Multiple Origins of Earthseed

In response to Jes’s post inquiring into the possible role of Heraclitus in the origins of Earthseed, I would like to do a hard loop back. In the Spring 2015 section of the Octavia Butler class, I wrote a post noting the similarities between Earthseed and Daoism—the author of which, in a striking coincidence, seems to have been roughly contemporary with Heraclitus. This seems to suggest another kind of looping—Butler’s own, a looping back from the problems of the present and the future to the solutions of the ancient past. It also begs the question of whether Roach’s idea of circum-Mediterranean circulation was really as sealed off during this period as he believed. There is evidence, in fact, that the Greek philosophers were influenced by Indian philosophy—Pyrrho, the founder of skepticism was exposed to it when he traveled to India with Alexander the Great. It wasn’t too long after Heraclitus and Lao Tzu that the Silk Road began its own intercultural circulation. In my 2015 blog post I couldn’t find any evidence that she drew from any particular tradition in creating Earthseed, but the cultural currents that prefigured her writing were not as autochthonous as we sometimes imagine, and in an environment of circulation such as this there is room for multiple origins.

Walls and the “Other”

Last week while walking around campus looking for places of shelter, it was obvious that very inadequate structural spaces provide protection from the elements, and all of these are familiar to anyone who has ever seen homelessness is an urban environment; under a bridge, on the front steps of a building with giant doors, next to a heat vent, etc. I live in Rochester and see this everyday, and with our classes’ exercise and the conditions of Butler’s future America fresh in my mind, the rain last week felt heavy.

Most of us are accustomed to preconceived judgments towards homeless people or panhandlers, and when they are in abundance, especially of the latter, we are expected to ignore them. More often than not, we are to view these people as the “other”; drug-addicts, abusers, or “difficult”. I have definitely desensitized myself, as I’m sure most of us have; I am privileged to be a student, but I am not in a position to give away my student loans, and if I let these depressing sights, or the frequently-aggressive panhandling get to me, my fragile financial situation would turn into a dire one.

A city does not want its tourists or workers to experience homelessness, so most of , if not all of it, is pushed out of view. Going eastbound onto I-490 from downtown Rochester, there are dozen of tents in a fenced in area underneath a ramp; loud, smoggy, but away from the city. In my hometown Ithaca, NY, a small city but with a proportionally large heroin epidemic, the homeless live by a water inlet near the industrial parks and Wegmans, a fenced-in area near the railroad tracks that was nicknamed “The Jungle” while I was still in high school, where in recent years was subject to much scrutiny and unsolved arson and murder.

Lauren lives in her gated community, safe from the violence and drugs of from the “outsiders”, Keith’s story arc last week proved the corruptibility of the outside. Do the homeless communities in our own city experience this kind of safety in their literally “gated” communities? To reach even further, are we trapped in the boundaries that we set within a city, a state, or a country? I am interested in how the book will expand upon the people who live outside of the communities it focuses on, and if it will take an empathetic or reflective turn on what we define as “walls”, “freedom”, and “community”.

Tracing Earthseed to Heraclitus

When I was reading about Lauren’s discovery of Earthseed, the idea that God is change, I was reminded of Heraclitus (c. 500 BC). Contrary to other pre-Socratic philosophers, he sought to write his philosophy in a way that was almost paradoxical such that it would lead his reader closer to enlightenment. Many of the pre-Socratics sought to pin down a particular element that captured the essence of all things. Thales thought this was water, Anaximenes thought this was air, and Anaximander thought it was something like a primordial sort of chaos (apeiron). Canonically speaking, after these three—the Milesians— came Pythagoras and his followers, and then Heraclitus of Ephesus. Heraclitus believed that change was the only constant in life. “You could not step twice into the same river” is perhaps one of his most famous quotes. Even if one steps into a river that we would usually call the same river, Heraclitus would say this river is not the same if you are stepping into it at another time. From the very first time one steps into the river to the next time, it is a different river. To Heraclitus, this is the nature of things. Similarly, he views the human condition as characterized by strife: “All things come into being through opposition and all are in flux like a river.”

