I really struggled last semester—and am still struggling—with deconstructing my own expectations of myself. I cannot expect myself to be the same person I was a year ago, a month ago, or even a week ago. Whether I am prepared or not, I am constantly growing and constantly changing. I set standards for myself of how I thought I should be changing rather than focusing on how I already had changed and could potentially change. In ignoring the progress I had already made in becoming my own person, I was doing myself a disservice. If I do not acknowledge the valuable progress I have already made, how can I possibly be prepared to continue changing in a healthy way? In my goal-setting essay I wrote that, “I want to learn how to get more comfortable with change, especially change that I did not expect or consent to.” I believe I finally am beginning to understand that the reason change made me uncomfortable, whether it was expected or not, is because I had not yet truly realized that I have control over my own life. I believe I felt out of control because of the unreasonably high standards I set for myself to always be perfect. These standards were unachievable. Every time I failed to meet my own expectations I felt even worse about myself because with each “failure” I expected myself to do better next time rather than confronting why I failed in the first place.Continue reading “Deconstructing my own Expectations”
When I first heard the phrase “Learn and Run!”, my immediate train of thought led me to images of guidance counselor posters featuring books and smiling children. In Octavia Butler’s Dawn, however, I was impacted by the expression’s gravity and significance. It represented Lilith’s plan of escape, her survival mechanism, and her means to adapt. In a world where humans are stripped of their choices and autonomy, knowledge and thought are the only the forces they have a semblance of authority over. It will also be the only tools available in their survival. Yet, violence becomes an essential tool in education, for both humans and the Oankali. The association of these two concepts has greater implications towards the interdependency between change, learning, and harm. Lilith’s motto “Learn and Run!” not only reflects her understanding that adaptation and change require learning, but also the chaotic nature of obtaining and applying knowledge. Butler’s extraterrestrial dystopia epitomizes these concepts to contemplate the consequences of knowledge and its role in our division and bonding.
The Oankali’s genetic compulsion to breed with other species without an obligation to consent both implicates the Oankali as an inherently violent species and reveals the complexities in obtaining knowledge. Jdahya explains, “We acquire new life─ seek it, investigate it, manipulate it, sort it, use it. We carry the drive to do this in…a tiny organelle within every cell of our bodies” (Butler 41). Yet, this “investigation” and “manipulation” is not done at the species consent, as demonstrated through Lilith’s experience, “I think I wish your people had left me on Earth…if this is what they found me for, I wish they’d left me” (Butler 43). So, is it possible for the Oankali to evolve without the use of harm? They ignore consent in order to gain the knowledge required for them to interbreed, change, and prevent the extinction of the human race. This does include removing Lilith’s cancer, enhancing her strength, and granting a perfect memory, but the lack of explicit consent is inevitably a form of harm. However, Lilith notes, “humans had done these things to captive breeders─ all for a higher good, of course” (Butler 60). Here, she seems to notice the moral ambiguities that may exist within learning by recognizing the similarities between Human and Oankali practices.
The ethics of learning are still relevant in our modern, non-apocalyptic society, such as the removal of ancient artifacts. In October 2020, archaeologists opened a mummy’s coffin from ancient Egypt for the first time in 2,500 years in attempt to learn more about the mysterious civilization. However, just as the Oankali did not have consent to study humans and tear down their ruins, the Egyptians did not consent to having their artifacts removed and tampered with. Many found the opening of the coffin disrespectful towards Egyptian culture, but many also claim it was necessary for learning. Butler thus exemplifies the many moral grey areas existing within in the pursuit of knowledge; To what extent does a “greater good” justify the use of harm? Is it possible to obtain knowledge without causing harm? Does the use of harm increase or negate the value of the knowledge learned? Butler does not attempt to offer or imply a correct choice; she instead layers the complexities into a massive grey area in which the reader must define their own morality.
Thus, “Learn and Run!” emerges with several meaningful nuances outside of a simple getaway plan. It also illustrates the inequalities that exist between the Oankali and humans, and mimics the many emotions the humans experience. Lilith, along with the rest of humanity, faces two options once captured by the Oankali: Adapt or Die. Jdahya offers this choice to Lilith directly by offering to sting her, but she cannot go through with it (Butler 43). Therefore, learning and change becomes integral to the human’s growth and survival. They must acclimate so the Oankali will return them to Earth, “that meant they must control themselves, learn all she could teach them, all the Oankali could teach them, then use what they had learned to escape and keep themselves alive” (Butler 117). However, harm and violence become the primary tool in forcing this change. The Oankali are choosing to evolve, but humans are being exploited. Thus, “Learn and Run!” echo’s the desires and despairs of the imprisoned humans. The phrase is rather laconic, but when used as an exclamation, it expresses urgency and uncertainty. Ergo, it is imitating the human’s in their fear towards adapting and desperation for autonomy.
As previously mentioned, the Oankali question the moral dilemmas in learning and research. The Humans, on the other hand, demonstrate the consequences of flawed knowledge and its role in division and bonding. Throughout “Nursery” Lilith struggles to bind the humans into a functioning community, primarily due to people’s refusal to learn. Denial is an expected reaction from anyone first Awakening, however, turmoil arises from those who continuously dismiss the truth. Lilith seems to recognize the extent to which denial can influence other’s opinions and perceptions when she says, “they’ll believe me for a little while. Then some of them will decide I’m lying to them or I’ve been lied to” (Butler 167). As contradicting “truths” are spread, a dichotomy forms between those who follow Lilith and those who agree with Peter’s skepticism. Yet, Lilith is the only source of first-hand experiences and knowledge pertaining to the Oankali. In the search to learn and change, those who discredit her information are limited to their own speculations. For example, Lilith’s enhanced strength aroused gossip after her fight with Jean, claiming she is a man or not human. Such distortions, provoked by fear and confusion, repeatedly splinter the group and spark cynicism, especially towards Lilith. This goes to show the power and influence of false information is just as pervasive as any other piece of intel.
As misinformation and suspicion increases, its ability to incite violence becomes increasingly evident. Lilith explains, “all he has to do to hurt us is refuse to believe we’re on a ship. After that, everything he does will be wrong and potentially deadly” (Butler 134). Again, following Lilith’s scandal, Joseph warns her “you’re probably not in any danger now, but you will be soon” (Butler 147-148). Rumors, though spurious, increase skepticism. Derrick, for example, suffered the consequences of Peter’s inaccuracies after sneaking inside a cabinet in attempt to find people on the other side. Instead, he was retrieved and put back to sleep by the Oankali (Butler 171). As he was getting in, Lilith notes, “[Peter] had been told that the cabinets refilled automatically. Just one more thing he had decided not to believe” (Butler 172), indicating Peter and his misinformation to be at fault. Lilith’s experience not only demonstrates the many ways ignorance can manifest, but also its extensive and dangerous consequences.
The most direct interpretation of “Learn and Run!” advocates for the power of knowledge, and Octavia Butler would likely agree with the juvenile proverb, but in her own wry manner. As per her style, she dissects this concept to question and investigate its limitations, consequences, and implications. Many carry the subconscious assumption that learning and knowledge are inherently positive, however, Butler attempts to demonstrate the ways in which it can be abused or cause harm. She doesn’t work against learning or knowledge, but rather offers insight to the many intricacies that convolute its morals.
How have you developed and deepened your habits of thinkING this semester? And how are you now moving on as an “independent life” free from the constraints of the Octavia Butler&Social Ties course?
