly unrelated point, McCallum also discusses in her article, the difficulty of localizing transnational corporations in Snow Crash, which not only operate in multiple locales throughout the world but also virtual spaces in the “Metaverse.” This is a particularly interesting point from which to examine current implications of corporate globalization.

Annotation: David Porush’s “Hacking the Brainstem” (1994)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Porush, David. “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” Configurations 2.3 (1994): 537-71. Print.

In this article Porush discusses how cyberspace is often presented in literature as offering the possibility for transcendence of the physical body. Users traverse and operate in this new cyberspatial terrain through a “‘meta’ body in the brain” (538). Porush essentially asserts that postmodern cyberpunk novels deal explicitly with meta-physics and meta-physical modes of existence. He emphasizes that this link has been often overlooked by critics because postmodernists are uncomfortable with the spiritual connotations of metaphysics. Yet, Porush argues that postmodern fiction’s “critique of rationalism, and of the scientific/technological project of our culture in particular,” suggests an embracement of irrationality that is very much a part of metaphysical thought and even more importantly, the experience of cyberspace itself (539). Porush emphasizes that users have to delude themselves into believing that they can temporarily dissociate from their material bodies and exist in a meta-physical form of disembodied consciousness in order to fully inhabit cyberspace. In the latter part of his essay Porush examines how Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash presents transcendent views of cyberspace, which is interestingly called the “Metaverse” in the novel, but ultimately rejects those meta-physical visions because of an enduring attachment to rationalism. Porush discusses how the Snow Crash virus destabilizes the distinction between the real world and virtual reality by affecting both digitized avatars and the material human brain, suggesting a transcendence of space and human-machine dichotomies. He emphasizes the that virus also reveals a universal tongue embedded deeply within the internal structures of the human brain, which suggests another form linguistic transcendence. Porush notes, however, that by the end of the novel this universalism is denounced by rationalistic deductions that this transcendent commonality between humans can be dangerously exploited.

Porush’s analysis of the metaphysics of cyberspace will be helpful in formulating my own thesis as I extend his argument to consider how this meta-physicality affects race, which is often associated with phenotypical characteristics of the physical human body. As he asserts that cyberspace requires a delusion of sorts, I will interrogate what kinds of delusions users have about race. Particularly important to my own paper is Porush’s own “delusion” of Hiro’s racial, national identity as he asserts “Hiro is a Japanese American hacker living in L.A” (561). This statement suggests an egregious erasure of both his Korean and African American heritage, which can be a telling slippage of how cyberspace is racialized and those identities that are excluded.

Annotation: Stephen Hong Sohn’s “Alien/Asian” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Sohn, Stephen Hong. “Alien/Asian: Imagining the Racialized Future.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 5-22. Print.

In this article Sohn discusses the historical conception of Asian Americans as “aliens” in the United States and the literary replication and perpetuation of these views where Asian Americans are presented as actual “aliens” (cyborgs, replicants, robots, etc) in many works of science fiction and other related genres. Sohn draws the phrase “Alien/Asian” from David Palumbo-Liu’s earlier formation of “Asian/American” which invokes the and/or construction that captures the troubling, unstable relationship between the two terms. Sohn similarly calls attention to disturbing cultural representations of the “Alien and Asian” as well as the “Alien or Asian,” which is just as problematic as the former because it singles out Asians and directly interrogates their extraterrestriality. The term “Alien” also usefully invokes notions of “Alienation” and “Alien-nation” (6). Sohn further provides a useful discussion of Saidian Orientalism and the techno-Orientalism David Morley and Kevin Robins later devised (7). Sohn notes that traditionally Japan was orientalized as a primitive and backward culture far interior to the West but as the country excelled technologically and economically it became necessary to re-orient Orientalism to maintain a sense of Euro-American supremacy. The Japanese and eventually other Asians began to be stereotyped and “cybertyped” (Lisa Nakamura) as the “yellow peril,” a threatening menace to the West and particularly the United State’s status as the preeminent world power. Reproduced in literature, Asians were presented as sneaky, devious and despite their technological prowess, devoid of humanity—a kind of robot, replicant or cyborg. “Orientals” were therefore recast as embodying a “retrograde humanism” that makes them far inferior to Westerners (8). Sohn essentially suggests that science fictional novels present cyberspace as a kind of “virtual frontier” where the West can re-create and re-colonize the “Orient.” His article offers important historical background about the development of techno-orientalism which will deeply inform my reading of the techno-orientalism presented in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I, however, intend to examine not only problematically racist depictions of Asian Americans in the novel but also how stereotypical delineations of cyberspace as a predominantly and even exclusively “white” and “yellow” space perpetuates the troubling erasure of other races and complex hybrid racial identities.

Prospectus: Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange (1997)

This prospectus is for a paper I am writing on Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. I know that my thesis is still unclear and that I will definitely run into “definitional” problems concerning my use of the terms postmodern, magical realist, etc. but any thoughts or suggestions for secondary sources will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Karen Tei Yamashita’s 1997 novel Tropic of Orange prevents any easy genre classification and instead figures as an intriguing blend of magical realism, science fiction, postmodernism, and apocalyptic narrative. Borrowing its structure and style from these diverse literary traditions enables the novel to reflect as well as engage the chaotic cultural and socio-political changes engendered by global capitalism and transnational migrations. Consequently, the text’s hybridity makes it both a representation and product of globalizing forces. It is ultimately this unique dual-role that allows Tropic to intervene in numerous discourses concerning globalization’s impact on national and individual identity formation, movements of labor and capital, and shifting territorial and ideological borders. However, while many critics have addressed the novel’s treatment of these issues, few have examined in detail the significance of its structure and narrative style, particularly, Yamashita’s use of science fiction and magical realism as mediums to discuss how technological and economic changes transform our conceptions of self and nation, local and global.

