Sunday, April 12, 2009

Revolutionary road on Mars

I must say that when I first encountered Michel Duval and understood him to be a psychologist, well, like White I didn't quite dismiss him, but I set him apart from the other hard scientists. I have to say too that his willingness to go off with Hiroko without a struggle, without questioning her motives viz his position on Mars further undercut his ethos. This after his good work intervening in Maya's life, and giving us insight into the various personalities –what he calls humors (White 580). Nevertheless I not only liked, but agreed with his assessment of Maya's love life. She wants both John and Frank. She doesn't want to have to choose between the two of them. And when Frank tells her she cares only for herself, he is probably right. Blame it all on the intricacies of her upbringing, the place of the men in her life in Russia, and her new found power of sexuality becomes a tool she fashions and deploys for her own needs. No wonder the Egyptians refer to her and her kind as "bitches," and indeed, compared to the Arabic women, she seems that way.

The issue of Terraforming becomes so divisive for reasons I can't quite understand. Isn't the whole purpose of invading Mars to make it habitable? Or is it the approach to terraforming that the first 100 are at odds with? The constant complaints about the temperature, or ecology, etc, should, I think be taken care of through terraforming, a view Sax supports. Unfortunately, Ann Clayborne is of the view that mankind does not have the right to change entire planets therefore Mars should be left in its original state. Hiroko, on the other hand, wants change and she goes about to create her own kind of change through Areophany. Aha, the webs humans weave!

Without proper planning, it seems to me that Mars is taking on the very nature of Earth, that necessitated the exodus in the first place: overcrowding, poor or lack of services lead to disgruntled Martians who resort to sabotage, attacks, murder.

I liked Robinson's narrative style; while he had an omniscient narrator most of the story, his alternative protagonists/antagonists relationship help readers see the story unfold through different lenses. When Frank takes over the narration, we see his mind at work, we develop some sympathy for him when he takes on the Arabs, only for them to take him down. It may be his occasional self-deprecation that draws us to him, but that scene with Zeyk and his wife is quite humiliating. But, it helps usher in the idea of Utopia: Nazik proclaims that Mars is for the Muslim women "there is much that is changing here, changing fast. So that this is the next stage of the Islamic way. We are…The hadj to utopia" (420). I like Nazik. Zeyk may think he is putting on a show for Frank, but Nazik's sassiness displays an underlying power from within. The clearest way she does this is when she is looking for the correct word to describe her new found freedom, Zeyk drops the word utopia, but she doesn’t take it. She finds her own expression, "the Hadj to Utopia" (420).

I was quite intrigued by the culture wars, so to speak. Frank thinking he knew all there is to know about Arabic cult re and that he could therefore speak to it. Feeling a part of yet apart from simultaneously the Arabs and the Americans in Amex. In contrast to the Arab rovers, the occupants of the Amex seem uncouth, uncultured, and here without a cause.

Clearly, the conflicts in Red Mars are tied to the human and physical changes to Mars, in particular : to preserve Mars (Ann Clayborne) or not to by radically terraforming (Hiroko).
The other common cause for concern are the resources of Mars; the strained resources on Mars spur political and interpersonal tensions, which build up to a revolution. And with it comes destruction. The casualties: the space elevator along with several Martian cities.

Then of course there are the one hundred, the victims of anti-revolutionary forces associated with UNOMA. Those who survive assassination flee to the hidden colony in the polar ice cap.
The bottom line seems to be that humans cannot flee their history, their selves. They may have viewed Mars as an empty landscape, a clean slate, a tabular rasa on which to inscribe themselves, but they had baggage and they brought it along with them. Their true selves have always been with them be it in Russia, the US, Japan, Egypt, Japan, wherever it is they came from. They cannot suddenly discover who they are just because they are on Mars. Look at Maya; the Arabs and their relations to women; Fran, etc. As well, the theme of identity is explored but never settled, perhaps only to reveal how unstable identity can be. Look at Michel and his seduction.

Change is painful and it is costly. Mars will be transformed at a price. And that price is always already present in the people's history.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The planet Mars

"I don't think we should pay any attention to plans made from us back on Earth" (58) Says Arkady. When pressed as to why, he responds, "Buildings are a template for society" (59). They imply social organization, which in this case means keeping two entities: Russian and American separate. Buildings, he elaborates, have a grammar, they express values, "I don't want someone in Moscow or Washington" telling me I should live my life (59). And so I am left wondering, which is it going to be: independence or interdependence (from mother Earth)?

These views expressed by Arkady seem to encapsulate the dilemma of writers of sf. Here they are attempting to create a brave new world completely unencumbered by the social ills of this world only to recreate those ills in their ideal worlds. Over and over again, the novels we have read seem to aim for a better world, but are unable to escape the burdens of the world they wish to escape. This does not say much about the sustenance of Utopias, now does it? Arkady has a point, after all, like Frederick Jameson observes, Red Mars is for and about scientists. "Pages upon pages offer a host of topics that qualify as hard science" (393). Most of it is imaginative science, but science nonetheless, which is why it is absurd that these inhabitants still define one another along ethnic lines. Shouldn't the inhabitants be defined by this sort of nationality of scientists? We are told that this lot is carefully selected from around the world (dominated by Americans and Russians, but still) they are the forerunners to Mars' colonization. We expect more of visionaries, carefully screened visionaries—the "collectivist protagonists" (397)— for this rather important mission.

The divisions are sharp, but distinct. Leaderships falls "naturally" to the blond, John Boone. Frank Chalmers seems to have as much right as anyone, but is described as "dark" and not considered a natural leader. He is also cast rather suspiciously as if he has something up his sleave and is not to be trusted. And the women, Nadia and Maya, they have their positions as scientists, as leaders, in their own right, but might as well be cogs in the sexual wheel that runs the experiments. Their presence introduces a complex set of relationships as Maya and Nadia, for example, take up positions of leadership and negotiate integrated living arrangements in the spaceship, while offering a metacommentary of the story. Nadia feels good to be needed. Maya, meanwhile is playing catch with two men. The Japanese scientist, Hiroko, is not taken into the fold as easily as the others. She is still considered Other...different. What happened to Arkady's observation that they are all equals here? Not if Nadia is to be believed. Maya, so needy and so self-absorbed will stop at nothing to draw attention to herself.

Politics are very much a part of the game, never mind Sax' s claim that this is "a scientific station" (60). And as usual, America wants to take charge, except, as Arkady claims, Americans are "reactionary" and less interested in helping solve the problems of the world. Robinson could be writing this book against the backdrop of the world economic crisis in 2009. As America desires to hold on the leadership position it has held, its apathetic attitude toward solving the global economy, the environment, international trade, war on drugs across the US-Mexican border remains constant. America's response is described by Arkady as "reactionary," and unfortunately it is still regarded that way in many circles.

While this exchange occurs before the new occupants of Mars have taken up their residence on the red planet, events in the chapter Festival Night have already demonstrated the tragedy of bringing social ills, in this case, envy, jealousy to Mars. John's death seems parallel to that of the biblical Abel, who falls at the hand of his brother for no reason other than envy. A paradise lost, in both cases. Then again the way Jameson sees it, the text is only supposed to represent the state not produce it (409). Perhaps that's why even though Red Mars is not Utopian, it explores issues such as terraforming, longevity treatments, scientific advancements, methods of resistance, etc., issues that allow us to envision a world different from our own.

