Current working title:

Feminisms, Bodies and Cyberpunk: Theories of Embodiment and Subjectivity in Bruce Sterling’s Novel Holy Fire


I started working on my PhD in spring 2000. My supervisor is Prof. Dr. Peter Wagner at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, where I also hold a position as lecturer, teaching English and American Literature and Culture.

The Short Version

The Longer Version


Science Fiction and Cyberpunk

My PhD thesis will start out with an exploration of the science fiction genre and the place of cyberpunk within this genre. This chapter will include information on the history of SF, its origins, the Golden Age, the New Wave and the tradition of magazine fiction. Furthermore I will explore several definitions of SF as given by for instance Suvin, Aldiss, Scholes and Roberts. The different topics that SF traditionally deals with will be introduced with a special focus on the clusters body, technology and identity, including issues such as memory, cloning, transformations/mutations, cyborgs and surveillance, among possibel others. A section of this chapter will be devoted to feminism and science fiction which includes feminist SF as such as well as the question of gender and women within mainstream SF. I will also discuss the question whether SF is a distinctly postmodern form of literature and which advantages and disadvantages are inherent in such a perspective. I will then go on to delineate cyberpunk as a special subsection of SF – one that maybe more readily deserves the label ‘postmodern’ – and explore its position within SF. Here I will also give different definitions and characteristics of cyberpunk and explore the political implications the movement aims to have. This would include an introduction of some of the main cyberpunk authors and their relation to questions of punk, subversion and subculture, as well as looking into the role of women, gender and feminism within this genre.

Embodiment, Subjectivity, Feminism

This chapter will give the theoretical background to my analysis. Starting with an exploration of why the body has come into prominence within academia as well as within popular culture in the last decades, I will also explain why the body has been relegated to an inferior position before, going back to Descartes.
I will then go on to delineate the legacies one has to deal with when thinking and writing about the body, starting with psychoanalysis. The influence of psychoanalysis on our culture and thinking – both ‘common sense’ and academic – has been so great in the last century and still is in this one that I find it necessary to explain if, when and particularly why I depart from psychoanalytic theory, and also explore which areas might prove helpful. Besides Freud and Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Jacqueline Rose, and Julia Kristeva would come into play here. A specific focus, relating to my area of interest, would be questions of desire and sexuality, of the abject, the monstrous and the maternal body.
Closely interrelated with psychoanalysis is phenomenology. Shortly sketching the background of phenomenolgy, relying mainly on Merlau-Ponty, I would point out which elements are particularly interesting for feminism and have been used for instance by Elizabeth Grosz and Judith Butler. The most important aspect phenomenology adds is the idea that we construct ourselves as subjects through layers of bodily experiences. Whereas psychoanalysis tends to reduce everything to drives, phenomenology integrates the biological basis of the body, arguing that the body is neither only discourse nor only biology but always in the inbetween. Perception is a central concept within phenomenology which includes memory, vision and intersubjectivity. Therefore the lived body and the lived experience are the basis of the formation of subjectivity. Phenomenology also adds a different dimension to the concept of desire, moving it beyond sexuality to a desire to grow, to express, to be. This understanding of body and subjectivity seems particularly potent for my research as due to its focus on lived experience it will be a good tool to understand how interaction with technology changes embodiment. But phenomenology has to be moved on from its original propagators, since traditional ph. restricts the multiple potencies of the body too much and also does not take any sexual difference into account. Phenomenology is particularly developed within a poststructuralist framework by Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz and Gilles Deleuze.
The next central legacy I will explore is the Foucauldian. Focussing on Foucault’s ideas on the sexual subject, on relations of power, as well as on surveillance and discipline, I will explore how these have been appropriated and integrated into feminist thought, by theorists such as Judith Butler, Lois McNay, Jana Sawicki and Rosalyn Diprose (among others).
A last theorist to be introduced would then be Gilles Deleuze and his theories of becoming.
A further section would then deal with the introduction of technology and questions of the post-human body and cyborgs, feminist theorists to be dealt with here are mainly Donna Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles and Rosi Braidotti.

Holy Fire

Holy Fire offers many opportunities to explore several issues that feminist theories concerning embodiment and subjectivity are concerned with. Focussing on Mia’s medical procedure enables me to think about metamorphoses and transformations, about dissolving boundaries, mutations and becomings (Deleuze), as well as about monstrous births, abjection and the maternal in general (Jackie Stacey, Kristeva, Irigaray, Grosz). Questions of copy and original, of reproduction, replication, cloning and new genetics can be touched upon (Stacey, Deleuze, Braidotti), as well as hybridity, mixity and the cyborg (Haraway, Braidotti).
Mia’s life after the procedure offers possibilities for analysing surveillance, power and discipline (Foucault) as well as perception and the lived body (Merlau-Ponty, Grosz, Braidotti), and the question of perfomativity which goes hand in hand with that of the lived body (Butler) in the constitution of subjectivity. The role desire plays in this process can also be explored (Freud, Deleuze) as well as memory, space and time (Grosz, Braidotti, Einstein).


Braidotti, Rosi. Patterns of Dissonance. Cambridge: Polity, 1991.
---. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 1994
---. Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Philosophy of Becoming.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993.
---. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge, 1990.
Diprose, Rosalyn. “The Use of Pleasure in the Constitution of the Body” in: Australian Feminist Studies 5, 1987, 95-103
---. “Foucault, Derrida and the Ethics of Sexual Difference” in: Social Semiotics 1,2, 1991, 1-21.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Vol. 1, an Introduction. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
---. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1995.
Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1994
---. Space, Time and Perversion: The Politics of Bodies. New York: Routledge, 1995a.
--- and Elsbeth Probyn (eds.). Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism. London and New York: Routledge, 1995b.
--- (ed.). Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory and Future. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1999.
McNay, Lois. Foucault and Feminism: Power, Gender and the Self. Boston: Northeasthern UP, 1992.
---. Foucault: A Critical Introduction. New York: Continuum, 1994.
Merlau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Transl. Colin Smith. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Sawicki, Jana. Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power and the Body. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Stacey, Jackie. Teratologies: A Cultural Study of Cancer. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
---.“The Cloning of Sigourney Weaver in Alien Resurrection” videotaped lecture, Utrecht, 25.04.2005