Welcome to Dr. Kathryn Allan's blog! I'm an Independent Scholar of science fiction and disability studies (specializing in cyberpunk, feminist SF, and SF TV & film), Editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. My PhD thesis is awesome: Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF [pdf]. I write about my time spent in the academy, my current research into representations of disability in SF, and anything shiny that catches my eye. If you like what you read, follow me on Twitter @BleedingChrome.
It’s time for a project update! I’m always kind of surprised that I manage to get scholarship and creative stuff done, but apparently it happens.
Last year started off with a research bang with my Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. I am finally ready to start delving into the 100s of letters I scanned. While it is true that I have been preoccupied with other work, the delay in getting back into this research was more due to the need to have mental distance from it. I was unprepared for how emotionally overwhelming I would find the research—the letters I was reading (from Le Guin, Russ, Tiptree, Delany, and many more amazing SF writers) brim with the lives of the people who wrote them. Given that I am an “emotional sponge,” I soaked up everything I was reading. Apparently, I needed nine months for things to get quietly sorted in my head so that I can now focus on drawing out conversational threads most relevant to my research interests. While I intend to incorporate some of my findings in a chapter on feminist SF in my planned book (more on that at the end of this post), I’m excited to see what other projects will spring from it.
One of those projects, actually, is an upcoming chapter titled, “Becoming Adult, Becoming Other: Anomalous Embodiment in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle.” I’ll post more details about that piece (and the edited collection by Sherryl Vint and Mathieu Donner that it will belong to) as the publishing details become finalized (as it is still in process). You can also read an interview I did with Alice Evans (of the CSWS) about the fellowship and my archival research.
In terms of notable scholarly publications in 2014, my “Disability Studies ‘101’” is in SF 101: A Guide to Teaching and Studying Science Fiction. It’s available as an ebook for a few dollars. [I’m also considering republishing it here on my blog, for free for all to read, if it doesn’t end up in the next issue or two of the SFRA Review—that decision will be discussed in an upcoming blog post]. For 2015, I am eagerly awaiting the April publication of Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media by awesome editors, David S. Roh, Betsy Huang, and Greta A. Niu. I’m honoured to be a contributor with my chapter, “Re-imagining Asian Women in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk” (make sure to check out the super cool cover at the link). And while not a scholarly essay, I’m proud of the blog post I wrote about Misha’s Red Spider White Web for tor.com’s “That was Awesome: Writers on Writing” column last fall.
In just a few weeks, I am off to my favourite conference ICFA. I had originally planned on presenting a paper on disability in feminist SF along with organizing a panel on archival research in the field of the fantastic. Due to scheduling issues, however, I withdrew my paper and will be focusing my energies on the archival research panel. It feels a bit strange to not be delivering a paper this year, but I have good reasons (which are, again, being written up in an upcoming post).
Of course, the biggest news is Accessing the Future! Co-edited with Djibril al-Ayad, our disability-themed speculative fiction short story anthology is in the finishing stages. Accessing the Future will be published this summer (ah!) and it is amazing. While you wait for the summer publishing date to arrive, read one of the many blog posts Djibril and I wrote during our successful crowdfunding campaign. Working on this anthology has been life changing for me (and, yes, there will be posts coming about that too). Check out the awesome Table of Contents over at The Future Fire’s blog and look at the fabulous cover art by Robin Kaplan (below).
My next goal is to start, in earnest, writing a book on disability representation in science fiction once I am back from ICFA. I have set out two timelines for myself—one has me finishing a full draft by this time next year, and the other is accelerated, with a full draft come late fall. I do need to keep working (running Academic Editing Canada, which is work that I really enjoy, especially as I continue to receive more challenging and interesting client projects), so I’m keeping a flexible schedule of deadlines ahead of me. But still, a book! It’s hard to imagine such a huge undertaking coming together but since I also felt the same way about Accessing the Future (and Disability in Science Fiction), I know that it is possible.
I’m going to try to keep Bleeding Chrome blog better updated throughout this year. Writing leads to more writing, and it is helpful for me to keep engaged with other people and work out my thoughts in a more public space. So 2014, all things considered, was a darn good year, and 2015 is looking just as interesting and challenging. I’ll let you all know how it turns out!
For the past several months I’ve been working on an essay about my fraught (for me) position in the disability community as a person with (undiagnosed) chronic illness and (diagnosed) mental health issues. I have placed “undiagnosed” and “diagnosed” within brackets because I do not like these words. They don’t work for me but because they carry such a heavy dual weight of medicalization and disability community identity I spend a lot of time worrying about them. I haven’t been able to finish more than fragmented paragraphs describing my disability experience—I guess this is because my understanding of it is also fragmented. My notes on this essay-in-progress are sentences and phrases that litter all of my electronic devices and have spilled into a notebook where I write by hand when I can no longer sit at my computer desk or hold my phone comfortably. I am unable to write that essay and so I am writing this one.
