Week Two [Days 3 and 4]: Gender and the Posthuman
Overview: During week two of the unit, students will begin to unpack the ways in which science fiction acts as a critique of societal customs and expectations. Students will look at another posthuman novella called The Girl Who Was Plugged In, with emphasis placed on gender, performance, and point of view. This should act as a precursor to the next lesson, which will focus on these topics more directly, in addition to cognitive estrangement.
Day 3 [75 minutes]
- Tiptree, James, Jr. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.” 1973. Warm Worlds and Otherwise, 1975, pp. 79-121.
- Articulate how science fiction acts as a critique of social and political realities within “our” society, i.e. gender and status.
- Reflect on how point of view affects meaning.
- Opening [5 minutes]: Students should take out a notebook and write down one topic, scene, character analysis that they would like to touch on during the discussion.
- Background Information [10 minutes]: The instructor should provide background on the author, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon), and the identity politics at the time of publication (the 1970’s).
- Discussion Groups [20 minutes]: Students should be placed into groups of 3-4 in order to prepare their responses to the following discussion questions. The instructor can give each group all of the questions, or assign one per group. Students should keep the 1973 publishing date in mind when responding.
- Narration. Discuss the narrator and writing style of the story. Note the nicknames the reader is given. How might the story look different if told by a character in it? What is the benefit of this point of view? What is the setback? Why do you think Tiptree chose to make the narrator and reader male?
- Celebrities. What does the novella say about the concept of a celebrity? Compare and contract celebrity culture in the story to our society. Describe the critique Tiptree might be making and your opinion of it.
- News. Paul makes the statement that “There’s nothing in the news except what they want people to know. Half the country could burn up and nobody would know it if they didn’t want” (Tiptree 22). Does his statement still stand today, with the rise of the internet and, more specifically, social media?
- Advertisements. Advertising is banned in P. Burke’s world. What would the benefits and drawbacks of a true ban on advertisements be? Do advertisements impede upon or add to a person’s individuality? Are they inevitable? Is Delphi an advertisement?
- Women. What is the expectation placed upon women in this novella? How does the world define femininity? What are the implications of this definition? At what age is a girl considered a woman? Note the descriptions of P. Burke’s original body vs. the body of Delphi.
- Break [5 minutes]
- Class Discussion [20 minutes]: Students should use the discussion questions as a guide during the class discussion. Students should consider how the reading meets or differs from their understanding of posthumanism and science fiction. The instructor should use the following passages as a guide:
- “There’s nothing… soon we’re though!”
- “Sitting up… delighted eyes.”
- “Advertising as it… does it?”
- Closing [15 minutes]: After each discussion question is unpacked, final thoughts are encouraged. Students should look back at their opening notes to ensure topics of interest have been addressed.
Day 4 [75 minutes]
- Melissa Colleen Stevenson. “Trying to Plug-In: Posthuman Cyborgs and the Search for Connection.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 34, no. 1, 2007, pp. 87–105.
- Suvin, Darko. “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre.” College English, vol. 34, no. 3, 1972, pp. 372–382.
- Define “cognition”, “estrangement”, “novum”, “gender performance” and “gender disembodiment” in relation to an understanding of the posthuman.
- Opening [5 minutes]: Students should give general reactions to both readings.
- Stevenson Activity [15 minutes]: Students should break up into groups and find one section of the reading to review as a class. Each group should be able to walk the class through the passage they’ve selected. The following topics can be assigned one/two per group or just provided as a guide for what to focus on:
- Female bodies
- Social performance
- Male Gaze
- Stevenson Discussion [20 minutes]: Groups should present their selected passages. Allow for a discussion of each selected passage and other general moments.
- Break [5 minutes]
- Suvin Discussion [20 minutes]: Students should give general reactions to the reading. This discussion should have a loose structure, as the reading might be more challenging and clarification needed, but should address the following:
- What is a novum? What is the novum in The Girl Who Was Plugged In? What about Computer Friendly? Other works?
- What does it mean to become estranged as a reader? How does science fiction use cognitive estrangement to engage in critique?
- Closing [10 minutes]: Final thoughts on cognitive estrangement, performance, and disembodiment before previewing week three.