Panel 1 – Examining Female Perspectives of Alternate History
- Amanda Dillon, University of East Anglia (UK), “Speaking Unspoken Timelines: Feminist Time Travel and Alternate Histories in Kage Baker’s The Company”
- Rosie M. Lewis, Durham University (UK), “Re-envisioning Female Subjectivity, Aesthetics and Collective Resistance in Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames”
- Sarah Lohmann, Durham University (UK), “On the Edge of Time: Feminist Utopias, Complexity Theory and Parallel Future Histories”
Speaking Unspoken Timelines: Feminist Time Travel and Alternate Histories in Kage Baker’s The Company
This paper uses Kage Baker’s series The Company to explore an inversion of the alternate history in terms of the female authored, female-oriented time travel narrative. Instead of time travelling to the past and exacting a change upon the timeline, as often happens in male-oriented time travel narrative (such as in About Time, Replay, Timequake, etc.), this female-oriented time travel narrative works within an understanding of time where events may not be changed. As in many narratives of this type, such as in Connie Willis’s Oxford time travel series, this issue becomes a central plot point, restricting character agency. This paper sees this restriction as a feminisation of time travel that seems to be tied quite closely to the comparative absence of women in official histories. Male time travel may change events as necessary for the narrative; female time travel not only may not change history, but foregrounds this restriction. Baker’s characters, explicitly disallowed from changing recorded history by their employers, may move about freely in events that have not been recorded as ‘official’ history, and therefore influence the narrative’s present day. This loophole in the restrictions creates a secondary, unspoken, or hidden timeline that can exert influence on the present in subtle ways. This, however, seems an incomplete understanding of this loophole. When considered from a meta-narrative standpoint, the act of writing these narratives attempts to right the gender balance of history. These events exist as non-actuals, in a Menongian sense, and the act of recording such fictional alternative versions of history, particularly as first person narratives, grants female time-travellers with the narrative agency they otherwise lack. This paper sees these narratives as alternates to the established ‘official’ history and examines some of the ways in which this series and other texts like it seek to assert women’s existence and influence through the writing of these narratives.
Dr Amanda Dillon received her PhD in literature from the University of East Anglia in 2012. She works on metafictionality, world-building, and narrative experimentalism in science fiction and dabbles in time travel and alternate history studies. Sadly, this has not yet allowed her to develop her own time machine. She teaches in the School of History at UEA.
Re-envisioning Female Subjectivity, Aesthetics and Collective Resistance in Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames
Lizzie Borden’s 1983 interdisciplinary Feminist masterpiece Born in Flames still resonates as one of the finest cinematic examples of critical social analysis in the late 20th Century. Emerging from the experimental downtown New York No Wave scene of the early 1980’s, Borden’s feminist critique of a tyrannical bureaucratic socialist democracy smartly pre-empted thirty years of feminist and radical discourse on difference and intersectionality. Following the dystopian adventures of a feminist revolutionary women’s army, whose use of guerilla warfare tactics, collectivist action and new media propaganda exposes the deleterious and murderous oppression of a racist, patriarchal heterosexist state; Born in Flames’ constructive aestheticism interweaves multiple personal and political identities in order to re-envision that which had been so far absent, appropriated, abstracted or subjugated in Western Cinema.
In this study I will emphasise the vital role Born in Flames played in bringing to the fore a new female subjectivity, visibility and aesthetic symbolism in postmodern cinema. I will argue that in deconstructing individualistic human liberalist rationalities and universal truths in favour of collectivist resistance and a female focused subjectivity, Born in Flames deliberately created non linear dystopian counter narratives in order to disrupt spatial temporalities that excluded the physical and psychic experiential realities of women’s lives. I will also argue that for a 21st Century audience Born in Flames in its radical and innovative use of improvisation, reportage, gender performance and visual synthesis still continues to politically activate and reimagine the possibility of future feminist utopias and movement.
R. M. Lewis political and arts activism spans 20 years. She currently delivers strategic and frontline advocacy for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) survivors of domestic abuse at the Angelou Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne. She is currently undertaking a Research Masters in English at Durham University that focuses on Audre Lorde’s groundbreaking biomythography, Zami; A New Spelling of My Name.
On the Edge of Time: Feminist Utopias, Complexity Theory and Parallel Future Histories
In my paper, I will be looking at Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Joanna Russ’sThe Female Man, two 20th-century feminist utopian novels that are centred around parallel future histories in conflict with one another, and examine how these conflicts can be seen as a drive towards a new kind of feminist utopia that draws on complexity theory in order to reach moral conclusions.
I will propose a reading of these novels as presenting utopia in the form of an intrinsically open complex dynamic system, as described by complexity theorists Mark C. Taylor and Frederic Vester. This reading, I will argue, can be applied both to the feminist utopian communities described in opposition to their dystopian alternatives, which exist in alternate temporal ‘strands of probability’, and within the narrative structure of these novels.
I will suggest such a reading as a promising new way to make sense of the complex, shifting layers of temporality and causality within these narratives and the intricate interactions between their parallel histories. By explaining these mechanisms in terms of systems that work in non-linear ways to give emergence to the new, I will explore the potential of complexity theory as a basis for the kind of utopian communitarian morality espoused in these novels. Moreover, I will offer this approach as a potentially valuable way of modelling a feminist utopian future in a way that is no longer fragmented in a postmodern sense but solidly metaphysically and morally grounded despite its dynamism.
As such, I will be drawing on a considerable recent interest in complex dynamic systems theory as a way of simulating the future in the wake of postmodern ideas of uncertainty, an approach that has received considerable interest in other areas but has not as yet been extended to the study of literature. By applying such an analysis to the parallel future histories of these feminist utopias, I hope to make a case for the continuing relevance of these utopian narratives in the 21stcentury.
Sarah Lohmann is a first-year PhD student at Durham University, working on 21st-century feminist utopias under the supervision of Professors Patricia Waugh and Simon James. Before coming to Durham, she completed an MA (Hons) degree in English Literature and Philosophy as well as MLitt degrees in both English Literature and Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.
Joanna Russ, The Female Man, p. 7