Alienated histories, alienating futures: raciology and missing time in The Interrupted Journey.
While a number of scholars have remarked upon the alien abduction genre's strange obsession with race, (1) Bridget Brown offers perhaps the most detailed analysis in They Know Us Better than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction. Brown contends that abduction narratives offer a means by which "people left out of certain narratives of progress can create their own stories and fashion truths that square with their own experience of the world" (7). The Hill case, she suggests, "is fundamentally concerned with the theme of retrieving or reconstructing lost time" (26). The Hills respond to increasing uncertainty about the nature of memory and its relationship to truth, in particular the sense that they lack control over their own memories, which are constantly retrieved, inserted, removed, or modified by the aliens or Dr Simon. Nevertheless, Brown claims, The Interrupted Journey provides a means by which the Hills can address "the strains of life in the present day" (60). Later, Brown links the Hills' anxieties to technologized management of the body, especially reproductive technologies. The "pregnancy test" administered to Betty Hill, for instance, speaks back to articles in popular magazines that inspired fears surrounding "the mass management and manipulation of human creation" (73).
Like Brown, I will argue that The Interrupted Journey is a text that responds to issues surrounding the politics of memory and medical technologies. However, I will re-situate the Hills' abduction narrative by imagining it as a prophetic interlocutor with Paul Gilroy's Between Camps: Nations, Cultures, and the Allure of Race. Though some forty years separate these texts, they address similar concerns. Both texts confront a fundamental shift in the way race and humanity are constructed. Much as Gilroy imagines a future where race as the construction of visible external signifiers of the skin has been supplanted by the minute scale of the nanotechnological, The Interrupted Journey posits a blending of racial signifiers past the point of recognition, rendering race as a text that can be read only at the subdermal level--in the structure of the abductee's skin. In Gilroy's utopian teleology, this displacement of dermopolitics is a cause for optimism; Gilroy imagines it as a liberation that will contribute to the "gradual withering away" of race as a result of "growing irrelevancy" (37). The Interrupted Journey, poised at the cusp of the technological revolution in which Gilroy will later see so much promise, expresses deep-seated anxieties about a technologically mediated raciology. Indeed, the book symptomizes a number of concerns surrounding race pertinent to an interracial couple in the United States of the 1960s and, in doing so, poses difficult questions to Gilroy's utopian vision. First and foremost, The Interrupted Journey challenges Gilroy's neat progressive narrative of raciology, which moves from biopolitics to dermopolitics to nanopolitics. In The Interrupted Journey, raciologies are persistent and not so easily cast aside. Second, The Interrupted Journey queries Gilroy's optimistic vision of narrative power. Through the many mediations of the Hills' story, the text points out that when race is collapsed into Gilroy's archival data and becomes "code and information" (36) control of the code is not necessarily democratic. The data itself and the way it is pieced back together is potentially just as subject to the exertions of power in the postracial future as it is in 1960s New Hampshire. In his concluding chapter, Paul Gilroy calls upon his readers "to become more future-oriented" (335) and argues for the importance of addressing the future. In The Interrupted Journey, however, the Hills address the future from an era when the technologies in which Gilroy places his confidence are, in their nascent forms, not the advance guard of a utopian movement toward a transcendence of raciologies but harbingers of a future where technology has rendered visible racial signifiers as irrelevant. Race is no longer a "vestigial phenomenon" as Gilroy hopes (37), but has been overcome through the deletion of its troubling history.
The extraterrestrials in The Interrupted Journey represent one possible future of humankind. In this future, the transition from "dermo-politics" to "nanopolitics" results in the reduction of the body to an archive of cellular material, accessible only to the homogenous, affectless, alien scientists. The Hills' account registers the profound anxiety that a racial schema based on skin, as fraught and problematic as it is, will be supplanted by something even more insidious: a future where, to borrow Donna Haraway's phrase, "the fleshy body that bleeds" (264) has lost all affective and historical significance.
"A little later than expected"
The Interrupted Journey is a deceptively complex text. To some extent it is a collaborative project, containing multiple voices: Fuller assembled his text largely from the recordings of Betty and Barney Hill's therapy sessions, provided to him, with the Hills' permission, by Dr Benjamin Simon. Frequently, Fuller reproduces these recordings as transcriptions and, in this way, the Hills apparently narrate their own story in the first person, albeit as selected and edited by Fuller. In other instances, however, Fuller adopts the third-person voice of a traditional narrator. Additionally, the text reproduces some of the correspondence written by Betty Hill regarding her experience and includes a first-person account of her dreams as its coda. The Interrupted journey is also introduced by the authoritative foreword of Benjamin Simon. Thus, there are multiple narrative "I"s, as well as multiple tenses at play throughout the book. This structure of mediation and voice will become increasingly significant to my argument. For now, it is important to outline the basic "plot" of the book, as well as the equally important story of how the book came to be published.
