Andrea Hairston’s collection compiles her plays Hummingbird Flying Backward and Lonely Stardust with her Guest of Honour Speech at WisCon 36 and her essays on recent sf films like Source Code (Jones US/Canada 2011), Strange Days (Bigelow US 1995), WALL-E (Stanton US 2008), King Kong (Jackson NZ/US/Germany 2005), District 9 (Blomkamp South Africa/Canada/US/New Zealand 2009) and Pan’s Labyrinth (del Toro Mexico/Spain/USA 2006), and on Octavia E. Butler’s oeuvre. Employing a hybrid mixture of voices, registers and sources, Hairston’s essays cover a wide-ranging archive that draws illuminating transdisciplinary connections across the fields of literature, film, performance, theatre, popular criticism and scholarly critique. While her plays at times reflect a bit too much of an underlying academic orientation (an aesthetic expression overly intertwined with and explicitly reflective of critical discourse and theory), taken together with her speech and in conversation with these essays they work to help flesh out a larger, more complex mixture of aesthetic and critical discourses that provides valuable insight into the films and literature Hairston analyses, as well as her own creative process and aims.
On the surface, Hairston’s book might be mistaken for a collection of disparate works that do not quite cohere into a whole, particularly given the inclusion of her plays and speech after her essays and the broad, unruly scope of varied works that they cover. It is not difficult to imagine defenders of academic (and sf) orthodoxy chafing at the heretical mixture of scholarly, poetic and autobiographical voices alongside irreverent, humorous, informal registers. This intermingling occurs not just across the various pieces but within them as well. Hairston freely mixes critical analysis and autobiography with poetic ‘riffing’ on the fascist tendencies of the ‘American Capitalist Wasteland’, while [End Page 402] throwing films like WALL-E and Metropolis (Lang Germany 1927) up against the antirealist theatre of Čapek’s R.U.R. and Brecht’s estrangement techniques in a queer Marxist reading of WALL-E – or Brecht’s The Good Person of Setzuan and performance artist Sarah Jones’s one-woman show, Waking the American Dream, up against Strange Days.
In many ways, though, it is the brief essay ‘Heretical Connectedness’ that is key to this complex, wide-ranging collection. The essay is Hairston’s shortest here and, perhaps at first glance, the most difficult to contextualise among the other texts in the book. Where Hairston’s other essays focus in-depth feminist and critical race theory analyses on sf films and on Butler’s fiction, ‘Heretical Connectedness’ mounts a science-oriented defence of Lynn Margulis’s science treatise, Symbiotic Planet (A New Look at Evolution), and the Gaia theory of symbiosis and mutualism that it forwards. At the core of Hairston’s politico-aesthetic project is precisely the kind of symbiotic mutualism for which Margulis argues. And as the title of this short but packed piece implies, embracing such a symbiotic approach, both in science and aesthetics, is heretical. This is not just because such an embracing runs against the grain of compartmentalisation and specialisation but because of the disavowed connectedness it reveals in systems of interlocking oppressions. The title of ‘Heretical Connectedness’, then, is actually redundant. For – as Hairston argues through analyses of films, plays, novels, critical receptions of aesthetic works, and even moments of interaction with others in her own life, in the context of an empire of ‘American Capitalist Wasteland’ and white male heteronormativity that is ‘invisified’ through universalist mechanisms of normalisation which seek to disavow and erase difference and connection – connectedness is heretical.
And this is the book’s real aim and organising principle: to mount a heretical, estranging argument for symbiotic connectedness that, as Hairston repeats in different contexts, reveals by concealing. This aim is never directly stated. Instead, Hairston does something much more powerful and effective: As a ‘conjurer/meaning-maker’, ‘impossibility specialist’, and self-identified ‘technician of the sacred’ (Hairston’s description of the role of the artist), she actually does it. She performs her...