Earthseed’s principles that are governed by change and returning someday to the stars—or to the ashes—reminded me of Heraclitus immediately. One point I forgot about Heraclitus until perusing the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy was that he believe that “that fire is the ultimate reality; all things are just manifestations of fire” (SEP). He also believes that all things come from fire and return to fire. Interestingly, this makes his view seem a bit paradoxical if he identifies the world with fire—which is one thing—while also identifying it with change, which would seem not to be able to identify the world with just one thing (the view that the world is constituted primarily by one thing is called material monism).

Analysis of Heraclitus aside, I can’t help but wonder whether Earthseed can be traced to Heraclitus as a direct influence. The parallel became all the more striking to me when I realized how prevalent fire is in Parable of the Sower. Fire destroys nearly everything Lauren owns, but when Lauren is wandering on the freeway, fire also presents the opportunity for survival by looting the resources of those killed by a fire. Fire also brings Lauren, Harry, and Zahra together with the Douglas family. Fire seems to be both threatening and tempting, and Earthseed offers the promise of “our bones [mixing] with the bones and ashes of our cities,” or to return to the stars—also a fire of its own (222). I’m not sure where this connection could take us, but it is worth thinking about the roots of Earthseed (no pun intended).

 

Unraveling in Parable of the Sower

Throughout this course, something that we have discussed in depth if the idea that everything has to go somewhere.  The terms buildup and pressure have become essential to this course, in the idea that our actions, and the actions of others are not meaningless but will eventually lead to something.  This idea of pressure building was especially pertinent to The Big Short, where the buying and selling of subprime mortgage loans ultimately resulted in the stock market crashing, and consequentially, the housing crisis.  We have discussed how even the very act of reading a novel; turning the pages and seeing how much is left, is a type of buildup. Continue reading “Unraveling in Parable of the Sower”

Irrelevant?

This will just be a quick post I promise…

I keep contemplating what Beth means when she talks about her goal every semester is to become irrelevant in class. I understand her point and agree that it is great that we are able to continue discussions on the blog and weave together so many strands of the course on our own. I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate how helpful I believe the blog is. This course is one that makes us think about so many important aspects of our society and meanings, many of these thoughts happen outside of class and instead of having to remember them for class we have this space to share them.

However, my issue is that Beth cannot become irrelevant, and that doesn’t only stem from my high respect for her as a professor and a person. In a class that focuses so heavily on origins, we know that it is irresponsible to forget about the past. While Beth may not need to actively contribute as often in class discussions/ on the blog, I feel that she really can’t be considered irrelevant in a class. Thanks to her syllabus, text selections, and class structures, we have been able to create a product out of this class. She could not fully prepare for where all our thoughts would go, but of course her influence was there at the start of the semester and even now!  We didn’t autochthonously (I may have just made that word up, oops) come up with these thoughts and ideas. I can’t immediately think of a better word that Beth could use, but I just figured I would share those thoughts.

“What is necessary for a house?”: Conflating Ideas of Home with Cleanliness

These thoughts are a bit delayed, but after reading over my notebook in search of blog post ideas, I was reminded that circling back always allows for more opportunities for reflection. During class last Friday, I was particularly intrigued by a comment Jes made during our discussion of the syllabus question “What is necessary for a house?” Jes detailed that she doesn’t call her apartment at school “home,” but rather reserves that for the house she shares with her family. I have noticed myself doing the same thing – referring to my apartment as “my place” or its nickname among my sorority, “The Coop” (pronounced like “coop” in “chicken coop”… origins unclear). Avoiding the word “home” seems to me an interesting phenomenon. I wonder what constitutes a place vs. a home, and for myself in particular.

Continue reading ““What is necessary for a house?”: Conflating Ideas of Home with Cleanliness”

Anti-Anti-Homeless Activism

I thought I’d share this article for those of us who were affected by our class exercise on Monday- many cities uses their infrastructure and architecture to hide homelessness, rather than combat its roots. Ever wanted to rip the arm out of the middle of an anti-sleeping bench? Ever think that the many homeless-deterring ordinances in your city just make conditions worse? Here is a group of activists getting creative.

 

Children of War

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler has been really striking a chord with me and it has proven itself to be quite a powerful journey for myself, and I am sure for many others in this class as well, to have embarked upon. In the section we just read, Chapters 7-12, I found myself paying particular attention to the frequent mentioning of children and bringing new life into what seems to be such a destitute, inhospitable world.

Continue reading “Children of War”