Academic journal article ARIEL

Re-Writing the Bhabhian "Mimic Man": Akin, the Posthuman Other in Octavia Butler's Adulthood Rites

Academic journal article ARIEL

Re-Writing the Bhabhian "Mimic Man": Akin, the Posthuman Other in Octavia Butler's Adulthood Rites

Article excerpt

Cultural critics have sought to define the term posthuman (1) as primarily a condition that does away with hierarchical forms of power and control. It recognizes a transformation of the human species into a subject position that moves from an oppositional politics of segregating the human "self" from the "other" to one of acknowledging the "other" as part of the human "self" (2) With the advent of the posthuman condition comes the need to re-define human rights in a posthuman context. Octavia Butler's science fiction novel Adulthood Rites (3) introduces us to Oankali, gene-trading aliens who travel through space. They intercept and save the human species that is dying in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The Oankali mission of salvation has a hidden agenda, (4) though: whoever opts to be saved needs to forgo the right to reproduce. Reproduction, in this new world where human beings are a salvaged species and not the predominant one, is on the terms laid out by the Oankali aliens. The terms of Oankali reproduction that start off with genetic modifications of the human Lilith, the Oankali nominated progenitor of the posthuman in Dawn, enforces the birth of a hybrid--a human-alien construct, Akin, who is related to both humans and aliens, the posthuman other. Built on a "postcolonial" definition of a "mimic man," (5) a product of what Bart Simon and Jill Didur call "critical posthumanism," (6) who sees the other in the self, Akin modulates and modifies his sense of agency and choice as he contends with complex political and ethical issues. Deployed as an Oankali informer among humans, Akin ultimately emerges as the savior, a spokesperson for the human species who adroitly balances contradictory roles in a culture seemingly "colonial" in its intent.

As gene-trading aliens, the Oankali evoke the European traders when they made their initial forays into establishing a colonial empire (Goss and Riquelme 448). They seem to disguise their intent, the enforcement of a total denial of human reproductive rights, in a rhetoric of altruism, salvation, and apparent choice. Read one way, this mission of salvation recalls the civilizing mission of colonizers replete with demeaning assumptions that formed the heart of "civilizing" campaigns. And yet the intent behind the Oankali genetic trade is one of producing a "different" species for the future (7) and they promise "a utopian collective," for after all the Oankali seek and embrace difference. The text denies an easy reading between categorized knowledge of oppressive Oankali and victimized humans (Miller 339). It brings in "ambivalences within these definitions of power ... mapped by the structures of control and interdependency which are in turn subject to the demands of compromise and survival" (Boulter 176 - 77). Confronted with this complex situation, Akin remains undecided about the Oankali because he is uncertain whether they are progenitors of an altruistic symbiotic mode that ensures human survival or predators of an egoistic discourse that intends to bring about human extinction. His divided loyalties bring on further complications when Akin, though nurtured by the Oankali as a "mimic man" becomes not an "idea-driven puppet who do[es] only what their creators think the plot requires" but begins to take on a life of his own (Raffel 457). He requires extraordinary finesse to reach his goal of convincing the apparent "colonizer" (8) aliens to restore reproductive rights to humans, who by nature are discriminatory and violent. With rare cognitive skills, Akin embraces a transformative potential nurtured by a sense of intimacy and complicity that refutes discourses of hierarchical powerand control essential to the imperialistic imperative. It enables him to communicate, adjust and adapt to the changing dynamics of the aliens and humans. In his flexibility, Akin re-writes his role. He brings in a rare complexity to definitions of postcolonial difference and hybridity. It is my contention that this posthuman other, a cross-cultural product, builds on the "both/and" (9) politics of species and keeps evolving as he tackles critical situations. …

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