Plan for the Day
- Registration is in two weeks–starts 11/04 (but your specific time will vary)
- ENGL 4275 “Rhetoric and Technology” (MW 2:30-3:45, FRET 219)
- I’m 99% sure I’ll be assigning William Gibson’s Neuromancer
- I’m 50% sure I’ll be assigning Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (aka. Blade Runner)
- The rest of the readings are non-fiction and related to technology
- ENGL 6166 “Rhetorical Theory” (M 6:00-8:45, FRET 219)
- More reading than humanly possible to get through unless you start over winter break…and winter is coming!
- Know any graduate students who’d like this course…
- Today’s readings
Obviously, I have to wake you up, so I guess that means I need to show you moving pictures. I’ll try to incorporate that today. Also, as usual, I hope to disturb you by having us confront more cultural givens. Today, we’ll talk about mundane domesticity, bored housewives, and nuclear radiation…just another day of LBST! Maybe I’ll show you a music video from the 1980s: Alphaville’s “Forever Young.”
Judith Merril’s “That Only a Mother” (1948)
Whoa! What’s going on with that baby? Obviously, this story’s title comes from the expression “a face only a mother could love,” which means the face is not conventionally beautiful/attractive. Culturally, mothers are supposed to love their children no matter what, so a hideous chud’s face is one only a mother could love. Implied in that phrase is that men, fathers, might not have the same affinity for children…care to take that one? I obviously love my baby girl, but who wouldn’t love this most adorable creature!
The Anthology Editors set us up nicely by telling us Merril’s story was denigrated by phallocentric traditional sci fi authors who read it as a boring domestic story (p. 211). Of course, we know that they missed the social science fiction themes that the story conveys. The Editors tell us that “[Merril] also issued harsh polemics against conventional hard sf, which, in her view, had grown moribund and was swiftly being displaced by a new breed of counterculture-inspired and experimentally sophisticated writing” (p. 212). In case that sentence wasn’t clear enough, the Editors are calling hard sf–sci fi obsessed with the technology and science possibilities as opposed to the humanistic themes–easy and unsophisticated. You’ll often hear how one writer or another “elevated” sci fi from its “pulp, space opera” past. Just reading for cool gadgets and far out places is entertainment; we’re reading to think.
Key areas in the text
The fact that it’s mostly written in letter-telegram style does something for the dramatic tension. How do we read this differently than traditionally narrated stories? What might be the effect of reading this as a letter, fax, or other correspondence? The word epistolary is used for novels or stories written in letter form.
Living with THE BOMB
- No more paper delivery; instead, the fax machine brings news right to your bathroom.
- Mistrust of government
- Letter from Margaret’s Mom: “Hank’s been around uranium or thorium or whatever…back at Oak, Ridge[, TN].”
- Margaret’s internal monologue: “Stop it, Maggie, stop it! The radiologist said Hank’s job couldn’t have exposed him.” She’s supposed to distract herself by “read[ing] the social notes or the recipes” like a good housewife (p. 213).
- Don’t loaf around! The government wants you to be working. Do your part at home (p. 214)
How were we told to “do our part” when the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq? How was that different from the ways citizens were supposed to support their country during World War II?
The new beautiful baby
- When is it funny to joke with your spouse about infanticide (p. 214)?
- “It’s all true what they say about new babies and the face that only a mother can love” (p. 215)
- Infanticide in Japan near Hiroshima and Nagasaki (p. 218).
- The baby talks and sings at 7 months!?! (p. 216) That’s a bit unusual.
- Maybe the baby got the gamma rays like The Incredible Hulk.
We’ll return to the metaphoric possible reading (interpretation) after we discuss the next story.
Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967)
A common definition of entropy is twofold: 1) chaos in isolated systems and 2) the more energy produced, the less useful it is. The second definition is why some equate entropy and inefficiency. The heat death of the universe.
In groups, you should discuss the following questions:
- What are a housewife’s socially prescribed duties? Are they realistic?
- How is it possible Sarah Boyle doesn’t know how many children she has?
- Why are there multiple references to Sarah’s being educated at “fine Eastern colleges”?
- Why does Zoline focus on the Shakespeare (p. 417) and Mozart (p. 442) masks on the back of the cereal boxes?
- Speaking of Shakespeare, Sarah makes a reference to King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4, 17-22. Notice that she’s speaking out loud: “‘That way madness lies, says Sarah,’ Says Sarah” (p. 422).
- Dada was “a product of hysteria and shock,” (p. 422) was an avant-garde movement of the early 20th Century that we mostly associate with Marcel Duchamp.
- How many references to infinity, running in circles, mundane tasks, etc. are? Probably too many to count! (Not really, but there are many)
- –the biggie–
Why does Sarah act out in a fit of rage and sadness at the end of the story?
Now that we’ve covered the two stories, let’s see what links them. They’re both stories about housewives. Although they’re written nearly 20 years apart, there are some domestic similarities. Primarily, the housewives are supposed to take care of the house and children. Margaret (Maggie) has a job, but she’s allowed to work to support the country’s war effort. She’s taking care of the baby, but, the husband is shocked to find out that “she didn’t know…” (p. 220).
Consider the following for discussion:
- Denial and self-delusion
- Infanticide to protect the mother
- Metaphor of Domestic Life as not fulfilling in this patriarchal culture
- Stealing (technically joyriding) Grandma’s car
Keep up with your reading. On Wednesday (10/23), we’ll discuss Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds” (1983); on Friday (10/25), Ms. Rogers will show off her Linguistic skills and discuss Misha Nogha’s “Chippoke Na Gomi” (1989). More short stories for next week!