Monthly Archives: October 2011

Lilith’s Brood: A Letter to Akin

Dearest Akin,

My little adventurer, a child after my heart who will share my wanderlust. As we feel you kick inside, we can only imagine who you will look like, who you will be like, though Little Mother Ahajas, Dichaan and Nikanj say they know what you will be like. I hope you are healthy; they say you are healthy. Ahajas thinks you will be a boy;  Dichaan also thinks you will be a boy. Nikanj Ooan, too, thinks you will be a boy, but I think it secretly hopes that you will be something extraordinary, something else. It says you will be the first construct male; human males are far too dangerous (they say). Whatever you are, I wish you healthy and happiness.

Being the first construct male will be difficult. You will live straddling two worlds, never fully in either or both. You will understand most (if not all) but find great difficulty in being understood (at all) by one, much less both. For this reason, you must learn to bridge the gap between Humans and the Oankali. While you may have the genetic superiority granted by your Oankali roots, you will also have emotional superiority granted by your Human roots. Learn to make Human expressions to show your Human emotions. Make friends, Human, Oankali, Constructs, where you can – nevermind age old notions and prejudices; they serve no purpose now. Show compassion to those who do not understand. Do not commit violence out of fear; learn to listen, to see, to feel. Use your Human an Oankali senses to guide you.

You destiny is here on earth, nowhere else. Do not be tempted to leave. The Human race, as I have known it, will eventually be consumed by Oankali. Do not resist (we were dying, killing each other off anyhow). The Human essence will remain despite changes in outward appearances and modifications to our weak Human bodies. It is this essence  and improved bodies that will make Humans better than ever. You are the first male of this improved Human race. Help others see this change as a great change! I have a feeling you will accomplish great things! Too bad Joseph Father cannot see you, he would have loved you dearly, he would have been so proud of you!

Love,

Mother Lilith


Lilith’s BROOD: Who has agency? (SPOILER ALERT!!!)

*******SPOILER ALERT*******

The following entry discusses the ENTIRE book, particularly Akin and  Jodah who is in Imago (mostly … a more than good enough reason to read the entire book!).

After our class discussion, I was wondering why Lilith was even on the cover at all. It’s about her brood, specifically Akin, the first construct male, and Jodah, a construct oolio, the first of his kind (I STRONGLY URGE you to read Imago as it answers a lot of questions you might have.). In the end, we return to that question – what does it mean to be human? In the often quixotic quest to answer the question of human-ness, we revisit the same questions over and over. Who has agency? Who has free will? Who has free choice?

There is some contention that Lilith has agency, is somehow empowered, but I disagree. As the story progresses, she is less and less in control, less empowered, her free will biochemically robbed, and her free choice is really her only choice. While she retains her human-ness despite being a parent to several constructs it is with great limitations imposed by the Oankali and its societal familial structure. By Imago, the story shifts to Jodah; there is very little mention of her, and certainly nothing new – she is so un-empowered and disenfranchised, it’s like she’s almost not there …. and that’s why I think Akin and/or Jodah should be on the cover, not her … but then he’s turned into a hideous Oankali oolio!

Let’s first look at her realization that she is quite dis-empowered when she thinks, ” They probably had not lied about that. Maybe they had not lied about anything. Why should they bother to lie? They owned the Earth and all that was left of the human species. How was it that she had not been able to take what Jdahya offered?” (59). What choice does she really have? Not much: return to “sleep” or do what Jdahya wants. She has her human free will and limited free choice but lacks agency though she tries to exert it. In her interaction with Titus, he says, “Don’t do what they expect – just for once. Don’t let them play you like a puppet” (93). Yet in the end, it is Titus who behaves exactly how the Oankali expect a dangerous human male to act. After Peter dies, the survivors note, “He died human!” (196), yet Lilith replies, “So what? What’s changed? On Earth we can change things. Not here” (196). The respondent, who is purposely ambiguous, responds, “Will we want to by then? What will we be, I wonder? Not human. Not anymore” (196). While Lilith and the newly Awakened have free will and limited choice, their ability to act on their world, have agency, is severely hampered by the constraints of the Oankali and the environment. Later, Nikanj impregnates Lilith with Joseph’s seed to make a daughter companion for her (246); this revelation is shocking to Lilith as she’s had the illusion she’s had some power to act in her world, when in fact she has none, the Oankali watch and act according to their plans. Much later in the book, Akin, Lilith’s construct male child, is kidnapped to be sold to no other than Tate and Gabe! Yet at that point, instead of going immediately to search for her lost 3 year old Akin, she attends to the birth of the construct child of her Oankali female mate, Akin’s Oankali sibling that he never properly bonds to. Lo is far more evolved than any of the resister towns, yet has the least amount of free will, free choice and agency. The Lo daily routine is dictated by Oankali societal norms, which in turn is pretty much dictated by oolios (so much for them not being hierarchical). The resisters are no better off, though the have a lot of free will and, seemingly a lot of free choice, they in fact have been robbed of their most important choice, reproduction; their agency is but an illusion.  The only resister camp that remotely has any agency is Jesusa and Tomas’ village. While their village has fertile humans, it is plagued by inbreeding and neurofibromatosis, they start out with some measure of agency, but they soon realize they are dying and only the oolio intervention will prevent them from going extinct thus limiting their free will, choices, and greatly diminishing their agency because there is a price to pay to have an oolio (mated human pair). So as the story goes on, it seems that the Oankali have agency, but that too is an illusion, a form of denial, omission; they are in fact very hive minded (borg-like to me).