According to The Interrupted journey, Betty and Barney Hill had been traveling along a rural road in the White Mountains of New Hampshire late at night on 19 September 1961 when they noticed a bright light in the sky. Initially, they thought it was either a planet or a satellite, but the object seemed to be moving toward them. When Barney gazed at the object with the aid of binoculars, he realized that what he saw was no satellite:
Through the binoculars, Barney now made out a shape, like the fuselage of a plane, although he could see no wings. There also seemed to be a blinking series of lights along the fuselage, or whatever it was, in an alternating pattern. When Betty took the glasses, the object passed in front of the moon, in silhouette. It appeared to be flashing thin pencils of different colored lights, rotating around an object which at that time appeared cigar shaped. Just a moment before it had changed its speed from slow to fast, then slowed down again as it crossed the face of the moon. The lights were flashing persistently, red, amber, green and blue. (Fuller 12)
As the object came closer, Barney got out of the car and moved toward it, getting a closer look with the binoculars. Through the craft's windows, he saw "at least half a dozen living things ... staring directly at him" (16). The last thing the Hills remembered that night was a strange electronic beeping sound, after which, they recalled, "a sort of haze came over them" (17). Later, the beeping repeated itself. The Hills were still in their car and driving toward their home in Portsmouth. They reached their front door just after dawn, and Barney commented that they "arrived home a little later than expected" (18).
Soon after their journey, the Hills began to suffer from strange symptoms, including pain, nightmares, and anxiety. Betty, curious about the light they saw in the sky, voraciously read the local library's literature on UFOS and wrote to Major Donald Keyhoe, a Marine Corps officer who had founded the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), a civilian UFO monitoring group, and had written a book on flying saucers. (2) NICAP then contacted the Hills, and a meeting was arranged with Walter Webb, an astronomer and scientific advisor to NICAP. Webb reported that he was "impressed by [the Hills'] intelligence, apparent honesty, and obvious desire to get to the facts and to underplay the more sensational aspects of the sighting" and also noted that their experience "had so jolted [Barney Hill's] reason and sensibilities that his mind evidently could not make the adjustment.... Mr. Hill believes he saw something he doesn't want to remember" (37).
In the summer of 1962, Barney entered therapy for unrelated issues surrounding the stress of his work schedule and his separation from his two sons, who lived with his ex-wife in Philadelphia. Suffering from high blood pressure and a nagging ulcer, as well as "a series of warts ... in an almost geometrically circular ring in the area of his groin" (54), Barney was in therapy for a year, during which he and his wife gave talks at a local church group about their sighting. Later, Barney was referred to Dr Benjamin Simon, a Boston-area hypnotherapist. Suspecting that Barney's issues stemmed from the tensions of an interracial marriage, Dr Simon saw both Betty and Barney. In their therapy sessions, their fantastic narrative emerged. The Hills recounted being stopped by strange humanoid beings who took them on board their spacecraft. The Hills were separated and subjected to various medical tests. The beings took tissue samples, extracting materials from their skin, mouths, and ears, and administered a "pregnancy test" to Betty via the insertion of a long needle into her navel; Barney, meanwhile, remembered having a cup attached to his groin. Betty also recalled carrying on a conversation with one of the extraterrestrials, while Barney kept his eyes shut tight the entire time. The Hills were then returned to their vehicle and continued on their way with no recollection of what had happened.
"I didn't notice any proboscis"
In Between Camps, Paul Gilroy posits a neat geneology of raciology: "Dermo-politics succeeded biopolitics. Both preceded nano-politics" (46). The anthropological methods of the nineteenth century, Gilroy says, are an anachronism in the twentieth; "Nobody fills old skulls with lead shot these days" (45), he argues confidently. Biopolitics--the determination of race through pseudo-scientific discourses of biology--has, according to Gilroy, been supplanted by "epidermalization" (46). In the biopolitical regime, "race" was a line between the human and the infrahuman; the Linnaean taxonomization of human beings into Asiaticus luridus, Americanus rebescus, and Afer niger discursively enforced a hierarchy of humanity that justified colonial violence. In the regime of "epidermalization," which Gilroy develops out of his reading of Fanon, race is perceived in the differences between skins; what lies below is, Gilroy says, "an irrelevancy" (46). In turn, epidermalization is supplanted by nanopolitics, an examination of the body at the molecular level, such as the "structure" of Betty Hill's skin. According to Gilroy,
the body and its obvious functional components no longer delimit the scale upon which assessments of the unity and variation of the species are to be made. The naked eye was long ago recognized to be insufficient to the tasks of evaluation and description demanded by the beleaguered condition of everyday life and the popular eugenic answers to its manifold problems. (48)
The Interrupted Journey speaks from a transition point between epidermalization and nanopolitics but at the same time emphatically serves as a reminder that what is, in Gilroy's periodization, the outmoded, irrelevant raciology of skulls and lead shot is a persistent and still-powerful epistemology. Indeed, racial logics of comparative anatomy and epidermalization coexist with molecular science. The extraterrestrials use advanced imaging technology to "read" the Hills' racialized bodies even as the Hills rely on the language of persistent forms of racial anthropology to understand their captors.
