Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In his essay "Souls of Black Folk," DuBois tells the story of his first realization that his race made him different from the white children at school, and realized that he was "shut out from their world by a vast veil." Later in the essay he says that the real dilemma of the black american is a feeling of double-consciousness, the need to be both American and black, and the "longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self" without losing either of his cultural backgrounds. He feels that people have to stay in touch with their roots because each race has its own story- its own part in history that cannot be articulated by another race.
In his short story "The Comet," DuBois creates a situation- perhaps what he believes to be the only situation- in which the black character, Jim, is released from the veil that society has put on him. In the story, Jim and a young white woman find themselves as equals, simply because everyone else is dead. DuBois story assumes that the only way a relationship between a black man and a white women would work is if they were literally the last two people on earth. In "The Comet," Jim is also released from his obligation to teach the world about his culture, his blackness, because his status as the last living man surpasses his role as a black man.
At the end of the short story, when it is discovered that there are still other living people, Jim immediately resumes his former role as a black man, a person at the bottom of society. This shows that whatever he and the woman learned in their time together was not lasting. It would take more than this to make a change.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Last Angel of History

Akomfrah’s documentary, Last Angel of History, opens with the story of Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the blues. Akomfrah uses this story to set up music and black culture as a “black technology.” This makes music the center of a relm of science fiction which embraces and celebrates black technology and history. The film then goes on to discuss the three major black sci-fi musicians, Sun Ra in jazz, Lee Scratch Perry in Reggae, and George Clinton in funk. The film uses George Clinton’s Mothership Connection as an important part of the Data Theif story line, saying that the phrase “Mothership Connection” is a key to a code that will reveal the future, and that the rest of the code is scattered throughout black history and music.

Kodwo Eshun also talks about these musicians in his essay Further Considerations on Afrofuturism. He says that “Afrofuturism studies the appeals that black artists, musicians, critics, and writers have made to the future, in moments where any future was made difficult for them to imagine.” It is these moments that the Data Thief is trying to find and use to unlock the secrets of the future.

In Last Angel of History, Eshun is interviewed and he claims that alien abduction has already taken place, in the form of slavery. This certainly sets up the argument that Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn is a neo-slave narrative, with the Oankali taking the place of white slave traders. In fact, in Dawn the biological exchange is referred to as trade, and the Oankali consider themselves traders. The character of Lilith is a science fiction look at a very traditional character- she is a black woman who starts out free but ends as a resentful black mistress, and the mother of mulatto children.

The Data thief is a gatherer of information. His job in assembling the code is to make a composite of all black history. The film Scratch presented DJs in a similar way-
Scratch music is a composite of all music history, shaped and presented through the artistic interpretations of the DJ. In Last Angel of History Greg Tate says that “sampling allows musicians to concentrate all eras of black music onto a chip.” There is also a discussion of “jungle” music, which uses technology to mimic the sounds of traditional drums and rhythms. The film points out that by using technology these musicians not on compile the past, they also embrace a cyborg identity- which becomes an allegory for blacks who need to prove their own humanity because of their color.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Has anyone else read Manjula Padmanabhan's play Harvest? It is about an impoverished Indian family being used by British colonialists as living organ donors. Anyway, it talks a lot about colonialism, and is definitely science fiction, so I thought it had some connections to this class. I liked it, although I missed the performance that they did at the ECT last year...

Monday, April 9, 2007

A New Race

The constructs in Lilith’s Brood really are both Human and Oankali. The constructs are raised in an Oankali family structure and in an Oankali town, in this case Lo, which is itself a living entity; yet their humanity is important to them. They are missing the human drive for violence and some of the human need for independence, yet they understand these needs in a way the Oankali never could. Although the Oankali set out to create a new race, part human and part themselves, they seem almost surprised by the human needs that surface in their construct children. The human parents, on the other hand, seem to be pleasantly surprised by their children’s human qualities, as if they did not expect them.