At the beginning of this course, I made note that “habit is key” and over the course of the semester, I set out to develop good habits, and to be rid of bad ones. As life resumed during COVID-19, balance, between work and self-care became a hard thing to manage. Slowly the care I had for my growth in this course didn’t level up with my work ethic. I was unmotivated and felt down most of the time. But I always loved and appreciated interdisciplinary courses because they allowed me to cross-reference and connect different ideas I’ve developed in previous courses with the ones I developed currently. With this flexibility, I knew my goal could never be too far out of reach. MY thinkING developed this semester because I was able to apply the things I’ve learned in the past to the different topics I was learning now. Things like consent, harm, care, etc. I was also able to understand that I should never shy away from additional research so as to connect different topics and our course’s life preservers. Beth McCoy who teaches the Octavia Butler and Social Ties course has constantly advised about effective and efficient ways to develop your thinking. Unlike many of the characters we were introduced to in this course, it had been extremely difficult for me to focus sometimes. But figuring out how to still get through assignments, by using different tools and methods has been exciting. Moving forward and away from this course as an independent life means that I have been able to work through setbacks and finish strong. With me, I have taken many lessons I’ve learned from both Octavia Butler and Beth McCoy.
Based on the central course question “What binds and brings people together?” what have you learned, while reading Octavia Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood?
While reading Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood I learned a good deal about what brings and binds people together. In the trilogy, fear is the driving force behind many of the character’s choices and decisions. Set in a futuristic dystopia where the earth has been destroyed by war, human beings are saved by unearthly beings who have their own planned agenda. In the third book Imago the character Jodah, a construct child who is half human and half Oankali, begins to realize that their stage of growth or “metamorphosis” is somewhat abnormal than what they or their family expected. Born as a sexless child, this change, or metamorphosis can allow the construct child to become either a male or female. Oankali born children can become, male, female, or ooloi, which is a sexless adult responsible for helping to produce children and collecting data. In one scene after they and their parents realize that they were becoming ooloi, their parents became fearful of what may happen to their child(538-542 Butler). The parents speak critically at Nikanji their ooloi mate who Jodah spent most of their time with. There had been a consensus among the Oankali that stated all accidentally produced construct ooloi would be exiled and sent to an Oankali ship. By the end of the novel, even though Jodah had proven to not be a threat, the Oankali were still fearful of the damage construct ooloi could do. They felt threatened because Jodah was the first of its kind, a construct child, who had developed into what Oankali considered a mistake. Fearful of such difference and lack of control, Jodah was exiled. While reading, I had concluded that the Oankali always embraced difference until the end of the last novel. In the second novel, Adulthood Rites’ Phoenix Jodah’s older sibling Akin is encouraged by their human mother Lilith, to always, when in conflict, pick the “Oankali way,” which is to embrace differences(329 Butler). The ending of the trilogy however shows that not even the Oankali can rationalize their fear when it comes down to Jodah’s distinction. I learned fear can drive you to exclude others especially when a group targets another.
What have you learned about the course’s concepts of harm and care?
When it comes to harm and care Butler’s trilogy creates a blurry line that doesn’t quite distinguish the two. Both beings, the Oankali, and Humans do things that they would consider an act of care but can also be seen as an act of harm. For instance, in the first novel, Dawn’s Womb, the main character Lilith is having a conversation with her future parent-in-law, Jdahya. Jdahya is explaining to Lilith the mission of the Oankali is to essentially “trade” with the human beings they saved from the ruins of the earth. Lilith is not quite understanding of the Oankali because the Oankali have basically kept the humans as prisoners with no rights as well as victims whom they’ve kept safe and healthy (23-34 Butler). Care is misleading in the trilogy and is subjective to those who are being cared for. Lilith feels like she is being harmed because the Oankali has chosen, without permission, to take away basic human privileges, and rights, like when Lilith later finds out the Oankali have sterilized all of them, preventing anyone from having children, or pure human children for that matter(92-94 Butler). When Lilith realizes she has not consented to trade her health for her freedom, it becomes too late. From the perspective of the Oankali, they believe they know what’s best for humans. Jdahaya one of the first beings that Lilith meets tells her, “Your people’s situation was more like your own with cancer my relative cured”(38 Butler). Jdahaya in this scene explains to Lilith that humans are incapable of survival and that eventually if the earth has been repaired, and the humans returned, they would inevitably destroy themselves again in another war. Their natural likeability to destroy one another is something the Onakali feel they have cured by not allowing to free them. Perspective is key in these situations and I realized that harm can come easily when we wish to care for people if we are not careful.
Are you in the habit of getting “prepared to change and be changed?”
I honestly don’t know if I’m in the habit of getting “prepared to change and be changed” I do know that I have changed and that I want to be able to prepare myself in the future to do so, but I can’t say that I know what that looks like for me yet. In the novel, the Oankali were able to prepare for change, but unlike normal Oankali Jodah from Butler’s Imago’s Metamorphosis, had not had that opportunity(523 Butler). I feel, like Jodah even when your expecting change to come, change is hard to be prepared for. Unlike the Oankali, change is not always planned. But by going into this course open-minded, willing to hear different perspectives, I feel that that is as prepared as I could be. But then again maybe it’s not. Maybe preparing for change is something more, and maybe being open to it is the first step.
2020 has unquestionably been a year of immense change for both our nation and the world at large, so it is appropriate that this semester I discovered Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, which features change as a prominent theme. Octavia Butler’s novels speak a great deal on the consequences of change, and how it can bring people together. I find that last point to be particularly important seeing as we are living in a time where in many ways people are forced to be apart.
In Dawn, Lilith reflects on how she deals with change. Butler writes, “She had learned to keep her sanity by accepting things as she found them, adapting herself to new circumstances by putting aside the old ones whose memories might overwhelm her” (Butler 159). Generally, one might be inclined to think that change is all about the future, but as Lilith recognizes, change has equal parts to do with the past. I have found that an attachment to the past is the primary reason that people are resistant to change. To add some credibility to this assertion, I might add that I am a relatively stubborn person myself who generally finds it difficult to respond to large-scale change. When coronavirus lockdown commenced, I was not prepared to transition to online schooling, and one summer later when I began this semester, I was still struggling with the ramifications of this change. The reason for this is not necessarily because asynchronous online work was more taxing than in-person activities, but because I still held onto the memories of how things were, and the contrast between those memories and my present situation was simply too great for me to easily adapt. The solution to this, as I learned a bit late in the game, was to take a cue from Lilith and accept things as I found them, rather than how they used to be or how I’d like them to be, and to put aside the “overwhelming” memories of the past, as oftentimes they can be a distraction to progress.
Another important lesson I learned this semester was that change is caused by challenge. In fact, you can’t spell “challenge” without it. One repeatedly mentioned challenge in Xenogenesis is the colonization of Mars. Akin says, “Mars isn’t for anyone who doesn’t want it. It will be hard work, risk, and challenge” (446). The oankali view Mars as a means of giving humans a new start, and a second chance to prove that their intelligence can triumph over their hierarchical tendencies. Pessimistically, they also say that “not even Mars will be enough of a challenge to change” (436) human nature. This statement in itself implies that profound change can only be enacted through profound tribulation. Like many themes in Butler’s work, this is especially relevant today on both a global and personal scale. Globally speaking, the coronavirus pandemic has been a massive crisis that governments have struggled to fight against with varying levels of success. I’m sure we have all heard some variation of the sayings, “we are living in strange times,” and “things will never be the same” repeated ad nauseum by just about everybody. Others have pointed to a silver lining: the drastic measures we took to combat the pandemic may prepare us for future crises, and out of necessity improvements have been made to health care systems all around the world. It is impossible to say the long-term effects that this crisis will have (especially for myself; I am definitely no expert), but in spite of the quite terrible year we have endured, I foresee that there will be many aspects of this pandemic that end up being learning experiences for world leadership.
At the very least, I believe this to be true on a personal scale, as the pandemic has certainly challenged my ability to adapt to new situations. On top of that, for the first time I am living on my own off-campus, which presents an entirely new set of responsibilities in itself. Learning to deal with online schooling, to deal with isolation and the new social challenges the pandemic has created, all the while figuring out how to simply take care of myself has been an ongoing process where I’ve experienced successes and failures. Overall, I believe that the net result of these challenges, just as Butler says, has strengthened me as a person and changed me for the better, placing me further along the path of becoming a competent self-realized adult in this world. Even now, I am still working on it!
