All posts by John Panus

Eight Ways the Parable Novels aren’t that Different from Our Present Reality

I remember Beth telling us that when she started teaching the Parables in her INTD, most students didn’t find the novels that realistic.  But only six years later, her students generally agreed that the Parables were realistic possibilities of our future.  Drawing connections between Butler’s post-apocalyptic future and our current society, here are a few ways that Lauren Olamina’s world isn’t that far away from our own:

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Walled Enclaves and Fortress Europe

I signed up to receive daily emails from the LA Times while I was doing research for my blog post on the California water crisis, and about a week ago I received an email regarding migration from Africa to Italy.  In 2014, about 170,000 “Syrians fleeing their civil war,” and “Africans escaping poverty and oppression” migrated to Italy, and in 2015, this number is projected to be closer to 219,000 people.  These refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea in unstable and overcrowded, wooden boats, and many vessels don’t make it across the Sea.  According to the first article I read on the issue, over 700 migrants were packed into the lower decks of a75-foot fishing boat when it tipped over and sank.  Rescue efforts recovered 28 survivors.  After doing some research, I discovered that this event came about a week after over 400 migrants were lost en route to Italy in a similar disaster, and just one day after a migrant ship sunk while carrying up to 950 passengers.

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Consent, Compromise, and Libidinal Drives

While reading some posts from the beginning of the semester I found Hannah’s post, “Issues of Consent and Pedophilia in Fledgling.” I think Hannah’s post is important to revisit at this time, partly because we will be returning to Fledgling at the end of the semester, but also because of how many “issues with consent” are in the Xenogenesis novels. With regard to these issues of consent, I’m especially interested in Butler’s use of libido as a “drive” that  constantly affects people and their decisions, and how we as readers make sense of libidinal drives in Butler’s work.  With this said, many of the consensual conflicts in Butler’s fiction are not issues of sexual consent. In this post, I want to examine Butler’s discourse of consent—both sexual consent and other issues of consent—within the context of Clay’s Ark, and then move to Xenogenesis to discuss similar issues, ultimately to examine our shortcomings as both readers and humans when discussing consent and the right-to-live in the new Oankali universe.

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Paratext, Narrative Expectations, and the Pleasures of Violence

A few of our classmates have blogged about their narrative expectations and/or disappointment with the prospect of Doro’s return, or lack thereof.  John’s post “Doro Aint Dead“, and Andre’s post, “Victories in the Web” come to mind. I too struggled with an unfulfilled narrative expectation in Clay’s Ark and Patternmaster—an expectation molded by the paratext of The Patternist Series, specifically the back cover. Paratext, as defined by literary theorist Gérard Genette in his book, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, is “a zone between text and off-text, a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place of pragmatics and a strategy, of an influence on the public, an influence that … is at the service of a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it.” As I understand Genette, paratext includes images on the covers of books, footnotes, prefaces, and other parts of the text that are not the literary text written by the author, yet still have a profound effect on one’s reading of a literary text.

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That Sustainability Question

A few weeks ago, Kayla voiced her concern about sustainability in Clay’s Ark. She was concerned there would not be enough food on earth when appetites became insatiable as a result of the disease. At first I believed that Clayarks would have little to no problem acquiring sufficient food, considering that earth is capable of producing more food than necessary and that a large portion of the population would be killed by the disease. However, my post became a lot more complicated when Dr. McCoy informed me that California will run out of water in one year. Because the issue of sustainability and sharing resources between coexisting peoples is such a large part of Butler’s novels, I think it is important to discuss real life crises of sustainability, namely, world hunger and the California water crisis, within the context of Butler’s work.

