Octavia Butler - Reading Group, Session #1

recording

(Geoffrey Edwards) #1

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Session #1: Introductions


Readers Underground participants:

Geoffrey Edwards
Johnny Davis
Marco Morelli
Dona Abbadi
Katina Press
Mary Thaler
Douglas Duff

Recorded 8 August, 2018


Geoffrey leads off the group with Octavia Butler’s biographical information and some starter questions:

What brings you to this group?
What do you know about Octavia Butler and why are you drawn to read her books?
What else do we know about Butler’s life and writing choices?
How is her work situated and understood in relation to other science fiction writers?
In relation to other writers in general?

New participants introduce themselves and the group orients gracefully to the text, discussing body and mind; spirituality and religion; dreams, reality, and prophecy.

YouTube Recording timestamps:

0:01 : Participants first thoughts/reactions 17:00 : Geoffrey provides Butler’s biographical and other background information 37:00 : Comments from others on Octavia Butler 48:15 : John compares/connects Butler to recent Erin Manning reading group discussion themes 55:20 : Dona discusses writing style of Parable of the Sower 59:01 : Mary’s Introduction 1:05:52 : Begin discussion of Sower (limited to first few chapters); relevance to current American trends; Butler as “master of extrapolation;” prophetic quality to text 1:10:01 : Katina’s Introduction + discussion of Infinite Conversations/Cosmos Collective and Gebser Reading Group 1:22:58 : Continue discussion of prophecy; “what is prophecy for?” 1:28:56 : Walter Bruggemann’s three qualities to prophetic voice 1:31:41 : Quotes from the text 1:35:47 : Suggestion to supplement video conversation with comments on the Infinite Conversations website. 1:37:36 : Butler’s use of Christian themes. Is Christianity insufficient? What is Butler saying about religion? How did Christianity contribute to Sower’s (and America’s) society? 1:53:30 : The minority groups and Christianity’s failure to support; Jesus’ parables; Christ as a performance artist; "Where are we supposed to go?!


Parable-of-the-Sower

Overview

About Octavia Butler : "Octavia Butler passed away on February 24th, 2006 at the age of only 58, leaving behind a body of work whose influence cannot be exaggerated. Butler was a Black, female genre writer at a time when science fiction was still seen by many as the territory of white men. Her writing centered on women of color in a way few narratives then did, and posited that empathy could be humanity’s saving grace. As today’s environmental and human rights crises make painfully clear, Butler’s work is only going to become more relevant and necessary as time goes on. " - Carolyn Cox, The Portalist, 2018, URL : https://theportalist.com/octavia-butler-facts


All are welcome, but please sign up to Infinite Conversations/Metapsychosis if you have not already done so.

Upcoming sessions

Week 2 August 15, 2018 6:00 PM (Europe: Paris), August 15, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)August 15, 2018 8:00 PM (Europe: Paris), August 15, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) : Parable of the Sower - Ch. 1-8
Week 4 August 29, 2018 6:00 PM (Europe: Paris), August 29, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)August 29, 2018 8:00 PM (Europe: Paris), August 29, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) : Parable of the Sower - Ch. 9-16
Week 6 September 12, 2018 6:00 PM (Europe: Paris), September 12, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)September 12, 2018 8:00 PM (Europe: Paris), September 12, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) : Parable of the Sower - Ch. 17-25
Week 8 September 26, 2018 6:00 PM (Europe: Paris), September 26, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)September 26, 2018 8:00 PM (Europe: Paris), September 26, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) : Parable of the Talents - Prologue + Ch. 1-7
Week 11 October 17, 2018 6:00 PM (Europe: Paris), October 17, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)October 17, 2018 8:00 PM (Europe: Paris), October 17, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) : Parable of the Talents - Ch. 8-14 (skipped the 10th week because of the Gebser conference)
Week 12 October 24, 2018 6:00 PM (Europe: Paris), October 24, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)October 24, 2018 8:00 PM (Europe: Paris), October 24, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) : Parable of the Talents - Ch. 15-21 + Epilogue
Week 13 October 31, 2018 5:00 PM (Europe: Paris), October 31, 2018 9:00 AM (America: Los Angeles)October 31, 2018 7:00 PM (Europe: Paris), October 31, 2018 11:00 AM (America: Los Angeles) . : Wrap-up

References

For more information about Butler and her books, refer back to the announcement thread..


(Katina Press) #2

I have just joined the Octavia Butler Group. Hope to see you on 08.08.2018.


(Geoffrey Edwards) #3

That’s super, @KPr2204. Looking forward to meeting you!


