True Religion

March 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm (Uncategorized)

I really loved Ursula K. Le Guin’s message about religion in her novel The Telling, or at least what I perceive her message to be based on the plot.  When Sutty is sent to Aka on her mission as an Observer, she expects to find the planet populated by a peaceful society, who are guided by their beliefs in an equally peaceful religion, The Telling.  However, upon her arrival she discovers that The Telling has in fact been banned, replaced by the strict observation of a dogma based on pure science alone.  Furthermore, in the attempt to solidify this new code as law, all of the Akans’ cultural and religious history has been erased.

In my opinion, this particular part of the plot completely parallels modern circumstances in our society; and by our society, I guess I’m specifically referring to college culture.  We were prompted, “secularism is often portrayed as a ‘liberation’ from religion.” In no other environment that I have experienced does that seem to be so true as here on Ohio State’s campus.  Understandably, most students and people here seem to hold up their own knowledge as the ‘god’ of their life, rather than worship a god or gods of other religions.  In the context of one of the more popular religions on campus, Christianity is brought under fire frequently as learned students research and debate the creation versus evolution issue.

Personally, I find it difficult to engage in this debate, because of my adherence to faith over science- a choice which I feel many people look down on.  But I think that, regardless of whether you’re Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Taoist, you should be able to exist and hold true to your beliefs without the scathing judgment of others.  I think that Le Guin’s tale of The Telling’s subjugation is a message to all of us to reserve this judgment and let people of any religion coexist peacefully.


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Nuclear Winterson and Other Apocalypses

February 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm (Uncategorized)


Perhaps this is due to the fact that I’m taking two classes in the English department about marginalized people groups.  Perhaps it’s because these classes put the “liberal” in “liberal arts degree.”  But am I the only one who is over being inundated with these environmental apocalypse stories?

I feel like lately, Hollywood has been force feeding us all a steady diet of these propaganda pieces.  Al Gore sort of started the newest wave of this consumerized environmental frenzy in 2006, and it seems that animators took his cue from there- think Happy Feet, Wall-E, and of course, Avatar.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate advocacy and everything… but I just wonder what could have been done to save the planet with, say, the nearly 3 BILLION dollars that these movies have grossed to date.  Yes, I am a terrible hypocrite as I willingly chipped in my share of this sum, having seen all four of the previously mentioned films in theater… but I digress.

What is author Jeanette Winterson saying about nature and society in her novel, The Stone Gods?  I would most definitely say, nothing new in the least.  Let’s take a look at the basics of her story for comparison. We are presented with an Earth-like planet that is bereft of natural resources and traumatized by the effects of global climate change.  (One or all of these characteristics are shared by the back stories of all of the aforementioned movies.) A fight or search for sustainability of human (or penguin) life ensues.  Insert plotline about winsome protagonists connecting despite the adversity of their situation in this ravaged world.  Script options also include the journey to another planet, the color blue, and cute animals in peril.

Of The Stone Gods (which was notably published in 2007 during this green brain child boom,) Winterson explicitly states  on her website, “People have asked me, ‘is this a political book? Is it a statement?’
I have said many times that I believe our time to be unique in the history of the world. Either we face our environmental challenges now, or many of us will perish, and much of what we cherish in civilisation will be destroyed. I am sorry to sound apocalyptic, but this is what I believe.”  Yawn.  Wake me up when ecological doom is no longer pending.

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Trilogy Time

February 19, 2010 at 12:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Let’s just get right down to it- the way that the Oankali choose to restore Earth’s natural balance is disturbing from an anthropocentric point of view.  From a point of view with less alien/human bias, what seems most disturbing of all is what the humans have done to Earth to necessitate the Oankali’s intervention.  In Dawn (Octavia Butler, 1988) the human race has razed the planet with poisonous radiation, and a nuclear winter has descended upon the planet.     What follows after this initial back story can be interpreted in a couple of different ways- this is where the conflict between the humans and the survival of the natural world comes in.  As of now, it is difficult for me to say which one Butler values most.

When trying to answer this question, I think of the comparison between Dawn and the Wachowski’s Matrix series (interestingly, also a trilogy like Lilith’s Brood.)  Just like in Dawn, in the Matrix a war waged by humans has left the Earth’s surface completely destroyed and uninhabitable by organic life.  In both of these stories I believe that the author’s are pointing out the human abuse of our planet in a cautionary way, so this aspect very much supports the survival of the natural world as vitally important.

The next point of comparison between the stories is where things get a little more confusing.  In the Matrix, humans are forcefully and completely controlled by the “alien race” of machines, grown and harvested for their energy.  This obvious subjugation of the humans makes audiences pull for their survival over the machines, despite what they have done to Earth.  Dawn’s approach to human vs. alien is more ambiguous.  Yes, the humans are controlled by the Oankali, but they are saved by them and not enslaved.  Even though they are altered, they would not exist at all were it not for the Oankali’s intervention, which seems much more benevolent than the machines’ in the Matrix.

