Woman on the Edge of Time – The Way Things Could Be

As I mentioned in my last post, Mattapoisett is the utopia I want to live in, so I’m excited to move away from writing about Connie’s present and into Luciente’s future. Of course, since I could easily go on and on about Luciente’s future, I’m going to limit myself to a few quick snippets before diving into language and politics.

Sexuality: Sexuality in Mattapoisett is extremely open. Connie sees children as young as six or seven engaging in sexual activities. There don’t seem to be words for “heterosexual” or “homosexual.” It appears that often mems are also “pillow friends,” but pillow friends avoid raising comothering together. In fact, the only sexual taboo beyond rape (which is punished on the first offense with some kind of service decided by the victim or victim’s family and is punished on the second offense with death) is strict monogamy; in this future, people are discouraged from binding to each other in ways that are exclusionary to others.

Class: Mattapoisett is a socialist society; the number of things a person actually owns is quite small. Every one has a personal living space, whether that be a small home of to themselves or a room in a house shared with mems (family members), but they don’t own that living space. If a person dies or moves, someone else who needs a space takes residence. Everyday clothing is owned, but clothing for special occasions and rituals can be rented from the library, as well as pieces of art and rare books. Credits for luxury items are distributed in different ways in different communities, but in Mattapoisett credits are distributed equally and might be traded in for a nice gift for a mem like a bottle of good port or a nice book for yourself.

Reproduction: In Luciente’s future babies are grown in tubes; there are no longer live births. The “comothering” of a child (the concept of “fathering” doesn’t exist) is undertaken by three willing adults, usually mems, though the children really belong to everyone. Two of the comothers, or “coms” pronounced with a long “o” sound, breast feed, with the men taking hormones in order to produce milk. Like Connie, I find this part a bit troubling, the idea that in order for women to achieve equality they must share what identifies them biologically as woman. But, distinctions between genders don’t really mean much at all in this new society anyway, so it’s probably more a sign of my own ideological positioning than anything else.

Race: Luciente’s future is extremely diverse racially, and racial percentages can be carefully controlled due to the test-tube baby-making. More interestingly is that each village in the future has an ethnicity, a “flavor,” that is completely separate from the racial make-up of the inhabitants. Bee explains it like this: “At grancil — grand council — decisions were made forty years back to breed a high proportion of darker-skinned people and to mix the genes well through the population. At the same time, we decided to hold on to separate cultural identities. But we broke the bond between genes and culture, broke it forever. We want there to be no chance of racism again” (96). I really like the way that the intersections of skin-color, cultural practices, and “race” are articulated here.

Art: There is no place for the romantic genius in Mattapoisett; everybody has to pick caterpillars off the bean plants no matter what they’re profession is. Jackrabbit explains it like this: “We think art is production. We think making a painting is as real as growing a peach or making diving equipment. No more real, no less real. It’s useful and good on a different level, but it’s production” (261).

And now onto language… 

The most immediate and far reaching linguistic quality of Luciente’s future is the erasure of gendered pronouns. Early in the novel, Luciente makes some comment to Connie using “you” which Connie takes mild offense to. Luciente explains, “You plural […] a weakness that remains in our language, though we’ve reformed pronouns” (34). It does take some time to get used to Luciente’s pronouns, “person” for the subjective third-person and “per” for the objective and possessive third-person, but after a while it’s easy to think “Person must not do what person cannot do.” This lack of gendered pronouns combined with the lack of gendered codes in dress and naming in Mattapoisett means that determining the gender of individuals is very difficult for Connie, who continues to think in gendered pronouns, and consequently for the reader. Of course, that’s the point, really, that gender is a set of markers that allows us to place individuals in categories.

The other issue of language that comes up is the jargon that has arisen out of this new society. Luciente has mems, some of whom are coms and some of whom are pillow friends. She contacts these people and many others with her kenner. For festivals, she wears a flimsy and sometimes she rides in a floater. Sometimes she attends the grancil. And so on and so forth.

And then there’s the politics…

Political life in Mattapoisett is everyone’s responsibility insofar as positions on the grancil are given by lot, so at any point in time any adult in the community may have to serve as representative of per village. As Connie comments on, people in this new society spend a lot of time in meetings talking, and it’s pretty much everyone, not just those whose job it is to do it. As such, we see two of these meetings, one a township meeting where village representatives congregate to discuss the allotment of resources and whatnot and one a “worming,” in which Bolivar and Luciente try to sort out their differences. In the township meeting, representatives from various villages debate the needs and wants of all the villages while they, as well as the representatives for the animals and the land, also debate the relative damage to the surrounding area. If two villages are debating some kind of resource, say one village wants a piece of land for growing cabbage while a neighboring village wants the land as pasture for sheep, the village that wins the decision in council hosts the losing village in a feast and night of festivities, so as to keep down on hard feelings. So political rhetoric is a contest, but it’s one that doesn’t stray much outside the council room. Of course, there are the decisions that go above the township level, such as the decision about deliberating shaping human genetics for certain traits. In this issue, one point of interest is that Luciente and those mems who agree with her on the issue plan to create a drama to take around and perform in other villages  to try to convince others to their side; this indicates that political rhetoric in Mattapoisett and the surrounding areas is found less in speeches and more in performances: dramas, stories, holis, dances, etc. It’s extremely performative. As such, art as a rhetorical form often comes under scrutiny and is debated as such. When Luciente crits Bolivar and Jackrabbit’s latest holi for suggesting that conflicts between genders played a greater role in the downfall of humanity than conflicts between class did, Sojourner remarks, “Our culture as a whole must speak the whole truth. But every object can’t! That’s the slogan mentality at work, as if there were certain holy words that must always be named” (203).
This crit comes up in the worming that I mentioned earlier, in which Bolivar and Luciente come face to face to discuss the ill feelings between them, centering around certain possessive feelings about Jackrabbit. I find this part interesting considering how emotionally open Luciente’s society seems to be. In her first visit to the cafeteria of Mattapoisett, Connie notes, “Really this could be a dining room in a madhouse, the way people sat naked with their emotions pouring out, but there was a strong energy level here. The pulse of the room was positive but a little overwhelming” (67). Yet some emotions are discouraged as “binding,” such as Luciente’s jealousy of Bolivar. They are kind of forced to be friends, with their mems directing them to spend time together without Jackrabbit to try to become friends. It is much like the way that strict monogamy is discouraged. So we have a society that is emotionally very free, but still limiting in certain areas. However, those negative emotions are dealt with through talking, whether in a worming or with a healer.

And finally a cool thing I found…

As I was doing a little research, I came across this neat little game based on Woman on the Edge of Time called Luciente’s War. Check it out.


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