Here is the PowerPoint I used for our introduction to and discussion of Octavia Butler’s “The Book of Martha”.
Here is the PowerPoint I used for our introduction to and discussion of Octavia Butler’s “The Book of Martha”.
One of my students found this blog, and I thought it was worth sharing with all of you.
This post is dedicated to Devon, who, at the end of reading Wolfram’s Parzifal, tossed her book on the table in frustration and asked, “Why do the women always have to be given away like property?”
Marie de France, as depicted in a medieval manuscript. (Source)
Name: Marie de France
Birthplace/Dates: France–possibly the Vexin region (between the Ile de France and Normandy), roughly 1140-1215?
Occupation/Claim to Fame: The first person to write what we would now call “chivalric tales.” She was author of several texts (including one translation): most famously, a collection of 12 Lais, brief poetic tales that were forerunners to works like Wolfram’s Parzifal and the Roman de la Rose. Marie also produced a collection of Fables (based on Aesop and other classical sources), and a religious text called The Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick (based on a Latin document…
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The history of the interpretation of myth is about as varied as myth itself. As we delve into Salley Vickers’ Where Three Roads Meet you may want to learn more about how myth was interpreted. After all, one of the two voices in Where Three Roads Meet is Sigmund Freud, who famously interpreted the myth of Oedipus as being about childhood sexual desires, frustrations, and jealousies.
This first link provides a brilliant and succinct overview of how myth has been interpreted in each period from ancient Greece down to the present. It includes everyone from Xenophanes of Colophon, Anaxagoras, Socrates and Plato, to Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Claude Lévi-Strauss.
Where the first link organizes various approaches to myth chronologically from oldest to more recent, this link connects to a page that divides interpretations up according to guiding principles (i.e. “as disguised history”; “as pre-scientific explanation” etc).
Here are three sources that may help you with “Where Three Roads Meet”.
The first is a review written by Salley Vickers for The Guardian. You can read it by clicking here. In addition to summarizing the story of Oedipus, Vickers’ critiques Freud’s theory by suggesting that Freud emphasizes the story of the child who kills his father and beds his mother, while failing to recognize the equally important story of the parents who disastrously fail to murder their child.
This second source is from Liz Gloyn’s excellent blog, Classically Inclined. You can read her insightful, short post here.
The third source I’ve selected is a literary analysis of the role of Tireseas, the seer, in the novel. It’s a bit longer and denser than the other two pieces, but for those of you with time on your hands, you can read it here.
In preparation for reading / discussing Salley Vickers’ Where Three Roads Meet, some of you may wish to listen to or read Oedipus the King. The 1986 BBC adaptation is available, streaming, through NOVA’s library. Search for it in Films on Demand. This link should get you there but you may have to logon using your NOVA ID and password to view the movie.
You can also listen to the play. Audible has an excellent full-cast production of the play as translated by Nicholas Rudall, but if you don’t have an audible account you may wish to listen to this version on Youtube:
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Youtube, 28 September 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9WOQT7qD7w
Some of you may prefer to read the play. There are numerous translations available, but here is at least one online, verse translation.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Translated by Ian Johnston, 2014, http://johnstoniatexts.x10host.com/sophocles/oedipusthekinghtml.html. Accessed 9 Sept. 2018.
You may also want to read this interview with Salley Vickers:
Feay, Suzi. “Interview: Author Salley Vickers explains why Freud got it all wrong about Oedipus.” Independent, 4 Nov. 2007, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/interview-author-salley-vickers-explains-why-freud-got-it-all-wrong-about-oedipus-398566.html. Accessed 9 Sept. 2018.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation fifth season episode, “Darmok,” Captain Picard, played by the fabulous Patrick Stewart, summarizes The Epic of Gilgamesh for an alien commander. In Picard’s account, the focus is not on Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality, but rather on the grief Gilgamesh experiences at the loss of his friend, Enkidu. Gilgamesh’s grief foreshadows Picard’s grief when his alien friend dies. You can see Patrick Stewart telling the story here:
“Epic of Gilgamesh in two minutes by Patrick Stewart.” Youtube, uploaded by paul f, 9 Dec. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCmwClf0F8g.
