All posts by Stephanie Wilcoxen

Course Reflection

“That’s the nice thing about science fiction,” Octavia Butler says in Mike McGonigal’s interview “Octavia Butler.” She continues: “Back when I was a kid and began reading it, it was called the literature of ideas. […] You can have video game science fiction on the screen, in movies, and you can also have science fiction that makes you think. I prefer the second kind” (Francis, ed. 137). Butler’s fiction is definitely a ‘literature of ideas’ and it certainly makes readers think. The applications of Butler’s work are seemingly endless—the worlds she creates can stand on their own, but also have a multitude of tie-ins with historical and current political and social contexts. Butler’s work can be applied to state regulated violence, the perceived fungibility of bodies, issues of consent, gender, and race. Butler keenly observes the ways that people and groups of people are constructed by outside structural forces—but constantly works to complicate these identities and demonstrate the ways that they are restrictive and damaging. Continue reading Course Reflection

Oankali and the Pathogen Stress Response

A friend recently showed me an article titled, “The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs” which she had read for her Parasitology class. It’s yet another scientific article that calls into question whether the choices we make are actually our own, though in this case the choices of communities rather than individuals are examined: directly under the article’s title is the line, “Is culture just a side effect of the struggle to avoid disease?” While reading it, I immediately thought of the Oankali and wanted to add it into our class conversation. Continue reading Oankali and the Pathogen Stress Response

“The repressive effects of empathy”

Saidiya Hartman’s discussion of empathy in “Innocent Amusements,” from her book Scenes of Subjection provides a really interesting lens through which to examine Lauren’s hyperempathy. Hartman studies the letters of an abolitionist named Rankin who endeavored to, “reenact […] The grotesqueries enumerated in documenting the injustice of slavery and intended to shock and to disrupt the comfortable remove of the reader/spectator,” in order to, “rouse the sensibility of those indifferent to slavery” (Hartman, 17, 18). Hartman cites Rankin’s explanation for the rhetorical moves that he makes: “We are naturally too callous to the sufferings of others, and consequently prone to look upon them with cold indifference, until, in imagination we identify ourselves with the sufferers” (Hartman, 18). Rankin’s theory is predicted on the idea that, “pain provides the common language of humanity; it extends humanity to the dispossessed and, in turn, remedies the indifference of the callous” (Hartman, 18). The really interesting move that Rankin makes is to, “literally narrat[e] an imagined scenario in which he, along with his wife and child, is enslaved” (Hartman, 18). Continue reading “The repressive effects of empathy”

Akin as a Construct

While watching Trevor Noah’s standup special, “African American,” in an effort to learn about the new Daily Show host, I was struck by the similarities between one of his stories and one of Akin’s lines and started to think about the ways that I felt Akin was limited by both Human and Oankali expectation of him as a Human-Oankali construct. Continue reading Akin as a Construct

Eugenics and Reproductive Violence

Tala Khanmalek’s article in the Feminist Wire, “Slavery: The Haunting Legacy of Sterilization Abuse in California State Prisons,” begins by reporting that between 2006 and 2010 around 150 women were sterilized in California prisons without their consent. Khanmalek cites this statistic from an article in the Huffington post by Alex Stem (“Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenic Patterns”) which focuses on the general context of such eugenic programs and makes the claim: “What current and past [eugenic] practices share is the assumption that some women by virtue of their class position, sexual behavior, or ethnic identity are socially unfit to reproduce and parent.” Khanmalek has a slightly different central argument and instead of framing the incident in California in the general context of eugenics she frames it within a history of, “state-sanctioned reproductive regulation targeting women of color.” I think this framework is particularly useful in developing our understanding of Butler as it allows us to link a few instances of violence that I at least found very troubling, which provides a new way to understand them. Continue reading Eugenics and Reproductive Violence

The Sacred Image and Transwomen in Butler’s fiction

In reading the excerpt from Survivor in class I was struck most by the idea of the ‘Sacred Image.’ My understanding of the Sacred Image is that it is the human form—the shape of, “The Lord God who made man in his own image” (28). I think that there is a really interesting ablest reading here which we alluded to in our class discussion and has been an ongoing theme in Butler’s work—I’m reminded of when Dr. McCoy challenged the idea of the sanctity of the human shape in Clay’s Ark by asking how someone without a hand would then be fit into the definition of human. However, what I was most curious about was how transgendered people would be affected by an obsession with the Sacred Image. Continue reading The Sacred Image and Transwomen in Butler’s fiction

Cannibals in Communities

To me, the idea of cannibalism seems to pervade Seed to Harvest—something that makes sense with the general theme of symbiosis which keeps coming back in Butler’s fiction. Multiple forms of cannibalism are created in the constant consumption with which Butler deals. In these uses though, what comes to light is actually how consumption—and the total absorption of another person—is completely tied to community and culture and demonstrates the inherent violence in development and fungiblity of bodies. Continue reading Cannibals in Communities

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