At any rate, Jameson explores the relationship between sf and the Mars trilogies. I like his distinction between science fiction and scientific fantasy. It seems to me that a bulk of the novels we have read till now belonged to the latter category rather than to that of sf (as per Jameson's definition). I could be wrong, but that distinction has certainly helped clear up some nagging doubt I have harbored over the course of the course.

As the the collectivist protagonists settle in on Mars, 'That's life on Mars" (104) becomes a refrain much like, "young people nowadays." They set about constructing, building, taking geological samples, cleaning, etc. It look like the routine would drain Nadia of all life until the expedition, where seeing non-red solid, and something akin to earth seems to jolt the life inside of her. The are fixing to get life going on Mars.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ocean 2

Approach to Literary Criticism as
  • Political sf
  • feminist
  • Environmental/bio sf
  • Lyrical style of writing
Her Quacker experiences shapes some of the themes in A Door into the Ocean. Her biology knowledge also features highly in her fiction.
the book is also pastoral, ecofeminist. Women who live on a planet in the ocean.

The power of language:
Lyrical accounts of sea and marine biology. genomics, speak of life-shaping science. trees grow in girth rather than in phallic mode (anti-male?) a bio-political novel; primacy of non-violence as a trait and political strategy. Shows that peace-making is hard work. Likens huiman political activity to animal behavior as reflected in the struggle betwen Shorans and Valans initially in the novel. Intergalactiv aggressors and small people struggling to survive in a poorly functioning economy. Interlinked binaries seen through the male/female lens.

The idea that people could choose to live peacefully without struggle and conflict. Peacesharing as an attribute of de-sign, of constructing humans living in the world.
She contributes to underscoring the importance of the emerging role of women writers of sf.
The difficult politics of quaker consensus and how they guilt people into doing things.

General Realger transformed into a monster seems suggestive of the kind of person he is
Nice's turn to violence is a little sad, but inevitable.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Door into the Ocean

A Door into the Ocean

Meet Merwen the Impatient and Usha the Inconsiderate. We learn that the two women are foreigners in this place where they have just arrived—the planet Valedon. They are Sharers. They come from a wet place, and so give us a sense that this place is very different from their own. There is constant reference to "parched," "dry floor," which suggests the contrast with their part of the world. Their mission: unknown. They simply state that they are here to share—they are sharers, right? Check out the many variations of the word share:

And indeed they share knowledge, medicinal, and other social qualities, which is ironic given they seem non-human.

And then we meet the residents of Valedon, and see that they are in fact people. People who live and struggle under the yolk of stern régimes reminiscent of the ones we know here on earth. It appears the Shorans are the ones we'd treat with suspect, for they seem to have it too easy. They seem to be in control of their lives; they know what they are doing, unlike, the Ahns, Melas, Tybalts, and the Beryls of Chrysoport.These Valans live a hard life. They have to earn their keep, they live off their sweat and yield to heartless enforcers of the laws of their land. I couldn't shake the biblical memory of Israel under the Egyptian taskmasters.

Joan Slonczewski, on her website, calls this a book of binaries and indeed there are. These binaries mostly rotate around the issue of gender. At first, it seems like female is good and male is bad; thus we have Sharer (female), physically weak, but spiritually superior; Valan (male), otherwise referred to as male-freak. The Sharers are associated with organic, natural science seen through their medicinal healing and are life preserving, as opposed to the Valans, who are sort of stone cold and associated inorganic and physical science. Their lives are depicted as rationed in terms of food, ability to procreate, and the progression from one level to another is hard and painful. These characteristics manifest themselves in the health and well-being of the Sharers as opposed to the ill health of the Valans.

Even the dresses of the two are women are described as 'common' but of "fine silk"; they look disgusting but they smell gingerly (3) and they are fearless and courageous, unlike Valan men, who cower before the moon soldiers.

The other contrast is reflected in the general description of the Valans: they are depicted as violent, cruel and unkind. There is no sense of social justice; this capitalist nation is man eat man, where taxation is high and mercilessly exacted.

So, binaries are at the heart of Door Into the Ocean, and, I suspect that deconstructing them is the task of the reader. There seems to be a play on the words 'share' and 'valan'. Valan speaks of valor, physical strength, force macho, Sexuality—while the Sharers are human, they are all female and reproduce by "fusing ova," a supposedly complicated process that requires hands-on management. I have to wonder if Slonczewski borrowed this idea from Gilman's Herland. The process is unlike that of male/female fusion, so to speak, and it serves to highlight the difference of the Sharers, at least as far as the Valans go.

The spirituality of the Sharers is not to be taken lightly. It is their inner strength that serves to underscore the worth of every single Sharer individually and collectively as a people. It is manifested in the scene at the start of the book when Roald threatens the two as they wait under the shade. They may have been drained of color, but "not from fear" (9). Further, we are told of the fearlessness in their stares as they look beyond the harbor and the cruel soldiers out to harass them. It speaks to a collective sense of destiny that values consensus. According to The Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures by Bonnie Zimmerman, A Door into the Ocean portrays a "feminist non-violent utopia threatened by patriarchal invasion" (790). The novel seems to have been appropriated by the Gay and Lesbian community. Perhaps it's because the Sharer women are portrayed in glowing terms—strong, resilient, self-sufficient, even though not necessarily male–bashing, but are affirmative of who they are as women. They are, however, contemptuous of the Valans as seen in the exchange between Usha and the dolomite corporal, Kaol. Usha seems to be offended by the very word father, particularly in as far as it is associated with oppressing a young woman, for shaming the family for bringing a child into the world out of wedlock. Theirs is a world without fathers.

There is also the linguistic barrier posed by the two distinct planets. It seems rather unfair that while the sharers can understand Valan, their language sounds like Greek in the ears of the Valans, as Spinel finds out. Spinel, it seems plays an important, if bridging role in the novel. He leaves valan to travel to Shora where, after living for a while, he slowly metamorphoses into a moon-creature. He recognizes that he is quite the sacrificial lamb, who has to experience life on Shore as he immerses himself completely in it. it's important to realize that he is not coerced. He chose to not take the pills, for example, a sign Merwin interprets as acquiescence. He becomes a learnersharer--a self-namer.

The writer's knowledge of biology and her feminist ideals seem to infuse her fiction in the form of ecofeminism. As well, Edward Higgins suggests that the writer's Quacker root, or what he calls, "
Quaker-informed values bring her story’s conflicts into a thematic focus of an ethical-theological nature." He quotes Slonscweski as saying:
  • My experience with the Quakers permeates everything I write. I have been shaped by the Quaker example of listening and relating to that of God in everyone and every creature. In my books, wherever people resolve differences by intersecting seemingly irreconcilable views--that comes directly out of what I’ve seen among Quakers (qtd. Higgins)
At any rate, Slonscweski uses her ability as story teller to transmit her sense of values and ideals, through as interwoven plot of a people that leads us through a door into the ocean.The plot seems far-fetched and long-winded, but I liked the book for what I perceived to be its lack of pretentiousness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Cyberpnk is post the novel, so it shouldn't be the measure of the novel. It shouldn't interfere with the ideas in the novel. Gibson was thinking cyberspace, Bob Marley, etc, and so the ideas were floating around in his head about living in cyber.

