Carleigh Brady

"A Reflection, But Inferior": The Interrogation of Personhood in Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen's Descender

Who — or what — is deserving of love? This question lies at the heart of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender, a 2015 space opera centred around the young android TIM-21 and his quest to find his human family members. What makes Descender interesting (in addition to Nguyen’s beautiful watercolours) is the way it remixes its source material — including Urasawa’s Pluto, Spielberg’s A. I., Scott’s Blade Runner, and Kubrick and Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey — to deliver a moving story about TIM-21’s search for personhood and acceptance.

However, while Descender is generous in its assessment of AI’s potential for personhood, this generosity is not always extended to its other characters, most notably the cyborg Effie aka “Queen Between.” Likewise, the graphic novel’s ending undercuts its message of tolerance. I will discuss how these internal contradictions are the result of Descender’s underlying ambivalence towards the Other’s claim to personhood and how they reflect SF’s larger strengths and weaknesses in trying to imagine humanity’s relationship with artificial and/or posthuman intelligences.

Carleigh Brady teaches English Literature at St. Thomas More College and the University of Saskatchewan. She specializes in speculative fiction and is especially interested in narrative form in the science fiction novel, depictions of utopian and dystopian communities, and the relationship between British science fiction and literary modernism.

Dunja M. Mohr

"I Am Not Your Experiment": Speculating about the Normalization of Human Diversity in Orphan Black

This paper argues that the tremendously successful Canadian TV series Orphan Black (2013-2017), a 21st century clone thriller set in a recognizable Toronto, uses the clone trope as a variant of the monster discourse to speculate about the normalization of human diversity. Where contemporary associations fearfully align clones with a monster discourse grounded in repulsive identity and a rejection of alterity, Orphan Black retains the memory of the mutant but offers the clones as “a glittering range of post-human variables” (Braidotti). The sestras signify the impossibility and undesirability of purity and the appeal of sameness as difference. Living Haraway’s “promise(s) of monsters,” Orphan Black celebrates the no longer different human monster as fully human. The series’ core message that clones and humans should be treated the same, effectively opens up visual and cultural spaces for marginalized groups and communities, and all those deemed other whose lives are inflected by differences.

Dunja M. Mohr, University of Erfurt, Germany, is an officer of the Margaret Atwood Society; Head of Women and Gender Studies, Association for Canadian Studies in German-speaking Countries; and on the Advisory Boards of Utopian Studies and Margaret Atwood Studies. Publications are on speculative and Anthropocene fiction, dystopian literature, posthumanism, new materialism, Monster studies, Canadian literature, Adaptation Studies, and post-9/11.

June Scudeler

"What if the Natives Were Immune?": Dismembering Bad Relations in Jeff Barnaby's Blood Quantum

Jeff Barnaby’s (Mi’kmaw) 2019 zombie movie Blood Quantum, set in the same fictional Red Crow reserve as Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013), uses the zombie apocalypse to dismember colonial impositions of blood quantum, authenticity, and masculinity. In an anti-colonial twist, non-Indigenous people fall prey to the zombie virus to which Indigenous people are immune. Although non-Indigenous viewers can enjoy the gore, Blood Quantum is really addressed to Indigenous people. Barnaby uses the fortified reserve to show the importance of reciprocity and responsibility as the inhabitants debate whether to allow non-Indigenous people onto their land. Barnaby maintains that tribal cop Traylor and his toxic son Lysol are a hindrance to Indigenous values of reciprocity because of their toxic masculinity. Instead, Traylor’s son Joseph survives the zombie apocalypse because he learns to be gentle and supportive of Charlie, his white girlfriend, and his larger community. In the zombie apocalypse, building relations is the only way to survive.

June Scudeler (Métis) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies, cross-appointed with the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research examines the intersections between queer Indigenous studies, Indigenous literature, film, and art. She is currently researching Indigenous horror.

Joshua W. Katz and Todd G. Morrison

Humans as Pathogens in the Time of COVID-19: The Work of David Cronenberg (1970-1983)

David Cronenberg’s films have offered prescient commentaries on social anxieties. One specific social issue, which has been at the forefront of many of Cronenberg’s films, is the fear of disease. While many horror films utilize “other” entities as disease vectors (e.g., zombies, vampires), Cronenberg’s films are unique in that they often portray humans as pathogenic agents. Indeed, many of Cronenberg’s films focus on disease and states of corporeal otherness that are human-induced. In addition, the emphasis that Cronenberg places on “betrayals of the flesh” serves as a launchpad to discuss Western society’s existential fear of disease and mortality — a fear which has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this presentation, we will discuss Cronenberg’s use of humans as “vectors of disease” and will highlight how this human-based otherness serves to heighten fears surrounding contagion and illness.

Joshua W. Katz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan. His research interests include feminism, masculinities, psychometrics, and representations of gender and sexualities in film. Joshua has published in numerous outlets including Group Processes & Intergroup Relations and The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Sexual Minority Mental Health.

Todd G. Morrison is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan. His research interests include sexual diversity studies, body image, psychometrics, and gay male pornography. In recognition of his work in gay/lesbian psychology, Todd was elected a Fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association in 2016.  

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