Epidemic, Microbes, and Consent in Clay’s Ark

In class on Friday, we primarily spoke about consent; its legal definition, the often obvious, but just-as-often tricky examples of how consent can be overlooked. From the most seemingly-innocuous examples (petting a student’s head in class) to the most intolerably sinister ones, the violation of consent is extremely dangerous. So far in Butler’s works Bloodchild and Clay’s Ark, we have seen almost-exclusively interactions in which consent is overlooked. For whatever purpose it may serve, good or bad, a nonconsensual act carries to the power to irreparably harm its victim, emotionally, psychologically, or, in this case, at the most fundamental part of one’s being.

In Clay’s Ark so far, Butler has provided several examples of nonconsensual interactions. The virus, microbe, or extraterrestrial organism which has been introduced is capable of binding with human cells in a way that changes them. In some ways, the humans are stronger and more perceptive. In others, as Meda points out, the organism is “sexual (498).” It produces a near-undeniable urge in its carrier for physical contact and sex with uninfected humans. Butler delivers us several examples of nonconsensual contact through these contact-based infections. In the past, Eli infect Meda’s entire family without consent, leaving them irreparably changed, and apparently killing some of them. Next, it seems the infected ones have chosen to stay together, infection only select humans in the smallest amount possible to keep themselves alive. In a way, as Eli and Meda tell it, this can be seen as a service to humankind, as it prevents them from uncontrollably raping and infecting everyone they come into contact with, causing an “epidemic” (500). This suggestion further blurs the definition of consent.

Because we get the present story from the point of view of Blake, a victim of this nonconsensual infection, and the past story from the point of view of Eli, the infector, we get to see both sides of the story. Eli knows that every time he touches someone he is dooming them, showing sympathy for his victims and an effort to minimalize his damage (480). From Blake’s perspective we get to see the genuine fear and pain of a victim who is non-consensually kidnapped and infected. Even as no character have, at this point, mentioned being sexually contacted, the irreparable changes of the infected victims serve as a metaphor for the irreparable changes, emotionally, psychologically, occasionally even physically that a rape victim undergoes. In this light, however sympathetic the infectors can be on a page to page basis, they are committing an evil.

The end of the section left me ambivalent. I was passionately rooting for the victims, Blake, Keira and Rane to escape their captors, while simultaneously terrified of the dangers that Meda and Eli warned may happen. The most compelling thing that Butler has done is gotten me to understand the motivations of Eli and his group, committing small evils so that they can prevent a mass apocalypse. Instead of flat, uncompromising villains, Butler has crafted a complicated enemy: one who is at conflict with themselves, but simply needs to commit these violences. The novel’s main villain so far, Eli, has alluded to the fact that he has tried desperately to end his own life, disgusted by what he has done to human beings, though the parasite will simply not let one of its hosts commit such an act (469-70). In real life, it would be simpler to imagine every rapist as a purely evil villain, but occasionally they are complex human beings, who abused their power to irreparably harm an individual. This evil is less comfortable to grapple with, but, understanding the damage they have inflicted, it’s still impossible to sympathize with. I hope that in Clay’s Ark there is possibility of preventing an epidemic without the need for further kidnappings, rapings, or nonconsensual infections, but Butler doesn’t seem to be finished dealing with the scary topic of consent.

Intent vs Affect

In class on Friday, we had a discussion on consent and Brianne mentioned a good point about not understanding ones intent. Currently I am doing research with the Psychology department where we have to determine behaviors between siblings and their peers. In lab, we watch videos of children interacting and we have to determine the quality of their social interaction. For example if two kids are playing together and one of them begins to mock the other one, we have to determine whether this is a positive or negative interaction. Are they doing this to make a joke, or to intentionally hurt the other kid? This has been the cause of some serious debates within my research group because at times we really can’t tell whether or not the kid in the video was acting maliciously or not but our way of settling all debates is to value the kids intent over the effect of their behavior.

