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So I just read The Telling by Ursula LeGuin and I must say that it is one of my favorite novels ever. The book talks about everything I love to talk/debate about: Politics, Religion, Words, Culture, all that jazz. The story deals with this society that was created on the planet Aka that has burned all things from the old/pre-colonialized culture, and is pretty much a place where the government knows where you are and what you’re doing ALL the time. These people are trying to destroy their history/culture and replace it with a uniform society where everyone is a “producer-consumer” and contributes to the Corporation. The old language has been barred and the novel plays on the colonialist aspect by bringing to focus the inability to communicate correctly with the varying peoples because the only language is one that omits necessary words that existed in the “archaic” languages or anything that has to deal with religion or free thought.

The Telling, itself, is the oral history of the society that existed before the planet was colonized/visited by the people from the planet Hain, who were seen as impressive people to be emulated by this “barbaric” society that existed on Aka. The people in control at the time took the aspects of Hainian society that would best help them create a technology-based society (something very alien to the otherwise homely people) and then thought it best to erase everything else— what a super great idea…. The maz who perform the Telling remind me of Native Americans or any native culture that was in commune with their surroundings before technology came and ruined everything. I love everything about the maz and the yoz and the act of the Telling because its a very different feel from what we’ve become accustomed to in modern society where all the information in the world is just a click away on our computers or blackberries or whatever techno-gadget you happen to have. It reminds me of the Romanticism movement where a return to nature was stressed as a necessary healing to help people survive with a capitalist society.

The trip that Sutty takes up river to reach the country people is a great image that sticks in my head whenever I think about leaving the crazy, capitalist, techno-crazed society, and end enter the natural world. She finds she is happiest when she gets to sit back and listen to people actually talking and having human contact with one another that isn’t just a mechanized programmed response that the people of Dovza are all too familiar with. I love that throughout the novel, Sutty makes references to the fact that people on Aka cannot communicate together fluently in this government-mandated language and she sees her life as always in translation. I really enjoy that she stresses the social disconnect so much because I believe that language really is a barrier that can inhibit social interactions and a mandated language that is not your own is the worst thing that could happen.

Very hippie, very insightful, very natural, very AWESOME novel. Check it out.

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Holy Medusa Tentacles!

The Oankali are a type of extraterrestrial that really do “get under our skin” in more ways than one. They bother us, the human reader, because they are humanoid in appearance but the features we perceive as humanoid are in fact alien perversions of human sensory organs. What Lilith perceived were eyes, ears and a mouth were really a series of little worm tentacles acting as sensory organs that could interact with the environment in ways unnatural to humans. The Oankali stress “difference” as a very important factor of the natural order of the universe. Perhaps what disturbs us the most as human readers is that these Oankali look humanoid, but acknowledge their difference, but do not seem to understand why the humans are so resistant to them and their difference.

I love the reaction Lilith has to the Oankali while she is still in solitary, when she refers to Jdahya as Medusa for the greater part of the beginning of the novel. What she perceived as human hair, were little grey Medusa-like worms/snakes slithering around in a very unearthly manner. I love the comparison to Medusa, because the Oankali have the impact of petrification on the humans; the humans are either too scared by their alien features to move, or the Oankali can physically drug them and put them in a catatonic state with their tentacles if they please.

Another reason that the Oankali bother us as human readers is that they seem to not understand what losing one’s identity does psychologically to the human brain. The Oankali need to interbreed in order to survive, but the idea of miscegenation is still a touchy subject to humans, and the idea of losing one’s humanity to alien genetic mutations scares us as humans. Personally, I think that all the humans in the book are being stupid because getting all those super sweet Oankali powers is right up my alley; I would love to be able to control a biological, living ship, and be able to heal super fast and other cool stuff that the Oankali modify Lilith to be able to do. I don’t see it as losing my humanity, but gaining extra skills to help me survive. Perhaps this is what Lilith began to think about as she continued her life among the Oankali. However, the general populous of what is left of humanity is trying to hold onto some sort of social and cultural identity especially after the mass genocide that humans conducted prior to the Oankali arrival. Then again, this book was written in the 80s and in the new millennium we as a people are more tolerable and know more about diversity and what is happening to our future, so I react differently to the idea of “difference” than the humans aboard the ship in Dawn.

The Twisting Braid

The Female Man is written in such a way that it is very hard to deduce who is talking, when the action is occurring, whose perspective is being discussed and what we are to take from the literature. The message the novel is trying to get across is one in which gender roles can be reversed and how society will perceive these roles. The four women can be seen as the same woman living in a different world with different societal views. They each deal with their femininity in different ways, but due to their similitude as well as the narrative voice, it can be a difficult task to discern what’s going on.

