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lvasko's picture

Class Notes

Yesterday's class began with a discussion of Yoo Jin's posting on the connections between race and body, disability and colour. If we can take pride in our selves because we are of a certain colour, race, or gender, why should we not be taking pride in another form of "disability".

Alex brought up an interesting point about choice and feminism. If feminism struggles to gain the ability to choose, why aren't we, as feminists, giving agency to those who have a choice to choose and allow them to make their own decisions about their own bodies without passing judgment?

Then we began our discussion of Octavia E. Butler's novel Kindred. The class appeared to be somewhat split between those who loved it and those who found it preachy and didactic. Everyone agreed that the characters were two dimensional and difficult to empathize with and understand. Nevertheless, some affinities were found with Alice, Sarah, Dana, and even Rufus.

We were asked to consider what it meant that the characters were two dimensional. How did it affect the reading and ideology of the novel? We found that the novel placed more emphasis on what Dana was experiencing, rather than on Dana herself. Because of the flatness of the characters, the reader is forced to focus on the events within the novel and the interactions between characters. In class we discussed an interesting parallel that develops between Dana-Alice, Kevin-Rufus, leading us to discuss the possibility that Butler was making a comment on the nature of the inter-racial marriage or, at the very least, inter-racial relations.

But is Kindred a feminist novel?

We broke up into mini groups in order to discuss the novel from the perspective of different feminist theorists: Spivak, Cixous, Butler, Hooks, Stryker, and Garland-Thompson.

Though we had some very interesting discussion about the nuances of the novel, and worked through the likes and dislikes many of the theorists would have with the novel, we did not really reach a concensus about the novels' feminism.

I had a few questions of my own while reading the novel. Every time Dana went back to the 19th century and experienced the horrors and hardships of slavery, she always seemed torn between wanting to kill/get rid of Rufus and needing him to stay alive so that her ancestor could be born. But I couldn't help but wonder, why does Dana feel her own life is so important? What is the reason that Dana must survive? If able to be born, would Dana do something great with her life, life saving and life changing the way killing Rufus would be life saving and life changing? What was Butler's reason for saving Rufus and Dana?

I couldn't help but feel that the entire novel was driven by selfish intentions. Dana wanted to help the slaves, and did, but only so much as to not hurt her own chances at freedom a century and a half later. Every time Dana returned, it was not to help the slaves, it was to save Rufus and to save herself. In fact, the nature of the Dana-Rufus relationship is rather Hegelian: master dependent on slave, slave dependant on master. Destroying the master would destroy the slave.... and strangely enough, the slave's chance at freedom.

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