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 I do not want to move into the future only to press my outdated beliefs about what is morally correct onto others.
“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”
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””
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”
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”
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”
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.
To steer stigmergy away from Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy, I attempted to find a connection to stigmergy through Butler’s Bloodchild. As I was hunting for possible connections, I found a helpful hint in Heather Marsh’s article, “Governance by User Groups”. Marsh states: “In environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic, the few who live in the area must have their rights considered along with the rights of the planet.” What stands out to me here is the term “environmentally sensitive.” From my understanding of Bloodchild, this “extrasolar world” (31) that the Terran and Tlic inhabit are faced with an environmentally sensitive issue. Meaning, for the Preserve to survive with both the Tlic and the Terran at Continue reading “Going Back to the Beginning: Stigmergy in Bloodchild”
What is striking to me is a conversation between Lilith and Jodahs in Butler’s Imago. After reading Linda’s post, I came to the realization that Butler strategically placed an incident where the reader sees Lilith’s own humanity through the parental lens. In the second chapter, “Exile,” it is evident that Jodahs has come to accept himself and his changing body. Contrary to Nikanj’s perception of the situation (accepting Jodahs for how it sees itself), it appears that Lilith does not accept Jodahs’ changing appearances:
“What are you doing?” my human mother asked. “Letting your body do whatever it wants to?” Continue reading “A Critique of Lilith’s Parenting”