Cancerous Silver Linings

Cancer is, quite possibly, one of greatest tragedies of the human condition. There aren’t words to describe the horror of watching a loved one waste away as the malignant cells multiply—so I won’t try. People try to make sense of it in all different ways, some saying it made them stronger or brought them closer to their friends and family. As true as these claims might be, no amount of closeness nor personal strength will ever come close to the complete despair the disease leaves in its wake.

There is no upside to cancer.

Unless you’re Oankali, Continue reading “Cancerous Silver Linings”

Cooperatives and Butler’s Communities (part 1)

The Rochdale principles are a set of guidelines on how to operate a cooperative. They date back to 1844 when they were first drafted and enacted by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England. They are as follows:

 

Voluntary and open membership

Anti-discrimination

Motivations and rewards

Democratic member control

Member economic participation

Autonomy and independence

Education, training and information

Cooperation among cooperatives

Concern for community

 

The Genesee Valley Co-op, located on 23 North Street in Geneseo, has a poster in the kitchen with these principles printed on it. The GVC is currently enjoying its fifth year of operations as a housing cooperative providing students with low rent, in-house meals and community engagement.

 

The Co-op is where I have lived for the past year, and I’ve had friends living here for every year before that. I am interested in talking about how this version of community-idealization might mirror or diverge from the smaller, isolated, intentionally-designed communities found in Butler’s fiction.

 

Off the bat I see one principal similarity between cooperative communities and the communities in Butler’s fiction: Both are communities working in cooperation with one another to accomplish something. In a housing cooperative like the GVC, we are a community of nine people working in cooperation with each other to have house dinners four nights a week, to keep the house clean and low-cost, to be sustainable, to do good community work, etc. I guess I’m trying to suggest that that exchange between members is not that different than the cooperation that happens in the Ina communities in Fledgling or the colony in Clay’s Ark, or the human separatist communities in Lilith’s Brood.

 

In all of these cases members of the communities take pains not to draw any attention to where they are.[text ref]  In Fledgling, the Ina have used their non-human advantages to create secret spaces for themselves outside the world’s human societies. This is done both out of survival and intention – it allows them a background from which to conceal their existence and conduct their business. Additionally, the smaller community of Shori, her symbionts and anyone else close to her also has to remain secretive because they are being hunted by an unknown and deadly force throughout the first half of the book.

 

In Clay’s Arc, the colony members are all connected by the alien virus they share. Because of the impossible-to-ignore urges that the virus forces on its host, the spread of the virus would spell certain doom for humankind at large. Because of this, the colony is designed as a means to suppress the spread of the virus by any means necessary. [text ref]

 

In Lilith’s Brood, once humans have been reintroduced to Earth from the Oankali ship, they are presented with an ultimatum: Either take part in the re-habitation of the planet via Human-Oankali mating, or live as humans free of the Oankali but without the ability to create human children of their own. The Oankali do not apply any force (beyond the inherent force of their superior capabilities which make them vastly superior to humans) in the execution of this ultimatum. The Humans who do not partake are sentenced to un-humanly long lives with no future, so to speak. Still, enough humans choose this route as to form entire communities where they have the illusion of freedom from the Oankali and the new reality they’ve settled humanity with. [text ref]

 

In all these cases, the communities need something from the larger world that they are also hiding from. In Fledgling, the Ina need new human partners to feed off of. In Clay’s Arc, the infected cannot resist the virus’ urges entirely, meaning they infect new people in as close to a controlled method as they possibly can. In Lilith’s Brood, the separatist humans are desperate for children, which lends them to the delusions that the Oankali or the humans who mate with them have wholly human children that can be stolen and adopted by the separatists. [text ref]

As for the GVC, we instead try to make ourselves very visible because, not unlike Butler’s communities, what we need from the larger community is new members. This diverges interestingly from another consistent source of tension in the communities in Butler’s fiction: that these communities would not grow if prospective members knew what they were getting into before they entered.

In Fledgling, the first human that Shori makes a partner of is completely, utterly unaware of the ways this Ina will change his life, and render him unable to ever resist or leave. The rest of the book’s evidence surrounding Ina finding human mates suggests that there is no getting around the fact that human partners are selected and made unable to resist before they are ever able to fully comprehend their being stuck.

In Clay’s arc, the virus-granted abilities of increased strength, sensory perception, agility, etc. might initially sound appealing to mere humans, but these gains come at the cost of self-control. The virus demands of its host that it is spread, and this manifests in something like a blinding lust, a sort of carnal hunger that does not make time for human conventions of decency such as respect for consent.

This convention is hinted at again in Bloodchild, where Gan is ignorant to the true nature of his family’s relationship to T’Gatoi until by chance he witnesses an older by without a Tlic, and comes to understand that he too was being set up to carry Tlic eggs and engage in this violent, bloody birth.

