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Stitch and Split – version 06/13

Selves and Territories in Science Fiction

“The split and contradictory self is the one who can interrogate positionings and be accountable, the one who can construct and join rational conversations and fantastic imaginings that change history. Splitting, not being, is the privileged image for feminist epistemologies of scientific knowledge. ‘Splitting’ in this context should be about heterogeneous multiplicities that are simultaneously necessary and incapable of being squashed into isomorphic slots or cumulative lists. This geometry pertains within and among subjects. The topography of subjectivity is multidimensional; so therefore is vision. The knowing self is partial in all its guises, never finished, whole, simply there and original; it is always constructed and stitched together imperfectly, and therefore able to join with another, to see together without claiming be another.”
Donna Haraway, Situated Knowledges

A project by Constant vzw
For Fundació Tàpies

Stitch and Split
Selves and Territories in Science Fiction

1. Organisation
The activities organised by Constant are marked by the idea that the most fruitful debates spring from the interstices of disciplines and genres. Transdisciplinarity, however, is not in itself a guarantee of success. That is why for Split and Stitch, and for the other events we organise, we propose a number of specific devices. The aim of all of them is to encourage passage: passage from one discipline to another, from one cultural context to another, from the position of spectator to the position of participant.
– screenings which mix popular and experimental or scientific films
– a space with fluctuating functions which can be transformed into a conference or consultation area
– encounters between participants with different horizons and different practices: scientists, fans, artists, critics, university teachers
– accessible and distributable resources on the spot and via the website: photocopies, printouts to take away and files that can be downloaded from the internet site
– a publication that mixes theory and fiction.

2. Contents
Selves and Territories in Science Fiction
Stitch and Split intends to start from a position. That of a body, an individual, in the city, intergalactic space, the landscape, the network or the community… That body can have multiple relations with the spaces and the other bodies through multiple extensions. The journey through those bodies and spaces challenges the notion of the individual. Identities that take the risk of otherness/heterogeneity somewhere between science and fiction.
Stitch and Split is also the story of territories and individuals crossed by currents, communities, colonies, by what will be private and what be public.

Key words: new frontier, colonies, occupation, resistances, foreign bodies, cyborgs, identity tourism, identity upload/identity back up, 0&1, flows, communities, embodiment, property, singularity…

1. Implementation
In order to undertake, today, a journey through the incessantly redefined territories of science fiction, of incessantly deconstructed and remodelled bodies, we, just like those who construct and unmake them, must drink from the rainbow-coloured springs of knowledge and imagination. We are obliged to approach it in a transdisciplinary way.
Transdisciplinarity is a difficult business. It does not guarantee a clear, easy exchange a priori.
That is why it must be met head on with mechanisms that will force the participants to redefine themselves in their contacts with one another, and force productions to be responsive rather than entrenched in their genres and styles.
One aspect that seems crucial to us is for the collaborative work between the participants to commence as soon as possible, so that they have time to learn to speak to each other, to adapt their language and understand each other’s research methods. That is why we think it is important that the website be a tool for preparation as much as a means of communication for the event.
The concept of a physical place with interchangeable functions seems important to us insofar as it enables visitors who arrive with different intentions to encounter one another. Indeed, those who come to consult data in a consultation space can see that place transformed into a conference, and those who have come to attend a concert or a debate can take the opportunity to consult the resources available.
We are convinced that the most productive encounters take place through the qualities of the individuals or groups engaged in the dialogue regardless of any a priori linked to their position on the cultural ladder (a scientist must rethink his a priori when he is talking to a science fiction fan and the fan must discard his frame of reference when he is talking to someone with an academic background). They also take place where the categories of the serious, the credible, the entertaining and the absurd become entangled. In our eyes the kind of unruly research and questioning of fans, perceived as undisciplined, even derisory by the academic community, actually contains as much exciting prospective vision as those of university researchers and their “authorised” opinions. But it is not to play off one against the other that we have invited the fans and the university researchers or the critics and the artists, but rather to see how they learn from one another beyond —and thanks to— their differences. It is with this idea in mind that we have conceived a publication which will link fiction and research, analysis and imagination.
Finally, the project is not only something that belongs to a given space and which can be consulted temporarily, but is material which can be taken away and worked with.

