GMO’s: Harmful or Helpful? Everyone Has An Agenda.

In the novel, Ozeki mentions that “the rapid growth of the fast-food chains was the random factor that helped fuel the potato boom of ’74. In the 1980s it was McDonald’s introduction of the Supersize Meal. In the nineties it was Wendy’s Baked Potato” (56). This was interesting to me because it made me realize how the rise in consumerism of fast food restaurants led to more demand for potato’s, which in turn probably helped companies like Cynaco who produce GMO’s to expand so that they could fulfill this demand for crops that are bigger and more resistant to diseases and insects, and thus supply these restaurants with an efficient, cheap, and hearty potato. GMO’s in the novel are treated as evil entities while Lloyd’s way of farming is seen as being more personal and thus “more natural.”

However, even the Fuller’s use pesticides and chemicals to increase the yield of their crop, and it is even brought up in the novel how these poisons may have played a role in Cass’s miscarriages and inability to become pregnant. Still, without the use of these pesticides, the farming industry would most likely be wiped out and sustain major crop failures, resulting in a severe shortage of food. Although in All Over Creation Cynaco is presented as little more than a profit seeking company, what if their assertions that they are helping to feed the world not just a flimsy excuse for making money, but are indeed accurate? What if GMO’s are the result of using science to benefit humanity? Are GMO’s any more dangerous than the possible side effects of pesticides and other chemicals that are already necessary for farmers to grow their crops?

The Seeds of Resistance are presented in the novel as an extreme example of food activists, but how many people really take the time to research the foods they eat and even care that they are genetically modified? Even when presented with information concerning GMO’s, are consumers going to start boycotting their local supermarkets and stop eating at these fast food restaurants? In my opinion, it is highly unlikely. Ozeki does try to present the multi-facted sides of the food debate, but she clearly favors Lloyd’s way of farming and The Seeds of Resistance’s attitude. Because of this, I feel like her approach fails to represent all of the alternatives for growing crops and also the possible benefits that could be gleaned from GMO’s, and I believe that the novel fails to take into account the reality of the farming industry and the underlying consumerism that drives it.

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Anti-Cynaco; Anti-PR

The ending line of All Over Creation is “Thanks to all who save and plant.  May your gardens grow” (420).  I believe that All Over Creation shows the many different facets of environmentalists’ rhetoric without taking a strong side one way or the other.  I also think Ozeki does a great job of showing how us the different stakeholders and different commonplaces of the people who are arguing in environmentalist debates.  Everyone involved in the story comes from a completely different place and holds completely different ideals, yet the thing they have in common is the drive to do what is best for mankind, all except the big company Cynaco and the PR firm Elliot works for.  That, I think, is where the position Ozeki is taking is, in fact, strong.  I believe Ozeki is showing that all people, no matter how different, are working towards the same goal of life; however, the people whose only goal is money is where the problem lies.  The people who are involved in the Cynaco company get to play no part in this story except for through the explanations from the Seeds of Resistance, and the very unlikeable character of Elliot and his hypocritical boss Duncan are the characters we get to associate with the PR firm.  I don’t think Ozeki wants to show that one way of approaching the issue of GMOs and the like is better than the other, but I would argue that she does want to show that there is a disconnect between the big companies that produce these products (and do public relations for them) and the people who consume these products.

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The Lack of Transnationalism in All Over Creation

In a sub-point within Heise’s “Ecocriticism and the Transnational Turn in American Studies,” she asserts that novels such as Ozeki’s All Over Creation “tend to rely on the assumption that cultural and biological diversity refer to analogous structures in social and ecological systems” (400).  She also claims the narrative device of equating humans and plants “is ultimately not an environmentalist one” (399).  As we discussed the novel in class, some biblical comparisons were drawn to Ozeki’s narrative devices.  These comparisons beg the question whether the metaphors and characters within the novel should be interpreted allegorically.  Yumi, for instance, is characterized throughout as taking a cavalier and self-indulgent approach to crucial responsibilities.  However, Yumi’s part-time narration of the story reveals no truly wicked intentions.  Rather, her judgment is disastrous leading Cass to reproach her behavior and neglect: “…I just can’t stand to watch you treat such a blessing with such…such carelessness” (390).  This hubristic carelessness leads to numerous undesirable predicaments.  Yumi eventually realizes the trick is “to accept the responsibility and forgo the control” (410), and she and her surrounding cast regain harmony.  Yumi in this instance is an allegorical everywoman who is able to overcome her fatal flaw.  Her careless handling of her loved ones naturally equates to a careless handling of plants and nature in the novel.  Ultimately, this ethical resolution of environmental complications through allegorical representation remains problematic according to Heise’s main argument calling for a transnational turn within ecocriticism.  Specifically, the failure to include “(a) more sustained engagement with theories of culture globalization and a finer-grained analysis of the conflicts and confluences between cultural, economic, political, and technological globalization process” (401)by Ozeki discredits the ecological logic behind the text.

