Learning to Think(ING)

I had mixed feelings about this class after our first couple of sessions at the beginning of the semester. First, I was excited: I had not read many science-fiction books before, and thought the topic sounded fascinating and could not wait to enjoy my reading for the semester. I also really liked the idea of blogging for the class, as I have always enjoyed conversational writing, as well as the opportunity to read my peers’ work. However, I remember being confused about two things: first, the midterm paper, which “need not be an argument-driven paper.” I wondered how a person could write a paper without a central argument as its basis. However, I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and decided I’d worry about it closer to the midterm. I mainly was baffled by the final reflective essay—here it is!—and could not believe a professor could allow her students to self-assess their paper and have that grade be worth twenty percent of their final average. It is only now that I realize I had so much to learn: my mind, which is constantly concerned with grades and striving for A’s in all my classes, (as Dr. McCoy hinted at in office hours once this semester, I am a perfectionist), could not yet comprehend that self-assessing a paper in an effort to further my academic growth could be more important than Dr. McCoy handing me a letter grade to evaluate my work. Another thing I did not realize at the beginning of the semester was how beneficial the blogging process would be to my growth: I originally looked at the blog assignment as a chance to have fun with the text and converse with my peers, but did not think that I would greatly improve as a reader and writer through the task. Now, I believe it is because of the blogging process and the feedback I received all semester that I have been able to develop and improve as a reader, writer, and most importantly, as a thinker, more than I have ever done so from one class over my two and a half years at Geneseo. In an effort to reflect upon changes in my “learning and outlook over time,” as is referred to in the Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education, I am going to look through and discuss my blog posts and experience writing the midterm paper for this class. A common thread in all of my blog posts is how I applied my reading of Jemisin’s trilogy to current issues, and used it to think about and further my understanding of real world problems in my writing. I think that right about the time of the midterm paper was when I made a breakthrough in terms of greatly improving my “thinking” during the semester: after meeting with Dr. McCoy and working through my frustrations about the paper, I learned to defy writing conventions (such as always writing argument-based papers), which helped me learn more about what I actually write about. By being able to write without set conclusions and arguments, I was able to learn and explore more than ever before, and form ideas about how to further foster my academic improvement. Continue reading “Learning to Think(ING)”

The Benefits of Collaborative Work

When Dr. McCoy assessed my group’s collaborative blog post, she asked how we accomplished working together and being able to formulate our thoughts as a group. I’ll admit I am usually skeptical about group projects: I like to work on my own. However, I think that working with my group on this blog post opened my eyes to the rewards of being able to not just discuss texts with other people, but to be able to put this analysis in writing in the form of a group blog post. I think my group members worked off of each other to build a strong analysis of the catastrophe we wrote about, the impact it had on society, and how this related to Jemisin’s trilogy. Continue reading “The Benefits of Collaborative Work”

Earth and Syl Anagist: a Disregard for Human Life

Before class on Monday, I was reading through the blog looking for inspiration for a new post. While I didn’t end up with a specific idea of what I wanted to write about in my next post, I did thoroughly enjoy reading Michee’s post, “The Dehumanization of Civilization.”  I knew I wanted to address her thought-provoking post, but I could not decide what I wanted to focus on in regards to expanding my own thoughts and connecting it to Jemisin’s work. However, in class, Dr. McCoy sarcastically said “life is sacred in Syl Anagist,” and I immediately knew what I wanted to write about. Both Michee’s post and Dr. McCoy’s repetition of a line from The Stone Sky got me thinking more about the value of life both on Earth and in Jemisin’s trilogy. I believe that in addition to the trilogy revealing that life in Jemisin’s worlds is not, indeed, “sacred,” our world today seems to increasingly disregard the value of human life. Continue reading “Earth and Syl Anagist: a Disregard for Human Life”