The connection with red light districts--an underworld of unseemly dealings, mishmash between east-west cultures,

Zion: Maelcum is and

The power behind the throne, matriarch: mother and grandmother of 3jane creates and activates the system that bears Wintermute...introduces the idea of AI. The human and the prosthetic addition of a machine.
The merger of the two AIs creates personality
Wintermute had to focus through other people's personas...the Neu is able to combine with him to become a personality. The machine becomes human in a positive way... a power balance is created when a human becomes machine rather than machine becoming human like AI. A frightening vision of power

Molly is given power, but with the stereotypical subordinate qualities--claws, glasses (hide her inner self), but she is also a ninja assasin, whos exists for a while as a puppet. But she was violated by habing her consiouness so she could get through sexual encounters without her knowing. She is constatly equivical figure, given power, but taken away (the power is).

Similar to Consuelo, who lives in two worlds

The attempt to create a woman of Power is constantly undercut, perhaps unconsiously

Riviera is pure magic; telepathic and part of teh tradition of sf

The number of borders that get crossed are numerous...the borders between life and death; personality consruct; machine crosses into humanity

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of a Cyborg and her Cowboy

Isn't it interesting to note that William Gibson was born in Conway, South Carolina! His biography indicates an early interest in science fiction in his childhood. There is also talk that he rejected religion, which, I suppose is meant to explain his imaginative creativity. He is also said to have vowed to "sample every narcotic substance in existence," which drug influence may be that shown in his strung up characters in the Neuromancer. His work belongs to that literary sub-genre known as cyberpunk.

The history of Cyberpunk has it that its origins are closely linked to the development of technology, particularly the computer. The computer brought about new worlds other than our own, which in turn fired up the imagination. The Virtual became a Reality, called Cyperspace. This setting is rather convenient, for as Tony Myers observes, " The concept of cyberspace is valuable as a narrative strategy because it is able to represent "unthinkable complexity," to gain a cognitive purchase upon the welter of data. It is a response to what Fredric Jameson has called "the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects" (The Postmodern Imaginary in William Gibson's Neuromancer 887)". Its new inhabitants, the new communities that arose were called cyberpunks. Unfortunately, you can take the human out of the world, but you cannot take the crime out of the human. And so it was that when humans migrated to the nether world, they took their crime with them. Only this time along with physical violence made possible by physically enhancing people, hackers went to work; phishing, and other forms of crime that were difficult to trace, or to prevent. Unfortunately, the world in The world of Neuromancer seems to have degenerated into a dystopia.

There is organized crime and there is oppression…those who lord it over others get them to carry out their wishes or else. Chiba City is not a place desired. It is full of criminals, gangs, thieves, drug addicts, yakuzza, and enhanced human beings, who can easily tear their victims from limb to limb. It also has people who have the capacity to radically alter a person's nervous system; it happened to Chase as punishment for stealing from other thieves. Who knew mycotoxin could be so damaging?

At any rate, the damage prevents Chase for accessing and utilizing his brain-computer interface, a skill he requires to coexist in cybersace. He becomes suicidal, as his desperate attempts to find a cure fail and leave him bankrupt. Along comes Molly, who for lack of a better word I'd call cyborg. In “The Fetishization of Masculinity in Science Fiction: The Cyborg and the Console Cowboy, Amanda Fernbach interrogates this concept of a cyborg, and, I guess, her cowboy. She is a mercenary for a fleeting character named Armitage, who offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case is obviously excited at the possibility, but it is not as if he has much of a choice. At any rate, this console cowboy gets his nervous system repaired using new technology, but, to maintain leverage, Armitage has mycotoxin sacs implanted into his blood vessels—the same poison which initially crippled Case. Armitage promises Case that if he completes his work in time, the sacs will be removed, otherwise they will burst. Armitage also has Case's liver modified to prevent him from metabolizing cocaine. Wow!

There is a love underlying story…with Molly and Case becoming lovers, and even looking out for each other. They engage in clandestine acts for their master, Armitage, that involve stealing a ROM, sabotaging a plant, holographic illusions, artificial intelligence, traveling across borders to places as far afield as Finland , Turkey's most populous city, and its cultural, and economic center.

The twist is the Tessier-Ashpool family residing at the mansion in the Freeside space station. In the same vein we learn of Wintermute, who was programmed by the Tessier-Ashpool dynasty with a need to merge with its other half—Neuromancer. Unable to achieve this merge on its own, Wintermute recruited Armitage and his team to help complete the goal. Case is tasked with entering cyberspace to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a Chinese military grade icebreaker

They have to contend with Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, an unfrozen daughter clone and leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA. Things go awry. There are captures, slayings, escapes, re-emergence of Linda Lee, Case's girlfriend from Chiba City who was murdered, poisoning, but most importantly, circumstances are such that Lady 3Jane is forced to give up her password and the lock is opened: Wintermute unites with Neuromancer, fusing into a greater entity. All is well with Case restored, except Molly leaves. Benjamin Fair writes of identity that in Neuromancer, "the new forms of identity point not so much to where we are headed in the future as to where we are in our present condition" (92). Fair's discussion of Neuromancer echoes N. Katherine Hayles' work, which I have been studying lately as it relates to information, emodiment, disembodiment. I agree that being posthuman is coexsiting with technology. We need not dominate, not be dominated by technology. Just look at Chase and his struggles, first to escape the body second the price he pays for that desire.
Unresolved issues for me include questions such as:
Why does Molly leave Case?
In what ways is Neuromancer different from Wintermute?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

8 (b) Tiptree

See Joann Russ, Biography on Tiptree--James Tiptree a separate entity from Alice Sheldon.
Women men don't see...capitalized on undermining male stereotypes. The theme of metamorphosis had a great impact on her; she was averse to aging, and bodily transformation,which is why it's ironic that in taking on a pen-name, she transforms herself into a male. Tiptree becomes a conduit for her expressions of issues hitherto hushed about. She played into the notion of male feminists.

She has a determinism that is an "essentialistic strain" that the human species has this connection between sex and violence. Also deals with alternate reality...prescient.

The stories are brutal in their assessment of life and wildly romantic toward love as meaning, eroticism and spiritual ecstasy. Pain and pleasure impulses lie so closely together--a biological relationship; sex and violence...

Tiptree is opposed to people (male/female) who use their power and their dominance to oppress others. Her work exemplifies awareness of feminist issues, given, perhaps her growing up in that era of women suffrage,

In Women, women seem to be aliens too. Women who are adventurous, don't stand out the way pretty women do, yet are extremely competent at what they do. The

Houston, Houston--similar to Herland given the exclusion.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Of Far Away Places

The Screw Fly Solution

"Imagine, refugees in the U.S.A." Now that quote really caught my attention. And then I learned the bitter truth, the women fleeing femicide! And yet Alan and Anne seem to be so in love

Some cult beliefs manifesting themselves in the incident in Peedsville. The idea that an inquisitive woman would be deemed a danger to the survival of a nation. And to think that she could quite as easily have her life taken away is incredulous. But, "Dr. Fay was very dangerous, she was what they call a cripto-female (crypto?), the most dangerous kind. He had exposed her and purified the situation." The belief that the "evil part" of man is woman confounds me.

