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Discussing Reproduction and the Figure of the ‘Hybrid’ in Teen Speculative Literature

May 13th, 2014 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

A new post on my personal blog, dealing with both fantasy and dystopian texts that focus on a “hybrid” heroine– cyborg, half-breed, or otherwise Other– that might be of interest!

https://mzagoriamoffet.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/less-than-human-reproduction-and-the-figure-of-the-hybrid-in-teen-speculative-literature/

Any thoughts would be welcome!

PLAYING GAMES ON OUR OWN TERMS: AN EXPLORATION OF INDIVIDUALITY THROUGH GAMES IN ENDER’S GAME AND READY PLAYER ONE

February 27th, 2014 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

 

In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, young adults and children play games– they play games in dystopian futures, where the idea of childhood and childhood innocence is long past. In these texts, often game play stands in for this lost innocence; we see a game being played, but it is a war game or a challenge in a virtual world that ends with deaths in the real one. What varies dramatically, however, is how these games are managed and controlled. In Ender’s Game, the fact that Ender and his friends are not in control is pointed out again and again, and even when Ender thinks he’s disobeying the rules, he really plays into the hand of the adults overseeing his progress. On the other hand, Ready Player One gives us Wade Watts, a teen growing up in a world so obsessed with the paradise of a virtual world OASIS that they can afford to turn away from the broken reality around them, who continually reasserts his agency and authority, although his background and his life experience should dictate that he has no right to. He not only breaks and disobeys rules– Wade manipulates others in and outside of the game space to become the ultimate winner. While both set up the notion that children are literally the future and are naturally creative “players” in any game, Ready Player One seems to reward rule breaking while neglecting crucial conclusions to the narrative, while Ender’s Game reinforces the idea that any move made is one that plays into the hands of those dictating the game.

Both Ender and Wade “take care” of themselves, but in radically different ways and while being monitored (or neglected) by the adults around them. When Ender is confronted by bullies, who think he is no longer being monitored by adults, he ends up attacking one of the boys brutally, in self-defense. The officer asks Ender why he didn’t simply stop when he was done, and Ender replies, “Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone. […] I had to take care of myself, didn’t I?” (19). Wade, too, takes care of himself, but not for the sake of a game– for the sake of survival. Ready Player One opens with an explanation of the fact that he’s an orphan, living (partially) with his aunt, who takes the refurbished laptop Wade has put together to pawn for money. She tells him it is to “pay his part of the rent” but the suggestion is that the money is for drugs. After, Wade goes to a broken down vehicle that he has made his safe haven, knowing that he’s had to look out for himself from early on, and no one is monitoring or even anticipating his potential.

Additionally, the construct of the enemy is one that is set up early in each book. In Ender’s Game, Dink, in explaining why he continually refused promotions, tells Ender that “It’s the teachers, they’re the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing” (108). He emphasizes that fact that he was young– six years old– when he was torn from his family and entered into the school and that since then, he has grown to see things in a very different way. His attempt to pass his wisdom on to Ender demonstrates that he doesn’t want Ender to burn out, or even continue fighting to “win all the next ones” like he had before. Instead, his enemy, in the back of his mind, becomes something else. The complicated enemy structure– the buggers, the teachers, the other student teams– in Ender’s Game is radically different from Ready Player One, which focuses on one main “bad guy”– an international company called Innovative Online Industries (IOI). The company has an “oology” division, dedicated to finding the easter egg placed into OASIS by its creator, James Halliday, to gain possession of the company and its fortune. IOI is certainly a critique of capitalism and the greed of big business, and Wade, in imagining the future of OASIS if taken over by IOI, says, “The moment IOI took over, the OASIS would cease to be the open-source virtual utopia I’d grown up in. It would become a corporate-run dystopia, an overpriced theme park for wealthy elitists” (33). In holding with the “ruthless corporate evil” stand-in, IOI sends bombs into Wade’s home in the “stacks” and plants evidence to make it seem like an accidental explosion– all after Wade refuses to help them pass through the first gate of the three gates it takes to get to Halliday’s easter egg. Ender’s enemy is multi-leveled and multi-faceted; the IOI and the man who runs it, Nolan Sorenson, are more one-dimensional fill-ins for corporate greed taken to a drastic and dramatic level.

