This year’s LSFRC theme for our monthly reading group and annual conference is Activism & Resistance. For more information about the theme and our events, visit the Activism & Resistance and Reading Group website sections.
The March installment of this year’s reading group will be on Samuel R. Delany’s Tales of Nevèrÿon (1978). The session will take place online on jitsi.meet between 7 and 8.30 pm UK time, and is open to all. If you are interested in taking part, you can keep up with details of the event in our Facebook group, Twitter profile or Instagram profile. We also have a mailing list, details for which will be added to our About page soon (you can also find our email details there if you want to get in touch off-social media).
In our December reading group session from last year, we explored Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless. Below are bibliographies from the discussions:
- Parable of the Sower, Novel by Octavia E. Butler (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993)
- The Ticket That Exploded, Novel by William S. Burroughs (Olympia Press, 1962)
- Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail, Book by Marcus Rediker (Beacon Press, 2014)
- Heart of Darkness, Novella by Joseph Conrad (Blackwood’s Magazine, 1899 serial; 1902 book)
- Cities of the Red Night, Novel by William S. Burroughs (The Red Night trilogy, Holt, Rinehart & Winston (US) John Calder (UK), 1981)
- The Fortunate Fall, Novel by Raphael Carter (Tor Books, 1996)
- Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS, Book by Deborah B. Gould (The University of Chicago Press, 2009)
- Neuromancer, Novel by William Gibson (originally published in 1984)
- Burst City, Released in 1982, Directed by Sogo Ishii.
- The Widow Ching—Pirate, short story by Jorge Luis Borges (Penguin Modern Classics, 2011)
- Haitian Vodou
- A Conversation with Kathy Acker By Ellen G. Friedman
- Interview with Steven Shaviro
This is also a central tenet of the freedoms of thought, speech and expression – all goals that the right-wing ideology of the Government claims to protect. To be very clear, we must unequivocally state that anti-capitalism and critical race theory are not nebulous self-destructive “ideologies,” but very real, legitimate, and urgent forms of intellectual methodology.
We at the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) wish to thoroughly reject the UK Government’s recent stance on teaching anti-capitalism and critical race theory in schools, and stand in solidarity with the communities who are being demonised in this process. A significant aspect of a well-rounded education is learning how to critique global systems, especially those that are systemically unjust.
Capitalism is not an infallible higher power, but a structure that has and willingly continues to entrench inequality to safeguard ever-increasing profit margins. Education is not protected against its ill effects. Capitalism has either created or exacerbated problems ranging from poverty, homelessness, and child hunger to the global climate crisis, gendered and racialised wealth gaps, and the impact of the ongoing pandemic. It is, therefore, not only valid but absolutely necessary to call out its failings and demand better. Any attempts to keep education “apolitical” are but concealed attempts to naturalise and render invisible the current hegemony, as well as the suffering it justifies inflicting on schoolchildren. After years of admonishing educators and academics for supposedly being uninvolved in “real life,” it is particularly disingenuous to now prohibit them from commenting on current affairs and from addressing how they shape their students’ experience and, consequently, their worldview. Education cannot be forced to bend to capitalism and be treated like any other business: it must enable youth to critically examine the past and the present to envision a better future.
Critical race theory is not an attempt to attach unnecessary guilt to an entire demographic, but a reflection of the very real structural issue that is racial inequity. White privilege is a fact and structural racism does exist, both inside and outside academia. To acknowledge both is not to suggest any sense of superiority for a community, but to recognise that, historically, there have been grave injustices done to the BAME community that continue to have an impact today and must, therefore, be rectified. It is also worth noting that social progress is non-linear; there always lies the danger of a reactionary backlash setting back the clock for marginalised people.
Both of these concerns are, fundamentally, about justice and the goal is to create a truly just society. Groups like Black Lives Matter strive towards that very goal, so it is particularly shameful that they are being actively targeted and falsely vilified as part of the Government’s current campaign. It is worrying if anyone thinks that equality is a destructive idea. The Government’s decision may not overtly impact the HE sector which we are a part of, but that does not mean we – or any other university-level institution – should be complacent. We owe a level of care and responsibility to schoolchildren, not least because many of them will eventually enter the HE system. Contrary to fearmongering, groups like the LSFRC do not have any hidden, nefarious leftist agenda. Rather, our focus is and will always be to celebrate academic rigour and innovation in service of society, not profit – and one of the best ways to do so is to champion and consciously uplift marginalised voices who can provide us all with valuable contributions. Critiques of capitalism and structural racism are vital to this cause.