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Behavioral Norms and Species Inclusivity/Exclusivity

While reading Pramod Nayar’s essay, “A New Biological Citizenship: Posthumanism in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling,” I discovered that although Nayar succeeds in his argument—that Shori has biological citizenship as both a human and an Ina, and furthermore, Shori forms a new hybrid, posthuman species that erodes structural prejudices—the rhetoric of Nayar’s argument is seriously flawed in that the framework of his argument states that biological citizenship is achieved when an organism “performs a species memory,” (species memory meaning a culturally normative behavior) “that she has acquired not through genetic predispositions or her biology but through the apparatuses” given to her by the culture of her species. In other words, Nayar’s framework is based on the idea that an organism can be ontologically classified as a species when it follows the cultural and/or behavioral norms of the species. Nayar claims that Shoir’s identity is at first “uncertain because of her altered biology,” biology that “sets her outside of the [Ina] species border.” However, Nayar hypothesizes that Shori is indeed an Ina because of her subjectivity to Ina cultural apparatuses; to put it another way, Shori’s adoption of Ina cultural/behavioral norms—specifically, Shori’s adherence to Ina pedagogy and Ina ethics of care and mourning—is what makes her an Ina. Continue reading Behavioral Norms and Species Inclusivity/Exclusivity

Childbirth and Transition in Mind of My Mind


Kayla Marsh’s blog post “Trauma and Formation of the Self,” hones in on an incredibly important aspect of Butler’s work—the impact of experience on one’s self-perception. As Kayla puts it, “the mind protects itself from extreme stressors by physically changing the way that the brain functions.” In other words, negative experience can affect the way a person perceives and understands external stimulus; Kayla cites a student’s difficulty learning new material in an abusive home as evidence of how the brain can reroute its functions in a stressful situation. I would like to expand on Kayla’s post in order to illuminate Butler’s portrayal of trauma as a mechanism for self re-conception, and clarify the real life manifestation of trauma and self-conception.  It’s important to note that Butler’s fiction expresses the idea that any variety of experience can affect the way a person perceives himself/herself: from the improvement in Shori’s ability and confidence as she learns more about the circumstances of her life pre-amnesia, to less physical and more mental examples like Blake’s familiarity with being questioned about his relation to his daughters, Butler never lets readers forget the question of how experience—especially negative and traumatic experience—impacts one’s conscious. With this said, Butler’s commentary on the impact of trauma on the self is perhaps no more prevalent than in the process of transition, and furthermore, comparisons between childbirth and transition illuminate the ability of the traumatic event of transition to completely reformat how people perceive themselves. Ultimately, this illumination reflects the impact of traumatic experiences in real life, and creates a connection between Butler’s fiction and reality that exposes how vulnerable people are to negative criticism. Continue reading Childbirth and Transition in Mind of My Mind

I Spoke Too Soon: Education in the Patternist Society

In my blog post last week I wrote that although Octavia Butler didn’t specifically write about education, her commentary on innocence in Wild Seed is important because of the way perceived innocence manifests in public education. Little did I know that by the end of Mind of My Mind, Mary would create a society of Patternists and top off her reorganization of Palo Verde with her own school for latent children. Although the Patternist school may seem more like Charles Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters—with Rachel searching the pattern for Latents in the same way that Professor X uses cerebro to find mutants—a myriad of connections can be made between the Patternist school and American schools.  Not only do the fictional Palo Verde school and actual American schools both operate as a tool for measuring ability (albeit in their own distinctive ways), but they also function as a venue for the stigmatization and discrimination of status groups and as a medium for the reproduction of cultural inequalities. Continue reading I Spoke Too Soon: Education in the Patternist Society

Theorizing Innocence in Wild Seed

After reading Sikivu Hutchinson’s post, “Policing Our Girls, Taming ‘Topsy,’” on “The Feminist Wire,” I took a few moments to look through the various hyperlinks in the text. One hyperlink eventually lead me to a Harvard study about race and perceived innocence; conducted in February 2015, the study (which surveyed solely white women) found that at the young age of 10 years, black boys begin to be perceived as less innocent than children of any other race—regardless of age. Not only is 10 years the threshold age for black boys to be perceived as less innocent, but they are also “more likely to be mistaken as older,” and more likely to “be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime.” Possibly worse, the study also found that when shown an image of a boy with a description of a crime he committed, subjects of the study overestimated the age of black boys by an average of 4.5 years, and found black children to be more deserving of blame for their crimes than boys of other races. Continue reading Theorizing Innocence in Wild Seed

Categorizing and Cannibalizing

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