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What I Saw in “What I Didn’t See”

February 4, 2010 at 12:04 pm (Uncategorized)

Over and over in Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See” (2002), the narrator constantly refers to the ambiguity of her story.  Is she remembering this scene that she’s describing correctly, or has she simply gone over it so many times in her head that she is fabricating something entirely different?  About her last conversation with the missing Beverly, she wonders, “Who remembers what she said?  Who knows what she meant?”

Curiously, the thing that the narrator seems most sure of is what she didn’t see- the massacre of the gorillas at the hands of Merion and Eddie, in the days after she left the jungle.  I think that she is so assured of these events, because she has been sure of the violent nature of men all along.  She makes repeated references to the base nature of the men- just men in general- throughout the story.  When she and Beverly are showering, she feels they have no privacy because of the prying eyes of the men.  She witnesses a child-like squabble over some biscuits between two of the men from her party.  These events point more to the junvenile side of their nature, but what she ultimately focuses on is their cannibalistic tendency.  The image of the human sacrifice being paraded through the natives’ village to be marked for their cuts of meat is juxtaposed with her colleagues’ offhand comments about the recent slaughter of 40 or so gorillas by another party.

The scene with the narrator, her gun, and the gorilla family in the clearing solidifies her feelings about men.  When she sees something human in the gaze of the male gorilla, she realizes she cannot bring herself to kill it; yet, Merion and Eddie massacre these same gorillas precisely because of the human ills they have ascribed to them.  Is it not unlike the story of Ann Darrow and her gorilla friend?  Both women sense a humanness in this other species, which is cruelly denied by blood-thirsty men.

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January 27, 2010 at 11:45 pm (Uncategorized)

Octavia Butler’s The Evening and the Morning and the Night (1987) presents a very eerie future indeed.  At first I thought that the mysterious Duryea-Gode disease was just a simple futuristic version of depression.  After a while I realized that it was, with a catch.  We can generally acknowledge that wrist cutting is not uncommon among depressed people, but what if this violent impulse eventually overcame the depressed patient and turned them into a crazily incoherent cannibal hungry for their own flesh?  Honestly, this story made me want to join the millions of sedated satisfied customers and pop a Prozac.

But, I guess that’s just a testimony to how powerful her message really was.  This was a clearly didactic story, and Butler was very up front about it.  The fact that all the DGD patients have incredible mental powers of focus and creativity harkens to our general perception of artists today.  It’s no secret that an unusually high number of artists struggle with depression- R.I.P. Vincent Van Gogh’s ear and Kurt Cobain’s.. life.  Personally, as a more creatively inclined person who has made some art and seen a shrink, I think that such types of people have a finer emotional tuner, so to speak, and so are more receptive to any mood- manic or depressive.  I recognized a lot in the descriptions of the DGD patients’ aptitudes and mind sets (apart from the whole tearing- your-flesh-off thing.)   Obviously, Octavia Butler herself falls under the general category of “artists” as writer, so she has personal investment in this.  Perhaps she herself has felt the more emotional aspects of her artistic personality oppressed like the DGD patients?  This is certainly one (gruesomely fascinating) way to deal with it.

It makes sense that if Butler identifies most with the DGDs personally, then she would create a world where there is increasing awareness brought to their plight.  In her story, they even have a fearless, aged leader who is suffering from the same “disease” but starts a school-like institution where all the outcasts can channel their weirdness into something that benefits the greater good! I’m talking about The Evening and the Morning and the Night, what did you think I was referring to?

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Chicana Girl, Interrupted

January 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm (Uncategorized)

Is Connie crazy?  Is Mattapoisett real?  I feel a bit crazy myself every time I try to come to a conclusion about these central questions to Marge Piercy’s Woman On the Edge of Time (1976).  We have Connie, a normal woman living in New York City, except for the fact that she has been committed multiple times to a state mental institution.  When I say normal, I mean that I interpret her stays at Rockover as similar to the type of mid-twentieth century mental health professions abuse that we touched on in discussion of stories from Larbalestier’s; namely that women are forced into these mental institutions if they show any sort of resistance to the strict social confines of a patriarchal society. Connie is a unusually independent-minded woman for her time, which costs her dearly at Rockover.

When I picture Rockover as I’m reading, I think of the Claymore mental institution from Girl, Interrupted (1999).  Another element of this film that reminds me of Woman On the Edge of Time, is the main characters apparent semblance of sanity juxtaposed against the truly crazy women in their wards.

