Academic journal article Extrapolation

Survivance in Indigenous Science Fictions: Vizenor, Silko, Glancy, and the Rejection of Imperial Victimry

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Survivance in Indigenous Science Fictions: Vizenor, Silko, Glancy, and the Rejection of Imperial Victimry

Article excerpt

Contemporary science fiction displays a remarkable fetish for heroic decolonization narratives; almost everywhere in the postwar media landscape, evil empires flourish and dare to be overthrown. In Star Wars (1977), for example, Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance struggle to resist the power of a tyrannical galactic Empire. In The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), humanity has been colonized by vampiric machines, and Neo must lead an anti-colonial revolution to liberate mankind. More recently, The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010) invites us to join Katniss Everdeen in her battle to free colonized Districts from the imperial hegemony of a corrupt Capitol. Even Jupiter Ascending (2015) tells the story of a girl who discovers that her home is a developing world within a larger sidereal empire, and her heroic journey involves liberating the Earth from imperial control.

These are just a few high-profile examples of a widespread tendency in contemporary science fiction: Empires proliferate, and heroes liberate the oppressed from tyranny. John Rieder proposes in Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (2008) that sf as a recognizable genre emerges from colonial contexts and has always been historically implicated within the production of imperial imaginings. Early science fiction works, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars (1917), often celebrated imperial expansion and conquest. After Western European decolonization in the wake of World War II, however, imperialism gained a negative reputation in the western popular imaginary (even as imperial practices continued under newly hegemonic regimes of neoliberal globalization), and science fiction narratives turned toward heroic tales of counter-imperial struggle and anti-authoritarian uprising.

One troubling tendency within this trend is that science fiction very often portrays privileged subjects as colonized subalterns: Luke, Neo, Katniss, and Jupiter are each white1 and, in these fantasies, class displaces race as the primary axis of imperial subjugation; white figures usurp the positions of colored bodies within oppressive regimes of colonial control. As I have argued elsewhere,2 since at least the 1960s mainstream sf narratives have often appropriated the emancipatory momentum of decolonization in order to empower privileged subjectivities. Agents of privilege are either framed as colonized victims (such as Luke and Neo) or they serve as Lawrence of Arabia figures who command subaltern populations in anti-colonial uprisings-Paul Atreides from Dune (1965) and Jake Sully from Avatar (2009) are just two examples. These are not by any means new patterns in American imaginings: L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz (1900) celebrates Dorothy as a heroic emancipator rescuing subaltern races from oppressive slavery, for example, and the popular mythologies of Custer's Last Stand and the Battle of the Alamo enshrine the transformation of colonial agents into tragic victims in order to sanctify righteous and genocidal retaliation. In the period after World War II and Western European decolonization, however, heroic colonization tales are ubiquitously overshadowed by emancipation and decolonization narratives in popular American fantasies.

In contemporary science fiction, then, victims are the ultimate heroes, and white men are often (astonishingly) the ultimate victims. As Diana Enns argues in her book The Violence of Victimhood (2012), victims have acquired a status "beyond critique" in contemporary western society (6), and victims are often "relieved of the burden of historical responsibility on the grounds of injury" (19). To occupy the position of the victim is often to be absolved of guilt and invested with the moral authority of righteous retributive agency, and science fiction frequently offers agents of privilege a masochistic invitation to occupy the position of victims.

In contrast to this embrace of imperial masochism within mainstream postwar science fiction, one of the most striking aspects of Indigenous speculative fictions is a consistent refusal to sanctify victimry. …

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