Saturday, January 22, 2011

Open Thread for 2nd Reading (Marcuse & Butler) and Other Instructions

First - your short blog entries on this week's readings should be comments on this thread.

Second - all of you did fine on the short blog entries last week.  My only further comment is that writing something short, or asking a question (or series of questions) is fine.  Short paragraphs are acceptable!

Third - remember that you need to comment on someone else's blog entry by Sunday night.  Whose, you might ask?  Everyone needs to respond to the person who posted immediately after them.  The last person who posted an essay responds to the first person who posted it.  What should you say?  You are responding to their ideas/argument in an attempt to improve them.  You might try to extend an idea, you might try to pose a counterargument, you might identify and say something about a relevant passage or external source that they don't use:  your job is to help them articulate and develop their ideas.

Fourth - The precise format of this class is new to me, so please - if any of my instructions are ever unclear or incomplete, point it out sooner rather than later!

Fifth - I will be commenting on all of your long blog entries this weekend, hopefully today.  You'll probably receive an email from blogger when I post the comments, although that will depend on your junk mail settings, etc.  I haven't yet figured out the best way of giving you your grades, though - we may be discussing that in class on Tuesday.


  1. Though hard to read through Marcuse’s constant use of the word “(de)sublimation,” he brings to light a lot of good points when he’s talking about the role sex plays in the system. Marcuse offers a lot more problems than he does solutions, so I guess my first question is – how do we fix the role sex now plays? He says that the “landscape” in which sexual energies are spent has been changed; is it permanent? In some instances there is just no going back (he compares a modern traveler to the wandering poet). As he pointed out earlier, there may be no room in the society for people to stop working for more than they need and become scholars again. But still, I wonder how, if at all, the problems of losing a libido-enhancing backdrop could be reversed. More so, I don’t really understand his position at times. I believe that while we have certainly lost aspects of “romance” to the world of machines and technology, depravity and callous, our world is easily seen as a playground for sex. Advertisements rely solely on sex to sell goods, and pop-culture is a fetid swamp of sex, drugs, and rap. Marcuse claims that sex is just another tool of the system to control us. I really do not see how that’s possible. It is true that we now have more time on our hands, better hygiene, and access to erotic behaviors because of technology, but is that not a by-product not foreseen by the system? How could they have known? And once they did know, wasn’t it already too late? I feel like no matter what the system does, sex will be present at all times, as many times as possible. Take Bulter, Zahra and Harry were doing their business when people were dying all around them. I believe there is something raw and pure in sex, and no matter how/why the system tries to control it, they could never take away that energy. Perhaps, though, that is why it has the capacity to be a powerful leverage point.
    I like to thing and reflect on people’s actions and ask myself how those actions do or do not correlate with a basic instinctual need. I would be interested to see not only see the future of Marcuse’s world (which is sounding more and more like the framework that Brave New World was built on), and to see what he would do to fix it.

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  3. Our last meeting involved a large amount of conversation about the defining of “freedom” and I’ve been tossing the idea around in my head ever since. I’ve concluded that freedom is all but impossible to define in some all-encompassing and universal way. Marcuse himself speaks of the importance of individual needs and the necessity of casting aside of mutual interest in the attainment of true freedom; this implies that application of the term “freedom” in a universal sense is contradictory to the concept itself. In addition to the philosophical conflicts an encyclopedic definition of freedom presents, there is also the issue of trying to separate out “freedoms from” and “freedoms to” in our definition. How can a person possibly be free to do anything but simultaneously be free from everything? If some truly comprehensive representation of freedom exists, for example, we must be free from oppression yet still have the freedom to oppress another person. This raises the question of whether freedom can actually be achieved for an entire group or if it is, as Marcuse suggests, more of an individual state.
    But perhaps the underlying problem here is not that we cannot define freedom, but that our idea of it is fundamentally wrong. A governing principle used in the consideration of freedom is that it is, in its entirety, something good. Maybe ultimate freedom is anarchy and destruction, maybe ultimate freedom is what was achieved in Lauren’s world and they are simply living the aftermath of it. It’s interesting that Marcuse’s discussion of the lack of freedom in the United States features an apparently un-free yet happy people. This is not to say that the freedom means happiness but it is interesting to consider that we are happy despite our supposed enslavement. Marcuse asks, “If the individuals are satisfied to the point of happiness with the goods and services handed down to them by the administration, why should they insist on different institutions?” and in response I ask, “Why be free at all then?” Although I am by no means finished with One-Dimensional Man and am sure that there is something to Marcuse’s reasoning that I am missing, I can find no real reason to prefer true freedom under Marcuse’s terms other than discontent with the knowledge that I am ultimately “not free.” If we are content with the unnecessary having become necessary and the production of waste, why should we prefer a real freedom to our illusion of it if our basic needs are being provided for? I question whether the purpose behind Marcuse’s work is really a push for a revolution towards freedom but rather a call to redefine our ideal of the nation.

