Title page for ETD etd-0607102-185008

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Thomas, Anne-Marie
Author's Email Address amthoma@yahoo.com (lsu address not functioning)
URN etd-0607102-185008
Title It Came from Outer Space: The Virus, Cultural Anxiety, and Speculative Fiction
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Carl Freedman Committee Chair
Patrick McGee Committee Member
Robin Roberts Committee Member
Sharon Weltman Committee Member
James Taylor Dean's Representative
  • virus
  • speculative fiction
  • computer virus
  • science fiction
Date of Defense 2002-05-13
Availability unrestricted
This study seeks to explore and interrogate the “viral reality” of the 1990s, in which the

virus, heavily indebted to representations of AIDS for its metaphorical power, emerged

as a prominent agent in science and popular culture. What becomes apparent in both

fictional and non-fictional texts of this era, however, is that the designation of “virus”

transcends specific and material viral phenomena, making the virus itself a touchstone for

modern preoccupations with self and other. As constituted by the human body’s

interaction with pathogenic agents, the binary of self and other may be deconstructed by

an interrogation of the virus itself, a permeable and mutable body that lends itself to any

number of interpretive possibilities. A uniquely liminal agent, the virus refuses

categorization as either life or non-life. However, it is not the liminality of the pathogen

that allows for this deconstruction, which serves to frustrate such boundaries in the first

place. Rather, the notion that viruses are (always) already a part of who we are as human

beings, and that “self” is not necessarily a self-enclosed autonomous entity, suggests that

the binary cannot hold. A virus is unique; an insider/outsider that crosses artificial

boundaries, it destabilizes the boundaries themselves, and thus the traditional framework

of self and other. Examining viral accounts in popular science writings, film, television,

advertisements, philosophy, science fiction, and naturalistic fiction, this study examines

the ways in which science and popular culture have characterized both the virus and its

psychological and material effects, and suggests that the pathogen-as-signifier may be

read in ways that point to the virus’s utopian potential as a theoretical category.

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