Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture: Lisa Yaszek

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture: Lisa Yaszek

Article excerpt

Each issue of Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, we publish an interview, or a conversation, with an outstanding scholar in American Studies. This issue we are featuring Lisa Yaszek, an associate professor in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She directs the Science, Technology and Culture (STAC) major and curates The Bud Foote Science Fiction collection housed in the university library.

We interviewed her about her interest in science fiction and her new book Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women's Science Fiction (Ohio State University Press 2008).

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You got your Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Why did you decide to study there?

Wisconsin offered an ideal mix of traditional and cutting-edge study. My primary research interests were postmodern literature and theory, and Wisconsin's English department has strong offerings in both those areas. I started working with Tom Schaub (a groundbreaking Pynchon scholar and editor of Contemporary Literature) my first semester at Wisconsin and eventually wrote my dissertation under his direction. Even as they provided me with a very thorough grounding in canonical English and American literature, Tom and various other professors in the English department encouraged me to pursue my secondary interest in popular culture through interdisciplinary classes offered by Keith Cohen in the Comparative Literature department and John Fiske in the Communications department. This allowed me to study narrative across media, which has been essential to my work at Georgia Tech and, more specifically, my work in science fiction studies.

When did you decide to study science fiction?

I've been a science fiction (SF) fan all my life - in fact, my very first memory is watching Star Trek with my parents! As a student, I got interested in postmodern literature because authors like Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, and Kathy Acker explored many of the same themes and used many of same techniques as their counterparts in SF: they all built richly detailed worlds that explore the impact of science and technology on society, and they used tropes such as "the stranger in a strange land" and "the fantastic journey" to help make sense of those worlds. And at the same time, I was reading SF authors such as Sam Delany, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler, all of whom incorporate postmodern literary theories and narrative techniques into their own work. It was absolutely fascinating to see how these two modes of literature were inspiring one another.

I decided to write my dissertation on representations of technoscience and society in postmodern literature and contemporary SF after reading Donna Haraway's "Manifesto for Cyborgs." The idea that SF authors are the best theorists of the contemporary moment made a great deal of sense to me, and it was obvious that I could extend that insight to many postmodern authors as well. I had a great deal of fun writing that dissertation, which was published as The Self-Wired: Technology and Subjectivity in Contemporary American Narrative by Routledge in 2002.

I began to study science fiction as a unique genre unto itself as a faculty member at Georgia Tech. It was a natural extension of my earlier reading interests and intellectual training. SF studies is an extremely dynamic and interdisciplinary field: while much of the discipline is rooted in the methodologies of literary studies, SF scholars often couple these methodologies with others drawn from history, sociology, philosophy, and even the sciences. This allows scholars like myself to demonstrate the central place that SF holds in the contemporary imaginary, and it provides us with important new ways to critically assess other aspects of literature and culture as well.

Why did you decide to make your career at Georgia Tech?

I came to Georgia Tech as a postdoctoral fellow in 1999 and was hired in as tenure-track faculty in 2000. …

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