Tag Archives: theory

Fiction Friday: Speech Sounds

My women in literature students read Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds” for class this week. We also read Donna Harraway’s “The Cyborg Manifesto.” In this class, we use Friday as a work day, and the students can work on whatever homework they want to work on. I’m a firm believer that when we ask students to do difficult tasks we should give them grace, support, and time to work on those tasks in class with our support, so I give them Fridays and their abstracts for the theoretical works are due on Monday of the next week. Tuesdays are reserved for discussing the fictional work from the previous Thursday in light of the new theory, then on Wednesdays, we read four poems through the theoretical lens. If you’re really confused about how this works, you can access the schedule here.

Anyway, we read “Speech Sounds” and my students were really insightful about the text and discussed the ways in which Harraway’s theoretical ideas were present in the text. They picked apart the dichotomies and got at the permeable boundaries and were, in short, brilliant about the text. They loved the story as well. One idea we didn’t get at, that I am hopeful we will get at this week through “The Laugh of the Medusa” by Helene Cixous is the idea that the woman, throughout the story, has a voice, but can’t use it. A couple of students brought up these ideas, but sort of skirted around them in discussion. I would love it if we could really get at that idea and explore why Butler writes the female protagonist as a woman who can speak, but who can’t speak within her cultural context. What would she say that the other folks can’t hear? In the context of the story, she’d be killed for speaking, but is there cultural application for Butler’s views on female speech or lack thereof? Yes. Of course. But getting my students to speak thoughtfully about that will be the challenge of this week. Sometimes I love what I do!

Fiction Friday, On Saturday

This week my students read a couple of texts that are worthy of note: “The Women Men Don’t See” by Alice Bradley Sheldon and the Old Testament book of Job. I’m not saying they are both fiction, but we’re studying the bible as literature, so we discussed how Job is part of the wisdom literature tradition. I’m not really going to say much about Job, except for that it was interesting watching church kids really read that text and try to figure out why their ministers or youth ministers had never mentioned Elihu…

“The Women Men Don’t See” is a strange story that, at first, seems to be your run-of-the-mill adventure story where some folks get plane wrecked and some of them wander away to find water or help while some of them stay at camp just in case they might be rescued. However, this story gets stranger and more awkward as it progresses, because the two people who wander away to get water find some other folks out there in the wilderness. The man, Don, hurts his knee on a weird mangrove root, and then it appears as if he also gets stabbed by one of the other folks, though the way Sheldon describes the stabbing is much similar to the way she describes his knee pain, so I wasn’t sure if it was a new injury or the same, just inflamed. At any rate, Ruth, the woman who is also questing for water, makes friends with the others, who turn out to be aliens that look like tripods. The intriguing part of this is that Ruth can understand their alien language, but Don can’t. In the end, Ruth takes her daughter Althea and leaves with the aliens, dumbfounding Captain Esteban and Don and leaving them there by the plain wreckage. See, it’s weird.

My students had an amazing discussion about the way the women in the story are described throughout the story as aliens or others, so they weren’t bothered by the fact the women could understand the alien language. In fact, my students were interested in the ways in which that then turned the tables and marked the two men in the story as other. Since through the first two thirds of the story women are described as interchangeable (Don can’t remember one of his secretaries from another), Other (as opposed to men), or mundane (they behaved by the manual). Once Ruth meets the aliens, the men then become the Other; they can’t speak the language, nor can they understand the customs. And as such, the women leave the men. I was bothered by the fact that the women only ended up having partial agency, because they were able ot then step out of their “manual” interchangeable roles, but only by the empowering force of the aliens. The students loved the idea that language can help turn the tables. Still, the text was a good one, and we’re going to discuss it some more this week.  They did an excellent job of using the de Beauvoir theory to discuss the text as well; let’s see how they do with “The Cyborg Manifesto” this coming week.