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Good and Bad in establishing Eco-Criticism

Ozeki’s All Over Creation is an entertaining novel. A quick read, which when compared to Animal’s journey in Animal’s People, took nowhere near the toll on me. Beyond the entertainment value, however is there more to this novel? Does this novel actually drift into the realm of eco-criticism? I would argue that it does without a doubt cross that line.

The work as a whole introduces a clear struggle between “good” and “bad”, which give the novel an almost predictable argumentative quality. However to be considered eco-criticism a novel has to have more than an argument, there obviously has to be an environmental element as well. Ozeki tackles this aspect of the novel in an interesting way. She uses nature, and more specifically agriculture to influence the reader as they begin to establish who is the “good” in the work. To discuss this I want to first expand on the opening passage we discussed in class on Tuesday. In this instance Ozeki leads he reader through an extended metaphor that ends in the instance in which the reader themselves are plant pushing “up through the sedimentary minerals” (Ozeki 1). This moment is important to establishing the novel as an eco-criticism in that it places the reader on a side, and that side is intimately tied to nature. Through this metaphor, housed in the very first pages of the novel, the reader is thrust into a position where they are on apart of nature “group” and the reader is always going to want to owe their alliance to “good”.

Ozeki then goes on to expand this group. Various characters throughout the novel are described as being one with nature as, establishing their connection to the reader. Several more exotic instances even include humans dressing as vegetables. We see an example of this in Cassie’s play. “Cassie had started out as a pea. … but by the time she got to fourth, she had gained so much weight they made her a potato.”(7).

In this novel there is a conscious effort by Ozeki to establish a group through the use of nature. In defining groups in a novel as “good” or “human” through the use of nature or in the cause a by product of nature undoubtedly forces your work into the realm of the Environmental Novel, or eco-criticism because of the apparent contrast it creates to any opposition.

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Motivation

My post concerns not whether Ozeki has an agenda in writing All Over Creation (I think it’s too obvious she does) but rather how she feels about the concept of motivation in the GMO debate. In the book, two motivations unite in the struggle against Cynaco. We have Lloyd Fuller, who believes GMO’s are an abomination in defiance of God’s exclusive right to creation, and we have the Seeds of Resistance, who are concerned about both the possible threat to public health that GMO’s pose and their more abstract threat to the purity of nature. Lloyd and the Seeds’ motivations don’t always overlap (Lloyd finds the Seeds’ hippie ways rather quirky; the Seeds are a bit put off by Lloyd’s stubborn religiousness), but these viewpoints are not treated as incompatible. As both are in good faith, I believe, Ozeki considers them valuable to the cause.

Then there is Elliot Rhodes, who — at least initially — does the right thing for the wrong reasons. He claimed to be a “conscientious objector” to the war but is revealed to be more of a draft dodger and his admiration for Asian culture little more than a fetish (He can’t even pronounce Yumi’s name right). Later, he even mocks his youthful liberalism when trying to seduce Jillian: “Can’t help it. I’m an activist, babe. Just looking for a little action” (168). He only makes a full apology to Yumi after he’s told that placating her is the only way to fix his problems — and even then, he does it in the most self-congratulatory way possible, telling her the story of how he “saved” her father. Given his record of lying and using underhanded tactics to further Cynaco’s goals, Elliot’s argument that Cynaco is “just trying to feed the world” rings hollow (315).

