The Oankali Appearance

Part of what causes me problems when I’m reading Lilith’s Brood is that I can’t picture the Oankali, so I can’t truly understand the human’s reactions to them. I know from reading Lilith’s Brood that they are bipedal with two arms—four if they are an ooloi—so they vaguely resemble humans. Oankali are hair-less with greyish colored skin and have tentacles covering their heads and bodies. They use these tentacles to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell; they function as sensory organs. There are dense clusters of the tentacles near an Oankali’s eyes, ears, and throat.

When Lilith is first introduced to Jdahya, she is frightened by the sensory tentacles that remind her of Medusa’s snakes, and I was similarly repulsed reading it (13). However, as I’ve almost finished Lilith’s Brood, I find myself less offended when reading about the Oankalis’ appearances. I’d liked to say this is because I’ve grown and learned to accept their appearances, like Lilith, but, in reality, I know it’s because I have a tendency to imagine them to as close to human as possible when reading about them. This makes it easier for me to ignore what I would have trouble accepting if I were to truly encounter them, which I know is not what Octavia Butler would want. To make it easier for me to understand what the human characters feel when they see the Oankali, I decided to google if anyone had tried to illustrate these alien creatures. These are some of the pictures I found striking:

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Zone One & Morality

As I read Zone One and learn more about the Stragglers, I am faced with the morality of killing them. There are three groups in this novel; the humans, the Stragglers, and the Skels. The Skels are the zombies who act against the human population, searching for any bit of flesh they can sink their rotted teeth into. The humans are the remaining bit of the species that have yet to be infected by the plague, fighting to survive the hunt of the Skels. Finally, there are the Stragglers, who aren’t alive, but they don’t show the hunger for flesh like the Skels. Instead, they are seen standing amongst store aisles or sitting on park benches, unmoving and unaffected by the world around them. Like animals looking for a final resting place, Stragglers choose the places they linger because that specific room or restaurant might have been associated with comfort in their previous lives. They don’t have prey to hunt or predators to fight off, instead they rot in their own worlds captured by a freeze-frame of a memory, so they’re just sort of there.

I am constantly uneasy every time I read about the deforming or defacing of Stragglers, which appears to be Whitehead’s intention. By giving them the habit of lingering where they’re comfortable, Whitehead humanizes them and makes us face the question of if it is okay to kill something that is doing no harm. I believe that it is, without a doubt, necessary to kill the Stragglers; the city must be cleared for new inhabitants and there is also a sort of mercy in releasing the Stragglers from the illusion of death. Each character in Mark Spitz’s unit deals with the killing of previous humans, Stragglers and Skels alike, by placing the negative or less appealing variety of human to them. For Gary, there were those who were able to conform to society’s rules in the way he couldn’t. For Kaitlyn they were the opposite, those who strayed from the order she lived her own life by. For Mark, they all possessed the same mediocrity he saw in himself, “Middling talents who got by, barnacles on humanity’s hull, survivors who had not yet been extinguished.” (Whitehead 267) It is the only way for them to find comfort in killing, by giving themselves the false sense of ridding the new world of the blemishes of the old.

As discussed in Ashley’s blog post, Humanity in Death, and Taha’s blog post, Rest in Peace, Mark believes he is releasing the undead from their toil between life and death, but I believe what ultimately helps him to be able to pull the trigger is the illusion he paints for himself.

Race as a False Construct Maintained due to the “Backfire Effect”

In the final of three episodes on the “Backfire Effect” by the “You Are Not so Smart” podcast, renowned cognitive psychologist based at the University of Bristol, U.K, Steven Lewandowsky introduces the concept of “motivated skepticism.” He found that people were slow to update their memories after deeply held false beliefs were corrected. People cling to beliefs about war, politics, climate change, the media and “group identity”  even after contrary evidence is presented. The threshold percentage “tipping point” that leads one to change their opinions varies but after studying the latest Presidential Election, Lewandowsky found that 40% consistently lead people to change their opinions. The amount of negativity on both sides of the election was a problem. However, “fake news” and propaganda isn’t the problem according to Lewandowsky, but it is instead control in that people choose what they hear. If a media source continually goes against your beliefs, people will walk away in favor of one that capitulates to your views.This phenomena is not necessarily unique to the United States but Lewandowsky found that Australians and Germans generally change their opinions after a belief is proven false. Whether it be climate change, race relations or anything else, little progress can be made if people cannot even agree on what information is factual and what is not, especially in a democracy.

At one point in the episode, Lewandowsky explains that “Science is smarter than scientists” and that scientists listen to science. However, as we’ve seen in class, scientists and medical clinicians have their own biases learned from society over time. As detailed throughout Medical Apartheid, these types of professionals have historically treated blacks unequally in practice. In Toni Morrison’s Home Cee admires Dr. Scott for apparently treating sick black and poor people when others would not. However, in reality, he systematically sterilized blacks exclusively, including Cee, without their consent. In the podcast episode, partisanship is the key factor in deciding what information people accept, reject, or seek out. Lewandowsky refers to partisanship as a drug or a lens that changes people’s perspective. In saying that people are partisan, he refers to synonyms “tribe, party, team and ingroup” which in relating to this class, could include race.