  4. I found some parts of Marcuse's argument regarding language to be interesting. He discusses the use of word choice, or "hypnotic language", by politicians and advertisments to manipulate people to believe what they are saying.

    It was very easy to realize that this happens in today's society. Politicians play their campaign commercials so much that people will be able to repeat it word for word by the time that Election Day arrives. Otherwise, people will hear the statements of the commercial enough that they begin to believe that they are true. Advertisments use personalization to make the listener relate to it or believe that they need to buy the product.

    This is seen everyday, especially every two years when it comes to politicians. Companies will do anything to get people to buy their goods while politicians will do anything to get votes. It is worse today than in the past since there are so many types of media that they can use to get people's attention. Is there any way to escape this?

  5. On page 173 in Butler, Zahra tells Lauren “I wish I’d known you better before all this happened,” and before that Lauren tells the reader she wished she’d also known Zahra better. What immediately came to my mind when I read this was: if Zahra and Lauren were really good friends, they really wouldn’t be losing everything, would they? Their situation would be completely different. Imagine if instead of Zahra, Lauren was left with Joanne. They would already have a sense of friendship formed, and no thoughts would be wasted on trust issues, or getting to know the other person. However, I think that Butler wanted to really put the characters to the test; she wanted to really examine their survival abilities. Disasters such as this one involve separation from your comfort zone. Butler could have had Lauren meet up with Corey and the rest of the family, but would that really be putting her protagonist to the test? Then the Olamina family would essentially be doing what the Garfields did: relocating. I thought about it, and while the Garfields chose to leave, and the rest of the families in the fortress were forced to leave, is there that much of a difference between leaving willingly with your family, as opposed to leaving unwillingly? I think that both Lauren and Zahra are unrealistic in their wish to have known each other better. In real life, you don’t always end up with your mother and best friend after a horrible event. You end up with people you might not have looked at twice before, people who you can learn and grow off of, who you never expected to be with.

  6. Questions:
    1.By disobeying his parents and venturing outside of the home was Keith in search of freedom?
    2.Can it be argued that the words freedom and independence are interchangeable?

    I was also really intrigued by the power struggle between Keith and Lauren's father:
    A power struggle emerged between Keith and his father; this became apparent as Keith began venturing out of the house without anyone’s knowledge or permission. Keith, at the tender age of thirteen years old, believed that he was entitled to seek independence because he claimed that he was a man; Keith felt that he had reached an age upon which he should lead and play a dominant role in his family: “I aint no baby no more…I wanted to show you. Just wanted to show you...I’m a man! I shouldn’t be hiding in the house, hiding in the wall; I’m a man!” (Butler, 92). This was Keith’s justification for his unpermitted adventures.
    3.Can Keith be perceived as a noble hero for his family or just an irrational kid?
    4.Do you believe Keith's actions were more altruistic (done to benefit his family) or more selfish?