That argument is never really explored in the book, and I think Ozeki treats it cheaply by not doing so. What if genetically modifying crops does result in higher yields and would go further in feeding the hungry, particularly in developing countries? Does it matter that Cynaco’s motivation is profit if the end result is fewer starving people? But since self-serving Elliot seems to represent Cynaco’s attitude as a whole, the pro-GMO case is considered to be motivated in bad faith and disregarded.

Questions to consider: Do you feel Ozeki explored GMOs’ potential benefits adequately, and if not, do you believe this hampered her argument at all? Do you think it matters that GMO developers are motivated by profit?

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Legacy of Bhopal Taints Olympics

As I mentioned in class, Union Carbide/Dow’s negligence and evasion of responsibility for the Bhopal disaster have re-gained media attention, that oh so elusive attention. Controversies around Dow’s London Olympics sponsorship continue to boil. The latest news: “Possibility of Indian Boycott of Olympic Opening Ceremony

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Urban Roots documentary

I’ve just learned about a new documentary by Mark MacInnis that’s akin to The Garden: Urban Roots. It studies the trend of converting land in blighted Detroit neighborhoods into urban gardens that I mentioned in class this week. I’ve contacted the producer and hope to arrange a screening here in Austin/at UT. More information to come, if it works out…

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Chaos of Explosion Blurs Boundaries

Sinha represents the disastrous effects of the chemical explosion at the factory in Khaufpur by conflating humans, animals, natural environment, and man-made structures. The protagonist, Animal, is a conflation of the human and non-human, but his is not the only example of such conflation. Animal refers to the abandoned factory (where he lives) as the place “where the death wind blew” (31). The “death wind” refers to the cloud of chemicals. Using the word wind, part of the natural environment, to describe the chemicals disseminating through the town brings to mind the aerial photos of the BP oil spill. Wind is often thought of as having beautiful effects on the landscape; combining something potentially beautiful with something horrifying reflects the chaos caused by the disaster. Ma Franci predicts that the scorpions crawling through the walls of the factory will eventually “have faces like people” —this reminds me of Metamorphosis. She talks of the scorpions becoming “the size of horses” (62). The image of abnormally large scorpions shows the lack of control that people of Khaufpur have over their presence in their own environment. They are made small by and helpless to environmental devastation. Animal says as much on page 78 when referring to the prospect of him “mating” with a woman as “unnatural, but I’ve no choice but to be unnatural.” The explosion dehumanizes Animal. Hearing Elli’s comments about the district, Animal thinks of it as “a wreckage of baked earth mounds…piles of planks…plastic sheets, dried palm leaves” (106). The failing infrastructure in the city amounts to a place without boundaries between man-made and earthen things; they’re jumbled together. The explosion has upset the ecological order and social order. Nothing in the physical environment is where it is supposed to be; people cannot perform their roles. Sinha reflects the impact of the disaster with conflation.

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Fiction As a Vehicle For Criticism

There are a lot of striking images and ideas in the beginning of ‘Animal’s People.’ I probably wasn’t the only person in class who visited www.khaufpur.com after Sinha directed the reader to the website, a notably modern technique, linking a fictional book to a fictional website. There are a couple tabs that are ‘under construction,’ but for the most part, khaufpur.com is a complete and detailed website. Khaufpur is clearly a fictionalized version of Bhopal. It is a common technique in fiction to use fictional aliases for real places, but Sinha takes it a step further by creating such an elaborate fictionalized version of Bhopal. The website is complete with local history and even phone numbers of fictional local officials, an attention to detail that is almost Tolkein-like. An interesting question that I had after reading this passage was what the point in fictionalizing an actual event so blatantly? From the beginning, it’s quite apparent that the book is about the Bhopal disaster. Aside from being simpler to write (not needing to extensively document actual accounts or do an incredibly amount of research), I think fictionalizing this event gives Sinha more freedom to criticize The Bhopal disaster and offer insight into corporation’s relationships and interactions with the environment. This leads me to question not why Sinha chose to fictionalize the event, but what she was able to accomplish by fictionalizing the event that she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish by writing a non-fictional account of the event. I think this could be an interesting question to keep in mind as we continue to read the novel. So far, I think it adds a more human perspective to the novel in Animal’s personality and relationship with the community, those aren’t the sorts of things one is able to pick up in an interview. I also think fiction allows for artistic expression in the novel that makes it more memorable and may provoke more interest from the reader, such as the detail of Animal walking on all fours. I’ll be interested to see what else fiction allows Sinha to do as we continue to read.