Lilith later contemplates, “How could she Awaken people and tell them that unless they could escape the Oankali, their children would not be human?” (117), but she awakens them nonetheless (how terrible to have to decide who to wake up in what order!). Yet later in the book, she regards all her construct offspring as her children (human endearment).  When Akin is kidnapped, Kaliq says about Akin, “He looks okay [human0, that’s what’s important” (341). Neci is severely misguided thinking by chopping off the girls tentacles, exclaiming to Tate, “Why should I? They would be better off without them [tentacles] – more Human!”  (400); she later tries to kill the oolios by fire yet fails. The sense of agency hinges upon the respective species ability to be and appear as themselves – Oankali and Human; to each, it’s black or white, a sum of the whole which Tino and Dichaan examine:

The resisters haven’t betrayed themselves or their Humanity. They haven’t helped you do what you’re doing. They may not be able to stop you, but they haven’t helped you (425). [Tino]

If all Humans were like them, our construct children would be much less Human, no matter how they looked. They would know only what we could teach them of Humans. Would that be better” (425)? [Dichaan]

I tell myself it wouldn’t, […] And to get what I wanted, I’ve betrayed everything I once was (425). [Tino]

It never occurs to them that there is some middle ground. This is further explored when Akin and Dichaan talk about Akin’s metamorphosis:

Then it will be an Oankali species. It will grow and divide as Oankali always have, and it will  call itself Oankali” (443). [Akin]

It will be Oankali (443). [Dichaan]

And Humans will be extinct, just as they believe (443). [Akin]

But we will be Oankali. They will only be … something we consumed 9443) [Dichaan]

It seems like Dichaan has agency, but he doesn’t. He is under the illusion he has agency, free will, free choice, but he really doesn’t. It’s Akin (and later Jodah) who starts to have agency. Keep in mind until his metamorphosis, Akin looked entirely human except for his tongue (easily hidden); he even enjoys a lot of sex with resister women (they find him irresistible …).  In the mean time, some of the humans believe Mars will offer humans a chance to start over, to have and exert free will and choice. Yori wonders, “Why did the Oankali cause this? Why didn’t they offer us Mars years ago” (501)? Clearly, agency is not only tied to identity but location – or is it? Or is it a self-awareness clean of denial and illusions that grants agency? Is it Jodah’s thought that, “I’m Human enough to understand what they’re trying to do” 637)? Or is it his realization of his duality when he says he wants to try to get Mars, “for the Humans and for the Human part of me. Not for the Oankali” (459)?  [Akin talking to Akjai]  Or is it Akin’s willingness as a sub-adult to advocate for Mars for the humans ? Or is when he finally succeeds in getting Akjai to speak for him to the Oankali and get Mars? Do the humans on Mars have agency? If so, how? (There is very little mention of Mars so, of course, it’s pure speculation.)

I am left wondering why I spent much of the book seeing the illusion of agency, never really being able to say any one particular character has agency, and the only character that ever truly has agency is Akin and Jodah.  Does Butler toy with, challenge our notion of agency and its multi-faceted and multi-perspective aspects? I think if you look carefully at Akin and Jodah, you will see in it, the embodiment of agency – Human and Oankali.


In Response to: Crappy romance novels and Lilith’s Brood, or Why Book Covers Matter

In defense of the cover:
Lilith is described of dark(er) skinned, and her hair is described as pictured on the cover. The white “cloth” is or seems representational of Oankali cloth made on the ship and in Lo that is impervious to fire, and presumably earthly dirt and grime.

I found Lilith anything but empowered (particularly at the end of the book).


WE3: In Response to Freud – Rabbit Run Rabbit (says Updike)

In response to Matthew’s post on WE3 and Freud, I find the argument a compelling interpretation.  I’m going to propose a different interpretation: perhaps, they are returning to their pet “selves”.  Could it be home is not a place but a state of being? Or rather returning to the state of being a pet, animal? Finding their lost selves? Remember, each one of these guys was a lost pet.