We have already seen how damaging it is to sanction critical thinking that threatens the dominant ideology, both in and out of the UK. Schools are a space that are meant to nurture learning and compassion, and the Government is ensuring that this will no longer happen. When Section 28 was introduced, it condemned an entire generation of LGBTQ+ individuals to silence, stifling their personal, professional, and academic security. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the continued existence of homophobia and transphobia in the country can be attributed largely to that very toxic policy. Similarly, the entrenchment of prejudice against minority communities in countries like India, Bangladesh, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil, to name just a few, are all inextricably linked to the treatment of children in educational institutions and the inability to critique such discrimination. Moreover, we have to recognise that there is nothing accidental about these joint prohibitions. Critiques of capitalism, structural racism, and gender-based injustice are all much maligned by the far right and seen as an imminent danger to their declared conservative project. British mainstream media, while declaring itself unbiased, has deliberately silenced precisely those attacked by reactionaries.
We must also point out how these policies are likely to disproportionately impact scholars who come from working class, BAME, international, and LGBTQ+ backgrounds – those who are likelier to be in precarious employment (and immigratation status), thus making it harder for them to openly criticise the decision. The Government is aware of this and even callously weaponised tokenism, highlighting BAME voices within the Conservative Party to further their agenda.
To be clear, minority communities are not monolithic, but solidarity must be extended to those who are most at risk. Their silence should not be seen as an endorsement of the direction British education is heading in. Many of us in the LSFRC team fall into these demographics, so this is very much a statement coming from the perspective of those being directly impacted.
We wish to end with a commitment to standing with the oppressed and with articulating clearly how this oppression is perpetuated. This not only means creating a safe and secure space within our own remit, but vocally condemning any attempt that undermines fair treatment of marginalised people – something the UK Government’s education policy would only further contribute to.
Here is the full list of texts that we will be reading this year! As always, reading group sessions are usually held on the first Monday of the month (unless otherwise specified). Further information can usually be found either in our Facebook group or on our Twitter profile.
October: “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism” (Kwodwo Eshun) & The Last Angel of History (dir. John Akomfrah)
November: “Sultana’s Dream” (Begum Rokeya Hossain) & The Distance From Here (Bani Abidi)
December: Empire of the Senseless, by Kathy Acker
January: Brother from Another Planet, directed by John Sayles [11th January]
February: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
March: Tales of Neveryon, by Samuel R. Delany
April: Selected episodes from Deep Space Nine and Blake’s 7
May: Short Story month, drawing from New Suns, Disabled People Destroy SF and How long ’til Black Future Month
June: Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
July: 80 Days, developed by Inkle Studios
August: Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown
We may add in a few short companion pieces to accompany these texts as the year goes on. Also, the final session on Emergent Strategy will function as a kind of open session where you’re welcome to bring and discuss any other texts that you feel related to this years theme of Activism and Resistance. Please note, that it’s likely that the LSFRC reading group will continue to be online only for the foreseeable future!
We will post guidance for months where texts might be harder to find or obtain cheaply. If you have any difficulties finding any of the texts, let us know and we’ll try our best to help you out!
The schedule for our third Work in Progress event has now been finalised. In addition to an exciting array of presentations across disciplines and media, we are proud to be hosting an interview with Dr. Alison Sperling, who will be talking to us about her experiences and insights from working across different fields and continents.
If you are interested in joining us for the event, we will be sharing a link to our Blackboard Collaborate room closer to the time. Follow this link to join. We recommend using Firefox or Chrome as your browser. Attendance is free and open to all.
Schedule (N.B. all times are UK time):
12.50 – 13.00
Presentation Block 1
13.00 – 13.30, Smin Smith
13.30 – 14.00, Rachel Hill
14.00 – 14.30, Josephine Taylor
14.30 – 14.45
Interview and Q&A with Dr. Alison Sperling
14.45 – 15.45
15.45 – 16.00
Presentation Block 2
16.00 – 16.30, Cristina Diamant
16.30 – 17.00, Carin Jaeger
17.00 – 17.30, Avery Delany
Recreational Film Screening
18.00 – 20.00, Natural City, on twoseven.xyz
Below are partial bibliographies from the discussions in our first two reading group sessions of the academic year. Unfortunately, the records from the first session were lost, hence the delay in posting a bibliography for the session as we have had to reconstruct what we can. Please note that in the case of the November session there is also a report available.
