Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brave New World

Greg Garrard's discussion of wilderness creates quite the juxtaposition against Brave New World and E.M. Forster this week. Yet, as Garrad states, wilderness is a relatively new concept, and has both negative and positive connections - as with its depiction as a threat (The Epic of Gilgamesh), or where one lands after Eden, or its association with Satan. But it also epitomizes the "untrammeled realm to which the Euro-American has a manifest right" (60). It is, as Garrad states, a space of purity and carries with it a motif of escape and return.

He also discusses William Cronon’s identification of the “otherness” as part of the discussion of wilderness, arguing that the wilderness quietly expresses and reproduces the values its devotees seek to reject (69). One could argue that there is a wilderness, and an otherness to this wilderness in each of the stories that we read this week. For Cronon, the wilderness is where we go to find that part of ourselves - our soul - that we lost in our artificial lives. Hence, arguably, it could just be an external manifestation of the balance we seek in ourselves.

In The Machine Stops, the wilderness as the "other" exists in the darkness within Kuno, who refuses to believe in the "wearisome" machine. It is this very otherness that his mother - in her sexual relationship/addiction to the Book of the Machine - wishes to avoid. She seeks solace in this artificial life, and has no wish to explore the wilderness - though in truth, she is not as free, nor as happy, as she wishes to believe - as seen in her near comic losses of temper ("spasms of rage," "spasm of horror," "repulsion," "anxiety") that follow her leaving the confines of her armchair, indeed of her prison cell, to experience the outside world. And where, in BNW, the resident would take soma to escape unpleasantness, here one has merely to caress the magic book to find the same comfort.

Forster doubtless wishes us to feel the imprint of nature (i.e. the wilderness) upon such a static world - and indeed the constant references to the sun and other celestial beings is intentional ("defeat the sun," "heavenly bodies," "unfamiliar glow, which was dawn," "keep pace with the sun," "dawn, midday, twilight, the zodiacal path,"), as is Kuno's decision to go outside, to use his natural strength to wander beyond the boundaries. Kuno serves as Forster's attempt to call us back to our otherness - our wild side before science and machines assumed the role of an all-knowing, all-seeing diety.

One can liken this to Bernard's trip to see the New Mexico Reservation and its savages in BNW. Bernard makes this trip to the wilderness as an attempt to balance his own soul, and incorporate the "Other" into his life. This reservation, with its dirt, its disease, its old age, its mother, is a foil to the artificial. And as much as it disgusts him to see it - it allows him his first real opportunity to incorporate his splintered soul back into himself. He may in fact be the first whole person in his community, which as an Alpha-Plus, he must never reveal. Even the Director reminds him (while signing his vacation permission form), that as a member of the highest caste, he has not been forced into an infantile emotional life, but he should at least have the decency to act it. Of course, it is highly unlikely, now that he has been to the wilderness, that he will chose to reject his own fused soul again.

Questions for next week:
- How is Dr. Bloodmoney a distopia?
- Where is the balance between technology and nature?
- How has crime affected the structure of government and authority?
- Can this society ever stabilize?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Week 2: Herland

In “The Concept of Utopia,” Peter Fitting notes Frederic Jameson’s importance in the concept of utopia. According to Fitting, Jameson admits that literary utopia is not representative of society, but is indicative of our inability to conceive of utopia (9). We, according to this theory, are all closed out of the utopian concept – the result of “systemic, cultural, and ideological closure of which we are all in one way or another prisoners” (9). Here we have to identify the Real with references to actuality – in order to neutralize it. (So, according to this concept, we have to identify the real elements of our lives, but even then, we can not properly picture what could be. I’m not sure I agree here – I’m pretty good at visualizing and perhaps I can not sustain a picture of utopia, but I can imagine it without imprisonment).

Gilman references the real (dress, social ethics, gender economy) when conceiving of a utopia that differs from the Victorian world that she inhabits. The only aspect that seems to speak to her Victorian world is, as Bridgitte Arnold notes in “’It Began This Way,’” the Victorian principles of “domination of nature” in the beauty, order and perfect cleanness that Van sees around him. Here Gilman does not seem, for the first time, to be in conflict with the Victorian notions of beauty and femininity around her. Yet the 3 men assume that men must be part of this society because of how civilized it looks (which, as Arnold notes, is because their cognitive maps assume that men are inherently part of cultivating nature). Van, through Gilman, soon sets them straight.

Arnold also notes that all of “the men’s assumptions and prejudices are voiced within the first few chapters. After the first 30 pages it just becomes repetitive, as if Gilman did not trust her reader, or was it too advanced? Still, they would be reading Mrs. Dalloway in 10 years, and here V. Woolf dealt with homosexuality, mental illness, and feminism, and in 1915, D. H. Lawrence wrote The Rainbow on sexual desire and power within relationships (granted, it was burnt for obscenity), and W. Somerset Maugham wrote Of Human Bondage, which dealt with beauty, suicide and prostitution. So the population was not THAT innocent.

Two of our readings this week deal with ecology – Garrand’s Ecocriticism, and Deegan/Podeschi’s article. Garrand’s Ch. 2 provides an introduction to the environmental movement (cornucopia, environmentalism, ecofeminism, etc…), and Ch. 3 breaks down the 3 notions of pastoral (classical, romantic and pastoral). I enjoyed his critique of American pastoral as a promise situated on the other side of the frontier – always receding westward (51). Both texts also discuss the tie between women’s social oppression and nature’s exploitation and their need to subvert the patriarchal order.

And lastly, Gilman’s first marriage, and subsequent mental breakdown, clearly impacted her text. One wonders how she trusted her ex-husband to raise her daughter without irrevocably keeping her locked in antiquarian ideals. Not sure.

Questions for next week:
-How does a sense of space contribute to a patriarchal society?
-How is the “science” different in each of these texts?
-How are both prescient?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Blog #1

As I've not studied Science Fiction before, even in film, I am interested in Jameson's question of whether culture can be political (critical and subversive) without being co-opted back into the social system, on how we distinguish a Utopian (and why is this term always capitalized) dialectic of Identity and Difference, which seems to run concurrent with a future that is recognizable and yet not ( as in Dr. Bloodmoney and probably countless others). It is interesting to me that this genre may have begun with a woman's text (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), so that presupposes that there may be a place within the political for women? Not sure, but will read on to find out.