I feel that the quote that sums up this message is from the Part One Chapter VI, which discusses how each choice you make begets multiple future possibilities with different scenarios depending on the choice you make in the Present. “It’s possible, too, that there is no such thing as one clear line or strand of probability, and that we live on a sort of twisted braid, blurring from one to the other without even knowing it, as long as we keep within the limits of a set of variations that really make no difference to us.” I think that this quote deals with the conception of gender roles in society; in some of the different universes men are the normative and thus their point of view is the one to which women must adhere, and thus adjust their femininity. Other universes portray women without men, and thus the gender roles are skewed so that the women accentuate certain traits while they suppress others. This is supposed to show perspective into the Feminist movement that is occurring in the 70s because some women portrayed assertive qualities towards women’s equality while others were willing to stand idly by and live in a man’s world. The past, present and future are affected by different things, and to analyze such events in retrospect can yield a new future. The time travel that occurs in the novel allows the women to access different worlds of sexuality and try to use the knowledge they gain to formulate and change their own world. The twisted braid that is mentioned refers to the intertwining of past, present and future along with different gender roles, each changing and adjusting for each new twist in the braid. Thus the narrative style that also twists and turns from dimension to dimension, perspective to perspective in a way to accentuate that message.

Jungle Fever

Since man has existed he has shown a desire to show and maintain dominance in this world. Karen Joy Fowler presents an allegory of man’s tendency towards anthropocentrism in her short story “What I Didn’t See.” The story takes place before modern research and studies had been recorded about the habits of gorillas in the wild, and the characters are on such an expedition to learn about gorillas. The group consists of a few white people and a group of black natives acting as their guide through the African jungles. Some of the natives are cannibals and there is a scene in which the locals are bidding on chunks of flesh from the slaves on display in their chains and shackles. This is the first instance of the dominant, normative man displaying his dominance over someone that looks different that he. This is a commentary on how minorities have been treated in our culture, and how shameful it is that one group gets the right to decide who is going to be subordinate.

Throughout the story, the women are put in a subordinate role to the white men in charge of the expedition through the jungle; if any trouble were to arise, the women were to be sent back to the mission with the locals. So after the main female protagonist gets upset over a game of cards, she wanders off into the jungle alone, and stumbles across a trio of gorillas. She was ready to gun down the male in charge of the group but stopped herself when she began to see the humanity in the dark creature’s eyes, “In the leather of his face I saw surprise, curiosity, caution. Something else, too. Something so human it made me feel like an old woman with no clothes on. I might have shot him just for that, but I knew it wasn’t right– to kill him merely because he was more human than I anticipated” (Fowler 351). The gorillas have been referred to in a completely subordinate inferior air by the white men in charge; they are put down and hunted as animals to be taken from their native home of Africa to be brought back to civilization and put on display.

Even though the protagonist has seen some humanity in the gorillas faces, they are still seen unsympathetically as animals without feelings. After Beverly goes missing, she is sent back to the mission so that the men can continue to look for Beverly. It is not until three years after the ordeal that her husband reveals to her the goings-on in the jungle after Beverly disappeared. After Eddie emotionally tells his memories of the massacre that he was the lead in enacting upon the gorillas, we begin to sympathize with the animals. Males, females, and children were brought to slaughter at the hands of the men who showcased their savage nature on the lesser species. This is the part of the story that we can draw a parallel to the racism and feelings of dominance and superiority in our own country. When we sympathize with the cause, we can more emotionally connect with the material at hand.

*All citations refer to the edition in Daughters of the Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (2006, Wesleyan).

While Reading Octavia Butler’s “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” i noticed a lot of similarities to Pat Murphy’s “Rachel In Love.” Both stories deal with the mind being out of place within its given host body. In the Murphy story, Rachel is the mind of a little white girl is literally trapped within the mind and body of a chimpanzee, while in the Butler story, the people suffering of DGD express feelings of being trapped and held prisoner inside of their own bodies. It is interesting to see how the different “people” dealt with their feelings of entrapment. Rachel expressed constant feelings of confusion, especially when she would have dreams of her two different mothers from different species. The image I like best from “Rachel In Love” is when Rachel is looking at a mirror and sees her physical chimpanzee face overlapping her human face imprinted in her mind– she is literally two worlds fused together by science. Rachel understood that she was trapped and dealt with her mixed emotions and urges in a peaceful lovable way.

