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Lecture 16: "if separate species we be"


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Sixteenth lecture for my students in English 165EW, "Life After the End of the World," winter 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

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Lecture 16: "if separate species we be"

  1. 1. Lecture 16: “if separate species we be”* English 165EW Winter 2013 6 March 2013 “‘Practical’ behavior is not ‘atheoretical’ in the sense of ‘sightlessness’. The way it differs from theoretical behavior does not lie simply in the fact that in theoretical behavior one observes, while in practical behavior one acts, and that action must employ theoretical cognition if it is not to remain blind; for the fact that observation is a kind of concern is just as primordial as the fact that action has its own kind of sight. Theoretical behavior is just looking, without circumspection.” — Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 99 / 69 * Lovecraft 73
  2. 2. Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937) ● Best known for his stories of “cosmic horror,” particularly those associated with the fictional deity Cthulhu. ● Work – primarily short stories – was primarily published in pulp magazines, especially Weird Tales. ● Has been greatly influential on later 20th-century horror, science-fiction, and fantasy writers. Lovecraft in 1915.
  3. 3. “Cosmic horror” or “cosmicism” ● Lovecraft’s work takes the position that humanity is insignificant to the universe as a whole (and the universe may in fact contain powerful entities that are hostile to humans). ● Common themes in his work that are implications of this position: – Knowledge and understanding lead to madness. ● Truth (the universe, its structure, its scale) is, in the final analysis, incomprehensible. – Humanity is influenced by non-human forces. – Guilt and other effects of one’s decisions are heritable.
  4. 4. Sir Wade Jermyn"a Portuguese woman" Sir Philip Jermyna gypsy 2 deformed children Sir Nevil Jermyn"a vulgar dancer" Sir Robert Jermyna Viscount's daughter Sir Alfred Jermyna singer Sir Arthur Jermyn (“her disposition had been violent”) (explorer; went mad) “densely stupid and given to brief periods of uncontrollable violence”; “a kind of reputation for feats of strength and climbing” (anthropologist; strangled an explorer) “a singularly repellent person” “with this gorilla Alfred Jermyn was singularly fascinated” “something was amiss, though Arthur was the worst” (all quotes are from pp. 74-75)
  5. 5. The hybrid apes “Especially it was unwise [of Sir Wade] to rave of the living things that might haunt such a place; of creatures half of the jungle and half of the impiously aged city.” (74) “Sir Wade’s wild tales of a lost city peopled by strange hybrid creatures. […] certain legends of white apes ruled by a white god” (75) “a nameless, unsuspected race of jungle hybrids” (76)
  6. 6. Arthur’s heritage “Some of the neighboring families who had heard tales of old Sir Wade Jermyn’s unseen Portuguese wife declared that her Latin blood must be showing itself.” (76) “The ape-princess, it was said, became the consort of a great white god who had come out of the West. For a long time they had reigned over the city together, but when they had a son, all three went away.” (76) “of poetic rather than scientific temperament” (76)
  7. 7. The hybrid Jermyns “his second son, Nevil, a singularly repellent person who seemed to combine the surliness of Philip Jermyn with the hauteur of the Brightholmes, ran away with a vulgar dancer.” (75) “With this gorilla Alfred Jermyn was singularly fascinated, and on many occasions the two would eye each other for long periods through the intervening bars.” (75) “They did not expect to hear Sir Alfred Jermyn emit a shrill, inhuman scream.” (75)
  8. 8. Offhand (and direct) racism “The stuffed goddess was a nauseous sight, withered and eaten away, but it was clearly a mummified white ape of some unknown species, less hairy than any recorded variety, and infinitely nearer mankind—quite shockingly so.” (78) ● In addition to the concerns about “hybridism,” you might consider other statements explicitly about race: – “he [Sir Wade] would permit no one to care for his young son save a loathsome black woman from Guinea.” (74) – “it remained for a European to improve on the data offered by old Mwanu.” (77)