But that’s the thing about the protagonists’ craziness- they seem normal compared to people around them, but are they really?  Girl, Interrupted’s main character, Susanna, at times suffers hallucinations that deviate severely from reality.  As I read Woman On the Edge of Time, I couldn’t help but think the same thing of Connie, at times.  I noticed all the smaller details which would make Connie’s visits to Mattapoisett possible delusions.  First off, she only connects to Luciente and goes to Mattapoisett when she’s alone- in a public restroom, in her isolation cell, etc.  So, no one else is there to see this happen.  The details of life in Mattapoisett also concern me- she notes from the beginning that this place is not the space-age, highly technological world she expected the future to look like.  Instead, she comments repeatedly how Mattapoisett reminds her of her family’s home in Texas, and how poor and peasant like everyone seems.  If Mattapoisett is a hallucination, it makes sense that she would only be able to imagine it as a place based off of some scenario already existing in her brain.  The last doubtful issue of Mattapoisett is the technology itself; she describes that there exist many advanced technological systems and gadgets there, yet her interaction with them while she’s visiting Mattapoisett is very limited, again pointing to the fact that her brain can only conjure up hallucinations based on what it already knows.

So yeah, at this point I’m going to say that yes, Connie is off her rocker!

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Rachel (Getting Married) In Love

January 15, 2010 at 8:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Just finished reading my favorite story of the quarter so far,  Pat Murphy’s “Rachel In Love” (1967).  Sorry to all you cynics out there, but my first reaction upon finishing it was, ‘Finally, a story with a happy ending!’  At least that’s how I took it, anyway.  The final lines, “Then she takes Johnson by the hand and starts down the hill.  Rachel is going home,” seemed very hopeful for me-  or maybe I was just hopeful for Rachel.  She’s a very unique protagonist, as Joan Haran notes in her follow up article, “Simians, Cyborgs and Women in ‘Rachel in Love’”-“Rachel is not a hard boiled ironic protagonist.”  Keeping up with my film connection theme from last week’s post, the protagonist Rachel actually strongly reminded me of, not Anne Hathaway which the title of this post misleadingly suggests, but the titular protagonist of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990).  In the beginning of the story when Aaron dies, I was especially reminded of an almost exactly similar scene in Edward Scissorhands when Edward, the sci-fi brainchild of a lonely male scientist, is abandoned by his creator, The Inventor’s death.

Speaking of male scientists, androcentrism is definitely dealt with in this story.  The repeated reference to the scary men in white lab coats by Rachel and the ASL-capable male chimp at the Primate Research center, is noticeable in connection to the concept of hurt.  In this story, it is not the old scenario of man-hurt-woman, but man hurt everyone around him.  Primates of both genders in the Research Center are harmed by the mysterious “men,” which makes me wonder if this story is in fact not so feminist as it is PETA-ist.  If this were true, then I would consider the story to be more anthropocentric.  By the end of the story, I was definitely pulling for Rachel and Johnson along with all the viewers and readers following them in the story, hoping that they would win out against the evil and inhumane scientists from the Primate Research Center.

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“Created He Them” – Yoda

January 15, 2010 at 8:50 pm (Uncategorized)

When I read “Created He Them” I was struck by the similarity of the story to Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road.  For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a link to the trailer for the very true film adaptation which came out last year:

Unsurprisingly, both stories were published around the same time- 1955 and 1961 respectively (and Revolutionary Road is set in the 50’s.)  The parallel structure of the roles of men and women in both stories were especially noteworthy.  The protagonist of Revolutionary Road, April Wheeler, struggles against society’s social confines that her husband Frank perpetuates at home, similar to Ann Crothers’ struggle against the political restrictions reflected in her husband Henry’s attitudes.  April doesn’t want to be just another mindless suburbanite housewife- she has dreams for a future in Paris and artistic aspirations and traits.  Ann wants her life to be more than that of the government’s breeder, because she truly cares for her children and wants happiness for herself and for them.  Instead of finding this personal freedom, in the end both women succumb to the pressure of living under their husband’s control.  Ann resignedly “go(es) forth and multiplies in a Seconal-induced haze,” and April dies after a botched self-performed abortion.  It is interesting to note that both heroines’ demises are brought about by  resistance to their duties as child-bearers.  The similarity in the feminist conclusions on the husbands are also significant.  It is hinted at in both stories that Frank and Henry would both be far less malevolent were it not for their negatively transformative circumstances.  Frank starts out as a true romantic sharing April’s Paris dreams, and it is understandable from the reader’s viewpoint how such a cruel, overworked life could turn Henry into the man that we meet in the story.  Finally, I also noticed the difference in gender between the authors of these works.  Revolutionary Road was written by a man, but has a very feminist perspective to it.   The levels of antagonism reached by the male leads of the stories are noticeable in this context, as Henry is much more perceptibly evil than Frank.  (This was originally published Jan. 8th 2010 @ 15:50 but I accidentally published it as a page and not a post, and now I’m making it an official post so that my blog looks more legit, so the time signature on this will probably make it look like I submitted it really late.  But I didn’t! I promise!)

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