The following excerpt from de Beauvoir’s classic, The Second Sex, provides a concise introduction to the construction of woman as Other. This text is invaluable in understanding structuralism, and will be referenced by both Rachel and myself as we end our discussion of Gilgamesh and begin our discussion of Circe.
de Beauvoir, Simone. From Second Sex. Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts, edited by Heather Masri, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009, pp. 179-185.
This handout is for students in the fall 2018 free class.
In an earlier post I described how Ursula K. Le Guin confronts her readers with a moral dilemma: is it justifiable for a society to benefit from the suffering of a single “innocent”?
Le Guin prefaces her story by quoting from William James’s “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”:
Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier’s and Bellamy’s and Morris’s utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far‑off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
Although Le Guin does not tell us how we should respond to her nameless, faceless child locked in a basement, the inclusion of this passage signals to the reader the response we should feel – it would be a “hideous” thing to enjoy “the happiness so offered” at the expense of “a certain lost soul”.
I have taught this story numerous times, and have tried to make my students understand that Le Guin is not telling some abstract parable. As Le Guin writes, this is “[the] dilemma of the American conscience”. I tell my students that we live in a nation that has embraced the premise that in order for there to be winners, there must be losers. In my early years teaching “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” I would remind my students that some opponents of same sex marriage argued that legalizing same sex marriages would be the end of straight marriages. In essence, straight people like me were being told that for our families to be valid, the families of gays and lesbians had to be invalid. In subsequent classes we undertook the task of putting a name and a face to Le Guin’s child. The child stood for the LGBTQ community, for people of color, for immigrants, for workers in sweat-shops in far-flung countries making our Nikes, our iPhones, our clothes.
I don’t know to what extent this experiment in making Omelas “ours” and claiming the child has impacted those students. I like to think they left my class with the other passage that Le Guin quoted from William James running through their minds:
All higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary. They present themselves far less in the guise of effects of past experience than in that of probable causes of future experience, factors to which the environment and the lessons it has so far taught us must learn to bend.
Most of my students, I’m sure, walked away from the story without it changing them. They still couldn’t see the child.
But here’s the thing, in the past few months the child in the basement has become real, over and over again. The children of immigrants are torn from their parents and locked away. The official justification for this is that their parents have committed “the crime” of coming to the United States without documentation, and, as “criminals” they do not have a right to be with their children.
The cruel injustice of this policy cannot be overstated. The “crime” these parents committed was that of wanting a better life for themselves and their children. The impulse that drove these families across the hostile desert was the same impulse that led my forbearers to set sail across the stormy Atlantic in a small ship called the Mayflower. Who among us, faced with the reality that the lives of our family were endangered living in the country of our birth, would not make the same choice as these families?
As for the punishment – while the parents suffer in ways I cannot imagine, the harm done to the children must be even more immense. We have known for some time that removing children from their biologic parents has deep and enduring consequences. The trauma we inflict on these children will plant seeds of despair, resentment, anxiety, and fear, and we, as a nation, will reap the harvest we have sown.
At the end of my last post, I wrote:
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” ends by presenting the reader with the two options apparently available to the people of Omelas: either stay in Omelas and accept the suffering of the child as the price of happiness, or leave Omelas and venture out into the great unknown. But here’s the thing – Le Guin has invited us to be co-creators with her. We don’t need to settle for the dichotomy she provides. We can make other choices. In our Omelases we can break into the basement and free the child. We can say that no society that trades the well-being of an innocent soul for its prosperity and happiness deserves to be prosperous and happy. We can end “the Festival of Summer.” And what will we replace it with? How will we rebuild Omelas? In any way we want. Perhaps the Festival of Summer will become the Festival of the Children in which everyone celebrates that suffering is an unavoidable human experience, but that we share the burden of suffering and make choices so that a fragile happiness can be shared by all.
We cannot walk away; we cannot abandon our country to the forces of fear and intolerance. But we also cannot simply accept this crime against humanity. We must fight for those families as if they were ours. As William James tells us, “All higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary.” The time has come for us to be idealistic and revolutionary.
Le Guin closes her preface by focusing on what William James is saying, “Ideals as ‘the probable causes of future Experience’—that is a subtle and an exhilarating remark!” Indeed.
For more on what you can do, click here.