In American society, there is an emphasis put on race, ultimately stemming from slavery. While people may be bigots and racists behind closed doors, there is still a general consensus that all races are equal. However, even so there is still a general belief that all races are different. In reality, as we learned earlier in the semester while watching “Race: The Power of an Illusion,” there is actually no trait, characteristic, or gene inherent in people that distinguishes race. There is in fact great genetic diversity within races and there are often more commonality between people of other races than their might be within. While one could point to examples like the Sickle Cell Anemia being present in a lot of people with African ancestry, this is actually a misconception. In class we learned that the gene variant for sickle cell disease is actually related to malaria, not race or skin pigmentation.

Therefore, the concept of dividing people into races is factually wrong. However, so many people believe that race exists that it is a social fact, and therefore does. The amount of scientific information it would take to convince all people that race does not actually exist could never be conveyed because the people would walk away before even hearing it all. For this reason, voices in the black community must be very proactive in conveying their desire for equality under the law as well as to be genuinely perceived as being equal, and specifically not inferior. However, while this increased flow of information changes some people’s opinions and perceptions, the “backfire effect” leads too many bigoted or insensitive white people to get annoyed. This annoyance resulting from the dissonance between what some people believe and what they are being told can actually reinforce the false beliefs. Unfortunately, if science and reason cannot change people’s minds, protests could (and in some cases have) become riots.

The Greater Freedom of Identity and Sexual Orientation in Oankali Society

When I was reading the fourth section of Imago’s first chapter “Metamorphosis,” I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not Octavia Butler made the conversation between Jodahs and Nikanj resemble a conversation between a human child and his or her parent on purpose. While we still hear a lot of stories of human parents rejecting their child’s sense of identity or their sexual orientation, basically declining the validity of their perceived nature, the Oankali once again seem to be a step ahead of human society. I found the dialogue between Jodahs and his same-sex parent, Nikanj, beautiful and truly inspiring. Our society has a lot to learn from the Oankali, and from Nikanj in particular, who responds in a wonderfully accepting and caring way to its child’s worries and insecurities.

Nikanj carefully approaches Jodahs about the child’s fear of becoming ooloi (the third sex responsible for mediating between Oankali females and males) by letting its offspring know that it doesn’t want to push it toward the Human or the Oankali extreme, but rather wants its child “to develop as [it] should in every way” (546). Nikanj attentively listens to Jodahs and tells it that “there is no flaw in [it]” (547). We then get an insight into Jodah’s mind and learn that “its [parent’s] words gave a security nothing else could have” (547). In this way, Butler might have intended to emphasize the great importance of parental acceptance and unconditional love, which are two of the single most important aspects in a child’s life. Because it doesn’t want to hurt or cause any trouble for its family, Jodahs asks Nikanj if it could become male if it could change its shape. And Nikanj empathically responds by asking it if it “still wants to be male” (547). Thereupon we witness the child’s claim of its own identity, asking itself a significant rhetorical question: “Had I ever wanted to be male?” (547). At this moment, Jodahs realizes that it had just assumed it was male, and would have no choice in the matter. Moreover, it always thought that it could protect his family from being verbally or physically attacked and that “people wouldn’t be as hard on [Nikanj] if [it] were male” (547).

Toward the end of their conversation, Jodahs becomes more aware of what it truly wants and comes to the conclusion that it “wouldn’t want to give up being what [it is]” (548). Thus, only because of its parent’s acceptance and understanding, it recognizes that it really wants (and is meant) to be ooloi. However, Jodahs continues to wish it didn’t, because it doesn’t want to cause his family any trouble. Yet, Nikanj continues to support its child and emboldens it to stick to its true identity, reassuring it that: “You want to be what you are. That’s healthy and right for you” (548). These are what I believe to be the most encouraging, kind, and honest words a parent could (and should) tell their child in distress, especially, but not exclusively, when it comes to gender and sexual orientation.



Voluntourism Firsthand

In numerous classes, we discussed the controversial idea of “voluntourism”. As the world becomes more global, it is imperative to address “voluntourism” in greater depth. At first glance, it may seem simple and innocent: Fortunate people travel to other countries to help those less fortunate. In reality, “voluntourism” is much more complex. Who truly has the right to declare one less fortunate from another? Those who disagree with voluntourism use the argument that the “help” given to those who receive it, is ultimately useless. They also believe that those who take part in abroad volunteering trips are doing it for the wrong reason. Read more

Armor Laced With Letters

When reading Zone One and discussing the use of the complicated vocabulary during class, my mind went to the familiar phrase of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Although it doesn’t exactly follow the meaning of the phrase, I associated this phrase with Zone One because of the dangerous nature of the storyline: it revolves around an apocalyptic world, where people are constantly in danger, yet they are able to use one thing that won’t put them in danger, whether it be in terms of the PASD, or in terms of the blood thirsty zombies inhabiting the city: language. Read more

Inspiration Everywhere

As I began to compose my draft for my Inspire paper, I first asked myself the very broad and general question, “What exactly inspires me?” For a minute or two, I was completely stumped. I felt as if the answer should have came easily. I expected it to roll right off of my tongue. But for a second, I really needed to actually consider what exactly inspires me. I also needed to unpack what exactly my definition of inspiration is.

