- Alienated Histories, Alienating Futures: Raciology and Missing Time in The Interrupted Journey
The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours “Aboard a Flying Saucer” published in 1966, introduced many in the United States to the now-familiar tropes, structures, and conventions of the alien abduction narrative. In this purportedly true account, Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple from New Hampshire, began to suffer strange physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms following a brief vacation. Their problems seemed to emanate from an encounter with an unidentified flying object and a two-hour period of amnesia that followed its sighting. After Barney entered therapy for what he thought were unrelated issues, the period of missing time became increasingly central to his anxieties. He was referred to Dr Benjamin Simon, a Boston-area hypnotherapist. Simon took on both Betty and Barney as patients to determine what happened during their “two lost hours” but did not expect the narrative that was reconstructed from their sessions. Under hypnosis, the Hills reported being abducted by extraterrestrials, taken on board a flying saucer, and subjected to a variety of intrusive medical examinations before being returned to their car. They ultimately decided to go public with their story and contacted John G. Fuller, a New England journalist who agreed to compile their narrative from recordings of the Hills’ therapy sessions and conversations with the [End Page 103] Hills. The Hills’ abduction account, a strange amalgam of science fiction tale and captivity narrative, focuses itself on race and, in particular, the politics of competing raciologies that organize themselves around the body. Barney Hill, described as “a strikingly handsome descendent of a proud Ethiopian freeman” (4), continually tries to categorize his abductors into some racial group. The Hills also recalled their captors’ fascination with their racialized bodies; when asked if the aliens were interested in the colour of her skin, Betty remembers that, instead, they were “interested in the structure” of her skin (Fuller 272; emphasis added). In this essay, I will examine The Interrupted Journey’s discourse on race. In particular, I examine the meaning of the Hills’ confrontation with futuristic beings who seem to be raceless themselves yet are nevertheless fixated on things like the structure of Betty Hill’s skin and the chromatic differences between Betty and Barney.
While a number of scholars have remarked upon the alien abduction genre’s strange obsession with race,1 Bridget Brown offers perhaps the most detailed analysis in They Know Us Better than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction, Brown contends that abduction narratives offer a means by which “people left out of certain narratives of progress can create their own stories and fashion truths that square with their own experience of the world” (7). The Hill case, she suggests, “is fundamentally concerned with the theme of retrieving or reconstructing lost time” (26). The Hills respond to increasing uncertainty about the nature of memory and its relationship to truth, in particular the sense that [End Page 104] they lack control over their own memories, which are constantly retrieved, inserted, removed, or modified by the aliens or Dr Simon. Nevertheless, Brown claims, The Interrupted Journey provides a means by which the Hills can address “the strains of life in the present day” (60). Later, Brown links the Hills’ anxieties to technologized management of the body, especially reproductive technologies. The “pregnancy test” administered to Betty Hill, for instance, speaks back to articles in popular magazines that inspired fears surrounding “the mass management and manipulation of human creation” (73).
Like Brown, I will argue that The Interrupted Journey is a text that responds to issues surrounding the politics of memory and medical technologies. However, I will re-situate the Hills’ abduction narrative by imagining it as a prophetic interlocutor with Paul Gilroy’s Between Camps: Nations, Cultures, and the Allure of Race. Though some forty years separate these texts, they address similar concerns. Both texts confront a fundamental shift in the way race and humanity are constructed. Much as Gilroy imagines a future where race as the construction of visible external signifiers of the skin has been supplanted by the minute scale of the nanotechnological, The Interrupted Journey...