  7. As the book continues the character Zahra has began to confuse me. In chapters 15 and on Zahra slips in details from here troubled past as a kid living on the streets. Her knowledge of this outside world helps the pack in many spots but I particularly got caught up on one moment. On page 187 Zahra talks about how she should have seen the destruction of their community like Lauren basically did. This sounds unrealistic to me. She states before how she has stolen, lived on the streets, and seen these savages at work. I ask is it realistic for Butler to create a character that has seen/lived outside but still be oblivious to the fact that the outside will find a way inside? She grew up seeing muggings and crimes everyday but thought a small wall covered in glass and wire was going to keep them out forever. Maybe it goes back to Lauren talking about denial but I think they would have to have some type of brain-washing machine for Zahra to completely think she was safe in the wall.

  8. What I really liked about the second half of Butler’s novel was the relationship between kindness and strength. In Lauren’s world it seems that most people believe that the best way to survive is to steal and kill, and that women are children are little more than extra baggage in a long journey. The Earthseed group, however, sees strength in numbers, even if the extra people are women and children, and the way that they gain new members is through kindness. They defend Travis and Natividad from thieves, catch Bankole’s attention by helping an old man, rescue Allie and Jill from a collapsed building, adopt Justin, and feed and protect the four sharers they pick up at the end. All of these individual acts of kindness are almost unheard of in Lauren’s world, but in the end it is through these acts that they are able to survive as a group until they make it to Bankole’s land. There is even an Earthseed verse, on page 167, that is devoted to the importance of kindness: “Kindness eases Change.” I really liked that the author persevered a little humanity despite the inhuman way most people in 2027 live.
    My main question about this section was about the importance of Lauren’s relationship with Bankole. I understand that it’s nice that she had a companion but I don’t see why he had to be so much older than she was.

  9. I have begun to wonder, as this book continues on, whether it is entirely a statement on society or rather a statement regarding religion. Though it is a very touchy subject to cover, it is clear that religion is definately a critical factor when exploring this text.

    Unlike Christianity, Earthseed involves the active change of the world and circumstances by the individual. This is in contrast to the Christian belief that God has determined the path and fate of all people, and therefore any change is futile.

    The situation that Lauren finds herself in (I.e., her society) is, according to a Christian doctrine, unchangeable and must be looked at as a plan that God has set. However her belief is that one has the ability to change their situation.

    Perhaps Butler intends to inform our own society that times are indeed changing for the worse, and that our current system of beliefs will not be applicable to those changes.

  10. When Marcuse started talking about literature's artistic alienation and its ability to act as a contradiction to the status quo, I started to think about what he would say about Butler's work. Marcuse delves into discussion about how true classics lose their effectiveness as negations of reality when they are accepted into the current society as classics. That could be construed to mean that by accepting Parable of a Sower as a classic, our class has deprived it of its “antagonistic force” and the truth and the knowledge Butler originally set out to impart. I think the environment in which we read certain pieces can play a part in how effective its message is displayed. Is a book trying to act as Avant Garde still considered innovative if it is not accepted into society? This could also be applied to Earthseed. If Lauren set out to establish a different theology than what already existed, if Earthseed becomes accepted by hundreds of people does it still carry out the same message it did when Earthseed only existed in Lauren’s head.

  11. I find it odd to think that this world could go back to times of slavery, but through this book it shows how easily it could really happen. How Zahara was bought by her husband and was controlled by her, how Emery, Tori, Mora, and Doe were all runaway slaves and how Lauren made reference to their group as being the modern day underground railroad (292).

    Something I wander about is why Lauren felt attracted to Bankhole. Is it because she has lost her father so she is reaching out for that father figure again, but obviously in a different way? Or could it be because Zahara and Harry were together and then they ran into the other couple so she felt like the fifth wheel and desperately wanted someone and Bankhole was the next man in the picture? Zahara even bluntly askes Lauren if she is jealous about her relationship with harry (203). I feel like there is something up with Bankhole, and even Lauren feels this at first too, but she caves too easily to him.