Rachel’s dual personality was presented in an entirely different way than the DGDs in Butler’s story. The opening scene involving Lynn’s attempted suicide and the eventual disembodiment of her parents at her father’s hands was so vivid in my mind i found myself cringing thinking of “the Digging” that is repeated throughout. In Butler’s story, the DGDs are seen as diseased lepers, outcasts, the scourge of the earth, and are treated as such by most of the government run health centers. I drew a very strong parallel here, with the treatment of the DGDs, to the treatment of the chimpanzees in Murphy’s story. However, when Alan and Lynn visit Alan’s mother at Dilg there is a compassion in the treatment of the DGDs. The role of women in this story is much more influential than in “Rachel In Love,” because of the special calming pheromones that women like Beatrice and Lynn have; whereas the doctors in “Rachel in Love” are seen as abrasive and enjoy sticking electrodes in the chimps brains and watching them try to interact socially. I think the gender role reversal is also present in the way the story ends; when Lynn tells Alan that she will probably end up working at Dilg because she has the genetic advantage and that he would do the same if he was in her predicament. This is far different than how the people with power treat Rachel, and the other chimps in the Murphy story as less than humans, and science experiments. The calming presence of Beatrice at Dilg is one that advocates creativity and self-betterment, whereas the doctors at the animal testing lab are merely there for their own benefits, and could care less if they harm the animals. I like the social commentary presented that shows women are more compassionate and better suited to work with so-called “animals” like the DGDs and that men are more destructive and care about furthering scientific research than actually bettering the diseased.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is a compelling tale traveling back and forth to different periods in time, as well as providing perspectives into the varying power structures of the different societies. The modern day world of Connie Ramos is not unlike our own; the poor minorities have less say in society (especially minority women) than men, particularly white men. Connie is wrongfully put into the mental hospital for attacking her niece’s pimp/boyfriend in self defense, yet the men of her time are the one’s who opinions are dominant; the male doctors at the ward listen to Geraldo’s story and believe it over Connie’s. Also, throughout the novel Connie never has any say in her situation, her brother Luis is the one in control of her sentence, and he constantly gets off on his power over her. Connie  has to play dumb around the doctors and present herself as an inferior or else they will shock her or medicate her until she submits. The heteropatriarchy presented in Connie’s time treats women, minorties, and homosexuals as inferior sub-humans as is represented with the mental hospital’s treatment of Alice, Connie, and Skip in their respective ways. Those who are different are seen as sick and in need of fixing, thus the male doctors perform their experiments to better them for society.

In the future, Mattapoisett is a society where women have given up their natural born gender right to motherhood so that the pure, self-sufficient, natural utopian society will function without conflict or superiority. The gender differences that existed during Connie’s time are a thing of the past, and both sexes live, mate and work together in a harmonious way with their environment. Everyone’s opinion is valued and arguments are continued until they can be solved—something that would never exist in Connie’s time dominated by male doctors. The degendering of motherhood has created two sexes that have more feminine traits and means of expression and live in a working utopia. This is but one of the potential outcomes of our society: learning from past mistakes to live with the environment with minimal technology.

The other side of the future that Connie sees is the opposite end of the spectrum of Mattapoisett; here the society is segregated by class where the rich have all the power and access to the best technology to live forever; while the rest are left to rot and deal with diseases and live destitute. This society has very masculine dominating traits characteristic of a heteropatriarchy because the women, especially the poor, are treated as inferior. The man-made, mechanical representation of the future is the other alternative to the natural, beautiful feminine villiage of Mattapoisett.

Connie is privileged to see the varying futures and she falls in love with the peaceful, nature-loving Massachusetts village, and even begins to consider them her family. It is when their way of life in endangered by the terror of the mechanized, iron-wrought patriarchy that Connie finally rises up agains the male oppression in her own time, and was able to learn from the future to fix her present before it was too late.

The short story “Wives” by Lisa Tuttle is a great perspective into the lives of women throughout our history. It focuses very highly on the concept of a canary in the coal mine which deals with the psyche of women in the 1950’s era and how they felt trapped with no means of forward progress. The story closely parallels the women of the post-World War II era with those of this society. The men of this society have gone to war as men always do to wreak havoc on others and have left the women at home to fend for themselves. The women feel a sense of liberty while their oppressive male overlords are away; some are quick to embrace the freedom, but others are more willing to wait in the shadows until the men return from their war.

I think that this story also shows a great insight into the concept of an androcentric society, wherein the males dominate every aspect of life. For me, the way that Tuttle describes the skintights, and how the women are forced to remain in these figure-constricting inconveniences the entire time the men are home is one of the most vividly impressionable parts of the story. The way that she describes the skintights as having to be ripped off with tooth and nail really leaves the impression of a caged beast trying to escape its confines. This portrayal of the women as wild beasts is continued later on especially in the sex scene and the martyr/self-sacrifice scene. Susie and Doris feel completely free like new embodiments of their former selves before they became wives, “there were no skintights imprisoning their bodies now, barring them from sensation, freedom and pleasure… there was no mockery of the sexual act—brutishly painful and brief as it was with the men but the true act in all its meaning” (Tuttle 193). The men have come in and taken women out of their natural habitat by controlling how they dress, how they act, and how they procreate— they have perverted the natural order of life; men are incapable of procreation and thus, put down that which they are unable to understand or attain for a more favorable lifestyle in their eyes.

The best part of the short story is the end scene where Susie is sacrificed to the rest of the women. It reminded me of the festival of bacchus in ancient Greece where the women would get drunk off wine all day in the festival and then engage in a violent drunken orgy with one another and any unfortunate men that happened to be around, wherein the women would reap and devour the men after the fornication. The festival was originally one of reaping and renewal for a good harvest, but Tuttle seems to employ it as a means of sustaining the captivity of the women as wives. The women are so scared of what the men will do if one of them rises against the order of things that they are willing to kill their own kind. But possibly the greatest image of the whole story comes at the very end when, “after her death, one of the extra wives took on Susie’s name and moved into her house,” and later when the men returned from the war, “Susie’s Jack found a spotless house, filled with the smells of his favourite foods cooking, and a smiling, sexily-dressed wife” (Tuttle 198), and the best part is that he doesn’t even notice his wife has changed.

*All citations refer to the edition in Daughters of the Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (2006, Wesleyan).