October Session: “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism” (Kwodwo Eshun) & The Last Angel of History (dir. John Akomfrah)
Thoughts on the planetary: An interview with Achille Mbembe (newframe.com)
The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, Louis Chude-Sokei
Spaces of Longing and Belonging: Territoriality, Ideology and Creative Identity in Literature and Film, ed. Brigitte le Juez & Bill Richardson (Spatial Practices, Volume 30).
Infinity Minus Infinity, The Otolith Group
FiyahCon: for BIPOC+ in Speculative Fiction
“Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” Sylvia Wynter
Paradoxa vol. 27, “The Futures Industry” (ed. Sherryl Vint)
“Speculative Finance/Speculative Fiction,” CR: The New Centennial Review (Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 2019), edited by David M. Higgins & Hugh C. O’Connell
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, directed by Adam Curtis. Readily locatable on Vimeo and/or Dailymotion.
New Amazonia, Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett. Originally published 1889. Aqueduct Press Revised edition, 2014.
Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Originally published 1915. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South, edited by Ramachandra Guha & Joan Martínez Alier (Routledge, 1997).
Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Brian Eno (1978).
Airport Music For Black Folk, Chino Amobi (2016).
The “Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions” conference brought together over two hundred delegates (including over sixty speakers) from a wide swathe of continents and timezones. While we were not able to record all of the conference, this post will serve as a repository for documents and files connected to the conference: keynote lectures, prerecorded presentations, roundtable chat logs/bibliographies, and much more. It will take us some time to gather all the conference materials available to us, so do check in on this post every week or two.
All material hosted here is hosted with the consent of its authors, and all rights belong to the authors in questions. If you wish to have your information/content removed from the site, please get in touch.
Conference Reports & Responses
Beyond Borders: Virtual Realities and the Future of Conferencing, blog post by Dr. Megen de Bruin-Molé.
Conference Report (Fafnir) by Filip Boratyn
Workshop: Erin A. Adams & Bretton Varga
In The Image Of (Posthu)Man: Exploring The Relationship Between Droids, Humans, And In/Justice. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1eK6dnAqzhtP3QsHy1mTF64_28ccmbFtWILN5WJs6g5Y/edit#slide=id.g940531af4c_2_59
Panel 1A: Collective Struggle, Collective Joy (chair: Katie Stone)
- Carolyn Lau – Generative Powers of the Limited Present
- Joel White – Imagining Abolition
Panel 1B: Dissected, Augmented, Perfected: The Dystopian Body (chair: Rachel Hill)
- Rimi Nandy – Re-wiring the self and memory in the Post Human being
- Ewa Drab – Limitations of the bodies in a dystopian society: The example of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
- Agnibha Banerjee – “We’re modelled from trash”: Corporeal and Corporate Borders in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. phone number: +918017651276; email: email@example.com.
Panel 1C – Chinese SF 1: Pass the Point of No Return (chair: Guangzhao Lyu)
- Yen Ooi – Language and the borders of identity in ‘The Language Sheath’ by Regina Kanyu Wang
- Angela Chan – Climate Change and Contemporary Chinese Science and Speculative Fiction: Invisible, Extractive and Uneven Boundaries. https://soundcloud.com/angelaytc/chinese-climate-sf-angelaytchan; angelaytchan.com and @angelaytchan for latest projects and activities.
- Jan Marvin A. Goh – The Gothic-Speculative Condition of Chinese-Filipino Diaspora: Rethinking the Authorial Negotiations and Representations of Charlson Ong in his Of that Other Country We Now Speak and other Stories
Panel Block 2
Panel 2A: Dystopia, Apocalypse and the Border (chair: Amy Butt)
- Seyedhamed Moosavi – Different Types of Borders in the films Grain and Blade Runner 2049. https://youtu.be/_bikMKiRTcM; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Glyn Morgan – “The Sight of the Beautiful Wall”: Pandemic, Gentrification and Traumatic Apocalypses in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One
- Hasnul Insani Djohar – Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, and Cyber in G Willow Wilson’s Alif The Unseen
Panel 2B: Paranoia, Scepticism and the Limits of the SF Novel (chair: Francis Gene-Rowe)
- Marek Maj – Stanisław Lem and the Literature of Failure
- Krushna Dande – Secured, Contained, Protected: Consensus Reality in the SCP Foundation. Email: email@example.com; art, music, poetry, etc. may be found at https://www.instagram.com/littledeathsink; forthcoming chapter titled Gou Tanabe’s Lovecraft and the Time of the Inhuman, in Japanese Horror: New Critical Approaches to History, Narrative, and Aesthetics; forthcoming chapter titled Terror and Wartime Cosmology in Liu Cixin, in Horror Fiction in the Global South.
