Adam & a bunch of people who aren’t Eve

Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos is extremely concerned with mapping out human reproduction and evolution from the point of view of someone tracking the million years following the 1980s.  Because this is a story about straight people in a “new,” “fresh,” or “unpopulated” environment, it is obviously going to carry Adam-and-Eve connotations (quick question- is it possible to ever shake this connotation or is it too engrained?).  Our narrator, who eagerly tells readers when and how characters are going to die, establishes quickly after his introduction that Adolf von Kleist is our “Adam.”  However, all of the women we have been introduced to in the novel are counted out as the ever-important “Eve.”  Mary is too old, Selena does not wish to pass her blindness down, and Hisako, despite the fact that she starts the novel out pregnant and will have a daughter, is for some reason not our Eve.  The narrator even makes the problematic statement that Kazakh, Selena’s seeing-eye dog, “wasn’t really a female anymore, thanks to surgery.  Like Mary Hepburn, she was out of the evolutionary game.  She wasn’t going to leave her genes to anyone” (48).  The link between motherhood and womanhood is strong in Galapagos, as the beginning of Chapter 14 lays out the pairings that will come in the future (past?).  Hisako and the childless Selena’s pairing seems like a natural progression to the claim that counting one’s self out of the evolutionary game removes womanhood.  And, spoiler alert for the first six words of chapter 28, this Adam and Eve story has not one Eve, but six.  I’m interested to see where this text will go, especially after claiming that Mary is the God in this story but not really developing this fact.  Vonnegut obviously wants readers to have this famous duo in our minds constantly while reading, so I guess we’ll find out how much more problematic it can get ; )

Questions of Humanity

Any work dealing with the creation or alteration of humanoid life will always confront questions of humanity.  The Crakers are, obviously, not exempt from this question.  Page 305 presents us with a brief list of qualities that Crakers have that make them unique from humans: “racism… had been eliminated in the model group, merely by switching the bonding mechanism: the Paradise people simply did not register skin colour.  Hierarchy could not exist among them, because they lacked the neural complexes that would have created it.  Since they were neither hunters nor agriculturalists hungry for land, there was no territoriality: the king-of-the-castle hard-wiring that had plagued humanity had, in them, been unwired… Their sexuality was not a constant torment to them, not a cloud of turbulent hormones: they came into heat at regular intervals, as did most mammals other than man.”

This paragraph lays out the reasons the Crakers are not human by detailing the evils or complications of humanity.  Does this piece suggest that humanity is defined by racism and territoriality?  In The Lathe of Heaven, when Haber’s raceless world removes Heather from reality, we become aware of how vital race is to people’s identity.  Does this similar lack of race in the Crakers inhibit them from constructing an identity, or it a response to the racism that Atwood links to the definition of humanity?  Can you be a human and not be affected by racism

Alpha Helix pg 146

Hey for my blog post I’m focusing on the last poem in “Alpha Helix” on page 146 (starting with the line “We have seen it in the rope that hangs the felons”). CW for  hanging and slavery in the first two lines.  The “it” that the poem refers to is the helix shape influencing aspects of life from historical violence (“the rope that hangs the felons,” “the whip that goads the slaves”) to complicated scientific imagery (“the carousel of Saturn,” “gigantic field of magnetism,” “ephemeral filaments of stardust”).  The “game of glasperlenspiel upon an atomic abacus” seems to be a reference to the German novel The Glass Bead Game or Das Glasperlenspiel (1943) by Hermann Hesse.  The novel is a bildungsroman and the game is explained vaguely but involves exploring the relationships between broad themes or thoughts.