(margomin) #4

Geoffrey,
I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you. I start classes on the 29th and 11:00 am will not work until next summer. I had started re-reading the novels. They are very good (again), but unless the group can meet in the evenings or weekends, I won’t be able to make it. I understand that accommodations need to be done for international members. I hope that we could get to some arrangements when we discuss (if we finally do it) Star Maker.
I will follow the written discussions on line.
Kindly,
Margari


(Katina Press) #5

What is the EST time for the Octavia Butler Zoom group?


(Geoffrey Edwards) #6

Hello Katina, it’s 12 noon. The way the times are posted, it should automatically adjust to your time zone. It’s listed as Eastern Daylight Time not EST, as we are in the summer period. See you then!


(Geoffrey Edwards) #7

We will do our best to find a compromise time when we get to Stapledon that works for you, Margari. I understand about the current time - I am a teacher myself and getting free in the middle of the day is not always easy. However, if we run it in the evening, Dona, who lives in Jordan, so +7 hours from EDT, has to attend in the small hours of the morning. It can be done - I spent time in Australia last year and took part in the Sloterdijk meetings at 4 a.m., but we try to avoid it if we can…


(Katina Press) #8

I’m not going to make it today. I work at noon.


(Geoffrey Edwards) #9

Is that going to be a problem every time, Katina? We could look into shifting the time slightly… earlier by an hour or even two hours might be possible…


(Katina Press) #10

No, just once in a while. I will review the schedule. Please do not change it on my account.


(Marco V Morelli) #11

Hey Katina, saw you join the Zoom conference. Try again and we’ll troubleshoot…


(Katina Press) #12

Whoa!

That was so much fun!!! I felt like I was sitting under the columns of the Parthenon. Next time, I’m wearing a toga!


(Mary Thaler) #13

Agreed! It was lovely to meet you all, and I can’t wait for more conversations.

The theologian that I mentioned who has written extensively about the role of prophets is old testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. He has been writing since the 60s and I believe is still quite active


(Douglas Duff) #14

If not the Parthenon, then definitely some cosmic catalystic community space :stars: Wear your best!

I came across Brueggemann when exploring Paul Tillich. Do you mind listing the referenced quote again here?


(Geoffrey Edwards) #15

@marythaler, you are so right about the impulse as a writer not to tear down religions we don’t understand. In my own efforts at « creating » a new religion within my SF saga, I have tried to do the opposite. My « new » religion is an attempt at synthesis, at creating a meta-religion that embraces other religions without subverting them, and so my effort has been to seek to understand their comparative strengths, each in relation to the others, whether the religion be Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, Taoism, Wicce, etc. That’s also no easy job, but a rewarding one, at least, I have found it so…

I’m still not sure that Ocatavia Butler was decrying Christianity in particular - most of her negative remarks about Christianity are in relation to her father’s views. She does seem to say that « religion » is bankrupt… indeed, she goes to some lengths to differentiate between her Earthseed ideas and any God that one « prays to ». I could be wrong, however…


(Douglas Duff) #16

Audio/Video available at top of page. Cannot say thank you enough for the stellar conversation and for seeing new faces and hearing new voices from @KPr2204 and @marythaler… and familiar faces are like family now too!


(Katina Press) #17

As I jump right in to a second reading of “…Sower”, I am reminded of how annoyed I was with Lauren’s new “religion”, Earthseed. It is, yet another example of deified humanistic idealism. The audacity in creating a religion in which humans can “shape God”!?! Yet, God is not the source of the post-apocalyptic dystopia that provides the setting for this new religion. Humans are! The “blasphemous” versions of Christianity, in which Earthseed attempts to replace itself, in the human spirit acknowledges an essential truth about the desperate need for the human heart to be reshaped, rather than the Deity. If the human heart is not reshaped, then there is no “hope” for one’s destiny in this life, nor the hereafter.

When it comes to the matter of heaven, Earthseed is once again shown to offer a more real and substantial form of hope in comparison to other religions. While some characters (such as Travis and [Bankole]) object that Earthseed will not be able to gain followers because it does not provide the promise of heaven, Lauren disputes this. Belief in heaven is a central part of Earthseed’s ideology, but—in a literal and physical sense. This is where she talks about plans for Earthseed to take root among the stars. If the damage and destruction that human nature has wreaked upon the Earth is any indication as to what mankind has to offer to the cosmos, then maybe it is best to stay put until mankind’s nature is reshaped and changed from the inherently destructive force that has created the setting for this novel.


