Beware the Epistemophilia

Epistemophilia: An excessive love for knowledge.

Water is great! In fact, 55%-60% Of the human body and 71% of the earth is composed of water. Like water anything in moderation, even things that hold a necessity to live is beneficial. However, to look on the other side of the spectrum, an abundance of water, proves have disastrous effects both on the body and ecosystems all over the earth. This same can be applied to other resources like sunshine, rain, wind etc., but also to the human mind, to emotions we experience and actions we partake in. Epistemophilia is when a love for knowledge is approached in an excessive manner and possesses the possibility of causing more damage than good. Interpretation of Octavia Butler’s work then becomes a minefield of epistemophilic traps.

Backtracking to our class discussion of the work Clay’s Ark in the earlier portion of the semester I am driven to believe the class hit a major epistemophilic block. During discussion of this fictional work by Octavia Butler, a voiced frustration took hold of the class. It was centered on the inability to find someone to blame, or rather wanting someone to blame for the epidemic happens by the end of the book. Eli and Blake’s characters both came up repeatedly considering Eli carried the disease to earth and Blake ruined the plan of containment through the enclave. Despite not coming to a definite answer there seemed to be an unspoken unanimity that whoever was to be blamed was diseased and this quality made them at fault.  In short, the disease was to be blamed. I’d like to consider an alternative source.

Healthy beings (defined based on the fact that they are not infected by the extraterrestrial disease) should be considered as a target for blame of the epidemic, even more so than Eli or Blake. Initially, Clay’s Ark was sent on an expedition in search of locating another area to sustain mankind, and based on what we know, supported by a group of (healthy) scientists and other (healthy) influential people. Carried out as a sort of space manifest destiny, in this case, the victors were represented by those aboard the Ark. Putting to the side that race-relations played a part in this selection- i.e., white doctor, Blake would not be allowed because of his black wife- and that the expectation of survival was based on the assumption of humans being the ‘superior’ species, we see that our epistemophilic desires can cause a patchiness in our understanding of the plot.

It’s easy to forget that Eli’s first spreading of the disease resulted from him being touched, without his verbal consent, by a healthy person. “Leaving his abused body to the care of the stranger with the out-of-date conscience and the old-fashioned shotgun, he passed out. When he came to, he was in a big, cool, blue-walled room, lying in a clean, comfortable bed.” (Butler, 479). Though this individual’s intention was pure, it does not negate the fact that their interaction with Eli- and not only Eli’s carrying of the disease- stems the beginning of how the disease is spread to the remaining human population after being brought to earth. The blame, then, seems to fluctuate between the diseased and the healthy.

This information is not intended to provide a definite answer to the frustrating question of “who do we blame?”. It does, however, emphasize the influence and simultaneous danger of epistemophilic-based understandings of Butler’s work. If the entirety of our thought process only addresses one side of the story- most often the side that minimizes the influence of “healthy” humans- how are we to understand what Butler is truly trying to say?

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