I’ve started and stopped the process of medicalization—the request for a diagnosis—for well over a decade. I have not always received the help I needed. After going through a long series of ill-informed, over worked, or simply misogynistic and lazy doctors, I gave up trying to seek a diagnosis when, six months after I completed my PhD, the doctor I was seeing refused to accommodate my request for a disability benefits application nor offer any other help than the advice, “hang in there.” After nearly five years of “hanging in there” (which I think I’ve done pretty damn well at considering everything) I am finally seeking a diagnosis again. It’s a slow process and I am not interested in rushing it. I do not expect there to be a diagnosis. I expect to be told that my physical problems are all in my head, of my own making. I expect to hear the words “less stress” and “more exercise.” And then I will do my best not to break down into tears at this dismissal of my knowledge of my own body and mind because to do so would prove them exactly right.
When we ask one another to declare ourselves we too often do so with the expectation that the other person will have the same words that we do. When it comes to my experience of myself as chronically ill, I have found time and again that this language of disability does not fit comfortably in my mouth or settle easily in my mind. At a moment of existential crisis a few months ago, I read Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s “The Story of My Work: How I Became Disabled” and I was calmed. She writes: “When our embodied ways of being in the world come to be understood as disabilities or when we understand our way as disabled, we then enter the category.” Perhaps my own awareness is enough. While I see myself in the category of “disabled” as Garland-Thomson defines it, I know that for most people who see me, I do not fit their conception of disabled. I look “too well” (because when I’m not well, I am at home and no one, other than my partner, sees me). I often speak of disability in academic terms (because it’s the language that first taught me to understand my experience). I also don’t introduce myself—in person or online—by way of my health status. In fact, the more unwell I feel, the less I will mention it. While many people find community by disclosing their physical and mental disabilities and illnesses, this has not been the case for me until very recently. And the number of times I have found understanding and support are still outweighed by a life’s history of exclusion and isolation.
The truth of the matter is that I am scared and anxious a lot of time and I don’t know what to say. Part of this is due to brain chemistry and part of this is due to experience. I am still figuring out how to piece together all of the truths of my life, how to speak the right words, how to connect. I don’t have any finishing thoughts about my experience with chronic illness and the disability community. There are only partial revelations and contradictory understandings. I know that I need more people in my life than I have right now. I need to read more disability studies theory and science fiction books. I need to write more (in both creative and academic ways). Fragmentation and uncertainty are exhausting, and no matter how hard I try to make my peace with them, I need solid things right now. This post is an anchor.
Seeing as my independent scholarship is coming along better than I imagined, I proposed a paper AND a discussion panel for my favourite conference, ICFA (International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts). Both were accepted and I'm already dreaming of the Florida sun in March, smearing on ridiculously strong sun screen, chasing lizards, and swimming in the pool at the con hotel. And doing all that other fun conference stuff too. Below are the abstracts for the paper and the panel. The title of my paper is a play on James Tiptree, Jr's short story, "The Women Men Don't See." [UPDATE: I have withdrawn my paper due to scheduling issues].
The Disabilities Men Don’t See: Genetic Engineering, Medical Experimentation, and Institutionalization in Feminist Science Fiction
To date, most discussions of feminist science fiction (SF) address the subgenre’s engagement with the sexed and gendered body (and, to a lesser extent, the raced and classed body). Despite these necessary readings, I argue that there needs to be greater engagement with the representation of disability in feminist SF. In this paper, I trace some of the ways that feminist SF has shaped the conversation of disability in SF through narratives of genetic engineering (e.g., Joanna Russ’s The Female Man), medical experimentation (e.g., James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”), and instutionalization (e.g., Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time). Framing my discussion with disability studies theory, I will attend to Alison Kafer’s insistence that we must examine what is unsaid or assumed about disability in the creation of an ideal feminist utopia (74, Feminist, Queer, Crip). While the feminist SF writers of the 1970s (and the 1980s) often imagined the problematic “defeat” of disability in their visions of a “better” future, I propose that they nevertheless opened up a space to challenge what it means to be a visible “non-normative” or “deviant” body in a heteronormative and ableist society. More recent intersectional feminist SF works, such as Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl (2002) and Octavia Butler’s Fledgling (2005), have since taken up the complex relationships that exist between disabled, gendered, and racialized forms of marginalization. This paper ultimately advocates for the integration of disability studies—and a rejection of any future founded on the (medical) exploitation and erasure of people with disabilities—in feminist SF scholarship.