I am certain that others can relate, as the challenges brought by coronavirus are circumstances we’ve all had to deal with. Paradoxically, in this time where we are forced to be apart, that shared experience has brought us together. It is interesting to note that while humans are brought together by commonalities, the oankali are brought together by difference. This is explained by one of the most fascinating passages in Imago: “Humans had evolved from hierarchical life, dominating, often killing other life. oankali had evolved from acquisitive life, collecting and combining with other life” (483) Elsewhere, it is written that “human beings fear difference,” and the oankali “crave difference” (311). Looking at the inverse of this statement, humans crave sameness, while oankali fear sameness. Butler insightfully connects this tendency to hierarchy in humans. Evolutionarily speaking, that which looked different than us was often trying to kill us, while the opposite is true for the oankali. According to Butler, this fear of difference is just as much an outdated remnant of evolution as other vestigial structures like wisdom teeth or appendices.
This semester I have often wondered what would happen if humans were somehow able to shed this fear of difference. Most obviously, racial discrimination would not be so rampant throughout the world, and we would not be dealing with horrific instances such as the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Collaboration would be the norm as opposed to competition, and I doubt war would continue to exist in the way that we know it. Unequivocally, society would benefit. That said, I don’t think the oankali’s fear of sameness is entirely justified either. It is not always a bad thing that humans bond over being the same; one example that I’ve already mentioned is humanity’s shared experience of fighting against the pandemic, or this class’s shared love of literature, which has brought us together. Though maybe I only say this because I am human, I think humanity’s tendency to come together based on what makes us the same is a huge asset to us; a beautiful thing. What needs work is our ability to empathize with each other and come together over differences. In other words, both humans and oankali have some things to learn from each other.
In Imago, this fusion of perspectives manifests through the birth of the human-oankali hybrid Jodhas, but in reality, I believe that the fear of difference can be overcome through constant exposure to change and an increased empathy and understanding amongst each other. The Mars colony is in part an experiment to achieve this. The colony is characterized by constant hard work and adaptation, and is informed by the failures of human civilization on earth. But we don’t have to go to Mars to achieve this. Empathy, though an innate human feeling, can be taught as a moral principle, and if this were to become commonplace, I think a society of empaths would allow humanity to thrive.
The thing that most surprised me about Octavia Butler’s work is how closely it paralleled current events and also how immediately relevant it was to my own life. Reflecting on the Xenogenesis trilogy’s concepts of change and bringing people together was not an altogether difficult task, as Butler exhibits an almost prophetic vision of these concepts and how they apply to us in the past, present and future; on a small and large scale. At the same time as I came to learn numerous lessons in my personal life, with eerie timing Octavia Butler came to reaffirm these teachings for me in her literature. To me, that alone verifies their truth.
I’d say that the main way that my own thinkING habits have evolved over the course of this semester is to recognize how wildly different people’s interpretations of the same events and/or texts can be. One of my favorite parts of this class was reading the insights of my fellow classmates and marveling at how many connections they made and points they brought up that I would never have been able to see or come up with. I think that understanding is going to help me take more care in my work and how it plays with the ideas of others.
One thing I found absolutely striking in Butler’s work was the abundance of contradictions in every aspect of them. Butler tells us right from the beginning in Dawn that humans are composed entirely of a genetic contradiction between intelligence and hierarchy, but contradiction has been everywhere in this class, and more often than not, the lesson is that the contradicting forces are as interwoven as they are conflicting. We’ve discussed already how harm and care are far more intermingled than we typically think, (and I’ll go more in-depth about that in a later move in this essay), despite their contradictory nature, and the same can easily be said about the Oankali’s knowledge of humans and surprising lack of understanding of human thought processes. In addition, I would argue that another theme that continuously shows up throughout the trilogy, and leads to quite a bit of contradiction in it of itself, is free will.
I would argue that one of the things that Butler teaches us about what brings people together is a shared desire for a legacy. All the communities we see in Butler’s work are built of individuals with a shared view of the future. Whether that be the Oankali, who view the future as an opportunity for their species to go through another exciting trade, or resister colonies like Phoenix that are desperate for a way to get to a future where they can have entirely human children and allow the human race to survive. It’s clear from both the human and Oankali perspective that the continued and long-lasting existence of their race is one of the most important things in their communities.
This becomes even more evident when you consider that typically, the biggest conflicts that we see in Lilith’s Brood are also typically caused by someone’s idea of the future, especially how their legacy will fit into that future, is threatened. For example, almost all the horrible acts committed by resister humans are reactions to Oankali making them infertile and taking away their chance to have fully human children. From the stealing of the most human appearing construct children in the hopes that raising them among humans and breeding them with each other will result in the closest possible thing to another fully human generation, to the increasingly common raiding of other resister towns to secure the future of their own. In fact, the whole reason that the later decision to allow humans to have an akjai colony on mars is a divisive one is that the Oankali as a whole believe that this can only lead to a future where humans exterminate themselves. While this is morally abhorrent to the Oankali on its own, it also directly contradicts the Oankali’s view of their own legacy of leaving other races better off than before they traded with them. We find that this contradiction of Oankali respect for human autonomy versus the Oankali’s inherent value of life above all else is a central focus throughout all the Oankali’s interactions with humanity.
When comparing the legacy of the Oankali to the legacy of Humanity, it may seem easy to say that the Oankali legacy is about embracing difference, while the Human legacy involves rejecting it. In my opinion, however, this is a gross oversimplification. Most of the time, the Oankali embrace difference only when it’s convenient. Oankali, especially Ooloi, rarely embrace differences of opinion or desire. We see this various times throughout the trilogy, from the scene in Dawn when Nikanj responds to Joseph saying he’s decided he doesn’t want to mate with it by saying “Your body has made a different choice.”(Butler page 189) to Adulthood Rites when Nikanj admits that it made Lillith pregnant “Against one part of her will”, and even Lillith admits she doesn’t know if she actually wanted it, or if Nikanj just made up a justification that sounded like it could be true after the fact in order to manipulate her into going along with it (Butler page 300 & 301). On a broader scale, we also know that they don’t accept difference of opinion from humanity as a whole, because despite the very clear consensus among a large portion of humanity that they would like to be unsterilized and repopulate human society on their own, it isn’t until a being that is part Oankali urges them to accept this request that they actually listen.
Meanwhile, while many of the humans in Lillith’s Brood do tend to negatively respond to difference when first confronted with it, we see several humans go on to embrace difference, or at least disregard it. Akin bonds with several humans during his time away from Lo, and while it is made abundantly clear that this is initially made possible by his human appearance, there are plenty of humans he meets along the way that accept him even after they know how different he is from them. Even after he goes through metamorphosis and looks fully Oankali, his bonds with Gabe, Tate, and several others from Phoenix remain. Of course, there are also plenty that react with fear or outright violence, but the fact that this is not the reaction of all or even most of the humans Akin comes across serves as evidence that humans can embrace difference just as much as Oankali.
I’d argue that the real contrast between Human legacy and Oankali legacy is not whether or not to embrace difference, but how much value is put in individual freedom. This is perhaps most easily demonstrated with the reaction the resisters have to the news of the Mars colony. While the humans are initially full of shock and disappointment at the prospect of having to abandon the planet that Humanity has called home for its entire history, by the time Akin is able to perceive things after metamorphosis, a fair number of humans have dismissed those feelings almost entirely in favor of the overwhelming relief and excitement they feel at the chance to be able to be truly free and autonomous again. Contrast this with the Oankali model, where freedom is rarely a topic of conversation, and most Oankali seem content with whatever role their society expects them to play, and it seems fairly clear that they don’t place nearly as heavy an emphasis on free will as humanity does.