  9. 9. “Horror, in this way, shows us our inherent skepticism about absolute progress. […] Dracula, The Call of Cthulu [sic], or The Island of Dr. Moreau present a dark-regressive shadow image of the bright and progressive veneer of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century optimism. The origins of modern horror provide a vivid presentation of the inherent moral weaknesses and often-present darkness in the human imagination.” – Philip Tallon, “Through a Mirror, Darkly” (2010)
  10. 10. Glancing back at Kristevan abjection … “the abject confronts us, on the one hand, with those fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal.” (Kristeva 12) – The experience of abjection is “in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded.” (5) ● Among other things, this is an effect of recognizing the relative scale of the individual life and the vast network of relationships in which it is entangled. ● “Put another way, it means that there are lives not sustained by desire, as desire is always for objects. Such lives are based on exclusion.” (6) – Abjection results, in part, from partial exclusion of repressed material from conscious mental activity. (7)
  11. 11. The borders of “the human” in Oryx and Crake “The Abominable Snowman – existing and not existing, flickering at the edges of blizzards, apelike man or manlike ape, stealthy, elusive, known only through rumours and through its backward-pointing footprints. Mountain tribes were said to have chased it down and killed it when they had the chance. They were said to have boiled it, held special feats; all the more exciting, he supposes, for bordering on cannibalism.” (8; ch. 1) “What’s his [Snowman’s] life worth anyway, and who cares? Out, out, brief candle. He’s served his evolutionary purpose, as fucking Crake knew he would. He’s saved the children.” (107; ch. 5)
  12. 12. “‘That’s all we need,’ said Jimmy’s mother. ‘More people with the brains of pigs. Don’t we have enough of those already?’” (56; ch. 4) “Monkey brains, had been Crake’s opinion. Monkey paws, monkey curiosity, the desire to take apart, turn inside out, smell, fondle, measure, improve, trash, discard – all hooked up to monkey brains, an advanced model of monkey brains but monkey brains all the same.” (98; ch. 5) “They’ve accepted Snowman’s monstrousness, they’ve known from the beginning he was a separate order of being.” (101; ch. 5) “He [Snowman] can imagine the dismay – as if an orang-utang had crashed a formal waltzfest and started groping some sparkly pastel princess.” (169; ch. 7)
  13. 13. The Crakers “There’s a distant murmur from the village: human voices. If you can call them human. As long as they don’t start singing. Their singing is unlike anything he ever heard in his vanished life: it’s beyond the human level, or below it.” (104; ch. 5) “Despite their irritating qualities – among which he counts their naive optimism, their open friendliness, their calmness, and their limited vocabularies – he [Snowman] feels protective towards them.” (153; ch. 7)
  14. 14. “this dissolution of meaning”* “From nowhere, a word appears: Mesozoic. He can see the word, he can hear the word, but he can’t reach the word. He can’t attach anything to it. This is happening too much lately, this dissolution of meaning, the entries on his cherished wordlists drifting off into space.” (39; ch. 2) “Now let’s all choose a word, a different word, so we can each have our own special mantra.” (68; ch. 4) “‘Oryx,’ he says. ‘I know you’re there.’ He repeats the name. It’s not even her real name, which he’d never known anyway; it’s only a word. It’s a mantra.” (110; ch. 5) * Atwood 39
  15. 15. “Jack had a name for the building where the movies went on. He called it Pixieland. None of the children knew what that meant – Pixieland – because it was an English word and an English idea, and Jack couldn’t explain it.” (142; ch. 6) “What’s happening to his mind? He has a vision of the top of his neck, opening up into his head like a bathroom drain. Fragments of words are swirling down it, in a grey liquid he realizes is his dissolving brain.” (149; ch. 7) “I have a daily routine, he thinks. Routines are good. His entire head is becoming one big stash of obsolete fridge magnets.” (148; ch. 7)
  16. 16. As you read on … A suggestion: you should pay attention to the place that refrigerator magnets play in the rest of the novel. How do they encapsulate larger systems of meaning? How are they deployed as self-contained units of meaning? Another suggestion: think about the ways in which the two temporal strands are related to each other, and the mechanisms by which Atwood switches between them.
  17. 17. Media credits The photo of H.P. Lovecraft (slide 2) is in the public domain because it was first published before 1923. Source: a/a2/Howard_Phillips_Lovecraft_in_1915.jpg