Community in Parable of Talents and Andrea Smith’s Conquest.

While reading excerpts from Books of the Living, the idea of how people should act together as a community really struck me. Lauren truly lived by that mentality because she would gather everyone in Acorn for a weekly meeting and whenever something was proposed, all would discuss it. Objections would be heard out, and there would be discussions and votes.

In small communities, she believed, people are more accountable to one another. Serious misbehavior is harder to get away with, harder even to begin when everyone who sees you knows who you are, where you live, who your family is, and whether you have any business doing what you’re doing. (171)

This idea about communities reminds me of Andrea Smith’s Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, specifically how we must work as a community to make a new justice system apart from jails, because jails are just growing bigger and there is, at times, no true justice. It’s not a good justice system. One proposed idea was something like Olamina’s–accountability, but this is something that would only work in small communities without much travel. Continue reading Community in Parable of Talents and Andrea Smith’s Conquest.

“Self-Reliance” and Parable of the Talents

You all know how I feel about Lauren’s quest to start a new religion and gain followers. But, I am not so stubborn as to overlook and appreciate the philosophical intellect she offers. This particular segment stands out to me:

“I don’t know how to do it. That scares me to death sometimes – always feeling driven to do something I don’t know how to do. But I’m learning as I go along. And I’ve learned that I have to be careful how I talk about all this, even to Acorn. Bankole isn’t the only one of us who doesn’t see the possibility of doing anything he hasn’t seen done by others.”

Right away I connected this idea to one presented in an essay by the brilliant Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the first paragraph, he states: Continue reading “Self-Reliance” and Parable of the Talents

Questions: Lauren’s Authority

One thing that has stood out to me from the start of the Parable series is Lauren’s unquestioned power and authority. I think that one reason Lauren’s relationship with Bankole never made me uncomfortable is that Lauren is the leader of the group, in spite of her age, gender, and lack of experience outside of a walled community. Although she is an eighteen-year-old black woman, she holds more power than Bankole or any other member of the group with whom they come to be traveling. She is listened to, and she is taken seriously, and members accept this structure almost without question. Interestingly, perhaps unfortunately, Lauren’s authority seemed more unbelievable to me and brought up more questions for me than the age difference between her and Bankole (potentially only because her power is revealed before their romantic relationship begins in Parable of the Sower). Continue reading Questions: Lauren’s Authority

Two “Ways:” Olamina’s Books of the Living Compared with the Daodejing

While reading Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, I could not help but note the similarities between Lauren Olamina’s ideas and those of Laotzu, the mythic author of the Daodejing (the foundational text for Daoism, translated approximately as “The Classic of Dao (The Way) and De (Virtue)”). The two texts bear striking resemblances in their “historical” roots, style, and philosophical underpinnings.
Continue reading Two “Ways:” Olamina’s Books of the Living Compared with the Daodejing

Technologies that Limit Access

I remember reading an article not too long ago that celebrated one young man’s new vision for firearms with finger-printing technology–an innovation that at first glance seemed too good to be true. And I have to admit, I thought the idea was great. Second amendment debates typically boil down to how we ensure that the “wrong people” don’t get ahold of firearms. So a technology that limits access to a weapon seems pretty sensible–that is until you read Butler’s Parable of the Talents. Continue reading Technologies that Limit Access

Connection Between Lauren Olamina and MSNBC

Upon turning on the TV tonight, I came across the live news coverage of the current situation in Baltimore, MD. As I’m sure many of you know, there have been riots and protests there following the unjust death of Freddie Gray which was a result of brutal police actions. On the news, one of the captions on the bottom of the screen read: ” ‘Criminals’ started fire outside of library.”  Continue reading Connection Between Lauren Olamina and MSNBC

The Parable of Baltimore

The recent news of riots turned chaos in Baltimore have an eerie similarity to the speculative future that Octavia Butler writes about in her Parable series–a future where humans lose regard and respect for one another and revert to destructive means of fulfilling desires and surviving. Granted, the Baltimore riots haven’t taken over the country and created an apocalyptic reversion to naturalistic life, the insight with which Butler foretells the cultivation of primal conflicts is uncanny.  Just as John states in his recent blog, Octavia “has a knack for giving us some bleak futures to look forward to,” but I think that these speculatively bleak futures are imperative to explore as humanity attempts to avoid catastrophe. Continue reading The Parable of Baltimore

Anatomy in Xenogenesis and Parable of the Sower

During our class discussion on Friday, the benefits and drawbacks to Lauren’s hyper-empathy syndrome were brought into consideration, along with the fact that it is the world she operates within that consequently constructs her as ‘disabled’– as a result of an individual facet of her being that is both integral to who she is and just one of many things that makes her who she is. This ableist viewpoint contributes to the ‘other-ing’ we discussed, that often occurs when we deny a being the ability to be read as “human” as well as “healthy”, quickly moving us into a discussion centered on our society’s perspective towards visual impairment– specifically in regards to those that need glasses in order to see. Continue reading Anatomy in Xenogenesis and Parable of the Sower

The Worst Article Ever

Since everyone is doubtless beginning the scramble to finish their annotated bibliographies, I thought I would take a moment to blog about Nanda’s article “Power, Politics, and Domestic Desire in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood” – or as I have termed it, “The Worst Article Ever.”