With this in mind, we arrive at another contradiction. What brings and binds people together appears to be the desire for a legacy, but the main legacy that people seem to value above all else is free will, which allows groups of people to divide and split apart from each other just as easily as they are brought and bound together.
Despite being a fundamental part of what it means to be Human, free will is also inherently dangerous, and it’s important to analyze why we might want to commit a certain act or make a certain choice before we make it. In Lillith’s Brood, Butler takes one of the most common human motivators, care, and explores how it can cause people to do themselves and each other harm. Butler’s trilogy shows us countless times that harm and care are not mutually exclusive. The Oankali seem to truly care about the health and wellbeing of humanity, but through this care, combined with their fumbling to understand human thought-processes, they cause a great amount of harm and death to come to quite a number of humans. We see this in the very beginning of Dawn, in the harm they accidentally inflict on their human subjects by isolating them, right up to the very end, in Joseph’s death and the other disastrous consequences of their refusal to heed Lilith’s warnings about how humans would react to the Oankali’s methods. Additionally, due to how much the Oankali care about humanity, they are incredibly reluctant to allow humans to go back to having an autonomous society completely free of Oankali influence, despite their continuous pleading, because they believe that doing so would be to allow humans to eventually inflict upon themselves the ultimate harm; extinction. We see this plain as day in Akin’s interactions with the Akjai Ooloi on Chkahichdahk (who, as far as I can tell from my searching through Adulthood Rites, never makes his name known to Akin or, by extension, the reader), when it says to Akin: “You and those you help will give them[humans] the tools to create a civilization that will destroy itself as certainly as the pull of gravity will keep their new world in orbit around its sun”(Butler page 475). However, it is also through this care that Oankali create Akin, as close to a truly half-Human-half-Oankali being as they possibly can, to help them decide to give in to the will of the humans and allow them to have an akjai colony, because even if they don’t entirely understand it, they seem to recognize on some level that denying the freedom of an entire species is, in the eyes of humanity, far crueler than extinction.
I think this also nicely ties in with our key course concept of consent. Several times throughout Lillith’s Brood, we as readers witness decisions made and actions taken due to how much one character or group cares for another, but in almost every circumstance where those decisions and actions are made without the consent of all involved parties, there are disastrous consequences. We see this in Dawn both in Lillith’s isolation and the psychological trauma she endures as a result, and in the catastrophic results of the Oankali refusing to show the humans Lillith wakes up that they are on a ship. This continues over into Adulthood Rites, as the Oankali decision to sterilize the human populace without their consent and only reverse the process for those who would mate with them results in the disastrous consequences of countless resister humans dying avoidable deaths due to either the brutality of resister society, their desperate desire for children, or their own distrust for the Oankali. It also has the far more subtle but equally negative consequence of creating a quiet but powerful rage in human characters like Lillith and Tino who live with the Oankali, as they feel like traitors to their own race. We see this to the extreme in Imago, where Jodahs’ struggle to master its Ooloi gene-manipulation powers causes it to make subconscious choices to manipulate genomes without the consent of either itself or the thing it’s genetically altering. Of course, it is inherently contradictory to harm someone because you care about them, but I believe that by including this theme throughout the trilogy, Butler helps demonstrate to readers just how intermingled harm and care can be, but also perhaps warn us to be wary of how much free will we take away from a person or group in the name of caring about them.
Honestly, this is the question I’m having the hardest time with. While I do think this course has helped me better prepare “to change and be changed”, this is by far the claim that I would have the hardest time relating to the text. Butler’s work has helped me better understand how people change each other, but other than the lessons I’ve already discussed, I’m honestly not sure how I have been fundamentally changed, and I certainly don’t know how I would go about preparing to change anything or anyone else, for better or worse. I believe this is likely in large part due to my own failures in this class. I have not been nearly as present as I’ve wanted to be this semester, and though I’ve tried many times over the course of these few months to correct that, and recommit myself to this class and the work we’re doing, I still found myself so overwhelmed with my job and life and my other courses that I kept consistently falling behind here. I’m aware that in this way at least, I have failed to prepare “to change and be changed” and it is a failure that I hope not to repeat, but find myself unsure of how to avoid. It’s yet another contradiction, between my own desire to be present and engaged in every aspect of my life and my learning, and my own limited human time and energy capacity.
To be clear, despite my own personal failings, I do think this course has taught me some incredibly important lessons that will be instrumental to me as a person going forward. Among them are the importance of free will, the need to be aware of and ready to fight our desire to commit possible acts of harm out of a place of care, and perhaps most importantly, that contradiction is everywhere, and they are an important part of both the Human and Oankali experience.
From the time that I spent in the discussions, I was getting help to develop and to deepen my way of thinking. I do and still, get a little bit twisted on the thinking part due to the reason that my analysis needs more work. Another reason is that I heavily depend on the prompts that are given. The prompts give me a sense of direction on what to write about ever since I could remember. However, I am able to learn from the group discussions, whether on zoom or in our chat room. As I move on to my “independent life” from this course, I do feel like I might be a bit lost in terms of the constraints. I need some sort of order in my life to not be overwhelmed. Yet, I could easily make myself something to keep organized.
I learned that there are many ways to bring and to bind people together. Some ways that bring people together is by senses as shown in Octavia Butler’s books. As well as for appearances. There are three times in Adulthood rites where this is shown. The first one is, “ “They will see him as beautiful and like themselves,” Nikanj said. “By the time he’s old enough for his body to reveal what he actually is, he’ll be an adult and able to hold his own.” ” Akin (Eka or Jodah) is born as an Oankali-human construct. Lilith was concerned about her son being born as a male construct. As well as having no judgment against her child as he was growing up. Nikanj reassured Lilith that he would be able to hold his own when he becomes an adult. A Connection to myself is that My body is constantly changing every day. I have been learning how to deal with my physical appearances ever since I was a child from my family specifically from my parents. My parents had helped me as a female to have my personal life taken care of. As well as helping me with my social life. A Connection to the world is that everyone is trying to make sure that their appearance is well. As well as the parents of the children, who do not want the kids to have a bad childhood. They want their kids to be able to live up as independent adults who would use the skills that they gained throughout childhood and adolescence to live on their own throughout adulthood.
The second one is, “He could feel pleasure the moment she sank filaments of her sensory tentacles into him. She was the first person to be able to reach him this way with more than simple emotions. She was the first to give him multisensory images and signaling pressures and to help him understand that she was speaking to him without words.” This was how Nikanj was able to connect with Akin. Nikanj, the other Oankali, and the other groups that are on the ship would connect by touching. Which would be seen by them in a group interlocking their arms to send messages. Which for them is faster than talking. Even though they have to physically talk to humans. A Connection to the world is that people love to connect with others. In terms of connecting, one of the main connections that start is with the mother and child. You might hear how the baby would react whenever the mother would touch their own pregnant belly. They would react by mostly kicking when the baby gains that ability while still being developed in the womb.
The third time is,“ “When you’re older, you’ll be expected to turn your face and body toward people when you talk to them. Even now, you should look at Humans with your eyes. If you don’t, they yell at you or repeat things because they’re not sure they have your attention. Or they start to ignore you because they think you’re ignoring them.” ”A Connection to the book is that Akin’s sister was trying to keep him safe from humans before he met them. This was when he was a baby. For him, as an Oankali he could ‘see’ through his body and not where his eyes would generally be if he were a full-born human. A Connection to myself is that as someone who is shy. I would avoid direct eye contact with most people. Such as my parents, authorities, and people who are in a similar authority position. I remember my middle school teacher, Ms.Hoyt, noticing my shyness back then. She would constantly call on me in English class to get me to look at her and tell her the answer. Also, it was a way for me to participate in her class.
