Colonialism in Clay’s Ark

On Friday, Dr. McCoy pushed us to remember that it isn’t Eli waking up and scratching the original inhabitants of the enclave that set the world up for an epidemic, it’s that people went to Proxi Two and were exposed to the disease in the first place. This seemed to suggest that colonialism, not an individual, is responsible for what ultimately happens to Earth. Once this idea took root in my head, it was hard not to read Clay’s Ark through that lens.

Before I get started, I just want to say that I couldn’t really hear anyone all that well in class today, so I’m sorry if I’m just reiterating something that’s already been said!

If you view the organism not as an infection or an invader, but as a colonist, parallels to our world become immediately obvious. The organism latched onto or “explored” new territory; i.e., the bodies of the scientists aboard Clay’s Ark. Then, once Clay’s Ark crashed on Earth, the organism sought out new resources and new territories in the form of more human bodies. The disease brought to these people and the possibility of death was not the organism’s main purpose in occupying human bodies; it was more of a side-effect. In some way, the organism is just fulfilling the Lockean principle of taking only what you need to survive. The organism is doing exactly what it needs to survive. The organism is compelled to ensure its survival the same way that Eli and the enclave are compelled to ensure theirs.

You can see how this parallels to the history of colonialism in our world. Explorers cross the ocean into the “new world” and take what lands they find as their own. These explorers feel “compelled” to take land for a variety of reasons. (My seventh grade social studies teacher called those reasons the three G’s; God, glory, and gold.) Oftentimes, colonists came to the Americas to escape persecution or starvation; in other words, for their own survival. As the organism is, these people were compelled to survive and thrive. Although colonialists committed intentional, violent atrocities on the indigenous people whose lands they took, in the Americas thousands upon thousands of indigenous people died from the diseases Europeans unintentionally brought with them.

However, it is awkward and distasteful to say that the people infected by the organism and the lands explorers took are comparable because the people are human beings and land is an inanimate thing. As I mentioned before, Eli and his enclave have their own compulsions, needs, and wants. I want to talk about how I think Butler is deconstructing the myth of colonialism coupled with the idea that humans have a natural drive to seek out and conquer new ideas, peoples, and territories.

One of the ideas that I struggled with the most while reading Clay’s Ark is that the compulsion the organism brings to infect other people is so strong that people cannot resist it, creating the necessity for the enclave in the first place. This is because in the opening sections of the book, Eli resists those compulsions when he first comes to the enclave. Here is the section where Eli has the compulsion to rape a woman:

“He had scented at least one man in the house, but there were several women. Their scents attracted him powerfully. Yet, the moment he caught himself moving toward the house in response to that attraction, he began to resist [. . .] He did not move until the war within had exhausted him, until he had no strength left to take the woman. Finally, triumphant, he dragged himself back to the well [. . .]” (p. 469-470)

We can see here that Eli can resist his compulsions.

What does it mean then, if the compulsions the organism brings are supposed to be irresistible, yet Eli resists them? This isn’t the only instance where Eli resists them, either. Someone mentioned in class today that Eli could have driven straight into a city and given everyone the disease, but he doesn’t. Every time he goes out into town for supplies, he could transfer the organism, but he wears protective gloves.

Here, I think that Butler is calling bullshit on the white colonialist, imperialistic idea that humans have some sort of natural drive to conquer new “territories”. Additionally, this deconstructs the benign-seeming idea that Locke presents that humans have a right to take what they need to survive. Locke, as we know, doesn’t really care about indigenous people and their rights. If you consider the organism’s need to spread as a basic mechanism of its survival, i.e. a right, i.e. a way to avoid entering into a state of war with itself, Eli’s resistance against these compulsions violate the idea that they are a right/necessary to survive, because Eli resists and he still survives. (Does that make sense?) After all, Eli isn’t the one whose scratch sends the organism around the globe. It’s Blake, who I could write an entirely new blog post on about the links between him and colonialism.

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