I decided that for me, inspiration refers to something that makes me feel compelled to do something for the greater good. This is tweaked slightly from Merriam Webster’s definition of “a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation.” In my case, I believe that inspiration is more of an emotion that I can feel building up in my chest, urging me to participate in a deemed “good” or possibly, “creative” act.  Read more

A Search For Hidden Messages

Although we finished Zulus a couple of weeks ago, I have been meaning to write this post about Everett’s hidden work. Throughout the novel, there are many questions that go through our mind wondering, was this done on purpose? There are two things that stuck out to me in this novel, which I have never noticed before in any other literature work, thus, the purpose of this blog is to critique Everett’s writing choices. These include: using alphabets as chapters and misspellings throughout the novel.

In Zulus, each chapter opens up as an alphabet and follows through in chronological order with a brief description that references to philosophers, writers, and artists. Does it make sense? No. Honestly, if anything it was distracting and if one were to skip the alphabetical vignette, he or she would not miss much. Not only was it confusing it was also misleading. We would read the description, wondering if it will help us understand what the chapter is about or not. Sadly, it did not help. So why would Everett use alphabets as his chapter headings, rather than the typical numbers? Although the author use of alphabetical chapter heading was indeterminate, we, the reader, can interpret it as connections being made that required in-depth research. Out of all the twenty-six chapters, chapter “A” was the most understandable. “A is for Achitophel” (pg. 7). When initially reading the intro of the chapter, it was the only introduction that actually included a word that was related to the story. Much like the chapter headings to be confusing and ultimately chaos, so was Alice Achitophel’s life. The main character in this story is, Alice Achitophel, and it follows through her journey, as being the only woman left on earth that is capable of bearing a child. Sadly after she was raped, believed to be pregnant, and commits an act of resistance, Alice Achitophel sees her life, the way she sees herself. In other words, she sees herself as a fat person trying to let her thin self out, similar to herself as being a fertile women in a world where the government stresses infertility. Ultimately, a social outcast in all cases.

Whenever we pick up a book, we assume it to be edited perfectly. No grammar errors and definitely no misspellings. However, throughout the novel we have noticed obvious misspellings. Such as “diary” instead of “dairy” (pg 126), “prigknot” instead of “pregnant” (pg. 216 ) and last but not least “fecunt” instead of “fertile” (pg. 216 ). Leaving the audience to wonder, was this done on purpose? Or do human beings have this unintentional tendency to detect faults over merits? This reminds me of a video I watched recently, where the teacher is writing down instructions to a math problem. In these problems, majority of the problems were right, however, the teacher on purpose wrote the wrong answer to one of the problem. Shortly after, one of his students enthusiastically raised his or her hand to correct his teacher’s mistake. At the end of the video, the lesson the teacher wanted to present was that, similar to the example presented in his classroom, many people do this in their daily task. By doing so, he emphasized that it is human nature to overlook information presented correctly and that more often incorrectness is pointed out over normalcy. Or could the misspellings just be typos? If there were just one or two, I could believe that, however, there were clearly many misspellings. Another explanation for the double meaning of the misspellings is known as the term, doublespeak. Doublespeak is a language that purposefully obscures, disguises, and distorts the meaning of words. Doublespeak is usually done to distance one from the truth. An example of where doublespeak has been used before is in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Orwell used this literary device to hide the truth or to make the truth sound more pleasant. Similar to Zulus, 1984, is about a dystopian literature, where there are characters trying to find a place to be themselves in a totalitarian government. In Zulus, this could have been done to keep the reader more aware while reading. While we are reading, our eyes catches the mistake, which then we process as if it was a mistake or not, and then correct the sentence with the right word. Thus, creating a process to help the reader better understand the novel.

While I was trying to figure out Everett’s hidden messages, I wondered, as a student aspiring to become part of the medical field, are these mysterious works a gain or loss? Is it better to be direct, clear and to the point to your audience or concealed in order to try to get your message thought through? (Similar to how Everett does it) Let me know what you think, I would love to hear your opinion.

Humanity in Death

I really enjoyed Taha’s blog post, Rest In Peace, in which he discussed the idea of putting people out of their misery and how in Zone One, Mark Spitz has the mindset of doing just that. He is ultimately finding the humanity within the skells, whether he wants to or not. But because they are blood and flesh thirsty zombies, you would think they don’t have any humanity left at all.   Read more