Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prompts for January 31

Important Note:  I'm tentatively planning to trim Neuromancer from our reading list.  I'll send out an email when I work out the details.  This week's reading assignment remains unchanged, but some later ones will be shifted around as a result.

Prompt 1:   Take it as a given that Octavia Butler is heavily influenced, both directly and indirectly, by E.O. Wilson.  That does not mean, of course, that she is always in agreement with him - simply that her work is in literary dialogue with sociobiology and the dominant figures within it, Wilson among them.

Pick a single claim that Wilson makes about humanity:  by that, I mean a way that he tries to understand human nature through our evolutionary history.  Discuss a passage in Dawn which seems to respond directly to that claim.  Cheap examples:  when Lilith frightens Paul Titus with the idea of incest; Lilith's initial response to Jdahya; also, nearly everything that happens after Lilith begins Awakening people.

Focusing on single passages from both books (or two passages, or three - just stay focused!) argue how and why we should read Wilson differently with Butler in mind (we might see her as defending or attacking his ideas, for instance, with various degrees of success - or simply exploring their consequences in a particular way), or how and why we should read Butler differently with Wilson in mind (we might argue, for instance, that part of what Butler is doing is showing how the consequences of evolution *are* always with us, or she might be showing the limits of an evolutionary explanation of humanity.

Prompt 2:  The Oankali have very different values than we are accustomed to.  One radical example which sticks out to me is from page 34:
"You'll begin again.  We'll put you in areas that are free of radioactivity and history.  You will become something other than you were."
"And you think destroying what was left of our cultures will make us better?"
"No.  Only different."
The Oankali, for instance, have a very different relationship with history than most of us do:  abolishing history, for them, becomes the agent of change, and change as such is perhaps their greatest good (other than life itself).  Compare to that hackneyed favorite of freshman comp students everywhere:  "those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it."  With the Oankali, Butler often takes the received wisdom to which we are habituated, and inverts it.

One function that the Oankali serve, in other words, is to critique, re-evaluate or invert many of our values and beliefs - to imagine alternatives, many of them extreme.

Here's the actual prompt:  Take one moment from the text where an Oankali offers what you see as an interesting or credible critique/reversal/undermining of our received wisdom, explain how that critique or alternative is presented, and then evaluation from your own point of view (with or without Wilson - you could even involve Shelley).  You might argue, for instance, that the imagined Oankali alternative is a kind of vision of the future toward which we should aspire. 

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