Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No New Thing Under the Sun

keywords: the colonizing "superman," prophecy and agency, familiarity and distance, daddy issues

In Roger Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" the main character Gallinger is shuttled between issues of familiarity and distance from his own life and experience. Gallinger blurs the line between human and inhuman as he seems so set apart from his fellow humans. Gallinger embodies the notion of a superhuman colonizer in the vein of characters such as Jake Sally in Avatar who come to embody the adopted culture to such an extent that they are more in touch with it than those who belong to it. He is able to grasp the Martian high language quickly and has no lack for faith in his own abilities. To all appearances this appears a textbook example of racial superiority couched in the language of science fiction and other cultures.

However, Gallinger is a mere catspaw in the hands of forces that both are and are not in his control. His own confidence in his abilities and his reference to being a prophet by the Martian people proves to be preordained; his actions are not of his own choosing. Everything he does is in keeping with the teachings of Locar, in keeping with Ecclesiastes. "There is nothing new under the sun."

First off, Gallinger has a severe issue with his own agency- with taking credit for his actions and elevating himself above others. As seen in his self-congratulating justification for why others react to his hubris poorly, "That's the reason everyone's jealous-- why they hate me. I always come through, and I can come through better than anyone else" (59). That sort of humility really inspires confidence in his ability to be a diplomat to an alien race.

Gallinger's issue with agency is related to his relationship with his father and his religion. The conflict underlying his relationship with his father and his relationship with religions as well as his place in them is based on this sense of familiarity and distance. On witnessing his father's body at the wake Gallinger describes how he "looked at him and did not recognize him" (65). Gallinger's removal from his father- his own family- points to his own issues regarding his position in relation to others. Gallinger is as alien to the rest of the humans as the Martians are to them.

He recalls his father as a "stranger" who "had never been cruel- stern, demanding with contempt for everyone's shortcomings- but never cruel" (65). This sounds oddly similar to how others see Gallinger, albeit with a slightly more jocular bent, nonetheless he tends to inspire a similar reaction of distance from others.

Gallinger keeps quoting the Book of Ecclesiastes without explicitly copping to the fact that he has fallen prey to the sins as well. Namely, Gallinger falls pray to the sin of vanity. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man... [of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?... The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun]" (67).

What Gallinger likely thinks he's doing.

He believes himself capable of changing a whole society, of saving it from a fatalistic bent. Instead Gallinger tries to convince the Martian into letting these outsiders impregnate the Martian females, displacing the men in the society while making a suggestion towards further investigating the source of their infertility. This is not in keeping with a diplomatic or civil meeting. Gallinger interrupts a major religious ceremony to call the Martians out on their perceived stupidity and refusal to take action of any sort.

Through his actions he says the Martians are taking their own inability to procreate, to actively contribute to society, as a greater sacrifice of their own agency. Gallinger presumes to return this ability to procreate by seizing the agency on his own, yet the Martians knew this would come to be. Gallinger was a cog in a machine of prophecy and preordainment that he refuted and in so doing affirmed. Locar proved to be the better prophet than he as Gallinger comes by no profit from his hubris or his actions to save their race in spite of their inaction.

Gallinger is so broken by his experience with Braxa, at the utter fatalistic inescapable nature of prophecy that he tries to kill himself by the story's end. As he returns to the shuttle he recounts in his narration that he is "leaving the burden of life so many footsteps behind me... I went to my cabin, locked the door, and took forty-four sleeping pills" (100). Gallinger is used just as he tried to use the Martian people when he first arrived to fuel his career and ego.

Versus what he actually is to the Martians.


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