Our discussion in class about intent brought me to think of my research group and I started to wonder, do we ever truly know someones intent? We can very well assume that the child mocked another because they wanted to be mean but Read more

Consent and Children with Disabilities

After our a group of students brought up the idea of children’s right to consent during our class discussion, I have been giving a lot of thought to children’s rights to consent in the classroom, specifically those with disabilities.  Over the summer I work at the Lincoln Elementary Summer School Program as a teacher’s aide.  This program is specifically set up for special needs children in the Scotia – Glenville public school district who would show retention in their learning unless they were to continue their learning throughout the summer.  During the school year, my mother teaches at Lincoln Elementary as a speech and language pathologist  and works with the same children I work with over the summer.  I was speaking with my mother after class on September, 15th and I found it very eye-opening how some teacher’s view the consent of children.

According to my mother, the concept of consent is not only a big issue in colleges, but also in elementary schools.  An example given to me was that, often time when a child says something to hurt another child’s feelings a teacher will step in and force one student to apologize to another.  My mom described to me how she believes that teacher’s need to recognize the difference between saying, “Go tell Susie that you are sorry!” and, “Look at how Susie feels.  If you feel comfortable, it might be nice to apologize to her.”  I agree that this issue is very important.  Why should teachers have the right to dictate students emotions by forcing them to apologize when Carlos might damn well not be sorry that he told Susie he didn’t like her lunch box?

This past summer, I worked as a one on one aide for a first grader with cerebral palsy.  For the sake of this story I will call her Rachel to protect her privacy since I was not given consent by her or her parents to use her real name.  Rachel is not her name.  My job required me to help Rachel in the bathroom, help her in and out of her wheelchair, guide her when using a pencil, help her stretch her feet and aide her in moving to the carpet.  Much of the time Rachel would get frustrated and yell out, “let me do it!” when I needed to help her.  Seeing her other friends in the classroom being more independent with their movements and bodies was always difficult for her, as she made it clear that she wanted to complete these simple tasks on her own.  This was very difficult for me to grasp because I knew she was not offering consent for me to help her, but for her own safety, I needed to continue to touch her or help her in a way that she was rejecting me from.  After discussing this with my mother, I learned that she often struggles with these same issues during her job everyday.  She says that the safety of the children is most important regardless of their comfort level.  My mother said that she often has conversations with Rachel explaining why she has to do what she does, and apologizes for any discomfort it causes her.

This discussion really led me to think about who has the right to consent for young people?  Should they only  be able to connect for themselves or should a trusted adult be able to consent for them, specifically in a classroom setting?

A story of slavery? “It isn’t.”

As a white woman living in 2017, it is very difficult for me to say that I have an understanding or a grasp on the concept of slavery.  I admit whole heartedly that I am unable to fully understand this topic to all of its depths and in no way have experiences with race issues close to that of Octavia Butler’s.  This being said, I do not want to come across as the privileged, white girl who cried slavery. I do not question her motives for her story, Bloodchild, yet, as a reader, my mind immediately approached the realm of the concept slavery when reading her story.

I am unable to say if my mind would jump to the issue of slavery when reading this, had it not been for my brief knowledge of who Octavia Butler is and my experiences studying abroad this summer in Senegal while spending large portion of our course work focusing on issues of slavery.  This story particularly struck me as embodying issues of slavery on page 25; “The animals once began killing most of our eggs after implantation long before your ancestors arrived.  You know these things, Gan.  Because your people arrived, we are relearning what it means to be healthy thriving people.  And your ancestors, fleeing from their home-world, from their own kind who would have killed or enslaved them – they survived because of us. We saw them as people and gave them the Preserve when they still tried to kill us as worms (Butler, 25).”  To me, this brings up the question, what does it mean to be a slave?

Reading this story of humans who migrated to this new place to settle, only to be surprised the planet was inhabited by a different species almost reminds me of a sort of reverse situation of the Europeans coming to the “New World” (America) for the first time.  We all know the story of how the Native Americans were treated like savages in their own land.  I find this similar to Butler’s work because in both cases acts of hatred and war broke out.  Similar to Butler’s story, there was a major issue with race between the Europeans and the Native Americans.  Much of this has to do with the visual that we discussed in class.  Exploring this text allowed me to realize that a lot of fear and hatred stems from foreign visuals.

