on the Edge of Time"
by Marge Piercy, Crest, 1990
Background on the context in which this essay was written.
Date Reading Was Discussed: September 7, 1992
Present: Maria C., Catherine C., Carolyn K., Cara A., Bernadette C.,
Colleen M., Miranda H., Kalisa, and Cathleen M.
inspiring science fiction novel is about a working class Chicana who has
been committed to a mental institution and is struggling to avoid a
ruthless lobotomy. Able to channel into the year 2137, she encounters a
utopia distinctly ecofeminist in character. To her horror, she also
stumbles into a competing techno dystopia.
Although all the women
at this session truly enjoyed Piercy's work, we had numerous criticisms.
One woman noted that the book reflects certain radical feminist ideas of
the 70's that differ from those that have evolved into contemporary
ecofeminism. The clearest example was Piercy's vision of a future in which
humans are created in biogenetic labs; women are no longer birthgivers.
This harks back to
70's feminist Shulamith Firestone, among others, who saw science as a way
to free females from the shackles of birthing. All of us felt that women's
ability to give birth is sacred and that technological birthing is an
Although we welcomed
Piercy's imaginative world in which males likewise parent, stripping women
of their innate power to give life was not seen as a constructive way to
equalize gender relations. One woman deplored the idea of taking away
from women. If equality is the goal, she preferred a utopia in which men
also give birth.
Several woman felt
that had Piercy written her book today, she surely would not have
constructed a society in which animals are hunted and eaten by humans. In
Piercy's utopia interspecies communication exists through a higher form of
language, an animal advocate participates in the grassroots government, and
nonanimal food is plentiful (though, regrettably, genetically engineered).
Given this scenario,
some women found it incongruous that her characters would kill and eat
those with whom they are friends. Were she to compose this book in the
90's, the popularity (and ecofeminist support) of today's animal rights and
vegetarian movements would seemingly have influenced Piercy to imagine a
more thorough non-speciesist society. [Note: none of us had read Piercy's
1991 sci fi novel He, She, It.]
commented on Piercy's positive depiction of death as a natural passage in
the cycle of life. Ecofeminists (as well as prepatriarchal peoples and most
current indigenous cultures) regard death with respect, and not a force to
be feared or controlled as it is under patriarchy.
One woman thought it
curious that in a society that accepts death positively Piercy would
perceive the death penalty as a means of punishing the incorrigibly
violent. Another woman, however, said that in a culture which recognizes
multiple rebirths of the soul, there exists a spiritual logic in ending a
life so that another more life affirming incarnation can inhabit that
juxtaposed a nature-based utopia with a frightening, aggressively technological
dystopia. One woman said that it seemed appropriate for Piercy to locate
her dystopia in what is now New York City. Other women, however,
strongly rejected the book's claim that cities do not work, noting, for
example, that most urban centers provide public transportation options.
One woman added that
40% of all mass transportation in the U.S. is located in New York City alone. By contrast, outside
most cities auto dependency is the depressing norm—a carmegeddon
in the making. Other women added that people are part of nature, that
people live in cities, and that we can and should reclaim them.
One woman exclaimed
that the privileged elite who control most urban planning don't prioritize
the emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic need for green space because they
are in a position to purchase nature retreats. Since large portions of
metropolitan populations are people of color, another woman implied that it
may even be racist to advocate abandoning cities.
Some women felt that
instead of fleeing to the country, we should be concentrating on bringing
the country back into our cities. One woman, a gardener, called for massive
infusions of greenery to replace the omnipresent concrete. Another woman
felt that even though small-town life may be a refuge from big-city ills,
rampant consumerism by inhabitants there is no more earth-friendly than the
environmental problems of the megalopolis.
One woman appreciated
Piercy's concept of ample leisure time. Along with good health, she said
self-defined time is her most cherished want/need. It is through her own
time that she is able to most creatively and radically give birth to new
realities. The more time we spend in the corporate workplace, the more our
visionary minds are distracted and stultified—and the further we
enable the possibility of a patriarchal dystopia.
difficult, she felt her active commitment to disengage from the
dysfunctional corporate paradigm constitutes a direct contribution toward
the realization of a society based on ecofeminist ethics.
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