I am intrigued by the city listings, especially since one of them is Lubbock, Texas. On the radar that contains New Delhi, Johannesburg, Tripoli, Brisbane, and even Sao Paulo, how does Lubbock feature? I get it, this is an all out war against women, and it is being felt in all the aforementioned cities. There is no hope, no intervention; not even from the UN.

News gleaned from The Miami Herald reveals that a lot that has changed in the time since Alan had been to the US. Women seem to be particularly at risk, and so the fact that he is heading home to his woman and daughter sets the scene for some interesting drama. Meantime, femicide is being viewed as a mania that will run its course and fade away.

Questions: What association is there between technological advancement, population pressure and the susceptibility of women? What about prevention?
Insight: Alan is suffering a real conflict of crisis: the people he most longs for he cannot be with for fear.


Human cruelty, love, gender, violence, aliens, mass death, religion. One thought, as with Greek tragedy, that there would be a savior last minute. No such luck! When it comes down to it, people are not in control--something else, perhaps genes? psychosis? why else would Alan so in love with his two gals succumb? All these themes come alive, thanks to the story's narrative structure: first person interspersed with documentation (also first person) that give us a glimpse into other scenes and form a cohesive pattern that in the end comes full circle.

The Women that Men don't See

An adventure story that involves Ruth Parsons, who has hired a private plane piloted by Captain Estéban, and is taking a trip to Chetumal (Guatemala?) a location in South America along with her daughter Althea. A hitchhiker, Don Fenton, also the narrator comes along. A plane crash strands all four in a desolate area, where lack of fresh water sends Ruth and Don looking for fresh water. We learn that Ruth, like her mother, and possibly her daughter (will) never married. Ruth carries intense distrust for the male dominated society. This disposition sets the scene for her attraction to the student aliens....

The description of the moments before the crash, "One important noise is missing—the motor. I realize Estéban is fighting a dead plane. Thirty-six hundred; we've lost two thousand feet." the situation is quite precarious, for as the narrator says, "It dawns on me we may be here quite some while." That sets the scene pretty good.

I am trying to get to the root of "women that men don't see" in this tale. So far Fenton sees the women, but continually points out their unattractiveness. "Neat," he says, "but definitely not sexy." I find this disconcerting, especially given that these women don't seem to be inclined to look at themselves that way. The exchange between Mrs Parsons and Fenton is telling of his stereotypical attitude to women, she, who confounds them all and proves herself adept at fending off inquisitiveness. Whatever one can say about Fenton, he does have lust on his mind; pining for Ruth, imagining Althea with the Mayan, as if being Mayan and mating with a Caucasian is itself an anomaly.

In any case, here we go again with the discrimination, "Ruth, are you telling me you're prepared to accept a half-Indian grandchild?"It seems to me you can through fiction escape all the things you hate about our world of woes but you cannot escape your prejudices. So far, all the writers we have read have proved this over and over. Despite Ruth's reassurances to the contrary, Fenton keeps pushing the issue, now widening the net to include the father of Althea.

Houston, Houston
Race and gender and the war between the sexes...Tiptree will always be true to herself. Here, she presents us with a sad and joyous exploration of in/vulnerability. Lorimer reminisces with shame an incident that left him exposed before girls in Junior High. Moylan offers that that incident sort of emasculated him and so he spent his days trying to prove his manhood. That may explain his vocation. It does, according to Tipree explain his dsitaste for the female who he calls "natural poisoners." Describing himself as the "token scientist," we can't help but anticipate his role in this saga. Going by the sequence I am reading this, Lorimer is the first scientist thus far in Tiptree's saga. And then there is NASA in Houston, and the setting all in a spaceship. where communication with the US space mission is being intercepted, a federal offense.

For scientists, guesstimating seems a little odd, but then again... Apparently Sunbird's been missing for a long time and White Sands has long replaced Houston. Would that be White Sands New Mexico?In Scraps of the untainted, Tom Moylan writes that Lorimer's effort to recall one of "the best descriptions of the etymological process" (16). Tiptree manages to display a brain "expanding, understanding actively" as he attempts to get himself re-acquainted with the times. Tiptree depicts the women as being adept at their vocation, unlike the men, who seem to be struggling with coming to terms with their situation. Moylan observes that Lorimer is not the "alpha male that the other two are."

Given his background, it i fitting that it is Lorimer, who is able to "decode" the women, so to speak. To readjust, he unfortunately looks to his buddies, who are unable to help him, while shunning the women who he "gets" leaves him in limbo. Unlike the dominant-subordinate structure he is accustomed to, these women rule by consensus. Interestingly, Bud still looks at the female populace as there to service him. One could say that Tiptree uses Bud as the poster boy for all male thing evil--rapist, violent, chauvinist, prejudiced. Yak!

Interesting issues:
dominance-submission structure seems to reinforce the notion of societal dominance and how much it takes a hold on individuals. Professed freedom cannot stand in the way of domination. Reminds me of all these Republicans bowing before tht altar of uch Limbaugh. Soon, JM will do his own mia culpa before the great great leader. North Korea anyone?

Love is the Plan the Plan is Death
A bizarre story with an underlying gendered power struggle--Tiptree's favorite theme. There is is the power relationship between Moggadeet Lilliloo characterized by dominance, as Moggadeet subdues Lilliloo through force at the pretext of caring for her. This power relationship is however inverted with Moggadeet not simply subdued but devoured.

"Oh, Lilliloo, greatest of Mothers.

It was not I who was your Mother. You were mine.

Shining and bossed you lay, your armor newly grown, your mighty hunting limbs thicker than my head! What I had created. You! A Supermother, a Mother such as none have ever seen!"

There is something bizarre about this relationship.

Turns out the true power is with Lilliloo.

The questions I am left with after reading these short stories are:
Why are the men so consistently jerks? Is Tiptree channeling the reality of gender relations at the time, or are these a result of her own idiosyncrasies? A result of her life experiences perhaps? And why are women presented as if they have always already lost? Tiptree's women are also plain and unattractive; Connie Constantia Morales is described as "moonshaped."I wonder what's up with that.

The Girl Who Was Plugged
Typical science fiction- tragic story that revolves around the worn out concept of plugging the human brain into a computer for purposes of controlling a different body. Philadelphia Burke, disfigured street girl is the girl who was plugged in. Her body is barely functional. That is until help comes along in the form of science. What follows is a bizarre series that sees Burke's mind linked to that of Delphi, who in turn relays brain manifest themselves in the form of Delphi, a vat grown clone with no mind of her own; her brain just a relay, linked to P. Burke’s mind. The two become intertwined.

Burke, is of course, an outcast.
The high tech and cyber elements of the story are almost cast as characters. They function as tools of integration—the technology that penetrates the human body. One acknowledged incident is where Paul tells Burke that "on the coast the police have electrodes in their heads." This aspect redefines Burke's identity in the body of Delphi. She comes to think of herself as Delphi, wants to be Delphi, wants to escape her ugly body and live within Delphi forever. I wondered, did Delphi come into existence for a while, at least? How does Burke's death coordinate with Delphi's body and allow her to hang onto life for a while.

What is the role of the so-called beautiful gods worshiped by Burke? The element of total control of communication is reminiscent of The Machine Stops, wherein the implication is that if you think outside the norm, you are outed. You are taken care of…reigned in. I see a dystopia here; What with hope, love, and justice all and forgotten. As well, the idea of people being disposable is evident. Just like automation replaces workers on assembly lines, Paul seems slated to replace his father as director of GTX, the one body he tried hard to fight and change.

