Monthly Archives: March 2015

Eugenics and Reproductive Violence

Tala Khanmalek’s article in the Feminist Wire, “Slavery: The Haunting Legacy of Sterilization Abuse in California State Prisons,” begins by reporting that between 2006 and 2010 around 150 women were sterilized in California prisons without their consent. Khanmalek cites this statistic from an article in the Huffington post by Alex Stem (“Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenic Patterns”) which focuses on the general context of such eugenic programs and makes the claim: “What current and past [eugenic] practices share is the assumption that some women by virtue of their class position, sexual behavior, or ethnic identity are socially unfit to reproduce and parent.” Khanmalek has a slightly different central argument and instead of framing the incident in California in the general context of eugenics she frames it within a history of, “state-sanctioned reproductive regulation targeting women of color.” I think this framework is particularly useful in developing our understanding of Butler as it allows us to link a few instances of violence that I at least found very troubling, which provides a new way to understand them. Continue reading Eugenics and Reproductive Violence

A Very Troubling & Allegorical Parallelism

The other day, I happened to be glancing over the schedule and I noticed that we’d be talking about Survivor this Friday. And just at that moment, I immediately remembered that I had wanted to right a very brief but contemplative blog post about that one time that we read a few pages of Survivor together as a class. I remember Beth saying that Survivor is the most allegorical novel of Butler’s Patternist Series which makes it so much easier (and fun) to infer parallelisms. Yet, the parallel that came to me troubles me more than anything else, even if I find it very intriguing. On page 36, in the Survivor packet that we were given before Spring Break, there is a short scene in which Jules, Alanna, and Neila come across a distorted corpse in a sealed compartment on the very ship that they had flown in on, “It was the body of a young man, dressed in the bright-colored style of the city of Forsyth. His body was short and squat and his head large. His forehead bulged strangely on one side and seemed almost sunken on the other. His mouth was slack and half open, drooling…To Neila and Alanna, he said, ‘There are all kinds of slaves.'”  Continue reading A Very Troubling & Allegorical Parallelism

Thoughts on Vint’s Article

I found Sherryl Vint’s article “Becoming Other: Animals, Kinship, And Butler’s ‘Clay’s Ark'” to be intriguing because I really wasn’t familiar with any of the ideas regarding the species boundary, thus I didn’t have the capacity to think about Clay’s Ark or judge Butler’s intentions using the terms and theories explained in the article while reading the book. Continue reading Thoughts on Vint’s Article

Advantage, Evolution, and Connection in the works of Octavia Butler

While reading Govan’s article “Connections, Links, and Extended Networks: Patterns in Octavia Butler’s Science Fiction,” I was struck by the following passage:

“In each story, a physical, psychic, or attitudinal difference associated with the heroine sets her apart from society and often places her in jeopardy; each survives because her ‘difference’ brings with it a greater faculty for constructive change” (84).

It struck me that this true without exception in every one of Butler’s novels we have read so far: Shori had the ability to walk in the daylight, Anyanwu had the unprecedented power to control every cell in her body, Mary created the Pattern, the disease spread in Clay’s Ark and the infected survived because of heightened physical abilities and their symbiotic relationship with a micro-organism that utterly hijacks all forms of terrestrial life, and Teray had almost all of Coransee’s psionic strength plus extremely fine perception and control over biological matter. Virtually every protagonist in Octavia Butler’s novels is more evolved and ultimately more adaptable than those around them. Continue reading Advantage, Evolution, and Connection in the works of Octavia Butler

Schoolboy Teray

In class when we were discussing why Professor McCoy should like Patternmaster and then why she should dislike Patternmaster, a student made a comment about how the character Teray was based on Octavia Butler’s first boyfriend. He then mentioned how he had connected this fact to how in the book Teray is always looked at as a boy fresh out of school. Since I heard this comment in class, I have not been able to get it out of my head. When I continued to read the book, I noticed how often the characters mentioned that Teray had only recently graduated, and I also took note of how his personality reflected this fact. It almost seems to dominate his character and his presence in the book over all.

Continue reading Schoolboy Teray

The Human/Animal Boundary in the Patternist Series

Danielle’s post “Uncontrolled Contagion” really resonated with me when she stated, in the last paragraph, that the domination of the “lesser” peoples, mainly that of the mutes and the Clayarks, in the Patternist series should serve as a warning sign to the reader of what such intolerances between cultures might entail: which, in her words was doomed to result in “rip[ping] society and eventually the world apart.” This enabled me to think about the binary structures that we as human beings create in order to define ourselves as a species by means of juxtaposition. It is no secret that we, as people, fear what is different—we see or we read about something that is socially, culturally, and/or biologically foreign to our own way of life and ways of being, and, suddenly, as a culture, we conclude that this society, alien to our own, is in some way as threatening as it is antagonistic; as dangerously hostile as it is distinct. In short: we fear what we do not know. Therefore, what better way to greater solidify our own identity as a species, than to define what is not objectively “us” as “Other” and thereby, “inferior”?

Continue reading The Human/Animal Boundary in the Patternist Series

“Positive Obsession” and Disease

Clay’s Ark left me with so many questions. It got me thinking about when we discussed who was truly at fault for the spread of this deadly disease. There are so many ways that people can look at this, whether they choose to fluctuate between having good intetions vs. not having good intentions. Personally, I can’t really blame Blake…although the spread of the disease was definitely on him. It is funny how one interaction led to such a deadly epidemic despite all the effort that Eli put towards controlling it. But, If I had to blame anyone it would definitely be Eli. I understand that the disease caused compulsions that led to  the control of the thoughts and actions of the host such as when Eli kidnapped Blake and his daughters, but if I had to pin this apocalypic ending on anyone it would be Eli. The ending of this novel really saddened me, because not only did Blake die but so did Rane. Keira, the one who everyone thought wouldn’t make was the only survivor of her immediate family. Because Butler is the author, this doesn’t surprise me whatsoever. After all, she loves to keep us guessing by playing  with the concept of strength and ability.

