I would like to take a moment to return to the Xenogenesis trilogy because I’ve come to a little more clarity about an issue that I struggled with while reading Lilith’s Brood. The question I could neither escape nor answer while we were reading Xenogenesis was, does rape (or some other form of sexual violence), as a metaphor for what happens between the Oankali and humankind, obtain? I am concerned with the metaphor of rape primarily as it applies to two levels of human-Oankali interaction. First, I am concerned on the macro scale: did the Oankali force the humans into the gene trade, were their actions as a group morally defensible, and were the principles of consent violated by the Oankali? Second, on the level of the individuals as prefigured by Kahguyaht’s removal of Lilith’s cancer in Dawn and played out over and over for the rest of the trilogy: do the individual Oankali (and especially the ooloi) honor the humans’ right to give or withhold consent in the specific interactions between individuals we see in the books?
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
In recent discourse there has been more attention paid to the ideas of gender identity and sexuality. In media coverage on a daily basis one can see that there is more attention being paid toward the trans and gay communities, yet there are still many people who have no voice. It is often believed that these communities, especially those who declare themselves as gender fluid or non-binary or anything other than the typical male and female genders , claim to be these things for attention rather than an actual feeling of relating to neither or both or other genders. This snubbing of a person’s identity has become a violent act against a whole community of people and it is only recently that any sign of people speaking out against it has been seen on a large scale. This, apparently new found, feeling of support and unity in these communities can be largely drawn back to the fairly recent popularity and downright unavoidability of social media.
Continue reading Gender Identity in Lilith’s Brood
Ever since the class we had where Beth broke our time into 15-minute segments, I’ve been trying to do this on my own. Ever since, I’ve noticed a huge increase in my productivity. I remember that when that class finished, Beth mentioned something along the lines of keeping in mind why we usually break our time into one or two hour sessions, and how capitalistic society encourages this. The success of my own experiment reminded me of the first time I ever consciously realized the depth to which I had internalized a negative capitalistic concept:
I had just graduated high school, and was out to dinner with an English teacher I had gotten especially close with. I mentioned to her my confusion over how to become a productive member of society. I was half-joking, though it was a topic I had a lot of anxiety about: my health at the time was very poor, to the point where I wasn’t capable of getting out of bed without significant pain and some assistance, and I didn’t see a future in which I would be able to contribute to our society. In response to my comment, my teacher told me that there was “no such thing as a productive member of society,” and it was just something I had been trained to think. She said that solely by existing I was contributing to the world just as much as lawyers or doctors. It made me reevaluate how I saw value, and why I saw it that way.
Since everyone is doubtless beginning the scramble to finish their annotated bibliographies, I thought I would take a moment to blog about Nanda’s article “Power, Politics, and Domestic Desire in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood” – or as I have termed it, “The Worst Article Ever.”
The failings of this article are numerous, and I would like to begin by stating that I don’t think Nanda actually read the Xenogenesis series. On page 775, he describes Akin as “the first human-Oankali construct.” This is patently false: on literally the second page of the novel Adulthood Rites, Nikanj refers to Akin as “less human than your daughters” – which is a clear statement that Lilith has already given birth to female Oankali constructs. Akin is NOT the first construct, merely the first human-born male construct. The fact that Nanda misunderstands Akin’s importance on such a basic level blows my mind, but later in the article he one-ups himself. On page 777, he is talking about the implementation of the genetic trade and he describes the ooloi as “sub-adult Oankali.” I had to re-read this sentence several times, because it is so obviously wrong that I couldn’t believe that it got through editing. The ooloi are as adult as the males and females among the Oankali once they go through metamorphosis – how can Nanda not understand that? Does he actually think that three-way matings are mediated in this species by its pre-pubescent members? Has he been reading every ooloi in the series as a child this entire time?
The second thing I take serious issue with in this article is his unconscious sexism. He declares on page 780, “Men usually experience greater sexual desire than women.” In my paper copy, I wrote “What is this guy’s deal?” next to this sentence. I take serious issue with this idea because it feeds into the narrative that men are less responsible for their actions in cases of sexual assault and because it treats women as objects, as entities incapable of experiencing sexuality on equal terms with men and therefore entities to be exploited. The research I found was varied. Many scientific findings were statements like “women’s sex drives are more influenced by social and cultural factors,” “men seek sex more avidly than women,” and “women take a less direct route to sexual satisfaction.” These can all be viewed as symptomatic of a patriarchal system that conditions women not to take charge of themselves as independent sexual entities, and ideas like these that have scientific backing so poor that it does not investigate whether women are socially conditioned to conduct themselves the way they are observed only perpetuate these harmful ideas. Nanda goes on to congratulate Lilith on breaking this stereotype, but the way he phrased it reveals that he unconsciously perpetuates these ideas, and he has no business doing so in an article on the work of Octavia Butler.
