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?

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