Deletion’s two-day symposium, Deletion/Deviation, presented a constellation of new perspectives on contemporary science fiction and its many perversions. As organizer Dr. Grady Hancock wrote in her introduction to the conference programme,
Science Fiction exists in a state of tension between the pleasurable and the perverse — of the pleasure gained from its fictive forms, and the perversions of facts and flesh within its speculative futures, imagined worlds and creative appropriations of technological innovation.
There is an immutable thread that runs throughout science fiction, that which “distinguishes its fictional worlds to one degree or another from the world in which we live” (Roberts, 2000), worlds perhaps characterised by Darko Suvin’s ‘estrangement’ or Samuel Delaney’s ‘reading/writing effects.’ The ways in which this distinction is maintained traces the nebulous line between the pleasurable and perverse in science fiction. How does the pleasure of its fiction collide with the perversions of the ‘world in which we live’?
At least one surprising and pleasurable collision revealed by the symposium was the number of papers (three) devoted to the actress Scarlett Johansson or to recent films in which she has appeared (three, if one counts her voicing of the character of Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her), encouraging participants to propose that Johansson is the new “Queen of Sci Fi Film.” Be that as it may, included here is Alicia Byrnes’ paper, Alienating the Gaze: The Hybrid Femme Fatale of Under the Skin, where Byrnes analyses Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 film Under the Skin in terms of the figure of the femme fatale, noting that the “paucity of scholarly work focusing on the representation of the femme fatale within science fiction is surprising given her aptness to the genre.”
Our keynote speaker, Anne Cranny-Francis, introduced the overall theme of the symposium in her paper, Perversely Pleasurable and Pleasurably Perverse: What Makes Science Fiction Great. Her paper is at once a personal consideration of growing up with science fiction (“coming of age in outer space” as she calls it), and a mapping of the genre which explores how society produces “social norms of gender, sexuality, class and race” looking in particular at writings of Alice B. Sheldon, known, of course, to science fiction fans for most of her life as James Tiptree Jnr. And Cranny-Francis’ “story ends with the richness of contemporary science fiction and its interrogation of what constitutes embodied human being in the early 21st century.”
Ian Dixon’s Deviance Under the Dome: Horror/Science-Fiction Hybridity as Uncanny in the feature film The Perimeter draws on a number of intertwined theoretical positions to explore the science fiction/horror film project, The Perimeter. Inspired by Stephen Cleary’s masterclass in ‘lo-bo’ (low budget) cinema, Dixon’s film and his paper explore the narratological, theoretical and practical questions provoked by the ideas explored within the screenplay. Dixon’s paper is an exemplary response to the problem of “practice-led research” in screen studies, particularly in regards to science fiction and horror hybrids.
In the paper, Three Deviations for AI in Spike Jonze’s Her, Thao Phan provides a close reading of scenes from Jonze’s most recent film, concentrating for the most part on an analysis of the depiction of AI’s in science fiction cinema, and in the film Her in particular. Fictional AIs most often display the characteristics we associate with the Western rationalist, instrumentalist tradition: rule-based logic, algorithmic processing and pattern recognition, all “foregrounded as qualifiers for ‘intelligence’ in popular culture” as Phan says. All of these qualities are “cold… unalloyed by emotions but also unalloyed by fleshy exteriors that can remind us of any connection they might have to the natural world”. Yet (Scarlett Johansson’s voice character of) Samantha is “is inquisitive, curious, sensitive, and perceptive.”
Patricia Di Risio‘s paper, Post-human humanity in Alien: Resurrection, argues that an ideological agenda is promoted in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection by casting a queer couple as the responsible and hopeful custodians of the future of the planet and the human race. Further contending that the narrative structure and closing of Alien: Resurrection suggests that genuine humanity is, in fact, more likely to be found in a future populated by the post-human.
Djoymi Baker’s paper, Tactile Memories of an Alternative Past in Never Let Me Go, looks at Mark Romanek’s 2010 film adaptation of Ishiguro’s novel through a meditation on certain evocative objects within the films mise en scene, suggesting that the “sensory array of the object” produces its own narrative, a “narrative arising out of an object [that] clashes with the alternate timeline of Never Let Me Go that is both similar and different to our own.
In his paper Operating at Culture’s Margins Notes Towards An Aesthetics of the Impact Zone: Beyond Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition, Jack Sargeant explores his published works on J.G Ballard and the original film version of ‘Crash!’. His paper looks at Ballard in relation to the extent aesthetic ‘perversions’ that emerged around these two ground breaking books. Looking at Ballard’s work in relation to the short film Crash! live performance / readings, exhibitions, and adverts, this experimental paper explores the radical and experimental work of Ballard, tracing its influences into wider 1970s subcultures.
Diana Sandars‘ paper When Whatever becomes What If: Perverse Pleasures of X-Teen Estrangement looks to one scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past where character Quicksilver’s performance enacts the perverse and sublime, cohering to redefine the ontology of teen identity. In the ‘Time in a Bottle’ sequence, Quicksilver calls upon the perverse pleasures and possibilities of the teen produser operating in contemporary X-men online fandom, the musical affect of his performance number coding it as a site of sublime celebration.
In Classical Latin perversiō referred to a “reversal of order” usually referring to grammatical inversions within a sentence. In post-classical Latin this inversion also referred to the falsification of a text. As much of science fiction is concerned with what the philosophers would call “counter-factuals” or counter-worlds, these falsifications of the text of the world are inherently perverse, requiring us to pursue certain reversals of thought, tracing our present back to non-originary moments when it all went awry.
The papers presented in this edition of Deletion all attest to the fact that science fiction perversiō will always be a source for strange pleasures.
Leon Marvell and Grady Hancock