Monthly Archives: February 2015

Utopian Thinking

Until today, I’ve been having trouble choosing a topic to blog about. I’ve been meticulously going through each topic that popped into my head until I came upon one that really got me thinking. When the professor gave us questions to think about at the end of class, I knew exactly which one would be my topic. The question was “What are the gains and losses of utopian thinking?” Continue reading Utopian Thinking

Ina in The Classroom

The teacher is like an Ina.

Today in class, as I sat listening to the overwhelming amount of information I so desire to have to learn from, I began to think that a/the teacher is an Ina. I began to think about power; my being there in the classroom, ‘willfully’ taking in the information as my own ‘want’ or is it a result of years of encouragement from parents, relatives, friends, and/or colleagues implanting that ‘will’ within me, asserting that education taught by a teacher will help you throughout your life. Can encouragement be a form of power, for instance, I encourage you to take action on something, while giving you reasons to take the action, and thus, you take action? Which calls forth the question, is encouragement bad? Continue reading Ina in The Classroom

Shori as Stateless

I was struck by the importance of personal relationships in the Ina legal system as well as by the way that Shori is depicted as someone without a cultural memory in Fledgling. The Ina community seems to be held together mostly through personal bonds and a shared sense of history and destiny. This focus actually started to make me uncomfortable as I was reading because it is so pervasive that the whole legal system seems to me to be based on the personal. I think this alarmed me because I realize that I subscribe to an ideology of an impartial legal system—though perhaps Butler is trying to get her readers to see those people who are persecuted by that system. Continue reading Shori as Stateless

The Failure of Ownership

By poking at Locke’s logic in his Second Treatise of Government I found myself specifically questioning his first premise of property. Do people really own themselves? (By “themselves” I mean both their physical body and their metaphysical self)

To answer my question I started by looking up the definition of the word own as a verb. The result, from the Oxford English Dictionary, reads, “To have or hold as one’s own; to have belonging to one, be the proprietor of, possess.” The first definition is immediately circular, as it defines own with the word own, and upon searching the other definitions I found an equally circular path.

This may explain why topics of ownership are all too frequently difficult to discuss or confusing. The dictionary, the purpose of which is to give a common understanding of language, fails. I believe this is evidence of people’s limited understanding of ownership. I was not satisfied with this conclusion. In order to provide clarity (and sanity) for myself I moved away from formal definitions of ownership to the implications of ownership.

Intuitively, ownership implies that people can control or manipulate a thing that they own based on feelings, morals, and reasons, barring anything opposing laws of physics. I avoid saying based on their feelings, reasons, and morals for two reasons; first in order to restrict my intuitive definition to one instance of ownership and avoid quickly circular definition , and second because I believe that feelings, reasons, and morals are not clearly owned by the person they inhabit.

Regarding the latter point I will draw upon Octavia Butler’s Fledgling for clarity. Shori is frequently stated to be a moral character. We see this when her father comments on how happy he is that Shori retained her previous moral structure as well as through her interactions with both humans and Ina. However, Butler makes sure to point out that Shori does not have complete ownership over the morals she follows. When Shori tells Iosif about accidentally killing the man in the cave Iosif responds, “You’ve forgotten who and what you are, but you still have at least some of the morality you were taught.” Butler identifies Shori’s family as the reasons for the moral structures she follows rather than her ownership of those morals. Of course Shori did at one point endorse the morals instilled in her by her family and therefore accept them as a sort of mental property, but the fact that she then loses her memory, essentially returning to a state of childhood, does not does not allow her  to endorse her morals again. Instead, Shori adheres to the morals instilled by her parents as a force of habit and therefore cannot claim ownership over those morals.

Understanding that Butler complicates the ideas of freedom within the realms of moral discourse, feeling, and reason allows us to view the implications of ownership in a new light. As I stated before ownership implies that a person can manipulate or control a thing they own based on feelings, morals, and reasons. For Butler, these “feelings, morals, and reasons,” may not always be up to them. In fact Fledgling revolves around a character whose feelings, morals, and reasons come largely from an act of nature (memory loss) or outside influence (the Silks). It seems that ownership both as a word and as a concept is doomed to failure from the start.


They’re Fired

While reading Fledgling by Octavia Butler, I found it crucial to pay specific attention to Butler’s creation of an Earth-like world that was not identical to the reader’s reality, but could still plausibly exist parallel to the reader’s own existence. Like many science-fiction novels, Butler’s narrative stays true to the scientific laws of the physical world, with the exception of her description of the Ina and their history. Considering that the Ina are a fictionalized species, or so I hope, and the laws that govern their world are similarly imagined, these details therefore become especially salient in analyzing her work as a whole. I was specifically interested in the repeated use of fire to vanquish Ina families and symbionts that were in connection with Shori. This repeated plot scenario became more poignant when I began to think of the symbolic, connotative value of fire as both a destructive and purifying force of nature. Continue reading They’re Fired

