Category: McCoy 431 Fall 2017

Oankali Puppies! :Over-exaggerating the Visual

If I am walking along Main Street and I notice a puppy, immediately, and frankly without much thought, I recognize the puppy as a being separate from the human species. I see it’s shaggy fur, wagging tail, long ears and pink tongue and am able to assess that, yes, this is a puppy.  For human beings, our vision is a key sensory technique that aids in our survival and continuation as a species. This skill allows us to differentiate ourselves from environmental world deciphering between the human and- generally termed- nonhuman. Once classification has been established our bodies then move on to calculate how to react to this nonhuman factor, “should I pet the puppy?”. But if we dig a bit deeper our train of thought might yield some interesting questions, like, “when it comes down to it how different am I from the puppy?”. Taken in more holistic terms, “what separates us from the nonhuman?”. And lastly, in reference to Octavia Butler, “if it is to be thoroughly considered, how are humans different from the Tlich, from the enclave on Clay’s Ark, from the Ina, from the Oankali?”

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On Hierarchy

Jdahya tells Lilith humans have two “incompatible characteristics” (38). The first is “intelligence” and the second is “hierarchy” (39). The Oankali believe that the second characteristic is a “problem” and detrimental to the human race. Jdahya also tells Lilith: “(The Oankali) are not hierarchical” (41).

But are they really not?

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Don’t Get Too Comfortable

In class on Friday (November 3rd), we were asked to think of what we wanted at the end of Dawn. As the group I was in began to think about this question of what we wanted, I started to think about what I didn’t want to happen. Throughout the semester, I have noticed that Octavia Butler is constantly pushing us as well as reminding us to stay aware of our surroundings. In Lillith’s Brood (specifically Dawn and Adulthood Rites) I find her constantly making us comfortable with our characters and their situations, only to change them and make us readjust. As discussed in class on Friday, it’s both interesting and incredibly frustrating.

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Oankali and Humanity

One of the main questions formed when reading Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy, is, “what does it mean to be human?”. Within this work, an alien species called the Oankali, find the Earth nearly destroyed by a nuclear war and try to preserve what is left of humanity. The Oankali do this by incorporating some of their own DNA into the remaining humans as well as what will become humanity’s children. By doing this, they are not only NOT saving humanity, they are making humans an extinct species. Read more

Pheromones

A few classes ago, the topic of pheromones were first brought to my attention. However, just yesterday, my friend brought them up yet again when discussing topics in her human sexual behavior course- ultimately spiking my interest yet again. As I embedded myself into the internet to find out more about pheromones, I landed on the Smithsonian’s webpage, which defines pheromones as “airborne molecules that elicit a reaction in a member of the same species.” Read more

Sometimes This, Sometimes That

Two classes back or so, we discussed what bothered us about Dawn. What bothered me about Dawn was Nikanj.

I initially liked Nikanj. I felt that, out of the other Oankali, Nikanj respected Lilith as a human being the most. When speaking of altering Lilith’s brain chemistry to help her speak the Onankali language, Nikanj states that it thinks “surprising people” is wrong because it’s like, “Treating (people) as though they aren’t people, as though they aren’t intelligent” (79). Nikanj was ordered by Kahguyaht to “surprise” Lilith—to change her brain chemistry without her consent. The fact that Nikanj realizes this is wrong and decides to tell Lilith made me very happy. I feel that Nikanj, by deciding to tell Lilith, displays a level of respect for her as an individual and treats her as another being as opposed to a research subject. Another instance of this is the conversation about Lilith’s injuries from Paul Tidus: Nikanj questions whether Lilith “need(ed)” to be told information concerning her, and promises to remember that she does need and want to be told (100). Nikanj, through words and gestures, shows that it believes Lilith’s opinion, her consent, is important. I loved that.

Then, of course, the ending ruined everything.

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In Regards to Kin and Reality (and before I change my mind about posting)

Before I go on a tirade about somewhat old class notes, I just want to say that it is exactly what this post is going to be. I’m typically mute in class as I pay attention to every nearby voice and jot down my thoughts onto a sheet of paper. I’m often aggravated of hearing the same kind of format about consent, identity, and racial tension with nearly each and every bit of literature of article that we’re presented.

