By Katherine D. Harris
After our interesting infographic session on A Clockwork Orange, students in TechnoLiterature began to grapple with issues of biotechnology in Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve. On our first day of discussion, six students provided the class with information about Carter, the dissemination of this novel, its characters, and the biotechnology that demands suspension of disbelief, as with most of Carter's novels. Though no digital reader version of the novel exists, students accessed the Amazon and Barnes & Noble reviews to investigate the public reception of this novel, and they noted that quite a few of the write-ups suggested baffled and baffling responses. The novel is just weird: Mother, the somewhat fascist matriarch, castrates a misogynistic womanizer only to re-create him (Evelyn) as a woman (Eve), complete with functioning reproductive system. This new woman still retains masculine qualities demonstrated by falling in love with the epitome of woman, Tristessa, who turns out to be a transvestite. This means that Eve desires the performance of femininity – essentially, a man who performs womanhood and femininity to highlight over-determined beauty. Only then does Eve realize that she holds power in this new body and new existence as woman. She holds the power of love.
The part that these TechnoLiterature students have a problem with is the insemination of Eve with her own sperm. Realistically, could Eve ever understand “woman?” Did she need to be subjugated as a woman to completely comprehend the realities of the powerless woman's body in a patriarchal construct? Students argued vehemently about performance of gender, but ultimately agreed that the young men in the room could not really understand or read Evelyn as a woman.
All of this discussion sparked conversations about the essence of humanity. Is it Descartes cognitive function, “I think, therefore I am?” Or, is it hope and despair, construction of a belief system, the creative function? I asked students to write a blog post about The Passion of New Eve that focused on issues of gender – a post like most of the other posts that they have been writing all semester. As first and second year students, for the most part, they struggle to articulate their ideas in complex, sophisticated writing. But, I think this is my fault. When we moved into discussions about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that is the basis for Blade Runner, students jumped into action to have an incredibly heated discussion about humanity and artificial intelligence. Much of the debate centered around feelings/emotions vs. the performance of feelings/emotions. This, of course, brought us to the popularization of serial killers, zombies, vampires, and other-worldly beasts. We returned to the question “What makes us human?”
So, I asked them to use their smart phones (for they all own one) to create a photo-based blog post to answer the following questions:
- What makes us human?
- How are humans technologically dependent?
- How is humanity intertwined with technology now?
I encouraged them to be creative in their photo-blogging. Surprisingly, the entries for this blog post were dynamic, engaging, creative, thoughtful, well-written, and more. We are 10 weeks into the semester: How is it that I have only now realized that their learning strategies and critical thinking products are so very different from my expectations? By releasing them into a creative endeavor to screw around with technology that they handle everyday, these students differentiated themselves from their technology to suggest that humanity uses technology as a tool and is not necessarily completely integrated. (They are not cyborgs. Interesting.) More so than any other set of students, these first and second year students in a California State University are aware of the imposition and interruptions that technology creates in their lives. This completely dispels my notion that most students are merely consumers of technology, techno-zombies as one of my Library & Information Science students put it. Have I been wrong all along? Or have these students learned to articulate critiques of technology because of our discussions? I would rather give them the credit than my curriculum -- smart techno-zombies, they are.