Defining Property Within Fledgling

One of the questions Locke discusses in Second Treatise of Government is “how any one should ever come to have a property in any thing,” which brought my attention to Butler’s notions of property within Fledgling. The relationships with Shori, and her symbionts definitely play in the conversation of property. Butler creates an interesting juxtaposition of consent and property when Shori bites her symbionts. One could argue that Shori’s symbionts did not consent to her bite, and are forced to become property because the symbionts have an attachment to Shori. In this context, a one-way relationship is shown. However, as Shori’s father Iosif explains to Wright, the relationship between Shori and him is a “mutualistic symbiosis” (Butler, 63). Furthermore, Iosif goes on to state that Wright knows he’s “joined with her” (Butler, 63). Butler’s diction here can certaintly convolute the status of the relationship even though Shori is technically using Wright as resource for her own benefit. Moreover, the manner that Shori uses Wright’s blood could be defined as; Locke would say “to make use of it (Wright) to the best advantage of life, and convenience.”

As previously stated, the constant usage of Wright’s blood and his attraction to Shori can be interpreted, as that Wright is fully Shori’s property as a one-way benefit. However, some critics might claim that it is a mutual relationship because Wright gains a longer life, and higher immune system from this exchange. This allows justification of Wright as a resource for Shori. Nonetheless, in chapter eight Iosif, while talking to Shori about her symbionts, uses words and phrases such as, “your people, let them, Bully them, control them out of fear or malice or just for own convenience” (Butler, 73). Although Iosif is telling Shori to not treat her people in this matter, the phrases and the words Iosif uses are possessive, which creates the argument that symbiosis in this context does not exist, and even Iosif discussing with Shori about how to treat her people in a certain matter can be interpreted as “means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any particular man” (Locke, Sec. 26). One could also twist the relationship of Wright as having ownership of Shori as well. The reason Shori is alive is because of Wright’s blood, since he aided Shori when she was injured. Shori’s appearance as a child, and Wright as the adult could make the relationship seem like a parental one. Although she has a higher mindset than a little girl she still has some tendencies of a child.

To further elaborate in chapter twenty-four, Shori discuses how Wright makes her feel when she states, “ It mattered more than I would have thought possible that he was alive, that he loved me and wanted somehow to comfort me. I knew if I let him, he would take me home and put me to bed and stay with me until I feel asleep” (Butler, 255). Shori’s diction here could be construed as a girl wanting to feel protected by her guardian. Additionally, in the context of guardianship, Shori legally because of her appearance could be viewed as property under Wright’s parental guidance. Butler here again confuses the reader on who has the right of property over whom, and whether mutual consent in the case of Shori and Wright’s relationship is legitimate.

Ruminations on Race, Power, and Memory in Fledgling

One immediate alarm for me in reading Fledgling, was Shori’s loss of memory and Octavia Butler’s constant reiteration of this occurrence, throughout the novel (including on the first and last pages). Some members of my group during Friday’s class even expressed irritation at this, saying it was tiresome how often it was mentioned. Initially, I interpreted these constant reminders similar to the way Daniel Burton-Rose seems to understand it, as he explains in his interview with Butler by saying, “There’s an apparent parallel between the way in which the African-American protagonist suffered a violence-induced cultural amnesia at the hands of European-Americans and the African-American experience as a whole” (203). Memory, of course, has much to do with identity and thus culture, and so can easily be tied to conceptions of race and power in the United States, in addition to Western conceptions of history. Although, not being able to remember relieves some of Shori’s pain, it also puts her in the vulnerable position of having to rely on others to relearn her past and move on with her life. In describing this circumstance she says, “What about my mothers and sisters, my father and brothers? What about my memory? They were all gone I couldn’t bring anyone back, not even myself. I could only learn what I could about the Ina, about my families. I would restore what could be restored” (310). To me, this appears as though it could be an allusion to the experience of minorities in early American history. And as she expresses her frustration at her precarious situation saying, “My family is gone!…My memory of them is gone. I can’t even mourn them properly because for me, they never really lived. Now I have begun to relearn who I am, to rebuild my life, and my enemies are still killing my people,” I can’t help but make an association to the continuous adverse treatment of black and brown people in the U.S. (and worldwide) today (265). As Fred Moten said at a recent Black Life Matters conference in Tucson, Arizona, “Despite the unprecedented Black presence in the U.S administration, the murder, mass incarceration and impoverishment of Black people continues.” In both cases, it seems there will be no end to the senseless demolition of people’s lives until justice is somehow served.

