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Vampires and Cyborgs: Transhuman Ability and Ableism in the work of Octavia Butler and Janelle Monáe

 

The afrofuturist dystopic visions of Octavia Butler and Janelle Monáe tip on the tightrope of critical disability studies through the possibilities and limitations they reveal for post-human bodies. In Butler’s speculative fiction, disabled characters are gifted with transhuman abilities that are also impairments, making them hypervisible vulnerable targets of violence. Ableism in her texts is both challenged and reinforced by narratives that value interdependence yet punish through impairment. Genre defying musician Janelle Monáe enacts the same duality in her own work. In her first album-length project, Monáe explores cyborg identity and uses schizophrenia as a metaphor for freedom. She embraces her “crazy,” but her liberal use of the term, along with the equally contested appellation “schizo,” fosters an ambivalent reception to the disability justice content in her work.

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