Animating a Critical/Creative Cyborg – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Animating a Critical/Creative Cyborg

During the fifth and final Fisher Center Series (FCS) lecture on Animation and Gender, FCS Pre-Doctoral Fellow Jillian Burcar delivered “(Re)Animating the Cyborg,” a lecture which was, itself, a cyborg: a hybrid of critical analysis and creative writing.

Re-assembling messages from several FCS lectures from the past academic year, Burcar began her talk by citing Shelley Jackson, author and New School professor. “‘Writers are Frankensteins,’ bringing dissimilar parts together to form new creations,” Burcar explained. “Likewise, ‘Readers are also Frankensteins’ because of their role in galvanizing meanings and ideas in the process of reading.”

Burcar added that, “As both a writer and reader, I code meaning into the stories and theories that I write and read, reviving the space of the cyborg.”

During her talk, Burcar explained that, “For me, the cyborg is the perfect hybrid: a combination of human and machine, story and shape. It is the polymorphous space where binaries blur and mix into a gray. In the cyborg, gender, sexuality and consumer culture transgress and blur.”

Citing important figures from pop culture, science and Anime, Burcar formed her body of analysis using the work of Italian physicist Luigi Galvani and Donna Harroway, contemporary author and professor, as well as the Japanese Anime “Chobits” and even Disney/Pixar’s “Wall-E.” In the two latter cases, Burcar noted how gender roles were mapped onto cyborgs, despite the creative opportunity to transcend human social norms.

Exploring the creative opportunities that she seizes in her work, Burcar read from her hybrid writing: “cyborg poems” and tech-based prose. In “How to Milk a Rattlesnake,” Burcar utilized conventional short story form fused with fictional e-mails, blog postings and other forms of electronic communication to tell the story of a young woman who seeks her estranged father through the screen of the Internet. In addition to poems which retained HTML code that focused on cyborgs, Burcar also read from a blog/novel that uses the primordial “blog” of the late ’90s to tell the story of a young girl whose life and technology is at a tension between updating and becoming obsolete.

Leaving her audience transfixed and wide-eyed, Burcar proved that there are still new breeds for bodies of work in academia and the writing world alike. In fact, they can be fashioned into one frame: a new kind of artful scholarship/scholarly art.

After the lecture, Bryan Harris ’09 said, “In addition to being really thought-provoking, Professor Burcar’s lecture was also really cool. She helped to broaden my horizons in the way that I conceptualize writing and the study of culture.”

Adding to Harris’ sentiment, Erika Clement ’08, a William Smith alumna who returned to campus for the lecture, explained, “Professor Burcar’s imaginative yet exacting approach to asking important questions related to cyborgs and science studies was incredibly apparent in her talk.”

In addition to being the final lecture of the academic year, Burcar’s talk was also the last Fisher Center Series lecture under the direction of Betty Bayer, associate professor of women’s studies. Bayer has directed the Fisher Center for the past five years, playing a seminal role in its animation, evolution and integration into the Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ campus.

Burcar is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing (fiction) at the University of Southern California, a hybrid program where she does critical studies while producing creative work. She will complete both the Visual Studies and Gender Studies Graduate Certificates at USC. She has also been honored with the Mildred Fox Hanson Award and Virginia Middleton Summer Award. Recently, she has given several talks on comics-related topics across the country.