In Order to Move Forward, You Have to Look Back

We begin the semester with the intent of taking an English course with Dr. McCoy about expulsion and the 2008 housing crisis. On this first day of class we were asked to write down everything we knew about the housing crisis. Many people were not yet knowledgeable about the subject. For example, I thought the crisis had to do with unemployed families being unable to make payments towards their houses and getting them taken away. However, following a semester-long course about it, I can explain it to you. The 2008 recession was tragic for many people and families across the country. The expulsion of these people from their homes caused by a lot of different factors but one of the main components was the carelessness of the businessmen on Wall Street. As seen in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, big banks felt they were protected by the government when it came to getting money that people could not pay back from loans, creating a moral hazard. Due to this moral hazard, these big banks took more risks by giving loans to clients who were clearly unable to pay it back. Their clients were acting in good faith because they believed they could trust the banks and companies to have their best interest in mind. These banks and companies exploited their clients’ good faith by loaning them money they could not afford to pay back for personal gain. This caused these people to be unable to buy or sell houses which inevitably led to the biggest recession since the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the effects of this recession are still seen in the present day, many issues caused by it were left unresolved. 

Everyone has their own motivations for taking the class; whether that be to fulfill a requirement, learn about something that interests them, take a self-assessed course, or a combination of reasons. In the grand scheme of things, the explanation as to WHY everyone is here ends up being to be learning and thinkING about the housing crisis. First reading the prompt, it was quite difficult for me to put things into perspective; in order to do this I allowed myself to travel back in time to the first day of class. Key course concepts, moral hazard, foreclosure, good and bad faith, expulsion, trust, the life preserves for this course, what everything we learn ends up circling back to. 

From there, we watched a documentary titled “The Old Man and the Storm”. This was the film that got me hooked on this class. The documentary followed an Old Man, Mr. Gettridge, on his quest to rebuild his house that was demolished by hurricane Katrina and the struggles that came along with it. One may ask themselves, “what does a hurricane have to do with the 2008 housing crisis?”. The short answer is, the expulsion of people from their homes. Mr. Gettridge was one of very few people who stayed to rebuild their homes, the rest fled the city since their homes were completely destroyed. Most people could not afford to fix their destroyed houses just as most people could not afford to pay off the unfair mortgages set by big companies. 

After going through the course with the 2008 housing crisis in mind with everything we read, we began to dissect “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler. This is a dystopian novel set in the Los Angeles area in 2024. The story follows a young girl named Lauren who grows up in a city surrounded by walls for protection. Over time, the city gets destroyed by people on drugs and she is forced to run away into the north. She meets many people along her journey who all impact her both as a person and as a leader. Lauren describes her goals to the group when traveling north, she tells them about “Earthseed” which is the idea that a society on Earth is possible and that it will eventually spread to other planets. Octavia writes, “That’s all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I don’t know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that won’t matter if we don’t survive these times”. This quote demonstrates the connection between expulsion and survival. Lauren being expelled from her home caused her to think about how she was going to keep living. Those expelled from their homes during the 2008 housing crisis experienced this need for survival after being left homeless. Since it was one of the biggest  recessions since the Great Depression, many people were really struggling just to make ends meet.  

Throughout this book there is a clear theme which has been present across the course of the semester in this course which is the idea of expulsion. Lauren had experienced being expelled from her home and forced to travel up north in order to survive. This is very similar to the concept of expulsion from the 2008 housing crisis. Octavia says, “Cities controlled by big companies are old hat in science fiction. My grandmother left a whole bookcase of old science fiction novels. The company-city subgenre always seemed to star a hero who outsmarted, overthrew, or escaped ‘the company.’ I’ve never seen one where the hero fought like hell to get taken in and underpaid by the company. In real life, that’s the way it will be. That’s the way it always is.” This quote continues to show the clear connection between “Parable of the Sower” and the 2008 housing crisis because it allows the reader to relate Lauren’s experience of being mistreated by companies to the poor treatment of clients of big companies and banks. The theme in which people are being forced from their homes is both constant and present. Those who were unable to pay their mortgages were expelled from their homes which made them look for somewhere else to live. After running away from Los Angeles, Lauren ventured north to find a new place to live for her and her new friends. Just like in the 2008 housing crisis, people were moving around because it was necessary for them to build a new foundation elsewhere. The idea that people can be forced out of their homes and made to look for new ones, being lost, searching, and having hope, can connect these two concepts that may not have been thought could be connected before. This course really opens your eyes to thinking about connections in places that one may not have thought about beforehand. The idea that everything can be intertwined and connected is so true and mind blowing. Additionally, this is all still relevant today because the effects of the 2008 housing crisis are still causing issues with people and families across the country. The expulsion caused by these mistakes from big companies and banks have ruined lives just so they could make a profit and exploit those who trusted them. 

