“He” and “I” in Okorafor’s Media Representation

The boy was there. He had no mobile phone. He had never touched a computer. The cramped room he shared with seven other homeless boys and no television. He had no access to any type of screen, large or small. He hadn’t even been immunized against polio. But he was there. (123)

I was there. To be specific, I was in the Testament Cyber Cafe, not far from Bar Beach… Yet there I was in the cyber cafe totally unconcerned, and up to no good. Okay, so I was good at it. I was good at being up to no good. I was good at 419. Nigerian Internet fraud. (194)

I chose to compare these two excerpts because what Okorafor is presenting us with here is an interesting balance between identity, technology, and media. Okorafor introduces the mute boy in the aforementioned scene through the third person, because seemingly he cannot articulate what is going on in his own life. The use of the third person seems conspicuous because we know that being mute does not affect one’s thought processes; but it seems that Okorafor attributing the lack of identity for this individual to his lack of participation in the media of the novel – at least in the way that he does not participate in the technological part of it. Obviously this little boy plays an instrumental part in the novel, and in terms of what the media is representing, he experiences it first hand, whereas most only experience the actions of the book through some type of media representation (YouTube, news columns, etc.). This seems to point at the fact that many people believe that media – particularly social media – is the best way to represent and be your “true self.” Now, I wouldn’t say that Okorafor believes this, since when we look at the other excerpt with “Legba” we can understand his identity through technology and through different types of media to be false – as he is an expert at fraud. Why then should he get an entire chapter to himself in which he is the  main focalizer and voice?

 

Personal note:

Thinking through with Neuromancer and with the cyber cafes in Lagoon, have you ever walked through a casino – like the Bethlehem Sands – and just seen the people mindlessly pulling the levers, oblivious to the world around them? This reminded me of the cyber cafe where everyone just ignored what was going on until if finally crashed in on them.

Also, in terms of technology, many science fiction stories deal with the idea of connecting ourselves to technology, and beyond the obvious connection we have to phones and the internet, I was thinking about our connection to cars. As a commuting student who is put in many tight situations on the major highways coming to school everyday, I would physically get sick if someone crashed into my car – where did this empathy for physical objects come from? Maybe Phillip Dick can help me figure that one out.

The future of science fiction is already upon us!

Ineffective Weapons

In comparing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and “Speech Sounds,” I was interested in how the human characters respond to “otherness” as based on what is considered natural, as opposed to what is supernatural. In “Speech Sounds” we know that the illness affects all people, albeit in different ways, and the result of the ensuing “impairments” is a system of judgement and jealousy. This seems comparable to J.R. Isadore’s view of the world in Androids where he is impaired by the environment and is more interested in his relationship to other humans than he is concerned with the androids he encounters. It seems that the effect of “natural” borne illnesses and reactions creates the larger schism between humans than the presence of superhuman or supernatural enemies (ie. the androids). Perhaps this is related to control: unlike the androids, one cannot terminate an illness with a laser.

What can we depend on!?

“There are no owls, he started to say. Or so we’ve been told. Sidney’s, he thought; they list it in their catalogue as extinct: the tiny, precise type, the E, again and again throughout the catalogue. As the girl walked ahead of him he checked to see, and he was right. Sidney’s never makes a mistake, he said to himself. We know that, too. What else can we depend on?” (41).

This moment in the text emphasizes the suspicious effect of the discourse in the way that the reader is exposed to this new world after W.W.T. through two internally focalized characters (Rick and John), and neither is completely aware of exactly how their world functions around them: they are only knowledgable of their own lives. With the introduction of Rachel, Rick’s own perception of the world is thrown off balance, and the reader cannot help but follow along with the way that he is required to assimilate anomalous information. In this way, the truth is exposed only through the characters experiences with incongruences to what they’ve established as reality; but this cycle continues until the point where we really don’t know what is real or what is not. “What else can we depend on?” — Well I really just don’t know Mr. Dick.

