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"Alien States"

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Abstract:

This paper addresses the representation of the U.S. state on science fiction television in order to suggest how recent series such as Roswell, Odyssey 5, and Battlestar Galactica offer a canny understanding of the neoliberal governance that complements and in some respects perhaps outstrips theoretical work on the topic. I am especially interested in the ways that an SF thematics of covert alien presence – as it maps relations of force, technologies and tactics of surveillance and authentication, and new forms of interface and intimacy through tropologies of contamination, emergence, and apocalypse – articulate to an understanding of contemporary transformations in the operations of the state.

As Wahneema Lubiano insists, “the state thinks the subject, too.” The theoretical work on neoliberalism (Sassen, Harvey, Hardt and Negri, Brown, et.al.) has deftly parsed the shifting organization and modalities of state power, but has not often discerned (or even seriously attempted to discern) the contours of emergent subjectivities accommodated to this power – that is, the norms of conduct and affectivity that inform the subjects of the neoliberal state. In this regard, I will suggest, SF TV appears , if not always or consistently more discerning, at least steadily preoccupied with the affective registers of neoliberal state power. Focusing particularly on Battlestar Galactica (now entering its fourth season on the SciFi channel), I want to explore the tensions and disconnects between the series’ representation of a residual, authentically human structure of government, characterized by the collusion of the executive branch with the military (cathected as necessary means for the preservation of humanity), on the one hand, and an emergent cylon state, sustained through terror and the cylons’ persistent solicitation of human love and intimacy, on the other.

Reviled as (mechanical) “toasters” by the human survivors of nuclear apocalypse, the cylons are synthetic, organic beings, whose appearance and bodily functioning is nearly indistinguishable from those of humans. Cylons comes in twelve “models,” or avatars, each of which exists in multiple copies; while different models and, to some extent, the individual copies of particular models, manifest diverse personalities, the copies share an apparently extensive archive of common memories and investments. They are also fully disposable/renewable, as they “download” and “resurrect” in new bodies if killed. The series turns on the cylons’ disposition towards humanity, which ranges from their attempted extermination of all human life to an evangelical impulse that entails the redemption of humanity through heterosexual cylon-human coupling. My reading will suggest how the cylons might be read as embodying a neoliberal norm of disposable, interfaced, serially differentiated subjectivity, as it converges on a human population fixated nostalgically and in bad faith on liberal norms of personhood (formal equality; individual choice; freedom as the right to self-realization; etc). I am especially interested in the ways that the cylons’ disposable personhood is cast in racial terms (human-cylon coupling narrated on the model of the interracial romance, for example), even as the logic self-other differentiation collapses in a context where disposability becomes the norm.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244454_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Cherniavsky, Eva. ""Alien States"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244454_index.html>

APA Citation:

Cherniavsky, E. ""Alien States"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244454_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: This paper addresses the representation of the U.S. state on science fiction television in order to suggest how recent series such as Roswell, Odyssey 5, and Battlestar Galactica offer a canny understanding of the neoliberal governance that complements and in some respects perhaps outstrips theoretical work on the topic. I am especially interested in the ways that an SF thematics of covert alien presence – as it maps relations of force, technologies and tactics of surveillance and authentication, and new forms of interface and intimacy through tropologies of contamination, emergence, and apocalypse – articulate to an understanding of contemporary transformations in the operations of the state.

As Wahneema Lubiano insists, “the state thinks the subject, too.” The theoretical work on neoliberalism (Sassen, Harvey, Hardt and Negri, Brown, et.al.) has deftly parsed the shifting organization and modalities of state power, but has not often discerned (or even seriously attempted to discern) the contours of emergent subjectivities accommodated to this power – that is, the norms of conduct and affectivity that inform the subjects of the neoliberal state. In this regard, I will suggest, SF TV appears , if not always or consistently more discerning, at least steadily preoccupied with the affective registers of neoliberal state power. Focusing particularly on Battlestar Galactica (now entering its fourth season on the SciFi channel), I want to explore the tensions and disconnects between the series’ representation of a residual, authentically human structure of government, characterized by the collusion of the executive branch with the military (cathected as necessary means for the preservation of humanity), on the one hand, and an emergent cylon state, sustained through terror and the cylons’ persistent solicitation of human love and intimacy, on the other.

Reviled as (mechanical) “toasters” by the human survivors of nuclear apocalypse, the cylons are synthetic, organic beings, whose appearance and bodily functioning is nearly indistinguishable from those of humans. Cylons comes in twelve “models,” or avatars, each of which exists in multiple copies; while different models and, to some extent, the individual copies of particular models, manifest diverse personalities, the copies share an apparently extensive archive of common memories and investments. They are also fully disposable/renewable, as they “download” and “resurrect” in new bodies if killed. The series turns on the cylons’ disposition towards humanity, which ranges from their attempted extermination of all human life to an evangelical impulse that entails the redemption of humanity through heterosexual cylon-human coupling. My reading will suggest how the cylons might be read as embodying a neoliberal norm of disposable, interfaced, serially differentiated subjectivity, as it converges on a human population fixated nostalgically and in bad faith on liberal norms of personhood (formal equality; individual choice; freedom as the right to self-realization; etc). I am especially interested in the ways that the cylons’ disposable personhood is cast in racial terms (human-cylon coupling narrated on the model of the interracial romance, for example), even as the logic self-other differentiation collapses in a context where disposability becomes the norm.


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