Seed Shape Essay

Fractals are patterns of shapes created by a mathematical algorithm, these structures are repeatedly building the same shape onto itself, and they have no defining end. As mentioned in “African Fractals” by Ron Eglash, fractals undergo recursions, which is the output for a first iteration is the input for the next iteration, and so on. These structures can either follow a seed shape or a base shape. The seed shape fractal can be visually represented by the Koch curve, where the seed shape undergoes a recursive replacement process. Fractal shapes and patterns are commonly found in a wide variety of things—in nature and in culture.

Fractals are intentionally designed in some places, and randomly appear in others. In African culture, fractals are used in architectural design to create a divide between sacred and everyday buildings/structures. For example, according to “African Fractals”, an aerial photo of Ba-Ila settlement in southern Zambia reveals that the whole settlement has the same shape; “it is a ring of rings.” Fractal structures are also seen in naturally occurring things, such as the structure of human lungs and the way roots travel in soil. 

Fractals appear very frequently across many different aspects of culture. Some cultural artworks include fractal patterns, like a couple kinds of quilt designs. Even though they are composed of mathematical algorithms, fractals structures can be observed in literature as well. In African American literature, fractals take form as concepts—a concept that is repeated and built upon. In class we’ve discussed ‘seed shapes’ (concepts) that we’ve noticed present throughout many of our course texts; some are more commonly seen than others and some are more important than others. 

In this course, African American literature, the author’s context in their writing is a really important seed shape that we have to think about when approaching our course texts, and for just reading in general. Thinking about the context something was written in when reading is useful to your comprehension of the text because it can help explain why something happened, a decision was made, etc… (in fiction or non-fiction). 

We can observe the importance of this seed shape in our course text, “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler. The story takes place on an alien planet that humans, or “Terrans”, are living on. The planet is dominated by the “Tlic” which are an insect species. Unable to reproduce on their own, they depend on using the bodies of human men to carry and birth their young, in order to keep their species’ survival. “Bloodchild” is narrated by the main character, Gan, a human boy living on the planet. The story begins, “My last night of childhood began with a visit home,” because Gan is now approaching the age of being able to carry one of the Tlic’s young, and first witnesses a birthing process: it is so disturbing and violent. Gan struggles with a crisis when he begins to question why they are complicit with continuing this tradition. At the end of the story, Gan is forced to have the Tlic eggs implanted into him, and he will have to live through the horrifying act he just observed. 

This story is actually often misinterpreted to be about slavery. This kind of mistake typically comes from generalizing—because the author is a black American, people will just assume they must be writing about slavery. Octavia Butler addresses the readers and writers who interpreted “Bloodchild” this way in her afterword, where she describes what the story is actually about. It’s about so many things: it’s about love, coming of age, colonialism, and gender. Authors will write an afterword for their work, providing readers with more context and information when trying to understand ideas and make connections in the reading. 

Paratext is material that surrounds but is separate from any piece of writing (poem, story, essay, etc…). The paratext basically ‘sets the tone’ for the text, giving readers an idea of what the writing is going to be about. It’s another mode in which authors can tell something important to their readers. In W.E.B. Dubois’s writing, he includes a song as a paratext, including some lyrics and the music notes on a staff. He describes each of these phrases as, “a haunting echo of these weird old songs in which the soul of the black slave spoke to men.” Chapter III of Dubois’s book recalls some of the events of Mr. Booker T. Washington’s career. The paratext song for this chapter says, “From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed, unmanned! Hereditary bondsmen! Know ye not who would be free themselves must strike the blow?”. These lyrics describe the intense and dark emotions expressed when wanting freedom. This idea relates to what is said in this chapter, Mr. Washington acted as a mediator between the South and the North for the discussion of what civil rights Freedmen should get. While the North was much more progressive than the South, Mr. Washington was able to find a way the two sides could compromise. 

In James Snead’s essay “On Repetition in Black Culture”, he describes some of the differences between “Black culture” and “European culture”. First, in European culture, culture is viewed as linear; something with consistent growth. On the contrary, Black culture believes culture to be like a circle, and being able to achieve an equilibrium. This difference between cultures exists in economical opinions. Because European culture pushes the idea of accumulative growth, that perspective prefers to see the economy be linear. 

Since “European culture” cultural norms dominate the United States, in general, but specifically the school systems, it’s especially important for American students to be careful and considerate readers of writing from authors of all cultures. It’s very important to be understanding and open-minded of the perspective and intent of the authors when studying all kinds of literature. We should be applying this same mindset when reading African American literature. 

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