Incomplete final remarks on Butler

A very belated and short retrospective on our second Butler discussion; I feel that the several abstracts on Butler have did a lot to point out lines for continued thinking about Parable.

I do want to underline the sheer virtuosity of Butler’s accomplishment in making Lauren’s West Coast survivalism into a plausible response to a plausible near future. This has something to do with the technique of Butler’s realism—its rich detail, its methodical attention to the needs of day-to-day existence—and something to do with Lauren’s persuasive voice in her journal. It’s useful, I think, to compare a journalistic account of a society in collapse—like Patrick Cockburn on Syria—to sharpen your sense of what is fictional about Butler’s narrative of a group of plucky individualists striking out on their own.

In seminar I sensed some resistance to entertaining the proposition that readers like the editors of Octavia’s Brood have to read Butler against the grain to conscript Parable, or the figure of “Octavia,” for a politics of “progressive change.” In particular, they seem to me to have a very different idea of what it means for Butler to be a black woman writer than she herself has (either in her fiction or in her interviews and essays). And the kinds of inexorable change and adaptation Butler’s novel is so interested in are clearly very different from US progressive politics. If I am right, the later readers’ reading of Butler needs to be analyzed not as an intellectual error but as a product of a distinctive reading situation: one in which, first of all, the genre of science fiction has a moral and aesthetic value which is quite distinct from the kinds of value ascribed to it by the institutions of fandom or the marketplace—and which is more typical of the kinds of worth attributed to literature on the post-1970 college or university campus. Once again, then, it is a matter of converting among forms of capital.

Author: AG

Associate Professor, Department of English, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

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