Monday, February 23, 2009

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is, by far, my favorite book we've read yet. Connie is a woman who is at the absolute bottom of the social caste in this system's hierarchical structure -- brown, overweight, female, poor, and mentally unstable to boot. However, Connie is considered to be extraordinarily developed by Luciente, the man from 2137 who recruits her to help save the world. In this new, future world, Connie who is ordinarily on the low end of the power scale, finds herself positioned in such a way that she communicates with cops effectively and powerfully. Of course, this would never happen in the New York City of the 70s from whence she comes. In fact, she finds the skills she learned as a welfare recipient and mental patient to be advantageous as she pursues her time traveling mission.

In Mattapoisett Connie comes to appreciate the things about being a woman of color that she has been taught to despise in the "real" world. For instance, she is shocked to learn the role of breastfeeding has been usurped from women and finds a sexless way of accomplishing the same work. Here we can see the workings of womanist epistemology (I don't think the term "feminism" suits what I'm talking about here) when Connie describes the feeling of ancient empowerment that goes along with lactating. It is in this section of the book that Marge Piercy makes a brief, critical observation about Disney characters on plastic diapers, which I think is more interesting proof to consider regarding how largely the brand looms in our imagination when we think of utopic futures.

As noted by Frances Bartowski, whenever the issue of utopia is broached, the author must necessarily consider the family (65). For Connie, this is more than a notion. Her own here and now family is horribly dysfunctional and she can only function negatively and violently in return. In the there and then world of Mattapoisett of 2137, she sees how family issues have largely been resolved, but not without its trade-offs.

Right now there are some interesting bits of datum in the popular field concerning poor women of color or like questionably pure white lineage. As I post this updated blog and explore the issues presented by Piercy -- Barbara Walters is talking about the "Octomom" and Sherry can't stop raving about the "Weave Headed Bullet-Stopping black woman." I'm tempted to capitalize the "b" and the "w" -- like on my drivers license where I am classified as BF. Nevermind the fact that this woman is obviously the victim of an incredible case of domestic violence, which just so happens to be the factor that has been shamefully elided from this entire conversation.

In other words, the media coverage of poor women of color frequently cast them (us?) as the alien other. Even when a women of color seems somewhat normal or relateable, she is viewed as the anomoly -- think Michelle Obama who is pretty and chocolate. Her daughters? More cafe au laite. Thinking futures? How will the Obama girls be cast in the future. I hear rumors of a Hannah Montana appearance. Maybe they can record a new version of "Best of Both Worlds."

Monday, February 16, 2009


Of all the characters in Le Guin's Dispossessed, I'd have to say Shevek is by far the most fascinating and well thought out one. I'm continually fascinated by the notion of unrealized ambition despite evidence of natural talent and drive. Unfortunately, this is the way of the world -- both this one and those of a fictional variety. As has been pointed out in previous posts, the fictional world parallels the one we actually inhabit. Consequently, readers can tap into the power of recognition when we encounter the logic that Le Guin to point us toward.
For instance, Le Guin's concerns about the presence and functions of power seem to be a constant theme actoss the SF genre when we consider the possibility of topics.

Can we really live in a world without government? It seems most difficult to imagine. Some may argue that we are moving towards this self-governing, anarchic frame through virtual worlds. This mirroring of worlds in the case of Annares, establishes limits within themselves -- limits that have been set up by the Other -- Urras. One can only know the other through the exclusion of what is defined as opposite. This is an illusion, though, since they live a shared history that is radically suppressed. Hence Vea's fascination with the Odonians: "The same old hypocrisy. Life is a fight, and the strongest wins. All civilization does is hide the blood and cover up the hate with pretty words" (Le Guin 176). This passage highlights the view that despite the utopic intentions of Annares, social flaws persist.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sheeple Look Up

The world Brunner devises gives me an insight into race and space that I had never considered in quite so interesting a way. It never occurred to me that SF must cling to racialized paradigms, if the genre accepts or chooses, as Michael Stern sees it, "the subject matter historically available" (117). Although somewhat positivists in its plot trajectories, novels of this sort, as in The Sheep Look Up, develops protagonists that are sociologist or pessimistic marxians. And since SLU is the third installment to an unofficial SF trilogy, the reader arrives in a world where "thoughts of good coming out of corporate evil are out of the question" (Stern 120).

This is interesting in this time of economic downturn and the first African American presidency. This is especially true when one considers the fact that the first book, Stand on Zanzibar, in Brunner's irredemably capitalist and ecocidal world features an African American character who is excelling in corporate America. Actually, in the early to mid 70s when these books were first published, the notion of a black man "winning" the corporate game would have indeed been the stuff of science fiction.

Of course with all that's occurring today, I think we should not necessarily be overly-comforted by the fact that a black man is the chief executive of the entire United States system, which is ultimately corporate in nature. So in the eyes of Brunner, a black president is just another creative, method of coopting and observing what seems alternative just for the sake of keeping this global capitalistic mega-mechanism going on ad finitum.

Moreove, the fact of a black American head of state is paradigmatically startling only insofar as one subscribes to essentialist notions of race. I think Brunner and the scholars who wrote about his work fall into this category, and so do we as an audience as long as we are complicit to the behavioral and social procedures that give rice to the separations between race that have already, long ago been established.

Reading the trilogy in reverse order, in fact, it's likely that the books seem less and less SF and more and more realistic.
Sorry, Barack.