Doro, Fungible Bodies, and Performance in Wild Seed

I want to return to a part of last week’s discussions where the groups were asked to “judge” the characters of Wild Seed, and then offer “push-backs” on those judgments. From what I took of it, the majority of time was spent on the character Doro, who for many reasons occupies the position most closely associated with the “antagonist” in the novel, (although that categorization too is up for debate). Nevertheless, one thing that guided this exercise was the remark given by Butler herself in an interview (paraphrased in class by Dr. McCoy) in which she insists that she never writes Manichean good guys vs. bad guys narratives only to be seen in black and white. Rather, Butler argues that all characters represented in her works should be able to defend their respective positionality. In the case of Doro, who was initially negatively judged (for his vanity, deviance, and murderous behavior among other things), the responses and push-backs to such negative characterizations mostly pertained to his inability to avoid killing. It was argued that Doro’s existence is predicated on a primal act of violence, namely murder, and with what began as a traumatic event of parricide has since been for Doro the countless repetition of inescapable killings that span millennia.

Now while it may seem from all this that Doro simply has no choice in the matter, at times Doro’s actions suggest that beyond the necessity of survival, Doro actually appropriates and disposes of bodies as a display of power that, through sheer spectacle, undergirds his ultimate control over communities of people and the development of his engineered societies. Indeed, for Doro the human body is constructed as fungible, meaning exchangeable, replaceable, or up for mutual substitution, like certain commodities. Moreover, Doro has been appropriating, circulating and disposing of bodies for centuries as he traversed the globe constructing his genetically engineered societies of kin. In the case of the Atlantic Slave Trade, this “circum-Atlantic” performance or exchange of goods, that, as described by scholar Joseph Roach, included the captive bodies of West Africans, can only be construed as one of many representational frameworks of the apparent fungibility of bodies in the longue durée of Doro’s violent career. Redeploying the words of Frank B. Wilderson III, it may be the case that Doro’s violence “precedes and exceeds” this history.

In regard to Doro’s willed formation of societies of genetically-engineered bodies, Doro pursues excessive violence that, to him, is necessary to the prolongation and stability of his societies themselves. As it is described in Wild Seed, if some member of Wheatley tried to escape after having resisted Doro’s orders or wishes, Doro would inevitably hunt the person down after a number of days, and return to the town wearing the body of the escapee. Such a spectacular and public display of Doro’s power would thereby produce an internalization of the fungibility of one’s own body in the rest of the community, deterring others from potential resistance. Here, following the language of Roach, by wearing the deviant body Doro effectively “performs” or “spends” (as in dispenses with) it as waste in order to prolong the stable cohesion of his micro-colonies. This is what Roach means when he defines this type of ritual violence as “the performance of waste.” While Roach admits that, “Whether this excess expenditure is itself an absolute necessity in the establishment of what we call culture is another question,” (Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance 41) it remains clear that Doro’s ritualized sacrifice of seemingly fungible bodies forms a central part to any discussion on the free-will and consent of Doro’s “subjects,” ranging from Isaac to Anyanwu, from Jonathan to Nweke.

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