I think that by taking this course I have grown a lot as a student, a writer, and a person. I have been able to better my time management, communication, and self drive. Taking courses in regards to GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time” is vital for the success of a student. I feel that each student across the country and even the world should use a template such that we look back at history’s mistakes and use those lessons to better ourselves and our futures. The ideas behind this course matter, moral hazard, foreclosure, good and bad faith, expulsion, and trust can be seen in almost everything in one way or another. This provides context and relevance to the world which we so desperately need. I am ever so grateful for this course and what it has taught me. I genuinely feel that I was meant to take this course and I was meant to become a better person because of it. So for that, thank you Professor McCoy for helping me open my eyes and start thinkING.

Dead Ted: Head (of State?)

In the apocalyptic worlds of Wild Seed by Octavia Butler* and American Desert by Percival Everett, “disability” is an inherently different designation from that of late 2oth-21st century American society. Both of these novels imply that a new type of person will inherit the Earth: In Wild Seed, that “type” is humans with extraordinary abilities, and in American Desert, it is a headless man who is incredibly resistant against physical destruction. Both of these novels explore the value in a body, and therefore each relate to the question of whether a body can lack value in these societies. In Wild Seed, Doro and Anyanwu, the most powerful and long-lived people known, create new definitions of ability and disability in part because they cultivate and breed a group which has abilities they favor. In American Desert, Ted’s mere existence ontologically challenges disability in his universe, as it reverses the association of closeness to death with powerlessness and liveliness with power. Despite Ted’s revolutionary potential, he ultimately decides to die rather than continue unliving in such a distinct way. While his existence fundamentally creates a problem for ableist society, I believe that he resolves it himself. What I am wondering, through my exploration of these texts which challenge Western notions of disability, is at what point do these challenges become revolutionary? What backing would these new ideas need in order to overcome the katechon of ableist social structures?

In 21st century America, we define disability socially and physically. It is easy to think of examples of how being physically disabled can impact someone’s life. For example, someone who has nerve damage in their hands might struggle to write or type, two skills which are often mandatory in office jobs and in schools. This particular problem can be mitigated through a tool such as voice-to-text technology, which has become more accessible during this century. However, accommodation technology is not always widely available, either due to to its non-existence or how expensive it is to produce. People in America often live with chronic pain and barriers to various environments. Therefore, it is prudent to claim that disability takes a physical toll on disabled people at the moment.

The American/Western concept of “health” is not only defined by this physical toll, but on an individual’s appearance. People can outwardly show traits which can make others view them as disabled, regardless of their actual medical needs. Rather than being accommodated in public, many visibly disabled people are treated very poorly. People in wheelchairs, for example, are quire visibly disabled. Strangers who might be well-intentioned often push people in wheelchairs in order to help them move. Sometimes, people may exploit the fact that someone is in a wheelchair and physically or sexually assault them. Visibly disabled people can also face barriers to employment, bullying, and other forms of discrimination. This hatred goes beyond these public displays. Instead, hatred of disabled people is deeply rooted in “Western” countries such as America, Canada, and Germany to the point where the right of disabled people to live is often disputed. A common response to the existence of visibly disabled people is that of eugenics. Eugenics is when a society rejects the existence of disabled people, and anyone who is physically considered to be “undesirable”. Eugenics can look like the Nazi party massacring disabled people, but eugenics can take other forms. Notably, eugenics is often perpetuated through reproductive control. In Canada, Indigenous people are still sometimes forcibly sterilized. In the 1900s, the U.S. Supreme court permitted forced sterilization of disabled people in the case Buck v. Bell. Sperm banks generally require that their donors be above 5’8, “intelligent,” and in good physical health. It is therefore clear to me that health is an important marker of class within “Western” society, and that the definition of disability is inherently tied to what the ruling class values in a person.