On page 775, Nanda attempts to deal with Lilith’s situation as a captive. The text itself gives a better treatment of her predicament than Nanda’s article does, rendering irrelevant any function of literary criticism to enrich the text on which it is focused. Nanda goes on and on about how she is a “native foster mother” and thus simultaneously performs the functions of the state and works to subvert it. The Lilith Iyapo of the text is so much more rich than this interpretation that I have to accuse him of oversimplifying her situation and her as a character, and thereby erasing her. Lilith is a mother and in Dawn she does do the work of the Oankali in preparing the humans for Earth while feeling deeply conflicted about it. But she is so much more than that: she has genuine attachment and loyalty to Nikanj, she genuinely and consciously (if not unreservedly) buys into the Oankali’s vision, as exemplified when she tells Akin “when you feel a conflict, try to go the Oankali way. Embrace difference” (329). Viewing her as a mere product of cultural forces is interesting but insufficient, and I think that in trying to explain Lilith in these terms Nanda is in way over his head.
The final thing I want to criticize about this article is that Nanda is not able to shake the narrative he came into reading these books with that “the Oankali evoke European traders in their initial forays into establishing a colonial empire. The Oankali adroitly camouflage their colonizing intent, enforcing restrictive reproductive rights on humans, in a rhetoric of altruistic salvation,” despite overwhelming evidence in the text that undermines this assertion (775). The Oankali are utterly unlike European colonialists – they are able to listen when Akin tells them that the human race deserves a second chance at independent evolution on Mars. This blatantly flies in the face of the history of European colonialism, which has never been able to truly “embrace difference.” It took no wars of revolution for the Oankali to stop their restrictive reproduction policies, showing that the Oankali are truly not ultimately motivated by a desire to consume everything around them. The Oankali seek difference, but they are capable of creating it as well, and that is where the comparison to European colonialism falls short, Nanda.
If you are considering reading this article for one of your annotations, I have one piece of sage advise – don’t.
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
When reading Dawn, I was both disturbed and fascinated by a conversation Lilith had with Jdahya on page 16:
“…it has been several million years since we dared to interfere in another people’s act of self-destruction. Many of us disputed the wisdom of doing it this time. We thought… that there had been a consensus among you, that you had agreed to die.”
“No species would do that!”
“Yes. Some have. And a few of those who have have taken whole ships of our people with them. We’ve learned. Mass suicide is one of the few things we usually let alone.”
I was with Lilith at first, in complete disagreement that any species would ever come to a self-driven extinction. After all, how could any species survive that didn’t have a strong self-preservation instinct? Evolution would have weeded out any species whose first priority wasn’t to keep itself alive.
So I was left with a few questions: Is it possible in our universe (outside of Butler’s fiction) for any species to commit a mass suicide? Is it possible for humanity to do this? What would ever drive us to intentional extinction? And why does the idea of it bother me so much? Continue reading Lilith’s Brood, Doctor Who, and Humanity
During class last week, Dr. McCoy mentioned that she regrettably found herself gendering the ooloi, and therefore eunuch, characters of Dawn. Upon reflection, I found this to be true with my reading as well. But then I considered my other difficulties. Adverse to my belief that I am a loving, nurturing human being that can see past physical appearances, I had genuine troubles visualizing a species without a discernible face or set of typical facial features. Continue reading Let’s Face It: An Exploration of the Oankali Aesthetic
In response to Nikita’s informative and very useful post, The Power of Pronouns, I have to say that I too struggled with the “non-gendering” of the ooloi species in the novels we have read so far in Lilith’s Brood. Ooloi in both Dawn and Adulthood Rites seem to display both very human and almost gendering characteristics, so it was hard not to give in to my “hierarchial tendencies” and label them as such. I also have to admit to myself that I have read the ooloi in both novels, similarly to the way I think Nikita read Gan in Bloodchild, within the context of the transgender community (as well as other marginalized groups, for reasons which I will touch upon later). I was extremely put off by Butler’s choice of the pronoun “it” in reference to the non-gender (or genderless) ooloi. I think that this is because we normally place this pronoun for something that is non-sentient and therefore not worthy of traditionally “human” pronouns. Although this alien species is exactly such, alien, “it” feels vaguely discriminatory to describe something that could almost be simply called “a third gender”. Something that is simply different from our “normal” understanding of gender; which would be within the traditional binary gender system. It seems to point again to our “heirarchial tendencies”, in which something other than human is stripped of its sentience and worth by dubbing it “it”.
A thought occurred to me this week during class discussion. The conversation was centering around the what-if scenario of the ability of humans to move to another planet. We were also talking about the way humans treat the earth now as if it is just a bottomless pit of “resources” rather than a planet and an actual home to other creatures. As Dr. McCoy put it, we are strip-mining the planet. Continue reading A Fatal Opportunity