Synopsis of Class: February 16, 1999

Today we explored the question, "why does science fiction appear in the nineteenth century," from another angle: Donna Haraway. She states in her chapter, "A Cyborg Manifesto," that "the cyborg is our ontology" (150) and that "the machine is us" (180). We seem to be presented with the same sort of statement in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "I Borg." As the captured cyborg states, after being given a human name rather than a numerical designation, "We are Hugh/you." I asked students how these statements could possibly be true. Suggestions made include the following:

If all this is true, could it also be that science fiction appears in the nineteenth century as one way to get out of the machine-produced reality that we take for granted, so that we can begin to question the machine-controlled transformations that so surreptitiously transform who we are? This led to a discussion about science-fiction utopias and dystopias. What science fiction could be said to attempt to do in these sub-genres is to comment allegorically upon our present, either by imagining how it could be better or by illustrating how things we take for granted can potentially lead to disaster. In this way, science fiction allows us to step outside of our ideologies, forcing us to acknowledge the ideologies that surreptiously "program" our lives (as, for example, Margaret Atwood in "Homelanding" did with, in particular, our notions of gender).

I ended the class by showing the final scene of the X-Files episode, "The Postmodern Prometheus." I asked class what made this final scene "postmodern," unlike the "Modern Prometheus" of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Some of the postmodern elements that were mentioned include: self-consciousness/ self-reflexivity (Mulder's calling for the writer; the medium shift between film and the comic book, the use of black-and-white film, the self-conscious intertextual allusions to Frankenstein, etc.); wry, satirical humor (the comedic "mob", the appearance of Cher); references to pop culture (Mask, Jerry Springer, etc.).

Note: I decided not to do a separate page based on our relatively short discussion of Bladerunner following the film. The main concepts we covered include: 1) the film's emphasis on perception (particularly through the eye motif); 2) the multiculturalism and media advertising that suggests the take-over of multinational corporations in a world run not by nations but by global capitalism; 3) the self-conscious generic nod to film noir, eg. the Maltese Falcon (the fashion, the cigarette holders, the black-and-white photos, the art-deco buildings, the fact that almost the entire film is shot in darkness; the voice-over [in the Hollywood version of the film]); and 4) the relation of the photo to memory.

Note: the following are the names of the characters in Bladerunner: Bryant (head cop), Gaff (Bladerunner in training), Chew (maker of eyeballs), Taffey Lewis (owner of the Casablanca-like bar, Tyrell, J. F. Sebastian (Tyrell's chess partner and genetic engineer), Deckard, Rachael, Leon, Pris (Darryl Hannah), Zhora (the snake-striptease Replicant), and Roy Batty (the Replicant leader).

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