Wednesday, February 23, 2011

hope through struggle

In her introduction to the concept of James Tiptree, Jr., Julie Phillips suggests that the author “couldn't always imagine her way out of the problems she raised” (6). Like Michael, who brought up the idea that “death is the answer” to these problems, I believe that Tiptree's tendency to end her stories pessimistically offers more than just a reflection of lifelong depression. Instead, I want to argue that the inevitability of death and futility of struggle that pervade Tiptree's writing serve to complicate and highlight what Jasmine might call their “anthropological” undertones. In addition, Phillips notes that Tiptree's voice was “utter convinced of its authority and the urgency of its message” (1-2); the hopelessness of her stories certainly emphasizes such urgency.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In” offers a bleak outlook for the future of humanity. A corporate empire effectively controls the minds of the population through pseudo-advertising institutions, and even the idealistic few who attempt to resist its dominance eventually submit to the system. Paul's ascension to his father's position appears to complete an inevitable corporate cycle that reflects the greater cycle of life and death; meanwhile, Burke's struggle for identity through the avatar of Delphi ends in similar pessimism. Not even love can subvert the corporate oppressors. Yet at the same time, Tiptree offers a window into the struggle against such oppression and, in doing so, includes the possibility of hope. Though the protagonists ultimately fail to inspire change, the fact that they existed at all illustrates the idea of cycles of resistance underlying the life cycle of an oppressor.

It is difficult, however, to separate the pessimism in Tiptree's science fiction from the events in Alli Sheldon's life. A major clinical symptom of depression is the feeling of hopelessness, and it is impossible not to see its influence on Tiptree's writing. Furthermore, Sheldon's suicide seems to confirm the author's sense of hopelessness and pessimism regarding life. On the other hand, numerous critics we've discussed so far (including Margaret Atwood) delineate science fiction as a genre that allows its authors to explore humanity in a visceral and speculatively explicit way; Sheldon's anthropological explorations through visions of dystopia may have been the only way she could convey the urgency of her message.

Finally, I want to discuss Sheldon's own notions of identity in light of Tiptree's writing. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” includes an explicit personification of her struggles with identity, particularly with respect to being a woman. The objectification of Delphi also provides some social commentary on traditional gender roles in the media. Though Tiptree never offers a resolution and scoffs at the mere notion of resolution through an indignant narrator, her repeated incorporation of these issues suggest that there are people out there who she might reach. In fact, the act of writing counteracts the sense of futility that pervades Tiptree's stories; if she truly thought there was no hope for humanity, she would not have written to try and save it.


Post a Comment