Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reading Kindred

Notes towards Day 19 of
Critical Feminist Studies

Reading Kindred:
Science Fiction as "Feminist Didactic"?

"longing for an end to questions that had no answers....

"adapting the form of a fantastic travelogue to a
restoration of the genre of slave-memoir"

from Octavia Butler's on-campus visit, November 2002,
"A Parable: Writing Science Fiction in these Times":

"we are either going to continue to play the same record until it shatters,
or we are going to do something else. The best way to do that would be to go someplace else,
where the demands on us would be different...and we would be forced to change...."

I. coursekeeping:
photographing "Generous Feminism" in situ
reading The Book of Salt for Thursday/finishing it by Tuesday
working on the first draft of your final project, due on-line next Wednesday
if you've fallen behind in forum-posting, catch up with longer posts/ blogging
be sure that you have done so before Thanksgiving....

II. afterthoughts from our conversation about disability:
YJ on Cultural Concerns: it's interesting to think about the parallels between disability studies and race....a "colorblind" policy is racist because it denies what is for many people of color a significant aspect of their identity and what they rightfully take pride in....that operates differently for people...not supposed to take pride in their disability. And I say-why not? If having a disabiltiy is a large part of your identity...then you should take pride in can't choose the color you're born, you also can't choose the body or mind you're born with....naming the disability...could be much more...akin to the non-colorblind society P. Walker (and myself) prefer.

The other thing though, is that... it's important to acknowledge...limits in...comparing different "-ism" expereriences (although I know I'm being hypocritical when I just did it myself in the proceeding paragraph).

Ann Dixon on how significant the visibility of identity is: One of the themes that is present in our discussions of race, gender, and disability, is whether we "pass" or not. If we identify as mixed race, do others see that? If we identify as genderqueer, do we nevertheless "pass" as a woman? Is our disability visible or not?

atisman on Disability? I struggled with these "feminist disabilty politics".... with feminist ideas that seem to neglect a discourse of trust....

So, do we change society to fit our needs, or do we change ourselves to fit society's needs?...I take issue...with trying to cancel the problem....people should be able to choose for themselves...whether...they are interested in...change.....Why is there something wrong with our disabilities?


"...all want easier lives. But none of us want them at the expense
of being told that we’re the problem" (from The Curvature:
a feminist perspective on culture and politics

tbarryfigu on Picking it Back Up: how can towards more progressive methods of "living feminism"... How do...we reconvene on a national or global scale?... I just want to see drastic changes that apply to all working women?

Louise Wiener: Some things never change (in response to Rhapsodica's blog, about feeling daunted, then compelled, by the readings): I am from the class of '62 and I was struck as I read the beginning of your comments that at Bryn Mawr some things never change. That amazing sensse of excitement and its parallel gnawing intimidation - wondering if everyone else in the class didn't already know whatever you happen to be studying! At our 45th reunion it seemed everyone was telling someone else how smart and well-read she seemed lo those many years ago (if not still!)

I am fascinated by the discussion and appreciate the chance to taste the challenges of academic discussion again. I have yet to reada the texts, but your comments make them sound interesting enough to inspire me. LWW

Further thoughts/responses??

IV. Reading Kindred as ourselves

"What a reader brings to the work is as important as what I put into it,
so I don't mind attempts to interpret my fiction."

--how does it work on you?
--what does that working tell us?

V. Reading Kindred as an/other

--as Susan Styker:
what does it add to your use of the alien, in the genres of horror story and travel narrative? "being queer means you have some consciousness about norms, and how they are produced--often through violence and suppression of difference--if you are queer you are aware of where your boundaries are, and when you cross them.."

--as Judith Butler:
what does it say to your claims about the limits of discourse and the ways bodies matter? "For 'reading' means taking someone down, exposing what fails to work at the level of appearance, insulting or deriding someone. For a performance to work, then, means that a reading is no longer possible...the impossibility of reading means that the artifice works, the approximation of realness appears to be achieved."

--as bell hooks: how does it interrogate race, representation and spectacle? "a powerful colonizing whiteness...seduces us away from ourselves...the point is not to give us fantasy but to recognize its limitations" (cf. Butler: "I needed my fantasies to shield me from their world").