Strangely enough, This novel reminded me of Butler’s essay “Positive Obsession.” On page 133, she described her positive obsession of writing. She explained how she felt it was dangerous because she couldn’t stop. In her essay, Butler stated that positive obsession involved not being able to stop which is very similar to the spread of the disease in Clay’s Ark. Although this essay was geared toward writing science fiction, the disease acted in an extremely similar manner. It never stop changing and dissolving humanity and was very dangerous in this way. I feel like Clay’s Ark  took the concept of Butler’s possitive obsession with science fiction head on by representing it through this extraterrestrial disease. Butler’s fiction changes and dissolves humanity in Fledgling when human symbionts abandon their culture, in Clay’s Ark when humans contract a disease that changes their DNA and causes them to become more animalistic, and in Wild Seed where many slaves are treated as less than human.

Enslavement in Contemporary Society

As I was reading Madhu Dubey’s “Octavia Butler’s Novels of Enslavement” article I started to think about our own society. The article discusses chattel slavery in comparison to Butler’s plot in her Pattern series. I looked back at the cover of novel and saw Seed to Harvest. I wonder about America’s slavery as a seed to foster or harvest the historical remnants that exist today. The wordplay got me to think further about Doro planting the seed of slavery, which later developed a world where one group dominates. The group that dominates would obviously be the Patternists, and the Pattern Master as the leader. The Pattern Master being the only one who controls everyone reminds me of a dictatorship, which further places emphasizes on slavery. There’s a further emphasize on slavery because the Pattern Master is similar to a slave owner. To expand on this notion the Pattern Master is on a hypothetical throne like the slave master. Like most dictators and slaves masters they are overthrown, and or power is passed down. We see this conversion twice in Mind of My Mind and Patternmaster where potent political positions change. In Mind of My Mind Doro is killed by Mary and power dynamics are changed. Similarly, Teray is handed control by the Pattern Master. The changing of dominance can be related to abolishing slavery and the change in authority that occurs within. The South loses the driving economic force of slavery, but it has already left its lasting impact on the U.S. Fast forward to today slavery is still a painful reminder of America’s unsettled past. I mean just two years ago Mississppi officially ratified the 13th Amendment. On similar note we can see the remains of slavery in other countries such as Dominican Republic, which shows the extent of slavery’s affects on a global scale. Here are two articles on both matters.


A Hypochondriac’s Response

As a self proclaimed (and fairly vocal) hypochondriac, Clay’s Ark was alarming to me from the first mention of infection. While taking breaks from reading, I found myself washing my hands excessively and feeling strangely uneasy while shaking hands. I can’t imagine that I am the only reader who has this anxiety surface while reading Butler’s work. As I continued reading, however, I found myself moving past my own irrational fears regarding my own health to the “irresponsible” way I truly believed this community lived. I couldn’t help but judge and be angry with the people who have the disease. I connected with Blake right away, wanting to support his every effort to save his daughters and get away from the infected people, find a hospital, and allow science to do its job and stop the infection. Although I know this was an unrealistic hope, thinking that just by sharing the knowledge of ClayArk disease with authorities and medical personnel that the world would be saved, those infected would be cured, their children might have the chance of having a normal life and the world would stay blissfully safe from this brewing epidemic.

Clearly my strong, and overwhelmingly negative reaction was not as tolerant as I would hope I could be. Apparently, threat overtakes tolerance in a way I could not have imagined. Because I imagined the world being transformed completely by these infected people, I never gave myself the opportunity to accept their differences (and realistically, calm myself about the dangers and give the infected people some credit about how hard they work to contain their disease). I found an audio interview and short essay outlining Butler’s views on what scares us, as humans. Although she does not specifically bring up Clay’s Ark, she does talk about all of the things that get in the way of tolerance. Her laundry list includes, “ignorance, fear, disease, hunger, suspicion, hatred, war” (NPR). My fear of the spreading disease, my initial ignorance about how it was being responsibly dealt with, and my hunger for Blake to succeed in eliminating this disease in the most traditional way makes me, the reader realize how I stood in the way of my own tolerance of Butler’s world, by allowing these fears and premonitions cloud my judgment. Although Clay’s Ark is not necessarily a novel about tolerance, my initial foreboding left me no choice but to recognize my own intolerance. Thankfully, in her comments to NPR, Butler allows us, as humans to accept these faults as long as we work to repair them. Butler explains that, “tolerance, like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed, and, if we’re as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned” (NPR).

The Sacred Image and Transwomen in Butler’s fiction

In reading the excerpt from Survivor in class I was struck most by the idea of the ‘Sacred Image.’ My understanding of the Sacred Image is that it is the human form—the shape of, “The Lord God who made man in his own image” (28). I think that there is a really interesting ablest reading here which we alluded to in our class discussion and has been an ongoing theme in Butler’s work—I’m reminded of when Dr. McCoy challenged the idea of the sanctity of the human shape in Clay’s Ark by asking how someone without a hand would then be fit into the definition of human. However, what I was most curious about was how transgendered people would be affected by an obsession with the Sacred Image. Continue reading The Sacred Image and Transwomen in Butler’s fiction