Archive by Author

The Objectification of the Sexually Abnormal

18 Apr

In “Aye, And Gomorrah,” Samuel Delany continues his experimentation with the issue of sexuality. Here, he comes with an entirely novel context. And I think that the construction of that context in such a short story reveals Delany’s genius.

The story is spun around encounters between “spacers” and “frelks,” two types of creatures with specific sexual perversions. The abnormality is not understood in the beginning, but  as we go on reading, the backstory gradually unfolds itself. Spacers are people who have undergone a process of “alteration.” They are understandably prepared to undertake the mission of setting up and maintaining the infrastructure on the moon, Mars and the satellites of Jupiter, building water conservation units, programming mining computers, etc. The aim of this neutering is enabling them to endure the huge amount of radiation beyond the ionosphere. Their equipment for that mission has required that they were neutralized at a very early age, when they are still children. We learn that the whole business was unjust and sad. It was a process of exploitation. They are chosen from children whose sexual responses are retarded at puberty. No idea is given how they are sorted in the first place—tests were made, maybe? They were changed into spacers because, we are told, the authorities wanted to “cut down the kids back then—especially the deformed ones” as a solution to the Population Explosion crisis.

An unnamed spacer gives an account of a handful visits he and his fellow spacers—the “platoon”—make  to some cities, mostly European and American. We are not given any clue of how these creatures move from one place to another. But we become aware that it is a swift and delicate movement. They just “come down” in a city, and then “go up.” Only once or twice do we know that they take, when on earth, the bus or the monoline. That is not the issue, anyway. And it is hard to say that their descending may be because they are looking for fulfilling their pseudo-sexual desire. Nevertheless, their contacts center mainly on this issue. It is worth mentioning here that their descending is depressing. Whenever they are met by people, spacers feel that they are unwanted. “Don’t you think that you … people should leave?” they are told. They are supposed to be up, doing “that good work for the government.” While on earth, spacers are known by their blue uniforms, a fact that even some people make use in disguise to hunt for frelks.

As a result of their sterilization, spacers are dispossessed of the capability to have sex. That is the essence of their plight. They are neither males nor females. Their sex is not known to people, since their puberty was prevented from occurring when neutered. The invention of the spacers has entailed the emergence of another “type” of people, namely frelks. Frelks are the only people who find sexual attraction in spacers. They are also described as people with “free-fall-sexual-displacement complex.” Their existence depends on that of spacers. Their desire for sexual contact with spacers constitutes the realm of conflict in the story. Spacers, the sexually abnormal, are objectified by the way frelks look at them, even though frelks show empathy; they are the only people who talk about the alteration with regret. The encounter of the two is characterized by immense disappointment and dissatisfaction. “I want something,” says a frelk girl to the unnamed spacer, “But, you are not the one who will give it to me.” The complicated nature of the encounter continues until the end. A resolution is never suggested, and the spacers have to go up.

Science Fiction: The Word and The Picture

4 Apr

Sensuous elaboration is an attribute that Susan Sontag gives to science fiction films as opposed to science fiction novels. The images, sounds and animation enable the audience to have a distinguishably enriched experience. The possibilities the audiovisual content of science fiction films proffer cannot be made available by the written word. This can be a disadvantage, too. Or at least a great challenge, since the advantage of sensuous elaboration may be the core of some certain problems to science fiction films. The sensory experience of the audience is constantly changing. The bet is always bid on the exciting, the thrilling, the seductive. And so, science fiction films have to always bring the audience to novel realms of sensory experience. The problem with sensory experience is that it dulls quickly in regards to time. What is fascinating at a certain point of time will not be so a couple of years later. Very soon does the audience become familiar with those experiences and take them as a reality.

Moreover, science fiction films usually follow the classic plot of films in general. They do not dare deviate from the three-act, eight-phased sequence prevailing the mainstream film industry. In that way, science fictions films are no different than romance films or even cartoon animated films. I think this is because of the marketing issue. Filmmakers want their films to be successful and reach out to the audience through the conventional channels. This would surely affect the genre and challenge the genuineness of science fiction films. Writers of science fiction novels can be, relatively speaking, immune from the marketing issue. The texts we have read so far exhibited an authentic variety approaching their themes. There are other things to be taken in consideration in science fiction films. First is the accessibility of technology. While novelists can go further in their imaginative capabilities, filmmakers can only lay the task on the skills of technicians. It is ostensible that the writers’ imagination cannot be hindered by the technical stuff. It can go very wild. Imagination has got stronger muscles than technology. It has preceded technology in the first place. Also, filmmakers are always aware of economy. The cost of the machinery implemented in science fiction is a crucial part of the film as an art form. While novelists do not have to worry about this limitation, filmmakers want to make science fiction films with the least expensive machinery. I am pretty sure that much innovation is lost in this process of lowering down the costs.

