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?