Bok describes “Alpha Helix” as a whole as “a delirious catalogue, listing ‘manifestations’ of helical imagery in the world, testifying to the ubiquity of living poetic forms by imbuing everything with the proteomic structure of life itself.  The text suggests that the evolution of life may eventually play a role in the endgame of the universe, thus deciding the fate of the entire cosmos.”  A lot of Bok’s plans and planted imagery comes to a head in the last poem of “Alpha Helix,” as we see just how the symbol of the helix is taking part in the destruction of life.  We are introduced to it very concretely at first with the hanging and slavery images, but things becomes much more conceptual as the poem progresses.  The disaster “Alpha Helix” imagines is not affected or concerned with human life at all, as “it is but a tightrope that crosses all abysses.”  We are not dealing with a human environment, but one that is concerned with numbers.  It is not the humans who “must calculate the odds of life delaying the doomsday of the universe,” but the helix itself.  The poem ends with a haunting line that harkens back to the sharp concreteness at the beginning: “We were never intended to be tied to whatever made us.”  The final line continues the rope-like structure of the helix, but also continues the “unbraid”ing of the previous line.

There is an interesting fear that comes with a mathematical doomsday.  Are Earthbound concerns such as global warming and war significant when the capital H Helix can unravel at any second?

Navigating Real Apocalypse

Works like Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” are highly different than pieces such as The RoadLathe of HeavenThe Sea and Summer, and Z is for Zachariah because they deal with real disasters.  Works warning readers about global warming like The Sea and Summer or nuclear war like Z is for Zachariah and possibly The Road look to the future to play with the extremes of their Earths, one that is supposed to be as close to our own as possible.  Works like A Tale for the Time Being force authors into the confines of a real Earth through their exploration of real disaster.  A Tale for the Time Being was published only two years after the 2011 tsunami, and Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” was published seven years after the 1931 Hawk’s Nest Incident.

The challenge of writing on a recent disaster involves the potential for appropriation, politicization, etc by the author.  This is most clearly seen in “The Book of the Dead” with Rukeyser’s use of real quotes from the victims and family members of the Hawk’s Nest Incident.  Ozeki’s text gets close to this through the inclusion of a character named Ruth, but I read somewhere (I don’t remember where) that the character is not meant to be a representation of the author/real Ruth.  A Tale for the Time Being is very different from Rukeyser’s work, though, as it is not as concretely documentary as Rukeyser’s poetry is.

How do you, as a reader, navigate a text that explores a disaster that has actually happened?  Do the lives lost feel more real, even in a fictional setting?  Are they more or less likely to be utilized by an author to serve a specific purpose?

Hypnosis, Reality, & Aliens ;)

I’m really excited about the fact that a lot of the stuff we’re reading is relating to my thesis in some way.  In the case of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, it’s the ways in which hypnosis and reality work together.  In many nonfiction abduction narratives, hypnosis is used as not only a way for abductees to regain their memories, but as a tool for authors to establish credibility and believability in their telling of these stories.  I would recommend John G Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey and Whitley Strieber’s Communion as great examples of nonfiction abduction narratives.  One article I read (I don’t remember which one but I can try to find it) offered a skeptic’s view on how hypnosis has gone by unchecked in the alien community, establishing credibility despite its unreliability.  However, in these narratives, hypnosis is used to aid the transition from implausibility to reality (I think you all know where I’m going with this).

Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven mirrors these abduction narratives in the ways that hypnosis is used to introduce a new reality.  Also, fortunately enough for me, both of these literary examples are using hypnosis to introduce aliens into reality.  While this introduction is much more concrete in The Lathe of Heaven, both genres are still using hypnosis to reconfigure human concepts of believability.  In nonfiction abduction narratives, readers are introduced to the idea that aliens are real and are experimenting with humans on Earth.  In The Lathe of Heaven, humans don’t have a choice but to believe because now it is all they have ever known.  I wonder how this would affect authors such as Fuller and Strieber, as their texts rely both on the potential for belief in their reader, but also the draw of mystery, conspiracy, and controversy.  I also enjoyed seeing the alien warfare reality in Le Guin’s novel because it lines up interestingly with alien literatures that respond to real (“real”) world events, like Neill Blomkamp’s film District 9 and South African apartheid.

From where I’ve read so far, we don’t have a full description of what the previously violent and now peaceful aliens look like, but we do know they are not humanoid.  I’m very interested to see where the rest of The Lathe of Heaven goes with the introduction of new realities and how aliens factor into this.

