Vampirism and Posthumanism in Octavia Butler's Fledgling

By Nayar, Pramod K. | Notes on Contemporary Literature, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Vampirism and Posthumanism in Octavia Butler's Fledgling


Nayar, Pramod K., Notes on Contemporary Literature


Octavia Butler's Fledgling (NY: Grand Central, 2005), according to one critic, shows how vampiric and human agency can induce change (Ali Brox, "'Every Age has the Vampire it Needs': Octavia Butler's Vampiric Vision in Fledgling", Utopian Studies 19.3 [2008]: 391-409). This vision of change, the present essay argues, is a posthuman one of species domestication. Species miscegenation has been central to Butler's vision right from her early work when she embodies the biologists' idea of "symbiogenesis" (where species cooperation rather than competition is the agent of all evolution) in her treatment of species mixing (Laurel Bollinger, "Symbiogenesis, Selfhood, and Science Fiction", Science Fiction Studies 37. 110, Part 1 [2010]: 34-53). This species miscegenation, I argue, is essentially a domestication of vampires and humans into a posthuman interracialization.

Contemporary representations of the vampire show these species/races as more like us humans, looking like us and behaving like us (Terry Spaise, "Necrophilia and SM: The Deviant Side of Buffy the Vampire Slayer", Journal of Popular Culture 38.4 [2005]: 744-762; Pramod K. Nayar, "How to Domesticate a Vampire: Gender, Blood Relations, and Sexuality in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight", Nebula 37.3 [2010]: 60-76). This "domestication" is through a deracination in Butler, who shows the potential of a species to erase their characteristic "essences" in order to fit in better with their ecosystem. In Fledgling vampires seeking to live among humans are "domesticated".

The first mode of domestication is through deracination. Shori is a genetically modified vampire, a "daywalker", who therefore has certain advantages over other vampires. During the attacks on her vampire family and kin, Shori is the only one who is alert enough to counter the attack--the rest are killed because they cannot tolerate daylight. This genetic modification seems like an advancement, though Butler suggests something more: it is through the loss--deracination--of specifically vampiric qualities that Shori becomes fit for human cohabitation, being now far more attuned to the needs of the human "symbionts" (humans taken as sexual and family partners by vampires). As John Allen Stevenson argued in the case of Dracula, where Dracula's vampirism bestows his human "partners" with a new racial identity and "new loyalties" ("A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula", PMLA 103.2 [1988]: 144), Shori's vampirism engenders her new loyalties towards humans and their loyalties towards her. Vampirism also produces new behavior patterns in Shori. During an attack on their community, Shori becomes far more concerned about her human symbionts (especially when Theodora is killed, p. 252), and places herself at the forefront of the battle as some kind of shield (166-176)--thus assuming a stereotypical human, masculine-protector role for herself. Butler offers a step up the evolutionary ladder by positing a mutual deracination: the vampire becomes less vampiric and acquires more human qualities (emotional attachments, communitarianism in Fledgling) and the human loses some of her/his qualities (sickness, sexual possessiveness). It is only by losing some of the essences that species can evolve.

The second mode of species domestication occurs through the narrative of alternate history that Butler offers: that Ina vampires have lived with human symbionts for thousands of years: "We had already joined with humans ten thousand years ago, taking their blood and safeguarding the ones who accepted us from most physical harm" (188). In a brilliant revisioning of vampire history that parallels human history, Butler maps Ina history, from early writings on clay tablets, references to the site of the Sumerian civilization, nomadic life, settled agricultural communities to the present. The vampires, in Butler's vision, seem to have gone through the same stages of domestication and "civilization" as the humans! …

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