While the society which Doro is breeding into existence in Wild Seed does not specifically value health, it also does not engage in efforts to accommodate physically and visibly disabled people. This lack of accommodations seems to stem from apathy rather than antipathy. Doro breeds people because he feels “utterly alone, forever alone” in his abilities and immortality (372). He wants people to match him in both aspects. There are people in the world with some abilities, but none which match his own. In collecting and breeding them, their abilities can evolve and grow in strength. It is easy to assume that this system might create a society in which there is an easily identifiable caste system based on one’s adherence to Doro’s standards. However, Doro does not care much about the people in his colonies, save for their ability to birth long-lived people with extraordinary abilities, such as the ability to see into another’s mind. While the people with abilities, his breeders, are prized by Doro, they are only necessary for producing the next generation. After they have served their function of reproducing, or even during this process, should Doro choose to inhabit their body, they are often killed. The breeders are quite vulnerable to Doro, as he finds that he takes the “greatest pleasure” from consuming people with abilities (370). Indeed, there are no groups which I can think of that are more likely to be culled, as Doro claims that “age, race, sex, physical appearance, and except in extreme cases, health, did not affect his enjoyment of victims” (370). This lack of care, while being eugenicist in the sense that Doro is creating a society which might eventually breed out powerless people, largely lacks the forms of ableism which are present in Western societies today. Doro states that many of his children have “hideous bodies,” whereas Anyanwu’s children are all “beautiful” (294). This passage is vague about the exact definition of “hideous” and “beautiful.” I take Doro’s apathy toward disability, combined with Anyanwu’s assertion from early in the novel that her children have no “‘forbidden things’ wrong with them,” a category which includes “almost any deformity,” to mean that Doro’s children are visibly disabled, and Anyanwu’s are not. Doro does not seek to cause harm to his disabled children in particular, nor does he attempt to breed out the disabled bodies he produces.

Even so, Doro’s society is absolutely not a place where people are cared for or accommodated. Doro does not care about the physical toll of the abilities he forces onto others. He pays close attention to Nweke, his daughter, as he believes that her mind-reading abilities will make her his “next Anyanwu,” a woman who will better than Anyanwu in her compliance and, possibly, in the strength of her abilities (374). However, Nweke never replaces Anyanwu; the agony of her transition to power causes her to become so violent that Isaac has to kill her. Doro is disappointed by this death. However, his disappointment is not because he is sad that Nweke has been crushed, an agonizing death, but because she had been “all Doro had hoped for and more” and is now lost to him (392). This lack of accommodations becomes particularly problematic because of Anyanwu, who does care about her children not being disabled. Anyanwu’s reproductive system is fundamentally ableist, as she is able to “look inside herself and control or alter what she saw there,” (111), an ability which she uses to ends such as finding a medicine to help Isaac’s heart (396). Additionally, she considers incest, a practice which often leads to physical illnesses and deformities, to be an “abomination” (262). While none of these pieces of evidence individually prove that Anyanwu’s children are “perfect” because she makes them that way, the control she wields over her body combined with her beliefs leads me to believe that this is the case. Anyanwu’s village is also not separate from the world; people arrive to it, and it is eventually connected to Doro’s seed villages. The juxtaposition between the disabled people from elsewhere and Anyanwu’s children is stark. Anyanwu’s beliefs about society do not have a larger impact than Doro’s, but she has an opinion on the matter while Doro remains apathetic. She is extremely powerful through her extraordinary abilities and eventual leadership positions. Additionally, she is the primary “healer” wherever she goes, and so the changes she makes to a person’s body are seen as positive ones. Her opinions therefore have social consequences. Consequently, I think that the social model of disability is present within the society which Anyanwu and Doro are building. Components of the disabled identity are changing as people are bred to have these abilities, but the category of “disabled person” remains distinct within this new world.