In Adulthood Rites Akin spends part of his youth living in the Human town of Phoenix, and so he grasps a deeper understanding of the human need for independence than any other Oankali or construct. He becomes an advocate for and later a founder of an all human colony on Mars. He believes that the human conflict, hierarchy and intelligence, will eventually cause these humans to destroy themselves again. He also realizes that part of being human is a need for a second chance, the humans need the hope that maybe this time they can find their own way out of the conflict. “All he could do for them, if he could do anything, was to let them be bound in their own ways. Perhaps next time their intelligence would be in balance with their hierarchical behavior, and they would not destroy themselves.” Akin is the first construct to realize that humans need to be given a choice, because even Lilith resents the way she is forced into loving her Oankali family. As we see in the third novel, the humans Akin meets are right, eventually they are able to reproduce on Earth, somehow the Oankali make a mistake and fertile humans survive, but so do some genetic disorders. Akin’s plan for Mars provides a safer alternative. The humans who go to Mars sacrifice their home planet in exchange for reproductive health and freedom.

In Imago, Jodahs is the first human-born ooloi construct, yet despite its alien sex; its narrative gives us the first glimpse at the ultimate blending of human and Oankali. In many ways it is the most human construct we have encountered in these books. It is easily accepted by humans because its body strives to please them, physically and chemically. It shape shifts to fit the fantasy of its human. “Oankali ooloi frightened humans because they looked so different. Aaor and I were much less frightening. Perhaps that allowed humans to respond more freely to our scent. Or Perhaps, being part human ourselves, we had a more appealing scent.” It is seductive, yet the humans’ feelings for it go beyond a physical or chemical attraction. As Nikanj says at the end of the novel, pheromones only help Jodahs at first, but eventually the humans just love him. The humans Jodahs “converts” do not harbor the same resentments as Lilith. They do not feel forced into mating with him. It finds a colony of humans who have somehow managed to reproduce, but who have been passing on genetic disorders and have crippled themselves with inbreeding. His seductive, lovable nature makes it easy for him to convince these humans that they should join him and have construct children, even though they know that they are capable of having their own human children.

Monday, April 2, 2007

since I am a Theatre dork....

I wanted to make an extra comment on the topic of mixing or sampling. I recently took a class on modern American theatre, and we talked a little bit about some recent playwrights who have started using “sampling” as a way of writing a play. How this works in theatre is that the playwright combines little bits and pieces from several plays or from other sources, like song lyrics, poetry, or excerpts from novels to create the play. These plays also sometimes use other techniques like multimedia and projections. Another thing a playwright could do is mess around with things like location or the chronology of the play. I don't know what that might have to do with science fiction, although the plays end up being pretty abstract and weird... Anyway, I just thought it was an interesting connection to my other classes.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Eshun essay and "Scratch"

In his essay “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism,” Kowdo Eshun says that the afrofuturist movement looks to the past, in hopes of emphasizing the positive history of black culture, while also looking forward to create a future role for black culture. Since so much of history is based in white culture and philosophy, he says that; “It has been necessary to assemble countermemories that contest the colonial archive.”

Turntabilism and DJ culture are steeped in this idea, because at the most basic level a DJ is creating something new from pieces of the old. Digging for old or unusual albums is very important. The music used for sampling is often music from another era of black culture. For example, a DJ may choose to use something from the jazz era in his work, and in this way he is highlighting black musical history. In his essay, Eshun also points out that many musical artists, including George Clinton, Bob Marley, and Sun Ra, look back to ancient African myths and beliefs, including ideas about religion and cosmology, for inspiration. This again puts an emphasis on African cultural history.

But musicians, including DJs, are not simply dwelling in the past. They use the inspiration that they get from their cultural heritage to try to create a new forms of expression. The turntablist music is new, creative, and even futuristic. It is based in technology- the ability to manipulate music by speeding or slowing the tracks or by scratching. Scratching, originally a “mistake” sound, becomes a powerful rhythmic tool- and it is created by a technology that is not considered a normal instrument. Another tool used heavily in early hip hop music were electronic sounds- again, created by computerized, technologically advanced tools that are not traditional instruments.

The DJs in “Scratch” also seem to have a fascination with the future, with science fiction, and even with aliens. Mix Master Mike claimed in the film that his music had attracted intelligent life from another world, and while this was one of the more outrageous claims, many of the other DJs seemed to have pictures of aliens- Qbert had an alien mask sitting next to him during his interviews. Why are all of these DJs so fascinated with aliens and with science fiction? It may be that because they become interested in the technology they use to create their music they also become interested in more theoretical technologies. I also think that it may have something to do with the age and interests of the people who are attracted to this music. Many of the DJs started learning as young teenagers- and many of them were also male. It seems like young teenage boys are the main group with an interest in science fiction movies, books, and even comic books. Qbert related his music to “the force” from Star Wars for example.