Solarpunk and Solving “Real World” Problems

On Monday, Dr. McCoy split us into groups and asked my group to research “solarpunk.” We learned that solarpunk inspires Jemisin’s world, Syl Anagist, in The Stone Sky. I had never heard of solarpunk, but I found learning about it fascinating, and it inspired me to think about concepts in Jemisin’s trilogy that I had not yet considered. Solarpunk is an idea discussed on many sites such as Tumblr, in which one blogger pictured a “plausible near-future sci-fi genre, which I like to imagine as based on updated Art Nouveau, Victorian, and Edwardian aesthetics, combined with a green and renewable energy movement… a balance of sustainable energy-powered tech, environmental cities, and wicked cool aesthetics.” The idea developed into a movement focused on sustainable cities with different systems of energy delivery, and imagining a future much different from typical apocalyptic cli-fi novels, in which the future is only imagined as bleak, and the Earth seen as being in a slow decline that will eventually result in disaster. Jennifer Hamilton, a professor at the University of Sydney explains of solarpunk: “Solarpunks argue that the problem with imagining such a dark future (or no future, for that matter) is that, while failure may be cathartic, it thwarts the possibility of thinking about alternatives.” Continue reading “Solarpunk and Solving “Real World” Problems”

Midterm Paper Reflection: Reversing Personal Tendencies and Defying Conventions

Writing the midterm paper went from being a frustrating process to an extremely rewarding one for me. I originally struggled to put words on paper, as I have a tendency towards perfectionism, where I feel like I must have completely figured out an argument before I write a paper. I was not sure what geologic source to use for my paper, but I thought I had developed two “main ideas” for it that I wanted to write about. When I met with Dr. McCoy to see if I was going in the right direction, I became even more frustrated because she kept telling me there were no “right” and “wrong” answers, but that I had to have more of a focus for my paper on the geologic source and make sure my writing was not purely based on the text of The Fifth Season. She asked what in the book was “most interesting” to me, to which I responded I was interested by the node maintainers. I said I wanted to write about them but did not know what geologic source to use as the basis of my writing. Dr. McCoy suggested I use the seismic networks we looked at in class one day, but I kept wondering how I could possibly use websites with information about earthquakes and tsunamis, in a paper in which I must analyze a book. Dr. McCoy challenged me to abandon my perfectionist tendencies and write to discover something, not to prove a previously held idea I had. I realized that because of my inclinations to only write something when I had it completely figured out, I had been unable to start the paper because I could not figure out how exactly I wanted to use the geologic source. I was not going to let this stop me anymore, and I sat down to write the introduction of my paper without a final point that I wanted to make in the paper. This made it easier for me to discover how I wanted to use the geologic sources, and I focused on the NEIC (National Earthquake Information Center) and GSN (Global Seismographic Center). Continue reading “Midterm Paper Reflection: Reversing Personal Tendencies and Defying Conventions”

Parental Love and the Different Ways it Can Manifest

A couple of weeks ago I found myself pondering Essun’s decision to kill Corundum, and what that meant in terms of a mother’s love. I wrote that “Her decision to kill her son is out of love for Corundum, who she knows is better off dead than having his mind and body enslaved for his whole life. While most see maternal instinct as caring for and showering children with affection, Essun’s maternal instinct in this dire situation leads her to do the right thing for her son.” I thought that a mother’s love did not necessarily have to be about affection, but that maternal instinct can manifest itself in other forms. Dr. McCoy commented on my post with a reference to my addressing Toni Morrison’s work, in which she mentioned that “you will find a great deal of her [Morrison’s] fiction questions that narrow definition of love as overt performances of affection. As your anticipating of naysayers indicates, there’s a lot of cultural investment in that definition. I wonder what you’ll find in Jemisin.” As we have begun The Obelisk Gate, I have begun to find many places in which Essun’s actions reveal how parental love is not always about displaying affection. Continue reading “Parental Love and the Different Ways it Can Manifest”

Freedom in Resistance: Ykka

Upon finishing The Fifth Season, I was confused about a lot of plot points. A lot of the characters jumbled together in my head and I felt like I was missing things. I felt as if there was just too much in Jemisin’s fictional world for me to take in in one reading, and wondered if I should reread the book. Pressed for time just like any college student, I debated whether or not I should do so. However, I went home for fall break resigned to reread, and I’m so glad I did, because I feel as if I gained a completely new, fuller understanding of the book. This inspired me to circle back to my previous blog posts, to my peers’ blog posts, and to Professor McCoy’s comments. I wanted to see if there was anything I had been unable to make strong connections to, that I now feel I have something new to say about. I’d like to tie in points from all three of these: Professor McCoy pointed me to similarities in Michee’s post about philosophical differences between Essun and Ykka to my post about those between Essun and Alabaster, and asked what points Jemisin is making about freedom and resistance through the differences in their attitudes towards their place in life (as orogenes in a highly oppressive society). In addition, in my first blog post, I had written about the self-hatred orogenes displayed as they called themselves “roggas.” Professor McCoy asked about the possibility not only of this slur reflecting self-hatred, but revealing an opportunity for “reclamation” of the word. I think that by discussing Ykka’s character, I can address both of these points. Continue reading “Freedom in Resistance: Ykka”