In Percival Everett’s American Desert, however, the world of ability and disability is sent into a crisis when Ted rises from his coffin, head stitched on. He is able to see memories with clarity. He does not feel pain. He can be shot and not be impacted at all (191). He has even had his personality changed in death, becoming more empathetic and at peace with his circumstances. All of these are traits we would associate with ability, not disability. Disabled people can experience, depending on their disability, memory loss, physical pain, and/or a lack of empathy. Therefore, Ted’s death has technically made him closer to ability. This is, in the language of Santana Kaplan’s Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought, an impossibility within our grammar. This text outlines the concept of Afro-Pessimism in terms of messianism. Kaplan posits that Blackness is “ontological death,” a of unbeing which allows the world of whiteness to spring forward into existence (73). Although I do not think that I could, or should, attempt to replace the “Blackness” in Black messianism with disability, I believe that disability also inhabits a social position of non-being. Disability is associated with death in the context of American social Darwinism; the “weaker,” or disabled, party will be beaten by the abled party, and the consequence for being beaten in social Darwinism is the inevitable unbecoming which is death. However, this idea is reversed in Ted’s body, as he indeed has transcended the life which is the ephemeral ticket of able-bodied people into their idea of supremacy. The fact that his death leads to his new, stronger form reminds me of how Kaplan describes Afropessimism. They specifically cite the philosopher Žižek, who stated in The Puppet and the Dwarf that “We are one with God only when God is no longer one with Himself, but abandons Himself, ‘internalizes’ the radical distance which separates us from Him. … [O]nly when I experience the infinite pain of separation from God do I share an experience with God Himself” (91). What Kaplan derives from Žižek’s words is that the messianic action of emptying the self of life, of giving oneself to death, makes death a path to becoming like God. Kaplan continues in their analysis, going on to claim that lynching is a reiteration of the death which came from chattel slavery, and that Afropessimists must “reconceive the messianic subtracted from the narratology of redemption” (76). I believe that this idea is fundamental to an understanding of disability within American Desert. Ted is not redeemed through death, and neither is his society. In life, he cheated on his wife; in death, she still cannot fully forgive him (209). His death does not redefine disability to anyone, himself included: when he sees the cloned Jesus Christs with their physical and cognitive disabilities, he feels moved by the “mere fact” that one of them (Jesus #19) offers to him “a response of sorts” (207). In feeling so moved, Ted is both demonstrating his assumption that the Jesuses would not be able to respond to him, and is moving beyond this assumption by feeling emotionally moved by this other undead man. The past consists of these forms of denial of justice. Ted’s life-in-death gives him the hypothetical opportunity to create a more just society by burying these ideas of what it means to be a living person. He does not have to return to his life with Gloria; if he so chooses, he can associate with Avery and the Jesuses. Clancy asks Ted to “imagine an army of men like you,” and I can, just not for the government’s sake (167). In taking up arms against the world, Ted, Avery, and whatever Jesuses he could create could render the association between disability and death incoherent through an unfathomable bloodbath, and then through a recreation of the dead.

Of course, this idea is unfathomable for Ted, which is why he never falls in with any of the zealots he encounters. He is incredibly powerful, but he would never commit to the “apocalyptic laying hold of gratuitous violence in the name of gratuitous messianic freedom” (82). Ted is not a revolutionary, and even if he were, there is no one following him. He consequently comes home to his family, but it is too late, as they have rejected him. Gloria feels anger toward him for returning from the dead when his family would have been better off without him. Without Ted, she could meet a better romantic partner, and the children would not have to be haunted by the existential problems which Ted’s unlife raises for them. She is correct: Ted cannot return to his family. In doing so, he devotes himself to the fantasy of living a redeemed life as a dead man in a fundamentally ableist society. Because he has not rejected the unjust world in which he died, he will never be able to find his place in life. Additionally, Ted is afraid of his revolutionary potential, claiming that “the idea that he could not be hurt became a terrifying thought” (259). He goes on to state that he now correctly fears power. Of course, he is the power that he fears, as he does not need to fear death, the fundamental threat of American society. The only way to resolve this tension between Dead Ted and a society which cannot bear his resurrection is for him to leave forever, and so he does. While Ted’s unlife is threatening, his final death returns the world to its former, life-conforming state. His family will get to feel that he is at peace, and move on with their lives without him. Therefore, American Desert appears to be a challenge to ableist patterns, but its real moral focus is with the individual family which Ted attempts to live with after he has already changed in a way which they cannot handle on top of his previous wrongs.