Major themes of science fiction:
What is it to be human?
How do I relate to the other

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A woman on the edge of society

A vision of a future utopia where "natural" acts like conception, parenting, and even nursing (babies) is not the domain of women alone Instead, it is a world that has greatly benefited from science, which has allowed for possibilities like men who suckle and women who do not carry babies in their wombs. There is no possession in this future; not sexual; not parental; not material. This view is pretty radical.

Who is to say that Marge Piercy's portrait of mental institutions and the treatment dealt out to their patients is untrue of the world we live in. The overarching themes of the relative notions of sanity and insanity; welfare and urban poverty are dealt with in a manner that leads the reader to question the nature of power in our society with regard to the urban poor, the undereducated and their lot. Not only that, one is compelled to question male and female relationships and what it means to be a woman in our world, but perhaps in the western world specifically. Connie herself is a symbol of the oppressed weak, who find themselves at the mercy of institutions. Even when we share her sense of impotence in the face of her doctors and hospital staff, we see her as every victim, and so find ourselves rooting for her self-actualization. We want her to fight back, so we too can stand a chance.

Piercy's ideas seem to be drawn from radical feminist ideas as evidenced by her portrayal of a strong and unique woman. But Consuelo Camacho Ramos's life of poverty and abuse, at a time when domestic violence is rampant and women survive by exchanging sexual favors, thereby being objectified does not say much about a unique and radical woman. A victim, who is otherwise made into a villain, thanks to the power of the pimp, Connie is powerless to prevent her inevitable institutionalization in Bellevue Hospital. For a while, there doesn't seem like there is much going for her. But there is hope. Victimized she may be, but victim she will not be. Connie finds a "way out" of this incarceration through her mental forays into the future, which in turn bring us into contact with this village in which Piercy's Utopian vision unfolds before us. Ironically, her substance abuse is a result of the death at the hands of the police of her lover.

It is 2137. Luciente is the person from outer space who communicates with Connie mentally and whose world she visits in the same way. She experiences his world mentally too. Luciente’s community located in Mattapoisett, a seemingly bucolic one turns out to be quite technologically sound as evidenced in the lives of the people who live there through whom we comprehend the breadth of this utopia, particularly the potential uses of biotechnology.

Perhaps Luciente and Connie are drawn together because they are fighting similar causes. Luciente's is a war against a system that prostitutes women and creates a hierarchical system of living, a war Connie knows too well about. This contact, though, allows her to cast off victim-hood and to stand up for herself, an act that brings her to the edge of time.

The world that inspires her resists gender assignation, perhaps to escape victim-hood; here there are per(s). There is balance between work and play; there is a recognition that things can be so much better. And so in this world, humanity is striving to better perself through spirituality, interchange of genders, a reconfiguring of relationships, and a more pleasant union, on its way to becoming a utopia. Ironically, in a hospital that is meant to restore her sanity, Connie struggles to keep what sanity she had, for she senses the doctors will render her insane—brain-altering surgery is all too common.

Beautifully written, Woman on the Edge of Time possesses incredible vision and is empowering. The idea presented by Piercy of shifting our entire social system is profound. Peircy, I dare say, writes about human rights, albeit through the lens of women rights. She highlights the manner in which women rights, responsibilities, and privileges when put in perspective can play a part in a new future. Other themes include American capitalism, and the inescapable human and environmental exploitation. The escapism in the novel has been likened to that in Thelma and Louise, and the stereotypical villains compared to Nurse Ratched in One Flew over a Cuckoo's Nest. I can see why.

I for one I am left wondering if there is not a place to escape race and racism in western fiction. Apparently even SciFi has to pay homage to America's obsession with all things race. The wealthy white male (representing affluence) and their usual victims (minorities), along with the consequences of their actions (of the wealthy), namely: patients and poverty, amply represented It seems to me that while SciFi writers have found a way to deal with gender (perself) when it comes to race they either eliminate all other races altogether,(Herland) or they maintain/perpetuate the status quo. There is no doubt that gender and ethnicity play a role in the disenfranchisement of
Consuelo Ramos.

Piercy's art
Alternates between novels that require research, contemporary fiction, women's feminist theory, etc. Also, she writes novels set in the region where she lives.
Connie presented as empathetic character, that stops in fiction and is not available in the real world. The book is set up to be ambiguous in a number of ways; as a call to action. They are clashes: 1. The genre class: is this a SciFi or is it a psychological novel? She places you in a bind...if you feel she is crazy, then you have to believe that the semi-literate Connie is capable of making up such an exclusive utopia. If she is not crazy, her imagination is still tops. "Even if she is hallucinating she is not crazy." Piercy in a private conversation...The generic difference doesn't matter because the book is a fiction so why does it have an epistemological different status than the norm: science fiction?

Connie does not see this world as a Utopia...she sees it as backward, even more so than ours. Like her, readers are led to an understanding that it can become better with everyone's input. There is ambiguity and tension in that Utopia setting as well, making Woman on the Edge of Time a highly ambiguous book.
This book was published at a time when there was heightened awareness of domestic violence.

Does Piercy oversimplify schizophrenia...considering her attention to other issues? But she was wrongly diagnosed as there is more magical realism than illness. She gets visits from Luciente well before her institutionalization, so her hallucinations are not a result of her hospitalization. Schizophrenia may be a literaly trope than it is

We're headed for a negative future if we don't change course...
What about Connie's need for love; they take her daughter, Dolly, Neda, Sybil, and Skip...everyone she (could) love.."If they had only left me one person...," she says. Piercy, like LaGuin suggests that the bond between people is the basis for all organization...the need to connect with another is the core of social realities.

Murder is a kind of suicide for her

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Utopia of Opposites

It has been called a book of opposites. That's because it is utopian, but does not shy away from the flaws inherent within the utopia; it is feminist, but its protagonist is male; and it may promote communal social(ism) ideals, but it still values the creativity of the individual. Unfortunately, this community is unsuitable for scientific genius to thrive. As we get into the throes of this book, we are keenly aware that something untoward is set to unfold. After all, all utopias critique existing societies, but unfortunately present unattainable options that model life that is quite simply out of this world.

The twin planets: Urras, and Anarres, in which The Dispossessed is set function perfectly for LeGuin's tale. They are the comparable tale of two continents. Urras' oppression and corruption is set in contrast with the utopian Anarres society where idealists loathe government for its potential to turn into a "plutocracy" (Paul Brians). And so they Anarres peoples create a society that runs counter to that of Urras. They abolish all laws along with all forms of control, including language. Theirs is a lush world that is supportive of diversity. It is interesting that Le Guin chooses to depict anarchy and order as two separate planets, with the anarchical functioning better than the orderly. It is, however, a tactical move that allows her to truly break down the two planets; to deconstruct them without any kind of sugarcoating whatsoever. Thus, although Anarres is the better planet to be, Le Guin purposely depicts its flaws, a style that highlights the ideals even more. The society on Anarres seems to work because of its newness and clear-cut separation from the corruption of the other. The idea of relocation is similar to that of Herland, and seems to suggest that settlers need to undergo severance to create, in this case, an anarchical, but utopian society. Still, LeGuin does manage to cast a shadow on anarchism and its potential to exist albeit without imploding.