Lost in Translation

I liken LeGuin’s essay “Is Gender Necessary” to a scientific rationale statement, and I was particularly interested in her explanation of novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, as a thought-experiment that is essentially inexplicable and, even more specifically, one that is untranslatable. This very thought appears in the novel, as Genly describes his ignorance of their terminology and practices of Gethen:

I began to think that an inept and undefinable alien should not demand reasons from the prime minister of a kingdom, above all when he does not and perhaps never will understand the foundations of power and the working for government in that kingdom. No doubt this was all a  matter of shifgrethor — prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all important principle of social authority in Karhide and all civilizations of Gethen. And if it was I would not understand it.  (14)

This moment in the text reminds me of how, when you learn another language, there are going to be those terms that you learn where the translation into English completely detracts from the origins and implications of the term. I have experienced this when learning German, and this explanation of how language and culture are inextricably linked reminds me of how LeGuin’s novel is one that has no definitive translation. This ambiguity allows for the reader to interpret the text in any way that he or she pleases to, but LeGuin remains neutral by addressing the fact that even her interpretation of the novel has changed, and continues to change, through time.

Humor as a Device for Estrangement

“I like Illy and not just because he is a sort of tall cross between a spider monkey and a persian cat — though that is a handsome combo when you come to think of it. I like him for himself… But I ask you, how could an arrangement between Illy and me be anything but Platonic?” (Lieber 36).

 I’m really rather fond of Illy’s presence in the story, as his feathery-tentacle-tickling communication methods and odd sayings are comforting in the way that he is described so concretely by Greta. As you can see in the aforementioned quote, Greta is completely honest in describing her disposition to other individuals in the story, and it is a testament to her character to understand how she could find a seven foot tall, fifty pound spider monkey persian cat “handsome,” and how her defense of her Platonic stance hints at an expectation for interspecies intimacy. Interestingly, if we were to make this a more domestic comparison, we could say that their relationship is comparative to a “gay best friend” (not my terminology — and I mean no offense to anyone) vs. lover type of deal, since Illy and Greta are not “simpatico” (36); but by doing this through a comparison of different species, I was taken aback by its outlandishness. In this way, humor in the story seems to work as an estrangement device, one that when translated into a domestic context would not seem as humorous, but would rather be very serious.
 Also, I love the irony with the Platonic relationship considering the fact that apparently Plato is no more because of the operations that the soldiers are participating in.

Relative Size

A moment of comparison that I would like to focus on is between Wertenbaker’s “The Man From the Atom” and Wells’ The Time Machine — specifically how each of these works addresses the unknown through the use of relative terminology.  In Wertenbaker’s story, Kirby chooses to increase in size, rather than shrink, under the pretense of seeing the world in such a way that there would be no “unknowns” (Amazing Stories, April 1926, p. 62). Theoretically, his argument makes sense regarding the importance of understanding how the universe works; but I love how Wertenbaker inverts Kirby’s logic by showing how everything that is large is at the same time small: “A coincidence suddenly struck me. Was not this system of a great ball effect with a nucleus within similar to what the atom was said to be?… [was] a huge electron composed of universes? The idea was terrible in its magnitude, something too huge for comprehension” (Amazing Stories, April 1926, p. 65). By portraying the size of the universe through a comparison to the smallest atom, Wertenbaker is giving us a glimpse at infinity; but I find it fascinating how the experience is told through relatively domestic size comparisons — be it inches, feet, centimeters. I feel that this packaging of the information in relative terms presents the story in an accessible way, since we are not distracted by any incongruences in the description. Wells’ Time Traveller portrays his tale using similar comparisons — one moment in particular is the very end where he is describing the crab as large as a table. At this concluding moment, even the smallest of creatures has become large, and we can begin to understand how science fiction works to defamiliarize the ordinary without totally rejecting the hold that reality has on our reasoning.

A Conspicuous Discrepancy

“Negro lips stretched, eyes bulging…. I, the real I, grabbed the other me, wild, hairy, panting, by the neck, and said to R: ‘Forgive me, for the Benefactor’s sake! I’m sick, no sleep, don’t know what’s wrong with me….’

The thick lips smiled fleetingly: ‘Yes, yes, I understand! I know all about that — theoretically, of course. Goodbye!’

From the door he bounced back like a black ball to the table and tossed a book onto it: ‘My latest. Meant to leave it and nearly forgot. Bye!’ (Wet B) Bounced out,” (Record 11, 63).