Harm and care walk a thin line for many beings alike. Harm is the absence of care and care is the absence of harm. Harm and care are shown in Octavia Butler’s book, as Akin is trying to go through his metamorphosis. The first evidence is, “My head tentacles swept toward it…let me examine its flesh so that I could begin to understand the difference between its flesh and my own…I wondered what might happen if these genes activated in Nikanj. It was mature. Were there other changes it might undergo? Stop, Niknaj said quietly. It signaled silently and spoke aloud. Its silent signal felt urgent. What was I doing?…. These genes were trying to activate others of their kind in other cells, trying to cause Nikanj’s body to begin the secretion of inappropriate hormones that would cause inappropriate growth.” A connection to the book is that Akin was given permission by his mother to examine her. This was when he was going through his first metamorphosis and he had to relearn his surroundings once more.
The second evidence is, “I relax and let it work, and it said instantly, No!… Until you know yourself a great deal better, you can’t afford to relax that way while you’re in contact with another person. Not even with me. You’re too competent, too well able to make tiny, potentially deadly changes in genes, in cells, in organs.” A connection to the book is that Nikanj did not want her child to go to sleep while she was helping him because they both don’t know how his body would act. As well as to keep him conscious enough to notice if he makes a potentially deadly mistake to others or to himself.
The third evidence is, “I’m here because a Human was able to share such ability with me… It meant Lilith, my birth mother…One of Nikanj’s sensory arms had been all but severed from its body, but Lilith allowed it to link into her body and activate certain of her highly specialized genes. It used what it learned from these to encourage its own cells to grow and reattach the complex structures of the arm. It could not have done this without the triggering effect of Lilith’s genetic help. ” A connection to the book is that Lilith was able to use her body to save an Oankali from losing their arm. The Oankali reach-in Lilith to activate some of those genes that we know as cancerous, so they could rebuild their body. Which in hindsight made Lilith, the enemies to humans and kind of like an outcast to the Ooloi or Oankali, not being able to fit within a group. A Connection to the world is that humans as a whole want the best for someone else. Humans want to take care of others, especially those who are in their family. Such as parents, siblings, cousins, and nephews.
Changes could be unexpected and with it, they could have a drastic impact on the person and/or family. The evidence is, “The people would permit me Earth exile, then. With no real discussion, we prepared to go. My human parents made packs for themselves, wrapping Lo cloth hammocks around prewar books, tools, extra clothing, and food from Lilith’s garden…I went to my Human mother and watched her assemble her pack. I did not touch her–had not touched any human since my metamorphosis ended. As a reminder of my unstable condition, I had developed a rough, crusty growth on my right hand. I had deliberately reabsorbed it twice…” After Akin Metamorphosis, he was seen as a threat to the City of Lo and those around him. He has not hurt anyone else yet but he does not want to go back onto the ship with the other Ooloi to be monitored and to be away from his family. So his parents on both sides unanimously agreed to venture on Earth away from the city to minimize the risk of him hurting someone due to his new ability. This was a major change that they all have to deal with to keep the family together. A Connection to myself is that I was never prepared to change. Most of the time that I had changed, it would be last minute and a drastic change of environments. Of course, I have my family to help me with the changes. My first memory of change was when my mother made my whole family, during a block party, move to this new apartment without telling us beforehand. Which on my side of this journey as a young kid I have left the majority of my games that I had back then and they probably all sold by now. I have left behind a gaming system that we’ll never be able to find ever again. A Connection to the world is that People experience changes whether they are prepared for it or not. It all depends on who you have with you to help you through the changes.
Being a person is confusing. Octavia Butler does not hide that within her Xenogenesis trilogy. Oankali society is in a perpetual state of “trade” (Womb 5.) Throughout the trilogy, Oankali-human society is drastically transformed. It is at first divided between Oankali and humans, and then Earth becomes inhabited by constructs who are regulated by the older Oankali. Finally, there is independent life beyond the older Oankali. Even so, the changes this trade creates are broader. Individuals within Oankali society are limited because they cannot transform from Oankali to human or vice versa. Instead, they remain, for the most part, as what they were born. Although they change over time with new development, such as Lilith gaining additional strength with Oankali aid, no individual experiences a fundamental change which is beyond their personal limitations. This is what it means to be a part of the planting of the future, what it means to be the “tiny positioning movements of independent life,” but never its final position (Imago 16.) There is no final form of society, and therefore there is no ultimate, perfect person. All of us are a part of the blurry transition from one era to the next. This transitory Oankali society gets me to thinkING about my own life. Society is constantly changing around me. However, I am one person, and cannot adapt myself into the societally superior version of myself every five minutes. My task, then, is to reconcile the fact that I need to change and cannot change everything; that I am valuable but need the skills and actions of others. To commit to this reconciliation not only requires that I learn from others, but that I act in a way which allows them to keep their will and their autonomy. I do not want to move into the future only to press my outdated beliefs about what is morally correct onto others.
As I move away from this course towards an “independent life,” I feel as though I have the tools to apply thinkING to various other aspects of my life, specifically in order to be a responsible citizen that effectively cares for those members of society who are harmed by oppression who, in the U.S., are largely and disproportionately Black Americans. A significant take away from this course for me is the consideration of my own role in society, with regards to race issues. Am I actively caring for oppressed members of society or am I harming them? This semester, Butler’s belief in the value and dependability of habits and learning above all else has led me to a place of thinkING that is new for me; through my own reliance on continued learning and consistent habits, I have found that persistence brings breakthroughs and I have been able to achieve satisfaction with my thinkING specifically with regards to my interaction with race issues as a white citizen of the United States.
In our society, the line between harm and care is often blurred with regards to race issues which is why it is essential for non-Black people to be aware of the effects of their own actions on the Black community. Throughout the development of my thinkING process, I have found that adaptability is key; being prepared to change and be changed are integral skills for those who intend to live with care towards others. Non-Black people, including myself, must make it habitual to engage in constant learning about the Black experience and their wants/needs from society so that we can consistently adapt to their needs accordingly and do our part in alleviating their disproportionate oppression which consists of racial profiling, police brutality, racial disparities along the lines of education, health, incarceration, wealth, income, etc. If non-Black Americans engage in learning and adaptability and habitually, we can mend the divide that the harm of oppression has brought between American citizens. We can be brought and bound together through non-Black Americans’ care towards the Black American community in the form of consistently listening and learning from Black Americans and adapting to their needs through the examination of our own implicit bias, calling for reparations, restitution and atonement, and standing by Black people so our society may shift to a more supportive and equal environment.
All American people can be brought and bound together through non-Black Americans’ care towards the Black American community in the form of consistently listening and learning from Black Americans and adapting to their needs. Both Darity and Mullen’s From Here to Equality and Butler’s Lilith’s Brood show us that common experience is a link that allows people to relate to each other and thus, brings and binds them together. Alongside common experience, these texts show us that care brings and binds people together while harm divides people. In our society, it is unfortunately often difficult for people to show care to people who have different experiences because they either cannot relate to their experience, or because they do not try to relate to their experience. We see this in our society with the inability of many non-Black people to be able to comprehend and/or empathize with the Black experience in America. For example, some non-Black people do not understand the need for reparations for Black Americans while most Black people believe that this is the least of the care that our country should show for Black Americans after the disadvantage they have been given from their brutal oppression by the country for over 200 years. According to From Here to Equality, apologies/acknowledgement, desegregation, Brown vs. Board, etc. are clearly not enough because Black Americans continue to have access to worse schooling, continue to experience high levels of hate crimes, continue to be racially profiled by the police and medical experts, etc. Restitution for African Americans would “eliminate racial disparities in wealth, income, education, health, sentencing and incarceration, political participation, and subsequent opportunities to engage in American political and social life” (Darity 3). Thus, reparations would return to Black Americans an equal opportunity to thrive, and even survive, in the U.S., demonstrating how integral it is for non-Black people to take the care to connect, listen and adapt to Black people’s needs.