Archival Research in the Field of the Fantastic
As the field of fantastic embraces intersectional ways of reading, more scholars (at all levels) are engaging with interdisciplinary forms of pedagogy and research practices. Archives of fantastic literature (e.g., novels, zines, pulp magazines, etc.) and the personal papers (e.g., correspondence, fan mail, manuscript drafts, etc.) of authors in the field offer rich sites of investigation that still remain largely untapped. This panel will address issues around the growing interest in archival research, taking up such questions as: What collections are available and at which institutions? How does one develop a project that makes use of archival research? What are the funding opportunities available for archival research? What are the best research and pedagogical strategies to practice while in the archives? How does one make use of archival materials (e.g., navigating copyright/permissions)? What are some of the latest discoveries coming out of archival research in the field of the fantastic? As they discuss these points, the panelists (Kathryn Allan, Gerry Canavan, and Josh Pearson*) will also share some of the insights and findings from their recent and ongoing archival research projects.
*It is possible that another panelist may join us.
It’s been far too long since I last updated the blog with a personal post (so long, in fact, that I’m not even going to look up the date of the last one I wrote). The motivation to write today has come from PhDisabled posting my piece, “A Reflection on Chronic Illness and Graduate School.” Although I wrote it years ago, seeing it on the PhDisabled blog, and knowing that people are reading it, has dredged up a lot of the sadness and anger from that time. Not that those feelings were buried too far down; I’ve been wallowing in self-doubt and social anxiety for the past several weeks, unable to engage with anything beyond my immediate client work. Seeing my post published, despite the feelings it stirred up, was exactly the push I needed to start writing again. I’d like to thank @zaranosaur, of PhDisabled, for being unequivocally supportive and for understanding that rage can move us to great action. While I may often feel stuck in a never-ending cycle of exhaustion, I am able to move through/beyond it. Sometimes it is anger that pushes me, but, more frequently now, it is the support and encouraging words of like-minded people that impel me to speak.
Lots of really cool and amazing things happened, and are happening, this year. As the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow, I researched the feminist SF archives at the University of Oregon for two weeks this spring! My head is still spinning from that experience--I have so much work ahead of me with that project, which is both overwhelming in scope and inspiring in content. I’ve made steady progress with my independent scholarship: a successful paper on disability in Rise of the Planet of the Apes at ICFA; a published article on disability studies and SF in the SFRA’s SF 101: Guide to Teaching and Studying Science Fiction; and, acceptance of a chapter on disability in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle (in a forthcoming edited collection on anomalous embodiment in YA SF). And there is, of course, the project taking up most of my extra attention these past few months, my collaboration with Djibril al-Ayad of The Future Fire in co-editing a disability-themed, intersectional anthology of SF short stories, Accessing the Future.
My intent in listing my accomplishments is two-fold: one, to share with the people who are interested in my work (because, apparently, they are such people out there!); and two, as a reminder to myself that I am doing okay. It is easy to forget that I’m not merely lying about the house, feeling unwell, bothering the cat, and wishing for things to happen. Though at a slower pace than I’d prefer, I am making progress in realizing my ambitious goals. I need to tell myself this. I need to see the evidence of my intent in front of me, on the screen. I need this effort and hope to be shared in order to feel real to me. Because it is so damn easy to succumb to anxiety and depression and self-doubt, and then forget about everything I have done and, perhaps more importantly, everything that I can do.
I’ve a whole folder of half-finished blog posts and essays. I think it’s time that I revisit them and finish the ones that still feel relevant and pressing. Even if, after finishing my PhD 4 years ago, it may seem inappropriate or “too long,” I’m still upset about my experiences in graduate school. How can I not be? I spent 5 years pursuing my PhD, and most of that time sucked. I refuse to put on rose coloured glasses and write a revisionist history of my grad school years. A forced nostalgia would be easier, and would make many of the conversations I have with academics more pleasant, but that would only contribute to the silence that persists around the poor engagement with chronic illness and disability in higher education. The fact that a site like PhDisabled exists speaks to the necessity of anger and of fostering a community of acknowledgment and support.
There are so many issues and experiences that I still need to write about. Three years ago, in “A Reflection on Chronic Illness and Graduate School,” I wrote: “as I move farther into my independent research, the scars I have from my time spent in grad school demand exploration and healing.” I’m still very much involved in this process. Despite everything I have accomplished in the years since then, I continue to hurt. Dealing with chronic illness is an every day challenge, which is certainly one kind of hurt, but I’m also talking about the hurt that comes with losing community, with necessary transitions and self-transformations. My independent scholarship is deeply rooted in my experience of illness, of being angry and having no outlet for it while I was in graduate school.
But I made it through and I’m no longer hemmed in by academic expectations of job performance. I plan on using every moment of that hard earned freedom (because having a PhD does afford me certain socio-economic privileges) to do what I love doing. I love freelance editing and coaching graduate students. I love science fiction and disability studies. I love thinking through the connections between all of these passions and figuring out ways to make all of this effort and excitement tangible. Because if I make my own life better, then I’ll have more tools to help other people. This is what my anger does now: it builds.