For instance, in “‘We are Not the World’: Global Village, Universalism, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange” Sue-Im Lee argues that the novel’s “fantastic genre” contributes to a revitalized vision of the “global village” that emphasizes voluntary and reciprocal participation among people and nations (521). Only by encouraging mutual involvement in a global community, she asserts, can we retrieve the critical potential of universalism and make progress in our demands for human rights and improved interethnic and intercontinental relations. But the brevity of her discussion of what this “fantastic genre” entails also perpetuates ambiguity and fails to communicate the complexity of Yamashita’s vision, which is necessarily informed by her structural and stylistic choices. In addition, even those scholars who choose to analyze the novel’s science-fictional and magical realist elements often relegate these fantastical qualities into realms of metaphor and imagination. In “Tropics of Globalization: Reading the New North America,” Molly Wallace asserts that the “tracking of metaphor” will encourage us to reexamine “discourses on globalization produced in the United States” (146). She therefore implies that bizarre features, such as the novel’s warping of time and space, its materialization of borders and employment of literal topographical shifts, primarily serve a discursive role. Johannes Hauser’s “Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange” presents a tantalizing image of Los Angeles as a “cyborg city” only to later qualify this claim by re-labeling LA as an “imaginary city” (25). These critics share a preoccupation with connecting the novel’s chaotic narrative structure and at times absurd plot devices to its “logical” place as products of human creativity and imagination. But in making this connection, they ignore the material implications of Yamashita’s endeavors in Tropic of Orange.

My paper will demonstrate how the novel’s science-fictional and magical realist elements do not represent mere abstractions of fancy, but rather depict in more concrete terms the cultural, societal and political changes facilitated by globalization. I argue that Yamashita’s reliance on these bizarre and fantastical elements confronts us with the very real transformations occurring within our natural world, our communities, and in our intimate interactions with each other and our own bodies. In order to communicate these ideas, I will concentrate on a structural and stylistic analysis of the novel, paying particular attention to how Yamashita relies on influences from science fiction and magical realism to shape our reading experience, compelling us to recognize with greater urgency that the boundaries between what we consider as bizarre or impossible and our familiar, lived experiences are not as distinct as they once were. For instance, I hope to extend Hauser’s idea of the “cyborg city” and cyborg individuals by demonstrating how Yamashita’s imagery and diction in Tropic of Orange portray the growing interconnectedness between technology and the organic. Whereas the city’s physical structures are imbued with living characteristics, the humans in the novel often perceive machines as extensions of their own bodies. This jarring convergence of living and nonliving elements only reinforces already evident truths, which is fore-grounded by Yamashita herself when she proclaims in the preface: “Gentle reader, what follows may not be about the future, but is perhaps about the recent past; a past that, even as you imagine, it happens.”This emphasis on the novel as a story about the “recent past” that “happens” while we are imagining and reading, implies that what we perceive as fiction actually inhabits a reality we are currently living.

The slippages that occur between the imaginary/virtual and the real in Tropic of Orange therefore make Bruce Sterling’s theory of “slipstream fiction” vital to my paper. He claims that “[T]he heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know.’ These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life.’” Ultimately, his conception of the fluid borders between fantasy and ordinary existence sheds light on Yamashita’s novel and its central concerns. Not only can the text be labeled as a representative of slipstream fiction, but its structural and stylistic intertwining of the bizarre and the mundane also serves as a commentary on the blurring of bodies and boundaries in globalization. In my paper I hope to demonstrate how the slippages we witness in the novel have larger cultural and societal implications on the ways we understand and perceive national and individual identity as well as persisting racial and economic inequalities in a globalized world. Consequently, I argue that Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange challenges the notion of isolated socio-political issues and closed national and cultural spaces, accentuating the interconnectedness that defines human existence.

Works Consulted:

Buell, Frederick. “Nationalist Postnatinalism: Globalist Discourse in Contemporary American Culture.” American Quarterly 50.3 (1998): 548-591. Print. (Annotation)

Chuh, Kandice. “Of Hemispheres and Other Spheres: Navigating Karen Tei Yamashita’s Literary World.” American Literary History 18.3 (2006): 618-637. Print. (Annotation)

Davis, Mike. “Fortress L.A.” City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print. (Annotation)

Hauser, Johannes. “Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.” PhiN: Philologie in Netz 37 (2006): 1-32. Print.

Lee, Sue-Im. “‘We are Not the World’: Global Village, Universalism, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 52.3 (Fall 2007): 501-527. Print. (Annotation)

Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.”, n.d. Web. 4 April 2010. (Annotation)

Wallace, Molly. “Tropics of Globalization: Reading the New North America.” Symploke 9.1-2 (2001): 145-160. Print. (Annotation)

Yamashita, Karen Tei. Tropic of Orange. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997. Print.