This turbulent moment in the text stood out because it is one of the first moments that incorporates any type of racial or ethnic categorization of the Numbers into the novel. While I recall the narrator describing R as “African” at another point in the story, the term Negro seems conspicuous, particularly when viewed against the uniform background of the Number’s society. Why would Zamyatin have the narrator include this type of racial categorization, and what are the implications of this considering the publication history first in English, but translated from Russian?

Upon close reading, another moment in this passage I would like to focus on is the use of “I” and “me” and how the first line becomes confusing with who is speaking and about whom. With the “Negro lips stretched” followed by an ellipse to “I, the real I, grabbed the other me,” Zamyatin blurs the line between R and D-503, since it would seem that the I is connected to the Negro lips, despite the fact that we know that R has thick “African” lips. Furthermore, we are confused by the “I” and the “me” and who is grabbing whom about the neck. At first, I thought that D-503 was grabbing R, but when I read it again this passage seems to describe the internal struggle between the narrator’s two emerging identities. It seems odd, then, that his rebellious self is described as “wild, hairy, [and] panting,” particularly when this description follows the introduction of “Negro lips stretched, eyes bulging.” Does this seem too racial a reading, or do you think it is appropriate?

Final note: I included that last little paragraph with the tossing of the book because the alliteration is spectacular! – and an appropriate representation of the poet in R.

 

Wells: Change and Futility

Upon reading H.G. Wells’ “In the Underworld” and “The Time-Traveller Returns” in The National Observer, it seems conspicuous how the Time Traveller as a character is little changed by the end of his narrative. This lack of change seems to stem, in part, from the lack of a personal relationship between the Time Traveller, the Eloi, and the Morlocks, and also from a lack of scientific reasoning and exploration. Wells’ emphasizes the separation between the Time Traveller and the Eloi and Morlocks, writing in The National Observer: “I could not imagine that they regarded me as their fellow creature, or that any of the deep reasonless instincts that keep man the servant of his fellow man would intervene in my favor. I was to them a strange beast” (“The Time-Traveller Returns,” 12:292,145). This estrangement from the Eloi and Morlocks, coupled with the emphasis on dialogue between the Time Traveller and his contemporary audience, creates a very different type of tale for the reader than in the novel where the Time Traveller formed intricate relationships with the Eloi, and particularly with Weena. Unlike the novel, The National Observer presents the character of the Time Traveller in a very factual way, making it seem as if Wells cannot place his trust in the reader’s interpretation. This comes across in the way that the Time Traveller is more explicit in his reasoning – as with the explanation of Gulick’s “segregation” theory (The National Observer, “In the Underworld,” 12:287, 15), and in the way that he refutes the skepticism of the other characters through specific facts and theories, particularly about our cosmos (The National Observer,“The Time-Traveller Returns,” 12:292, 145-6). Interestingly, though, the Time Traveller himself becomes less dynamic in the way that, where the book emphasized the methods and mistakes of the Time Traveller’s hypotheses and assertions, the serial version of the character defends many preconceived theories with explicit facts and assertions. It seems that this factual way of presenting the material and the characters leads to the reader being as emotionally separate from the Time Traveller as the Eloi and Morlocks are. At first, this seemed to detract from the social suggestions that Wells was making, but upon further examination I find that this separation is a way for Wells to present his ideas in a way that absolves him, as the writer, from any blame. Considering the medium and the audience of this publication, it seems that Wells is attempting to gracefully interject social critique through science, but he is can do so surreptitiously by having the Time Traveller himself take the side of universal futility, as it is illustrated in the concluding paragraphs of “The Time-Traveller Returns:” “But an end comes. Life is a mere eddy, an episode, in the great stream of universal being, just as man with all his cosmic mind is a mere episode in the story of life –” (146). As an “episode” in a magazine, we can understand that all things, even this story, come to an end; but instead of presenting the Time Traveller as a revolutionary character that will inspire the reader to question the ways of the world, we see how little changed he is, particularly when it comes to the integration of his son. Since the Time Traveller chooses to comfort his son by saying that everything will be “all right,” instead of shedding light on the darkness that frightens him, it seems that the Time Traveller’s domestic agenda has not been changed by his travels. This ironic ending is inspiring in and of itself, but I wonder how this ending would have functioned in the novel where the Time Traveller formed such an intricate bond with the Eloi, and even with the Morlocks, and whether the reader would be so willing to accept it, if it is even accepted in the serial version.