(Katina Press) #18

Ok, 8 chapters in…

Poor Miss Simms! (Yet) Another lost soul casualty of the faith of absolutes. There has been a breakdown in civil society and in law and order. Society is split up into three groups. The rich have retreated to walled estates in the hills. In the city, middle class neighborhoods have constructed walls to try to hang on to a semblance of normality in their lives, but even the walls are not sufficient to stop thieves and arsonists breaking in and wreaking damage. Essential goods are scarce and expensive. Outside the walled neighborhoods, there is chaos. People have sunk into all kinds of degradation. Disease is rampant. Drug addicts walk the streets. Dead bodies lie in the streets for days. Many people are homeless and starving.
The federal government talks about improving things, but it is largely irrelevant to most people’s lives. The local police are not much use either. They charge a fee before they investigate a crime…

And what exactly has brought this about? It’s not the Christian cult of absolutes, as Butler goes out of her way to illustrate throughout the novel, but perhaps the very abandonment of Truth (with a capital “T”) which is the metaphysical primary from which morality and behavior flow.

Aristotle gave us three reasons for knowledge. The first was for truth. The second for morality. The third for technique or what we now call technology. Butler’s dystopia has developed as a consequence of a fully realized society governed by Post post -modernist thinking whereby, technology is supreme, morality is mocked, and truth has been eradicated. But thankfully, all is not lost, for at least postmodernism has unwittingly awakened society to the realization that truth, morality, and meaning ARE connected. If the first goes, there is nothing on which to base the other two. By the year 2024, on every side, Butler’s society feels this colossal breakdown, and a stirring has taken place deep within the national and individual conscience that when truth has been lost, the results are devastating.

This state of affairs is arousing many from their stupor, a stupor that the modern mind created when it trumpeted that rational man could arrive at his Utopia without God’s absolutes. In fact, so drastic has been the realization that our purpose on earth is inextricably bound to our behavior that some scholars are reluctantly admitting that the teaching of the Bible provided a logical basis for goodness, and that with the abandonment of the Judeo-Christian ethic, the basis for morality is gone. So how does Lauren’s antagonism towards the Gospel message then deal with Earthseed’s need for a foundational ethic (I. e., God is change)?

God is change?!?

In 1991, I attended a symposium in D. C. of the American Advancement of the Association of the Sciences, where I heard philosopher Loyal Rue argue that science has made it impossible to believe any longer in the myths of the Bible, myths such as God giving the Ten Commandments and Jesus rising from the dead. But with the loss of these tenets, he says, we have lost the very underpinnings of moral theory which had provided a legitimate recognition of accountability and charity. We are left, therefore, with the unprecedented situation of needing to concoct a “noble lie” (I. e., “God is change”) so powerful that it will furnish us with reasons to be good, even though those reasons in themselves will be untrue. In effect, what is being said here is that without a transcendent order, ethics is unjustifiable, and with-out ethics, life is unlivable - maybe that is why Simms took her own life (though I do not condone it). Not motivated by her own erred faith in the “Wrong Truth”, but rather, the “noble lie” that is soon to replace it.


(Katina Press) #19

And what happened to empathy? Why is empathy now a lost virtue, exclusively gifted to the protagonist in the novel? The loss of empathy from human nature could be a necessary adaptation to the world 's high-tech dependence on depersonalized communication that is void of human physical contact, physical interaction and even the human presence in all of our digitized forms of communication. I wonder if it is possible that the increased intimacy in our interaction with machines will in some way, interfere with the evolutionary process of, not only, human consciousness but also specific human virtues which used to accompany man as a “social animal”.


(Marco V Morelli) #20

I think I agree with you, Katina, on the metaphysical inadequacy of the “God is change” doctrine—even though I find it alluring, and I think it expresses a deep truth. I would say it’s absolutely true, but not completely true, if you will allow that distinction. God really is change—but that’s not all God is. God so exceeds every definition, God may not even be “God.” God exceeds identity itself.

In the ‘God is change’ equation, the is isn’t really questioned—for if God is change, and God is (by definition, as God) infinite and all-powerful, then God can change from being change, can be established in pure being; never wasn’t.

Dialectically, we could also say that change happens within, in relation to, pure being. And being becomes—has a history, a science, a cosmic drama, which all exist by perpetual change. Yet what is it that’s changing? Something must be there, all the time. Thus God is precisely what does and doesn’t change. To unite the finite and the infinite, we probably need a post-postmodern logic.

But what if… this is what God wants? God wants change? God wants us to change? What if God wants us to become conscious changersshapers? What if God wants us to shape…God? Perhaps I (and Octavia) are just speculating. But would a cosmic desire for self-transformation not be within God’s purview? Or why create us in the first place?