Betrayal & Apocalypse

Betrayal seems to be central or relevant to many works involving apocalypse or the build up to an apocalypse.  These betrayals can be purposeful or accidental, as the higher stakes trigger a selfish survival instinct in these characters.  Z for Zachariah had plenty of moments of betrayal.  The backstory of Loomis has Edward betray Loomis by stealing the suit and Loomis return the favor by killing him.  The way Loomis treats Ann in the novel can also be seen as a betrayal after her nursing of him (punctuated perfectly by her last words to him in the novel).  Ann’s stealing of the suit is a complicated moment because she is abandoning Loomis, but also her paradise (although according to Raymond Williams, literary paradise can only be reached by space or time travel, so maybe a different word is better).  Also, any nuclear apocalypse could easily be suggested as a betrayal of humanity.

A good literary example of betrayal in science fiction comes from Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, which Derek and I read in Modern Chinese Literature last semester.  In the novel, one of the characters invites aliens to invade Earth due to her disdain for humanity.  This situation is unique in that the character was not in an apocalyptic scenario– her life was not in immediate danger, contrasting well with Ann’s questioning of her own apocalyptic actions, such as killing Faro.

Works that focus on global warming like The Sea and Summer and The End of Nature further complicate the question of betrayal.  It seems to me that the size of global warming makes it more difficult to perceive it as a betrayal of humanity.  It can almost seem like an act of revenge by nature.  John Locke would certainly see it as nature betraying humanity, instead of the other way around.  Does our tendency to focus on humans make us perceive the effects of global warming as humans betraying humans instead of humans betraying nature?

Space Brothers

The time travel/nuclear threat/saving society stuff in La Jetee reminded me of the Space Brothers phenomenon with aliens.  These aliens, also called Nordic aliens, are the most benevolent aliens and look essentially identical to white humans (usually men).  Their stories can be found in a nuclear America where nuclear threats are very real.  Space Brothers come to Earth to convince the humans they encounter to stop violence, or specifically nuclear violence.  Space Brothers remind humans that nuclear warfare affects every living thing on Earth, and even living things outside of Earth.  Space Brother stories tell readers that if aliens are coming to Earth to tell us to stop nuclear warfare, then we really need to stop nuclear warfare.  (And regarding memory- where most alien encounters must be recovered via hypnosis, Space Brother stories leave the humans they encounter with perfect memory so they are able to share the gift of peace and warning with the world)

In La Jetee, our protagonist encounters humans from the future who give him similar advice regarding how to save present human life.  Both instances involve looking outside of present day human life to solve present day human problems.  If we have to look to the future or other worlds to save the present, are we able to accomplish anything?  If present time humans are incapable of preventing disaster by themselves, how hopeless are we?

Also, interestingly, the Tarkovsky quote states that “the past is far more real, or at least more stable, more resilient than the present,” yet the future and other worlds are used as a model for stability or key to present-time stability.

Robot vs Nature!

Ray Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” and George Johnson’s “The Nuclear Tourist” depict routine in a post-nuclear environment.  Johnson’s National Geographic article shows us a Chernobyl that “has been seized and occupied by wildlife.  There are bison, boars, moose, wolves, bears, falcons,” eagles, horses, and more.  This environment contains some presence of humans, but is largely unaffected by their presence.  Through Johnson’s article we see the continuation of a natural routine in the aftermath of a purely human disaster.  It’s fortunate and almost comical that this human disaster left the space free for animals and other nature to take over.

Bradbury’s story presents us with a seemingly much more deadly nuclear apocalypse, as evidenced by the silhouettes on the side of the house.  In this story, routine is extremely important– it’s actually driving the narrative through the automated clock/entire house.  For most of the story, it seems as though robots are the only survivors of this nuclear event, but the arrival of the family dog reveals that, just like at Chernobyl, nature will eventually reclaim its routine and space.  The house fire at the end of the story destroys nearly all of the robots monitoring and managing the routine of the household, leaving only one wall to babble on for what could potentially be until the end of time.  What is important in this story, though, is that Bradbury presents a future totally reliant on robots where the routine of nature can exist alongside, and probably outlast, the routine of the robot.