The act of play and the act of winning are distinctively different for Ender, in the conclusion of Ender’s Game. When Ender finally is moved to command control, under the leadership of Mazer, Card writes “It was pleasure; it was play” (274). For the first time, Ender, with his friends acting under his direct command, has fun against what he is told is a “simulator”. This varies dramatically from the statements about the draining of innocence and the lack of childhood present throughout the later half of the novel. In fact, there’s a clear distinction between a childlike enjoyment of play and the seriousness of the adults– later explained by the fact that they were the only ones who knew what was at stake. Card writes, “The adults taking all this so seriously, and the children playing along, playing along, believing it too until suddenly the adults went too far, tried to hard, and the children could see through their game” (293). It is after this revelation of Ender’s that he realizes he will not play by their rules and instead, implements his own way of “winning” against the “simulated” buggers. The twist, of course, is that those buggers are not simulated and that he had never been playing AGAINST Mazer; he had been playing FOR him, against the buggers, manipulated into annihilating a race and that his “cheating” was simply what the adults were hoping for– a decisive conclusion to the war against the buggers and a huge victory. The games, here, exist on many levels: Ender enjoys the games and seems to have a natural knack for them when he’s in training and he begins to bend, break, and alter rules in order to win; all the while, the adults are monitoring and playing games with him, manipulating until they push him too far, from Ender’s perspective. This final push, however, was the desired end result and it had deadly consequences, along with serious emotional and mental repercussions for Ender. Play and pleasure, as he had initially experienced, are overwhelmed by feelings of betrayal and guilt at the genocide that he orchestrated unknowingly.

It’s quite the opposite, however, in the conclusion of Ready Player One. Play and pleasure continue in the final sequence of Wade’s quest for the egg and his takedown of Sorrento, which is facilitated by data that he had downloaded illegally and sent to news channels about the bombing of the stacks and the death of one of Wade’s fellow gunters, Shaito. He has the voices of his friends to cheer him on in the last levels of the game and is rewarded by becoming invincible in game and extremely wealthy outside of the game (though he, of course, benevolently agrees to split the money four ways with his friends ahead of time). But, with all the pleasure of game play and the satisfaction of winning– both against a computer and against the archnemesis of the book– a message comes across loud and clear: that it is time to move into the ‘real world’. The plan of his love interest, Art3mis AKA Samantha, is to use the money gained by retrieving the egg to rebuild the broken world around them, and Wade comes on board with that plan in the last few pages of the novel. Halliday’s avatar, in his final words programmed into the interaction he has with Wade, is that he realized too late that the outside world matters and that he should have experienced that rather than spending his time in games. The last lines of the novel, as Wade and Samantha first kiss, are as follows: “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the OASIS” (372).

Both Ender’s Game and Ready Player One conclude with a task or quest of sorts– Ender’s Game continues into other stories, while Ready Player One implies the epic rebuilding of a world broken by climate change, economic depression, and general disaster by four teenagers and an eccentric billionaire– Halliday’s partner, Ogden Morrow. Ender feels guilt and horror and proceeds, but still has the skills that he learned through the commander training, while Wade simply has amassed a fortune that could help but has no means or knowledge of how to help the broken infrastructure of a broken world. While Ready Player One has a sweet and uplifting ending, it has troubling implications of what it would take to fix “reality” (ridiculous amounts of money). Wade maintains his individuality and his agency throughout the story as the unprepared-but-somehow-luckily-selected teenager, but at the cost of the end of the story, whereas Ender’s agency is rarely his to begin with. Both teens play, and both pay a price, whether they are aware of it or not.