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Humor Lightens the Darkness

Animal’s People covers immensely dark and tragic subjects, such as the crippling of Animal’s back, the brain damage Ma Franci appears to be suffering from, the existence and plight of the Khã-in-the-Jar, and the overall poor condition of the people and buildings in Khaufpur due to the poison gas incident, yet somehow the novel does not wallow in the despair these subjects would normally elicit.

I think the novel stays away from this pitfall of darkness and depression through humor, specifically humor surrounding Animal’s candid view of these subjects as well as his frequent use of  “bad” language.

The particularly disturbing scene when Animal meets the Khãl-in-the-Jar is balanced with Animal’s sense of humor:

An ugly little monster, his hands are stretched out, he has a wicked look on his face, as if he’s just picked your pocket and is planning to piss on your shoe. Such an expression, I forget my own troubles and start laughing. (Sinha 57)

In this passage Animal gives the fetus almost cartoonish characteristics by describing it as this grotesque, evil thing, but then follows it up with this completely harmless act of peeing on a shoe. This unexpected turn results in a humorous view of the fetus, which is then validated by Animal laughing at this image himself. By discussing such a tragic thing, a horribly malformed human fetus, in a humorous light, the emotional tension in the scene is dispelled. The scene does not become any less moving, the humor just allows the reader to focus on Animal’s message and the true relationship between the Kampani, the poison gas, and the people of Khaufpur rather than a reader’s own personal feelings of guilt or pity.

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This post has nothing to do with Environmentalism

I don’t know if this is kosher to talk about but it’s something that really caught my attention. As we all know the city of Khaufpur is a fictionalization of the real life city of Bhopal. Likewise the characters are all fictional and which of course makes the story fictional as well. And yet, it’s presented as a true story… which basically makes it a fictional story based on real life events that’s presenting itself as non-fiction. Of course such a blurring between real life and fiction is deliberate on the part of the author.

This is exemplified by the “Editor’s Note” at the very beginning of the story. There at the very bottom it gives a linkto the city of Khaufpur’s website. Before I had even read a page of Animal’s story I had opened my laptop and checked out the website. I think it’s an extremely nice touch to help bring to life the city of Khaufpur. Not only that, it provides rich grounds for inside jokes. Take the third entry in the Matrimonial section for example, “Jaanvar 19, Private Eye– ‘How a person looks it’s not so important as what is in the heart. I am a sincere person what about you?”’

But it’s not all just fun and games. The Classified section has a number of different subcategories each with an ad or two, except for the Health category which has fifteen. Of course, all of them can be connected to the chemical explosion in some way.

I spent a fair amount of time noodling around on that website and it got me wondering, why don’t most books do this sort of thing? In this age of tweets and constant internet connection is it viable for books set in modern settings to have these (fake) websites to elaborate upon the world the story takes place? In what ways could this idea be expanded upon?

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Nature Reclaiming the Land

One of the passages in the reading that really stuck out to me as interesting came fairly early on in the novel. Around page 31, Animal talks about how Mother Nature is trying to take back the land in and around the plant.

“Look throughout this place a silent war is being waged…like they want to rip down everything the Kampani made.”

This whole passage struck my interest because for the duration of the class, our main focus has been on people reclaiming the land that was once theirs, or trying to hold on to their land and keep it from being taken from them. However, there hasn’t really been a look at the phenomena of nature taking back the land for itself. This spurred an entire train of thought in my mind about how this really does ring true. If you think about it, every time there is something abandoned whether it be a building or a car or even an old farm field, nature always grows in and around the abandoned object and eventually breaks it down. Nature always breaks things down into their original state which is, essentially, dust. This drew a few questions for me. If, in fact, nature always takes back the land then does nature always win? Is nature the dominating force? Even when it seems like humans are making a mess of things and ruining nature, is the joke really on us when all is said and done? I think, in a way, it is. Here we are running around carelessly using up and taking over all the land that nature has to offer, however in the end, we are all at Mother Nature’s mercy. So does Mother Nature get the last laugh or are we still somehow in control?