The failings of this article are numerous, and I would like to begin by stating that I don’t think Nanda actually read the Xenogenesis series. On page 775, he describes Akin as “the first human-Oankali construct.” This is patently false: on literally the second page of the novel Adulthood Rites, Nikanj refers to Akin as “less human than your daughters” – which is a clear statement that Lilith has already given birth to female Oankali constructs. Akin is NOT the first construct, merely the first human-born male construct. The fact that Nanda misunderstands Akin’s importance on such a basic level blows my mind, but later in the article he one-ups himself. On page 777, he is talking about the implementation of the genetic trade and he describes the ooloi as “sub-adult Oankali.” I had to re-read this sentence several times, because it is so obviously wrong that I couldn’t believe that it got through editing. The ooloi are as adult as the males and females among the Oankali once they go through metamorphosis – how can Nanda not understand that? Does he actually think that three-way matings are mediated in this species by its pre-pubescent members? Has he been reading every ooloi in the series as a child this entire time?

The second thing I take serious issue with in this article is his unconscious sexism. He declares on page 780, “Men usually experience greater sexual desire than women.” In my paper copy, I wrote “What is this guy’s deal?” next to this sentence. I take serious issue with this idea because it feeds into the narrative that men are less responsible for their actions in cases of sexual assault and because it treats women as objects, as entities incapable of experiencing sexuality on equal terms with men and therefore entities to be exploited. The research I found was varied. Many scientific findings were statements like “women’s sex drives are more influenced by social and cultural factors,” “men seek sex more avidly than women,” and “women take a less direct route to sexual satisfaction.” These can all be viewed as symptomatic of a patriarchal system that conditions women not to take charge of themselves as independent sexual entities, and ideas like these that have scientific backing so poor that it does not investigate whether women are socially conditioned to conduct themselves the way they are observed only perpetuate these harmful ideas. Nanda goes on to congratulate Lilith on breaking this stereotype, but the way he phrased it reveals that he unconsciously perpetuates these ideas, and he has no business doing so in an article on the work of Octavia Butler.

On page 775, Nanda attempts to deal with Lilith’s situation as a captive. The text itself gives a better treatment of her predicament than Nanda’s article does, rendering irrelevant any function of literary criticism to enrich the text on which it is focused. Nanda goes on and on about how she is a “native foster mother” and thus simultaneously performs the functions of the state and works to subvert it. The Lilith Iyapo of the text is so much more rich than this interpretation that I have to accuse him of oversimplifying her situation and her as a character, and thereby erasing her. Lilith is a mother and in Dawn she does do the work of the Oankali in preparing the humans for Earth while feeling deeply conflicted about it. But she is so much more than that: she has genuine attachment and loyalty to Nikanj, she genuinely and consciously (if not unreservedly) buys into the Oankali’s vision, as exemplified when she tells Akin “when you feel a conflict, try to go the Oankali way. Embrace difference” (329). Viewing her as a mere product of cultural forces is interesting but insufficient, and I think that in trying to explain Lilith in these terms Nanda is in way over his head.

The final thing I want to criticize about this article is that Nanda is not able to shake the narrative he came into reading these books with that “the Oankali evoke European traders in their initial forays into establishing a colonial empire. The Oankali adroitly camouflage their colonizing intent, enforcing restrictive reproductive rights on humans, in a rhetoric of altruistic salvation,” despite overwhelming evidence in the text that undermines this assertion (775). The Oankali are utterly unlike European colonialists – they are able to listen when Akin tells them that the human race deserves a second chance at independent evolution on Mars. This blatantly flies in the face of the history of European colonialism, which has never been able to truly “embrace difference.” It took no wars of revolution for the Oankali to stop their restrictive reproduction policies, showing that the Oankali are truly not ultimately motivated by a desire to consume everything around them. The Oankali seek difference, but they are capable of creating it as well, and that is where the comparison to European colonialism falls short, Nanda.

If you are considering reading this article for one of your annotations, I have one piece of sage advise – don’t.