(This blog is cross-posted on my personal blog, http://mzagoriamoffet.wordpress.com)

Ready Player One: A Discussion

November 11th, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

In the future, the world is left broken: an unrelenting recession has taken hold and governments seem to have simply given up. Most of the world spends much of their time in OASIS– a virtual world that holds almost endless possibilities. The creator of OASIS left a series of clues and begins a competition to find the ultimate gaming Easter egg: the fortune he amassed and ownership of his company. Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One follows OASIS addict and ‘gunter’ Wade Watts through his obsession with games and the virtual reality that has simply become reality for most.

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Please join us next week, on Tuesday, November 12, for a conversation on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One. We’ll be talking about themes of games, virtual identities, competition, motivation, corruption, and so much more and we’d love to see you there! The meeting will be held in room 6417 at 4:15 pm.

First Fall Seminar Meeting– 10/8 at 4:15– Ender’s Game

October 1st, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

10/8- Ender’s Game

View our event flier by clicking the link above!

 

Ender’s Game

Humanity has barely survived its initial encounters with the Buggers, a hostile and inscrutable race of insectoid aliens. In planning for the next conflict, a united Earth has placed its hopes in young generals trained at the Battle School, an orbital military academy. The brilliant Ender Wiggin, the most promising of the Battle School’s young cadets, must overcome the enmity of his fellow students and the cold calculation of the school’s administrators as he prepares for the final battle.

Ender’s Game, first published in novel form in 1985, is a science fiction classic that confronts questions of innocence, violence, empathy, and xenophobia. Alternative Worlds, Possible Futures is hosting a discussion of this seminal book as the first of a series of seminars on games and gaming, and in anticipation of the theatrical release of the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game on November 1, 2013.

We will be meeting on Tuesday, October 8 at 4:15 pm in GC Room 6417. 

Hope to see you there!

Competition and Selection in Teen Speculative Fiction

May 13th, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

When The Selection by Kiera Cass came out, many readers described it as “a relationship or romance-centered version of The Hunger Games.” Now, with the recent release of the second book in Cass’s trilogy, The Elite, this kind of comparison has been rehashed and explored by fans or critics of the novels. To me, The Hunger Games already possessed a romantic component in the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale… but it’s true, the romantic complications in Cass’s trilogy bring on a whole new slew of issues about gender and agency in this “competition-based” subgenre of teen speculative fiction.

The Selection features the heroine, America, who is eligible to submit her name for possible “selection” as one of thirty five young women to be presented as eligible bachelorettes to Prince Maxon. The girls are allegedly chosen at random, which America quickly learns is untrue– the girls narrowed down to the thirty five presented to the Prince are not only chosen on the basis of physical attractiveness, but to a lesser extent, which caste they are from. The castes function around numbers assigned to families and give strict guidelines for what a family can or cannot do. The fives, for example, are an artistic and performance-based class, where all members hone some sort of special skill (like playing violin or crafting sculpture) and then are hired by higher castes to entertain.

A major source of conflict in America’s story comes from the fact that she never wants to register in the selection, but does so at her mother’s bidding. Her romantic interest at the onset of the story, Aspen, breaks up with her specifically so that she will register, in hopes of giving her a better life (and an automatic bump in the caste system) should she make it very far. Although America and Aspen discuss plans to marry, he is clearly uncomfortable with bumping her “down” to a six, as the wife inherits the number of her husband in marriage.

Of course, once she arrives at the palace, America finds herself attracted to the Prince and exhibiting all of the headstrong, willful tendencies typical to romance novels. He falls for her, agrees her to give her more time to grow affectionate towards him and Aspen reappears on the scene as one of the Palace guards, complicating matters further.

Throughout the novel and its sequel, political unrest increases, demonstrated by the number of rebel attacks conducted on the Palace. We grow to understand how the government became a monarchy and how the Selection came to be, as a process to boost morale among the people: after all, anyone can be a Princess. Well, as long as it is contingent upon the Prince’s love.

