30 September 2014

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 104

It turns out that I shouldn't have been so worried about running out of time. The last three chapters are so short that writing about them may take less time than reading them! =P We've all been wondering how Jimmy turned into Snowman; now we know. But does solving the mystery make us feel any better?

I don't have much time, but I will try to set down what I believe to be the explanation for the recent extraordinary events catastrophe. I have gone through the computer of the man known here as Crake. He left it turned on--deliberately, I believe--and I am able to report that the JUVE virus was made here in the Paradice dome by splicers hand-selected by Crake and subsequently eliminated, and was then encysted in the BlyssPlus product. There was a time-lapse factor built in to allow for wide distribution: the first batch of virus did not become active until all selected territories had been seeded, and the outbreak thus took the form of a series of rapidly overlapping waves. For the success of the plan, time was of the essence. Social disruption was maximised, and development of a vaccine effectively prevented. Crake himself had developed a vaccine concurrently with the virus, but he had destroyed it prior to his assisted suicide death.

Although various members of the BlyssPluss project contributed to JUVE on a piecework basis, it is my belief that none, with the exception of Crake, was cognisant of what that effect would be. As for Crake's motives, I can only speculate. Perhaps . . .

After we read Jimmy's last message, he effectively destroys it--and we read, "It is the fate of these words to be eaten by beetles." At first I thought that was part of his dramatic internal monologue. Then I realised that it could also be Margaret Atwood's omniscient third person perspective. Both work, but the latter is infinitely sadder. When the author of your world gives up on you, then all you have is despair. At least the author of the Crakers' world was more beneficent than that, even if he was also a psychopathic loon.


Chapters 13 to 15
("Bubble" to "Footprint")

Crake is such an INTP, isn't he? (That's the Myers-Briggs supervillain type, in case you didn't know. LOL!) But what sets him apart from other supervillains is that he doesn't stick around to see the fruits of his labour: he's so sure that they will be what he has envisioned. And so logical is he that after he accepted the premise that all evil must be eradicated forever, even at the expense of every last human being on the planet, he committed suicide himself. Or so Jimmy thinks. And we have no reason to think otherwise at this point.

But it seems that the joke is on Crake. If he had known that his painstakingly engineered Crakers were capable of developing a sense of the transcendent and a desire to express it, he would have spent more time tinkering on them.

"Why would they hurt us?" asked Sojourner Truth.

"They might hurt you by mistake," said Snowman. "As the ground hurts you when you fall on it."

"But it is not the ground's wish to hurt us."

"Oryx has told us that the ground is our friend."

"It grows our food for us."

"Yes," said Snowman. "But Crake made the ground hard. Otherwise we would not be able to walk on it."

LOL--but how I love that passage! Jimmy may cringe at the "illogic" of his myth weaving, but I think he shows great storytelling skill. =) He turns Oryx and Crake into a perfect pair of co-creators. Crake created the people; Oryx created the animals. Crake made the world useful; Oryx made it friendlier. Father Sky; Mother Earth. I'd say that it's enough to make the real Crake have a seizure in his grave, but we know that he doesn't have a proper grave. (Granted, that doesn't rule out a figurative seizure.)

Then again, perhaps their creator wouldn't mind too much. He doesn't seem to have demonised religion. (Heck, he doesn't seem to have noticed religion's existence.) For him, the essential thing to control was the human sex drive. And perhaps even Crakers with the intellectual potential to convert to Christianity will still always perform the "blue" mating ritual . . . or need drugs to overcome it.

On the other hand, there was something unrelated to sex that Crake saw as a red flag . . .

Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we're in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall, in Crake's view. Next they'd be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin, and Linear B, and kings, and then slavery and war. Snowman longs to question them--who first had the idea of making a reasonable facsimile of him, of Snowman, out of a jar lid and a mop? But that will have to wait.

Crake was right, of course. Symbolic thinking is the beginning of the end of his vision--just as literal thinking is the beginning of the end of something else. And this is where Oryx and Crake overlaps with another book that I've been reading this month: Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver. The above passage from Atwood reminded me of the following one from Weaver . . .

That culture is sentiment refined and measured by intellect becomes clear as we turn our attention to a kind of barbarism appearing in our midst and carrying unmistakable power to disintegrate. This threat is best described as the desire of immediacy, for its aim is to dissolve the formal aspects of everything and to get at the supposititious reality behind them. It is characteristic of the barbarian, whether he appears in a precultural stage or emerges from below into the waning day of a civilization, to insist upon seeing a thing "as it is."