With that said, I suppose I’m glad to be aggravated, for how one class – the 16th of October actually – gave way to the ideas of propaganda, disillusion, and dullness. The latter is likely the reiteration of how I sometimes feel when succumbing to my timid self in class. The first two on the other hand, relate back to what my title says, and I believe this can be a tangible issue that plague everyone who happens to possess any kind of quote on quote, family. I’m just talking about disagreements or teenage angst here, but unfortunate circumstances like political violence and social disorder, along exposure to foreign elements (such as the type of exposure we see in Clay’s Ark). I written down “varying degrees of fairness” when hearing the contrast between labeled fairness and actual fairness. A few mentions of real life give way to “The Chicago Machine” and Mayor Harold Washington essentially going against “Black Chicago.” Upon hearing the terms “too fair” personally upset me, but that’s my own bias behind what I wish in regards to equality. This may relate back to a more recent discussion regarding identity and interdependence, but I suppose that is for another post in itself. Apparently the phrase upset me enough to write down “either side wants to blow themselves” and I found the description hypocritical. I believe the term came during a hearing of This American Life podcast, if I remember correctly. Another term I wrote was “violent politeness” – something I likely heard from the same podcast. I was also trying to find a middle ground in order to pave some connection between all that I’ve taken in, along with the body of work via Octavia Butler. I think I’m still confused by it, but I suppose it’s meant to be familiarized with the system we live by, whether we like it or not. The same instance can be said for somebody whose city has been touched by bombs, or by a significant lack of clean water. Maybe I’m assuming Butler is presenting not only a discussion that ponders the extent of consent, but also the environment. Going more into a more recent class (the 23rd of October) via aliens desiring to affect the human race for seemingly good intentions –  despite the lack of trust, consent, and full awareness of the environment.

Does that sound a bit familiar?

I’m also bound to sound incredibly confusing at this point, but I’m starting to think that Butler’s output on the world when paralleled with her writing is safely silhouetted with sci-fi elements, all the while including a conspicuous message towards the human race.

This may or may not be continued in another overly broad post. (Sigh)

Otherworldly Passengers in Stranger Things and Clay’s Ark

The Duffer Brothers, the creative duo behind the hit Netflix Series, Stranger Things, have spoken openly about their major influences, the many movies of the 1980s, namely Stephen Spielberg and John Carpenter titles, as well as Stephen King’s fiction. These influences come through clearly with the synth-heavy soundtrack reminding viewers of Carpenter’s horror, the dialogue and spectacle of Spielberg films such as E.T. and the small-town vibe and characters reminiscent of King’s It. The second season of Stranger Things expands the sci-fi mythos, and apparently draws from even more influences of the genre. In particular, there is a character who is inhabited by an organism from another world, which alters his compulsions, much like in Octavia Butler’s 1984 work Clay’s Ark. Read more

Broad City and Butler

Ilana: “You wanna talk nasty seafood? I read a thing on Buzzfeed that said there’s microscopic shrimp in all of New York City’s drinking water.”

Bobbi: “What?”

Ilana: “Copepods, they’re called.”

Bobbi: “No!”

Ilana: “Yeah, Google it. We have shrimp inside of us at all times, which I’m okay with, sounds delicious. But it’s like, ask me first?”

According to the NYT article, there are 100 trillion bacteria on each person’s skin, and the Medical News Today article claims we have up to two kilograms of bacteria in our guts. The NYT article also says that we are only 10% human, meaning that for every human cell we have there are 10 microorganisms, and 99% of the genetic material inside our bodies are from said microorganisms.

In the excerpt from Broad City, we see pop culture evidence of non-consent in microorganisms inhabiting our bodies. We do not initially consent to these beings living in our bodies, but this occurs anyway. Only through scientific research do we even learn about this, which brings up questions of epistemic privilege and the divide between the conscious/subconscious brain.

The more I learn the more I find myself struggling to grapple with questions of inherent non-consent in our everyday lives, and to some extent non-consent that lives in the divide in the brain. To be honest, this is hard for me to describe in words. We don’t know what’s going on in our own bodies at all, but our subconscious brain/body responds to stimuli without our conscious brain knowing about it. Here is where epistemic privilege comes into play as well: those who are well-versed in biology (doctors, researchers, etc.) know more about violence inflicted upon the body than the average lay person.

Sickness, in this respect, is also violence enacted upon the body in biological, socioeconomic, and cultural strains. Structural/institutional violence against the body is evident in the American healthcare system in which people who cannot afford healthcare/treatment often go untreated and eventually will die (another pop cultural reference: Breaking Bad). Culturally, some people may be shunned for having diseases, especially if they are part of a marginalized group to begin with (HIV/AIDS epidemic, violence against queer (and especially queer POC) bodies).

Butler’s fiction forces me to become cognizant of these issues of everyday violence, and beckons questions of how truly autonomous and “free” we really are. In this respect, I find myself thinking a lot about choosing what is “right,” meaning what I should do, not what I can do.