When The Interrupted Journey was published in the mid-1960s, myriad factors were forcing a re-examination of race in the United States. In particular, the burgeoning Civil Rights movement and challenges to segregation increased the number of contact zones white and African-Americans experienced in their day-to-day lives. Betty and Barney Hill, as an interracial couple who both did work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, (3) were all too familiar with the potential tensions associated with such situations, although Fuller repeatedly tries to maintain that they were untroubled by it. In the opening pages of the text, he comments that "Regardless of what attention their mixed marriage drew in public places, they were no longer self-conscious about it" (4) and maintains that "The total adjustment to their mixed marriage had been remarkably smooth" (8). Prior to meeting Barney, Betty had had little "experience with colored people" but "at an early age lived across the street from an interracial couple and absorbed the snide remarks of her classmates against the colored wife" (9). Fuller also recounts an experience Betty had in college, where a black resident, Ann, had enrolled "to the consternation of both the administration and the students." The girl was subjected to various racist comments by the other students, until Betty approached and befriended her, "the beginning of acceptance for Ann, but not until after a long struggle" (9).
Meanwhile, in spite of Fuller's insistence of the contrary, Barney Hill's past is dominated by experiences of racism. Even before their encounter with the UFO, he clearly suffers from numerous social and economic disadvantages as a result of his race. In spite of having "an IQ of nearly 140" and being able to "handle more complex jobs," Barney works the night shift at a post office in Boston, where he "stand[s] in front of some 40 clerks sorting mail, calling out numbers of town or sections of the city of Boston" (7). Barney's commute to work entails a 120-mile round trip from the Hills' home, which Barney believes is "instrumental in causing his ulcer to act up" (7). As a young student he had wanted to become an engineer but remembers being told by a school counselor that "there was no future for Negroes in that field" (56). While in the Army, Barney had been forced to physically fight another soldier after an "incident of bullying" (56). Indeed, in his Introduction to Zhe Interrupted Journey, Dr Simon speculates that race may have been a central component to the Hills' experience. When he initially met the Hills, Simon says, "I knew nothing of Mr. Hill's problems, but when he introduced his wife, who is white, I wondered, fleetingly, if their interracial marriage might be involved in Mr. Hill's disturbance" (v).
The depth of Barney's obsession with race is most evident in an encounter he and Betty have with a waitress just hours prior to their contact with the UFO. When the Hills stop at a restaurant for a late-night meal, Fuller recounts, "The restaurant was nearly deserted. A few teenagers gathered in a far corner. Only one woman, the waitress, in the quiet restaurant seemed to show any reaction at all to the fact that Betty and Barney Hill's was a mixed marriage" (4). However, Barney's version of the incident, recounted under hypnosis, is much more detailed:
I decide to stop and check my map, and I turn around and go back to a restaurant I have passed--and I park--and we go in. There is a dark-skinned woman in there, I think, dark by Caucasian standards, and I wonder--is she a light-skinned Negro, or is she Indian, or is she white?--and she waits on us, and she is not very friendly, and I notice this, and others are there and they are looking at me and Betty, and they seem to be friendly or pleased, but this dark-skinned woman doesn't. I wonder then more so--is she Negro and wonder if I--if she is wondering if I know she is Negro and is passing for white. I eat a hamburger and I become impatient with Setty to not--to drink her coffee so we can get started. (75)
In another instance, Barney expresses his concern that a hotel would not accept him and his wife as guests:
BARNEY The thoughts that were going through my mind were: Would they accept me? Because they might say they were filled up, and I wondered if they were going to do this, because I was prejudiced.... DOCTOR Because you were prejudiced? BARNEY ... because they were prejudiced. DOCTOR Because you were a Negro? BARNEY Because I am a Negro. (73)
These passages indicate the level of confusion with which the Hills confront race and identity in their narrative. In his account of the waitress, Barney must clarify his use of pronouns: "I wonder then more so--is she Negro and wonder if I--if she is wondering if I know she is Negro and is passing for white" (75; emphasis added). In recalling his experience at the hotel, he again confuses himself with those he sees as potential antagonists. The Interrupted Journey's confusion over racialized identities becomes even more dramatic in the Hills' recollections of their abduction. Barney's first impression of one alien is that his face reminds him of a "red-headed Irishman" (90); a second abductor, this one with "an evil face" is evocative of a "German Nazi" (91) although Barney insists that their "eyes were slanted.... But not like a Chinese" (92). Betty meanwhile compares the extraterrestrials to "mongoloids": "I was comparing them with a case I had been working with, a specific mongoloid child--this sort of round face and broad forehead, along with a certain type of coarseness" (266). She insists that the extraterrestrials looked "Oriental, Asiatic," while noting that the size of their noses reminded her of comedian Jimmy Durante's (298).
