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The (Un)Knowledgeable Body: (Il)Literacy, Counter-Narratives, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred

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Abstract:

In “The (Un)knowledgeable Body: (Il)literacy, Counter-Narratives, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred,” Clyburn examines literacy as knowledge acquisition and production in order to argue that Kindred is representative of a body of counter-narratives seeking to challenge dominant, utopian portraits of American democracy and the veneration of post-racialism as the state of U.S. race relations since the end of the civil rights movement. Butler’s neo-slave narrative conflates the pre- and post-racial state in order to complicate contemporary issues of race, narrative agency, literacy and illiteracy.
Kindred is the story of Edana Franklin, a black woman in an interracial marriage with her white husband, Kevin Franklin. Dana is repeatedly pulled from 1976 back in time to the antebellum south to save the life of Rufus Weylin, her white ancestor, who grows from a young child to a cruel slave owner. In order to insure her own survival in the future, Dana must protect Rufus long enough for him to father Dana’s ancestor, Hagar. While Dana’s marriage to Kevin is seemingly a “post-racial” relationship, Butler uses the mutable boundaries of science fiction to transport Dana and Kevin back in time to the antebellum slave south, a time period in which the laws (both formal and informal) governing black/white interactions are severe and overt and the racial hierarchy is hyper-defined. By conflating the past and present, the novel reveals that, even in Dana’s present, there is no safe “post-racial” space free from the influence of racial hierarchy—racism persists in the post-civil rights era, though often in more abstract and seemingly invisible ways.
In the novel, post-racialism is critiqued as a manifestation of critical illiteracy—an unwillingness on the part of the dominant to engage the experiences of the “other” or a lack of awareness that those experiences even exist. In order to challenge this critical illiteracy, Kindred forces a dialogue between the center and the margins that reconstitutes both, emphasizing African American cultural literacy so that we might construct more informed and effective counter-narratives, and encouraging the dominant to engage these narratives in pursuit of a more authentic foundation for productive dialogues on race.
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Association:
Name: 94th Annual Convention
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http://www.asalh.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p377356_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Clyburn, Tiffani. "The (Un)Knowledgeable Body: (Il)Literacy, Counter-Narratives, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 94th Annual Convention, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Cincinnati, Ohio, <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p377356_index.html>

APA Citation:

Clyburn, T. "The (Un)Knowledgeable Body: (Il)Literacy, Counter-Narratives, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 94th Annual Convention, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Cincinnati, Ohio <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p377356_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: In “The (Un)knowledgeable Body: (Il)literacy, Counter-Narratives, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred,” Clyburn examines literacy as knowledge acquisition and production in order to argue that Kindred is representative of a body of counter-narratives seeking to challenge dominant, utopian portraits of American democracy and the veneration of post-racialism as the state of U.S. race relations since the end of the civil rights movement. Butler’s neo-slave narrative conflates the pre- and post-racial state in order to complicate contemporary issues of race, narrative agency, literacy and illiteracy.
Kindred is the story of Edana Franklin, a black woman in an interracial marriage with her white husband, Kevin Franklin. Dana is repeatedly pulled from 1976 back in time to the antebellum south to save the life of Rufus Weylin, her white ancestor, who grows from a young child to a cruel slave owner. In order to insure her own survival in the future, Dana must protect Rufus long enough for him to father Dana’s ancestor, Hagar. While Dana’s marriage to Kevin is seemingly a “post-racial” relationship, Butler uses the mutable boundaries of science fiction to transport Dana and Kevin back in time to the antebellum slave south, a time period in which the laws (both formal and informal) governing black/white interactions are severe and overt and the racial hierarchy is hyper-defined. By conflating the past and present, the novel reveals that, even in Dana’s present, there is no safe “post-racial” space free from the influence of racial hierarchy—racism persists in the post-civil rights era, though often in more abstract and seemingly invisible ways.
In the novel, post-racialism is critiqued as a manifestation of critical illiteracy—an unwillingness on the part of the dominant to engage the experiences of the “other” or a lack of awareness that those experiences even exist. In order to challenge this critical illiteracy, Kindred forces a dialogue between the center and the margins that reconstitutes both, emphasizing African American cultural literacy so that we might construct more informed and effective counter-narratives, and encouraging the dominant to engage these narratives in pursuit of a more authentic foundation for productive dialogues on race.


Similar Titles:
Black Female Slavery & Autonomy in Science Fiction: Octavia Butler's "Kindred"

Octavia E. Butler: Writing the Black Female Body

The Literary Fantastic as Alternative Historical Knowledge: Octavia Butler’s Kindred

Counter-propositions to the Modern Body: Sahajiya narratives of Bengal


 
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