Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 19: An Interview with Dominik Parisien

When I mention Speculative Poetry to most people, they respond with a bit of confusion. I often think this may be because they are seeing poetry as the quintessential example of  high culture and anything “genre” as the pits of low, popular culture… then again, maybe they just picture poems like this:

Roses are Red
Aliens are Green
Space is vast and largely unseen.

But, that isn’t what speculative poetry is like (unless I am attempting to write it).

Dominik Parisien is a master wordsmith, able to play with language in such a way that all communicative forms become weirded. He shows both the potential of language to push boundaries, and also the inadequacy of non-poetic forms of communication for capturing the complexity of an emotional situation.

In our interview Dominik and I discuss aging, disability, poetry, high versus low culture, the human body, sexuality, and so many things. For some of the answers, Dominik realised that poetry was the only way to answer the question adequately and that conventional speech was too limiting to express the full body of emotion, thought, feeling, philosophy, and ideal that poetry can bring together with clever word play and evocative image intermixing.

A brilliant editor, author, and scholar, Dominik will fascinate you and inspire you to open the world up to questions. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I did!!

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You can explore some of my reviews of Dominik Parisien’s poems at:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2013/09/12/hidingrevealing/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2012/10/01/the-green-in-the-human/

You can explore Dominik’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/

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Disability Ghetto

A review of  Tyrell Johnson’s “Feathers for Tray” in OnSpec Vol 25 No. 2, Summer 2013
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover image for OnSpec Summer 2013 courtesy of the publisher

Cover image for OnSpec Summer 2013 courtesy of the publisher

In his Feathers for Tray, Tyrell Johnson explores the ghettoisation of people with disabilities. Disabilities in our own society are often treated like something that should be hidden, moved out of sight. People with disabilities are often put into homes and hidden from the sight of the able-bodied.

Writing about disability can be transformative, and Johnson’s story is imbued with ideas of transformation and change, both bodily and societal. In the society that Johnson creates, people with disabilities are put into a walled in enclosure called “Confine”, and the only open space that is not gated is a cliff face. This becomes a place of escape for many of the residents, jumping off of the cliff to their death to escape ghettoisation. Johnson’s story explores the social equivocation of disability with death and the notion embedded in our society that the death is a “way out” for people with disabilities and examines the social construction of disability as a form of “end of life”.

The society of Johnson’s world separates people with disabilities from their biological families and friendship networks when they attain any form of bodily difference (whether through genetics or circumstances) and they are placed in this enclosed space, assigned a new family unit, and expected to remain out of sight of the able-bodied. Disability is socially constructed as a problem, a danger.  It is made invisible by the change in place… and yet, within the enclosure, disability is highly visible. Everyone is expected to show their bodily difference and that bodily difference becomes a subject of regular discussion.

When a girl named Tray arrives and appears to have no visible disability, she is met with speculation, uncertainty, and, eventually, fear. She is seen as hiding something, keeping the feature that makes her belong in this space a secret. This is a community that is both policed by external forces (the guards and gates) and within, by the community members who have bought into this bodily surveillance and policing of difference. They can’t fit Tray into a category that they understand, can’t slot her into a pre-defined body type, so she becomes constructed as a threat and they decide that she needs to be murdered for her perceived dishonesty about her body.

Johnson brings attention to the way that society regulates bodily difference and ascribes systems of control onto those whose bodies don’t fit with socially constructed norms and assumptions.

To find out more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .

Necrosexual

A review of Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction


By Derek Newman-Stille

Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” contains the kind of gross sexuality that will mean that you will never quite enjoy sex the same way again. She sexualises the grotesque and grotesques the sexual in a journey into the taboo and forbidden. There is something about hearing about sex with a dead body and the glistening mixture of lube and puss that haunts one’s nightmares for a long time after reading this short story. Files brings the reader into the taboo world of necrophiliac fetishists and to questions about life, death, and the sexual.

Pat wants to make a form of disturbing dark art, and in her desire to go to the extremes and to entertain bored ultra-fetishists, she creates carrionettes, bodies animated by wires and levers like some disturbing dead, rotting Pinocchios. When Pat meets Ray, a porn star who wants to be penetrated by death, believing that this is the ultimate interplay with universal powers, she unintentionally enters into a macabre love triangle – puppeteer, fetishist, and corpse. As the puppeteer, she is the one having sex with Ray, using her levers and pulleys to push the dead body’s penis into him… but things are less easy than they seem when the body’s soul, forced to watch his body used as a sex toy, an appendage on display, finally takes a leap into his desiccating flesh and decides to penetrate Ray in another way… with teeth.

