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.
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 schizophrenic...so 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