In my beliefs, slavery can be seen in this story when the humans first came to the Tilc’s planet and they were restrained, imprisoned and forced to mate with each other; “still tried to kill us as worms” (Butler, 25).  One could think that slavery can be seen when one does not have the ability to make decisions about their own body.  Although Ghan agrees to carry and host a Tilc child, he is ultimately unaware of the violence of the birth and the arrangement that happened years before he was born stating that the humans would carry the Tilc’s children.  Due to this happening years ago, Ghan technically had no say in this.  Does that mean that it was actually his choice?   Additionally, the eggs given to the Terran have an intoxicating impact, much like that of drugs.  To me, this raises the question of if they are fulling aware of the decisions they make because they are under this drug like trance.

 

Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio: Out in the Open

As Erin Herbst‘s and Brianne Briggmann‘s posts indicate, we along with Ron Herzman are taking the first steps towards a collaborative essay exploring how Toni Morrison’s Jazz recapitulates and revises Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio.

The project is an offshoot of Fall 2016’s Toni Morrison’s Trilogy course where the class concentrated on the relationship between Morrison’s Paradise and Dante’s Paradiso, and we hope to do much of the thinking towards it in public.

There are risks to doing so, of course. For instance, anyone from anywhere can read this, scrape our interpretations, and use them elsewhere without credit or citation. Read more

Ascending Through the Texts

I will be the first to admit that I do not have much background knowledge on the Harlem Renaissance coming into Lewis’ book. I do take some blame for this myself as I haven’t done thorough independent research on Harlem in the 1920’s, but I’m going to shed most of the blame on current high school curricula. However, as I am beginning to read When Harlem was in Vogue I am quickly learning much more about Harlem and its history as a host of a civil rights revolution. Read more

When Harlem Was In Vogue chapter 1 thoughts

I may as well start with the disclaimer that I read this chapter mainly for content, seeing some connections to Jazz and Purgatorio; I think it’s safe to say that mentions of the Great Migrations naturally make my brain think to the concept of movement in both Dante and Morrison’s works. Besides that, however, I can’t say that I have any concrete connections– then again it’s only chapter 1. Read more

The Question of Consent

When presented with the word consent, I think of the diverse usage of the word in different situations–consent between partners engaging in intimate relationships, consent for a company to use a photo, consent for a researcher to study an individual’s demographic data, and consent for organ donation after death. The amount of situations that require consent is overwhelming. However, respecting individuals requires consent. Blindly taking action can easily offend someone or cross their personal boundaries.

Read more

Male Pregnancy in “Bloodchild”

Brendan’s post about the relationship between Gan and T’Gatoi reflecting many elements of Western society’s model of love and marriage reminded me of Butler’s claim that “Bloodchild” is her “pregnant man story” (30). Brendan claims that Butler has the “talent to alter this familiar institution (marriage) in such a way to make it seem foreign and repulsive”, but I think her mastery goes even further to take giving birth, something that happens numerous times a day and is generally considered a “miracle”, and make it into something that seems like torture. It might seem different because Gan is a boy and this is the way the Terrans “pay the rent”, but the impregnation of Terran men and subsequent birthing is very similar to what women have be going through for years. Read more

Can’t Catch A Break

From what I’ve learned these past few weeks in class is that Black people were never given a break from societal injustices aimed at them for hundreds of years. In the primary school systems, we were taught briefly about American Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement to get a general understanding of our history as a nation. However, no one really questioned other fields, like Biology and Literature, and how they are related to what we’ve learned in History class. Who knew that there are books published around the topics of medical enslavement and unauthorized experimentation. As the weeks go by, I’m sure that I’ll continue to be shocked and disgusted by what events occurred in the past, but for now, I can only hope that the torture finally ends in death. Read more