Interpreting and/or Being the Other

“The pendant attached to it was smooth, glassy, black rock. Obsidian. His name might be Rock or Peter or Black, but she decided to think of him as Obsidian. 

[…]

“Now she wore it, thinking it was as close as she was likely to come to Rye. People like Obsidian who had not known her before probably thought of her as Wheat. Not that it mattered. She would never hear her name spoken again.” (Butler 97). 

This encounter between Rye and Obsidian represents the inability to convey individuality in a world lacking speech and communication, as the act of providing one’s name is traditionally a way for humans to assert their individuality. However, names, thoughts, and interiority in general must be conveyed through symbols, which creates the need for a narrator who bears the duty of interpretation. In this case of naming we see that Rye is provided with a very liberal amount of space to interpret others, using her own creativity and predispositions to project identities and ideas upon others. This effect emphasizes the fact that the reader is completely reliant upon a first-person, familiar, and creative narrator as we cling to Rye’s perspective in order to understand this world. The imperative to interpret is similar to Deckard’s role in discerning humanity within androids, but it is different insofar as Deckard’s own sense of humanity, his interiority, and his own unique tools of interpretation are totally dispensable in DADoES, considering the replacement of communication with incredibly invasive technology. (What is more, we know that these things are dispensable because any sense of Deckard’s interiority is excluded from Blade Runner.) Even though both DADoES and “Speech Sounds” place a heavy importance on representing and interpreting the interior through exterior symbols, the different narrative situations make the reader depend on Rye’s interiority and familiarity to ourselves–as opposed to our suspicion that Deckard may even be an android.

Human adaptability in Dick and Butler

“He gestured obscenely and several other men laughed. Loss of verbal language  had spawned a whole new set of obscene gestures. The man, with stark simplicity, had accused her of sex with the bearded man and had suggested she accommodate the other men present – beginning with him” – “Speech Sounds”

“The clerk said, “For a toad I’d suggest also a perpetually renewing puddle…I suggest you let our service department make a periodic tongue adjustment” – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (244)

One of the major similarities between Butler and Dick is the implicit capacity for human ingenuity and reinvention of normality in response to fundamental changes in the composition of the ‘normal’ world. In “Speech Sounds,” the inability to speak produces immediate challenges and tensions (as seen in the opening fistfight on the bus) but it also showcases the ability of the human race to install a new order and system for ‘normal’ affairs of life. The quoted passage above is frankly brutal and loathsome, but there is also a strange admission of the ingenuity and adaptability required to implement a widespread, generic code of hand signals among strangers. Rye does not think of the complexity of the process required for dissemination of hand signals but rather notes the ‘stark simplicity’ of the action; in a world challenged by muteness, humans still maintain an ability to communicate and invent new methods of interpersonal connection. Likewise, the remarkable inventiveness of electronic animals in DADoES? speaks to the ability of humans to react to a challenging situation, in this case mediated through commercial forces. In the true spirit of capitalism, Dick’s world strives to produce the most satisfactory correction to its problems and demonstrates a certain (albeit limited) capacity to dull the pain of extinction. Both stories retain a clear sense of pain/tension in the loss of crucial details of reality but mitigate (or modify) the oppression of the world through the ability of humanity to evolve in response to conflict and difficulty.