Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Love and Ooloi

 “The genes hold culture on a leash.  The leash is very long, but inevitably values will be constrained in accordance with their effects on the human gene pool.  The brain is a product of evolution” (Wilson 167).
Wilson argues that mankind is tethered by their genetics in that no matter how culturally advanced, we are like all other animals on earth driven by the motivations of genetics: surviving and passing on our genes.  In Lilith’s Brood, Butler presents a post-apocalyptic scenario with an alien species not confined by these aspects of evolution.  The reproduction of the Oankali is based on the presence of a third sexless member in addition to male and female called an ooloi. This entity has the ability to combine the genetic material for reproduction, select for different traits, and even combine with other species.  This form of reproduction is based solely on choice and making decisions for later generations.  (Perhaps the implications of deciding what is best for posterity will probably be seen with further readings into Lilith’s Brood.) While human reproduction is based on random events genetically with random combinations of genes from reproductive cells.  The choice in human reproduction is based solely in mate selection.   Lilith is the first human who will mother a child created for her through the methods of reproduction used by the Oankali.   Because of this, her and her offspring will be going against what evolution which not only had shaped her life but had also shaped her species and every species that has ever existed on earth.   Lilith still has the hotwiring given to her by evolution but yet she doesn’t need to be driven by these motivations.  As well as having another person to care for and add to the personal relationship.  This conflict is very creates a strange love triangle necessary for reproduction which goes against and previous system in history.  It can be argued that Lilith even falls more in love with her oolioo that with her human companion and that this shift indicates a transcendence from the laws of evolution to the new alien ways of reproduction.

As Wilson claims we are bound by our genetics, such human characteristics of love can be simplified as a means for reproduction involving a purely physical as well as a compansionate aspect.  Sexual attraction is one motivator in mate selection and this is traditionally been thought to been based off of physical attractiveness and whether a person looks sickly or not, will be able to bear children, and some research even shows that it is based off of scent - - directly reflecting genetics. Because the Oankali don’t need to rely on guessing if a person would be a good genetic match from attractiveness, there doesn’t need to be an element of physicality to sexual reproduction.   Lilith’s utter repulsion by the appearance of the aliens repulsed her so much that she “deliberately dug her nails into her palm until they all but broke the skin […] to distract her (Butler 15) and it took her months to get used to their appearances.  After she was used to the appearance of the Oankali and the oolioo and awakened other humans perhaps a shift in choosing a mate based on physical attraction was apparent.  Liltih surprised her captors when she did not chose a large strong attractive mate but instead chose a shorter older man.  While their relationship proceeded in a somewhat traditional fashion, the addition of the oolioo complicated the physical aspect of the relationship and this can perhaps be explain by Wilson as being because the ability to reproduce with just a man and a woman was lost.  After losing the ability to conceive without the the oolio, Lilith and Joseph, although still caring for each other are repulsed by the idea of the other as sexual beings without the ooloi.  When Lilth tries to hold Joseph’s hand they force themselves to remain holding hands but “shudder with revulsion”(Butler 220). Yet on the other hand earlier that day she was missing Nikanj and that fact that it wouldn’t be there at night for “gentle multiple touches of sensory tentacles and sensory hands”(Butler 213).  This explicitly sexual language is a stark contrast to not only the way she felt initially about the alien species but also to how she currently feels about her human mate Joseph and this switch can be explained by change in the process of reproduction.

Another element of attraction, companionship or love, is women want men who will stick around through their pregnancy and through the life of the child and provide for them and men want women to be good mothers to their offspring.  It is this mutual caring and ability to get along that bring Joseph and Lilith together initially.  Interestingly, this aspect of the importance of caring for offspring and thus forming a loving unit is as essential for reproduction in humans as it is  for the Oankali population.  Although they can control their traits, they still have to rear their children and take great care.  Not only that but they must also care for the oolioo. Lilith took on this role with Nikanj when she first met it and from then on her relationship with it was one that involved much more mutual dependency and caring than her relationship with Joseph. At the end of the battle between the humans and the oolioo, Lilith actually “strip[s] naked on the battlefield to lie down with the enemy”(Butler 232) and lies with Nikanj until he is able to use her body to heal himself.  This type of compassionate intimacy does not in any way exist in human society other than perhaps when a person donates a kidney.  In this way Lilith’s relation with her oolioo deepens as they literally become one for a time.  Again, a Wilsonian explanation for this is that the compassion comes from the fact that the two can produce offspring together and need to care for one another to effectively raise and pass on the genes (however altered).

In summary, Lilith is the first being in history to go beyond to constraints of traditional evolution by being able to reproduce with a new species that do not rely on random events.  As a result, the love and feeling of closeness changes from being towards her own species to a being that she can reproduce with.  It also changes from being more based on physical appearance and initially attracting to being based on mutual compassion.


  1. You make some interesting observations, namely, that there is a kind of twisted love triangle between Nikanj, Lilith, and Joseph is a compelling point. Also, your summary paragraph made some good points as well, in fact I really liked the idea of there being a shift from loyalty to her own species to loyalty to the Oankali.
    However, until I reached your final paragraph, I was a little confused throughout the essay with what point you were getting to. There are a lot of different ideas going on here, which is fine, but I as the reader had a little bit of a harder time following where you were going with your argument.
    I think that this statement; " It can be argued that Lilith even falls more in love with her oolioo that with her human companion and that this shift indicates a transcendence from the laws of evolution to the new alien ways of reproduction." Would be a great starting point for your revision. What you need is more textual evidence from Wilson, and perhaps a leaner, more direct argument that justifies this statement. I think you make good points in each paragraph that, more or less, coincide with this point, but I think you need to edit some paragraphs, like the second to last paragraph on pregnancy, that need to be edited so that we can see more clearly the point you are trying to make. I think overall, you just need to edit, decide on your core argument, and get some more textual evidence from Wilson to back you up for your revision.

  2. The argument that the Oankali are not "leashed" strikes me as interesting and even bold - I look forward to seeing how it develops.

    There's a lot going on in the first paragraph, which is obscured and rendered difficult by bad or nonexistent proofreading. The idea that Lilith is in love with Nikanj is important; so is the idea that with that love (and the ensuing reproduction) humanity/Lilith is beginning to move beyond the leash. But even the premise - that the Oankali themselves are not "leashed" is not obvious. Using Wilson, the way we might argue that the Ooloi do not result in real transcendence is by pointing out, that like Wilson's extended discussion of the role of homosexuality in human genetics and culture (which is also a political argument clearly intended to advance gay rights - remember this was written in the 70s), it is possible for seemingly non-reproductive individuals to enhance *overall* genetic fitness at other levels than that of the individual.

    The second paragraphs seems like a total switch. It's a good and interesting start to a discussion about transforming notions of love and sexuality. It's good material, but it lacks focus - and the larger problem is that the relationship between this material and the first paragraph is unclear at best.

    The third paragraph is even less focused. I really like the analogy of Lilith as kidney donor - if you want to write about love and altruism in the novel, this is a great moment. But again, focus is a problem here - I want to see this material as part of an ongoing, coherent argument.

    You *begin* to form an argument in the last paragraph - a rewritten version of the last paragraph (focused, ideally! Say in a sentence what you have to say about love and altruism, as related to genetics, in the novel).

    I like this tremendously as a brainstorming session - but if you revise, you'll need to aggressively focus, expanding some of it and cutting other parts, in order to forge an argument where really we just have a very rich set of ideas.