Whether through the place, the publication, or the choice of people present, what we are looking for is cross-pollination, reciprocal contamination.

(…) “How should one be positioned in order to see in this situation of tensions, resonances, transformations, resistances, and complicities?
(…) A map of tensions and resonances between the fixed ends of a charged dichotomy better represents the potent politics and epistemologies of embodied, therefore accountable, objectivity.
Donna Haraway, Situated Knowledges

2. Introduction to the work principle

How to approach the literary and cinematic corpus of science fiction? We could obviously have started with the linking of those two apparently contradictory terms: science and fiction. To bring about an encounter between contemporary science and the theses on and the developed visions of what is now our present. To test reality against fiction or vice versa. We could also have begun with the images, the aesthetic of science fiction: comparing the environments, the modes, the bodies, the contemporary media with the imaginations of the film-makers, designers or writers of the past. In short, science fiction as pythoness.
But instead of a confrontation between two terms, we are interested in a junction, the interstice between these “two diametrically opposed registers”. It is that interstice, that tension between two disciplines, two genres, between the function, the objective of each term that will be our point of entry into the genre. To reveal, to activate that dualism, that arrangement as alternative, structure, environment, tool, platform for thinking a situated present.
Science fiction as construction, as an amalgam of imagination and reality, an association of utopia and dystopia, of flesh and the machine, a body issuing from thought as an alternative to the domination of the market. Science fiction as a figure of style, a scientific process. Intrusion, discrepancy, incongruity as a system of resistance.

Science fiction as theory on fast forward. (…) Science fiction re-interpreted as an analysis of the ongoing present.
Kodwo Eshun, interview with Geert Lovink

As its name suggests, the aim of the “science fiction” genre is to join those two diametrically opposed registers, fiction and science, but also techniques, even philosophy, all those genres that can impress precisely because they are producers of knowledge that loftily affirm their separation from opinion, from the fictions which opinion takes pleasure in.
Isabelle Stengers, Le choix de Leibniz

A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualisms without end (or until the world ends); it takes irony for granted. One is too few, and two is only one possibility.
Cyborg Manifesto, D. Haraway, 1991

3. Contents
The Emperor wants to control outer space, Yoda wants to explore inner space. That’s the fundamental difference between the good and the bad side of the force.
Moff, Human Traffic (directed by Justin Kerrigan)

Selves and Territories in Science Fiction
Stitch and Split intends to start from a position. That of a body, an individual, in the city, intergalactic space, the landscape, the network or the community… That body can have multiple relations with the spaces and the other bodies through multiple extensions. The journey through those bodies and spaces challenges the notion of the individual. Identities that take the risk of otherness/heterogeneity somewhere between science and fiction.
Stitch and Split is also the story of territories and individuals crossed by flows, communities, colonies, by what will be private and public.

Key words new frontier, colonies, occupation, resistances, foreign bodies, cyborgs, identity tourism, identity upload/identity back up, 0&1, flows, communities, embodiment, property, singularity…

3.1. Selves

*Identity Tourism
“The proximity and quasi-familiarity of differences has turned the others into objects of consumption, granting them alternatively a reassuring and a threatening quality that by-passes the swinging doors of dialectics. We have entered instead into a zigzagging pattern of dissonant nomadic subjects. Keeping track of them is the harsh challenge that critical theory is attempting to meet. Expressing the positivity of difference in the age of its commodified proliferation is a conceptual task that, however, keeps on bumping against the walls of dialectical habits of thought.”
Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses

Following the analysis of the territory and the New Frontier, we wanted to devote a chapter to a kind of tourism that does not reveal itself as such: identity tourism, an activist tourism, tourism as a new colonisation (of cyberspace). Cyberspace not as a place of neutralities with no sex or race, but as a place of identities where, if everyone can take the identity he/she wants, and the race and sex of his/her choice, it is often to stress their worst clichés. And yet a place where communities can be visible.