The inability of non-Black people to listen to and address the needs of Black Americans results in further harm done to Black Americans and keeps people divided along the lines of race, continuing the cycle of oppression for Black Americans. Similarly to America’s situation, in Butler’s trilogy, harm consistently pulls people apart. Lilith is harmed multiple times throughout the trilogy; she is coerced into leading humans through the transition to Earth, chosen to by Nikanj’s permanent mate without her full consent because of the withdrawal of information, nonconsensually impregnated by Nikanj, coerced into withholding information about mating from Jesusa and Tomas, etc. As this occurs, she withdraws from those who are oppressing her. For example, when she first arrives on Earth, in her anger, Lilith often takes long walks in the woods to get away from Nikanj, despite her strong attachment to it. Nikanj explains, “she used to do this you know. Nikanj had to learn very young that she would stretch the cord until it almost strangled her. And if Nikanj went after her, she would curse it and hate it” (Butler 450) Similarly, when Akin’s option to bond with his sibling is taken away from him by the Oankali, he is deeply hurt and harmed by his lack of deep connections with others. It seemed to Akin like “his world was made up of tight units of people…who could not let him in, no matter how much they might want to” (Butler 429). He copes by running away into the forest and spending very little time with other Oankali people. Instead, he spends time with human resisters because he shares the common experience of his inherent humanity as well as the time he spent amongst humans in Phoenix as a child.
Thus, we can see that when non-Black people take the care to try to relate and listen to Black people’s experience in America, they will better understand why Black Americans hold the opinions they do and they will begin to work towards helping Black Americans reach their needs. Darity and Mullen assert that those who have, “benefitted from the exercise of the atrocities” (Darity, 3) must “recognize the avantages they gained and commit themselves to the cause of redress,” (Darity, 3) meaning restitution and atonement. With listening, they will likely agree that Black Americans are owed reparations for the damage that slavery has done and that in general, Black Americans deserve care for the oppression and disadvantage that they have faced, and continue to face, due to racism. Thus, because non-Black Americans do not share the common experience of Black folks’ history of oppression, this care to put ourselves in Black peoples’ shoes can serve as a way to bring and bind the people of the U.S. together into an united force that stands for the healing and reparation of Black people. When all American people are bound together to accomplish this goal it becomes attainable.
In our society, the line between harm and care is often blurred with regards to race issues which is why it is essential for non-Black people to be aware of the effects of their own actions on the Black community. I find that non-Black people, including myself, must be habitual about engaging in constant learning about the Black experience and their wants/needs from society so that we can consistently adapt to their needs accordingly and do our part in alleviating their disproportionate oppression. We can look to Butler’s trilogy to understand that oftentimes there is a thin line between harm and care. For example, the Oankali try to care for humans by healing them, giving them the option to live away from them or join them, extending their life span, etc. yet, these humans suffer and resist because they have no freedom in their current position on Earth. They cannot even reproduce without the involvement of Oankali. Tino describes the humans’ pain when he says, “my people never had a chance! They didn’t make the war. They didn’t make the Oankali. And they didn’t make themselves sterile” (Butler 280). Furthermore, Gabe calls the life of humans a, “pointless endless existence,” he says, “we don’t get old, we don’t have kids, nothing we do means shit” (Butler, 402). Thus, while the Oankali think that they are caring for humans, from the humans’ perspective, the Oankali are doing nothing but harm towards them. Similarly to this example, the line between harm and care is often blurred with regards to the issue of consent in these novels. Jodahs saves Jesusa and Tomas from their ailments and the two of them say that they want to mate with Jodahs but, it withholds the information that once they stay they will need it forever; thus, did Jesusa and Tomas actually give their consent to this mating? Is Jodahs serving them by fulfilling what he knows they truly want or is he harming them by manipulating them and taking away their free will?
In our society, implicit racial bias, something that may seem relatively harmless, is oftentimes unconscious and thus, goes unnoticed to those who are privileged enough to not be harmed by it. But, in reality it can be extraordinarily harmful to those affected by it who, in America are largely Black folks. The definition of implicit bias is ‘bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs.’ Herein lies how implicit bias manages to blur the lines between harm and care. People may consciously think that they are not racist, they may even believe that they are part of the fight against racism yet they tell a Black female employee that her hair is too unkempt for the workplace. This kind of statement is extremely harmful; Black women have long been penalized for not fitting into the construct of whiteness and Black women have historically not been hired for jobs due to wearing their hair naturally, making this a contribution to the oppression of Black Americans. This example of implicit bias can kill people’s self esteem and promotes white supremacy in the workplace. Yet, because this bias does not directly affect the person holding it, often this type of person will not take the steps to observe her biases and thus, will continue to hold offensive and harmful biases like this and.
An effective way to get around this ambivalence of harm and care, is continued learning. This takes us back to this course’s core concepts, “as habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent,” and “learn and run.” It has become clear to me that non-Black Americans, including myself, must take responsibility for caring for the oppressed in society by taking the steps to examine our own implicit racial biases surrounding Black Americans. We must adopt the mindset that as soon as we are made aware that something that we do, say, some view that we hold, furthers the harm of Black Americans, we must understand that it is our duty to stop what we are doing. We must show care for the oppressed members of American society by listening to them, listening to how our actions may contribute to their harm, and making changes accordingly.
Throughout the development of my thinkING process, I have found that adaptability is key; being prepared to change and be changed are integral skills for those who intend to live with care towards others. The reason that engaging in constant learning about the Black experience and their wants/needs from society is crucial is so that non-Black people can consistently adapt to their needs accordingly and do our part in alleviating their disproportionate oppression. We are able to see the power of adaptability in Butler’s trilogy. In the novels, the Oankali do not really want to hear that they are harming humans until one of their own, Akin, is able to show them. Butler writes, “Akin could feed the people avoiding the subject of Akjai humans. He did not understand their reactions to it: a turning away, a warding off, a denial, a revulsion”(Butler 469). In this case, this inability to recognize the harm that they are causing humans is a result of the Oankali’s fear of the humans’ fatal flaw, their hierarchical tendencies; because they themselves feel uncomfortable understanding humans on a deeper level, they avoid contact with humans and, as a result, continue to allow the humans to suffer while they live in blissful ignorance. Of course, Akin, along with humans themselves, do not have this privilege which is why they both fight so hard for the freedom of humans. In the trilogy, adaptability proves to be necessary in saving peoples lives. As soon as the Oankali are willing to change and allow the humans a place for life on Mars, a huge sum of humans are taken out of their misery on Earth and given back their freedom. We also see that by allowing Aaor and Jonahs to stay on Earth and create a community rather than be forced into exile on the ship, the way it was originally decided, the Oankali’s adaptability saves the quality of life of Aaor, Jonahs and their mates and children.
In life, it is essential for us to swallow our pride when necessary, be willing to hear others out and be willing to change if our intention is to provide care for those who need it. To circle back to implicit bias along the lines of race in America, if people fail to listen to the voices of Black people who express that implicit biases, like stereotyping and profiling, directly harm their community, and if they fail to observe their own biases and change their actions accordingly, Black Americans will continue to suffer. Unfortunately, because this type of examination of one’s own biases makes people uncomfortable, people avoid it, the same way that the Oankali avoid a deeper understanding of humans. Thus, often, for the comfort of non-Black people, Black people continue to suffer in American society. Non-Black people can say that they are not racist and that they care for Black Americans, but until they are ready to do a thorough examination of the biases they may hold against this oppressed group, these people continue to contribute to that very oppression. Once this work is done, if Black Americans are calling for reparations in the form of redress restitution and atonement, we must no longer ignore their request. It has been made clear that the government will not change without overwhelming demand from all people–there has been a long history of ignoring the calls for justice from Black folks–which is why it is truly up to non-Black Americans to stand beside Black Americans and declare support of a reparation plan.