In these discussions of the aliens' physiognomies, the Hills enter a pseudo-anthropological mode. This language of anthropological taxonomization becomes all the more interesting in light of comments Barney Hill makes that render explicit a link between the Hills' abduction and a very public debate about racialized anthropology in the 1960s:
Betty and I went to hear a lecture one time by Dr. Carleton S. Coon of the Department of Anthropology at Harvard, and he showed a slide of a group of people who lived around the Magellan Straits. We both had quite a reaction when we saw it, because this group of Indians, who lived in an extremely cold atmosphere high in the mountains where there was little oxygen, bore a considerably close resemblance to what I'm trying to describe.... They had Oriental sort of eyes but the eye socket gave an appearance of being much larger than what it was, because nature had developed a roll of fat around the eye and also around the mouth. So it looked as if the mouth had almost no opening and as if they had practically no nose. They were quite similar, in a general way, to the men I'm trying to describe. (262-63)
Barney's introduction of Coon as an intertext to The Interrupted Journey is particularly telling. Coon, described by Roth as "one of last of the racist evolutionists in academic anthropology in the United States, a virulent segregationist as well as a dabbler in paranormal topics such as the yeti," was involved in a very public forum on the origin, and meaning, of race. In 1962, Coon published Zhe Origin of Races, in which he argues that "at the beginning of our record, over half a million years ago, man was a single species, Homo erectus, perhaps divided into five geographic races or subspecies. Homo erectus then evolved into Homo sapiens not once but five times, as each subspecies, living in its own territory, passed a critical threshold from a more brutal to a more sapient state, by one genetic process or another" (658). Coon divides the races into five categories--Australoid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid, Congoid, and Capoids--and supports his thesis with photographs of African persons in close proximity to photographs of lemurs, chimpanzees, and gorillas (plates 8-16), as well as comparative analyses of skulls and bone fragments of the early hominin Paranthropus boisei and Australian aborigines (plate 23). Another page juxtaposes photographs of an Australian aboriginal woman and an Asian man; Coon's caption refers to these persons as "The Alpha and Omega of Homo sapiens: An Australian aboriginal woman with a cranial capacity of under 1,000 cc.; and a Chinese sage with a brain nearly twice that size" (plate 32). Coon's work figured prominently in an exchange of letters to the editor in various major American newspapers as segregationists seized upon his findings to argue that African Americans were less evolved than white Americans and therefore not eligible for the same civil rights. Carleton Putnam, a correspondent of Coon's, was at the centre of this debate, staging a private war against Boasian cultural anthropologists whom he felt were threatening the "democratic way of life" by contributing to the integrationist cause (Jackson 252). (4)
The Hills reproduce this raciological discourse of skin and bone throughout their testimony. Barney's description of the extraterrestrials is particularly scientific:
The men had rather odd-shaped heads, with a large cranium, diminishing in size as it got toward the chin. And the eyes continued around to the sides of their heads, so that it appeared that they could see several degrees beyond the lateral extent of our vision.... The texture of the skin, as I remember it from this quick glance, was grayish, almost metallic looking. I didn't notice any hair--or headgear for that matter. Also, I didn't notice any proboscis, there just seemed to be two slits that represented the nostrils. (262)
This language, with its precise references to the "cranium" and "proboscis; reproduces the language of scientific racism and of Gilroy's "biopolitics," which maintained currency in the United States of the 1960s. Insofar as Toe Interrupted Journey is a document that records one African American man's ideas on racial perceptions in 1960s America, the book attests to the persistence of scientific racism and biopolitics even as the skin has become the privileged signifier of racial identity.
However, as much as the Hills' narrative demonstrates the persistence of "fragmentary selections of physical characteristics" as signifying racial information, it is cognizant of the arrival of incipient forms of bodily imaging technology that held the potential to dislodge the primacy of the epidermal schema as a means of reading race. In describing new forms of bodily imaging, Gilroy writes, "Screens rather than lenses now mediate the pursuit of bodily truths" (37). Moreover, "Genomics may send out the signal to reify 'race' as code and information, but there is a sense in which it also points unintentionally toward 'race"s overcoming.... At the smaller than microscopic scales that open up the body for scrutiny today, 'race' becomes less meaningful, compelling, or salient to the basic tasks of healing and protecting ourselves" (37). The kinds of visual technologies that Gilroy envisions were in their most basic forms in the 1960s, but they still captured the imaginations of Americans interested in science and technology. Popular magazines like Life and Reader's Digest ran stories on the scientific breakthroughs that followed the modeling of DNA in the previous decade. In 1960, Life explored the "outer space and the inner space of the human body ... as sites for sci-tech progress," while Reader's Digest published "The Wondrous Inner Space of Living Cells" in June 1964. (Brown 74). These issues, Brown argues, presented in optimistic terms the human body as the next frontier of scientific colonialism. The Interrupted Journey, however, is far more ambivalent about living in a nanotechnological future than Life or Reader's Digest.
