This week, a colleague and I interviewed a fan fiction writer for the upcoming workshop “Fan Fiction and the Study of Scribal Culture” (EABS Annual Meeting, Cordoba, Spain, July 12-15).
It was great to get to bombard her with questions about canon, the authority of canon, but also: why write “more of”? What is it about a canonical piece that makes you need more, fill in gaps, fix plotholes? The answer to that question was not analytical, it was emotional. You write because you love your canon.
It was a fascinating conversation and it showed many similarities as well as a deluge of dissimilarities between writing fan fiction and studying parabiblical texts, rewritten Bible, Midrash etc.
We talked about fluctuating canons, that canon is a choice; we talked about writing as a communal activity, where those who know the canon as well as you do help and pitch in; about the joy of reading more of a story you love, the power that comes with writing and re-writing, and also the limitations imposed upon that power – those instances where the writer must not deviate from the canon or the writing/reading community imposes certain codes of practice (you do not write yourself into a story, for example).
We talked about gender, anonymity, pseudepigraphy, slash fiction and ships, and the way practitioners disappoint theoreticians by doing something theory did not at all anticipate.
I look forward to putting the material from this interview into a relationship (ship, hehe) with biblical scholarship on Bible, canon, authority, and commentary in the next few weeks and to presenting the results with my colleagues at the conference in Cordoba.
The conference unit I chair – “Science Fiction and the Bible” – is going into its second year. It started out at the EABS’ 2013 meeting as an exploratory session and was upgraded to a three-year research programme afterwards.
Last year at the joint SBL/EABS meeting in Vienna, it had its highest volume of submissions so far. It is quite a specialized niche concern and – as regards submission numbers – cannot be compared to the big blockbuster sessions “Old Testament/Hebrew Bible”, “New Testament” or “Reception History”. I still see it very much as an exploration of what can be done beyond the latest in historical-critical approaches and beyond reception-historical “list-science” (“here is a list of biblical references in the TV show *title*”).
I have spoken to many scholars working on interdisciplinary topics who have found it hard to inspire others to try interdisciplinary approaches, too. While many speak of interdisciplinarity as the future of the discipline (Biblical Studies), it seems to be quite difficult to get people to try. It’s understandable: everyone is really busy and an interdisciplinary topic requires really sitting down and doing reading from scratch. The “Science Fiction and the Bible” panel gets many submissions from graduate students. Maybe because they are not yet as burdened with administrative duties, deaning, committee work, and tenure pressures. It’s not really possible to write an interdisciplinary paper on the plane to the conference.
Interdisciplinarity makes you potentially vulnerable to sweeping dismissal: “You’re not a sociologist!” – “You don’t have a background in network theory!” I have never encountered such responses in real life, thankfully. In most interdisciplinary panels I have been to, discussion is usually not burdened by fear of being dismissed, but excited, supportive, and lively.
However, interdisciplinarity sometimes puts you in front of a room full of blank stares and the only feedback you get after a presentation on – say – the sociology of scholarly reading in Biblical Studies, which you spent half a year writing might be: “So are you saying Caleb is not a historical figure…?” (So you get on your 700-Euro flight home and feel guilty about your carbon footprint while thinking, “I could have just read this paper to my cat…”)
The most important thing to take away from conferences is constructive feedback and especially new ideas that develop in conversation between one person’s ideas and another person’s ideas. The point is not really being applauded for a great presentation but being constructively challenged and coming away with new ideas. In this spirit, I try to get people with different ideas and approaches into the same room and leave plenty of space for discussion.
Long story short, here is the line-up for this year’s “Science Fiction and the Bible” panel, EABS Annual Meeting, Cordoba, Spain, July 12-15, 2015:
Science Fiction and the Bible
“Jewish apocalyptic in Japanese pop culture: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Shin Megami Tensei”
Carlos Santos, University of Salamanca
“Marionettes, Cyborgs and Forbidden Fruit: Understanding the Technological Singularity as a Fall From Grace”
Alice A. Petty, Stanford University
“Local Apocalypses: The Wicked City and Human Abundance in the Hebrew Bible and in Science Fiction and Popular Science of the 1960s-1970s”
Eva Rose Miller, Oxford University
“‘Let Us Go into the Field:’ Genesis 4 in ‘Dexter’ and ‘The Walking Dead'”
Eliza Rosenberg, McGill University
I made what I did for my PhD into a book. It’s called “The Nowhere Bible” and it is available now from De Gruyter.
I called it that because it is about utopia – the no-place-good-place – and about science fiction, too – the always-not-quite-there.
The implicit question underlying the whole experiment is: what if the Bible were utopia or science fiction? What if we naturally assumed utopian theory or science fiction theory were the appropriate approach to it, because the worlds it imagines are not found in reality? What would happen to the text, to texts-about-the-text, and to biblical scholarship? In the end, the book is to some extent about the Bible (or rather the biblical passage I use as a case study), but it is mainly about hermeneutics and the different kinds of wishful thinking with which the Bible is often approached.
The call for papers is now open for the panel Science Fiction and the Bible, which will meet at the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS)’ Annual Meeting 2015 (Cordoba, Spain, July 12-15th, 2015).
More information can be found here.
As always, there is an open session, inviting papers on all relevant themes to do with Science Fiction in all its guises and the Bible and/or ancient literatures more widely. This year there will be a themed session about destruction and forgetting (and/or re-construction and remembering). If you are interested in SF but have not yet worked in the areas of Bible or religious literature, we would very much like to hear from you. The conference itself might be worthwhile for you, too, as there will be a cross-over panel on visualisation of sacred spaces and artefacts in Science Fiction films, which is organised jointly with colleagues of the Archaeology of the Levant group at the EABS. Furthermore, there is a workshop on Fan Fiction and Scribal Culture(s), which is inviting contributions. Colleagues from the Biblical World and Its Reception group invite papers on spatial theory, and there are workshops titled Images of Creation and Bodies of Communication. There are very interesting intersections to be explored between these panels. All in all, it’s almost like a small SF convention inside a Biblical Studies conference.