Sheri S Tepper - and questions of innate worth

McMullin, Elise emcmullin at
Fri Jul 7 12:05:05 EDT 2000

Mary Ann wrote:

"I do find the biological determinism often embodied in her novels (notably
Gate to Women's
Country) ntipathetic, but that's life. I would say that she is more of a
feminist environmentalist than someone on an over-population kick."

It's been several years since I've read Tepper, but I do think in Plague of
Angels particularly, she gets vehement about over-population.  Do you recall
her anarchic cities and their fate as they stumble toward extinction?

And what's that other one on the odd planet where a very fundamentalist
society of human colonists lives with harsh local flora/fauna population
controls?  Drat my vague memory!

I'm wrestling with some not-yet-fully- formed ideas that touch on Tepper and

Someone once opined to me that the difference between a liberal and a
radical is that a liberal wants changes in the existing structure, and a
radical wants to trash the existing structure and replace it with their own.
I've always thought Tepper, or at least her imagination, seems to find a
home in the latter category.

But ever since the moment I heard that opinion, and echoed when I read
Tepper, I find an uneasy and suspicious response within me.  In short, I
suspect that desiring to impose your own way on something may be more about
desiring to impose your own way on something than it is about right, or good
or any other motive, stated or unstated.  In fiction, a writer can imagine
that the way she sees and wants to explore, play out and/or impose - has the
backing of nature, or of whatever imperative force one wants to apply. hmm

And the other thing is that - in Tepper's books she shows a difference
between what people value and what is really valuable, but when the changes
come to reveal and establish the primacy of  what is really valuable, then
there is this see-saw action where something else, usually the
wrong-thinking people, is revealed as worthless and demeaned, or even cursed
and damned, by very nature, through their own wrongness.  This sits uneasily
with me and I've by no means thought that response all the way through.  It
reminds me of the potential drawback of the radical - that the existing
power structure will be replaced with one which is exactly the same - only
differently unfair.  And it reminds me of excuses for strife down the ages,
that Right backs "my" side's fight and not yours, heathen. feh.

I do a lot of treading around questions of worth and how people see
themselves, landscape, things and other people.  In fact, this conversation
makes me recognize it as a major leitmotif in my experience of life. But
alas, I've observed this and that, but don't seem to have achieved any major
insights to share.  

Mostly, I'm astonished by things.  Like when I read about people who
have/had a reverence for all life and believe(d) that everything in the
world is ensouled - that they practic(ed) "primitive animism."  That people
approach life this way amazes me, as does the "primitive animism"
description of that approach in various 20th century text and scholarly
books I've read. Or nature being there for human use & exploitation.  Or
when I read Puritan writing where nature is a snare of satan. Or that strain
in european christian writing that body and soul are enemies and the body
must be mortified. Or the many times individuals, genders and peoples have
been stripped of meaning to justify some act perpetrated on them.  Or the
trajectory of Troilus and Cresside, where she is worshipped and then cast
down viciously.  It's as if the tides of meaning, as perceived through
various eyes, are always fluctuating.  I was just thinking about this last
week, that it was like the cursed torque in Power of Three -
beautiful/ugly/beautiful/ugly - pulsing away.  In fact, Power of Three is a
story very much about this, isn't it?

And while I'm rambling away, I notice this every day in myself and others.
Since I work in the humble capacity of support staff to professionals, I
experience that some of these professionals consider that we are all people
doing our various jobs, though I have also experienced that some of these
professionals regard me and my ilk as something lesser, a sort of Beta from
Brave New World. And recently I've had the new and exciting joy of being
considered an object lesson in loserdom by the just-out-of-college crew, and
pitied because I didn't go on to law school. lol!  But then I had quite a
struggle with that decision, because to me it was about meanings and values
and which way to which things - whereas if I'd just plain enjoyed law, that
would have been the obvious choice.  An acquaintance of mine just told me
the other day she is doing it for the lifestyle it will give her. Hmm.  But
then I catch myself doing the same sort of thing about a person who shows up
my own various assumptions, and have to read myself quite a lecture about
idiocy (mine) and dichotomy.

Aaanyway, have a good weekend all!

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