The imaging technologies that allowed Reader's Digest to take its readers into a living cell appear in The Interrupted Journey in the hands of the extraterrestrial abductors. The aliens' examination of the Hills penetrates their skin and instead focuses on the level of cells, tissue, and the subdermal makeup of their bodies. According to Betty, the examination involved the taking of tissue samples from her skin and the "reading" of her body through the use of computers:
They rub, they have a machine, I don't know what it is. They bring the machine over and they put it, I don't know what kind of machine, it's something like a microscope, only a microscope with a big lens. And they put--I don't know--they put, I had an idea they were taking a picture of my skin. And they both looked through this machine here, and here.... [T]here was a little--you know--how your skin gets dry and flaky sometimes, like little particles of skin? And they put--there was something like a piece of cellophane or plastic, or something like that, they scraped, and they put this that came off on this plastic. (160)
Later, she continues, "So I lie down on the table, on my back, and he brings over this--oh, how can I describe it? They're like needles, a whole cluster of needles, and each needle has a wire going from it. I think its something like a TV screen, you know. When the picture isn't on, you get all kinds of lines. Something like that" (162). Betty later concludes that the extraterrestrials were not interested in the colour of her skin but, she says, "the structure of [her] skin" (272). Indeed, the aliens apparently cannot recognize colour altogether. After Betty Hill's examination, she engages the extraterrestrials' leader in conversation. As she tries to describe her favourite vegetable, squash, she mentions that it is yellow, which confuses her conversant.
The extraterrestrials regard the body, then, from an altered "scale of perceptual limits," to adopt Gilroy's nomenclature. These sorts of technologies "allow [the body] to be seen and understood in new ways" by "prosthetically extending sight onto nano-scales" (Gilroy 43). This regime, "nano-politics," effectively moves "[t]he boundaries of 'race' across the threshold of the skin. They are cellular and molecular, not dermal. It is not a piece or component of the body but its fateful wrapping" (46). The ultimate effect of this is that race itself becomes incidental as the body is reimagined as a carrier of data rather than the producer of it, heralding in Gilroy's "postracial future," Gilroy's hope is that, in this future, when race is reduced to an after-image rather than a determining factor of one's identity, racially organized nationalisms and fascisms will become obsolete. Though he admits that "For many racialized populations, 'race' and the hard-won, oppositional identities it supports are not to be lightly or prematurely given up" (ia) Gilroy rejects the long-term viability of an "incidental" category as the basis of politics, regarding it as a "tainted logic" (15).
However, The Interrupted Journey approaches this future with trepidation. The extraterrestrials' treatment of the bodies in their possession, far from suggesting that the transcendence of race via the mediation of technology is a cause for celebration, instead functions as a warning that there is considerable potential for this future to go far, far awry. In the Hill narrative, rather than race being transcended, it has been deleted through the aliens' mastery of technologies that skew the Hills' sense of time and narrative. Ultimately, the text suggests that the overcoming of epidermal racial signifiers has the potential to erase the affective significance of the body and its physical reminder of racial difference and its history in the United States.
The aliens themselves stand in as figures for the future human. JeanBruno Renard argues, in a continuum of folkloric entities, that the extraterrestrial represents the apotheosis of the rational human. Comparing the alien with its opposite, Renard writes, "The Wild Man and the Extraterrestrial appear as the two extremes of evolution: the one incarnates the past, the origins, the other the future, the completion. They are the two limiting figures to Western man: the Wild Man representing the inferior limit and the Extraterrestrial the superior limit" (74). In captivity narratives, the alien abduction story's generic ancestor, the removal of the victim to the wilderness of the Indian is imagined as a movement into the past. According to Johannes Fabian in Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object, the journey to the periphery of the imperial or colonial centre to the world of the Other was simultaneously a step backward in time. In the alien abduction narrative, the relationship is inverted. the human abductors are a step behind their captors, whose technology is advanced beyond the point of comprehension. The aliens are similar to what Lauren Berlant has called "incipient citizens," the "fetuses, children, real and imaginary immigrants" (5) who represent the future generation of America. As Brown observes, the now iconographic "grey" alien, the sort first described in the Hills' narrative, resembles a fetus, possessing "large heads, large black eyes, necrotic skin, [and] smooth, sexless, and hairless bodies" (92).
This future human, however, bears little resemblance to its ancestors, the Hills; indeed, the extraterrestrials collapse a multitude of racial and cultural signifiers--Irish, German, Asian, and South American--into individual bodies. Such a collapse suggests a future wherein humanity is sufficiently hybridized that it is effectively homogeneous--indeed, a postracial future. Nevertheless, while Betty and Barney are able to ascribe various ethnicities or nationalities to their abductors, they are rarely consistent in their description, in spite of Fuller's description of hypnosis as a process whereby "the patient's memory becomes vivid and exact" (89). In one description of Betty's, the aliens have large noses comparable to that of comedian Jimmy Durante (89); in one of Barney's, the aliens have no noses at all. The alien bodies defy "the long and meandering sequence of discourse of physical morphology," their bodies so saturated with contradictory racial signs that the signs become meaningless. They have no distinctive lips, and the alien visage sketched by Barney Hill is hairless, its eyes large, undifferentiated spaces. Ultimately, the alien bodies collapse difference to the extent that they become inhuman.
