In class on Wednesday we judged characters in Octavia Butler’s novel, Wild Seed for being immoral, inhumane, coercive, hypocritical, stubborn, self-righteous, and generally exhibiting extremely disturbing behavior. In reading Mark Bittman’s recent column in The New York Times entitled “What is the purpose of society?” I immediately began drawing comparisons between the characters we were judging in Butler’s fiction and Americans in terms of how they live in and interact with their respective living environments. Bittman puts forth this argument in his article: Continue reading The Purpose of Society
When we were asked in class to discuss our “alarms” in Fledgling, I was relieved to have that discussion, as I found several aspects of the novel extremely problematic and difficult to read. My main issues were with Wright’s relationship with Shori and the question of both parties’ ability to consent to a sexual relationship. Wright’s ability to consent to Shori’s advances is clearly questionable, due to his addiction to and biological dependence on her venom. Although their relationship may seem mutually beneficial, it raises the question of whether he was an active party or whether he was effectively drugged into compliance. Does their relationship consequently constitute rape on Shori’s part? This question alone was perturbing enough, but the addition of the pedophilic undertones in their relationship provoked the additional concern of whether Wright, despite Shori’s mental age, was essentially complicit in statutory rape.
As “I awoke to darkness,” we– meaning, the unnamed character narrator and us, the readers, are both put in an identical situation (1). Custom and social tradition forgotten, Butler lays us in a destroyed world where “I was hungry– starving!– and I was in pain. There was nothing in my world but hunger and pain, no other people, no other time, no other feelings,” (1). Though Shori is not human, her hungers and abilities seem to exaggerate human qualities and needs– Butler “reduces to the absurd” human hungers in order to draw attention to details too small or unremembered that do, in fact, have enormous consequences.
Theodora’s reaction to Shori when she asks her to live with her: pg 91: “You are a vampire”, she said. “Although, according to what I read, you’re supposed to be a tall, handsome, fully grown, white man. Just my luck.”
Her reaction seems to indicate more than a comment on traditional vampire lore. Rather, she seems to comment on their sexual relationship. It is clear and obvious that Shori is attracted to Theodora, and evidently vice versa. I wonder then, if this initial reaction to what Shori is is Theodora stepping back from what she seems to perceive as unexpected. In their sexual relationship, Shori’s dominance over her (something else I would like to talk about later in this post) seems to be typical of the masculine quality of a heterosexual relationship. Her aggressiveness is unexpected, her control over Theodora ‘should’ only come from a man. From Theodora’s comments on her family, it seems that she had lived her life up to that point as heterosexual. She has children, I believe her husband died. However, this is again presumptuous and my assumption reeks of the societal acceptance of heteronormativity as “expected”, rather than the tolerance of all types of sexual and non-sexual relationships (asexuality) that encompass the scope of intimacy. Nevertheless, this reaction to Shori’s advances seems to point towards the atypicality of homosexual relationships. The inclusion that Shori should be a “white man” also points toward her atypicality of her race, another comment on society’s unacceptance of “unexpected” relationships, this time interracial ones. This is despite the growing rights both groups have achieved. Studies like Project Implicit, a Harvard study that tests for implicit racism come to mind when I think about how far we are from full acceptance of race and sexual orientation. Futher, it seems that Butler has indeed used vampirism as a way to talk about the “unexpected”: issues of race, family, birthright, and sexuality, something I thought was missing from the novel. I understood that Shori’s blackness and memory loss were metaphors for talking about complicated issues, but I was so used to writers of vampire lore to use the alien-ness of vampirism as a metaphor for other things that are “foreign” to the majority; in the same way a Black woman would be viewed as “foreign” or “non-human” to prejudiced whites through colonialism and post-colonialism, a Black Ina would also be seen as “foreign” and “non-Ina” to prejudiced vampires.
As observed in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, sometimes the reasons that people stay together are fairly complicated. Sometimes, people stay together for bad reasons. Sometimes, in staying together, people ultimately detriment themselves, but for some reason they remain together all the same. There is a good deal of speculation that surrounds abusive relationships. Too often when people hear of a bad relationship, they wonder why the individual being abused didn’t just leave. Shori’s relationship with her symbionts, while physically beneficial (as she improves their health substantially and the physical act of taking their blood feels good) is emotionally parasitic, though this may not be her intent.