Essun’s Strength in Murder

Essun shows incredible strength throughout the book, persevering through periods of enslavement and great personal loss, including when she forces herself to murder her own son to save him from a life of captivity and servitude. I think my opinion of Essun (or as she is called at the time, Syenite’s) killing of Corundum is likely to be controversial. I do not think Essun is a “bad person” for killing her son: I think she is extraordinarily brave and strong for this act. Essun knows that if Corundum is captured by the Guardians, they will turn him into a node maintainer who is permanently sedated and tortured by the Fulcrum, and bound to a wire chair for the rest of his life. She will not allow this life for her son, and thinks, “She will not let them take him, enslave him, turn his body into a tool and his mind into a weapon and his life into a travesty of freedom” (Jemisin 441). Essun then unleashes all of her power to shatter the world, in turn killing her son, as she believes “Better that a child never have lived at all than live as a slave. Better that he die. Better that she die. Alabaster will hate her for this, for leaving him alone, but Alabaster is not here, and survival is not the same thing as living” (441). Essun understands that there is a fate worse than death, and enslavement by the Fulcrum falls under this category. Her decision to kill her son is out of love for Corundum, who she knows is better off dead than having his mind and body enslaved for his whole life. While most see maternal instinct as caring for and showering children with affection, Essun’s maternal instinct in this dire situation leads her to do the right thing for her son. Continue reading “Essun’s Strength in Murder”

Power Hierarchies and Oppression of Orogenes

Reading Sabrina Chan’s post “Fake News” got me thinking about the concept of power structures and the subjugation of orogenes in The Fifth Season. Sabrina notes that, “Stills maintain their social superiority by passing down ‘stonelore [that tells] them at every turn that [orogenes were] born evil – some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human’ for generations; to the point where even orogenes are raised to believe so. If the stills allow themselves to see orogenes as more than supernatural tools, then they [orogenes] are also forced to acknowledge themselves as the weaker ‘species’.” I think this is a great point: the stills’ dehumanization of the orogenes into tools forces them towards the bottom of the power hierarchy, allowing a much less powerful species to subjugate them by labeling them as “tools” that exist purely for the stills’ benefit. I believe this parallels how black people were dehumanized and subjugated on Earth for centuries. They have been dehumanized by racists who compare them to monkeys, and subjugated through systems such as slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa, in which blacks were suppressed by a white minority for many years. The effects of these systems of subjugation are still felt all over the world today, through racism, poverty, and violence. Continue reading “Power Hierarchies and Oppression of Orogenes”

Function of Second Person Chapters

In The Fifth Season, Jemisin uses the unusual literary technique of second person point of view in her chapters focusing on Essun. Essun is an orogene on a journey to find her daughter, who has been kidnapped by her husband after he murders her son. At first, I found the second person point of view to be off-putting: the only other time I can remember encountering it was when reading the Choose Your Own Adventure series when I was in middle school, and I never enjoyed those books. However, after the first few pages of the first chapter I began to appreciate the use of a second person narrator. I think the obvious function of the “you” is to emphasize Essun’s dissociation from herself after the trauma of finding her son’s dead body and realization that her daughter is missing. The chapter begins with “You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead” (Jemisin 15). With this opening line, the reader immediately feels Essun’s disconnection with her own body, while at the same time forming a connection with Essun’s feelings. The use of “you” in a sense places the reader in Essun’s body while she is detached from her own. The reader feels Essun’s trancelike, traumatized state as Jemisin writes, “You sleep a long time. At one point you wake… You puzzle over this, then feel the imminence of thought and have to fight, fight, fight, to stay in the soft warm silence of thoughtlessness” (18). In the days following her son’s death, Essun is capable of doing little more than sleeping and suppressing her thoughts. Jemisin’s use of second person becomes a powerful tool to allow the reader to experience and empathize with her suffering. Continue reading “Function of Second Person Chapters”