Monday, February 23, 2009

A Drop to Make Them Sleep

Conveniently, I have a sequel on my hands.  Last week, some might say in large in part to my wife's being-out-of-townness, I wrote about the centrality of love in The Dispossessed.  I argued in blog and in class that it was the rapture of monogamy (don't see that phrase too often, do you?) which construed a hidden possession under all the dispossession, the tension that activates the novel's key transformations, particularly Shevek's awakening, his realization that he has not questioned the dominant practices, the basic social assumptions which govern life on Anarres.

My wife is not out of town again.  Not to worry.  Besides, the abortion, rape, and brutal assaults conjured in the opening pages of Woman on the Edge of Time, clearly signal that Marge Piercy will not be as receptive to my little heuristic Cupid arrows.  No, this sequel comes by way of inversion.  Piercy, like Foster in "The Machine Stops," is undermining the very notion of epiphanic love.  She rejects an intimacy that transcends cultural norms; she denies her characters access to revolutionary union.  Connie, like Kuno, discovers new ways of seeing through the frustration of love.  It is the suppression of the intimacy drive, its destructive turn inward, that transfigures her into prophet and pioneer.

Near the end of the novel, Tina asks Connie if she had a bad dream.  Connie reassures her that it had been a good one:

"I dreamed of my daughter, safe, happy, in another place...If only they had left me something!" she whispered.  Still trembling, she thought, If only they had left me Martin, or Claud, or Angelina, if they had even left me Dolly and Nita, I would have minded my own business.  I'd have bowed my head and kept down.  I was not born and raised to fight battles, but to be modest and gentle and still.  Only one person to love.  Just one little corner of loving of my own.  
Reflecting on those she loved, and those she might have loved more, Connie laments their loss. And it is their loss from her life which is the focus.  She is not mourning their fates; she is mourning her fate.  She has been led astray from her destiny, from her purpose, from stillness. 

Stillness as a destination is an understandable desire, especially for a woman who no longer hears a steady beat of time, who no longer orientates herself in one place at one time (despite how many "orientations" doctors impose on her).  As universes and threads of time have multiplied, the one alternative she has not known is singularity.  She desires the corner, the spot where two alternatives meet, and rest.  There she would take a loved one—and by loved one I mean, as she does, anyone, a child, a friend, a mate, whom she could care for.  The reciprocation does not seem as important, nor does the love itself: it is the care it would require, the attention it would demand, the devotion she could give to this single, stable, person.  She could disappear inside that which she would give.  She could become one.  She would be at peace.

Instead she has become politicized.  The passage continues:

For that love I'd have borne it all and I'd never have fought back.  I would have agreed that I'm sick, that I'm sick to be poor and sick to be sick and sick to be hungry and sick to be lonely and sick to be robbed and used.  But you were so greedy, so cruel!  One of them, just one you could have left me!  But I have nothing. Why shouldn't I strike back? (367)
She craves the illusion.  As much as she resists the treatments at the hospital, she wants to slip under the illusion, she wants to join the social fabric, she want to live unquestioningly.  She wants her Soma.  If "they," the perennial they who are often in control, if they would have only given her what she asked for, she would have agreed with them.  As much as Connie is defined by her recalcitrance throughout the story, as much as she frustrates the institution's prescriptions and protocols, she is ready to accept them.  She will agree with what they say she is.  She will accept the rules.  If only they would give her someone to love.

The parallels with Kuno in "The Machine Stops" are strong.  The suggestion in that story is that Kuno would never have crawled out of the machine, accelerating its destruction, had the machine only granted him a wife.  Instead, because of what was denied him, he was left only with a unavoidable lack.  A desire.  And in the space of this desire a new world was discovered.  The illusion of the machine died, or perhaps was displaced,  with the promise of this new world.  It is a kind of triangulation among a desired life, the current state, and the utopian promise.  It is the start of a revolution.

Woman of the Edge of Time closes with Connie's greatest insurrection.  She destroys her "they." Or at least part of "them." It becomes a "you," a subject that can be attacked.  You can strike at a you.  It is the revolt which writes the rest of her life.  She will not leave the hospitals again.  The fate she once wished for herself is forever closed.  The triangulation fractures, the implication being, as in "Machine," that the utopian promise remains.  Only with Woman the appendix serves as a grim reminder that the institution, the machine, grinds on.  They remain.

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