Sunday, February 19, 2012

Human Contradiction

            The “human contradiction” as stated by the Oankali is the fatal combination of hierarchical and intelligence. Jodahs is the long awaited final step in finding a final solution between these two tendencies found in human nature. As a construct ooloi Jodahs is a feared creature because it is both given the extreme abilities of the ooloi, and yet embodies the “human contradiction”. At first this fear is hard to understand. How could a child be such a threat to this “perfect” society? However, once Jodahs begins to cause dangerous alterations with everything it comes in contact with, I begin to see just how powerful it truly is.

            The only attribute keeping Jodahs restrained is the constant threat of dissolution. In this way though Jodahs is full of extreme power, it is not free to do with it as it pleases. It is bound to finding and providing for his human mates. I often find myself making the comparison between Jodahs and Genie from Aladdin, “It's all part 'n parcel of the whole genie gig: Phenomenal cosmic powers! Eeeetibity living space!”(John Musker, Aladdin). In order to keep Jodahs from using its power in favor of its human contradiction, it has to be eternally bound to human mates, who are in turn bound to him. However, it seems that the extreme fidelity that binds the human mates and the ooloi are part of the failure of the Oankali’s strive to create a solution to the human contradiction.

            The most obvious assertion that this enterprise to finding a solution to the human contradiction has failed occurs after Jodahs has been mated. When speaking to its closest sibling, Aaor, Jodahs instructs Aaor that they may need to sting and kill humans in order to save and secure their mates. However, earlier  in Imago the reader is told, “Humans had evolved from hierarchical life, dominating, often killing other life. Oankali had evolved from acquisitive life, collecting and combining with other life. To kill was not simply wasteful to the Oankali. It was as unacceptable as slicing off their own healthy limbs… When they killed even to save life, they died a little themselves.”(Butler, 564). Rather than correcting the human contradiction the Oankali have simply given a powerful creature dependence on an outside source. With their incredible power once mated and existence secured, the ooloi are willing to do what no Oankali would have been ever conceived possible. I see this as the possibility of being only the beginning to a long line of failures.

            More abstractly, I see dissolution itself as an abstract way of presenting the failure of solving the human solution. In class we discussed how in On Human Nature the dissolution of slavery in society means that slavery in itself is not genetically part of our beings. If this reasoning is valid, then it seems likely to me that Butler is implying that the prospect of discovering a resolution to the “human contradiction” is unattainable. Because Jodahs is the embodiment of the resolution of hierarchical tendencies and intelligence and is unable to exist on his own therefore the odds of finding a remedy to our contradiction are minute.

            With these in mind I feel that not only is Butler showing us that Jodahs as a resolution is a failure, but that the enterprise is completely unfeasible. Their ability to kill to defend their mates, and Butler’s device of dissolution makes it clear to me that Jodahs is a failure rectify the contradiction not out of design but out of genetic inability to succeed. Butler showing us our human contradiction is embedded into us in such a way that we are unable to correct it.

Aladdin. Dir. John Musker. By Robin Williams and Linda Larkin. Perf. Robin Williams. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 1992. Videocassette.
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York City: Grand Central Publishing, 1989

Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 2004. Print.


  1. Katelyn-
    I completely agree with your assessment of Jodahs as a *failure* to the complete construction between the Oankali and humans. Jodahs does seem to be overwhelmed with potential, both in his own powers and in his potential appearance, which continues to shift. You are right to pull quotations from earlier in the novel where the Oankali are speaking of undesirable human characteristics and showing how these characteristics are embodied in Jodahs.
    However, you seem to only focus on how Jodahs is a failure to the resolution of the human contradiction. In order to do that, I would think you must show how Jodahs exhibits hierarchical tendencies. Nowhere in your text is this addressed and it is only for the existence of this feature that the Oankali view humans as contradictory. This is critical to your argument, if you mean to show us how Butler means to show us something.
    Besides that, I would like to see your Aladdin reference expanded a bit. Right now, I can only hear Robbin William’s voice in my head when I read your quotation and struggle to see how it compliments your argument (although I understand the comparison you are making (which, also, genies are slaves and you mention slaves later in your essay; a chance to make connections?)).
    Finally, I would also like to see more of a focus on the dissolution of the constructs. I believe that this threat is what makes the ooloi constructs act hierarchical, but it would have to be argued well. There is certainly something of the human ‘condition’ in the fear of dissolution (for do not we, as humans, fear a social dissolution without competition within the hierarchy?)
    Hope this helps,

  2. Dean and I agree on nearly everything, I think, so I'll build on what he has to say.

    First, let me reemphasize (in my own words) what I think one of his main points is: to say that Jodahs is a failure is quite different from saying that it fails to resolve the human contradiction. It can be (and likely is) quite successful at resolving the contradiction, while failing in a more general sense.

    At the beginning and end of the essay, I thought you were sticking a little close to what we talked about in class - not that you were doing badly, but it's not terribly interesting.

    Where it *was* very interesting was in the discussion of Aladdin. Maybe you meant that as a clever analogy, but Dean is right to ask you to do more. You're really on to something here - understanding Jodahs as insanely powerful and yet radically bounded is good, but it can be hard to grasp that complexity - doing it through Aladdin is really a fantastic idea. While I was at least fine with everything here, the idea of analyzing Jodahs through Aladdin is really fantastic, to such an extend that researching the "real" mythology behind Aladdin could be very rewarding. Is Jodahs a bounded, semi-demonic power which is ultimately applied to good ends, for instance? There's a lot to be done with this metaphor.