A lesson on Good-faith: Octavia Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, and Hermeneutic Reflection

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not…Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”–Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”

During this unique semester of virtual learning, I took a class that focused on the author Octavia Butler. The novels we read are from her trilogy, Lilith’s Brood. A secondary material we needed to engage with was William A. Darity Jr. and Kirsten Mullen’s non-fiction work, From Here to Equality. A course concept that unites these two works is the concept of good-faith. I defined good-faith earlier in the semester based off of Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Framework principle called shared humanity. Shared humanity is defined as “recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience” . Good-faith means accepting that someone did their best, or that you did your best. This concept has been more important than ever to adopt amidst the struggles of learning virtually. Butler’s trilogy positively challenged my good-faith as a reader.  The reading experience taught me the importance of practicing good-faith as a way to establish my identity, in a personal and professional setting. I learned that practicing good-faith is a viable habit to acquire for the preservation of self and of others.

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Reading Octavia Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, with Good-faith

A common thread of the three course epigraphs for this semester is the topic of learning to grow. What am I trying to grow this semester in our English class 431-01 on Butler’s literature? I think that Professor McCoy is good at presenting us questions to make areas of potential growth more obvious, yet she can’t constantly remind us to stay on a focused track. She also can only do so much to make us have the courage to challenge ourselves. I think I am realizing something I have been pushing back against when it came to more challenging material in Octavia Butler’s literature. In my English class with Professor McCoy in the fall of 2019, we read Octavia Butler’s book Clay’s Ark. In that class, I along with other classmates, noticed that Butler can challenge a reader’s good-faith. Well, now I am seeing that Butler is still able to make me question my good-faith in her book Dawn.

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Morrison’s Book, A Mercy as a Symbol of the Active Inner Narrative: Rereading and Empathy Cultivation

Before an expulsion takes place, a notice is issued. This definition of notice resonates most with this topic and our course concepts: “a formal declaration of one’s intentions to end an agreement, typically one concerning employment or tenancy, at a specific time”. The experience of reading a book is a lot like becoming a tenant in an imaginary world. Any book that we get into our hands, can be “my shaper and my world as well” (Morrison 83). When we enter this imaginative, fictitious world, we know that it is fake; yet, how we respond to it is very real. We bring who we are in life, into the book with us. However, to be true to ourselves, we must be able to notice and read what is happening on the page, that is unless we put trust into the author and the characters. In Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy she has created a narrative scheme that ties a reader’s fate with the protagonist through the use of imperfect, dynamic characters and point of view. This interconnection can foster empathy for the characters, which directly aligns with Morrison’s moral of the story. Morrison’s message in the book is for readers to notice how narratives from all people, especially those who are expelled, need their stories to be heard and shared because expulsion should not happen to anyone in a literary or physical sense.

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The Moral Hazards of Storytelling

People may find themselves right now picking up books that they had once not imagined having time for. What makes you pick up a certain book from another is sometimes hard to understand. Once you pick up a book and turn to the first page, one may find themselves hoping that the book will satisfy their desires. Once you sit down with a book, at least for myself, I am haunted by the threat of wasted time through a disappointing reading. I personally find myself guilty of this thinking; yet, it is counterintuitive to the satisfaction gains that I have gotten from reading books in the past. My inability to sit down with a book right now is perplexing. However, this common dilemma speaks to the pressure readers put onto authors, and how authors may change their writings to make more profits through an expanded readership. Take Stephen King’s novel Misery for example, author Paul Sheldon is tormented by one of his most obsessed readers Annie, who tortures Paul to re-write his book to her envisioned end. This fictional and unrealistic example shows the affect books have on readers.

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Entitled Exchanges: Financial Disorder in Kingdom, Community, And the Family Unit in King Lear

