Below is the abstract I sent to Berkeley’s Center for Gender and Race’s conference, Speculative Visions of Race, Technology, Science and Survival in March 2012. If I get accepted and the conference presentation goes well, I may pursue publication, so any feedback will be greatly appreciated.
“Like A Literary Power Punch to the Gut”:
How Speculative Flash Fiction Represents the Other(kin).
In his 2011 book Reality Hunger, David Shields wrote that “we experience life as bright shards of ice coming at us, yet we express this through novels that pace like glaciers.” While Shields’ comment has incited debate in publications like The New Yorker, flash fiction artists might see it as a call to arms, a rationale for remaining committed to an undervalued and unrecognized form that values speed, concision and compression. First defined in the 1992 anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories as any story under one-thousand words, the category “flash fiction” now refers to an emergence of online-based publishing, where the flash fiction form seems best fitting for digital interfaces on smart phones, e-readers, notebooks and tablets. While much has been written on flash fiction’s place as a digital form, flash fiction has also emerged as a primary form for speculative fiction artists, who see the limited word count as opening new possibilities to ignore genre conventions, to mix genres, and to unsettle the reader’s fixed assumptions of racial, sexual, class and gender identities. How does flash fiction open new avenues towards speculative fictions? How do flash-based speculative fictions shift our understanding of representing the Other?
This presentation explores these questions first by reading prototypical flash stories to derive the form’s attributes, and then considering speculative flash fiction journals and writers who use these genre-shifting techniques to articulate critiques of multiculturalist representations of the “other.” As “flash fiction” has yet to stir scholarly discourse, I read editor and writer interviews who cast the form as stressing feeling over logic, story over plot, and implication over exposition, so that the story appears like “a literary power punch to the gut. Slam! Contact! Get out!” (Popek). Using my own experience as a speculative flash fiction writer, I consider how the form’s emphasis on feeling, implication and story mixes genre conventions from sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction and fan fiction, towards, simply, a speculative flash fiction. In such a short form, gimmicks like space travel need not be explained as either magic, scientific, allegorical or utopian, but are left to the reader to “fill in the gaps.”
As some editors and writers have pointed out, by assuming that the reader is familiar with generic assumptions, flash fiction can often maintain stereotypes by skimming over in-depth characterizations of marginalized others. Yet with the emergence of a new genre comes new possibilities, and there has also emerged new ways of representing marginalized identities. Flash fiction journals like Expanded Horizons, Scissors and Spackle, and Mobius: Journal of Social Change have sought to use speculative flash fiction’s formal attributes to consciously refocus anti-racist art from representing “positive representations” of marginalized identities toward re-presenting the trans-historical (and trans-genre) experiences of marginalized peoples, not as “others” but as “otherkin”—communities (self)defined as nonhuman, but not necessarily as the “other” to an identity-based “norm.” I end by considering representations of “otherkin” in speculative flash fiction, asking how the form’s genre attributes can allow readers to imagine forms of solidarity across marginalized identities.