To use a concrete example, it's a form of barbarism to dismiss formal customs like sitting down to eat at table, plating food nicely, and serving something sweet at the end, just because they aren't necessary to "eating as it is." Microwaveable TV dinners are bad enough for allowing us "to redesign" meal time; but Crake takes the rejection of symbolic thinking to a new extreme when he redesigns the Crakers' digestive systems so that they eat their own waste and dismisses Jimmy's disgust as a mere aesthetic objection. Hey, Jimmy, if it's any consolation, Weaver totally had your back in 1948.

Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment. He understands what is being done, but he cannot convey the understanding because he cannot convey the idea of sacrilege.

But I guess Weaver wasn't artsy enough for the Martha Graham Academy library. =P

So, anyway, whom can we thank for the effigy of Snowman and the religious chanting? The only Craker who stands out to me at this point is the one called Abraham Lincoln, whom Snowman noticed turning into a leader in an earlier chapter. But I'm also betting that there's a more artistic Craker whom Snowman hasn't noticed yet. Of course, if we really want to know for sure, we'll have to keep reading . . . and I'm afraid that I won't be.

This is probably the oddest "Two or Three" Book Club choice there will ever be. Normally, when I suggest a series, I commit to reading or listening to more than one--and maybe I would have snapped up the second book in the MaddAddam trilogy, The Year of the Flood, if I had only started this one earlier and weren't staring October in eyes right now. And if I weren't pinching pennies squeezing centavos. Luckily for my long-suffering pocketbook, Sheila has generously offered to tell me how the whole trilogy unfolds, so I'll be e-mailing her for the ending.

Thanks to Sheila, LTG, Brandon, Jess, and Bat for commenting along all September! Here are our last discussion questions, to carry us into October before the next "Two or Three" Book Club pick is chosen.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 13 to 15?

1. How decisive a force in history would you say the human sex drive has been?
2. In Jimmy's place, would you have revealed to the Crakers the truth about their origins?
3. Would you also have destroyed the note . . . or would you have rewritten it and found a better place to leave it?
4. What do you think of the idea that barbarism is the insistence on seeing a thing "as it is"?

Image Source: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

25 comments:

Brandon said...

I thought the book was fairly decent, but it reads very much like a long prologue rather than a complete work in its own right.

I think in many ways Crake's plan was doomed from the beginning -- his biological reductionism just won't work on its own terms. If a species is intelligent enough to engage in causal reasoning, it can do metaphysics. If it can use signs to communicate in language, it can develop symbolism and art. If it can interact socially and recognize that people not present can nonetheless exist, it can develop religion. In each case the one blends easily into the other. It's not sexual pairing and hierarchy that makes these things possible; it's being a person that does it.

On questions 1 & 4:

(1) Obviously there are things that it has affected. But I'm inclined in general to think that when people attribute to it earth-shattering (or civilization-building) effects, it's largely driven by our tendency as sexual creatures to flatter ourselves when we can get away with it. If it has any large-scale effect, beyond just making the next generation possible, I suspect that it mostly works as a drag on other things, drawing off time, energy, and resources that would have been used elsewhere, for good or for evil. When it's involved in other things, it seems to me that it's usually the driven not the driving. It's just not coherent enough to be decisive in any direction on its own.

(4) Giambattista Vico distinguished between a barbarism of sense and a barbarism of intellect; I think Weaver's suggestion fits the barbarism of intellect more. Precultural barbarism doesn't seem to me to be focused on seeing a thing "as it is", at all. But Vico's barbarism of intellect, is exactly that: it is a stripping away of things under the pretense of objectivity and reason (but really driven by what Vico calls 'reflective malice', which involves betrayal of fellow human beings while pretending to help them).

love the girls said...

Crake isn't a psychopathic loon, he's a modern feminine paradigm exemplar taken to its logical conclusion. Oryx is a different modern feminine paradigm exemplar taken to its logical conclusion, and Jimmy is modern common sense.

To take Brandon's comment above a bit further, Atwood uses her book to demonstrate how modern thought is grounded in the occult, i.e. the use of scientific knowledge in the service of frustrating God’s created order.

DMS said...

I haven't read this one- but I am glad you enjoyed it enough to even find out how the rest of the series ends. That says something. Sometimes after I read the first book (and if I am not a fan) I don't even care how the rest of a series goes.;)
~Jess

Sheila said...

1. Well, the human sex drive ensures there will always be more humans. It's such a big project to raise children that many throughout history would never have done it, if they hadn't wanted to have sex. Other than that, though -- I really think more of human history has been driven by our other desires: knowledge, power, security, and so forth.

