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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Affecting (Science) Fiction: Static, Flicker, and Other Modes of Noncognition

1st November 2017, 16:30 to 18:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Rebekah Sheldon (Indiana University)

A staff and postgraduate research seminar, which will propose that readers and viewers of science fiction respond to the genre in bodily as well as rational ways.

In Science Fiction and Critical Theory, Carl Freedman makes a compelling case for considering science fiction a form of critical theory. He points out that what makes science fiction such a fecund genre for literary analysis is that it is engaged in the same historical-dialectical process that critical theory employs (xv-xvi). This analysis reveals an important aspect of the science fictional enterprise. At the same time, it re-entrenches an emphasis on rational apprehension that makes the science fiction reader’s experience of estrangement and alienation instances of momentary dissonance that give way to new and lasting connections.

In an important sense, however, science fiction itself gives a different account of how cognitive estrangement does its work. This presentation will take science fiction seriously as a form of critique by considering some instances in which it takes aim at the notion that ideas are transmitted through rational apprehension. Again and again, I will ague, science fiction thematizes what I will call “embodied reception.” In this way, it urges us to see that its effects take hold not at the level of ratiocination but rather as unintelligible bodily inhabitations, which appear diegetically as static. In the examples I will survey, mediation is depicted as an autonomous force that bypasses cognition altogether. To the extent that we see SF as engaged in the work of criticism by other means, then, we should be drawn to ask whether this motif is legible not just as a historical symptom in need of interpretation, but as an alternative methodology and an immanent theorization.

My presentation will look at several texts that take embodied reception as a theme and as a meta-theoretical intervention, principally David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome (1982) and William Burroughs’ novel Cities of the Red Night (1981).

Speaker Biography

Rebekah Sheldon is Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University where she teaches classes in feminist and queer theory, speculative fiction, and speculative philosophy. Her first book, The Child to Come: Life After the Human Catastrophe (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) received an honorary mention for the Science Fiction and Technoscience Studies Program Book Award. She has recent publications in Science Fiction Studies, Symploke, and GLQ: Gay and Lesbian Quarterly. Her current project is on queer theory and the occult.

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