--as Katie Cannon:
what does it add to the feminist and womanist canons? "to debunk, unmask, and disentangle the historically conditioned value judgments and power relations that undergird the particularities of race, sex, and class oppression...."

--as Rosemarie Garland-Thomson:
how does it extend your notions of the disabled body? "focusing on the singularity and ...immutability of the flesh, and at the same time question the identity it supports" (cf. Dana, "I lost an arm on my last trip home....").

--as Hegel, as de Beauvoir (on playing the roles of master and slave...?
on absolute ethics and pragmatic choices?)

VI. Reading Notes
"...his life could not depend on the actions of his unconceived descendant...he would have to survive...or I could not exist..."(29)

"I knew I could stop him, cripple him....My squeamishness belonged in another age....why couldn't I just turn off my conscience, and be a coward, safe and comfortable?" (42, 106)

"...a a society that considered blacks subhuman, a a society that considered women perennial children" (68).

"We were observers watching a show...pretending to be like them. But we were poor actors. We never really got into our roles. We never forgot that we were acting" (98).

"I can't maintain the distance" (101).

"In a more rational society, an ability to write would be of great help to her" (105).

"The pain was a forced reality on me and kept me sane" (113).

"She had done the safe thing--had accepted a life of slavery becasue she was afraid" (145).

"Educated nigger don't mean smart nigger, do it?...You got more pride than sense" (175).
"If I'm not home yet, maybe I don't have a home"....I was in an alien, dangerous place....I felt as though I were losing my place here in my own time (190-1).

"I might not be 'still me'" (192).

"I felt almost free, half-free...half-way home" (234).

"I got to go before I turn into what you are!" (235)

"If I have to accept limits on my freedom...then he also has to accept limits--on his behavior toward me. He has to leave me enough control of my own life to make living look better to me than killing and dying" (246).

VII. Butler on herself:

"emulsification": "comfortably asocial, a hermit in a city, a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive."

on science fiction:
the space program was part of the general hopefulness of the 60s; that sense of possibility was present during the decade of my adolescence, but...a different world...could be better, could be worse. There's no insurance policy."

on feminism:
"You do what you have to do. You make the best use of whatever power you have."

(per Donna Harraway: she "interrogates kind, genre and gender," and writes about "the monstrous fear and hope that the child will not, after all, be like the parent," about, in other words, our ambivalent attitudes towards the possibility of change)

"our hierarchical tendencies are OLDER than our intelligence, and often drive it; tolerance is forever a work in progress, never completed, never abandoned"

researching developments in biology, physical sciences, genetics; knows that our behavior is controlled to some extent by biological forces, but "sometimes we can work around our programming, if we understand it"

trying to get some mileage out of the idea of a civilization in which people somehow felt/shared all the pain and all the pleasure they caused one another; they would accept differences, since any act of resentment would be punished immediately, personally, inevitably they would have to consider the consequences of their behavior

On reading and writing:
" I just like telling a good story. Every story I write adds to me a little, changes me a little...I write to create myself."

VIII. Further Reading
Lisa Yaszek," A Grim Fantasy": Remaking American History in Octavia Butler's "Kindred." Signs 28, 4 (Summer, 2003): 1053-1066.

Angelyn Mitchel, "Not enough of the Past: Feminist Revisions of Slavery in Octavia E. Butler's Kindred." MELUS 26, 3 (Fall 2001): 51-75

becoming an agent capable of transforming history, Dana becomes to the same degree subject to history

Dana and Alice...each feel the other's choices as a critique of her own; each sees, in the distorting mirror of the other, her potential fate

the past is...constructed by the the way we choose to interpret that which is remembered

"He has to leave me enough control of my own life to make living look better to me than killing and dying" (246)...control is the essence of personal freedom: having command of one's own thoughts, desires and actions

Alice exercises her right to choose death, freedom of a different sort, over bondage.

for the nineteenth-century enslaved black woman,
[what] possibilities for self-definition existed?

Butler may be critiquing the lack of post-integration communal life for contemporary African-Americans

her arm...left behind in the past...symbolic gesture...history has a lingering effect on the present

Both black and white Americans must confront their shared past of racism, must acknowledge the pain and the scars of that past, and must live together as kindred.