Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Speech Sounds: Interior World and Radio Imagination

In Speech Sounds I was particularly interested by Rye's description of the new world's hierarchy: "The least impaired people tended to do this--stand back unless they were physically threatened and let those with less control scream and jump around. It was as though they felt it beneath them to be as touchy as the less comprehending. This was an attitude of superiority." In this diseased society communication has seriously deteriorated, and I found it interesting that the new basis for a class hierarchy here was based on ability to communicate. Also, the violence that came out of this seems crucial--the higher classes (those with more ability to communicate and understand) were able to contain themselves and not react with violence to the lower classes (the more impaired). In a society that is largely a society of interior existence, as these people have trouble understanding and communicating with each other, people turn to violence. Then, it seems that people can only rely on violence as a means of communication, and everyone is out only for himself or herself. Is this human nature on its most basic level, when the confines of society and codified means of communication are destroyed?
In this story, I was very aware of Butler's 'Radio Imagination.' In the 1997 interview she describes how characters often live in her head, have voices, motivations and are created without any real sense of a physical presence. In Speech Sounds, I definitely noticed this, as each character, especially Rye, has an extremely evolved inner life, and virtually no physically descriptive presence. In fact, the main focus of the story for me was on how people cope with their own interiors, and looking at the human interior through the lens of a disease that has severely impaired the interior and ability to communicate in a lot of ways, is an excellent way to do this. Ultimately, it comes down to violence and basic human emotions: jealousy, lust, greed, anger, fear. I found the world that Butler constructs here to be very much a reflection of her 'radio imagination' and an interesting lens to look at basic human nature. It seems that Rye has a major advantage, as she is less impaired than most, and I would honestly have liked a glimpse into the mind of the people with more severe impairments. For example, the man who kills the woman at the end. I think it would have been incredible to hear the thoughts (however basic) going on in his mind as he murdered his wife and the stranger (Obsidian) who attempted to save her. On the other hand, the moment in the car when Rye and Obsidian reveal to each other their strengths is a fantastic insight into this. Watching them both experience and suppress a wave of bloodthirsty jealousy explains a lot about how Butler imagines the human interior.


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