Your Language Creates Distance

We talk about a distance that vision creates, but that distance derives from the language we see in Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild. Distance in vision stems from not being able to recognize similarities between a person and what they are seeing. However, it is language that further drives distance, specifically in the way that we perceive and describe it, and the way that we, as readers and voyeurs, describe what exactly we are seeing because we don’t understand it immediately. Butler’s setting alone drives distance between the reader and their understanding of what they are supposed to be experiencing through the narrator. Our experience via Gan, is one that does not tilt us to sympathize or empathize with the Tlic, despite Gan’s affection for them. We see that the Tlic, T’Gatoi, “whipped her three meters of body off her couch” (Butler, 9), that “all of her limbs are equally dexterous” (11), and that she has “yellow eyes” (13). None of these descriptions are humane, despite the interaction that occurs between the Tlic and the humans, and even the comprehension of emotions between the two parties. But more so is distance created because of the actions that Tlic such as T’Gatoi take, and how they are translated by the narrator. The fact that T’Gatoi whipped her body around, as though her body and consciousness are two separate entities, and that her body is implied to have more than the a normal amount of “dexterous” limbs – limbs that are capable of doing tasks equally with the same amount of skill – in comparison to humans, creates distance through action. In particular, this poses a problem in Butler’s narrative, in which Bloodchild is supposed to be a story of adolescence and growing up. Part of that means understanding compromise and necessity, as readers see Gan and T’Gatoi do towards the end of the story – but our understanding of compromise and acknowledgment in part stems from the idea that power does not play a role in these decisions, or else they become choices made under duress, which is no choice at all. So while Butler has no desire for her readers to interpret this story “as a story of slavery”, the story becomes problematic because of the distance, power and lack of understanding that the story breeds.

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