READING BUTLER’S XENOGENESIS TRILOGY (2): resistance is not futile

The Oankali are much more technologically advanced than us, able to travel round the galaxy, terraform planets, mutate themselves as they wish. Yet all this is rendered possible by manipulation of their own DNA and that of the species they encounter. They have no machines and no science, just the perceptions and the capacities of their bodies, assisted by the bodies of their companion species, such as their ship. They have no writing and no culture. As they perceive at the molecular level (and for the ooloi at the sub-atomic level) they are convinced that they know directly and infallibly, (for example, that humans left t their own devices will inevitably destroy themselves). Yet they are constantly making mistakes, from underestimating Lilith’s resistance to giving birth to an ooloi human-oankali hybrid. Another “mistake” (occuring in the second volume ADULTHOOD RITES) is allowing Akin a male human-oankali hybrid, or “construct, to be held captive by the resisters at a crucial moment in his own development. Instead of bonding with his same-age sibling, as is the rule, he “bonded” in a more abstract way with all of humanity and came to understand and support their desire for freedom and independence. Given this outcome, we may see that what is constantly presented by the Oankali as a biological imperative is often a tradition, that is in fact optional, which is adopted to short-circuit the sublimation of their drives into more impersonal cultural imperatives.

Lilith trains the first group of humans to be sent back to the surface of the Earth. However, she does not teach defeat and resignation, but rather intelligence and resistance: “Learn and run“. This is an interesting variant of what the Oankali call the Human Contradiction, that they formulate as intelligence and hierarchy. As they see no problem in dependence, including chemical dependence, they are not be able to perceive the human drive for independence as at least as basic as the drive to hierarchy. There is not just a contradiction in humans, but a basic ambivalence. The Oankali do not understand such ambivalennce.

LILITH’S BROOD, the new title to the XENOGENESIS TRILOGY, expresses this human acceptance of ambivalence. The first meaning of this title is Lilith’s children both physical (her hybrid “construct” children) and spiritual (the resisters). Yet “brood” is also a noun derived from “to brood”, and designates dark and deep thinking about subjects that provoke ambivalent feelings. Lilith is dependent on Nikanj and loves it and her family, yet she rages against her dependence. Sometimes she just drops everything and goes of into the forest for a few days to brood.

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