Panel 2C: SF Beyond 1: Performing Science Fictionality; Transgressing Borders (chair: Sinéad Murphy)
- Nat Muller – Bordering the Frame: Superheroes, Art, and the Rethinking of Borders in Oreet Ashery and Larissa Sansour’s The Novel of Nonel and Vovel. https://www.dropbox.com/s/n4nv4uotm0gyjco/borderingheroics_natmuller.pptx?dl=0; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Faisal Adel Hamadah – Theatre Against the Border; Virtual Presence and Political Absence
Panel Block 3
Panel 3A: SF and Desire: Wanting Better Worlds (chair: Sasha Myerson)
- Smin Smith – Beyond the Binary: Queer Feminist Science Fiction Art. https://youtu.be/Mrutr6VNvMM; email@example.com / www.sminsmith.co.uk / @sminsmith
- Jonathan Thurston – Queerness and HIV in Science Fiction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHMx6ByBkbc; firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com; Twitter @JThurstonMSU; my upcoming book Animals & Race will be published by MSU Press in 2021.
- Chiara Pellegrini – Trans-inhabiting Aliens: Gender-variant Embodiment and Science Fiction’s Reshaping of Borders
Panel 3B: Against Extrapolation: Reimagining SF (chair: Sakshi Tyagi)
- Filip Boratyn – Race and Enchantment in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy: Magic, Modernity, Geology
- Andrew Ferguson – Decolonizing the Novum
- Alessandra Marino – SF as critical thinking: Donna Haraway and Ursula Le Guin’s fabulations on living with the trouble
Panel 3C: Chinese SF 2: Upon the Wasteland (chair: Guangzhao Lyu)
- Fan Ni – Solastalgia on the Silicon Isle (Guiyu): Visiting the “Heart of Darkness” of the Technology Empire in Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide (2013)
- Xiaoli Yang – Living with/within Waste: Toxic Space and Abject Bodies in Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide
- Ling Liu – Disposable life in “The Wandering Earth”
Panel Block 4
Panel 4A: Nonhuman Bodies and Taxonomic Fantasies (chair: Rimi Nandy)
- Lee Christien – Bodies and Borders in the Colonial Archives
- Prema Arasu and Drew Thornton – “Sleeping with the Fishmen: Oceanic-Chthonic Hybrid Couplings in Fantasy and Myth”
Panel 4B: Pliable Futures (chair: Tom Dillon)
- Giulia Iannuzzi- A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century
- Sakshi Tyagi – Beyond Otjize and Medusae: Identity and Borders in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. https://youtu.be/YMwYc3AplqY
- Mary Regine Dadole – Familiar Aliens: An Analysis of the Postcolonial Condition and the Politics of Science Fiction in Isaac Asimov’s “The Martian Way”
Panel 4C: SF Beyond 2: Fortress Cities and Flight: Walls, Barriers, Migration (chair: Tasnim Qutait)
- Gabriela Lee – Dreaming Domesticity: The Migrant Workforce in Philippine SF. https://youtu.be/0BKLZEGa0H0; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; institutional affiliation: Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines – Diliman; I’m currently putting together a writing sourcebook on Philippine speculative fiction tentatively titled Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction, with co-editor Anna Felicia Sanchez; we are planning on completing the manuscript by mid-2021. I’m also guest-editing a special issue of the Southeast Asian Review of English (SARE) titled Worldbuilding and the Asian Imagination and we’re currently accepting abstracts until 15 November 2020. The call for papers can be found here: https://sare.um.edu.my/announcement/view/169. Finally, my second book of sf stories, titled A Playlist for the End of the World: Stories will be coming out at the end of 2020/early 2021, to be published by the University of the Philippines Press.