Shevek, a character, who Le Guin fully develops, depicts the would-be agent of change in a science fiction. His special aptitude to scientific knowledge along with what we learn of his upbringing from childhood, to adolescence, and then adulthood, all skillfully prepare us for the singular sense of purpose behind the mind of the genius in the center of this drama. Unfortunately for Shevek, his impoverished community denies him access to the materials and the opportunity to commune with equally-minded people (scientists). His genius cannot flourish and is in jeopardy.

Funny how fictionalized worlds often mirror our own. Both Urras' and Annares' system of governance closely resemble today's government approach with regard to international global issues and controversies. The question is: how does one know that a given system of government is ineffective or abusive of its power? How can one know unless one has been exposed to a different structure against which to compare? Shevek, the genius physicist thinks it is impossible to know for a fact. He is able to gain an outside perspective only because he was able to leave his anarchy-based Odonian society.

The Dispossessed fits the working definition of utopia, in as far as it fits the criteria of physical isolation; social and political benevolence; communal goodwill, etc. By all accounts, Anarres is presented as better, more desirable, than Urras. But then it has its flaws.

Ursula K. Le Guin has been categorized as being sympathetic to and understanding of anarchist theory; perhaps she was an anarchist herself. She may write about other planets, but she chronicles human experiences that mirror our own, regardless of the setting.

Additional Information

Heavily influenced by Native American cultures: myths and tales.
Science fiction time is Sci-Fi uses actual scientific facts or theories; has some scientific content, however speculative. May break the law of physics, respects social sciences, treats metaphors as metaphors. No interest or relationship with technology. So it's not fantasy.

Is her work soft science fiction? Since it's not based on hard sciences...astronomy, physics, computer science, etc.

Feminism: women's perspective brings good prose. Men think "holistically" while men think in "a linear fashion". The dispossessed have descended from this one line with the genre of science fiction, where utopias had been given up on (given its static/boring perception). It became a social critique of the society we live in so LeGuin sets up these dichotomies, the opposite ways of living that she explores and compares. She picks the extremes, of course. This woman's influence and her way of thinking is strong.

Time: simultaneity and how it encompasses the notion of time is central to The Dispossessed. An epistemological anarchist (Fayerabend against [empirical] method as the way of doing science).

The Wall: what makes the wall? Shevek meets walls (his thinking would come to an end). What created barriers? Are they non-existent; if they exist, can they be easily crossed? She aims to tear down walls, by reaching out to the other and the necessity of not walling others in when you wall others out. She attempt to create a universe where there are no walls.

Her work is deconstructive venture into the ideas she explores. Even Shevek is a scientist and theorist, whose physics is a kind of mysticism, religion, and philosophy. The grand unification he comes to in chapter nine is to figure out simultaneity and sequentialism the diachronic/ synchronic dialect (Saussure). The two help make each other make sense. Literal and metaphor are parallel in this walls are coming down.

The degree in which language is complicit in creating reality. The old language would trap, so to start anew, you create a new language. Language shapes cultural thought, so it's key in founding a new world.

In Utopias, the power of love destroys totalitarian structures; LeGuin uses the love to enable Shevek the courage to leave. What he had to do is be so sure of his relationship with her that he could leave. The relationship between two people is the primal wall to go down; the first step

Narrative techniques/structure of the novel

The story inverts the classical utopia; the land he comes from Urras is the strange land, the land he goes to is (Anaress) is the land we know. Anares is more land and less ocean with all animal life in the ocean. the land is dessicated. Urras has less land, more ocean; virgin than lush. The isolation has enabled them to survive close to their ideal. The desolation allows them to use the minerals (necessary to Urras so it's not destroyed) and also supply and demand. Only people who have plenty can afford to be magnanimous. being altruistic is bad in Anarres because it is assumed that you have more; you are unequal then.

There are two small spaces that aren't part of the planets, though which the stranger is able to go (back and forth) to discover the land.

Three basic levels of the narrative:
1. The positive Utopian value of the anarchist society
2. The complex estrangement by the Urrastic society (USA, Soviet Union, Vietnam)
3. The self-critic of anarchism itself (no Utopians indulge in self-critique

This imperfect utopia in anarchical Anarres does not solve the problems...see glossary. Even if you invent a whole new language or culture, it is based on disspossesion.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

An Eco-disaster(erd) Dystopia

The Sheep Head for a Dystopia

The hungry sheep look up and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,

Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spred:
Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw

Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.

Lycidas, William Blake


If The Sheep Look Up were set in the 21st century, one wouldn't be too far wrong in perceiving inferences of George Bush's legacy as foreign policy antagonist and
defier of warnings about the changing nature of the environment. A president who flouts warnings about the environment and spews gems like, "You are either with us or against us," is no different from Prexy in Brunner's fictional US of A in his perceived war against terror. A nation founded on laws is flouting them in an increasingly repressive system of governance, corporate greed, and a technology that is not up to
the task.
And in this mix are the people; the trusting sheep that won't protest nor exercise their intellect. They are headed for a cliff!

The Sheep Look up. Ah, what a tale!

On the surface, Sheep appears to be a novel about ordinary people ranging from an insurance salesman, a nurse, a journalist, the son of a wealthy oil producer, a soldier, a doctor, a relief worker, and others. The theme seems ordinary too: an interplay of cause and effect, a net of interrelations that spans the whole world, and from which no one can escape. Similarly, the narrative is interspersed by ordinary occurrences such as advertisements, news flashes, public speeches, and daily weather reports that detail the extent of air pollution. Clearly, this fiction falls in the category of nature criticism that paints a dire picture of the environment. Catastrophe looms. It ranges from environmental decay with the resultant foul air and the inevitable water shortages. However, as if to emphasize the idea that the world is one, that what happens in one part of the world affects another, affliction is universal. No wonder the United Nations is added to the mix! While this calamity is not limited to the usual targets in the third world, the tale is set in the United States, specifically, Denver, so there is the usual demographic and class composition in the form of race, blue and white collar workers, entrepreneurs, hippies and the elite, etc. And as it is with science fiction, there is always a scientist, whose radical experimentation verge on the fringe of the outer limits.

It seems rather obvious to state that The Sheep Look up is rather bleak. But, it has to be said. Sheep is so bleak it borders on horror. Perhaps the reason we, collectively as a world, have not felt the kind of horror vividly envisaged in this tale, is that while some of the disasters dealt with equal our own, they have been far spread and confined to far away places, like Auschwitz, Darfur, Rwanda,
Chernobyl, Hiroshima, China (SARS); they have ranged from Mad Cow Disease, Tsunamis, and the list goes on. In recent times, 9/11 literally shocked the entire world, because, thanks to cable news, the whole world bore witness to that attack. That experience allows us to accept the magnitude of destruction portrayed in Sheep.

In the novel, the entire world has been struck with disasters ranging from incurable diarrhea, to starvation, to a season that is out of whack (snow in April). This time, not only has disaster hit closer to home (the US), but it has spared no corner of the world. John Brunner seems to hold the US responsible for the debacle as he presents to us the US on the brink of an apocalypse ushered in by an ecodisaster disaster. Science has brought us antibiotics, insecticides, pollution, all of which hasten climate change and global warming. But first, there is contaminated food delivered in an African country.