While both Wild Seed and American Desert address disability in incredibly complex ways, neither of them feature a society which outright rejects ableism. I would not expect either of them to. Both of these texts follow individuals, if powerful individuals, and the struggle against the ideals which have been ingrained into them is incredible. Additionally, while Doro and Anyanwu have the resources, time, family support, and ability to reconstruct society, Ted does not have access to the power structures they have built. Even though he might have outlived everyone except for Jesus #19, there was no actual possibility of him facilitating a revolution beyond the realm of philosophy. To me, these texts enrich the revolutionary premises which surround these characters, because they engage with the social complexity of being disabled during apocalyptic changes. My thinkING about how both Wild Seed and American Desert do not portray an apocalypse of ability enables me to wonder further about the compartmentalization within the apocalypses which are portrayed within these novels. Is an apocalypse apocalyptic if it does not entail the destruction of all social constructions?

*online edition

Higher Than Hierarchy

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.

Continue reading “Higher Than Hierarchy”

Goal Setting Essay: Setting the Right Habits, and Continued Learning

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not….Habit is persistence in practice.”- Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi’. When I first read through the syllabus, I recognized that there was wisdom in these words, but didn’t stop to think about them. Over the course of the past month or so, however, that has changed, in large part due to my own failings. I’ve always been the type to rely on inspiration over habit, and have never been good with time management or organization for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned, over the course of my academic career, that there are certain factors that make these things harder for me. My ADHD, for example, doesn’t exactly help me when it comes to making and sticking to a regimented schedule. Despite this though, it is clear to me that at the core of my issues with organization and time management is a failure to adopt the right habits. 

I have mentioned this before, but I’m studying from home this semester rather than on campus, and consequently find myself juggling school-work with a job for the first time in my life. I used to think that being able to successfully balance these two responsibilities required a level of self discipline that one either innate had, or didn’t (and to be fair, if I’m being honest, I probably would’ve put myself in the “didn’t” category, but I really like my job, so I decided to try and make it work). I now realize that this isn’t the case. It has nothing to do with discipline, and everything to do with habit. I need to find a way to start setting habits for myself of planning out what work needs to be done in any given week well in advance, and working on it throughout the week, rather than sticking to my current habit of waiting until the weekend to complete all my coursework because I can’t seem to force myself to do anything productive after coming from my job. Of course, much of this is information I knew before. Even while lying down in bed while succumbing to laziness and allowing myself to wait another day to begin that week’s coursework, I know what I’m doing is stupid, and that I’m going to regret it later, but as almost anyone can tell you, breaking a habit is difficult. 

I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get more organized, be more disciplined, and manage my time better, and almost every attempt has failed. I used to tell myself that this was just a sign that I could never be organized, or disciplined, but I think I’ve always known that the real reason is that habits take time to form, and almost always require a stretch of time where you must intentionally perform the habit, however unpleasant, without it yet being automatic. This excruciating span of time in which you must deliberately choose to perform the habit despite your id begging you to go do something less difficult, and more fun, is the part of the process where I always failed. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I can change this. I don’t know if I can succeed where I’ve failed before. What I do know is that now more than ever, I want to. I was in the Toni Morrison class, I’ve seen firsthand how thoroughly rewarding this process of “continued learning” and collaborative thinking can be, and I would feel terrible if I squandered this opportunity to participate in that process again. In the past, when I’ve tried to work on these skills, the only motivation to do so that I had was the fear of my grades suffering, and while the fear of failure can be a powerful motivator, it is one that has only ever worked for me in moderation. If I feel it for too long, I eventually become numb to it. As such, all my past attempts to better my organization and time management skills have been superficial and short-lived. I’m hoping that this time around, now that I have something I truly value on the line, I can muster up the effort to succeed. This, of course, is all talk, and I’ll have no way of knowing if I can back it up with action until I truly see myself changing, but I want to record my intent now, so that I have something to look back on when I find myself struggling. 