Files not only brings up the disturbing image of necrophilia, but makes the body a victim of rape, a powerless spirit that has to watch his body being forced into sexual acts. Files reverses the assumptions about rape by having the victim of the rape instead of being the penetrated body becoming the penetrator, though not of his own volition or desire. Files unsettles her readers, pushing them out of their comfort zone and pulling them along on the wild fetishistic ride along with the disembodied spirit of a carrionette.

You can explore more of Gemma Files’ work at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability and Speculative Fiction

A Brief Exploration of Disability in Speculative Fiction
By Derek Newman-Stille

This post will explore some of the notions we examined in my panel at Can Con on Disability in Canadian SF. The panel went extremely well, and I hope to be able to share some insights with Speculating Canada readers who were unable to make it to Can Con.

The various speculative genres of fiction can engage with notions of the disabled body in a variety of different ways: through the notion of the medical cure or the augmented body of Science Fiction, the magically changed body of Fantasy, body horror and notions of disfigurement in Horror. Speculative Fictional engagements with the body are often problematic and disabling, much as the superstructure of our society is disabling in its construction of certain bodies as “problematic”. Through the absense of disabled bodies, or the treatment of the disabled as people who “need to be fixed”, SF can disable.

Disability is a socially constructed phenomenon, casting certain bodies as “unable” when the social structure itself is unwilling to accommodate bodily diversity. Texts (books, films, televisions, and other items of culture) can disable in the way they present certain bodies, re-affirming societal biases or reinforcing power dynamics. BUT, they can also disrupt these power dynamics. Literature has the power to change the way people think. It can reinforce or change social conditions. Speculative fiction, in particular, can SPECULATE. It can ask questions, encourage its readers to ask questions, and these questions can challenge social notions that are largely unchallenged and taken as unquestioned truths in our society.

Speculative Fiction has the power to present a different world of possibility where ideas about disability can be questioned, where disability is treated as a social issue, not an issue with the bodies of specific individuals. However, this requires a deep awareness of the issues and a desire to see social change on the part of SF authors.

As readers we can ask questions like:

-How is disability presented in this novel?

-Does this portrayal empower people with disabilities or does it disempower them?

-Is disability treated as a convenient plot device or is it a part of a wider narrative?

-Is disability portrayed accurately?

-What questions is the author asking about disability?

-Do I feel like the portrayal of people with disabilities is stereotypical.

Remember, as a reader, you can (and should) pose critical questions about what you read – interrogate it, challenge it, and question it. That is part of the enjoyment of reading and being an engaged reader.

As authors we can ask questions like:

-Have I consulted with the disabled community about this?

-What questions about disability does my work bring attention to?

-Do I construct disability as a “problem body” or as an issue of a society that is unwilling to accommodate bodily diversity?

-Have I made my character with disabilities a complete character or a walking symbol and plot device?

-Does my work challenge stereotypes or does it reinforce them?

-Have I considered how disability would relate to all situations or am I only applying issues of disability when it is convenient to my plot?

-What common tropes about disability do I want to avoid?

One of the most important things to consider is the axiom “Nothing About Us Without Us”. If you are an able-bodied author writing about disability, you should make sure to talk to members of the disability community about your characters. In the same way as you may research ideas of physics for your starships or the history of portrayals of the werewolf for your horror novel, consult with the experts about disability. This is even more important research than physics or mythology because it pertains to real people, and real readers that you may alienate or disempower through your writing.

 

Here are a few common tropes of disability that I observed when reading and watching portrayals of disability in Speculative Fiction novels, comics, movies, and television. I used these to create a disability trope bingo for the panel on disability at Can Con, and I thought I would replicate it here for you to explore:

 

Disability Trope Bingo

Mark your bingo card whenever you see a disability trope appearing on the slide. Feel free to mark multiple spaces if there are multiple categories that apply.

