Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
This project seeks to explore the ways Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy complicates humans' understandings of subjectivity and human exceptionalism by challenging the concept of Otherness. Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series focuses on adaptability and acceptance of the nonhuman Other by depicting a forced encounter between humans and an alien species called the Oankali. Characters within the series grapple with a dynamic understanding of themselves, having to renegotiate the concept of the Other as they deal with intelligent nonhuman Beings and animate objects. Further, characters in the series are coerced into accepting the transformation of humanity into something other than human as they integrate into what the Oankali call a “gene trade.”
In this thesis, I seek to expand the ongoing conversation about Xenogenesis by applying a new theoretical perspective to the text. I specifically explore the Oankali’s ontological framework, how they define themselves in the world, by placing Xenogenesis in conversation with new materialist theory. I pull specifically from Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter (2010) to help readers understand the alien construction of subjecthood and their relation to the material world. I show how coupling Xenogenesis with this theoretical lens complicates anthropocentric ontology by highlighting the agency and animacy of the material world. Butler’s fictional alien species questions the human notion of “matter as passive stuff, as raw, brute, or inert” (Bennett vii). Applying this theoretical lens to the series complicates reading the Oankali as villains and places the aliens in a morally ambiguous position. Further, I argue that the alien ontology becomes a hopeful alternative for human hierarchies if understood through new materialism.
Gregory, Zackary, "Becoming “Living Matter”: Alive Things in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Series" (2023). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 1727.
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