*Foreign bodies/Cyborg
“(…) science fiction is more than escapism. It provides the ‘aliens’ and passport-less of the New World with the opportunity to narrate histories of colonialism, conquest, resistance; to explore alternative epistemologies and ontologies (and all their contradictions); and subsequently, to redefine the boundaries of subject and community.” (Catherine S. Ramirez, Cyborg Feminism: The Science – Fiction of O. Butler and G. Anzaldua 2001)

The body as the result of a scientific process, the body emerging from thought, constructed by thought. Science fiction as a reconstructed body, as a trans-genre, transdisciplinary science. As a post-apocalyptic tabula rasa which will allow the passport-less, the Others, to weave other social fabrics than those of the capitalist market, a chance to freely imagine relations not based on domination.
We shall invite critics dealing with the foreign body in cyberspace and in science fiction, theoreticians who have taken the figure of the cyborg as a figure of the Other, between nature and science, between genres, between frontiers, at once exploited work machine and reproductive machine, a synonym for slave or danger.

“Let’s push the word cyborg to its ‘origins’ in the rat implanted with an osmotic pump in 1960 in Rockland State as part of the project to make a completely self-regulating man-machine system. Let’s push it back to Nobert Weiner and ‘Cybernetic and society’ where informational science is used to explain both the organic and machinic processes, or push out the way cyborg figures inhabit both technical and popular culture. Let’s really look into the ways we think of ourselves as information processing devices or reading machines or semiotic devices in a way that is influenced by communications theory, or look at the way cybernetic control systems shape military doctrine or shape industrial labor process. ‘Cyborg’ is a way to get all the multiple layers of life and liveness as well as deathliness within we live each day. Our bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception.”
Cyborg Manifesto, D. Haraway, 1991

We shall follow the evolution of the idea of the cyborg who no longer needs clinking metal prostheses (and, thanks to the wireless, he/she no longer needs to plug a jack into the back of the skull): the modification of the body is through genetics (Octavia Butler), nanotechnologies or microbiology (Linda Nagata): strangeness may not now lie in the idea of modifying one’s body but in the modifications that call into question the definition of the individual, making his or her identity permeable, for example, two processes of thought on a network (via telepathy in Butler, or via symbiotic micro-organisms and technological implants in Nagata) where all points of view are shared by all members of the network.

We find that permeability of identity in many mangas through the recurrent theme of reincarnation or possession, which is never complete: a person can be several characters at once.

*Identity uploads / identity backups
Pursuing the idea of permeability, the rift in identity, science fiction also explores the possibility or not of uploading an identity/personality/soul in another body/ in a clone/in a machine, the questions posed by the upload of a single identity in several bodies, of several personalities in a single body.

Example: The Measure of a Man (Star Trek Next Generation), The Schizoid Man (Star Trek Next Generation)
The two episodes of Star Trek seem opposed to one another: in The Schizoid Man, the soul of the “grandfather” is separated from his body and uploaded into Data’s (but cohabitation between the two is impossible, Data has to struggle to get rid of the parasite soul); while in The Measure of a Man the android Data refuses to be transferred into another machine while his body is being examined/destroyed. He puts forward the thesis that he has a “soul”, that one part of his personality cannot be separated from his body, that if it is downloaded, all that is left is data and perhaps no longer him as identity. (See also the scene in which one of the members of the crew (Riker) dismantles him to show that he is a machine, a counterproductive argument in his plea since it is perceived as an attack on the integrity of his identity, of the double, inseparable body/soul, an attack on “human dignity”).

Example: Stone Canal (Ken Macleod)
Some interesting ideas in Stone Canal: Wilde uploaded in two bodies (one clone, one robot) producing two different identities produced by the encounter between data and a body. The superstition of the other inhabitants of New Mars who destroy the robot in which they were uploaded when they are uploaded in a clone, so as not to be in two bodies at the same time (as if they were afraid of only having half a soul in each body, of committing sacrilege against a “oneness” superseded by reality; they believe in the fiction that it is the continuity of a single soul from one body to the other). The robot Wilde who houses two identities (Wilde and an Artificial Intelligence woman called Meg) who live like two virtual bodies in a virtual landscape. Wilde can go from that simulation of organic human body to his robot senses and vice versa.
And at the end of this passage (p. 329), it is the Wilde uploaded in a robot speaking:
“In the last couple of centuries I’d become sensitive to the difference between a virtual body and a real one. For all its apparent solidity, for all the pleasure it could reproduce or invent, for all the realism of the pains and discomfort it sometimes felt (for consistency rules) the virtual body lacked some final, vital touch, which was nothing more than the daily millions of subtle impacts and impulses that arise from the quotidian grapple with materiality. When I experienced the robot body as my own, I felt far more human than I ever did in the simulation of my human flesh.”