In response to Burton-Rose’s comment in his interview, Butler says, “If Shori did not have amnesia she would probably have more in common with the people who raised her than with, say, just an ordinary African-American. But because she has amnesia, she doesn’t have that much in common with anybody (203). I still don’t quite know what to make of this statement or, as a result, how to amend my analysis. Is Butler merely suggesting that Shori’s experience isn’t identical to that of an “ordinary” African-American or that parallels should not be drawn? What if any are Butler’s motivations behind Shori’s skin color and the racial epithets she experiences as a result, if connections aren’t meant to be drawn to the African-American experience? Butler seems to make the claim that the loss of memory is what isolates her from her family. But at the same time, Shori is blatantly discriminated against for being half-human, something that sets her apart from her family and from all other living beings. That being said, there are other facets of Shori’s life that make her difficult to identify with too. There were several points in the novel when I found myself thinking she is lucky. She finds honest people who are willing to aid her in learning and protect her to the best of their abilities. But also, she is not human. She has keen senses and heightened abilities. She is lucky in the fact that she can trust her instincts. She knows when someone is lying or telling the truth. She can smell an attacker before he strikes. Justice, it turns out, is served. Although the Ina system of justice, like the American justice system, seems to be riddled with similarly questionable procedures and traditions that could prevent justice from being served, the truth is always clear. Although Shori can only move on and will never regain her memory, the ending of the novel seems hopeful that Shori will be able to move on with her life in peace.

After reading Burton-Rose’s interview I began to look at different areas where discrimination is brought into focus in Fledgling, which further complicated my reading and understanding of what Butler is aiming for. For example, although Shori tells Wright that Ina “don’t care about white or black,” it’s clear that Katharine Dahlman garners her opinion of Shori, at least partly, from human society, seen when she warns Preston during the trial, “You want your sons to mate with this person. You want them to get black, human children from her. Here in the United States, even most humans will look down on them. When I came to this country, such people were kept as property, as slaves” (162, 272). Additionally, it seems that in this fictitious world Butler has created, “not everyone treats symbionts as people,” the Silks being a presumed example (131). And humans are not the only ones prey to discrimination and victims in power struggles. Iosif says, “…most Ina fit in badly wherever they go—tall, ultrapale, lean, wiry people. They usually looked like foreigners, and when times got bad, they were treated like foreigners—suspected, disliked driven out, or killed” (130). All of this led me to think of an article I, unfortunately, could not find anywhere, but am positive I read this summer (or perhaps I am remembering a lecture) in regards to the tensions between refugees and minorities in low-income neighborhoods in the City of Rochester. It spoke of shifting power structures and the paradox of groups that have historically been discriminated against (African-American migrants by whites, in the case of Rochester), abusing vulnerable newcomers out of fear for their position in society. That there will always be a vulnerable group that is resisted and preyed upon, in spite of the recent memory of similar violence being brought on the new aggressors. It’s also interesting to look at how the predominantly and purposefully white suburbs view this aggression towards the refugee community as compared to racial conflict in the 1960s, an illustration of how memories can shift and be manipulated to fit popular discourse.

Locke: The Founder of Bourgeois Capitalism?

As much as I had originally found the reading of John Locke to be repetitive and tedious—just the excerpt portions alone—our recent discussion in class today on the “industrious and rational” in juxtaposition to the “covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious” brought to life the relevance of certain topics that Locke dances around throughout his Treatise. While Locke’s argument may claim that it is the industrious and rational who are “fit” to take the land and use it up for all of its potential resources available and supplied both to and for mankind, I disagree that those whom he refers to as “quarrelsome and contentious” the land as valuable to them and that it should consequently be taken from them as a result. The American Indians, for example, were people that greatly revered and took care of their land. Instead of depleting their resources, they cherished and nurtured all of the living things in their environment, giving way to much abundance in both their crop yield and the preservation of nature as it should be, (at least in my opinion).

Locke however, seems to think that they are instead doing the complete opposite of this. Continue reading Locke: The Founder of Bourgeois Capitalism?

A First Visit to “The Feminist Wire”

As I often do when I initially explore a website, when I visited The Feminist Wire for the first time I began by examining the site’s mission statement and, because it has a caveat I had never seen on a website before, its commenting policy. My rationale for examining these two features is that before I began reading submissions I wanted to gain a sense of what exactly this site’s goals are—the kind of writing it looks for, the kind of community and discussion it attempts to generate, both the kind of conversations it is participating in and the ones I am joining by reading the site. I believe a close examination of this site’s mission and commenting policy might help us, in this class on Octavia Butler’s work, to think not only about the policies of discussion in our own classroom space, but about the ways in which those policies (or a lack thereof) shape discourse outside our classroom.

Continue reading A First Visit to “The Feminist Wire”

Consent, Fate, and the Humanities Curriculum

The catalog entry for the Western Humanities I course says it is “A search for moral, social, and political alternatives and meaning embodied in the institutions, culture, and literature of Western Civilization from the beginnings to 1600.” The entry for the Humanities II course is the same, except that it is the study of the works from the 1600s to the present.

My suite mates and I have been discussing this pursuit, and why it might not be the most logical in terms of understanding our humanity, which seems to be the desired outcome from this moral, social, and political search. The conversation was actually started from my reading of Aeschylus’s Oresteia at the same time as we read Butler’s Fledgling, and my comparing of the two. Professor McCoy mentioned the Oresteia trilogy during class in relation to Fledgling because of both stories concluding with a trial. When reading the two side by side, I found a lot of other similarities and themes about fate and consent as well, which led me to think about what lessons about humanity are better taught in Fledgling, the merits of reading one over the other, and why the HUMN curriculum doesn’t function as it should.

Continue reading Consent, Fate, and the Humanities Curriculum