It is in the Oankali’s nature to constantly reach for ‘more life.’ It is their nature to pick up and incorporate new genes so that they evolve as a species, showing that change is necessary for evolution into an even more advanced species. By the end of the trilogy, we see the formation of an entirely new species, the ooloi constructs, who are unique to the Oankali and skilled in ways that the Oankali are not. These ooloi constructs have mastered contact with humans in ways that other constructs and Oankali have been unable to. Nijanj says that Jodahs, “is the gene trade”(Butler 609) rather than a part of it. Thus, due to their continuous adaptability, on top of accomplishing evolution, the Oankali are eventually able to accomplish a kind of peace between themselves and the humans thanks to the humans’ affinity for the construct ooloi. Thus, if we are going to reach for ‘more life’ for all members of our society, our society as a whole is going to need to shift. The way society functions currently is not sustainable. Black Americans continue to experience inequality along the lines of wealth, education, income, health incarceration etc. and it is a result of, “sustained American failure to recognize the pernicious impact of white supremacy and the sustained American failure to adopt national policies that reverse the effects of white supremacy” (Darity 4). We must make the decision to unite and adapt so we may finally reach a society that we can call equal; a society in which we all recognize that we are bound together, so that we can shift to a society that functions off of caring for one other before all else. This new society consists of changes made at the governmental level: reparations, redress, retributions, atonement. Darrity explains, “closure involves mutual reconciliation between African Americans and the beneficiaries of slavery, legal segregation, and ongoing discrimination towards blacks. Whites and blacks would come to terms over the past, confront the present, and unite to create a new and transformed United States of America”(Darity 3). Black Americans have long been calling for change; non-Black Americans need to do everything that they can to wholeheartedly be a part of making this change come to fruition.
Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. Headline, 2014.
Mullen, K., Darity, W. From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the
Twenty-First Century The University of North Carolina Press, 2020.
Throughout the entirety of this semester the one person who made me begin to think about a lot of situations differently was Octavia Butler. Butler continued to amaze me throughout the semester since she made me think in different forms about truly being “independent”. At the beginning of the semester, I thought that focusing on just one author was going to be boring and repetitive, but this class really proved me wrong. This class also honed in the ideas of being independent and overall make me think strategically about the course. Reading Butler was a way for me to overall change my course of action this semester, especially during a pandemic. I was able to truly understand the meaning of thinking deeply about a topic, through literature. I think the main topic I felt through both novels was adapting to change. The change that has occurred not only because of living through a pandemic as a college student, but also the metaphorical change of finding peace in literature, when the world is in complete chaos.
The first part of Butler’s work that was interesting for me was the setup of her novel Lilith’s Brood. I felt as though separating the novel into three sections, caused me to think independently about each, and then see the overarching plot. One piece of the novel that I agreed with and saw myself drawing back to it, was Lilith trying to band everyone together, even though multiple groups were trying to tear her down. I think for me I kept thinking about my personal struggles, and how I kept defying all of them. How all of the choices I have made since being in college, overall have made me into an independent thinker, and how that has also been shown in my responses to anything occurring on campus. Butler’s portrayal of this character overall deepened my independent thinking and caused me to develop my own ideas about life throughout this semester. Developing my own ideas helped me focus on the central course questions for this course.
The central course questions or epigraphs listed on the syllabus are, “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. “Learn and Run!”–Octavia Butler, Dawn. “I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” –Octavia Butler, Imago. I think one point that struck me at the beginning of the semester was habit is persistence in practice.
Habits for me have always been a struggle, and I didn’t fully understand how to either break the bad ones or adapt the good ones to make them a habit to keep for the rest of my lifetime. Habits can bring and bind people together to achieve the central goal for this course. I think that one habit I gained from reading Butler this semester was to never give up. Lilith went through a difficult series of challenges, to be able to tackle every obstacle that the Ooloi tried to throw at her. Every detail that any character gave to her throughout this novel, made it easy for Lilith to just give up, and stop trying to fight this war.
“I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life”. This portion of the epigraph for this course brought me back to one of the reasons I decided to attend college in the first place. The independent moves I made in my life have shown me the habits that I needed to break and why. Throughout my three full years at Geneseo, I can’t say that I truly cared for other students more than I did in this class. While being a student in the middle of a pandemic has its challenges, it has shaped me even more into being an independent human, and how to adjust to chaos if needed.
Care for me has always been evident in this course. The entire novel of From Here To Equity, is all about caring for the future generation and bringing them the knowledge to deal with almost anything that might come their way throughout life. Part 3 of this novel is titled Alternatives to War and Slavery, which is a nice title to show what else we can do when conflict arises. This can however also cause harm to society. Should anyone read some statements the wrong way, we might end up in a world like Lilith.
“The aim of a substantive program of reparations is to produce a race-fair America instead of an America that is unable to acknowledge and confront persistent racial inequality” (pg 47). I think the quote talks about the harm that racism is bringing to our society and country as a whole. Recently multiple events have caused harm to black people. Wrongful deaths have been an issue for black people for as long as I can remember. The color of your skin should not be the reason for fear and chaos to roam around the country. The recent Black Lives Matter movement is evidence to me of who is causing harm in this country, and who is caring for everyone that they can. I think that is where this course really comes into play with this issue. In my opinion, the Ooloi is the harm and Lilith is the care that society needs to take over the world. Lilith’s Brood as a novel made me see that Butler cared for her audience. She wanted everyone to know that this novel is her caring for being joy and an overall adjustment to everyday life. Being able to build habits, and start to care for your society, is a main point Butler was trying to get across.
I have overall been prepared to be changed from this course because of Butler’s choice words in her literature. I think overall the way that she told Lilith’s story really helped me change my outlook on all literature and what can be told throughout a series even if only mentioned once. “He did not argue. She resented his silence, but accepted it. He wanted to go that badly. His feeling that he was on Earth was that strong.” This quote from Dawn was one that meant a lot to me, since it reminded me of having to leave Geneseo at the end of Spring semester. I think that the habit of being changed from this course, is preparing me to leave the school entirely. If I had not been so engrossed in Butler’s literature I don’t think I would be saying the same things about it now. But, Butler was able to rope me into Lilth’s story and from there I was encapsulated by everything Butler mentioned. The story brought back a lot of mentions for me to think about in our society today, and I am forever grateful. This course has made me the woman I am today, and I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Watching Parables In Iteration: A Closer Look At Octavia Butler, helps answer how I have developed and deepened my habits of thinkING this semester and move on as “independent life” free from the constraints of the course. The first thing I noted from the panel was the shared experience of having read and understandING and putting to use what Butler offers in her text: truth and change. If I had not read Butler’s work before watching the video, I think I would have been left confused as to what these people were saying on leading and how important it is to find texts like Butler’s. But as a reader and sometimes analyst of Butler’s work, thinkING habits learned through the text have been brought to my life. One detail I seem to bring up in many of my reflection pieces for English courses is how I am able to transfer what is in the text to my life. Across the many times I have had the pleasure of being given some sort of academic opportunity, leadership is always brought up. Questions like “What is a good leader to you?” or “tell us of a time you had to lead a group of people.” While these questions seem to be normal for us, I think they relate to a flaw of ours, we are hierarchical. Because of this much of the leading we have seen is rarely selfless. One of the forms of leading I liked most is bird flocking. Associated with migration, flocking can also happen for predation and foraging benefits. Yet, what is important to me is how who leads is somewhat interchangeable and there is no issue because they are selfless enough to understand they all share a goal, a destination. While I have been working on being and thinking more independently, I have also learned about us and how we need to hold ourselves accountable and think of how dependable we could actually be towards each other. In times like these were we**(**While the pandemic is a public issue I wanted to centralize the issue a bit more because of how bad we as a country are doing.) as a country we are battling a pandemic, a text like Lillith’s Brood offers words and worlds that mirror our current and possible future situations we may get into if we let our hierarchical tendencies get in the way.
