More Human Than Human: The Ethics of Alienation in Octavia E. Butler and Gilles Deleuze

The Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association
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Journal Article
AUMLA Journal of the Australasian Universities Literature and Languages Association, 2009, Special Issue: AULLA 2009 Conference Proceedings pp. 177 - 190
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Since Octavia E. Butler published her first novel Patternmaster, in 1976, her science fiction and fantasy novels have attracted interest from a range of perspectives, including feminist literary studies, postcolonial theory and posthumanism. Across the Patternmaster and Xenogenesis series, Butler‘s engagement with the gendered dimensions of ethical and social obligation has intersected in striking ways with ongoing discussions in feminist and postcolonial critical theory, while being criticized for its recuperation of normative family values and its naturalization of gendered social behaviours. In this paper, I will explore her complex ethical responses to developments in genetics and sociobiology in the 1970s, with a focus on the ethics of filiation and altruism in Butler‘s works, and drawing upon celebratory and critical readings of Butler from the feminist perspectives of Donna Haraway, Nancy Jesser and Michelle Osherow. Butler‘s speculations about the possibilities of futures based on very different ―humans will then be compared with those of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, whose philosophies of biology and human agency, especially those developed with Felix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, reflect similar anxieties around the normative definitions of human behavior implicit in both sociobiology and psychoanalysis. While it is difficult to place philosophical texts in conversation with literary works, especially when both authors and their imagined audiences are separated by linguistic, cultural and geographical divides, this analysis teases out some of the overlapping challenges faced in mapping out utopian (or revolutionary) thought beyond the limits of the human.
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