Monday, March 19, 2007

He, She, It and Us

This is hands down my favorite work that we have read in class this semester. Also, since I am done with the reading I should mention a *spoiler warning* as this article will contain plot and/or ending details.

Marge Piercy's work He, She and It does a marvelous job of putting us face to face with ourselves and our society/ies. Through the use of two non-humans, i.e. Joseph and Yod we are given a background, a template so to speak that we can look at an compare (perhaps learn) about what we think is alive. Joseph and Yod both "die" but for the former he did not do so willingly and the latter out of self sacrifice. I was moved by the deaths of both beings. To remember Joseph's last words, "I fought for you! I saved you! I am a man too, I have my life as you have yours. My life is sweet to me." My life is sweet to me to. I cannot imagine any being where their own life is not sweet to them. Who would not want to cling to and keep that existence, that life, their own life, to live? Yod's death too was very moving in his last message saying "Malkah and you have been my friends, my family, my joy. Live on, Shira, raise Ari and forget me. I was a mistake. Whatever may happen at Y-S, I have done one good thing with my death. I have made sure that there will be no others like me" (pg. 416).

Life and death, some thing we as well as all the characters in this novel face. This means then Joseph and Yod as well. What were they? Joseph, as such is a golem, but what is exactly is that? The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language online says that "In Jewish folklore, an artificially created human supernaturally endowed with life." In Piercy's work Joseph is created out of clay and given life, and it seems intelligence, the ability to learn, and some desires too. Not to different from how man was created in Genesis! "The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" Genesis 2:7. And further "by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" Genesis 3:19. Not to turn this into a religious debate but it seems that what the Maharal did was not that far off from these Genesis descriptions, the main point being though that if both man and the golem were turned into living beings from, clay or dust (inanimate matter mind you) why would one beings life be worth more or less than anothers?

The same point goes towards Yod. If in creating a cyborg, as Avram says in the text: "Yod's a cyborg, not a robot - a mix of biological and machine components" (pg. 70). Yod, as with Joseph has and/or develops life, and intelligence, the ability to learn and desires too. Yet Avram sees Yod as a possession an object even though he always refers to Yod as "he" and not "it". And the irony is that the very rights of and to life that the Maharal and Avram would insist upon or take for granted is the very thing that they feel they are "entitled" to give and take away from their creations. Life however it has come about, is just that life. And if we allow and even mandate the objectification, the commodification of life, especially intelligent, sentient, life we can be headed for a (new?) type of slavery, of racism, or specie-ism, whereby the one race of beings is "allowed and vindicated" to the subjugation of the other, i.e. the inferior other. Whether that other be, female, black, Jew, Asian, martian, robot, android, or cyborg it is a mere detail, the main point is the "we" is allowed to do what we choose to "them." The problem the we and them distinction is that it generally makes up the entirety of us.

We are the story of He, She and It, Marge Piercy has given us a moral and ethical mirror by which we can, if we choose, to look at "we" and "them", she has shown us to ourselves, we will choose to recognize that which we our shown or will we go into denial and rationalize that, the image in the mirror must be one of "them" for me is part of the "we" and we are not like that. And for those who cannot stand to look in the mirror I say look! And for those that defend, rationalize or deny, I say really?

He, She, and It; Me, Us and Them, how easy it is to always find ourselves on the right side of the fence, one of the tragic ironies of life.

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