“Learn and Run!”- Octavia Butler, Dawn. Honestly, this feels like it could very well be Butler’s message to anyone reading Dawn. This novel started out agonizingly slow, but from the second we meet Jdahya onward, it felt like the pacing was suddenly moving at breakneck speed. I think there’s another way of interpreting this, though, and it’s one that I believe helps fit the context of the novel a bit better. I think learning and running in the context of Dawn can be seen as one and the same. Lilith, and by extension, the reader, are thrust into a world where they know next to nothing, and find themselves struggling to play catch-up in a new world. This process is made all the more frustrating by the fact that, sticking with our running=learning metaphor, Lilith is a tortoise in a world of cheetahs, learning incredibly slowly compared to Oankali, to the point where it clearly frustrates not only Lilith but the Oankali themselves, which is big considering how few emotions they seem to display in the first place. We see this frustration on the part of the Oankali the most on page 74, in a conversation between Lilith and Nikanj: 

“‘We humans… if we don’t use a language, we forget it.’ 

   ‘No. You don’t.’ 

   She looked at its tightly contracted body tentacles and decided it did not look happy. It really was concerned over her failure to learn quickly and retain everything.” 

Nikanj seems literally incapable of understanding how humans can’t remember everything they learn, and while we do later learn that it can genetically alter humans to be capable of this, it seems to be frustrated that this isn’t naturally the default for them, as it clearly is for Oankali. I’m really curious to see how this will play into the story going forward, as Lilith will undoubtedly continue learning at a much faster pace (almost as if she’s gone from walking to running),  and I’m curious to see to what extent Butler will attempt to accommodate the reader (much like divine accommodation in Dante’s Divine Comedy) in order to allow us to take all the information in while still giving it at a rapid enough rate to make it believable that Lilith wouldn’t be learning more with her new and improved memory and learning capabilities. 

“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. There were two things that immediately stuck out to me when reading this quotation.

My first thought was that this is clearly from the point of view of an Ooloi, as indicated by the reference to the narrator’s “sensory hand”. This both intrigues and worries me. While I would love to find out what goes on inside the head of an ooloi, I also feel as though a bit of how fascinating they are comes from their inherent “otherness” and the fact that they, as the furthest removed of the Oankali sexes from humans, seem to exist somewhere just beyond human understanding. I worry that, in trying to show us their thought process in more detail and from a first person point of view, the Ooloi will be simplified in some way, losing some of the nuance and uniqueness that makes them so interesting in the first place.  

My second thought was that “tiny positioning movements” is an excellent way to describe not just independent life, but also learning. We, as learners, (especially in the field of literature), are constantly exposed to new bits of information and unique perspectives that challenge our existing views, perceptions, and beliefs. Ideally, we learn from this exposure by adjusting, or repositioning, our views, perceptions, and beliefs accordingly, in response to the new insights we gain and the new perspectives we’re shown. This process tends to happen little by little, in ways that tend to seem “tiny” when looked at out of context, but can provide a huge boost in understanding. I think we’ve already seen a bit of this in Dawn, as twice now, we have been shown evidence of Oankali learning based on their experiences with Lilith. The first time is when Jdahya offers Lilith the opportunity to die swiftly and painlessly rather than become part of their experiment, which seems to go against everything the Oankali value, leaving me to believe it was a response to Lilith’s absolute disgust at the isolation and humiliation the Oankali inflicted upon their human subjects. The second time is when Nikanj is unsure how much to tell Lilith about what’s going on, and ends up asking her directly if she needed to know what it just told her, to which she responds that she did need to know, and Nikanj seems to accept this response with a weight that implies it will heavily affect how it deals with humans going forward. These moments seem to be small “repositionings” in the Oankali characters’ perceptions of humanity, and what they value, and I suspect we’ll see more moments like these in the coming chapters.


“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”

SUNY Geneseo’s environment is conducive to the development of academically appropriate habits and to continued learning. I appreciate the structure that college courses give me, and know that this structure partially molds my work. Even so, there is a tension between needing structure and needing to develop sustainable methods which work in lieu of the college. To continue learning for the rest of my life, my habits should not rely on grades or deadlines when those measurement tools are scarcer outside of the education system. Moreover, I do not wish to only be self reliant regarding tasks which are obvious and mandatory. It is my hope that by becoming intrinsically motivated (while continuing to be externally molded), I will gain the ability to thoughtfully choose activities which will extend my learning beyond the collegiate sphere. I intend on doing so by forging stronger interpersonal connections between myself and my peers.

