Topics/Focus/Wishes on Class on Joanna Russ’s The Female Man
Jon Hunt to Earl Jackson, Jr.
Here’s what I plan to say about Russ (grosso modo ):COLOR>
the ’scripts‘ which show gender roles as scripted
Virginia Eubanks on Thursday)
Earl Jackson, Jr. to Jon Hunt
Hey, Jon. These are great structural questions for discussion exploration of this really difficult novel.
Here are Earl’s responses to each:
(1) Remember the day I gave the guest lecture supposedly about Delany’s Trouble on Triton (to which I never got thanks to out-of-the-saddle-nostalgia, the perceived need to talk about everything [also known in other circles as the repetition compulsion], persistent lowgrade seizure activity, and just the weirdness of that thing that Augustine claimed to understand when he didn’t think about it but not understand it when he did [known in other circles as „time“]), one of the student’s asked me a terrific question I hoped I would have gotten back to [speaking of subjunctivity]). She asked what about gender in „When it Changed?“ Well, what about answering (or better yet, asking) that question across the whole novel and/or the individual sections of The Female Man ?
Think about the noun phrase, „Female Man“ – does grammar help? What part of speech is „female“? What part of speech is „Man?“ How does Russ apparently differ in strategy from the distinctions I make in my redefinition of „sexual difference“? I’ll give you a hint on the last question there – What is the difference between „female“ and „feminine“ and „male“ and „masculine“ (in my paradigm)? Although this is obviously a different critical fantasy, how does Russ’s „Female Man“ (and her The Female Man) speak to the concerns I’m speaking to in the sexual difference model? (It would be interesting to set into dialogue Russ’s text with the essays of Monique Wittig collected in The Straight Mind, and perhaps even Wittig’s novel, Les Guérillièrres. (This would take us into the literary/paraliterary divide again, but with an interesting twist perhaps).
2) talk about the multiple ‚probablilities’/protagonists. It would be interesting to set into dialogue this problematic with the clones in Le Guin’s „Nine Lives;“ the chronotopes/possibility vectors in any number of Greg Egan’s short stories („The Infinite Assassin;“ the novel, Quarantine ; note how the multiplicity of the 4 J’s makes the circular self-actualizing unity of „All You Zombies“ impossible. And what about those pessimistic clones in The Fifth Head of Cerberus? At the risk of yet again inadvertently abetting the idea that science fiction is about science (when it is principally using „science“ as its image/concept resevoir – which is indeed the case – remember Gibson wrote Neuromancer on a portable typewriter), people interested in beginning with classical genetic theory and moving out to Russ’s specifically feminist, specifically sociocultural, specifically political adaptations of the „concept“ of „clone,“ a fascinating place to start is this great website that archives and presents (and contextualizes) beautifully classical articles of Mendellian genetics. It can now be found at its new site address which is:http://www.netspace.org/MendelWeb/
Here’s a website handson example of what can go awry if you confuse real technology with the metaphors you have deployed technology for (without acknowledging the metaphoricity of either the metaphor you’re using or the technology per se). This was probably a well meaning experiment, but it doesn’t seem to have any tracable content in any stage of its online history. An attempt at visualizing texts, the experimenter uses Donna Haraway’s „Cyborg Manifesto“ as one of them. Click HERE to see the results. Notice anything? What happens to „feminism,“ for example? (loaded question). This was a tangent, but I’m going to be talking about Haraway’s work in my response to point five anyway.]
3) Discuss form (I thought I’d mention particularly the interpolation of
the ’scripts‘ which show gender roles as scripted
This is going to sound really nit-picky, but from experience I can save the class a lot of self-confusion and misguided speculation set in motion through a faux ami: be sure to point out to the class that the word „interpolation“ is not related to „interpellation.“ This is especially important in situations, like this one, in which what your discussing fits in so well with a discussion of ideological fixing (interpellation).
[METANOTE]:As usual, Jon was way ahead of me on this. He had already discussed the differences between the two terms with the class before I ever jotted this down.
4) talk about the subjunctivity of sf
Great! And I can give you a copy of Samuel R. Delany’s now famous address to the Conference of the Modern Languages Association in 1968. He discusses subjunctivity there. The word is ununsual and even hard to say in English, so it ’s good to lay out exactly what it means, first of all so those who don’t like unusual words or jargony-sounding terminology will see the point of incorporating the word into their critical vocabulary (at least for the duration of this course), and secondly because its meanings are so useful and their implications are far-reaching. By giving clear definitions of the terms, it enables the students to use them and to explore those as yet untapped implications of subjunctivity in their own readings/discussions/ of sf and in their papers.
[semi-TANGENT ALERT!]: Speaking of defintions, maybe this would be a good juncture to raise the question again of „utopia“ and – especially since you’re doing Jack Womack’s work next – the „utopia/dystopia pair. Like Disch’s 334 , one of the most frightening things about the world of Dryco in Womack’s novels, is how much of it is readily recognizable.
If you do want to go back to the utopia bit, reintroducing it by dialoging the concept with dystopia might take divert the easy answers from surfacing too soon. Because if Russ’s The Female Man is utopian, it has to mean there’s a more heterogeneous and critical possibility to the subgenre than the easy understanding of the term allows.
And if „utopian“ fiction can be critical, does that imply that „dystopian“ is disempowering, or more of the worst version of alleged „postmodernity“ – i.e. celebrating the universal commodification of culture and thought? I think Womack’s five novels of the Dryco world are good arguments against that dismissal.
Like many words whose meanings we take for granted, the meaning we usually give „utopia“ is actually based on an error (did I ever tell you, by the way, why I think „metaphysics“ is like a Kangaroo?). The „u“ in „utopia“ comes from the greek privative particle [ouk], meaning „not“. „Topia“ of course, comes from „topos“ – place. So „utopia“ is a „place that is not.“ But, especially since the phonetic shape of [ouk] changes according to its environment, some of its forms are pronounced ‚eu‘ which sounds the same (at least in post-Greek European languages) decidedly the same as „u“. Now, „eu“ means „good“ so „utopia“ came to mean „good place“ and „non-existent place.“ The two meanings collapsed into „good, nonexistent place.“ (certainly Aristotle could have warned off such a collapse since nonexistent objects cannot take predicates (a place that doesn’t exist cannot be good). Anyway, this means that a utopian fiction could be about either a good place or a bad place, as long as it doesn’t exist. (i don’t think i’m clearing anything up here so I’ll stop). But Hearitly recomend Andy Wood’s Center for Utopian Studies Web site, which you can get to by clicking on the name of it you just passed by if you’re reading the end of this sentence that ends with this word.
Or click HERE for my pointers and suggestions on sites about the concepts and practices called „utopian.
5) The Cyborg revisted.
Great! a truly famous upaya – that can best be honored with the same degree of blasphemy and irreverence, suspicion and non-innocent rereading that brought the impure, Donna Haraway, „Cyborg Manifesto,“ re-reading it, and then re-reading Samuel R. Delany’s „Reading at Work,“ in Longer Views. I also highly recommend new takes on the cyborg trope in: Modest Witness@secondmillenium. FemaleMan Meets OncoMouseTM
GO TO THE DONNA HARAWAY LINKS
Go to Jack Womack Links
Go to Joanna Russ Links
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