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What does it mean to be human?

A passage that really struck me is on the bottom of page 23 where Animal claims that he’s not a human being.  This is the beginning of the debate between Animal and Zafar about what it means to be a human.  The question that arises for me is whether or not Animal can really not be human.  Sure he’s scientifically a Homo sapien but does being a human entail more than that?  I think in the context of this book being a human entails some sort of connection to others.  This value, the social aspect of life, is what Animal focuses on when describing Khaufpur, it’s a city of characters.  When Elli Barber describes a district as “built by termites” or “flung up by an earthquake” (pg. 106), she removes the value human connections give the place.  When Animal considers this view he provides us with one of the longest and most depressing descriptions of the setting we’ve seen so far in the novel.  Another instance of losing this social connection would be the “kampani”.  While it is comprised of people, the kampani is definitely not human.  It is a vague, evil force, which has hurt Khaufpur without any reparation.  So I’d argue that a social connection must go both ways in terms of influence.  The people of Khaufpur have no influence on the kampani either in eliciting sympathy or legally.  Going back and applying this criterion to Animal (2 way connection to others) I can see that he can’t escape being a human.  While he may avoid connection to the world at large he needs and values certain bonds such as Nisha and Ma Franci.

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Silko’s choice of form

To begin, I want to step back from the content of the story and focus on the form in which Silko chooses to write and compile “Ceremony.” I have come to notice over the years that how an author chooses to say sometimes can be very deliberate and central to the story. It becomes evident in the opening pages of the novel that Silko has no intention of adhering to traditional standards of novel form. With no division of chapters and poems irregularly placed throughout the work, the question is then raised as to why she chose to write this way.  Is there a reason that the third poem “What She Said” is at the very bottom of the page, or that the following page contains only the word “Sunrise”? I would like to suggest that by making her sections unidentifiable, she is making a direct connection to the unclear themes of dreams, myths, memory, and reality. Perhaps our confusion while reading is meant to somehow connect us to the confusion felt by Tayo as he deals with the stress and confusion of the war. Silko not only ignores the rules of novel formatting, she also combines poetry and prose to not allow her work to be put in a genre as well. Is this simply to pay respect to the traditional story telling ways of her Native American culture, or is there a deeper meaning to the madness?

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Separation of Man and His Needs For the Benefit of the Whole?

In Ceremony, on page 10, the narrator illustrates an important memory of Tayo’s in which jungle rain becomes a futile source of agony and defeat prompting Tayo in desperation to pray its existence away in order to save Rocky.  The nature of jungle rain in this section is described as having “no beginning or end; it grew like foliage from the sky, branching and arching to the earth…” representing a force soon to cause an event that will ultimately render Tayo’s spirit and psyche broken and near irreparable – Rocky’s death.

In Tayo’s instinctual and semi-omniscient desperation to prevent the impending unraveling of his mental health, he chooses to “pray” away this force of rain and therefore elevate his individual priority for survival with the instantly gratifying guaranteed safety of an individual in whom Tayo derives his own identity, sense of family and connection to humanity.  However, as the novel advances its plot, we learn of a persistent drought in the Laguna Reservation with disastrous effects.  As Silko crafts her story to imply Tayo feeling responsibility for the waterless and rainless conditions straining the land, I believe this a calculated move to highlight a consequence and the rippling effects of actions predicated by attitudes or perspectives in which individual needs and desires take precedence over the whole of nature and the conditions necessary to preserve it.  Specifically, Silko has crafted a compelling and dire circumstance and provided good intention for Tayo’s wish for rain to end therefore eliminating general scapegoat repeat offenders against nature,
yet still spotlights the repercussions of disregarding the constant benefit and reliance on rain by Tayo in his moment of deep need for Rocky to escape certain death which is not an unreasonable wish.  The fact that Tayo loses Rocky and proceeds to come undone also suggests Silko’s awareness in her writing of the complexity of human psychological or
social needs in sustaining mental health or peace of mind.  The conflict of these two opposing forces appears to be what is most in need of resolution to find balance between nature and humanity if both are to move forward in harmony.

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