Octavia Butler’s Dawn follows Lilith Iyapo as she adapts to life with the Oankali. After her time with Jdahya, her guide into Oankali culture, Lilith continues to learn. Kahguyaht “turned her over to the child, Nikanj” and states that Lilith “‘will teach [Nikanj] about [her] people and it will teach you about the Oankali’” (Butler 55). This imperative folds Butler’s “continued learning” into the structure of Lilith’s life. Imperatives help me to do work of which I can be proud. For example, with our discussion posts, the instructions are detailed: I know their due dates, that there ought to be a throughline in my writing, and that it should “[be made] clear how it connects to larger course questions and concepts” (McCoy). These rubrics strengthen my writing in the sense that I write consistently for these discussion posts, and generally know when my writing is adequate. I can edit my own work because I know what is being looked for. By this metric, I have long since developed a habit of writing, because I do the work whenever I have this scaffolding. My motivation is strong for these classes, as what I must do to succeed is obvious. However, this habit is weak in that I have been writing around these classes. I often find it difficult to be intrinsically motivated in spite of my habit of “write essay, submit essay” because I am often more worried about receiving poor grades than being proud of my writing. Since my writing process often feels secondary to my grades, SUNY Geneseo has become my academic bastion. Lilith is in a similar situation of being dependent on the Oankali, Nikanj in particular. 

Continue reading “Extrinsickness”

Understanding Consent in Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark”

During the initial contraction of the disease in Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler, my mind instantly started thinking about consent and more specifically started thinking about our Skype session with Ben Chapman. 

            In Clay’s Ark, three characters- a father and his two daughters are taken hostage with the use of weapons. They are brought to a community of people who are living with an organism inside of them. Contracting this organism changes a human’s DNA sequence. These changes bring about an urgent drive to infect others, heightened senses and everlasting appetite for food. After being taken to this community, Blake, the father, is scratched by Madea, who is someone who has contracted the organism and is now living with it. This begins Blake’s process of being infected by the organism. 

Continue reading “Understanding Consent in Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark””

Back at Home with Butler

The second I arrived back at home and my mom begins to ask me about my courses. I knew it would be relatively easy to explain all of them, all of them except my Octavia Butler course. I wasn’t quite sure where to start with this one. Do I just explain the books that the class has read? Do I try and guide her through all the themes we have discovered in those books? I finally decided on showing her our final exam project and to take it from there. Continue reading “Back at Home with Butler”

Finally Coming to Terms with My Vampire-Fandom in Butler’s Fiction

Funny enough, after reading Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood Trilogy, I became disappointed in myself. My reading of Butler’s “Fledgling” is different from any of the other texts we have read in class.  I really don’t want to say it’s because of the vampires, but I think it is… Vampire culture has been heavily discussed in class and through blog posts. Maybe “Fledgling” didn’t take me on such a ride compared Butler’s other texts because vampire culture has Continue reading “Finally Coming to Terms with My Vampire-Fandom in Butler’s Fiction”

Thinking Out Loud: Questions for Clay’s Ark and Genetics

While reading Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark,” I couldn’t help but think of how Butler hints at some type of genetic engineering in her text. My mind was constantly going back in forth between Keira’s cancer, acute myeloblastic leukemia (460), and the epidemic that Eli brought down to Earth (480). It appears that this epidemic heightens the senses of humans and allows the human body to mend itself from most damage it comes across. Keira’s cancer has the opposite effect. Her body is slowly deteriorating and there has been no luck in curing Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud: Questions for Clay’s Ark and Genetics”

Empathy: Oankali Do More Than Walk in Your Shoes

This past Thursday I attended a discussion on empathy and literature, led by Dr. Ken Asher. The discussion was terribly interesting, and I could not help but draw some mental connections between the discussion and the content of our course. Cassie happens to discuss empathy in her last post (with a nod to Sami), which makes me feel more confident about the relevance of this post.

Continue reading “Empathy: Oankali Do More Than Walk in Your Shoes”