Thus, the hybridized extraterrestrial embodies a cluster of anxieties that surround racial mixing and miscegenation. Their bodies are so completely mixed that they have become uncannily foreign to their parents; the extraterrestrial is so hybridized that it can no longer be properly called human, much less understood as part of a normative definition of "American." Yet, the alien body is remarkable, too, for what it is missing. Indeed, the Hills' extraterrestrial abductors, mixed though they may be, ultimately tend toward whiteness; more than anything, they include no signs of blackness. The extraterrestrial's body is technologically managed. The alien machinery interposes itself as an intermediary between Betty and Barney Hill and contains the "threat" of a bloodline "contaminated" by interracial mixing by producing a future human body that is artificially managed. Rather than positing a postracial future wherein humanity has blended and made race "vestigial," to use Gilroy's word, The Interrupted Journey offers an alternate future where race has been selected, carefully constructed by the mysterious alien scientists.
"Barney won't remember a single thing"
As grim as this depiction of the postracial body is, the alien future is made all the more alarming through The Interrupted Journey's discourse on history, memory, and narrative. In the text, access to this future is made possible only by traumatic interruptions in historical narrative. One of the most crucial innovations that the alien abduction introduces to the captivity genre is the experience of "missing time." This sensation, that an abductee has "lost" a certain period of their past, was introduced with the Hills' story. After their encounter with the UFO, Betty and Barney were "constantly haunted by a nagging feeling of anxiety centering around [a] period of several hours--a feeling that something had happened, but what?" (Fuller v). As Barbeito writes, "[T]he awareness of having experienced 'missing time' episodes is the most common indication that an abduction has taken place, and strange disruptions of time are endemic to the experience itself" (204). This amnesia signals that the trauma of the abduction has taken place; curiously, however, the inducement of amnesia becomes the act that is constantly repeated in the Hills' story. In traumatic narratives, the victim is constantly impelled to repeat the incident that he or she cannot assimilate (Caruth 4). In the Hills' narrative, this erasure of history, then, is the real trauma, especially in the case of Barney Hill. The text uncannily parallels a progressive history of the United States that relies upon the elision of racial violence from the national narrative. The incipient Americans who capture the Hills embody a potent fantasy of a future American being untouched by history; in particular, the alien body is unencumbered by what Toni Morrison calls the "dark and abiding [Africanist] presence" in American culture.
In the Interrupted Journey, time is lost over and over again, first through the "two lost hours" themselves but subsequently through the hypnosis sessions with Dr Simon. Barney's recollection of his first hypnosis session repeats his experience of "losing" time: 'As I got ready for the induction into hypnosis, I looked at my watch. It must have been five minutes after eight. And [Simon] gave me the key word, and I was hypnotized. And as far as time was concerned, I thought he was waking me immediately. But I looked at my watch, and it was after nine" (Fuller 68). Betty's memory explicates the link between hypnosis and missing time:
To Betty, the moment the [extraterrestrial] men came up to the door of the car at the time of the roadblock, she now felt that she had gone into a hypnotic trance of the same type she experienced in the sessions in the doctor's office. She felt as if both she and Barney had in some way been mesmerized by the beeping sounds to a quasi-hypnotic state. (264-65)
Brown argues that "In case after case [of alien abduction] therapists are described as aliens, aliens as therapists, the two forces collapsing into one another, equally in control of the patient and in particular of the process of remembering and forgetting" (31). She cites a telling example from The Interrupted Journey: "In the elevator going down, [the Hills] were alone for the first time, with a measurable recall of the incident now thoroughly in their minds. The first thing that Betty could say was in reference to Dr Simon. 'I certainly; Betty laughed, 'hope that Dr Simon isn't really a spaceman!"' (Fuller 259; quoted in Brown 31).
The history of The Interrupted Journey's production continually emphasizes similar cessions of control over their own personal histories in other ways, too. The Hills' story itself-their personal narrative of their own past-never seems to be fully under their power. Initially, their story was commandeered by a Boston reporter who heard the Hills speak about their encounter with the UFO at their church. As Simon reports it in his introduction to the book,
a series of articles broke in a Boston newspaper, telling without the full background material the story of Betty and Barney Hill and how, while under hypnosis by a Boston psychiatrist, they had told of being abducted aboard a UFO, given a physical examination, and released with the assurance that they would not be harmed. The Hills said the story had been written without their permission, or without their being interviewed by the reporter involved, and they were extremely upset about it. (xii)
This violation led Betty to admit to her mother that she and her husband were beginning to "question this attitude of [their] personal right to privacy" (xiii), feeling that they "must clarify what happened and set the record straight" (xiv). Consequently, the Hills contacted Fuller, who had previously written on UFO sightings in New Hampshire, and asked him to write their story based on their recollections and the tapes of their hypnosis sessions. Once again, this time at their own volition, the Hills cede control over their own history to another authority figure.