- Farah Al Yaqout – Borders, Edges, and Walls: The Urban is Dystopian in Ahmed Khaled Towfiq’s Utopia
- Aishwarya Subramanian – The Walls of Delhi: Borders, Boundaries and Barricades
Panel Block 5
Panel 5A: Make the Border Strange (chair: Avery Delany)
- Georgia Perkins – Speculative F(r)ictions and Slimy Indeterminacy. Twitter: @_GeorgiaPerkins; georgiaperkins.co.uk. Current and upcoming projects: ‘Dizzying Swamp Protocols and Con-fusing Indeterminacy’Paper for Indeterminate Futures/The Future of Indeterminacy at University of Dundee(November 2020); ‘The Body in Algorithms’ Book Project with Zero Corners (Ongoing).
- Amy Butt – “Equally like a beginning and an end”: Edge-lands and threshold conditions.
- https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58c1c48129687f4f8456c96e/t/5f5cfad8381d4c58cea6f4af/1599929049075/Butt,+A.+(2020)+Equally+like+a+beginning+and+an+end+-+Edge-lands+and+threshold+conditions+.pdf; email@example.com; https://www.amyvictoriabutt.com.
- Nivi Manchanda and Sharri Plonski – Stranger than (Science)Fiction: A Conversation between the Border and the Corridor
Panel 5B: Walls, Maps, Deserts: Unreal Geographies (chair: Eliza Rose)
- Gwilym Eades – Representation without Reproduction: Beyond the Borders of the Science Fiction Map. https://youtu.be/dMhlGZHHZhk
- Emily Hall – Surveillance, Borders, and (Re)Imagining the Nation in Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea
- Adam Stock – Deserting futures and states of uncertainty: re-thinking desert dystopian settings
Panel 5C: SF Beyond 3: Border-Crossing Bodies; Embodied Borders (chair: Sinéad Murphy)
- Sümeyra Buran – Beyond Borders of the Gender Binary: Towards Genderqueer Mirror Universe
- Ibtisam Ahmed – Crossing Thresholds: Exploring Bangladeshi Social Borders in Djinn City
- Serena Ceniccola – Reimagining the Hybrid: Transnational Rewritings of the Kitsune in Ishida Sui’s Tokyo Ghoul and Julie Kagawa’s Shadow of the Fox. https://youtu.be/NSB6O3r7pb0
- Shoumik Bhattacharya – Life and the Possibilities of Humanity in Animal’s People
Panel Block 6
Panel 6A: Science Fiction: Capitalist Tool, Revolutionary Weapon (chair: Francis Gene-Rowe)
- Brittany R. Roberts – Advertising for the Void: Consumer Capitalism and the Collapse of the Real in Viktor Pelevin’s Homo Zapiens
- Pablo Gómez-Muñoz – Reshaping Geographies, Transforming Bodies: The Operation of Cheaponomics in Contemporary SF Cinema
Panel 6B: Sensing New Worlds (chair: Ibtisam Ahmed)
- Virginia Conn – Blinded by the Light: Atomic Visuality and the Boundaries of Perception. https://vimeo.com/456704399; Virginia.L.Conn@gmail.com; Twitter: @VirginiaLConn.
- Joe P. L. Davidson – The space between the beats: dub and the ruins of the Caribbean
- Eliza Rose – Perdide Retrieved: Two Tales of Acousmatic Time Travel. https://www.elizarose.info/perdide-retrieved; Twitter: @leaky_rose; Personal website: elizarose.info; Academic website: https://gsll.unc.edu/current-faculty/eliza-rose/
Panel 6C: The Politics of Expansion (chair: Rachel Hill)
- Ricardo Jasso Huezo – Empire’s Barrier of Silence: H G Wells’ Silent Martian Invasion and the Unknown Reasons for Imperialism. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , (+52 1) 55 2899 9856
- Iuliia Ibragimova – Resisting the Empire: AI’s Ethical Rebellion in Ann Leckie’s The Imperial Radch Series. Presentation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rhvUk1muInEQZReqbKnppgnsyN3QKMEy/view?usp=sharing; Text: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1s2KfOcEZwVsWo7raWwSxAhA3GwTPIncX/view?usp=sharing
- Thomas Cheney – Green Mars: Ecological Imperialism in Science Fiction and Implications for Space Governance. https://youtu.be/SHZ8c6x9nTg; Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @thomcheney
On 2 November 2020, we had the second reading group for the new academic year on the theme of “Activism and Resistance”. We read the 1905 short story Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya Hossain and we watched the 2009 short film The Distance From Here by Bani Abidi.