2. I think I'd have tried not to. It's a rather horrible story. In the sequels they do end up telling the Crakers a lot more about it though.

3. I'd probably have carved a warning in stone, for the people to read if they ever figured out writing!

4. Um .... I have no idea. Our taboos are part of what make us human. (Our disgust about the idea of eating feces has kept us from getting a lot of diseases, as well.) But the fact is there is no such thing as seeing things "as they are." As they are to whom? Things are really truly a certain way to humans, something else from the perspective of animals. And how the heck could we know what they might be in the perspective of angels? Sex, for instance, really truly IS a hugely sacred and emotional and complicated thing for humans. So I don't think someone should pride themselves on "seeing things as they are" if they think it's just an exchange of genetic material. For us, it *isn't* that. It's less honest than they imagine it is.

However I'm not sure that I'm addressing what the quote is trying to talk about.

Here's a question I really wondered about after finishing the book: why did Crake arrange for himself to die, and Jimmy to live? Did he feel he wasn't worthy to live among his creations and teach them? Or did he find that he actually wasn't that fond of them for company? Why didn't he let Oryx live, then? Why did it have to be Jimmy?

Brandon said...

I found the circumstances of Crake's suicide a little obscure too -- although Crake did once (in 'Brainfizz') make the comment to Jimmy that "it showed flair to know when you've had enough", while watching the euthanasia sites.

One of the things that I somewhat wonder about Crake is whether he ever actually grew up. He was always too adult as a child. But a lot of what he does as an adult replays his childhood -- he's still playing Extinctathon with MaddAddam, just on a bigger scale, complete with extinction names; he brings in Oryx; he brings in Jimmy.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Brandon -- Crake had enormous blind spots, didn't he? For someone so outwardly indifferent to sex, he certainly made everything about it! And now it occurs to me that he was in the perfect position to make the Crakers self-fertilising and to do away with our evil, evil sex drive forever . . . and still didn't do it. His idea of a perfectly refined mating ritual says a lot about him--and maybe even about the love triangle with Oryx and Jimmy.

Vico makes a great distinction! Thanks for sharing it. =)

LTG -- You'll need to spell it out for me. What exactly is feminine about Crake?

By the way, I recall you mentioning zero hour several meetings ago. Were you intrigued enough to keep reading the series or have you stopped here, too?

Jess -- LOL! I can't think of a series that I abandoned after the first book, but there's definitely one that made me absolutely sure, by the end of the second book, that I'd never return to it again. ;-P

Sheila -- What do you think of theories like having too many young men who can't have their own families will lead to war, because all that drive will have to go somewhere? I first read it in an analysis of modern China's society, which is a dire consideration for everyone within invading distance, and it came up again in another article I found about the Middle East.

In Jimmy's place, I'd definitely leave a written record somewhere. Maybe even multiple records, though it would be tough to make copies. And at least one would be painted on the side of a wall! (Only because I don't trust myself to chisel on stone. LOL!) And I'd definitely tell the Crakers about their origins . . . eventually . . . if only because any surviving records would reach them anyway and they shouldn't have to learn it like that . . . but mainly because if I started to develop affection for them, I'd want to be honest with them.

As Brandon said, the idea of seeing things "as they are" involves the pretense of objectivity. We can't really shed all of our biases--and I think we see that best in your example of someone who thinks sex "as it is" is no more than the exchange of genetic material. (Oh, wait. Were you talking about Crake himself? LOL! There seem to be lots of people writing online articles who are total Crakes when it comes to sex, and I was thinking of them.)

Yet the impossibility of the task doesn't stop people from wanting to strip away everything that they think obscures the "real deal" of things. Another example may be people who believe that sacramental marriage is just a convention or formality, but will insist on some form of fidelity from a live-in partner. They seem to see romantic relationships "as they are," but they only reveal that they see such relationships as mere social contracts--which hardly takes into account the complexity of the latter. Meanwhile, the "forms" of marriage remain our most profound expression of our understanding of the mystery of romantic love.

love the girls said...

Enbrethiel,

Crake obsesses on girl issues. His solutions also have a feminine characteristic in efficient total destruction. Guys play to win, girls annihilate because they take it personally.

Why did Crake kill himself, because he's girl, it's personal.

Paul Stilwell said...