Another practice the panel seems to focus on is empathy. I found this particularly interesting considering how a few years ago the word was rarely mentioned as a form of practice. In basic terms empathy is described as the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings. Empathy has always been something that I continue to practice and I encourage others to do so as well since it brings more social and emotional awareness to others. When thinking further about timing I could not help and ask myself why empathy is something that people seem to care about now and figured it has to do with our situation/cycles we experience. Times like these call us to put these practices into effect; some are finally realizing these two characteristics; leading and having empathy can bring us together. It is as if they must coexist for there to be a possibility of change. If we shift our focus on habits, as stated in the course syllabus:
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”
To do something for a long time one is somehow structured to continue what one has begun. Habit alone seems to be quite rigid when one thinks of it, but the growth experienced is unmatched. When asked “What brings people together?” Many of us thought of one sharing a positive experience, negative experience or trying to help someone which can be selfless to a certain extent.
Another discussion point brought up in the forums is the need to slow down, sit with the information, think about it and then take it somewhere else. If there are two things that we can share and learn and give to others is empathy and how to lead and collaborate with each other. In simple terms, Butler‘s text tells us “Hey you need to be your own person, you need to make your own choices but you need to understand that even while you do those things alone you are part of a bigger experience and that’s the experience you see in your lifetime and those that come after you use to learn. Both course epigraphs make similar points too. The first one talks about leading and the second** talks about nurturing which requires empathy.
I think an issue many of us face is that we think we are alone, and in essence we are. We live our independent life and we make our “choices” but we need to remember that people around us contribute to our lives even in the smallest way.
**I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” –Octavia Butler, Imago
Our collective human experience is what (tends to) brings us together. The question alone brings me to think of the undertones of “bringing” and “binding”. By definition, to “bring” is to take or go with (someone or something) to a place and “binding” is an obligation that cannot be broken. But if we were to look at these terms in an abstract way, “bringing” becomes a word that ties well with the idea of working together, to add to what already exists. “Binding” on the other hand, relates to lack of freedom and movement . Bringing and binding people together offers a both/and to us in the sense that it has us “feeling complicated, harmonious, full of (im)possibilities, contradictory, inspiring, disturbing, complicated, and simple,” situations as Dr. McCoy mentions in the syllabus. In my time taking this course, guided by this question and some of Butler’s work, I have learned that bringing and binding people together can be a beautiful yet difficult task. Although many of us like to think we lead an independent life, it is still dependent on the actions of others. In Dawn, Lilith is given the role to lead other humans, to bring them together to work and learn a new life. Joseph, one of the group members claims that they “chose [her]-someone who desperately doesn’t want the responsibility, who doesn’t want to lead, (and someone) who is a woman” (Butler, 157). To begin, Joseph’s comment is insanely misogynistic in the way he ties lack of responsibility and lack of leadership to being a woman. However, his comment gives more reason to show why Lilith is chosen to bring people together. Although Lilith does not want the responsibility, which is mainly due to fear of messing up with the Ooloi and the humans, her “lack of leadership” is actually a form of decentralized leadership these humans are not used to. Instances like these, remind us of the work we have to do ourselves. Bringing people together requires us to look at each other but to also look at ourselves.
In Adulthood Rites, Akin’s dream to have both the Ooloi, Oankali, and humans live a harmonious life seems a bit naive at first. To think that they could coexist with one another appears to be a difficult thing for all to do which makes it harder for them to prosper as a collective, and that’s another issue. In her essay “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” Reagon claims that “moving between the two worlds, pushing and forcing them to hear and accommodate each other. them to know that in reality —although they are worlds apart and opposite in many ways —they are also through their history intertwined, so that there will be no future if differences continue to be used as instruments of oppression and inequity,” (pg. 116) whih is what Akin is trying to show in Adulthood Rites. In other words, when bringing and binding people together one cannot solely look for similarities and think otherly of those who are different from us. Again, our independent life is a collective experience that we somehow all work in. When N.K Jemisin says Butler was “willing to hold up that mirror and say take a look in the mirror and see how bad we are, [telling us] let’s not be that bad” she was trying to say that although this mirror may be painful to look at, it gives us a form of the truth but not all. We may think we know it all, and even when we think we do, we don’t.
In regards to course concepts of harm and care, “The Training Floor” in Dawn immediately comes to mind. Earlier on in the course we had a forum dedicated to the concepts of harm and care where many of us made a conversation about disinformation and the harm it causes to others. In times like these where disinformation is being spread everywhere, it is important to slow down and think of what we choose to share with others. Curt, one of the group members from Lilith’s group is one that causes harm to others due to the spread of misinformation on Lilith and the Oankali. As a result, Lilith’s “thought [them being on Earth rather than a spaceship] would not leave her alone no matter what facts she felt she knew. What if the others were right?” (Butler, 207) The relationship Lilith formed with the Oankali took a lot of time to form, mostly because of mistrust. Her own assumptions (personal misinformation) made it difficult for her to trust them. Curt “was angry and afraid and in pain” (Butler, 224) just like Lilith did earlier on but she now begins to question those who she worked with to establish a relationship. Currently, I am working on a research paper for an English course and came across an essay by Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable,” and came across a few lines that tied in perfectly with this situation:
Often enough, we don’t know such things even when it comes to ourselves, let alone someone who perished in an epoch whose very textures and reflexes were unlike ours. Filling in the blanks replaces the truth that we don’t entirely know with the false sense that we do. We know less when we erroneously think we know than when we recognize that we don’t. Sometimes I think these pretenses at authoritative knowledge are failures of language: the language of bold assertion is simpler, less taxing, than the language of nuance and ambiguity and speculation.
Solnit perfectly describes our habit of giving into information and ideas due to the fear caused by not having an answer. I understand that not knowing things can be scary, but filling in the blanks can cause more harm than good, especially under circumstances like Lilith and Curt are in.
Being able to welcome change is difficult for many people because it forces us to let go and make room for what is needed at the time. Instead of fearing change and being changed, to be different or become different should be a sign of growth and potential adaptability. Butler describes this dilemma in Adulthood Rites comparing the Oankali to humans when it comes to difference. While the “Oankali crave difference. Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status” (Butler, 329). Change is what allows us to evolve as species and beings. To deny change is to deny the continuation of us existing. Akin makes sure to point out that “Mars isn’t for anyone who doesn’t want it. It will be hard work, risk, and challenge. It will be a Human world someday But It will never be Earth. You need Earth” (Butler, 231 ). In other words, Akin is telling him that although Mars is different from the home he is used to (Earth), it is where they are given the space and the opportunity to keep growing and changing. Staying on Earth will put them in a path that leads to their destruction.
Oftentimes, we only acknowledge change when it is easy to see. We forget that we are responsible to find ways to change and that we are changing more often than we think we do. Imago, Jodah believes that “no part of me [Jodah] is more definitive of who I am than my brain” (Butler, 331). Our brain which appears to be some sort of mass stuck inside our head is much more mobile than we think it is. It looks to learn the unknown, to move forward and to adopt necessary changes when needed.
Though the world Butler creates seems to be different from the one we are currently in, what’s happening in the text is a mirror of what happens here. Given the circumstances, we are doing the best we can. If anything, this year has shown us how much we need each other, even while socially distancing. Modernity (change) allows us to connect in other ways to continue to work and tackle issues handed by life.
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York :Aspect/Warner Books, 2000.
Solnit, Rebecca. “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” Men Explain Things to Me. Updated, Haymarket Books, 2015.