As I write this last blog I’m honestly not interested by any of the scientific discoveries, the genetic research, or our extensive discussions on the morality of chimeras. At least not intrigued enough to reflect on it now. It was certainly thought-provoking, but it’s not what I’m thinking of when I look back at this class.
More than any kind of controversial technological breakthroughs, this class has taught me about literature. And not just taught me, but made me seriously consider the concept of genres and how I myself interact with them.
I passed this class off quickly as a dystopia course. I’m assuming most of us did. And indeed, a lot of our novels have been of the grim, futuristic, science-gone-awry dystopian breed. And I haven’t enjoyed all of them. Brave New World? Didn’t like it in high school, didn’t like it now. The Island of Dr. Moreau? Creepy, played-out, and downright icky. Even when we moved on to other more unique reads, such as Ship Fever and Cloud Atlas, the injection of science weirded me out. What was Gregor Mendel and a nuclear power plant doing in my books? It seemed forced and out of place.
I think I started “getting it” with Never Let Me Go. I can honestly say that this was the best assigned reading I’ve had since Pride and Prejudice – and that’s saying a lot ( yes I’m a Janeite). It was simple, unique, touching, and contemporary. Cloning and it’s bleak modernity was a component of the book – but only to grasp at the greater implications of frail human lives. After reading Ishiguro’s genius work, I tried to at least find the humanity – happy or sad – in each piece we encountered. Even if the apocalyptic, sci-fi horror repulsed me, I could find something to appreciate.
And I learned along the way that books are endlessly flexible and completely resistant to labels. Genres are social constructs – neat little categories we can shove what we read into. We crave this and actively, shamelessly, participate in this categorization with every other aspect of our lives, so why not literature? Sure, classics like Brave New World seem to fit a specific mold. We can note that Huxley wrote the first great dystopia, we can tick off the common characteristics of dystopias, and this all makes understanding literary history and the novel itself a lot easier. But this should always remain groundwork – something to build off of, but not carry through out reading travels. We can apply our background to works like Oryx and Crake, but we must constantly be aware that authors don’t write genres. They write what they know, what they care about, what they daydream about.
I found that resisting the genre mold made reading relaxed, and made it fresh. I was no longer looking for the things that would repulse me. Instead, I was seeing what the book would offer me, in all its great complexity. And yes, I still disliked the majority of the readings in this class. But I also was able to step out of the “science fiction” umbrella and make the class what I wanted it to be – an exploration of human morality.
– Erin A.