1. Not much or not at all - in terms of *decisive* force in history. Sex and the sex drive are too self-terminable. They are book-ended. Therefore providence comes into the matter too strongly for one to consider the sex drive as a decisive force, in the sense of something sustained or continuous, like dominoes. From it comes people (and tragedies). And the birth of people (and the fruits of tragedies) is/are providence.

Hitler wasn't born a mass-murdering anti-Semitic maniac. He was born to be a saint. His choices which affected history cannot be the sum total of his being brought into existence. To say, "What if Hitler wasn't born?" is nearly to blaspheme God. (Oh goody, I'm sounding so controversial!)

The plain matter is that the major decisive force in history is the plain old everyday will making the smallest choices every single day. And yes, sex drive comes into the picture, but again, it comes up immediately against the hand of providence in a special way that makes it somehow rather blind. It is to court the hand of providence. Thus the sex drive is more like a blind force that is comedic as any kind of force.

4. I really like this Weaver! I'm going to have to look him up. I think this insistence on seeing a thing "as it is" is indeed a mark of barbarism. It is to refuse to see that things are becoming. You are refusing to see a thing as it is becoming. Mark the music. It's like tearing a bud off a branch and saying, "See!? It's just a bunch of cottony fiber! There's no such thing as fruit! I'm seeing a thing as it is!"

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

LTG -- So I can think over your assessment some more, which historical figure would you say is most like Crake?

Stilwell -- I should have known the first question would smoke you out! Only someone like C*** W*** would answer with a wholehearted yes. LOL!

"Hitler was born to be a saint." I'm going to steal that if you don't mind. =)

We also run across that insistence on seeing a thing "as it is" in the Protestant distrust of anything that is "manmade" in Christian worship. Ever since I read that in Ideas Have Consequences, I've been seeing it everywhere!

love the girls said...

Enbrethiel writes : "which historical figure would you say is most like Crake?"

None. He's not a real person. He's the male personification of Orxy.

Sheila said...

I couldn't figure out why LTG is getting this weird feminist critique of the book .... and then I thought, maybe it's because the author is a woman, so he imagines she can't possibly write about men who aren't secretly women too?

Well, that's my guess anyway. In any event I think it's bunk. Crake isn't emotionally throwing away his life in a snit -- he appears to be coldly rational about his decisions, and his decision to die after enacting his plan appears to be quite calculated. What his goal in doing so is still unclear. Perhaps he just wanted to leave the "people stuff" to a "people person" ... Jimmy is, after all, the expert in teaching ideas to people.

Brandon said...

The only Oryx and Crake seem to me to have in common is a refusal to let other people see their motivations -- it's why they are, despite very eventful lives, somewhat flat psychologically: we only see them from Jimmy's perspective, and they both repeatedly evade any attempt by him to gain insight into their motivations. Crake always just puts Jimmy off with a question ("What is real?") and it's always unclear how much of what Oryx says to Jimmy is true rather than just what she goes along with or makes up because he keeps asking her questions.

One thing I wonder is if Crake's plan went wrong in its timing -- when Crake and Oryx come back, they are both, especially Oryx, in very bad shape. Given Crake's comment about how Oryx wouldn't be around if he weren't around, it doesn't seem the death itself could be an improvisation, but did he originally intend that they should both die right then and there, or was he having to rush his timetable?

The irony is that in trying to make paradise, Crake makes sure the gods are dead while apparently handing the garden over to the serpent.

love the girls said...

Sheila,
He's a girl. Guys don't act the way he did. Girls play for keeps in a way guys simply don't.

Sheila said...

That makes zero sense.

Anyway men commit suicide significantly more often than women do -- despite being depressed less often than women. Seems to disprove your statement.

love the girls said...

Sheila,
It's making 'zero' sense is perhaps why you didn't understand my prior comment.

A popular book on the market is Gone Girl. Have you read it? It's a plot that makes sense for the person gone to be a girl, but not if the person is a guy. Do you understand why?

love the girls said...

Adding on:
The problem is that Crake is allegorical and he cannot be allegorical except as female because he character is feminine, not masculine.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Brandon -- So many things have deviated from Crake's original vision that I have to wonder whether the murder and suicide were the first real mistake. But if so, what an odd slip to make. I can't figure it out at all!

Sheila -- This is reminding me of the time another friend of mine said that Harry Potter is a not a realistic boy, but just what a woman author thinks a boy is like. (LTG weighed in on that, too. LOL!) Anyway, I think that what LTG is saying here is that Crake's wanting to remake the world completely is feminine rather than masculine--sort of in the way that you see more women trying to change their husbands than men trying to change their wives. In the meantime, you'll see more men trying to kill their wives than the other way around. Similarly, when male chauvinists gain power, you're likely to see women in burkhas, harems, and yes, early graves; but when female chauvinists gain power, you're likely to see everyone looking androgynous and experimenting with deviant sex. The patterns are strong enough to let us describe different "solutions" as "masculine" or "feminine."