Austin Train holds great capital among those who believe in Brunner's passionate cause: the environment. His beef: abuse of the planet. As a result of Train's work, a community of trainites, who are really environmentalists inhabiting the woods, help champion his cause. Unfortunately, Train wants to inject the cause with a measure of intellect so as to be taken seriously, perhaps, by the other environmentalists represented by Bamberly. The trainites may be living off the land, but by engaging in subversive acts like setting off bombs and explosions, they are accelerating its demise. No wonder the elite conservatives despise them and Austin Train wishes to bring that to a halt. Meanwhile, the irony is that the elite environmentalists do not realize the relationship between their own excessive consumption and the degeneration of the environment.

For his part, John Brunner pushes his environmental message at the expense of his messengers. The characters in the novel are introduced to us through limited incidences and discussions involving what else, the environment. They don't develop beyond the mouthpieces that they are. At least I didn't get a sense of who they are in terms of personality; I don't empathize with their dilemma, except for Train, whose thought process we get to engage more with. Brunner does not give me room to. There are no heroes in this novel. There are lost souls who perish due to sill mistakes or preventable accidents.

This lack of rapport between the characters and the reader may well be because of the style that Brunner opts to narrate his tale. Using clips from the media, a little bit of prose,
a couple of vignettes, and not so dramatic shifts from one scene to the next (with no clear connection) --he takes a novel approach to storytelling. However, his seeming foreknowledge of events we now know are consistent with today's digital media is uncanny.

The Sheep Look Up is more about ideas than about characters. it is the series of ideas that carry the story forward. It expresses the complexity of reality rather successfully. The trainites want to be violent, a move contrary to Austin Train, the person they are rallying behind.

The Practice of Everyday Life
Michel de Certeau

Events in history may expose the reality
He was concerned with evaluating power and institutional boundaries.

Major themes/ideas/topics
  • the elements--the pollution of the water, wide scale pollution, the ocean, the Great Lakes dying

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Paranoia of Utopias

"As if one man could bring about a world war and the deaths of millions, even if he wanted to" (Dick).

In the Prison-house of Language, Fredric Jameson observes of the semantic triangle that it is "deigned to diagram the way in which, from any given starting point, S, a whole complex of meaning possibilities, indeed a complete meaning system may be derived" (163). I.A. Richards, a proponent of the New Rhetoric, saw in the semantic triangle, the better form of communication; one that de-emphasized persuasion and moved it into a hermeneutic—a place for understanding the text. According to this theory, words/language are indeterminate; they are instruments. Signs, on the other hand, are more comprehensive than words themselves, so meaning has to be interpreted in a larger context. In this context, ambiguities are the hinges of thoughts as they help open things up. By this logic, thought creates an indirect relationship between the symbol and the thing.

Understanding the semantic triangle made up of the symbol (or the word), the thought expressed in the words used to describe the referent, and the referent itself, that which is conjured up in the mind depending on the words, is a useful form of deciphering communication. It is made meaningful more so in Dr. Bloodmoney, given that Phillip K. Dick leaves it to the reader to decide for herself what's real and what isn't. By Jameson's semantic triangle, Dick succeeds in elevating his form of fiction from the usual response to the concrete historical dilemma in the form of the bomb, to an iteration of a truly different world as a result of that bomb. The remaining inhabitants are left to decide their future from hereon depending, not on past privileges or disadvantages accorded say, by race, social class, but on sheer skill and ingenuity. The characters free their imagination and so do we. As readers, we have to allow our imagination to be free of our representation of the world before we can make meaning of the fantastic world that is conjured up in most science fiction. Jameson makes us aware that discussing a future society that can't be represented realistically is complicated because it demands a paradigm shift in our imagination. The racial undertones present occupy that familiar place in the American psyche. Dr Bloodmoney may be a work of fiction, sf at that; but at a certain level it is not. Note that Dr. Bloodmoney is set in Berkeley, West Marin County, and it mentions familiar places, such as the Pentagon, Washington, NY City, and deals with familiar concepts—family, love, etc. It also orbits the earth via satellite, occupied by Walt Dangerfield. Thus, we are simultaneously required (in our imagination) to move back and forth between the real and the fantastic.

In Dr. Bloodmoney, we are not focused on what is human, or real, (Hoppy Harrington) or even sane (Stuart McConchie); we weave among all three; we navigate the politics and the personal in light of the catastrophe that has just been witnessed. The characters are sandwiched between two catastrophes—the explosion; the war. Out of the catastrophe emerges a simpler world. In the process, though, we see a glimpse of how humans survive in situations like this; how they maintain their personality and how they remain true to their values—values they once held before all hell broke loose. Thankfully, the message of hope and unity endures in the character of Walt Dangerfield despite the loneliness he suffers following the suicide of his wife.
We are left to distinguish between the physical and the psychological explosions. Are we under the spell of Bluthgeld and his psychic powers? What is real? imagined? the semantic triangle might help us make meaning here. Again, Dick seems to be dealing with a futuristic world in a world where the future has come and gone. But it isn't predictive in that none of that happened. Perhaps it forces us to consider what could be, if it were to occur. The atomic blast occurred and now survivors of the blast are attempting to forge their way ahead.

Dick's narrative strategy seems to suit Jameson's description of science fiction (sf) novels. Notice how Dick extrapolates the reader into negotiating the "relationship between the author's environment and the created world" (44). We find ourselves in the suburbs of San Francisco where, along with the characters, we encounter and navigate the catastrophe orchestrated by Dick's imaginative mind. We are drawn into his personal moral and psychological concerns about good and evil. In fact, there are more instances in which tendencies in the historical environment are played out in the alterative world. These include war, nuclear disasters, protest letters (to President Johnson), etc. And in this third world that is being remade, we see unfolding before us, a sort of bucolic existence in which great cities and technological advances are not the mark of progress.

Everything that runs on electricity gets thrown out as kipple, a manifestation of entropy---Dick's idea of entropy--a state of inaction

Idios kosmos (solitary delusion--Hoppy; Bluthdel) koinos kosmos (shared world--book ending). Is Dr. Bloodmoney in the genre of science fiction? Given the scene that occurs after the holocaust, it is. No so much a fantasy element, but science gone wrong leads to an evolvement of changes that take us to the next level...atomic/radiation changes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Technological Utopia: Wilderness

Once again, through the eye of Ecocriticism, we see the relationship in The Machine Stops and in Brave New World, between human and machine. In The Machine Stops, Vashti, her son Kuno, and fellow inhabitants of the technological underworld, give a new meaning to the term humanity. Here we have human beings, who despise, shun elements of humanity, preferring instead the mechanized world orchestrated by the machine. The scientific revolution has entrapped the very people who created it, trapping them literally underground in tiny little cells and in isolation from other humans. It has reduced communication and narrowed it to Skype—like technology, and mobility is limited to automated modes akin (in our world) to elevators and fast trains. The air they breathe is bottled (air conditioning). The technological imagination of E.M. Forster is 21st century and beyond!

The irony is that less is more; a room that contains but a reading table and an armchair in fact has everything—at the switch of a button. Bath, food, literature, and essentials necessary to keep this race going, and Vashti, who we see up close and personal, productive reduce life to a minimal. Everything else in inconsequential. But, wait a minute, isn't that the work of machines? to be productive? Instead the situation is reversed. The place is totally sanitized, and the humans have been drained of all humanity (which also applies to BNW); the machine is now revered, and worshipped. In the words of Kuno, they have forgotten that they created the machine and they are beginning to worship it. This world has given up the sense of space (Kuno's words). The machine blurs human relationships, renders all things artificial and mechanical. That no one is in control of their own lives doesn't seem to bother them, except perhaps for Kuno, poor thing.
In A Brave New World, the themes are no different: avant-garde developments in science and technology, genetic engineering, mutations, bio-technological advancements and how they take man away from nature.