Fuller's control over the Hills' history reveals the final act of historical erasure in the saga of The Interrupted Journey: the subordination of Barney Hill's narrative to that of his wife. The story begins with Barney Hill: it is his psychological symptoms that lead to the sessions with Dr Simon and that reveal the encounter with the extraterrestrials. However, over the course of the book, Fuller continually minimizes Barney's role, making his narrative subsidiary to his wife's. Her account of things becomes the dominant narrative, and she is left with the last word, in which she remembers the dreams that haunted her after their encounter with the UFO. Moreover, the social problems facing Barney Hill as an African American man in the United States in the 1960s are constantly disavowed to the extent that Jodi Dean can argue that "Fuller's attempts to downplay race are so strong that Barney Hill himself starts to fade" (165). Just as the extraterrestrials signal the disappearance of race in the future, Fuller's text removes race from the historical present.
Hence the divergence in Betty and Barney's response to their experience: while Betty is able to assimilate her experience through narrativizing it, Barney is unable to comprehend what happened to him at all. Immediately after the experience, Betty is eager to discuss what happened with her family members and to learn as much as she can about flying saucers by reading in the local library and contacting "experts" like Donald Keyhoe. Meanwhile, according to Fuller, "Barney was trying to hold out completely, but Betty, in light of her sister's experience with a UFO several years before, wanted to share it with her, at least. Barney grudgingly went along with the idea, although he felt strong that the best thing to do was to try to forget about the whole incident" (22). He adds, "Betty's capacity for ventilating her feelings was helpful; Barney found himself envying her ability to do so, aware that suppressing the facts in his mind could be damaging" (31). Later, in Betty's conversation with the alien leader, the difference between her and Barney's experience is given another dimension. Betty is initially offered an alien book by the extraterrestrials' leader but, after the intercession of his colleagues, is forced to return it. Upset about having to return her proof of the encounter, Betty becomes even more frustrated by the extraterrestrials' decision to not let the Hills remember what happened: "'I won't forget about it! You can take the book, but you can never, never, never make me forget! I'll remember if it is the last thing I do!' And he laughs and says, 'Maybe you will remember, I don't know. But I hope you don't. And it won't do you any good if you do, because Barney won't. Barney won't remember a single thing"' (177).
Thus, the text emphasizes the fact of the unevenness of access to historical memory. Insofar as The Interrupted Journey narrates the disruption of personal memory and historical recollection, it suggests that access to memory, and to history, in the postracial future is not available to everyone. The aliens suggest that Betty might forget, and the text hints that she forgets because she chooses to, intimating that she wanted to please the alien leader. When asked by Dr Simon about why she would keep her experience a secret, Betty replies, "Because I wanted to please the leader, because he told me to forget it" (180). Barney, meanwhile, has no choice in the matter. The text itself consistently obscures Barney Hill's version of things. Historical memory and recollection, especially for Barney Hill, is available only at the discretion of others, whether they be the aliens, Dr Simon, Fuller, or even his wife, who urges him to come forward with their experience. As Brown has argued, "abduction is a site of struggle over one's own psyche, the truth of one's memory and personal history" (71). However, this is a one-sided struggle. The power relations in the abduction narrative put control over memory and personal history squarely in the hands of various authorities, denying Barney any mastery over his own identity. Just as the alien technologies of dermal penetration have filed race away into an archive, it has placed historical memory away in a hidden file as well. Fuller's attempts to deny race throughout the text, and the unevenness of the treatment visited upon Betty and Barney Hill, suggest that this is, in large part, a racially-inflected project. Zhe Interrupted Journey posits that the postracial future cannot transcend the historical traumas inflicted by slavery; rather, it suggests that it may be complicit with them.
In this essay, I have admittedly instituted my own version of "missing time" by reading Gilroy's text, a product of the early twenty-first century, through a lens that was compiled nearly four decades earlier. In doing so, my goal is not to suggest that The Interrupted Journey accurately forecasted the future of raciology in the United States. Rather, my purpose is to suggest that for some the sort of technologically enhanced future Paul Gilroy imagines, where the logic of the skin has been transformed into a weary anachronism, incorporates in its most incipient forms the prospect of an alternative trajectory. This road does not end in a utopian postracial humanism but a cold, a historical future where history can be, and is, selectively deleted. The Interrupted Journey, when positioned in dialogue with Between Camps, reminds us that the imaging technologies in which Gilroy sees so much promise are the product of a time when, even as the Civil Rights movement allowed an interracial couple the simple freedom to be seen in public together, the politics of race were still very much predicated by narratives outside of the power of those who were affected the most. Moreover, The Interrupted Journey compels us to consider the danger in subscribing to future-oriented utopianism when the issues of the past and the present still need to be addressed.
