Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Jennifer Rhee

Second Advisor

Les Harrison

Third Advisor

Kathleen Graber


When the body is observed through a certain combination of technologies, there can be subversive politics to doing anything at all. The nature of media and biopolitics has permitted for a set of systems aimed at total control of the human body; a power which can permeate all facets of life. This thesis is a collection of essays which argues that speculative fiction contains multitudes of approaches to biopolitical discourse, permitting the reader of the text to approach politics from their own set of experiences, but not allowing the political to be ignored. These chapters contain three separate but interrelated arguments regarding the nature of power: “Law, Technology, and the Body,” “Weaponized Media,” and “The Subversive Politics of Doing Anything at All.” This thesis creates working definitions of critical or political concepts which the chapters engage, defining terms such as speculative fiction, formalism, and biopolitics. The texts which these chapters primarily rely upon to convey examples of the visibility of these concepts—the work of Margaret Atwood and David Foster Wallace—will also be explored in these pages, prescribing specific interpretations of their plots and suggesting possible readings of the way the narratives describe technologies.

The first chapter, “Law, Technology, and the Body,” posits that computational metaphors for humans are used to enforce power, particularly through the construction of law, which is prominent in works of speculative fiction. This chapter will use biopolitical theory as well as formalist readings to approach the texts: it begins by explaining the biopolitical approach to the texts which permits for such readings, then elaborates upon law, power structures, and technology which affect the body within Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. It ultimately concludes by suggesting that these structures will be visible within all narratives, but particularly prominent in speculative fiction due to the way speculative fiction engages with and responds to the technologies of the real world.

The second chapter, “Weaponized Media,” shows that the trope of weaponized media is a compelling lens through which to approach text and an apt metaphor for the relationship between art and power, elucidating its prominence within speculative fiction. This argument relies primarily upon structuralism, linguistic theory, Russian formalism, and conflict theory to explain the highly-politicized use of weapons in these texts. Beginning with a survey of examples of this trope in speculative fiction, particularly within David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the chapter concludes by reflecting upon the biopolitical structures which contribute to and are reflected by this trope.

The final chapter, “The Subversive Politics of Doing Anything at All,” is a cumulation of the prior arguments. Supporting the chapter’s titular thesis, Russian formalism, media theory, and the surveillance and race theory of Simone Browne are used as central tenets to support this argument’s progression. This chapter argues that media propagates norms, that all things are now media. The consequences that follow from the nature of media entail that due to a hyper-connected world and the conflation of fear and terrorism, almost all things can be considered outside the norm—that doing almost anything at all is viewed as subversive by some, particularly by normative structures and governments. Speculative fiction questions these structures, specifically asking the reader to consider the political structures inherent in every action that they might commit to.


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