Here are the questions for each of the categories:
B1: My disability is a superpower
B2: “Better dead than disabled”
B3: The magical / technological cure
B4: Other senses magnified to “cope” with “deficit”
B5: Disabled person as inconvenience to others
I1: Disabled person as inspirational
I2: People helping disabled people as heroic
I3: Disability as burden on the social system
I4: Disabled person as perpetual victim
I5: Disabled in Distress (always needing to be saved by the Able-bodied)
N1: Exclusively plot relevant disability that is forgotten at other times
N2: The “Who is at fault for this person being disabled” trope
N3: The token disabled character
N4: Assuming disability means ubiquitously unable
N5: Disability as ugliness
G1: Disability only as contrast with perfection or to highlight the perfection of another character as the opposite
G2: Disability as moral weakness of character or villainy
G3: Assuming every emotional state of the disabled person relates to his/her disability
G4: Character angry at world because of their disability – defined by frustration
G5: “Heroic Disabled” able to “overcome disability”
O1: “Tragically damaged” former hero – often a person who is disabled in an act of heroism and is now unable to accomplish heroic feats
O2: Disability as only a state of mind – the idea that a person can overcome disability with enough willpower
O3: Cursed Disabled – victim of magic
O4: Disabled as mentor for hero
O5: Disability hiding other difference

 

 

 

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Regarding the title of this post, as a disabled person, I am reclaiming (like many scholars of disability and people with disabilities) the term “crip” that has often been used to oppress and disempower people with disabilities.

This is only an initial exploration of the topic of disability in SF and should not be considered complete. It is used here only to open dialogue about disability in SF.

Hiding/Revealing

A review of Dominik Parisien’s “A Mask is Not a Face “ in Goblin Fruit (http://www.goblinfruit.net/2012/summer/poems/?poem=amaskisnotaface)
By Derek Newman-Stille

So much of our identity is attached to our face, our appearance. We construct ourselves and shape our interactions through the medium of visage. Dominik Parisien’s speculative poem “A Mask is Not a Face” explores the notion of a prosthetic face for a skinless girl, a face made out of butterflies that have been sewn together.

This is a text of emergence, the image of the butterfly embodying the idea of transformative beauty and the potency of change. The image of the pierced butterfly brings to light the beauty in horror and horror in beauty – the mixture of the horrific and attractive that is intimately involved in the notion of social masks and constructed appearance. And transformation itself is fundamentally a horribly beautiful experience.

Those around her compare the girl with the butterfly face to a blood orange, Mars, the underside of autumn leaves, and roadside carrion – images that combine life and death, sweet and bitter, distance and intimate closeness. She is contradiction embodied in one form, alternating, changing, complex and carnivalesque.

Masks can be distancing, creating a barrier between subject and object, but they can also be intensely intimate, a representation of the inner worlds of the wearer, constructed from the depths of their soul. Masks can speak.

You can read this speculative poem at http://www.goblinfruit.net/2012/summer/poems/?poem=amaskisnotaface

The In-Between Space

A Review of Lynda Williams’ The Courtesan Prince (Edge, 2005).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

The Reetions and the Gelacks, two branches of the human race that were separated from Earth due to temporary losses of space travel. The Reetions developed from the first group of people to leave Earth and settle in a colony. Connections to Earth were lost, and they developed into a divergent civilisation. They developed an egalitarian system of government with open policies, public access to information, and general public engagement in decision-making processes.

The Gelacks developed from a second wave of human space travel. They too lost contact with Earth. The Gelacks were a civilisation that had been changed by the intervention of genetic technology, technology that changed certain people to better sustain the biologically damaging effects of space travel. This group became stronger, smarter, and better at healing than the regular human population. Because Gelack population had both genetically modified humans and unmodified humans (as well as interbred populations), a class system developed along feudal lines. The genetically modified populations attained positions of superiority and hegemonic control.

The Reetions and Gelacks had met before, and the results were devastating, with misunderstandings and miscommunications on both sides. Now, both sides have discovered that traders are making jumps between their civilisations and it has become clear that they may need to make formal contact again. In The Courtesan Prince, Lynda Williams explores the diversity of cultures and the misunderstandings that can come from cultural difference. She illustrates to readers that a large part of conflict comes from misunderstandings and the more diverse the populations are, the more effort needs to be put into understanding the cultural gap and communicating effectively with others.

