Monday, March 7, 2011

Creation Through Destruction

I have included in my post two images from the work of Vesalius, who studied and wrote on human anatomy in the sixteenth century. As Vesalius’ book progresses, the layers of the body are gradually stripped away, revealing various muscles and organs and eventually leaving behind only the bare skeleton. In part, this process of looking deeper and deeper into the body was a quest for a certain quintessence that makes us human, and in philosophy led to ideas like Cartesian dualism and other theories about the mind/body relationship. Is there a physical manifestation of the soul, the spirit, the mind, or whatever you may want to call it, hidden away within ourselves? Or are our bodies mere matter, an earthly cage for the soul and nothing more?

In Octavia Butler’s story “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” those in the more advanced stages of Durea-Gode disease seem to be propelled to destroy themselves while trying to get at something deep within. The most we get about the mental processes that drive the self-mutilation phase of the disease is in the brief description of the fate of Lynn’s parents. The actions of Lynn’s father and other DGD sufferers are repeatedly described as “digging” (36, 53), and the ultimate goal seems to be reaching the heart, which could be seen as the most innermost point of the body, protected as it is by the ribcage and sternum. According to Lynn, this digging is an attempt to escape: “They try so hard, fight so hard to get out” of “Their restraints, their disease, the ward, their bodies” (53). For their entire lives, all those with DGD are in some sense restrained. They are confined by the knowledge of the ultimate path of their disease and are limited by the prejudices against them, until an attempt to escape, no matter how violent or destructive the means, is inevitable. Are not only other people, the other sex, or other species alien to ourselves, but even our own bodies somehow separate from us? Can a digging inward be seen as an escape attempt—going in, in order to “get out?” It is similar to Qui’s problem in “Bloodchild” whenever he tries to run away from home—“there was no ‘away’” in the Preserve (19). All outward trajectories eventually lead right back in again.

I was fascinated by the how that the destructive, inward force of DGD could be redirected to other pursuits, mainly to the creation of art and inventions. As Beatrice puts it, her patients are taught to “channel their energies” (49). Suddenly, an overwhelming urge to rip open and break down is dramatically transformed into a creative impulse. What is the connection between destruction and creation? Are the forces that drive them similar or in fact the same? Do the two always necessarily go together? “Bloodchild” touches on this issue as well, with its gruesome scene of the emergence of new Tlic. Gan had been told all his life “that this was a good and necessary thing Tlic and Terran did together—a kind of birth” (16). After witnessing a “birth,” Gan decides that the “whole procedure was wrong, alien” (17) and yet in the end chooses to undergo that very procedure. Does creation have to be violent and harmful to the creator? Is it the extremely delicate balance of creative and destructive forces that makes DGD patients so innovative and artistically gifted? It seems that creation depends to some extent on successfully hovering right on the edge of death and destruction.


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