The crux of the difference between The Hunger Games and The Selection can be read in the respective love triangles. Katniss’s decision to go home to District 12 and eventually slowly grow close to Peeta again is a personal one. Katniss may remain a political icon as the retired Mockingjay, but she remains out of the spotlight. Most importantly, her relationship has no political consequence. While Katniss tells the reader that Peeta eventually wore her down into having children, these children are still a choice made by the couple.

In The Selection, America’s choice of a partner is a political choice and her future children are not a choice, if she decides to marry the Prince. (Alas, the third book’s publication date is, as of yet, unannounced.) When America considers herself as the potential partner of the Prince, she considers herself, as well, taking on the responsibilities of the role she must play as a future leader of the country. She weighs the power that she could yield and at times, that seems more appealing than the idea of a life with Prince Max. At the same time, when she thinks about Aspen as a romantic option, America realizes that she also has the ability to move up in caste by marrying an officer. 

While the comparison in the competition-based speculative fiction is valid, the way that gender operates in each series is very different, especially for the young adult reader. Katniss’s quiet life and the children she didn’t-quite-want to have with Peeta might leave a sour taste for many, but what about the presumed reproductive capabilities and desires of the future Princess in The Selection? Or the fact that a romantic choice that the narration leads readers to believe is between America, Aspen, and the Prince is actually between America and thirty four other girls who vie for the Prince’s affection? America, as narrator, represents her agency of choice in a different light than the actual process of the plot allows. When romance becomes political choice– and that choice is not even one really yielded by the heroine, despite her presentation as such– how can we, as readers, respond to the dynamics at play here?

Gardens, Utopias, and the Impulse of Myth

April 10th, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

Given the imminent arrival of Naomi Jacobs, who will be presenting on Nature, Utopia, and the Garden tomorrow, Thursday April 11 at 4:15 in room 3209 of the Graduate Center, I figured I would share a quote I came across recently in my reading of the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature by George Claeys.

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In his discussion of Oscar Wilde, he writes, “Utopia springs from the same pulse as the myth or the eschatological desire for a better afterlife and thus yearns to realize a condition of happiness, well-being, and social harmony. Indeed, myths of the Island of the Blessed, the Land of the Cockaygne, Elysium, Shangri-La, and the Garden of Eden haunted philosophers, writers, and travellers for centuries and paved the way for the geographical utopia of the Renaissance period and the voyage utopia of the eighteenth century which believed in the transformative quality of alterity” (51).

I’m quite taken by the idea of the geographically-rooted utopia. How could this quote challenge or inform the readings we’ll be looking at for the seminar tomorrow and how can we think about place (and green space) as intertwined with the utopian impulse?

“Baby-Making” as Critiques of Capitalistic Society

March 28th, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

If nothing else, in recent years, American society has become more familiar with ideas of reproductive assistance– from surrogacy to in-vitro fertilization to hormone injections and everything in between. Dystopian literary endeavors seem to have taken these ideas and multiplied them, representing the fears around fertility issues and the medical establishment’s involvement in reproductive assistance– representing fears around literally making babies in removed environments. Some of these representations don’t hinge on the medical; instead, “baby making” is used as a vehicle for a criticism of capitalistic society. The commercialization of reproduction and the way that it is branded, advertised and marketed towards dystopian societies reflects a criticism of capitalism in the most basic way… if these theoretical societies condone the blatant ‘selling’ of the creation of human life, what remains?

