Monday, March 30, 2009

Week 10: A Door Into Ocean

A Door into Ocean is a book about culture and, more specifically, the dichotomies that divide cultures from one another. On the flip side, it is about finding the bridge between the dichotomies to mold cultures together. More so than any of the feminist books we have read so far, I felt that Ocean was really about understanding and coming to terms with perhaps traditionally polarizing traits—rather than, like so many others, showing primarily the differences. On Slonczewski’s (how do you pronounce that name, by way!?) website (, she gives a chart of the book’s polarities as described between the Sharer and Valan worlds—male-female, organic-inorganic, natural science-physical science, healthy-sick, weak-strong, and finally, subject-object. One that she strangely fails to mention, and it is one that I tend to always pick up on (apparently I have a fetish with it) is the capitalism-sharing polarity. And I do see this as a polarity. Early in the book, Spinel is pressured into finding a sponsor. His mother, mistakingly thinking that he is about to announce his new sponsor (when he is, in reality, about to announce leaving for the Ocean Moon) asks him if he is going to a gem manufacturing firm—apparently a desirable occupation. Much like in the world of capitalism, the pressure to obtain recognition, sponsors, and “stonesigns” seems to forget to recognize the human desire to also be altruistic. The sharers, however, live by a system—and through a language—that doesn’t comprehend outdoing someone else for gain, power, or money. Interestingly, it is their language—this subject object phenomenon where both object and subject “share” the same action—that bridges the polarities back together. The idea of such a small language difference that completely alters the way a society views itself and others makes for very important multicultural communication barriers and other considerations.

Slonzcewski convincingly argues for a consideration of what the breakdown of such a language barrier might mean. Again on her website, she notes that

profound insights…may be reached when one dissolves the subject-object distinction. For example, when an unborn child exists within a mother, "the mother exists within the child." This is literally true; much of the mother’s substance forms the substance of the child, and this understanding is fundamental to prenatal medicine. Women who smoke or consume unhealthy substances fail to appreciate this phenomenon.

Such a small, yet profound perspective, can make a considerable difference in the way humans act with each other and with nature. A Door into Ocean really is all about this—breaking down a traditional mindset of subject and object that has for long controlled the way in which human “nature” is constructed. Perhaps something as small as a change in language could alter the way in which we view power, government, and economic systems. It makes me wonder: if the subject-object relation is so polarizing and in effect so detrimental, what might the subject-predicate relationship alter if changed?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Week 8: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Wikipedia generously gave me this quote from Tiptree: “A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” I’m trying to figure this author out. Yes, she had a PhD. Yes, she was in the military. But what makes her think she was the first in these occupations, and why use the word “damned”?

Honestly, her stories were hard for me to stomach. There are authors/writers who are offensive, but they make a good point, a thought-provoking catalyst into a much needed discussion. Then, there seems to be a post-modern approach to being offensive just for the sake of being offensive—a shock-and-awe sort of phenomenon that I have come to loathe. These kinds of artists make a stir, gather a crowd, and raise questions within the field—these are people like Damien Hirst. But there is a third category: offensive because you are sedistic or perhaps unstable. It seems as though Tiptree falls into this category.

This post isn’t a good literature analysis. Tiptree hasn’t put me in that kind of mood. She has made my stomach churn. My questions this week are about an author’s ability to make such hostile arguments and sound legit. How is her making cruel stabs at masculenity, claiming them to be natural rapists and violent animals, any different than racistly generalizing an entire minority and claiming them to be seditious, sex-driven maniacs? Her biggest offense, other than being blatantly graphic, of course, is that she pretends women (all of them) are naturally the opposite—good, wholesome, pure—and that men (all of them) at the root have evil brooding to emerge and explode. She offers no apologies and no rebuttal to this argument, at least not in “Houston.” Perhaps God, though, is used as a scapegoat. I don’t expect everyone to be religious, but her agnoticism (perhaps even making a joke of God) in “Houston” and her it’s-God’s-fault scapegoat argument in “Screwfly” don’t do much for me either. They are weak, unsettling, and superficial finger-pointing statements. All men are evil, raping, killing machines—must be no God. All men are evil, raping, killing machines—uh, God did it, his fault. Seriously?

Perhaps the exclamation to Tiptree’s offensiveness is that she feels impelled to use a pseudonym under which to hide her character. I understand the difficulty women had of being recognized and appreciated in the early ‘70s. I do. And I can see why many felt the need to label their writing under a man’s name to get attention, to be published and read. But if you’re going to be this offensive, then stand up and take the criticism. But the fact is, for stories like “Houston” and “Screwfly,” she had no argument. At least not in her stories. So what I am hoping here is that some light will be shed about her life in the presentation in class. I can only, in the kindness of my heart, give her the benefit of the doubt that her anger has grown from a seed of unfortunate abuse in her life. She obviously has a serious, deep-rooted and vindictive bone to pick with men and I can only assume that she has lost her trust through abusive childhood and marital relationships. What else would cause such sickening writing to be spilt?