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A Telepathic Chicago Cop Meets a Telepathic Black Woman: Science Fiction as Pedagogy of Dissent

Sun, November 12, 8:00 to 9:45am, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Field, Third Floor West Tower

Abstract

The Sense8 Netflix series, directed by the Wachowskis, demonstrates both the possibilities and limitations of science fiction as a pedagogical practice that can amplify global dissent, while Octavia Butler’s book Mind of My Mind provides an important counterpoint. The Sense8 storyline, centered on Nomi Marks, is a rare and important depiction of a trans woman in a lesbian relationship being cared for, desired, and having sexual autonomy. Still, the series relies on western colonial assumptions for its global imagination, positing the human as unified by violence. Claire Light raises a valid critique of Sense8, arguing that it is based on a western liberal colonial concept of multiculturalism, centered in white American culture, whose empathy relies on the universality of western values. Yet Light’s statement that the Wachowski’s global imagination is novel fails to consider that anticolonial, antiracist and women of color feminist movements have theorized a global imagination for decades.

An additional failure of the show’s efforts at creating a global imagination or global ethics is that it assumes a fixity between race and place which reinforces racial nationalisms. A global imagination offers opportunities for rethinking geo-body politics in ways that Sense8’s imagination fails to. Of primary concern is the centering of the first season on the white heterosexual romance between Riley and Will, a police officer. The season culminates with all the characters coming to Riley’s aid, which demonstrates that the characters of color and in those global south countries are simply supporting stories. The image of all the characters coming to the aid of a black trans woman in chicago suffering at the hands of the medical-industrial-complex and the prison-industrial complex would have been a far more powerful and timely political statement.

In contrast, Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, published in 1977, portrayed a similar telepathic cluster rife with racial and gender conflicts that echo similarities to historical Black slavery. Sense8 raises questions about the meaning of humanity when Jonas Maliki states, “To reveal the secret that there is another kind of human, one whose existence threatens the very fundament of their reality: no, they’ll never allow that… killing is easy when you can feel nothing.” Yet this too easily equates humanness with violence. In contrast, In Mind of My Mind, the telepaths are considered human. Sylvia Wynter’s work is important here, to reimagine ethics globally by positing a new praxis of being human, in solidarity with oppressed groups whom the human has been defined to exclude and authorize violence against (2014).

The paper will conclude with a reflection on teaching graduate seminars and undergraduate courses in which the work of the Wachowskis and Octavia Butler is presented and analyzed. Students in these courses create their own science fiction media projects. The classes demonstrate a pedagogy in which science fiction is a praxis, a mode of creativity informed by theory, digital humanities, art and design.

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