The Courtesan Prince follows the life of Von, a courtesan who seems to be more than he appears to be. Von’s life and understanding of the world is challenged when he encounters the Reetions, and, in particular Ann, who encourages him to understand her on a deeper level and get rid of some of his xenophobic fears and beliefs that human social relations can only be understood through a Gelack lens.

Simultaneously Ranar, a Reetion anthropologist is left among his research subjects, the Gelacks, and is forced to understand their way of life, even if it is both fundamentally different and even hostile to his own. The Gelacks are a fundamentally homophobic people, with a deep and violent hatred for queer-oriented people. Often this homophobia erupts into public torture of gays and lesbians, followed by their murder and the murder of any children they may have had. Ranar, a gay man, is left in a vulnerable position, having to hide his sexuality for the first time in his life. Among the Reetions, sexual diversity is respected and people are encouraged to accept themselves and there is never a question of sexual interest being either bad or problematic in any way. It is simply another form of relationship. With this openness of sexuality, Ranar has to quickly shift his own openness about his sexuality in order to keep himself safe. When one of the Gelack leaders Di Mon develops an attraction for him (an attraction that he hates in himself and that encourages violence from him), Ranar is confronted with the idea that his own sexuality could be harmful to a lover who is part of a system that systemically oppresses queer-oriented people. He has to keep his sexuality hidden not only for his own protection but to preserve the life of his lover, Di Mon.

Unlike many SF authors, Lynda Williams does not just stick to heteronormative SF, but presents homophobia as something that is socially created and that can be resisted. By contrasting two cultures with different treatments of queer-oriented people, she illustrates that our own homophobic culture has been created by our own social issues and is not something that is taken-for-granted (as it is often portrayed by people who espouse homophobic beliefs). By having one culture that has a healthy, open approach to sexual diversity, and another that has a deep-seated hatred of queer people, she illustrates that homophobia is a choice, not homosexuality.

Lynda Williams is willing to do deep cultural critiques, exploring the development of different cultural ideas and contrasting them in societies that essentially descended from the same roots. She is willing to interrogate politics, ideas of social equality, the complexity of sexuality, ideas of privacy, biological change, and technology. And she is unwilling to give the readers simple answers, but encourages them to interrogate these issues, think for themselves, and develop their own ideas. The Courtesan Prince is a pedagogical text in the best sense of the word, not because it gives answers (as many think that teaching does), but because it asks questions, opens things to debate, and encourages readers to be uncomfortable with any easy answers.

Gelacks and Reetions are contrasted with one another in a way that pushes readers into an uncomfortable intergalactic, in-between space, stuck in the limbo between different ideologies. And this is a hugely powerful creative space where readers are made aware of how much their ideas and thoughts are socially defined and they are encouraged to get rid of cultural trappings and question things freely. The Reetions focus on the idea of honesty, and everything being public… but with that comes the limitations on privacy and the sense of living in a panopticon where everything can be easily seen. The Gelacks are more private, but lying is culturally entrenched to maintain secrets. The Gelacks have a population with bodies that are stronger, heal faster, and survive better… but the power of these bodies have meant tight restrictions on mating practices and the social control of “common” people by a small minority of physically stronger people. The Reetions don’t genetically modify people to be stronger, which means they are able to attain an egalitarian civilisation… but because of this their pilots often have short careers, damaged by the ravages of space travel which destroys normal human bodies. The Reetions are more comfortable with technology… but this means that they are also willing to modify people’s minds through psychotherapy. Whereas the Galecks consider certain forms of technology taboo, which prevents healing adaptions… but they are able to reduce the construction of any weapons of mass destruction. Nothing is easy in The Courtesan Prince and neither civilisation is portrayed as the model of perfect human society. Both have flaws, and these challenges make Lynda Williams’ novel more complex, more rich in substance, and portray the idea that the struggle for perfection is culturally defined and that one person’s ideal may be another’s horror.

The Courtesan Prince is book 1 in Lynda Williams’ Okal Rel Saga, to find out more about it and other books in the series, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/index.html . To find out more about Lynda Williams and the Okal Rel universe, visit her site at http://okalrel.org/ .

Speculating Canada ON AIR – A Radio Interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers on Trent Radio

For any of you who missed the On Air interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers on Trent Radio, here is a digital version of it for you to download.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca