Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Addiction. The Compulsive Avoidance of Immediate Pain.

In psychology, “Imago,” is an often-idealized image of a person, usually a parent, formed in childhood and persisting unconsciously into adulthood. Throughout the book, I’ve thought of addiction as a common theme. Addiction is defined as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. When you first think of the word “Addiction,” drugs and alcohol spring to mind immediately. It is common to hear of people being addicted to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. However, it is equally possible to become addicted to a person, or in the case of Imago, an ooloi.
            I remember reading an article a long time ago about breaking free from abusive relationships. You hear about stories all the time involving women and men who stay in abusive relationships for years. They stick by their partner through verbal and even physical abuse, and love them unconditionally. Every time I hear of a story like this, I just think, “Why?” How could someone possibly stay with someone who comes home drunk every night and beats them? Furthermore, how could they love that person, or have any feelings of warmth towards them. It is all explained through addiction. Addiction is not something that can be controlled. It is not a want, but a need. The alcoholic doesn’t want to finish a bottle of vodka every night, but they physically need it. In relationships, it works the same way.
In Imago, the quote, "It wants us to stay and I want to stay and so do you, and we shouldn't! Something is wrong." (Imago. 648.) perfectly describes physical addiction to a person. There is nothing logical about wanting to be with someone, and feeling love towards someone that you should hate. The relationship between Jodahs, Jesusa, and Tomas exemplifies physical addiction to another person. When an alcoholic doesn’t have their drink, they show physical symptoms. Their hands begin to shake, they feel weak, and it doesn’t stop until they take a sip. When Jesusa and Tomas are away from Jodahs, they begin to experience physical pain. They realize that they need Jodahs in order to feel physically okay. Tomas accepts this addiction, while Jesusa is upset by it. She does not understand why despite her resistance, she physically needs Jodahs.
When talking about addiction, a popular phrase is “No one ever grew up wanting to be an addict.” It is nothing that people ask for or want. It just happens. In this sense, being dependant on the Oankali is nothing that the humans asked for. Lilith’s life was predetermined; she did not want to live the life that she was given by the Oankali. Because of this, she feels anger towards Jodahs because of what he is doing to Jesusa and Tomas. She feels that in a certain way, it is exactly the same as what the Oankali initially did to her. She feels guilty because she knows what is going to happen. Once they go through the second stage of metamorphosis with Jodahs, they will be eternally bound to him. As long as they are together, they feel no physical pain. If separated, both parties are affected negatively.
On a surface level, I also interpreted the part of the definition that says “an often-idealized image of a person,” to be associated with an ooloi. After all, one of their most frightening qualities is that they can appear as anything to another person. Of course someone is going to be drawn to the ooloi who looks to them like their long lost love. They know that it is not real, but it is a lie they are willing to let themselves believe. One human says, "My god, if there had been people like you around a hundred years ago, I couldn't have become a resister. I think there would be no resisters." (Imago. 740). Through their ability to change appearances, they are able to captivate almost anyone. When Tomas and Jesusa look at Jodahs, they see an idealized image because of the bond he has created. At first, when they looked at him, they were frightened. They did not want him to be near them, and they tried to sneak away in the middle of the night. They tried to run away from addiction, but much like addiction to drugs and alcohol, Jodahs sucked them in. People do not become addicted to things because it starts off making them feel bad. It always begins with euphoria. Addiction is referred to as “The compulsive avoidance of immediate pain.” When they first meet Jodahs, they are covered in large tumors. Tomas is so affected that he is unable to move his neck. Jodahs heals them, and therefore avoiding immediate pain. They are thinking in the short term because they pain of the tumors is unbearable. However, being eternally bonded to an ooloi is an entirely different form of pain.
Rehab does not exist when dealing with an ooloi addiction. It is not something that they can quit cold turkey, or even over time. Withdraw never gets easier. Once they are bound to the ooloi they are mutually addicted for life.


  1. I do think that you make some solid points about addiction and the Ooloi. It certainly does pay a part in the humans compulsion to be with the Ooloi, in that the humans are biologically compelled to be with them, this is made plain throughout the novel. You have a solid foundation and ways in which to connect addiction to substances and the "infatuation" humans have with the Ooloi, however, I want to know what you think this means for the context of the novel. What does it mean that the humans are addicted to the Ooloi? What is Butler trying to comunicate tot he reader through making these strong parallels? Is the intoxicating quality that Ooloi possess something that further demonizes the Ooloi and their relationship with humans? Or, to take a totally different approach does it make them the perfect partner--one that you literally can't be away from, who can't be away from you; its co-dependent, but at least it ensures eternal fidelity and "love." I think in your revision, you should consider some questions like these in order to take it further.

  2. Mia asks some great questions. Because I am very interested in your approach, but because I also want/need to understand, at a higher level, what you want us to do with the theme of addiction, I'm honestly tempted to just leave it at that. But I'm going to add some additional thoughts, while emphasizing that Mia is really doing everything that's *necessary* here already.

    Addictions and their origins vary. My temptation (you be the judge of whether it's right or not here) is to say that the addiction being portrayed here is like a terminal cancer patient's addiction to morphine. The morphine is necessary, as well as addictive. If the ooloi are a drug (and they are! your'e right!) they are a drug which saves or protects, while making themselves absolutely necessary.

    So, if I was going to try to answer some of Mia's questions myself, I'd argue that Butler is exploring a *necessary* or at least *ambivalent* (and maybe even outright good or desirable) addiction - which is weird and disturbing, but she arguably imagining addiction as a precondition to life.

    It don't know what you think of that - again, I think what Mia said is perhaps more vital or immediately necessary. We need to understand where Butler is going with this theme, not just that it exists.