Sticky stories: affect and Biblical myth in women’s speculative fiction, 1970-2020
A regular feature of feminist speculative fiction, a world threatened by disease, climate change, war or political regime, often provokes its characters to feel nostalgic about a romanticised past or hopeful about an idealised future. Donna Haraway notes that these feelings are often based in “a comic faith in technofixes [… or that] God will come to the rescue of his disobedient but ever hopeful children” – or worse, that we might take “a position that the game is over” (3). This thesis asks how biblical myths of creation and apocalypse provide unconscious cultural blueprints for these feelings, which can intensify emotions or distract us from, as Haraway calls it, “staying with the trouble.” I use this concept in conjunction with the work of biblical scholar and queer theorist Stephen D. Moore, who approaches affect theory and the Bible through Sara Ahmed’s apt metaphor of “stickiness” to describe the way certain emotions attach themselves to certain people, stories or ideas. The thesis also uses Karen Bray and Stephen D. Moore’s formulae for viewing negative affect as a tool for wider “social diagnosis.” This research focuses on precisely these issues in the following novels: Call Me Ishtar (1973) by Rhoda Lerman, The Passion of New Eve (1977) by Angela Carter, Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989) (known as Xenogenesis/Lilith's Brood trilogy) by Octavia Butler, and Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013) (known as the MaddAddam trilogy) by Margaret Atwood. These works of speculative fiction play with the connected myths of beginning and end to reveal their emotional pull for characters as well as readers. Reading these novels in chronological order, this research finds that they tend to respond to debates within varying strands of feminism or womanism; trends that are reflected in feminist/womanist/queer biblical studies or theologies of the time. Lerman and Carter use creation/apocalypse and their associated emotions to satirise movements within “second wave” feminisms that focused on uncovering the “lost” goddess of the Hebrew Bible, while still diagnosing the patriarchal structures that created the goddess movement. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood novels investigate another figure submerged in the Hebrew Bible’s creation myths, Lilith, and her association with monstrousness and the “other.” Lastly, Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy reveals multiple Eves and Adams who are each in some way complicit in a seemingly inevitable second fall caused by our mistreatment of the environment. Throughout these novels, negative affects such as rage, loneliness, depression and disgust operate on and through characters, who in many cases cannot escape the nostalgic pull of Eden or the purgative push of apocalypse. Awakened to this, the reader is able to identify moments in which characters may (or may not) as Haraway puts it, “stay with the trouble” rather than giving in to the intoxicating dream of beginning afresh.