The issue of consent has been at the forefront of my mind since I’ve learned about the parameters of what free will is and what force is. Nashwa Khan in her article “What’s happening in the Mindy project is Not Okay”, she discusses how important consent is but how it is undervalued in the show The Mindy Project. I too like the show and have heard problematic things be said on it. This episode was no different. I had realized that Danny; Mindy’s boyfriend, did not ask to penetrate her in that manner but I did not realize that he never formally apologized for his actions as the episode progressed. I also did not see that the excuses he made were so typical of our society that sometimes leaves men unaccountable for their actions. Continue reading Was Consent Present?
I have never been able to understand the idea of one person claiming inherent dominance over another for any reason, let alone for reasons such as race or gender. There should never be an instance where a person may hold control over a second person without the second person’s explicit consent. While the larger power dynamics of the world are so complicated that they often rely on tacit consent to claim dominance, be it in government, school or other established institutions, in issues of consent regarding sexual conduct, there should never be a middle ground. In the small scope of the argument are documents such as SUNY Geneseo’s own code of conduct which define the term consent and what it means to give consent using terms from state laws on the topic. While these laws governing consent are especially important in a college environment, it seems that people see a lot of grey area when it comes to the idea of consent, especially with the current “hook-up culture” that seems to have ingrained itself in college communities. Continue reading The Effect of Hook-Up Culture
What is memory?
Try typing the term ‘memory’ into Google. The search results are far from simple and yield answers from assorted fields such as theory, psychology, and neurology. However, they all have one concept in common, defined as the following by google’s dictionary: “the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information”. Such an intense focus on memory appears to indicate a correlation between our personal past and our definition of self. This indication leads us to new paths of thought.
Does memory make us who we are, who we will be, and define how we will get there?
Nikita’s previous post on naming draws attention to an important point in our study of Butler’s work: naming and categorizing objects, people, art forms, etc. and how nomenclature inherently changes the way something is defined – and therefore alters the way an audience perceives and thinks about the presence of the object or person. Nikita asserts that people who believe Bloodchild is about slavery limit their understanding of the story because of the way they categorize it; thus, in Nikita’s words, Butler’s art form becomes one that “that define[s] her as only able to confront issues of slavery or the African-American/ African-Diasporic experience(s).” If I am operating under a correct interpretation of Nikita’s post, he inexplicitly suggests that by re-naming or re-categorizing an object, it will take on new definitions and interpretations. Often in Fledgling, a character’s identity, and the way a reader perceives a character, is symptomatized by the many ways that the character is categorized. With each new reasonable categorization of a character, the novel becomes more complicated and tackles more and more subject matter. Although Butler openly states her annoyance for the categorization of her work, the importance of her text relies so heavily on the way her characters are analyzed and characterized; Theri Pickens, in her essay “Theorizing Race, Gender, and Disability in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling,” argues that an improper interpretation of disability in Fledgling will cause readers to subordinate disability to “presumably, more important identity categories,” when disability in Fledgling should in fact be taken very seriously. To put it another way, the identity categories we place characters into are massively important—after all, how would our interpretation of Fledgling change if we didn’t identify and categorize Shori as a black Ina woman and Theodora as a white human woman? I think most of us in the class could agree on several basic—yet important—identity categories for the characters in Fledgling; of these, a few might include Wright as a human, symbiont, white, straight, and male. Likewise, most of us could agree that Shori is an Ina, black, queer, and female. I’d like to explore a more a less conventional identity category in Fledgling—the idea of Shori as a cannibal. Continue reading Categorizing and Cannibalizing
While reading Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler discussed how most science fiction novels deal with religion. She begins by explaining, “…science fiction tends not to deal with religion, and when it does deal with it, it’s with contempt. Science fiction seems more interested in machines than in people. It tends to dismiss religion.” 9 She goes on by wishing that the human race could outgrow religion and depend more on ethical systems that did not involve “the Big Policeman in the sky.” Right away I thought about how this idea is presented in Wild Seed. Continue reading Religion in the Wild Seed