Extrapolation

“A More Realistic View”

Reimagining Sympoietic Practice in Octavia Butler’s Parables

Extrapolation (2020), 61, (1-2), 151–172.

Abstract

In this essay, I contend hyperempathy syndrome constitutes a kind of new materialism avant la lettre, prefiguring problems we are perhaps only now in a position to address academically. In other words, if both current scientific and philosophical conceptions of life attest that beings are always already co-constituted by their surroundings, we can no longer rely on a model of subjectivity and personhood that presupposes clear, bounded individuation. Before the popularization of affect theory and new materialism, Octavia E. Butler’s hyperempathy—a condition causing possessors to have an embodied response to visual perception of others’ emotions—provides a speculation on the consequences of the felt, interconnectivity of beings that “sympoiesis” characterizes. Against assumptions that interconnectivity necessarily precipitates more ethical modes of being in the world, Butler challenges static claims about shared substance and experience by providing a more complex depiction of what it means to feel as others do. I argue that Butler’s presentation of hyperempathy demonstrates that sharing experience is not a panacea for human and non-human relations but a restaging of the politics of identification and institutional power on another dimension.

Access Token
£25.00

Works Cited

Anderson, Reynaldo B., and Charles E. Jones, editors. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness. Lexington Books, 2015. Google Scholar

Anderson, Reynaldo B. “Afrofuturism 2.0 & The Black Speculative Art Movement: Notes on a Manifesto.” Obsidian, vol. 42, no. 1, 2016, pp. 230–238. Google Scholar

Beller, Jonathan. The Message is Murder: Substrates of Computational Capitalism. Pluto, 2018. Google Scholar

Bennett, Jane. “The Force of Things: Toward an Ecology of Matter.” Political Theory, vol. 32, no. 3, 2004, pp. 347–372. Google Scholar

Bost, Suzanne. Encarnación: Illness and Body Politics in Chicana Feminist Literature. Fordham UP, 2010. Google Scholar

Bould, Mark. “The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrofuturism and Black SF.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, 2007, pp. 177–186. Google Scholar

Butler, Octavia E. “The Lost Races of Science Fiction.” 1980. Rpt. in Garage, 4 Sept. 2018, https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/d3ekbm/octavia-butler. Accessed 5 Dec. 2018. Google Scholar

Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Grand Central Publishing, 1993. Google Scholar

Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Talents. Grand Central Publishing, 1998. Google Scholar

Cacho, Lisa Marie. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected. New York UP, 2012. Google Scholar

Coole, Diana, and Samantha Frost, editors. “Introducing the New Materialisms.” New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Duke UP, 2010, pp. 1–43. Google Scholar

Dery, Mark. Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Duke UP, 1994. Google Scholar

Eshun, Kodwo. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism.” CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 3 no. 2, 2003, pp. 287–302. Google Scholar

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. 1952. Translated by Michael Philcox, Grove, 2008. Google Scholar

Gamber, John Blair. Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins: Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literatures. U of Nebraska P, 2012. Google Scholar

Grusin, Richard, editor. The Nonhuman Turn. U of Minnesota P, 2015. Google Scholar

Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke UP, 2016. Google Scholar

Hayles, N. Katherine. Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious. U of Chicago P, 2017. Google Scholar

Hinton, Anna. “Making Do with What You Don’t Have: Disabled Black Motherhood in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, vol. 12, no. 4, 2018, pp. 441–457. Google Scholar

Jackson, Zakiyyah. “Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement ‘Beyond the Human.’” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 21, nos. 2–3, 2015, pp. 215–218. Google Scholar

Kafer, Alison. “Debating Feminist Futures: Slippery Slopes, Cultural Anxiety, and the Case of the Deaf Lesbians.” Feminist Disability Studies, edited by Kim Q. Hall, Indiana UP, 2011, pp. 218–242. Google Scholar

Keysers, Christian. “Mirror Neurons.” Current Biology, vol. 19, no. 21, 2010, pp. R971–973. Google Scholar

The Last Angel of History. Directed by John Akomfrah, Black Audio Film Collective, 1996. Google Scholar

Leong, Diana. “The Mattering of Black Lives: Octavia Butler’s Hyperempathy and the Promise of the New Materialisms.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, vol. 2, no. 2, 2016, pp. 1–35, https://catalystjournal.org/index.php/catalyst/article/view/28799. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017. Google Scholar

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Harvard UP, 1985. Google Scholar

Phillips, Jerry. “The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 35, no. 2/3, 2002, pp. 299–311. Google Scholar

Pickens, Therí A. “Octavia Butler and the Aesthetics of the Novel.” Hypatia, vol. 30, no. 1, 2015, pp. 167–180. Google Scholar

Potts, Stephen W. “‘We Keep Playing the Same Record’: A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 23, no. 3, 1996, pp. 331–338. Google Scholar

Price, Margaret. “The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain.” Hypatia, vol. 30, no. 1, 2015, pp. 268–284. Google Scholar

Rieder, John. Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System. Wesleyan UP, 2017. Google Scholar

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford UP, 1985. Google Scholar

Schalk, Sami. Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction. Duke UP, 2018. Google Scholar

Shapiro, Joseph P. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. Times Books, 1993. Google Scholar

Smith, S. E. “To Go Where No Ism Has Gone Before: Disability at the Final Frontier.” The Wiscon Chronicles: Shattering Ableist Narratives, vol. 7, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, Aqueduct, 2013, pp. 83–95. Google Scholar

Syms, Martine. “The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto.” Rhizome, 17 Dec. 2013, https://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/dec/17/mundane-afrofuturist-manifesto/. Accessed 16 July 2019. Google Scholar

Weheliye, Alexander G. Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human. Duke UP, 2014. Google Scholar

Wynter, Sylvia. “Human Being as Noun? Or Being Human as Praxis? Towards the Autopoetic Turn / Overturn: A Manifesto.” Unpublished essay, https://s3.amazonaws.com/arena-attachments/1516556/69a8a25c597f33bf66af6cdf411d58c2.pdf. Accessed 16 July 2019. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Stark, Doug