When you take a break from writing your paper to write a blog post 😉

Skull in the Garden

“Beyond the Dreams of the Borgias,” the eleventh chapter of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, begins with a discussion of the marketing of pesticides.  Carson describes pesticide advertisement and packaging as “homey and cheerful,” and a quick search of even modern pesticide packaging brings up a large amount of green and yellow to highlight the natural affiliation, with a splash of red to hint at the truly destructive nature called out by Carson.  Carson is horrified by the fact that the “use of poisons in the kitchen is made both attractive and easy.”  The tie between pesticide and food is extremely important to Carson, noting in an earlier chapter that these poisonous chemicals are even passed through breastmilk.

Carson poses that “if a huge skull and crossbones were suspended above the insecticide department the customer might at least enter it with the respect normally accorded death-dealing materials.”  As Silent Spring was published in 1962, looking at Carson’s statements over 50 years after they were written gives us an interesting, and a little bit frightening, point of view.  Carson’s wish for the skull and crossbones has been granted, but pesticide advertisement and use is still “homey.”  This leaves us with a very strange and frightening image that I’m calling the skull in the garden.  Pesticide warnings are present in our front yards where our children and pets play,specifically warning to stay off the… grass!?  This unnoticeable and typically harmless surface shared by urban and rural landscapes is made toxic… at least until it dries.

We see the skull in the garden again and perhaps more sinisterly with our food (this picture is of a strawberry garden).  Carson may have gotten her wish when it comes to warnings about pesticides, but we are left in a truly creepy space where the skulls and crossbones are present in our own front yards and eventually our own stomachs.

Final comment: I think it’s really interesting that works such as The Road and Book of the Dead rely on darkness convey images of the apocalypse where Silent Spring presents an apocalypse totally reliant on brightness, sunlight, and color.

Documentary Poetics & Appropriate Literature

The first time I read Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” was in the course In Praise of Copying that I took with Melanie Hubbard in Spring 2014.  The course focused on all types of experimental and appropriative literature, such as cut-ups, erasure, flarf, Internet poetry, etc.  One of the focuses of the class was the discussion of the death of the author.  We read Rukeyser’s work when looking at documentary poetry, utilizing confession, quotation, and official documents to assist the true story of a poem.  In Rukeyser’s poem, we see dialogue, medical and legal transcription, and shifting perspectives to tell the story of the Hawk’s Nest Mining Disaster, when hundreds of miners were infected with silicosis.  Poems such as “Statement: Philippa Allen” and “George Robinson: Blues” use dialogue and confession to allow Rukeyser to take on the roles of those involved with the Hawk’s Nest Disaster.  Other poems such as “The Disease,” “The Doctors,” and “The Bill,” confront the medical and political approaches to the incident (note the similar titles in both sets of examples).  These real-life voices are exemplified through italics, capitalization, quotation, script, transcription, and I’m sure I missed a few more.  Rukeyser’s use of appropriation allows her to take on both the emotions and the more concrete realities of the Hawk’s Nest Disaster while sustaining credibility and exploring creativity.

Appropriative literature always confronts questions of authorship and authorial power.  Whenever “copying” is used in any type of literature, the question of authorship is always complicated.  When looking at Internet poetry or more experimental appropriative works, it is much easier to understand the claim that the author is dead.  Because “The Book of the Dead” is more traditional in form, it could be more difficult to claim this.  Even the title, “The Book of the Dead,” points to an Egyptian book of spells meant to assist the deceased in the afterlife.  Where do you, as a reader, assign authorship in “The Book of the Dead?”  How much credit do you give to Rukeyser, and how much do you give to the other players, including those who gave confessions, doctors, and those involved with the court case?

Thanks~ ; )