In MT Anderson’s Feed, Violet messages Titus with a long backstory of her life, as she knows she’s dying. She talks about her mother and father being together and writes, “I always thought it was strange that they decided to have a kid at a conceptionarium. I guess they really wanted to have me freestyle. They talked about it a lot. Well, I mean, they’d only been going out for a few months, but, you know, a lot for that. Anyway, the ambient radiation was already too bad by then for freestyle. So they went test-tube” (225). The idea of “freestyling” as code for having a child and the prevalence of the conceptionarium in a society made sterile by ambient radiation, so that freestyling becomes a choice or a resistance movement speaks deeply about the highly capitalistic society Anderson gives us. In Feed, the feeds implanted into the wiring of the human mind allow instant communication and provide a constant stream of advertisements, in addition to information and social media. Violet’s parents resist the feeds and opt out for themselves, but her father eventually chooses to allow Violet to get a feed (which leads, ultimately, to her death). In their case, once freestyling fails to produce a child, they have no other option. The parents of Titus, however, recount their decision to have Titus to him as one based in superficial desire; they choose his features based on a little-known actor and add in specific features from their own genetic pool. The making of baby Titus emphasizes consumerism and the aesthetic choices that informed the decisions of his parents, whereas Violet’s narrative underscores the fact that reproductive assistance was so necessary because of environmental factors that even those interested in ‘bucking the system’ were left with no choice.

In the much darker Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, the main character Jimmy/Snowman tells about the downfall of human society when science and capitalism become too intertwined. His stepmother, Ramona, marries his father and they immediately tell him that they want a child. Atwood writes, “Ramona would write him chatty, dutiful messages: no baby brother for him yet, she’d say, but they were still ‘working on it.’ […] If nothing ‘natural’ happened soon, she said, they’d try ‘something else’ from one of the agencies– Infantade, Foetility, Perfectababe, one of those. […] She was doing her ‘research,’ because of course they wanted the best for their money” (250). The competitive baby-making industry represented here, once more contingent on the desperation of a couple who wants to conceive, is even more explicit with the titling of the “agencies” and the marketing that these names represent. Furthermore, Jimmy’s narrative spends time imaging his father and stepmother creating a child in ‘trial runs’ that would allow them to have the perfect child and then load up the child with ‘bloated expectations’ but admits that he secretly envies the unborn child for the advantages that such a creation could give him– including the admiration and support of his father, which Jimmy felt denied of as a child.

Perhaps the most scathing critique of capitalist society is represented by Megan McCafferty in her novels Bumped and Thumped. These books present a world in the wake of the creatively-titled Human Progressive Sterility Virus, known as HPSV. At this point, most people become sterile around the age of 17 or 18, as the virus sets in, and rely upon the adoption of children birthed by teenagers, who are taught from a young age that reproduction is desirable, sexy, and profitable. The book opens by talking about the two twin sisters, Harmony and Melody, in a store called “Babies-R-U”– full of t-shirts that simulate different “sizes” of pregnancies, ‘You-Glow-Girl! stretchmark cream, and other items meant to convince young girls that pregnancy-for-profit is desirable and ‘fun’ as well as necessary. One of the narrators converses with the saleswoman about her pregnancy-simulation, and McCafferty writes, “’And you’ll note the tiny, tasteful stretch marks,’ [the saleswoman] continues, lifting my brand-new expandable-contractable MyTurnTee” (20). Shortly after, the sisters run into newly pubescent girls running excitedly around the store and they notice a girl’s shirt: “The front of the redhead’s T reads: DO THE DEED. As she hops around in excited circles, I catch the phrase on the back: BORN TO BREED. Indeed” (25). The opening of the book with this scene, along with the eventual resistance that the sisters offer to a world full of “reproductive professionals” who are sought out by future parents to get the ‘best’ for their money and infants being auctioned off to desperate, sterile adults, places emphasis on the consumerism inherent in this dystopia. Baby-making by teens becomes necessary– condoms are made illegal– and the purchase of infants as valuable and relatively rare commodities only spurs a capitalistic society towards marketing and selling a fantasy of pregnancy to young women.