In Sigmund Freud’s, Civilization and its Discontents he argues that through gaining citizenship, certain instinctual responses are adopted to adapt to the cultural terrain of being part of a community. Interestingly, Freud goes on to explain that when these certain instinctual desires go unmet “if the loss is not compensated for economically, one can be certain that serious disorder will ensue” (Freud 75). Citizenship is the most basic fundamental status one has to go about the mundanities of life, which can be taken for granted. When individuals, or even groupings of persons are expelled, citizenships are invalidated, and any rights the expellees may have had previously, even if they were few, are revoked. Expulsion is the best solution to those who rebel against the hegemonic hierarchy, because those in power do not want society to change and if the rebel will not adapt themselves to the society, then they will be thrown out. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, disorder ensues when Lear is not treated with the loving reverence he expects from his daughter Cordelia, and this perceived loss is when the kingdom begins to disintegrate. The source of the tragic element in King Lear is the hopelessness of social class immobility, whether one is an illegitimate son or a woman, neither individual can rebel successfully without destroying the kingdom. As a matter of fact, the social hierarchy is intertwined with the economic operations of the society, thus making it inconceivable for such social class rebellions to succeed without subsequent changes in cultural prejudices preceding. The play does a remarkably well job of showing the double standard of acceptable behaviors between different social classes, specifically in terms of exchanges or contracts that are financially profitable.

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Final Reflection

It is now the end of the semester and it is time to reflect on our courses taken this semester at Geneseo. This assignment is my reflective essay for my ENG 101 course. The course epigraph is a remark spoken by Dionne Brand at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto. At the event, Professor McCoy noted down her saying, “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice”. This quote was introduced to us day one of class, or even before day one when I previewed the syllabus on canvas. The experience of learning in this course has been challenging, yet with each challenge that I confronted I was able to grow, even if this meant, at times, just noticing my shortcomings. In the literature assigned in this course, I was able to connect with many of the characters, which I always have enjoyed doing when I have read literature. In so doing this, I was able to read the texts critically and connect it back to the course topic and epigraph. My process of growing as a writer this semester has been set powerfully in to motion from this class, I think in large part because of being able to notice.

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Racial Prejudices and Empathetic Readership

The epigraph for this course is a quote that was spoken by Dionne Brand: “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”. The act of noticing is important in one’s education as it is in becoming knowledgeable about racism, yet to notice can also be burdensome. The burden of noticing may come from feelings of powerlessness over the inability to change a situation as one envisions. Coping with feelings of hopelessness could prove to be challenging, especially if other mental health difficulties are present within the individual.  In Colson Whitehead’s novel, Zone One the African American protagonist Mark Spitz has PASD while also trying to make sense and cope with living in a zombie apocalypse. The literary devices the author uses to symbolize the experience of PASD are used to make the readers undermine his behavior and thinking in relation to his conception of his racial identity, as proved by the shocking ending, and to foster readership empathy.

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Literature and Movies Tackling the Exploitation of the African American Body

In the movie Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, the racist history of medical experimentation in the United States is transformed into an iatrophobic individual’s nightmare. The horror film is about an African American man named Chris who visits his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend. Chris eventually notices that the other African Americans around him at this family residence are disturbed and he concludes that they have been brainwashed by Rose’s mother, who is a psychotherapist. The situation ends up being much worse than he imagined. The father of Rose is a neurosurgeon and he has completed successful surgeries that made the grandparents immortal by transferring their brains into healthy African American bodies. The foundational racism that created the horrors of medical experimentation on African Americans to be exacted is shown through racist myths about the African American body, of which is made obvious in the film. The racism within this film is obvious, but how racism is examined in Octavia Butler’s novel Clay’s Ark was not as obvious to me until I compared two important scenes in both mediums. 

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Body Unknown: Racial Identity in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One

An important element in one’s social identity is how others view oneself, and this is for the most part within an individual’s control, or is it? In Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, the protagonist struggles with their racial identity. The use of a zombie apocalypse provides symbolism that highlights the internal conflict the protagonist is dealing with, along with the nickname the protagonist acquires. Additionally, Coloson Whitehead’s use of the nickname for this individual and his characterization of the protagonist is conspicuously about the United States history of exploiting African Americans. 

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Zone One’s War On Racism

How can you describe something you have seen when that something can be traumatizing and unimaginable to absorb in order to reflect on the experience or event? People who have been in wars as soldiers, in that case active in the warfare, or those who were innocent civilians in war territory may identify with the phenomenon of having to describe the indescribable and inconceivable. In Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, the war on zombies is a metaphor for the war on racism through the conflict taken up against the skels and stragglers for reconstruction pursuits by the government. The nature of the war is masked through literary devices such as third person omniscient point of view and the utilization of direct and indirect dialogue, thus introducing the potential for the war to be seen for something it is not. 

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