A Pitfall of La Guin’s Ambisexual World

25 Mar

In The Left Hand of Darkness and “Coming of Age in Karhide,” Ursula Le Guin has wildly experimented with gender and sexuality. Her imagined world is extremely innovative and thought-provoking. Gethen is a planet without gender. Humans who inhabit Gethen are born with neither male nor female identity. Their sexual behavior is strictly controlled, as it is eliminated only to “periods.” It is during those “kemmer” periods that partners physiologically develop either male or female genital organs. Magnificent. Creating a world that is devoid of gender is an enthralling idea. But it is a dangerous one as well.

Although La Guin has managed to deprive people of gender (of course in somer), gender-related features can be ostensibly noticed throughout the novel. It is almost inescapable to think of some characters (Estraven, for example) as males. La Guin contemplates in her essay “Is Gender Necessary?” over the linguistic flaw of the way she has approached the concept of gender in The Left Hand of Darkness. The linguistic part is not everything. The novel, I think, maintains the dual characteristic of gender identification still prevailing today. Maybe we should forgive that if we consider the time the novel was published. I don’t think that by 1969, feminism, as an intellectual thought, has been fully established. Though, years later, when Le Guin wrote the short story, she still kept that dual characteristic of gender. The language has changed. True. So has the perspective. But duality is there.

While considering this problem, we might question the sexual mechanism of the world La Guin has created. I think the idea that one of the partners in kemmer was supposed to develop a physiologically feminine predisposition is but enhancing the dual nature of sexuality La Guin herself is trying to investigate. What is the point, one might ask, of limiting sexual activity to only one fifth or so of the month when, in this very time, one should turn to be male and the other female? Destiny has the upper word, as choice is not granted. That is one crucial aspect of the sexual pattern invented in the novel. The one who turns to be the female conceives and, consequently, is supposed to meet the expectations related to the feminine life of our world. This is a pitfall La Guin’s world seems to fall into. Was it the pragmatic necessity for pregnancy and childbirth that affected La Guin’s treatment of her world? I guess so, though I am not sure.

Black Is Not Right; Neither Is White

21 Feb


By the end of Black No More, it seems, George Schuyler normalizes the appreciation of blackness. But, this is not an easy claim to argue. There are two things to be taken in consideration when embracing such a view.

First, did the early twentieth-century American society need all that shocking chaos to come at that result? Couldn’t the “race problem” be solved in any other way? In the opening chapter of the novel, Max Disher and Bunny Brown, his sidekick, showed interest in following white women only. They had no interest in black women at all. In the concluding chapter, yet, it was stated that girls without stained skin were avoided by the young men, and, similarly, young men without stained skin were at “a decided disadvantage.”

The novel went to satirically discuss what drastic change has happened between the two periods of time. It depicted how the country was severely affected by the color codes its people used to maintain. As we progress in reading the novel, we learn that not only Max Disher and his friends were those who concerned themselves with their color. The whole country seemed to fall into a devastating chaos, on almost every level, that has been caused been the mania of the “shade” of color. Science has played a major role in that economic and social chaos, explicitly because it was approached by “minds” that were sick with racial discrimination.

I can consider George Schuyler’s Black No More as a novel of an apocalyptic nature. Although it doesn’t closely adhere to the tenets and tropes of the genre, but the state the country has been left in at the end of novel may suggest the end, or at least the subversion, of the American society at the hand of wrong implementations of science.

The second thing to be considered is this: Is appreciation of blackness is the alternative for worship of whiteness? Deconstructing the conceptions of the society which had always been taught to adore whiteness would never be an easy task. As we see, as the novel comes to closure, blacks become “whiter than the whites” and whiteness is “evidence of the possession of Negro blood.” Here, Schuyler is not simply turning the society racial concepts upside down. He is blowing them away, totally. And that only ends in a fearful state of uncertainty and insecurity. The society that has been obsessed with “color” is now, more dangerously, possessed with “shade.” It is a rather complex situation society has seemed to indulge into.