Ralph Dumain Guest Blog Post: Reflections on Voyage to Kazohinia Seminar

March 20th, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

Reflections on the Kazohinia Seminar

By Ralph Dumain

Let me express my gratitude for the opportunity to conduct this seminar on Sándor Szathmári’s Voyage to Kazohinia, my most inspiring experience in several months. I was surprised to see not only interest but so much enthusiasm for Szathmári’s novel among the professors, graduate students, and others who attended, most of whom are at least a generation younger than me and can be assumed to have been raised in a cultural environment with a different set of tacit assumptions than mine, not to mention compared to the social background of classic futuristic and dystopian literature of the half-century preceding my birth. But I should also note that some discussants emphasized how funny they found the novel. I am pleased to see progress in the endeavor to place Szathmári, hitherto unknown in the English-speaking world, into the canon of utopian/dystopian literature. Hungarian literature seems to be unaccountably underrepresented in the literary consciousness of our part of the world, and while English translations of works of many Hungarian authors exist, we owe Esperanto a debt of gratitude as a vehicle for transcultural communication in this regard.

The outline for my ten-minute introduction to the seminar can easily be turned into a publishable piece. Here I will focus on the ensuing discussion taking up the better part of two hours. The dozen participants contributed so many valuable ideas I cannot credit them all individually, but will have to for the most part collectively summarize the most outstanding themes and points made.

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There were various comparisons made between Swift’s Gulliver Travels, Huxley’s Brave New World, Kafka’s fiction, several contemporary dystopian novels and Szathmári’s work, as well as comments on common characteristics of the genre of utopian/dystopian literature.

I was asked to comment and fill in some background on Szathmári’s background and perspectives and the relevance of the Esperanto movement. Szathmári was a dedicated Esperantist and internationalist and always destined his writing for an international audience, hence produced his works in both Hungarian and Esperanto. Szathmári harbored quite a bit of idealism coexisting with his unwavering pessimism. I do not have enough information about Szathmári’s overall intellectual background and the range of languages or translations he read in order to make assertions about the philosophical trends to which he was reacting, beyond his satirical references to Hume and Kant. His philosophical perspective remained consistent from the 1930s until the end of his life.

The satire of various nationalisms and empires in the novel, not just Gulliver’s apologetics for the British social order and empire, were pointed out. There certainly is a satire of the capitalist system (in crisis in the 1930s) in the novel, but that does not exonerate in Szathmári’s eyes how the alternative turned out. When queried about this in 1973, the year before his death, Szathmári insisted that his object was not specific social systems, but human nature. In an article published in 1960, Szathmári even denied that material causes were fundamental (as would a Marxist), but rather asserted that human aggression is sui generis.

The question arose in the discussion, as it did in the Esperanto press, as to what extent Szathmári really believed that the Hins represent an ideal society. In the aforementioned interview in 1973, Szathmári insisted that, contrary to others’ claims, Hin society was intended as a positive utopia. Through the decades Szathmári expressed himself repeatedly that we must adapt ourselves to the modern mechanized world, as the instincts and habits that once served survival are now obsolete, but since we are unable to modify them, we are endangering our very existence.

Some questions about Esperanto and the Esperanto movement were also asked. One discussant wondered whether Esperanto itself could be considered an amalgam of science and humanism. While Esperanto has been associated with a range of ideologies and none, it could certainly be said that for Esperanto’s creator Zamenhof, Esperanto’s creation was motivated both by rationalistic and humanistic motives, as was the case for innumerable progressive Jewish intellectuals in the modern world.

Some of the most penetrating observations were brought forth in discussion of the characteristics of the Hins and Behins and in the contrast between the two. One important observation was that while the Hins were anarchistic (while being spontaneously cooperative) and automatically calibrated their actions rationally for the common good completely absent any hierarchy, the Behins were entirely ruled by arbitrary authority. Also noted was the total unpredictability of Behin behavior.

