Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Alice Didn't Know

ENG 396 Week 4: Gender Appropriations: James Tiptree, Jr.

It’s no surprise that animals are well represented in Sheldon/Tiptree’s stories, especially as representations of the feminine. Women’s status is reduced and compared to that of secret possums, pigs, sought and hunted ducks, or even obsolete spacemen.

What if Sheldon portrays something more sinister than just antifeminism? After all, she was the experimental Psychologist Who Empathized with Rats (not unlike the Japanese “Princess Who Loved Insects,” a model for Miyazaki’s Nausicäa), and her research was supposed to probe fundamental biology and animal behavior beyond the messy social influences which humans endure and learn from. Tilly Lipsitz’s rats, subject to starvation, penetration, and blindness, stand in as more than scientific toys, not unlike Carol Page, who is probably more than a voice for woman as humans understand.

This is all quite vague; consider instead a sort of related biological idea. There is a thought among the physics community (one that is prevalent here) that life is “optimized” for its tasks, whether it is to maximize the sensitivity and resolution for images discerned by the retina, or to minimize in the eardrum the random noise that fogs up the precise sounds made by humans and animals. Down-to-earth examples may suggest a grander “theory of life,” which may be BS but at least suggests that there does exist a logical plan in the design of life which may be understood through scientific theory and experimentation.

As much as Sheldon was a scientist, she did not identify with those scientists who hacked off rat heads, and instead she felt the misery of the rats (89). She was a scientist but not a part of Science, which in its violence is unempathetic and masculine. Yet Science, supposedly, seeks the unadulterated truth of Nature, who is female, and the capitalization is curiously common in scientific texts. If Science is done from the male viewpoint, can it still supply the truth? Perhaps only half of the truth.

But for Sheldon there is a more fearful possibility, one that “Love Is the Plan the Plan is Death” most strongly suggests: What if Nature is sexist? What if there is a cosmic Plan, the Plan is sexist, Moggadeet is always doomed, and Carol Page must die a rara avis? Sheldon’s answer is only halfway negative. On the one hand, the women of “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” have dismissed the millenia-old male institution for something equally viable, and even more “human” (216). But although the perspective is balanced through the male experience, the statement of truth has shifted to female. There seems not to exist any conciliation between male and female truth; even the beatification of Carol Page was in the arms of the female Cavaná (273).

Then this is Sheldon’s dilemma: As much as the female and male perspectives are equally truthful, they share no mutual resolution from their own pools of thought, so that the two worlds must remain orthogonal. (For the brave among you… consider the spin of an electron, which can exist in any superposition of “up” and “down,” but any observation, such as by light heading toward a human eye, collapses the spin to either up or down and never both.) Perhaps, from Sheldon’s own message, the best way to understand is through alienation from one’s own world—for the scientist to be aloof of Science, for a man to be removed from masculinity, for a human to acknowledge and pass up their terrestrial place. Sheldon lifts science fiction from literary method to an epistemological Plan for comprehending all Plans.


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