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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Otherism: The Dissection of Humanity and the Human in Science Fiction Film

The title is a mouthful, but represents the core idea behind the research project for which I received a monetary grant from UC Santa Cruz. Given that, I give my the proposal for my research project:
What is the human? What does it mean to be human? These are questions that motivate many, if not most, fields in the humanities. I’m applying for the Humanities Undergraduate Research Award (HUGRA) because I wish to address these deep-rooted and enduring questions, albeit using a relatively new medium: science fiction television and film.
As a genre, science fiction (SF) lends itself easily to investigations and interpretations of the human-other dichotomy. How does SF grapple with this dualism? How does it challenge our preconceptions of the human and offer new definitions? And does the genre make sociohistorical processes, such as racialization and the vilification of difference, more accessible due to its futuristic and fantastic narratives and settings? These are the questions that motivate my project, “Otherism: The Dissection of Humanity and the Human in Science Fiction Film.”
My primary focus is on science fiction film—such as Battlestar Galactica, Space Above and Beyond, Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and others—and how the relation between the human and the other is represented. Drawing from post-colonial discourse, I argue that science fiction negates the existence of a human category, with exception to biology, by blurring the line between human and non-human—the cyborg, android, humanoid alien, non-humanoid alien, robot, etc. This negation is, in my mind, a challenge to our preconceived notions of humanity and a challenge on a fictive level to the foundations of human indifference and intolerance.
As an ardent SF fan, I’ve read numerous science fiction novels and short stories. Additionally, I’ve taken courses at UCSC that have allowed me to pursue my passion. These courses include AMST 109B: Science Fiction in Multicultural America; Lit 101: Animal Theory; and an independent study on the writings of Philip K. Dick. Moreover, I’ve found immensely helpful LTWL 115A: Fiction in a Global Context (from the African Continent) and LTEL 160C: Postcolonial Writing. Through further researching colonial/postcolonial discourse I hope to relate the conditions and issues of colonialism to the otherworldly portrayal of human “racism” towards the other, slavery, post-slavery, and cultural merging and its effects.
With a HUGRA, I intend to spend Fall Quarter primarily researching at UC Santa Cruz, either viewing materials available to me in McHenry Library or finding materials at other libraries that I find to be of interest. During Winter Quarter I will visit the Science Fiction Foundation Collection at the University of Liverpool and in Spring Quarter I will attend the Eaton Conference at UC Riverside—where John Rieder (author of Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction) will be giving a lecture. Also during Spring Quarter I will spend time in the Eaton Collection and hopefully attend the Science Fiction Research Association’s conference.
A HUGRA will enable me to achieve the goals I put forth in this timeline. Ultimately, I intend to produce a research paper and to continue to pursue this question of the human in graduate school—the University of Liverpool’s Science Fiction Studies MA and Brunel University’s Contemporary Literature and Culture MA are programs of significant interest to me. The paper will comprise an important part of my undergraduate dossier.
So, any questions?

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  1. Wow, sounds really interesting! Good luck with it.

  2. Thanks! Hopefully it works out.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Your research topic sounds really cool. One of the things my friend and I loved about watching Battlestar Galactica was its exploration of what it is to be human. Good luck!

    (Whoops, sorry about that deleted comment. Messed up.)

  5. No problem, Krispy!

    Thanks for the interest, by the way. I'm going to have a lot of fun with it :).