The idea of those uploads, or backups which can be resuscitated in a clone or a machine, sparks endless debates (see on the Inkwell forum discussion with Cory Doctorow on Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, chaired by Charles Stross, who in Lobsters uploads lobster intelligences into robots – the lobsters find the chance to evolve towards a higher intelligence), where the old questions (soul/body dichotomy, transcendence …) are reframed. What seems fascinating is the problematic aspect of the subject in relation to identity, to the continuity of consciousness … We might wonder for which contemporary issue(s) this subject serves as a metaphor?

Another extract:
“Bruno marveled again that faxing now seemed to provoke no sensation at all, though their bodies were sundered, atomized, quantum-entangled and finally recreated. Exactly as before? Indistinguishable, anyway. The soul, it was imagined, followed the entangled quantum states to the new location. Inconvenient to think it might be destroyed and duplicated along with the body, or worse, that copies of it might be piling up in an afterlife somewhere. But weighed against crowds and traffic and bad weather and all the other inconveniences of physical travel, people were surprisingly willing to take the risk.”
(Wil McCarthy, The Collapsium, p. 44, people can not only fax themselves from one place to another but also fax copies all over if they are needed).

3.2. Territories

*New Frontier
Encounters between history and video games, literary analysis and cyberpunk, the Star Trek fan clubs and sociological analysis: a sketch for a point of view that enables us to approach journeys in cities, identities, colonies.
Cyberspace, the whole world as a new El Dorado, the new space to be conquered, colonised?

“What we want to get at is not these alluring narratives of Princess Toadstool, Pocahontas, and Virginia Dare (or of Mario, Luigi, and John Smith) but another shared concern in our material that seems to underlie these more memorable fictions in a constitutive way. Both terms of our title evoke explorations and colonizations of space: the physical space navigated, mapped, and mastered by European voyagers and travelers in the 16th and 17th centuries and the fictional, digitally projected space traversed, mapped, and mastered by players of Nintendo® video games.”
Henry Jenkins and Mary Fuller (USA), Nintendo® and New World Travel Writing: A Dialogue


A large part of science fiction literature takes the point of view of the coloniser; that is the classic theme of space exploration, terraforming, galactic empires. We often find parallels with the frontier mentality (the Final Frontier of Star Trek, or in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian trilogy the comparison with the space of video games). We now see far more novels taking the point of view of the colonised (for example, Octavia Butler or Liz Williams in Empire of Bones, where the protagonist is an untouchable rebel who soon makes the connection between the visitors from outer space and the Western visitors), or the texts presenting more ambiguous colonisation relationships. See also Iain M. Banks’ Culture cycle, where the culture is imperialist and expansionist, but where organic beings are all in the same boat, colonised one after another by benevolent and superior artificial intelligences (the rule is that no-one complains, but like the “prime directive” in Star Trek, it is a rule that is only there to create exceptions). Or Ken Macleod’s Engines of Light, where human populations have been displaced to another corner of the universe to be pawns in an intergalactic conflict taking place on an inhuman scale. While awaiting the next blow, these instrumentalised colonised people are effectively colonialists launched into a new world. The relationships are also modified with the theme of the literal colonisation of bodies and their modification to respond to the needs of the coloniser (Octavia Butler and Liz Williams again).

We also see changes in the relations of power: the power exercised over a colony looks increasingly like the kind exercised by private corporations over their resources (human and other). That tendency also goes with the theme of the privatisation of the world, of public space … (see the universes of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather and Distraction, and their perpetual refugees cornered between contaminated no man’s lands and private enclaves).

*Digitalisation of the world
Modification of the world by digitalisation, towards the non-scarcity economy (Doctorow, Stross, Macleod, Sterling) and towards singularity (Doctorow, Stross, Vernor Vinge):
What political and economic upheavals are imagined (often accompanied by ecological upheavals)? Copyright disappears (Stross, Doctorow) sometimes dragging the USA down to third world level (Sterling), consumer capitalism also disappears (Macleod, Cassini Division, humanity split in two evolves on the one side towards anarcho-capitalism and on the other towards communism – reunion will be difficult).

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