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.