The only work in Butler’s Fiction that we’ve read which breaks from this convention is Lilith’s Brood. In this case, the Oankali do everything in their power to both inform and brace humans for their new reality before even allowing themselves to be seen. Even this is only a slight break of the earlier convention, because the Oankali tell their truth over an extended period of time, centuries, so that there is no out-rightly intended falsehood told about the circumstances. Still, human’s fill in their own rationalizations as they come to understand their new reality, which makes them believe they’re being lied to by omission when in (the Oankali’s) reality they’re being spoon-fed truths at a pace which will not overwhelm or incapacitate them.

So, all this goes to establish that the communities in butler’s fiction share certain traits with human cooperatives. Namely: intentional community, cooperation as means to an end. Butler’s communities and cooperatives diverge in one key aspect, being the coercive control, manipulation or limiting of information by the smaller community which the larger community and prospective members are powerless against.

It is worthwhile to mention that coops and socially-progressive agendas generally stack their information foreword because, perhaps like a virus trying to take control of an entire organism, the belief is that good ideas which help the most people are or ought to be contagious ideas, or maybe a reality with people that information accessibility is not enough, and perhaps Butler’s fiction partially demonstrates how certain things change, certain opinions matter more or less before or after experience has been had. Perhaps this suggests that there is a value to experience which can supersede judgments we make with information before the experience is had? If this suggestion makes readers uncomfortable, it’s likely because  the way we equate knowledge with autonomy. Does this position create a division between knowledge gained via information versus that gained via experience? 

A Brief Guide to the Many Traps of Octavia Butler’s Fiction

The students of ENGL 431/Octavia Butler and Social Ties have requested that I post their collaborative statement that they conceptualized and crafted independently of the instructor. Click here for a version with live links.

ENGL 431 Final

by Sandy Brahaspat, Sabrina Bramwell, Kevin Burke, Sandra Ching, Gabby Cicio, Elana Evenden, Devin Flaherty, Emma Gears, Denis Hartnett, Jonathan Kalman, Clio Lieberman, Jennifer Liriano, Linda Luder, Brendan Mahoney, Sean McAneny, Catherine McCormick, Steven Minurka, Nolan Parker, McKenna Parzych, Raina Salvatore, Samantha Stern, Emily Sterns, Katelyn Sullivan, Veronica Taglia, Elizabeth Verrastro, Davina Ward, Sarah Werth, and Sarah Westbay

 

The Final Post

Throughout the semester, I found that it was a joy to think of ideas to write about on the blog post, and for the possibility of others to respond to those thoughts I had decided to publish. Or to connect ideas in ways I never thought possible. I had never written on a blog post before, and was a bit anxious and confused on how to pursue this new challenge in front of me.

Coming up with the ideas was never a challenge, but forcing myself to delve deeper into the idea that I had focused on, to ‘unpack’ every thought that came to mind in a succinct way that would be sufficient for the blog requirements. There was some initial fumbling in the beginning, but with some helpful tips and guidance from Dr. McCoy, I was able to see what needed to be expanded upon and more explained in future posts.

I found that blogging was a great way for me to reflect on the discussions that we had each week in class, for I would write down any major or minor topics we might have discussed and I would then choose one that I wanted to write more about from my point of view. It was a better reflection than having a real assignment of writing a paper on each book that we read, for there was no real pressure to get a say about everything in class, when I could expand on it more in a blog post.

Each blog post that I wrote out and published was usually re-written about four times to be more effective and be easily understood so there would be no confusion. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, the point is that I tried my very best to crank out my thoughts for all to see. Many would find it cumbersome and annoying to find that they have to crank out 10 blog posts within the semester, but it wasn’t that hard of a task for me to accomplish. I enjoyed this prolonged assignment very much, and will miss posting a blog every week about a topic in class that was stuck in my noggin.

 

Procrastination at its Finest

I was browsing the blog, reading everyone’s work and trying to decide what I should include in my final post to this forum. I stumbled upon Kyra’s post. Her and I share something in common, we both seem to have procrastinated this assignment like no other. Which is very much unlike me to do, but here I am. I wondered why I took so long to crank these posts out and reach the required amount but I do think Kyra’s reasoning of feeling a slight anxiety over other peer’s seeing my thoughts and opinions played a role in my procrastination. I was spending far too much time worrying about if my thoughts would sound profound enough to share on the internet. Once I bit the bullet and did it, however, my fears were dissolved.

Continue reading “Procrastination at its Finest”

SUNY Geneseo as a Place of True Education

I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day about her classes and her professors. She attends a community college in my hometown. She said that her professors are constantly cancelling classes and that they assign books and tell students to just view the Sparknotes if they don’t feel like reading. My jaw dropped as she said this. I can’t imagine a professor ever acting in that manner at Geneseo. I told her that that was awful and she shrugged and said, “Yeah, but I get all A’s, so who cares?” Continue reading “SUNY Geneseo as a Place of True Education”