More on naming and power in fledgling

Having read and been inspired by Hanna Richman’s previous post on “The Relationship between Naming and Dominance in fledgling,” I want to continue the discussion on the links between (and framing of) naming and power present in Octavia Butler’s fledgling. As Hanna described in her post, more than constituting a performance of dominance, the process of naming forms part what Foucault calls “the nomination of the visible,” a collective enterprise of identifying, categorizing, and defining that is part and parcel of the knowledge-building and visual paradigm so central to “the opening up of what is called modernity” (Fred Moten, “Black Mo’nin'”) in the nineteenth-century.  Indeed, the process of naming as illustrated in Fledgling operates, at least in part, in conjunction with this type of naming as a formation of knowledge (and thereby power). Again, as Hanna already described, what Pramod Nayar calls Wright’s “Adamic act” of naming the protagonist (Shori) Renee early on in the novel stands as a testament to the power dynamics already present in their relationship. (View Nayar’s article here.) In this way, Shori is “reborn” and immediately inscribed within a discursive formation as dictated by Wright.

Before returning to how Butler problematizes this framework in this same scene of the novel, I turn my attention to the series of posts that work through the tendency to mistakenly constrain interpretations of Butler’s work into ones that define her as only able to confront issues of slavery or the African-American/ African-Diasporic experience(s). For instance, as explicated in Andre Doeman’s earlier post, Butler remarks herself in the afterword of her short story Bloodchild that despite what people may think the story is not about slavery. In so doing, Butler transacts a form of resistance against the categorization of her as an artist; her artistic expression will not be strictly defined by the “epidermal schema,” (see Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks), which casts her as an “African-American woman writer” and thereby limits the themes she’s “supposed” to explore. In fact, returning to what was said earlier in this post, one may regard this seemingly repressive form of categorizing and defining Butler as an artist to be yet another reiteration of the inextricable links between modes of visuality, naming and power.

So again, while it may be tempting to discern in Wright’s naming of Renee a transitive assertion of power (and perhaps property, if considered the connotations of pet-ness present in the scene), and while it may be tempting to frame the ontological status of Shori as “bare life” in terms of its relationship with the neo-slave narrative, I encourage these interpretations to be rethought. In fact, what Nayar helps make clear is that Butler in the same scene actually destabilizes these processes of naming as unilateral impositions of authority and knowledge. For he writes, “Wright wishes to categorize the animal that has bitten and, though he does not know it yet, subjugated him…” which indicates that although Shori may seem to be at the disposal of Wright’s proclivities, in reality she has already exerted a form of control over him through her initial bite. In so doing, Butler has already begun to reassess the dynamics of power present in non-normative relationships, and casts Shori as the “center of the universe” (to paraphrase from Suzan-Lori Parks) around which a new bio-political “nomos” may be arranged.

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