Academic journal article Extrapolation

"If Not This, What?" Time out of Joint and the Politics of Queer Utopia

Academic journal article Extrapolation

"If Not This, What?" Time out of Joint and the Politics of Queer Utopia

Article excerpt

In Time out of Joint, Philip K. Dick's classic science fiction novel written in 1959, the author presents a protagonist who appears not just odd - as in strange, or queer - but also at odds with time. "Time" in Dick's universe is itself rendered a queer object - manipulated, twisted, and constructed in accordance to the strange logic of the science fiction universe. But being at odds with time, for Ragle Gumm, the protagonist of Time out of Joint, also implies assuming a fractured relationship with history (and therefore with heterosexuality) itself. In Ragle, Dick does not offer a 1950s Heinlein-esque hero who triumphs over alien threat to national security. Instead, he offers a protagonist who has fallen out of time: the generic conventions of science fiction's interrogation of linear temporality operate in tandem with Ragle's rejection of family or reproductive time,1 warranting an analysis of the multiple operations of queer temporalities in Time out of Joint. While most men during the Cold War 1950s asserted their masculinity through spending on consumer goods, home ownership, and an active participation in a Fordist regime of capitalism, Ragle Gumm spends his days solving nationally syndicated puzzles. Since Ragle is "home all day, [he] had plenty of free time" on his hands, Dick suggests (27). But what appears to be Ragle's wasting away of time in actuality turns out to be an elaborate state-sanctioned national security exercise to predict the location of missile strikes from the nation's enemies. On the one hand, Ragle's inadvertent implication in and service to the politics of Cold War nationalism puts him at odds with queers, who were constructed as threats to national security at this historical juncture.2 On the other hand, as this article will illustrate, Ragle's fractured relation to time simultaneously recasts him as proto-queer - at odds with typical constructions of masculinity as well as outside dominant modes of production in which the 1950s organization man participated. Ragle's idleness expressly feminizes him in the eyes of those who surround him - he is seen as a man who is "home all day in a residential neighborhood, where all the other husbands were at the office and only the wives remained behind" (27). Ultimately, I wish to suggest in this reading of Time out of Joint that a queer challenge to linear time in the novel's form and content plays an important role in offering a discursive challenge to the logic of heteronormativity. And at a larger theoretical and generic level, I build on the claim that science fiction's interrogation of time can be channeled toward a deconstruction of heterosexuality as natural and normal.

Time out of Joint is not a work that at first glance lends itself to an analysis of queer possibilities or sexual politics. The novel's typical science fiction themes of constructed simulacra, dystopic futures, and military plots offer a more obvious and historicized connection to a political moment of Cold War consensus and 1950s ideological conformity. While the works of Dick's contemporary, Robert A. Heinlein, reflect the historical paranoia of nuclear annihilation and Communist "threat" through the archetypal narrative of alien invasion, the paranoia that Dick's characters experience is informed by struggles against hegemonic state systems that control actions, both at the level of the personal and the political. But the mood of political consensus that Dick allegorizes in Time out of Joint was itself inextricably bound with the moral and ideological conformity of a decade in which communists came to be linked in the national imaginary to sexual dissidents and the threat that homosexuals posed to the nation at large. In my re-reading of Dick's novel, I wish to suggest that Time out of Joint implicitly grapples with the connections between national and sexual conformity; in such a reading, the novel not only offers a critique of heteronormativity, it also performs a "queering" of utopia that has important implications for both queer theory and science fiction studies. …

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