We tried out a new platform, Jitsi Meet, which allows for a better view of all participants compared to Blackboard Collaborate and has a better ethical approach to data and privacy than Zoom, two of our previous platforms. Ibtisam Ahmed, one of the allies of the LSFRC for this year’s theme, acted as a respondent to the texts due to his academic expertise and lived experiences of being a Bangladesh decolonial utopian scholar.
Context for Sultana’s Dream
It was pointed out that the story was written in Bengal during the period when South Asia was under British colonial rule. Bengal had been the capital of the British Raj, and had also been the intellectual and political centre of anti-colonial dissent. At the same time, the 1900s was a period in which religious and sectarian division became entrenched in the region, including the solidification of caste, class and gender divisions within communities.
Bengal was officially Partitioned into a Hindu-majority West and Muslim-majority East in 1905. Although that decision would be reversed in 1911, it set the blueprint for the eventual Partition of the Raj into India and Pakistan (and later, Bangladesh) in 1947. Thus, the short story draws on contemporary issues for its critiques of colonialism and Islamic patriarchy.
Context for The Distance From Here
Post-colonial South Asia has seen the unfettered growth of nationalism and patriotic dogma in its constituent countries. The borders that were created during Partition have led to multiple conflicts and refugee crises, which, in turn, have led to the strengthening of these boundaries as immutable barriers between sites of contestation and upheaval.
Bureaucracy, a seemingly apolitical and benevolent remnant of colonial power and control, has become a key factor in upholding these boundaries, especially in responding to the changing relations between India and Pakistan, and the impact they have on immigration and travel. Thus, the film, created over a century after the short story, reflects a different form of resistance to a similar problem: territorial control and the policing of bodies (this time with a focus on class and travel rather than on gender and science).
The group reflected on the accessibility of language (or lack thereof) in both pieces. The short story is intentionally written in English – which was the imposed language of the colonial power – both to make a point of resistance that could be read by the colonial authorities and to allow resistance in other parts of the Raj to not be left out of solidarity due to having different vernaculars. The film is devoid of speech but ends up having a similar impact because it allows the action to be imposed on and read as different locales, while, nonetheless, centring written English as key to the bureaucratic process, as demonstrated by the ubiquitous sound of the typewriters.
Thus, by universalising the language of the pieces, they transcended the specific geopolitical situations in which they were created. Yet, there are also linguistic turns in the short story that were explicitly Bengali in its approach to satire. Even though the language may be a “foreign” imposition, its usage is definitely a local standard which falls within the wider usage of Indian-style English as an anti-colonial tool and an adopted dialect.
Economics and Technology
Sultana’s Dream offers an innovative look at sustainable technology and an ethos of environmentally friendly agriculture. Science fictional technologies include the harnessing of solar and wind energies, and these are then used not only for harnessing food and energy but also for public gardens as displays of communal wealth.
This was not simply an ecological critique; it also reflected on the damage that colonial industrialisation had done to the region. The mechanisation of textiles and crafts had destroyed the livelihoods of local artisans and their suppliers. Meanwhile, the hoarding of food supplies and shipment of foods deemed “exotic” had played a significant role in the famines that had affected Bengal under British rule. The story falls within the broader tradition of critiquing colonial industrialisation that stemmed from, and fed into later iterations of, farmer revolt.
In The Distance From Here, technology is more normalised, almost mundane, as demonstrated in how airports and immigration offices use metal detectors, typewriters and other machines, often in cramped and industrial areas. But a similar economic critique is present. Modern-day South Asia sees a large number of migrant workers who are working class and/or from lower castes travel abroad (especially to the Middle East) for employment.
It is an exploitative system that preys on the vulnerable, often stranding them abroad due to bureaucratic “accidents” in processing their paperwork. Thus, travel becomes a neo-colonial dynamic of control for some bodies, while the technology of such objects as typewriters can be quite sinister if used incorrectly.
Marginalisations and Justice
The two pieces approach specific identities as precarious. Sultana’s Dream places women in the role of the oppressed who have rebelled and changed the status quo. They have rejected both colonial conquest and local patriarchy, going so far as to place men within the confines of a segregated mardanna – a playful reversal of the zenanna. (Interesting to note is that gendered norms and language in parts of pre-colonial and colonial India did implicitly include trans individuals, so it would be disingenuous to read the story as conventionally gendered in its binary of man/woman, though there is a lack of non-binary and third gender bodies.)
