All posts by Nikita Rumsey


So I’m not really sure where to start. When the semester began, I had only been familiar with Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” from when we read it last spring in African American Literature, as well as Parable of the Sower, which I had read on my own. I don’t think I had many expectations so much as desires when I came into the class, the majority of which were tied to my first experience reading Bloodchild in the context of the African American literary tradition, then having that context turns upside down by Butler’s afterword, prompting a discussion about categorization and assumptions regarding black artistic and cultural production and the ongoing fight against its compartmentalization. Similarly, when I learned early on that we would not be reading Butler’s Kindred, her most widely read book that does deal explicitly with chattel slavery, I took it to mean that we would continue this process, that we would try to expand our conception of Butler as an artist and confront her work in all its plenitude. And I was looking forward to it.

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Daredevil’s Brood

So I’ve been watching a ton of that newish Netflix series, Marvel’s Daredevil. And given that it’s finals week, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t the most opportune time to get hooked on a show. Either way, as I’ve been watching—with the thought looming in the back of mind telling me that I should probably be writing a blog post instead—I’ve begun to notice how it might be possible to draw a few connections between some of the issues the show obliquely confronts with those of Butler’s fiction.

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The Power of Pronouns

I remember during one of our first class discussions on Dawn, Dr. McCoy admitted that she had always experienced problems in trying to read the “ooloi” species within the novel as neither male nor female but sexless—she caught herself having implicitly assigned a gender to the ooloi even as they were constantly referred to as “it.” Similarly, I found myself in a battle against my own unconscious inclination to read Gan from Bloodchild as female, even though he is described as a male and referred to as “he.” I’m not sure whether this had to do with the fact that throughout the semester, a great deal of protagonists in Octavia Butler novels we’ve encountered thus far have been female, such as Anyanwu, Mary, Shori, and so on, and that that guided my assumptions. It’s also possible that, within Bloodchild, given that the story involves a pregnancy, I unconsciously assumed that Gan was a female, since according to the logic of the “real” world only females can become pregnant (as far as I know).

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Bloodchild Revisited

I had meant to post this earlier, but I of course forgot to do so. So although I wasn’t present in class on Friday for the discussion on Bloodchild, from what I’ve gathered from recent posts it seems as though at least part of the discussion pertained to Butler’s assertion in the afterword that, despite what many have claimed, the story is not about slavery. As Clarissa and Audrey have already insisted, respectively, a great deal of our interpretation of this story is dependent upon the context in which we read it. For me, when I first read Bloodchild, it was within Dr. McCoy’s African American Literature class, so nearly everything we read I would immediately fit within the narrative we were building in the class, which almost always was related to African diasporic cultural tradition(s) as well as the issues of slavery and its aftermath. At that time, when I reached the afterword to Bloodchild, I had already convinced myself of the seemingly inextricable links between the relations of power and subjection dealt with in the story and those of American reproductive slavery. In a sense, the afterword pushed back against my assumptions, instead offering another host of themes around which Bloodchild was centered and toward which I could redirect attention, including male pregnancy, botflies, and “paying the rent.”

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Sexiness and its discontents

While I was skimming through some of Octavia Butler’s interviews the other night, I noticed a brief exchange between Butler and her interviewer, Marilyn Mehaffy in this instance, within the interview titled “‘Radio Imagination’: Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment,” that really stuck with me. In some way, it helped me rethink some of the problems I’ve been having in trying to come to terms with a lot of Butler’s fiction. I’ll repost the exchange here:While I was skimming through some of Octavia Butler’s interviews the other night, I noticed a brief exchange between Butler and her interviewer, Marilyn Mehaffy in this instance, within the interview titled “‘Radio Imagination’: Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment,” that really stuck with me. In some way, it helped me rethink some of the problems I’ve been having in trying to come to terms with a lot of Butler’s fiction. I’ll repost the exchange here:

Continue reading Sexiness and its discontents

Mary & the Gentrifying Patternists

Our group discussion on urbanization and the phenomenon of gentrification has had me thinking about how communities, especially urban communities, are maintained through a series of inclusions and exclusions that manifest in space. In Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, the ways in which Mary and the Patternists (not the band) build Forsyth as a site for their growth as a community involve the attraction of “actives” and the recruitment of “latents” towards Forsyth. As they grow they infiltrate pre-existing homes, schools, as well as other types of facilities in the community, which always entails an implicit corollary “eviction” or forced removal of the non-telepathic “mutes” who had previously inhabited these spaces. As Mary’s desired utopia grows, the marginal bodies that cannot coexist as equal members of the community, due to their lack of “abilities,” are displaced.

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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.

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Alterity to the third degree in Fledgling

Something caught my eye whilst reading Pramod Nayar’s article on Posthumanism in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling. A few days ago, we had noticed in our group discussion during Friday’s class that we were having difficulty untangling the multiple ways in which Shori is cast as a hybrid other in the novel, both by humans and Ina alike. However, almost by accident I stumbled upon what seemed to be an appropriate term for what we had been grappling with; Nayar describes what Shori faces as a “double bind of alterity.” On the one hand, Shori is cast as animalistic to humans, the vampire-other, yet what really determines her more immanent otherness is her human-ness or non-Ina-ness with respect to her hybrid biology, her status as a racialized “mongrel.” The double bind is made most explicit in the case of Katherine Dahlman, who murders Shori’s symbiont, Theodora, as a ploy to reveal Shori’s alterity in front of the Council. As Shori describes in the novel:

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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. Continue reading More on naming and power in fledgling