Bandit (so typical and uninspiring)

He says “gud” and “bad” a lot. Think about how we (humans) raise dogs. GOOD DOG! BAD DOG! Small wonder that Bandit lives in a black and white world of “gud” and”bad”. His ability to talk only verbalizes, adds to his behavior – he just wants to please.

Tinker (lamest name ever for a badass cat)

He just seems like a really angry cat -laid back ears and very destructive behavior. Is his aggression from his technology or natural inclinations and instincts (this seems indistinguishable to me)? Think about how cats are. They do as they please. Tinker wants to be pleased.

Pirate (my favorite character)

On a personal note, Pirate reminds me of Efrim (the rabbit my son had). Rabbits are actually quite smart and social (look at the page where Pirate is amongst real – natural – rabbits). They have some interesting qualities: they can be very eager to please but usually confined to one human person (though they are very social among themselves); they can be pretty mean and very destructive; and, they are long suffering without a sound, a way to complain (other than a high shriek). Rabbits just like to do their thing (i.e., non-stop eating), that’s what pleases them the most. For some reason, Pirate reminds me of Harry Angstrom in Updike’s Rabbit, Run – he really never stood a chance, no matter how fast he ran, or how hard he tried.

Reverting back to pets (or regained humanity)

So, as an additional layer of interpretation, is this a commentary about technology and human-ness? Can or will technology overtake our human-ness? Will we, humans, have the ability to shed our dependence on technology? No matter how much technology we pile on a human, does the essence of human-ness remain and eventually resurface?

I see this story not of finding the place called home, but finding home the return to their animal, pet, nature, state. Yes, the Freudian analysis is very interesting and compelling. It’s not all encompassing, but another lens with which to examine and explore the dynamics of the WE3 animals.

Who is Pirate telling to run? Bandit and Tinker? The rabbits in the field? Or is he talking about himself in third person?

Maybe they should have run …. (who’s telling who to run?). Why are the rabbits standing at attention even though someone is yelling “run!”? How do they or do they see Pirate (and the others?) Why are they not afraid and run right away (as they normally would)? Do they hear Pirate first and assume he is “one of them”, then only run when they see him? How does this affect the interpretation of these scenes, of Pirate, Bandit and Tinker? I think the ambiguity here is intentional and, at the same time, makes a strong statement about nature (human) versus technology and how it is viewed.


WE3 ATTACK!!!

I like how the attack is shown in little boxes set against a backdrop (pp 50-1). Each animal’s attack is depicted in the little boxes.

Eyes

The human eyes either show fear or are gouged out. The glasses that are shot out suggests man can’t hide. However, the dog’s eye is like a red mirror. What’s up with that? The cat’s eyes at the bottom of p 50 show the cat’s mood as he closes in on the kill.

Irony

The rabbit’s foot certainly didn’t bring the men any luck! It’s interesting it’s placed right next to the man’s blown off boot. The WE3 rip the humans into parts, much like the humans added artificial parts and medicine to the WE3.

Symbolism

No foot on the pedal = loss of control by man?

missing teeth = inability to speak well maybe?

Attacks

Although the rabbit isn’t depicted, it appears that he attacks based on the open mouth in the top frame of page 50. Another indicator of rabbit attack (poison) could be the dialated pupil in the bottom panel on page 51. The cat seems to be the most unpredictable and have the nastiest attack of the WE3.

Thoughts

Insofar as the story, this scene is important because it truly attributes human qualities to the animals who, ironically, just want to go home to be pets. At the same time, the animals learn an important lesson about betrayal and fight back as a team. It’s interesting that the nastiest and most unpredictable of the WE3 is named Tinker, whereas there is Pirate the bunny and Bandit the dog who are comparatively mellow. Tinker has anger issues – clearly! I’m curious as to why we see so little of Pirate. The transfiguration of the cat claw through the human hand is so biblical I’m not sure what to make of it.

Design

It’s interesting that the cat and dog are proportionally huge compared to when they are in the lab or, on these pages, attacking something presumably much larger than themselves. The same hue of green is seen on page 51 – top and bottom – suggesting perhaps teamwork? It’s also interesting that some boxes I expected to be large, are large – that is, the size of the box corresponds to the weighted importance to the story. I like that this was done in landscape over two pages. I think some of the effect would be lost if it had been done in portrait landscape. I am curious as to why the cat attacks are set against a warm to neutral background, whereas the dogs is set against cool to neutral backgrounds. The black that frames the attacks is interesting in that the human soldiers are in black, much like a shadow. Is this intentional? If so, what does it mean? Does it reflect the secretive nature of WE3, why they are trying to be covert?