    I also wanted to note that I think it was in the group's favor to be traveling with babies because at many times they may have been viewed as being dangerous to different communities but the children eased that edge. So ultimately that helped their survival although they did not forsee that.

  12. The verse that opens chapter 19 speaks of "The galaxies move through space. The stars ignite, burn, age, cool, evolving. God is change..." Earlier in the novel, Lauren heard on the radio that astronomers have discovered several new planets. In calling her religion Earthseed, Lauren implies that Earth is a starting point for her religion. It is very interesting to me that she is considering such large-scale implications of her beliefs. This becomes especially interesting when I consider the state of Earth as it is - dilapidated and falling apart. Lauren is either extremely optimistic if she believes that something Earthly can grow past this destruction, or she believes that it will be necessary. The verse at the beginning of chapter 19 solidifies the connection to the universe, other planets, and stars.

  13. I find Marcuse's discussion of avant-garde literature (on page 68) particularly interesting. They "communicate the break with communication." This seams to be an ironic statement, but I think he is saying that through abstractions, they reconnect the art form to words, instead of just the words speaking without communicating. I am sort of confused, however, with Marcuse's comparisons of the positive and negative. Is the negative supposed to be a negation of language, of communcation, or is there something else behind it?
    On the following page, he discusses that "the traditional stuff of art (images, harmonies, colors) reappears only as 'quotes.' residues of past meaning in a context of refusal." What is the refusal? Is it the refusal from awareness that language is a means for our control? Or is it supposed to be a refusal against the slavery to technological progess just because the life we lead beneath it is satisfying enough?
    I also felt that through much of the chapter, Marcuse was enacting his own criticism, by writing in some sections with what seemed more to be a collection of words than definite and growing ideas.

  14. I found it interesting when Marcuse looked into language as a means of polarizing people in chapter 4. Politics has gotten so complicated over the decades, that only the well-educated truly understand many of the concepts behind what the politician is really saying. One could ask any random person on the street to describe the main points of Obama's campaign and the majority would probably use words like "change, peace, jobs, safety, and healthcare".

    Marcuse argues that these words imply a specific set of attributes which occur invariably when the noun is spoken or written. These words are used very often to evoke positive emotions from the people. Other leaders in the past throw around words like “freedom, equality, and independence”, which unvaryingly aroused the public and raised public opinion.

    Even though most Americans are familiar with the above words, many still don’t know what laws were implemented in the past two years to actually support these motives. The real problem arises because these words have so many different meanings at this point and can be taken in so many different ways. For example, our class had so much trouble giving an actual definition for freedom—the very idea that this country was built on.

    There is a large gap between public knowledge and the many technicalities in our governmental system. My question is simple: should the government keeping dumbing down their system to accommodate the average American?

  15. Lauren's group is racially mixed. There are three whites and three blacks and two are Hispanics. I think this is another critique of modern society which has and continues to be plagued with racism. Butler makes the fact that racism is rampant apparent throughout the novel. Lauren thinks that blacks and hispanics would not be welcome in olivar and she also says that on the road, racially mixed couples are likely to be singled out for attack.

    Also, Travis is expected to simply accept his white employer's desire to have sex with his wife the same way that slave-owners felt entitled to have sex with their female slaves.

  16. One part in Butler I found particularly interesting was the part where Lauren and the other survivors are camping at night. Occasionally other strangers would come by and see if they would be able to share their shelter. Although Harry was very trusting and willing, Lauren sent them away explaining they cannot be so trusting as there are a lot of people who would hurt them. This act shows Lauren’s instinct to be naturally cautious probably passed onto her by her father and relates back to previous events where she proved to be the most responsible/experienced.

    This event also foreshadows the future events where Harry’s trusting personality comes back to “hurt” him as Lauren must kill a man (and feel his pain) in order to help Harry. Something Harry even objects and cannot do himself. However, through this Harry seems to hold Lauren in a higher regard than before and even takes an interest in Lauren’s Earthseed writings.