In cultural terms, we are experiencing an age of deletion: files expunged, identities stolen and wiped, terrorists and undesirables locked away in ‘no place’ detention centres with no records kept of who or where they are. Science fiction in all its forms recognises this dematerialisation of records through paranoid and conspiratorial narratives in which people continually disappear. Surveillance may be omnipresent but it is just another form of data to be cut, rewritten, and removed. The newer versions of the Cybermen from Doctor Who enacts this process of erasure through the chilling command ‘delete’ at the exact moment they destroy an enemy. Many of the show’s early episodes were famously erased by the BBC.
The delete button on the computer keyboard has become an iconic narrative moment in a great deal of science fiction – with a finger close by ready to erase all evidence of that person or chain of events ever taking place. Deletion of course is never absolute; traces always remain, and the hunt for these digital echoes and virtual ghosts drives a great many science fictions. Ghosts of our data haunt the magnetic and electronic storage devices, ready to inform on our behaviours and fascinations. The Internet Protocol address of our online choices linger on, no matter how often we attempte to delete our browser histories.
Modern existence is caught between deletion and trace, erasure and embodiment, as new communication technologies and global relations create the conditions for disappearance and rematerialisation driven by power, control, and commodity relations. Never in the history of humankind has our identities and cultures been so under threat from simultaneous commodification and negation. We look to science fiction to not only redner opaque, interpret and effect these new social relations of vaporisation, but to affectively equip us with the tools to explore them in profound and moving ways. The chosen title for this new open access journal in science fiction came from this dark space. We feel that Deletion captures the mood and tone of the age before us.
In this inaugural episode we invited six leading scholars and artists working in the field of science fiction to respond to the broad theme of the ‘pleasures of science fiction’. Each of them have explored this through a diverse range of texts and approaches, but what comes through in an illuminating manner is the joy that science fiction brings, even if necessarily that jouissance is connected to a developed critical sense that opens up the study to important cultural explorations and discovers.
Angela Ndalianis maps the development of robotics against the imaginings of robots articulated through science fiction (“robot dreams” as she beautifully phrases it). Focusing on the link between Japanese robotic and Astro Boy, Ndalianis paints a compelling picture of the relationship between science/fiction and life/art not as imitation but intersection; an intersection that speaks of a hopeful future.
Mark Bould reminds us that one of the persistent pleasures of science fiction is how elusive it is to pin down; that as a term it maps a field that refuses simple definition. Proposing the idea of the “science-fictionalisation of everyday life” and of the “sociality of science fiction,” Bould makes a case that this elusiveness is, in part, because science fiction is most delightful when it is experienced socially, as a part of everyday life.
Horst Sarubin’s short film The Drowning Man immerses us in gleaming, shimmering spaces, where bodies float and cities rise and sink unanchored to the laws of the physical world. Sarubin’s reflection on his own work echoes with the science-fictionalisation of everyday life: the feeling of strangeness and strange pleasure of moving from then to now, from creator to audience, and from swimming to drowning.
Sherryl Vint rethinks the split between intellectual and emotional dimensions of science fiction, bridging the gap between the pleasure that lies in the cognitive dissonance of entering a world both familiar and strange and the inherent pleasure of the strangeness and spectacle of visualised scifi. The possibility of articulating these entwining pleasures, Vint suggests, is most powerful in television, a medium uniquely suited to bring together narrative and spectacular wonders.
Matt Hills considers the pleasures of science fiction in discursive and performative terms, reminding us that science fiction worlds are ones that are not just encountered but also shared. Beyond aesthetics or cognitive experiences, Hill argues, science fiction pleasures are guided by how texts are communicated about and shared, how they take on life beyond the text, how they are, in a wonderful sense, “the stuff of life.”
Christy Dena’s online-remix-narrative takes iconic images of popular culture and builds with them a strange world where the human fallibility is programmatically deleted. Both dystopic and playful, Dena’s work is an ironic reimagining of pleasure as a state of robotic flatlining, using tropes of science fiction to critique processes of social normalisation and increasing alienation from emotionality.
3 thoughts on “Welcome: the age of deletion”
Your thumbnail shows Dave Bowman/Keir Dullea on the way to make one of the most compelling sci-fi ‘deletions’ of all time. 🙂
An utterly compelling scene, every. Single. Time. Thanks for sharing Stuart!
From a recent broadcast of ABC Radio National show Future Tense:
“Ed Finn is involved in an initiative called Project Hieroglyph, trying to get science fiction writers to break their addiction to the negative.”