From the onset, we learn that technology is used to control the affairs of this society from fertilization through growth to specific roles each ought to play in maintaining this utopia. Every detail is meticulously directed; there is conditioning, and a blunting of emotions. Symbolically, The Ford model is cast as a capitalist symbol juxtaposed alongside a collectivist world. Ford T model as a symbol of this brave new world represents a significant break from the past, which includes religion, family, love, freedom, and all emotional ties. The irony is that in this technically engineered world; one whose goal is to eliminate suffering and other touchy-feely emotions, there are unhappy, anxious, even uncertain inhabitants, who constantly banish this unpleasantness with the drug soma. Worst of all, life may be good, but it lacks a zing; excitement—it's mechanical, quite literally.

Moreover, there is this element of a caste system, even in this BNW. What's with having a stratified layering of people into intellectuals and laborers? Why in a state that can be engineered to be free of all things unpleasant? Also, in a society so driven by technology, why is there a lack of a robust debate on intellectual and scientific inquiry? This situation alone works against both technological utopias, rendering them static and eventually leading to their implosion. Just like The Machine Stops, BNW favors conformity and shuns external influences, all of which may cause them become dystopias, rather than the utopias they set out to create.

In Wilderness, we grapple with themes of space and the landscape. However, while both are considered unbridled, language is even more so, as Gerrard puts it language is, "wild in the sense that it 'rises unbidden' and eludes our intellectual capacities" (83). Contrast that wild capacity with the domesticated nature of the wilderness. What a paradox! Perhaps it borders well with the dystopias now seen in both BNW and The Machine Stops.It which case, Wilderness is a fitting rationale for this fascination with utopias.

With Huxley and Forster, they both project a culture into which people are lured into docility because of instant satisfaction. These elements undermine humanity in as much as totalitarianism. Conventions threaten to close off people's emotional access. There is a difference between the isolation sought by Kuno and that by Vashti.

Next time:
Jameson and The Semantic Dick (the novel) and Jameson

Friday, January 16, 2009

A female Utopia

Gilman's is a socially feminist perspective, which seems to be validated by the narrator, a sociologist, who is sympathetic, in awe, and even supportive of the utopia of Herland. Vandyck, the narrator holds views that are contrary to those represented in Herland. He holds, for example, that women are inherently inferior beings. Vandyck also believes that women in general are incapable of being on their own; of sustaining a civilization and maintaining social order complete with advancement in fields such as geography, anthropology, geology (54), etc. Those views may be the result of his own social influence through education, and upbringing. It is therefore remarkable that he of all three men is the one who makes a 180, and is in awe of Herland. The very nature of Herland is a complete rebuttal of his long held views, demonstrated in the first instance with the men's subjugation and eventual conversion. This, of course, may be testament to Gilman's technique--her choice of a male narrator, who is the most skeptic of them all and therefore whose turn around serves as a form of verification for her ideas.
Herland's founding is both temporal and spatial. It is physically removed from our land; is located in an elevated place accessible only through great scaling and striving, symbolically indicating the superiority of women in relation to men and their place in society. Gilman represents Herland as the best of what our-land could be, but for the constraints.

It is not without faults, though.

I found Herland so unbelievably non-fictional, and utopian, with a few sprinkles of romance. For the most part, I found the tale to be a yarn. A yarn highly critical of the status quo, of the world outside of Herland, but that holds little in a way of sustained interest given the bizarre revelations surrounding the parthenogenetic form of reproduction attributed to Herlanders. These asexual women, who perpetuate and maintain a homogeneous society of all white women who wear their hair short and portray a mechanized form of cognitive and human emotions. The only imagination I could conjure up is that of the famed Stepford Wives. They also harbor and practice eugenicist tendencies, allowing only those women deemed suitable to procreate and raise their own girl-children. This flaw is just a little different but similar to Darwin's origin of the species and the theory of natural selection—the drive to physical perfection precludes those who are not "fit for that supreme task" (85).

Clearly, Gilman resents the ways in which men outside of Herland gain control over women economically, socially, culturally, sexually. She indicates how the advanced women of Herland avoid that fate by showing self reliance and even demonstrating superiority in their creating of a world without men. They do not even need each other sexually, as I do not read any indication of lesbianism otherwise alluded to Lesbos. I do not necessarily agree with Gilman's assessment of the origins of gender restrictions; I think they are rooted in the larger nature of who we are as a human race and how we have attempted to make sense of and live in it. At any rate, Gilman succeeds in making women the norm and men the other.

The men hold a number of stereotypes of women when they arrive in Herland, and most, if not all, are systematically disproven. Interestingly, there are instances where the men and women agree on stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. Still, there are traits Gilman seems to consider female and male. The desire to dominate, exemplified by Terry is seen as unwelcome, and even uncouth and is a constant cause of embarrassment for his buddies. Terry breaks eloquently exclaims "They've neither the vices of men, nor the virtues of women- they're neuters!" (84). Terry, is obviously quite frustrated at this point. On the other hand, there is noting wrong with being soft and unafraid to show emotions, female traits, which Jeff personifies, and which is lauded by Gilman.

In as far as there is universal peace…good will, and mutual affection, Herland is a utopia. Here is a world where there is no poverty, no crime, and people are self-motivated. There is no competition, no strife.

Gilman critics the male-dominated science and its negative consequences on the very environment it purports to better. She therefore chooses to present an alternative kind of science; one that is community-based and that values the interconnections between itself, nature, and femalekind. She ventures into ecocriticism by displaying her knowledge of ecology and literature by presenting to us a kind of Eden, an exemplary world that offers solutions to ecological problems (Greg Garrard 6) given the forward thinking nature of Herlanders. These women's spirituality is a form of mother/goddess worship dedicated to progress, without resorting to capitalism or globalization.

The standard of living in Herland is infinitely better. The clothes feel smooth to the skin, the food tastes better, the fruit is richer, the air is cleaner, the linen feels good to the is an ecotopia!

Public and private sphere....women were shut out of the public sphere and never allowed to speak out. Herland may have been in response to this status quo. They were not even allowed to publish in the public press...

Perkins having grown up in a culture for domesticity for women resented and fought the status quo, which, along with a series of personal tragedies, led to her writing The Yellow Paper. As well, the situation of women in 1915 warranted this kind of response.

see Technology of Orgasm...women and technology.
Van as a sociologist is good for Herland, because a scientific view can't hurt. Gilman is a pre-Victorian romanticist who likes the pastoral rather than the sublime. The women had a pragmatic outlook to surviving
social construction versus essentialism...the book is rhetorically structured to force readers to engage with social construction; to separate biological issues of female/male from gender issues of the limitations/superiority of each.
intersection of patriarchy, violence, capitalism (simple minded take)
attitudes toward science
language and naming

scientist of Van and closeness to nature
the romantic notion of female relations to motherhood
racism, lack of diversity
lack of desire to explore
anti-patriarchy/pro-matriarchy (chauvinism reversed)