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Damage, renewal, and purity

calamityschild's picture

I would like to explore the concept of damage in All Over Creation. The storylines within the book deal with different kinds of damage: environmental, emotional, and physical. As the Seeds of Resistance fight environmental destruction, by organizing protests and performances to promote their agenda, other characters are confronting their own injuries in their lives. Yumi, her family, and her friends must grapple with their old drama, and as this occurs, some characters are hampered by the physical deterioration. To what degree do the characters believe that ruination can be repaired? The characters tend to view destruction as something that disrupts an entire system. In terms of the environment, it is apparent that they feel as if genetically modified foods are poisoning the sanctity of the natural world and its order. The kind of activism that the Seeds of Resistance participate in betrays a strong faith in the earth's regenerative capacity. 

Emotional relationships might be trickier to fix. Yumi’s reunion with Elliot resurrects a lot of past anger, and although she had spent decades of her life trying to move on from her bizarrely interrupted childhood, she can’t quite shake him. She tried to tell herself that she has matured since she last saw Elliot, saying: “The particular collection of cells that comprised her, the ones Elliott had stroked and f*cked, had long ago been sloughed off and replaced by new ones. Cellular turnover occurred in seven-year intervals, didn’t it?” (208) This was an interesting analogy Yumi made. She seems to be searching for any sort of reminder that she has in fact become a different person, has freed herself from her past. Elliot’s reentrance into her life is a sharp reminder of the memories she had tried to bury after running away. When Yumi does not reject Elliot, she essentially makes herself vulnerable to more emotional damage, which he inflicts, through his lies and carelessness.

The portrayal of bodily damage is shown to be irreversible in the book, where the characters cannot escape their own bodies and the injuries they have sustained. Yumi’s aging parents are portrayed in a surprisingly honest way. The aging process was not kind to Lloyd or Momoko, and their attempts to retain their dignity are often made impossible (Lloyd’s colostomy bag, Momoko’s mental condition). Their physical conditions are permanent. As much as Yumi tries to restore the relationship she had with her parents, their physical limitations prevent her from accomplishing this. In a way, though, their declining health compels Yumi to take responsibility and care for them, and forces Lloyd to communicate with her. Yumi’s abortion, which many characters would consider a kind of damage Yumi sustained, has lasting consequences. Yumi may have gotten over her abortion experience, but many people did not, and she continues to be shamed and apprehended for it. In the book, much of the damage that is sustained by people seems to be permanent, but when it occurs to the environment, there is a strong belief that it can be reversed with the proper care.

Perhaps, in the book, the earth is believed to harbor greater restorative powers than humans do. Renewal, in the book, concerns itself with lineages, whether it be the propagation of the most robust strain of potatoes, or the passing down of history and tradition over generations. Children are central to renewal. Yumi believes that “three wonderful children ought to more than make up for one lousy abortion,” but Lloyd’s rigidity is a sign that they do not absolve her of the offense she committed when she had an abortion (240). This idea is contrasted by Elliot, who was the very reason she had to seek an abortion, when asks Yumi to have his child to compensate for her aborted one. “We took a life, Yumi. Life is sacred. I want to make amends,” he says, but his proposal is met with resistance (386). Can renewal only occur within

Yumi’s abortion also alerted me to the idea of purity being interplayed with the idea of control. It was Yumi’s abortion that alerted me to this. Lloyd and Carl are horrified by Yumi’s actions. In their confrontation, she defends herself, saying “It’s my body. It’s my f*cking life…” only to be met with a harsh slap to the face (202). As Yumi claims ownership over her body, she is protecting it from the influence of the people around her who wish to make those decisions for her. However, this only enrages her father and neighbor, who condemn her autonomy. By declaring sovreignty over her body, does Yumi have the power to overcome Lloyd and Carl's criticism? Is the act of employing control over the natural a terrible thing? Is the manipulation of biology—as in the use of genetic engineering, or the termination of a pregnancy—a contamination of purity?

Nature is just as much a corruptible entity in the book as its characters. The legendary Luther Burbank is referenced multiple times throughout the book, and he seems to be the ideal that Lloyd has tried to emulate in his career. Burbank himself has also toyed with nature, tinkering with it to improve it and use it to his advantage. Burbank “reported that he had to pull thousands of cactus spines out of the cactus pads with pliers, but in the end he succeeded” in creating the spineless cactus (177). Lloyd’s hero did not hesitate to manipulate the natural world for his benefit (which, to me, is all that farming is), but at what point did genetic engineering become a perversion of that process? Don't farmers engage in genetic manipulation to maintain purity or breed stronger plants anyway? How is this smaller-scale undertaking more forgivable than genetic modification?




Anne Dalke's picture

So, calamity's child, let's talk in conference on Wednesday about how far you want to go with the related concepts of "damage" and "damnation" (for starters you might look @ their linked etymologies..;) Are you interested more in physical injury, in its "condemnation" (another linked word), or in the connection between the two...when harm must be judged? (I'm not sure, for instance, that I'd describe the aging of a body--after all, a natural process--as 'damaged.')

Or are you more interested in recovery from damage (the second keyword of your title)? Is that the process that intrigues....?

And then purity! Now THAT word surprised me...along with its association of "corruption." So I guess I'm thinking that this project might be another 'keyword' assignment for you. Which of these words interests you the most, and how might you track its progress through the novel to arrive @ a claim, a thesis, an argument? What arguments in the book most engage you, and which word will let you pursue it?