Dr Paula James addressed the British Science Fiction Association

Paula James, Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies, was invited to address the seventh British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) lecture at their convention in London last week.

Where the Hay Lecture invites scientists, the BSFA Lecture invites academics from the arts and humanities, because they recognise that science fiction fans are not only interested in science.

The lecturers are given a remit to speak “on a subject that is likely to be of interest to science fiction fans” – i.e. on whatever they want! Paula’s lecture was titled ‘Pygmalion’s Statue and her Synthetic Sisters: The Perfect Woman on Screen′.

Paula had an appreciative audience who loved the movie clips. She showed scenes from the 1948 One Touch of Venus and the British 1949 movie The Perfect Woman. These opening visuals illustrated how the ivory statue who becomes a real girl for Pygmalion can be viewed as Venus (a goddess brought down to earth and woken with a kiss) or the automaton (an advanced piece of technical wizardry) – either way she is likely to be socially a bit artless, unpredictable and sometimes downright dangerous.

With Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode ‘I was made to love you’ Paula highlighted how the manufactured and uncanny creature can remind us what being an independent human is about. She used the film Lars and Real Girl to demonstrate that even a crudely constructed silicone doll can be imprinted with noble qualities by her purchaser and by the community that supports him in his illusion.

Paula ended with Simone or Simulation One, a movie where the computer generated actress takes on a life of her own and dwarfs the director who has designed her when the cinema public embrace her as super talented, authentic and honest!

Paula is still finding things to say about Ovid’s poetic narrative (Pygmalion is in Metamorphoses, Book 10) and the way in which living and breathing women are made over (or even make themselves over in a Narcissistic way) into a male ideal of perfection – while the synthetic sisters might suffer from a surfeit of humanity and altruism which puts flesh and blood humans to shame. Pygmalion is often the emotionally ossified creator who needs bringing to life.

Paula began her academic career after raising her family, and joined the OU in the 1990s.

She is an expert in Latin Literature, particularly the Metamorphoses of Ovid and Apuleius. She also writes on the reception of Latin texts in modern cinema.

She has written an excellent introduction to Ancient Rome, Understand Roman Civilization, now in its second edition, and has jointly edited works on the imagery of Trade Union banners and the parrot in literature.

Her most recent book is Ovid’s Myth of Pygmalion on Screen: In Pursuit of the Perfect Woman (2013).

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