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Alison Walker

Graduate Student, English Department, UCLA

Alison Walker

Alison Walker is a doctoral student in the English Department at UCLA. She received a master’s degree in English from UC Riverside. Alison focuses her studies on theories of new media and medieval literature. Her areas of interest include explorations into pre- and postmodern reading culture, the Old English elegies, anchoritic literature, medievalism, and theories of affect. Alison recently published an article called “Destabilizing Order, Challenging History: Octavia Butler, Deleuze and Guattari, and Affective Beginnings” in the Spring 2005 issue of Extrapolation. Currently she is writing an article about the 1922 silent film, Häxan, forthcoming in a collection on medievalism. Alison co-authored an interactive fictional narrative called The Many Voices of Saint Caterina of Pedemonte.

Recently Alison worked with the Computer Science department at UCLA in creating a piece of locative interactive fiction called Nan0sphere.

Links: The Many Voices of Saint Caterina of Pedemonte

Research Sample: Excerpt from “Destabilizing Order, Challenging History: Octavia Butler, Deleuze and Guattari, and Affective Beginnings”

The world is full of origin stories–tales of the world’s genesis. Whether in the form of myths passed down through generations or as scientific theories that order the world, the desire to understand the origins of life on Earth remains constant. In her science fiction trilogy, Xenogenesis, Octavia Butler posits an alternate origin chronicle for Earth. Written in the mid-nineteen-eighties, Xenogenesis draws on traditions of post-apocalyptic and origin narratives as humans cross-breed with an alien species in order to repopulate Earth. Butler challenges and revises other foundational stories by framing hers within the format of a slave narrative–making a marginalized textual format the heart of her book and the impetus for Earth’s new population. At the same time, Xenogenesis questions and reevaluates contemporary scientific principles of evolution and natural history by presenting alternate forms of generation and descent. By placing a black woman as the origin for the new species on Earth, and creating alien forms of filiation, Butler questions evolutionary models and highlights natural history’s racist and sexist underpinnings.

Like Butler, theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari emphasize alternate theories of species’ development and generation in their essay, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible.” Deleuze and Guattari question natural history’s reliance on “the sum and value of differences,” and instead propose a rupture within natural history that makes room for a jump from “A to x” not just “A to B” (234). In their essay, Deleuze and Guattari also counter filial and descent-based evolution’s long, straight line and instead propose a theory of ‘involution’ and ‘becoming,’ focusing on a more affective, rhizomatic theory of generation. The emergence of alternate theories of species formation and development that Butler and Deleuze and Guattari propose leave the hierarchy of evolution and natural history behind to initiate and become something completely dissimilar than Darwin and Linnaeus could imagine; the recontextualization of evolutionary and origin narratives provide a space whereby alternate–oftentimes subversive–origins can be imagined.

In this paper, I examine Deleuze and Guattari’s, and Butler’s interrogation and reconsideration of evolutionary structures; I trace the ways that both Butler, and Deleuze and Guattari reposition such a discussion from the realm of strict scientific hierarchy into one devoid of rigid categories and hierarchical groupings. More specifically, both authors place species fruition in the realm of affect–one of metaphor and feeling–creating “spaces of affect” in which these new evolutionary processes take place (Stivale 160). Charles J. Stivale defines “spaces of affect” as places that take on the “forms” and “feelings” associated with affect (164). These spaces arise through intensive communicatory practices and interactions. Both Butler, and Deleuze and Guattari create such affective spaces within their stories and through the constructions of their narratives. In the case of Xenogenesis, the alien Oankali generate such spaces through which genetic transfers and exchanges between groups can be made, fashioning new species that are neither human nor alien, all spawning from Lilith, a black woman. Genetic exchange and scientific practice, from healing to informational trading, take place within a space governed not by scientific models, but instead by pleasure and desire–all occurring within an affective, metaphorical space. Thus, evolution and natural history move to a space not already mapped out and categorized, but one that becomes generative of new possibilities.

Contributions to Transliteracies Project:
Medieval Writing Website (Research Report)
BookCrossing (Research Report)

  Alison, 01.06.06

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