LTG -- I haven't read Gone Girl, but the premise reminds me of one of Ray Bradbury's later short stories about a couple who go to a magic show. The man notes the different reactions to the magic tricks from both sexes. When the magician's female assistant is sewn in half, for example, that represents something positive to the men--though I can't remember why! =P And when the assistant is put in another box, then vanishes, only to reappear on the balcony, it represents something positive to the women. This time I recall the reason: it is because the disappearing woman reflects a female fantasy of being elusive and unattainable. LOL! Not all women seem to feel this way, but enough do for it to be safe to generalise about it.

What I still don't get, though, is why you say that Crake is the male personification of Oryx. I didn't get a real sense of her character in this novel. What do you think of her?

love the girls said...

Enbrethiel,

Oryx is a personification of the fully liberated woman. Where as society typically only partially corrupts, she is fully corrupted because of social life and fully invincibly ignorant of her vice.

Her underlying characteristics are fully feminine, i.e. her desire to give, but her unemotional unattached giving is masculine.

love the girls said...

Adding on,
Crake is the male personification of Oryx because modern society is feminine. Schools, government, corporations, media,etc.. They are all ordered in a feminine manner.

Similarly, Crake is the feminine solution of people are a virus / look to the primitives for wisdom.

What is most interesting is who Atwood uses GMOs and ABC to signify how the corruption is occult.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Now that you mention it, Oryx does fit the profile of a modern "sex positive" woman. It's just harder to make the connection because she was horribly exploited and abused, while the majority of women who fit the label just let themselves be swayed by the media. (That's actually much worse, though!) Also, Oryx is very matter-of-fact about it; a "liberated" woman would be much more defensive if she had to explain her life to Jimmy.

If the feminine solution is to look to past societies for wisdom, what is the masculine solution?

Sheila said...

I would say the Compounds *are* the masculine solution. Because the problem is not comprehended.

But the whole modern world, feminine? I strongly disagree .... I think if the feminine were more respected, we wouldn't get such an achievement-oriented, money-driven, spiritually void sort of culture as we have. Read this: http://badcatholic.co/line-circle/

I haven't read Gone Girl. I also don't agree that this book is meant to be an allegory. I think it's more a possibility -- follow things to their logical conclusion, from the way they are now.

I don't think Crake's death is at all a mistake, though. Not only does Jimmy refer to it as an "assisted suicide" (and I have no doubt it was), but earlier in the book both of them hint that this is their plan ... asking him if "anything happened to them", would he take care of things. I don't have it to look up and see exactly what they said, but I did see it coming.

By "makes zero sense," I didn't mean, "I don't understand your argument," but "your argument does not follow; it is nonsense." And I still think so.

love the girls said...

Sheila,

I forced myself to skim the article, even though I detest the adolescent brat who writes it.

The distinction he should have made is between incremental motion versus circular motion because linear versus circular motion blurs the distinction because as he notes later a holistic understanding encompasses both. But then again, he's probably not all that familiar with the subject.

It's not an allegory as hidden meaning, but allegory as sign where the characters and events stand for various aspects of modern society.

love the girls said...

Enbrethiel writes :"If the feminine solution is to look to past societies for wisdom, what is the masculine solution?"

I'm going to have to think about this.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- Depending on whom we ask, the modern world is either too masculine at the expense of the feminine or too feminine at the expense of the masculine. I'm going to play it safe and say that the modern world is both too individualistic and too communistic at the expense of both the family and the Church, which are where both the masculine and the feminine find their proper place.

LTG -- One of these days, I'm going to buy you a beer and to ask you what you really think of all the "big" Catholic bloggers. LOL!

Sheila said...

I think one could say the masculine solution is to come up with a purely new thing -- a utopia based on first principles.

Which, I would argue, is exactly what Crake does. Going back to the wisdom of our ancestors (which I'd be all in favor of) wouldn't require genetically engineering new and improved people!

Though my favorite solution to Atwood's dystopia is God's Gardeners, the cult which makes up a lot of Book 2. If I'd been in her world, I would have joined them for sure. Cultivating mushrooms and beehives on tenement rooftops ... what could be better? (Well, of the available options.)