There was a lengthy discussion of the outrageous absurdism of Behin society. While I suggested that the extreme irrationalism of the Behins brought out the rationalistic side of Gulliver, someone else insightfully proposed that Gulliver’s behavior among the Hins was absurd, and that Behin society just presented a different vocabulary for the same notions to be found in Gulliver’s world. (Gulliver of course never recognized the similarity.)

As hilarious as readers found the narrative of the Behins, it is also noteworthy that some found that reading this part of the novel was also such a torturous experience that they were as relieved as Gulliver to return to Hin society. At this point the Hins look pretty good, and they are more conspicuously presented in a positive light. I pointed out the poetic images of Gulliver’s last view of the Hins as he departs on the ocean: a Hin’s outstretched arms to the sun, the Hins swimming in the water thinking to rescue Gulliver . . .

However, before and after this turn in the discussion, various participants questioned the characteristics of the Hins. The Hins were said to have no sense of challenge, limiting themselves to exerting the least effort to accomplish practical tasks. Hins do not understand the motivations of others, and the question is, what motivation do they have to do anything? In the modification of their make-up in the course of evolution, which human traits could or should have survived, and which not?

Much later in the discussion, I questioned the strict utilitarianism of the Hins. What is wrong with pleasure for pleasure’s sake, as befits organic beings? Why is sex, which seems rather perfunctory, still linked with reproduction? Other discussants picked up on this issue, questioning the consistency, viability, and assumptions of the Hins’ brand of rationalism.

While there is no body of relevant critical literature in English, and I do not know whatever criticism can be found in Hungarian, I do know most of the critical literature in Esperanto. I summarized several critiques of Szathmári’s work in Esperanto, of the whole schema and particularly of the notions embodied in the Hins. The most frequent criticisms levied are the strict biologism and undialectical perspective. As I indicated in my introduction, the handling of contradictions and the unresolved questions on the nature of organic beings are taken to a logical conclusion in Szathmári’s 1963 novella Maŝinmondo (Esperanto, meaning “Machine World”), in which the evolution of an intelligent machine-driven world leads to the extinction of all organic life. Several seminar participants expressed their eagerness for me to translate this work into English.

One interesting and important point offered that I had not considered is that while neither of the extremes presented in Kazohinia work for us, neither does moderation, neither does the middle ground. What is then the alternative? It then occurred to me that Gulliver, being British, probably does represent the middle ground of the time, as the Brits’ stereotypical representation is the very epitome of moderation. And so with this satire, the indictment of civilization as we know it leaves no one out.

With regard to relations between the sexes, I pointed out that Gulliver’s final crisis in both Hin and Behin society is precipitated by his encounter with a woman.

Another novel topic introduced by others was the question of custom and causality, made in association with the philosophy of David Hume. There were differing opinions on this. Some took the position that the Behins were entirely ruled by custom, but others, stressing the Behins’ randomness and the Hins’ sense of appropriateness, argued that the Hins are the ones who abide by custom. Kant was also introduced into the discussion. The Hins are born as they are, they do not learn. They could be considered incarnations of the Kantian categorical imperative. I found this interchange interesting also because Hume and Kant are two philosophers satirized in the novel.

I initiated a discussion of C. P. Snow’s notion of the “two cultures.” I also brought up J. D. Bernal’s 1929 transhumanist vision and its possible impact, mentioning also an article contrasting Bernal with Max Horkheimer’s critical theory. I posed a question to the participants: what other works in the utopian/dystopian genre display the sort of dichotomy I outlined in Kazohinia? Several discussants offered a number of examples, which I will have to follow up on. But I was more convinced by Carrie Hintz’s comment that Kazohinia yields not only contrasts, but the clearest example of a dichotomy that she has ever seen. While Francesco Crocco suggested that most utopias incorporate dichotomies, he agreed with my claim that the Hins are an embodiment of positivism as a total way of life. These reactions are very important to me because the dichotomy I see in Kazohinia is one I see running through the modern history of ideas and is central to my own project, and I cannot remember encountering another fictional work that so clearly and outstandingly expresses this dichotomy.

