Fiction Friday: Speech Sounds

My women in literature students read Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds” for class this week. We also read Donna Harraway’s “The Cyborg Manifesto.” In this class, we use Friday as a work day, and the students can work on whatever homework they want to work on. I’m a firm believer that when we ask students to do difficult tasks we should give them grace, support, and time to work on those tasks in class with our support, so I give them Fridays and their abstracts for the theoretical works are due on Monday of the next week. Tuesdays are reserved for discussing the fictional work from the previous Thursday in light of the new theory, then on Wednesdays, we read four poems through the theoretical lens. If you’re really confused about how this works, you can access the schedule here.

Anyway, we read “Speech Sounds” and my students were really insightful about the text and discussed the ways in which Harraway’s theoretical ideas were present in the text. They picked apart the dichotomies and got at the permeable boundaries and were, in short, brilliant about the text. They loved the story as well. One idea we didn’t get at, that I am hopeful we will get at this week through “The Laugh of the Medusa” by Helene Cixous is the idea that the woman, throughout the story, has a voice, but can’t use it. A couple of students brought up these ideas, but sort of skirted around them in discussion. I would love it if we could really get at that idea and explore why Butler writes the female protagonist as a woman who can speak, but who can’t speak within her cultural context. What would she say that the other folks can’t hear? In the context of the story, she’d be killed for speaking, but is there cultural application for Butler’s views on female speech or lack thereof? Yes. Of course. But getting my students to speak thoughtfully about that will be the challenge of this week. Sometimes I love what I do!

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