During the session, it was noted that the reversal of roles in the story, in addition to being intentionally tongue-in-cheek and satirical, was also a rejection of the idea that equality can happen in the absence of justice. Thus, the sequestering of women is responded to in kind, rather than a more traditional and conciliatory approach to equality. This is a further reflection of the type of early eco-feminist critique that stemmed from anti-colonial peasant revolts.
The Distance From Here is not as gendered in its marginalisation, with the focus falling on class instead. There are subtle hints to wealth in the clothing of the travellers/applicants (slightly worse-kept and more examples of local clothing such as saris) and the bureaucratic gatekeepers (better kept and more examples of Westernised clothing such as dress shirts).
The lack of ambient music, often a common feature of airports in leisure locations also stresses the oppressive nature of the type of travel that is accessible to working classes and migrant labourers. This is not a space of enjoyment but of cold, calculating functionality. The possibility of immigration and travel, while physically transcending borders, does not actually represent a sense of freedom; only a shifting of the location of oppression.
Dreams, Metaphors and Joy
Both pieces take advantage of their fictional nature (the story literally being a dream, the film an artistic metaphor) for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, using fiction to express criticism is a common tactic of activism and resistance in places where censorship and punishment are high. In the British Raj, there were several pieces of legislation passed to control printing presses and newspapers. In modern South Asia, media can and often does fall under intense national scrutiny when commenting on cross-border issues. Thus, fiction creates an in-built protection for the creators.
On the other hand, the endings of both pieces allow for an interpretation as a call to action. In Sultana’s Dream, the protagonist is left with an aspiration towards the dream-society she visited, especially as the utopian Ladyland wants to diplomatically engage with other countries that have a progressive approach to women’s rights. In The Distance From Here, meanwhile, an unnamed character defies the strict lines and queues in the airport and walks freely, at the very least offering, if not encouraging, the possibility of change from below.
In both cases, this aspiration towards change is seen as transformative and joyful. It is with that hope that the session closed with an appeal towards solidarity for issues affecting South Asia today. The exploitation of migrant labourers and local workers is upheld by global capitalism and the neoliberal marketplace, including industries like fast fashion in the UK. The rise of authoritarianism and minority rights abuses in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all overlooked by global governments for the purposes of strategic interest. And individuals fleeing these systems are subjected to an inhuman asylum and refugee process here, including indefinite detention periods. There is much work still to be done – including work that can be done by people living outside the region.
Hello everyone! We can now announce that our next Work In Progress session will be completely virtual and will be held on 28th November from around 11am-5pm – times may vary slightly as we put together the schedule.
The aim of these sessions is to provide a space where people can share their work, and seek feedback from the community, without the pressure of a particular format, theme or set of expectations (in contrast, say, to a formal conference). Contributions can include presentations of academic work and research, or creative projects outside of academia.
We’re also happy to host any kind of workshop or activity you’d like to trial, or a game you want to playtest, or some creative material you want feedback on. This is an open event without a fixed structure or format, but if you are planning on giving a spoken or conference style presentation please keep these to ten minutes to leave plenty of time for questions, discussion and feedback. If you could also bring talking points or questions you’d like to discuss that would be very helpful! International participants are very welcome but should note that we will be running on UK time.
If you would like to present something at Work in Progress #3, email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) a brief overview (we do not require formal proposals) of what you’d like to do by the end of the day 21st November, accompanied by a title if you have one. Exact time slots will vary depending on how many contributors we have, but we hope to offer each contributor between 30 minutes in total (10 mins for presentation etc. and 20 mins for question and discussion).
Deadline for submissions is November 21st.
In love and solidarity,
the LSFRC team
After a slew of excellent suggestions from our community, we have assembled a poll for people to vote for their preferred texts for this year’s reading group. You can find the poll here, and it will stay open until end of day Friday 23rd October. As a reminder, this year’s programming will focus on the overarching theme of Activism & Resistance.
In addition, November’s reading group session will take place online on the evening of Monday 2nd November. We will be discussing Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s short story “Sultana’s Dream” (1905) and Bani Abidi’s short film “Distance from Here” (2019). All are welcome. If you are interested in participating, we will be posting a link to the session in our Facebook group closer to the time. If you are not on Facebook, feel free to email us (lsfrcmail [at] gmail [dot] com) or DM our Twitter account (@LSFRC_).