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Lecture 22 - The Precarious Life of Emiko


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Twenty-second (and last!) lecture for my students in English 192, "Science Fiction," summer 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

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Lecture 22 - The Precarious Life of Emiko

  1. 1. Lecture 22: The Precarious Life of Emiko English 192 Summer 2013 11 September 2013 “[T]he cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” — Henry David Thoreau “Give me back the Berlin wall; Give me Stalin and St. Paul. I've seen the future, brother: It is murder.” — Leonard Cohen, “The Future” (1993)
  2. 2. What’s a human? “But that had been in Kyoto, where New People were common, where they served well, and were sometimes well-respected. Not human, certainly, but also not the threat that the people of this savage basic culture make her [Emiko] out to be.” (35) The injured veteran: “‘You think I’d soil myself that way?’ He shoves her against the wall, making her cry out. ‘With an animal like you?’” (107) “She [Emiko] is nothing but a windup. She was a fool. She was stupid to hope that he [Anderson] would see her as a person, a woman, as anything other than offal.” (108)
  3. 3. “Emiko is surprised at how happy she is that he delights in her, that he runs his hands over her skin, that he wishes to touch her. She has forgotten what it is to look almost human, to be nearly respected. […] For a time she forgets entirely that people call her windup and heechy- keechy. For a moment she feels entirely human, and she loses herself in the touching, in Anderson-sama's skin. In the security of pleasure and duty.” (221) “The Environment Ministry sees yellow cards the same way it sees the other invasive species and plagues it manages.” (224)
  4. 4. Gibbons: “We should all be windups by now. It’s easier to build a person impervious to blister rust than to protect an earlier version of the human creature. A generation from now, we could be well-suited for our new environment. Your children could be the beneficiaries. Yet you people refuse to adapt. You cling to some idea of a humanity that evolved in concert with your environment over millennia, and which you now, perversely, refuse to remain in lockstep with.” (243)
  5. 5. “I have read about your kind,” the old man [Gibbons] says. “About your genetics. Your training… “Stand up!” he barks. Emiko is standing before she knows it. Standing and shaking with fear and the urge to obey. The man shakes his head. “It’s a hard thing they have done to you.” Emiko blazes with anger. “They also made me strong. I can hurt you.” “Yes. That’s true.” He nods. “They took shortcuts. Your training masks that, but the shortcuts are there. Your obedience… I don’t know where they got that. A Labrador of some sort, I suspect.” He shrugs. “Still, you are better than human in almost all other ways. Faster, smarter, better eyesight, better hearing. You are obedient, but you don’t catch diseases like mine.” (357)
  6. 6. New People “She wills herself to resist, but the in-built urge of a New Person to obey is too strong, the feeling of shame at her rebellion too overwhelming. […] She spins out the story, telling it for this gaijin's pleasure much as she once played samisen for Gendo-sama, a dog desperate to serve. She wishes she could tell him to eat blister rust and die, but that is not her nature and so instead she speaks and the gaijin listens.” (45) “She has good hearing, another thing the scientists gave her along with her smooth skin and her doglike urge to obey.” (197)
  7. 7. “If her kind had come first, before the generippers knew better, she would not have been made sterile. She would not have the signature tick-tock motions that make her so physically obvious. […] Without the lesson of the cheshires, Emiko might have had the opportunity to supplant the human species entirely with her own improved version.” (114) “Mizumi-sensei taught that there are two parts to a New Person’s nature. The evil half, ruled by the animal hungers of their genes, by the many splicings and additions that changed them into what they were. And balanced against this, the civilized self, the side that knows the difference between niche and animal urge.” (154)
  8. 8. “She stifles the urge to clean up the rice, to make things neat for Anderson-sama when he returns. Instead, she makes herself stare at the mess and recognize that she is no longer a slave. If he wishes rice cleaned off the floor there are others to do his dirty work. She is something else. Something different. Optimal in her own way.” (252) Yashimoto: “All New Japanese are fast. You have mistaken the question to ask. How they use their innate qualities is a question of their training, not of their physical capabilities. Hiroko has been trained from birth to pace herself appropriately, with decorum.” (300)
  9. 9. People, through a mirror, darkly “A few yellow cards shuffle the halls. Babies cry, their small voices echoing against hot concrete. From somewhere above, the grunt of sex comes. People screwing in halls like animals, out in the open because they have given up on privacy.” (135) “In the silence, the man’s ragged pleading carries easily. Around them, hundreds of bodies shift and breathe. People glance left and right, suddenly nervous, like an ungulate herd that has suddenly found a predator in its midst.” (190)
  10. 10. “Does she wish this? Or only acquiesce? Is she even capable of refusing?” (116) “And yet if he [Lake] is careful to make no demands, to leave the air between them open, another version of the windup girl emerges. As precious and rare as a living bo tree. Her soul, emerging from within the strangling strands of her engineered DNA.” (184) “The girl Mai makes a reflexive wai to the gaijin. Emiko almost smiles in recognition. She too knows that knee-jerk urge to show respect.” (338)
  11. 11. The extrapolative move “all the while he [Lake] had wondered how everyone had missed the signs. They lost the facility because of that blindness. And now it is the same. A sudden eruption, and the surprise of realizing that the world he understands is not the one he actually inhabits.” (187) “And then she [Emiko] thinks that some things are worse than dying. Some things can never be borne.” (259) “An entire city torn to ribbons over… what? A windup girl who couldn’t keep her place?” (338)
  12. 12. A reminder from lecture 9 For Jameson, SF is a site in which the question of what we want and how this constitutes our epistemological and ontological categories comes to the forefront in particularly revelatory ways. “it does not seem irrelevant to inquire how the Utopias themselves, or their SF analogues, stage wishing as such, and what counts in them in particular as the fulfillment of just such wishes.” (72) “What is then so often identified as Utopian boredom corresponds to this withdrawal of cathexis from what are no longer seen as ‘my own’ projects or ‘my own’ daily life. This is meanwhile the sense in which depersonalization as such becomes a fundamental or constituent feature of Utopia as such.” (97)
  13. 13. What do characters in The Windup Girl want?
  14. 14. Some open questions ● How does SF, as a genre, provide us with ways to understand who we are? ● In what ways, specifically, does SF as a genre reflect on the world that we live in? – Or on the world that we think we live in? ● What kind of a world do we want to live in? ● What’s stopping us? “the experience of Necessity”
  15. 15. Thank you for being such an interesting, engaged group of students. I’ve enjoyed working with you this summer.