Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Alienation: Science Fiction as Xicana/o State of Being

A couple of years ago, I posted a reference to a La Bloga piece by Ernesto Hogan in which he muses satirically on the futurism of 2013, post-Maya-2012. His claim in that piece that "Chicano is a sci-fi state of being" captured my attention, at least in part, because I had only recently finished the remade Battlestar Galactica (2004) series, featuring Edward James Olmos as Captain/Commander Bill Adama, and I was very taken with the idea of doing a Xicanoized/Indigenized reading of that sci-fi series. I still am.

While my ideas on the topic are not fully fleshed out yet, I hope to use these next few blog posts to get a bit closer. In this post, BSG kinda gets lost as I try to sort through some of the ideas of alienness, alienation, futurity, and science fiction that come to bear on the idea that, actually, the converse of Hogan's claim is more accurate: science fiction is a Xican@, or better, Borderlands state of being.

Hogan's 2013 post references an earlier essay on Mondo Ernesto  in which he explains the claim that "Chicano is a Science Fiction State of Being" in greater detail. While he gets pretty loose with some of his claims--the Chicano Movement is "in imitation of the Black Power Movement"?!--he concludes that
Here in the Twenty-First Century, globalization is making Chicanos of us all. The interface between you and your world is volatile and unstable -- a recombocultural witch's brew out of which bubbles brave new mutations and abominations. If you want an example, just look into a mirror. (2009)
Hogan suggests that a recognition of "Chicano" as a mixture of cultures might be best understood not as a "melting pot" or even a bicultural mestizaje, but rather through the science fiction lens of technological mutation, hybridization, cybernetics, and, of course, alienness. Xican@s know, however, that this lens, while perhaps questioning what the future will bring, emerges from our past and present. Our daily encounters with colonization--the subtext for much if not all science fiction--have colored our frames of mind and modes of consciousness.

Indeed, in her "Preface to the First Edition" of Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza Consciousness, Gloria AnzaldĂșa writes, complementing Hogan,
Living on borders and in margins, keeping intact one's shifting and multiple identity and integrity, is like trying to swim in a new element, an "alien" element. There is an exhilaration in being a participant in the further evolution of humankind, in being "worked" on. I have the sense that certain "faculties"--not just in me but in every border resident, colored or non-colored--and dormant areas of consciousness are being activated, awakened. Strange, huh? And yes, the "alien" element has become familiar--never comfortable, not with society's clamor to uphold the old, to rejoin the flock, to go with the herd. No, not comfortable but home. (19, 1987/1999)
Developing la facultad results in a heightened critical perception of matrices of power as they interface with networks of difference and otherness/Otherness. At the same time, la facultad, or what Chela Sandoval (2000) calls "differential consciousness," is sustained by an embrace of mystery, of the alien element. In other words, the "faculties" Anzaldua describes here result from an inherited experience: that of living through multiple colonizations, occupations, competing nationalisms, and alien economies that have given rise to a surreal situation in which the indigenous heirs of the Americas are referred to as "aliens" and "illegal."

Science fiction as a genre is similarly preoccupied with the kinds of psychological states that arise out of these same experiences. Yet sci-fi also maintains a certain "attitude" toward these trends that, according to Bruce F. Kawin, distinguishes sci-fi as a genre from horror. In "Children of the Light" Kawin explains that even though horror and sci-fi contain many of the same semantic elements--e.g., aliens, monsters, cyborgs, etc.--the difference between the genres is in their syntactic approach to the representation of each shared element. Specifically, the fear of the alien or non-human elements in horror emerges from its orientation "toward the restoration of the status quo rather than toward any permanent opening" (335). Sci-fi, as opposed to horror at least, tends to be more open to the possibility of how difference and alienness can open up to new future possibilities. Kawin concludes that
[h]orror and science fiction, then, are different because of their attitudes toward curiosity and the openness of systems, and comparable in that both tend to organize themselves around some confrontation between an unknown and a would-be knower. (335)
Extending this idea to a conception of historicity, horror as a genre sees history as an accretion of incidents "from which," in the words of Paolo Freire, "the present should emerge normalized and 'well-behaved'" (92). In order to maintain the norms and behaviors of today, any alienness must be overcome. Science fiction, by contrast, views and listens for history in the making, recognizing the power of dissolving and transgressing borders to increase understanding of another/an Other as a way of co-creating a future together.

This orientation toward openness and possibility does not preclude struggle; indeed, it is founded on the idea that collective will, imagination, and reflection will always entail some form of labor and conflict. This science fiction foundation is what, to my mind, opens BSG to a Xicanoized reading: throughout there is a sense of receptiveness to how the future may be co-created between Human and Cylon for mutual survival. This sense of critical awareness of possibility, this open orientation to the labor of co-creation of culture similarly emerges from Borderlands spaces and psychological borderlands, borderlands of consciousness. Thus, sci-fi represents a Xican@ state of being.

More on BSG and Xican@s/Latin@s/Hispanics in countercultures to come. This is pretty fun.

Postscript: I realize that writing about science fiction as a Xican@ state of being might lead some to conclude that my argument sympathizes with those of, for instance, the A&E program Ancient Aliens. However, the philosophy that our antepasados, our ancestors, may have been aliens or may have been in contact with aliens doesn't accurately reflect the kind of consciousness I'm referring to: extraterrestrials, in their readings of much ancient cosmology, eliminate mystery. Aliens become the transparent answer to deeply mysterious spiritual questions and sacred practices, the power of which exists in their mainstream opacity.