By now you should have a glimpse of why the participants in this seminar were so excited by this novel. Carrie referred to it as a thought experiment. Making your own readerly Voyage to Kazohinia, you will find yourself thinking through the most fundamental philosophical and existential questions. Let us then proceed to advance the incorporation of this Hungarian Esperantist writer into the mainstream of futuristic, utopian, and speculative fiction studies. 

Read more on Dumain’s blog here: http://gxirafo.blogspot.com/2013/03/ralph-dumain-leads-seminar-on-voyage-to.html

April 11: Nature, Utopia, and the Garden with Naomi Jacobs

March 19th, 2013 by Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

Please join us on Thursday, April 11 at 4:15 at the Graduate Center, room 3209 for

Nature, Utopia, and the Garden with Naomi Jacobs

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The garden occupies a special place in utopian representations of the “good place.”  In Judeo-Christian mythology, the Garden of Eden was the place where the first people lived in harmony with nature and with God. For Islamic believers, the paradise reached after death is a beautiful enclosed garden. Thomas More’s Utopians were keen gardeners who vied to outdo their neighbors. Most utopian fictions and projections since More have addressed in some form the importance of the cultivation of both ornamental and useful plants. In contemporary culture, such phenomena as the “Locavore,” and “guerrilla gardening” movements, as well as the shift toward landscaping with native plants, indicate a lively desire to engage with the production of plants, whether as home gardener or as farmer’s market customer, and a conviction that the world would be a better place if it included more or different kinds of gardens. In this seminar meeting we will consider a variety of questions on the relationships between nature, utopia and the garden. Why has the garden been so important in utopian imaginings? What forms of utopianism are at work in environmentalist treatments of nature? Can gardening truly serve as an oppositional praxis? And what does the creation and tending of gardens teach us about our place as natural beings who inhabit a complex natural world from which we draw both physical and spiritual sustenance?

Readings:

I.  Three poems:

Andrew Marvell, “The Garden,” online at  http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/garden.htm  (date unknown, but ca. 1650)

Bernadette Mayer, “The Garden,” A Bernadette Mayer Reader. New York: New Directions, 1992.   84-85.

Eleanor Rand Wilner, “A Moralized Nature is Like a Garden Without Flowers,” The Girl with Bees in Her Hair.  Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2004.

II.  Articles and Book Chapters:

Lisa Garforth, “Ideal Nature: Utopias of Landscape and Loss,” Spaces of Utopia: An Electronic Journal, 3 (Autumn/Winter 2006): 5-26 <http://ler.letras.up.pt >.

Naomi Jacobs and Annette Giesecke, “Nature, Utopia and the Garden.”   Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia and the Garden.  London: Black Dog Press, 2012.   6-17. On reserve at the Mina Rees Library.

Peter Lamborn Wilson, “Avant Gardening.” Avant Gardening: Ecological Struggle in the City & The World. Eds. Wilson and Bill Weinberg. New York: Autonomedia, 1999. 7-34.

Jennifer Atkinson, “Seeds of Change:  The New Place of Gardens in Contemporary Utopia.”   Utopian Studies 18.2 (2007): 237-260

Naomi Jacobs is Professor of English at the University of Maine, Past President of the Society for Utopian Studies, and founding member of the Advisory Board for Utopian Studies, the Society’s journal. With Annette Giesecke, she co-edited the new volume of essays from Black Dog Press, Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia and the Garden. Her publications on utopian and dystopian fiction range from William Morris to Octavia Butler. 

A copy of our flier from the Center for the Humanities: 4.11_Naomi Jacobs Utopia, Nature and the Garden

Podcast by Ralph Dumain

March 5th, 2013 by Carrie Hintz

The Utopian Vision of Sándor Szathmári:

http://www.thinktwiceradio.com/dumain/dumain.html

 


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