As Claudia Castaneda has argued regarding a digitalized postracial future, "[R]acism does not consist in the establishment of a hierarchy for domination based on biologized or even culturized difference. Its violence consists in the evacuation of histories of domination and resistance" (quoted in Haraway 265). In the alien future, the body is an archive, bereft of historical significance aside from its value as a piece of data. When racial data is moved to the subdermal level, any historical value of racial difference that lies in the affective power of Barney Hill's skin as a visible reminder of racial oppression in the United States becomes absolutely remote, irretrievable not only to the inexpert observer but even to Barney Hill himself. Without mastery of the technologies of the alien, in the postracial future, Barney Hill is effectively divorced from his own history. Just as he is consistently shunted aside in The Interrupted journey, denied the ability to converse with the future humans on board the alien ship, and unable to give voice to his trauma, the history of racial oppression in the United States will be concealed, accessible only when those who control the powerful imaging technologies allow it.
When Paul Gilroy envisions his postracial future, where "the body is nothing more than an incidental moment in the transmission of code and information" (36), he does not consider who might have access to this code or who might be able to manipulate it to their own ends. In contradistinction to Gilroy's vision of a postracial future where the shifting "optic density" of the body announces the superseding of dermopolitics by the happy arrival of nanopolitics, The Interrupted Journey posits that the technologization of raciology may result in the evacuation of historical memory and, in addition, historical affect. The extraterrestrial future humans are hyperrational and emotionless; they have no concept of history and no need for feeling. In their spacecraft, Barney Hill is not an African American man, with all the history that that implies; he is a collection of data for analysis. The trauma of the alien abduction experience lies in the anxiety that this alien future is endpoint for the incipient technologies of bodily imaging and genetics: not the transcendence of race but its deletion by the uncannily inhuman extraterrestrials. In the end, Zhe Interrupted Journey functions as an artifact from the past that orients itself, as Gilroy suggests we should, to the future. However, it provides a sober second thought to Gilroy's utopianism. Indeed, the significance of The Interrupted Journey is its value as a register of broader anxieties regarding the future of race in America, positioned as it is in a period where issues of racial justice were increasing in prominence in the United States. As much as the civil rights movement with which Betty and Barney Hill were involved offers the possibility of a future where one's race need not be an impediment, the text animates the fear that racist power still has the means to consolidate itself invisibly, at the microscopic level in which Gilroy places his hopes.
I would like to thank Pauline Wakeham, Bryce Traister, Christopher Keep, Julia Emberley, and Sarah Pesce for their invaluable feedback on the various incarnations of this essay. I would also like to thank the participants in the "Close Encounters and Colliding Worlds" panel of the zoo? meeting of the Canadian Association of American Studies, where I presented an earlier version of this paper.
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Fuller, John G. The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours 'Aboard a Flying Saucer." New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1966.
Gilroy Paul. Between Camps: Nations, Cultures, and the Allure of Race. 2000; New York: Routledge, 2004.
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White, Luise. "Alien Nation: The Hidden Obsession of UFO Literature: Race in Space." Transition 63 (1994): 24-33.
(1) Generally, investigations of the genre have posited that alien abduction narratives present a vision of the transcendence of race. In her review essay "Alien Nation: The Hidden Obsession of UFO Literature: Race in Space," Luise White remarks that "abduction narratives, as a genre, have a curious tendency to organize themselves as stories about race" to the point that "[w]ithout notions of racial difference, there is virtually no abduction literature" (25). She ultimately argues that the abduction narrative homogenizes earthly racial differences and re-positions them against an extraterrestrial Other, thus revealing "how unessential and artificial a concept of race is" (31). Jonathan Z. Smith agrees; in "Close Encounters of Diverse Kinds," he maintains that the homogenous alien body "is a striking exaggeration of our commonsense belief ... that there is an essential core of human sameness, and, therefore, that difference is accidental" (15). Christopher Roth, however, understands the abduction scenario and its attendant "discipline; ufology, as a means to comprehend racial diversity (39). Ufology, he says, is a form of anthropology that is "all about race, and it has more to do with terrestrial schema as social and cultural constructs than most UFO believers are aware" (41). The Hill case, he argues, "grasps for a position from which white and black Americans can ponder, resolve, and transcend racial divisions. Like the 1960s themselves, the Hill abduction was terrifying, but with a note of optimism" (61).
(2) Keyhoe's book, The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, argues that "the Air Force was making a serious effort to discredit all UFO sightings, at the expense of open scientific inquiry" (Fuller 29).
(3) The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has played a role in advocating for African American rights since early in the twentieth century; in the 1960s, the organization participated in a number of efforts to secure civil rights legislation including, most visibly, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.
(4) Jackson's article "'In Ways Unacademicaf: The Reception of Carleton S. Coon's The Origin of Races" provides a useful overview of Putnam's project and the state of pseudoscientific anthropology in the 1960s.
University of Western Ontario
DAVID DRYSDALE is a doctoral student at the University of Western Ontario. His dissertation examines the relationships between insurgency, empire, and nation in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.
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|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2008|
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