justifications, tiptree, and entropy.

Have been terribly lax about my job lately: late both today and on Friday. I shouldn’t let myself take advantage of the laissez-faire attitude of my boss and co-workers, because I know I’ll exploit it until someone calls me on my flakiness and then I’ll be crushed, because I honestly do like my job. But. But sometimes other things just seem way more important!

Things such as… reading.

When I finished this past school term, I began a gluttonous rampage of consuming every novel I could find. As long as it didn’t explicitly mention geography, critical discourse analysis, or physical manifestations of capitalism, I was desperate for it. I read some hilariously crappy books, and some that aren’t worth mentioning, and some that got me thinking… and I enjoyed every single one of them if only because they let my mind go places that it hadn’t been allowed to visit during that last push to finish my degree. I’ve slowed down a bit lately, have stopped gorging myself and have re-learned how to be discerning, how to follow specific writers or topics or themes and be critically appreciative.

But, I’m still finding reading to be very high on my list of priorities, to the point where I’d rather read than go to work.

The latest culprit is “James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon”, by Julie Philips. I’d seen the review in the Globe and Mail when the biography was first published a year or so ago, but it wasn’t until I read one of Tiptree’s novels during my Utah trip that I went to find it at the library. It is fascinating. Tiptree was fascinating. For those of you who don’t know, James Tiptree Jr. was a famous science fiction author who maintained correspondence with other sci-fi luminaries such as Joanna Russ and Ursula K. LeGuin. He was known as sympathetic to the women’s liberation movement, and sometimes considered a feminist. He was eventually revealed to be the creation of Alice B. Sheldon, a woman who felt that the only way she could articulate the meaning of what it meant to be female was to impersonate a male. Heavy stuff, especially considering the contemporary analysis of gender and sexuality that dominates my own politic. What would Tiptree say to the concept of gender as a spectrum, and a socially-created one at that?

Other notes from the book: When Sheldon was in her late-40s and trying to validate her desire to pursue academic studies in psychology, she was up against a life-long lesson which told her that a heroic and proper life is all about self-sacrifice. How could she put her energy into reading books and writing essays that few people would ever see, simply for her own intellectual gratification? Her struggle brought her to the idea of entropy: the whole universe is naturally inclined to disorder and chaos. In studying, researching and writing academic works, Sheldon was countering this: she was imposing order. By attempting to impose order in a system that fought it, she could consider herself to be fighting the universe and even time itself. THAT, she decided, was a worthy cause.

I used to read biographies all the time, especially when I was 12 and 13 years old. It could be anyone who’d done anything, I hardly cared: I just wanted to know what the lives of other people were like, because I wanted to be a hero and wasn’t sure how. Then I stopped, because I felt like I couldn’t ever be like the people I read about. In the Tiptree biography, I’m reminded of that disappointment, because I realize that what I didn’t know back then was how the world was changing, and that I was living during that change. If only someone had told me! But nobody knew to: I think most people either ignore the fact that society is a dynamic construct, or take it for granted. They certainly don’t bother to mention it to prickly and depressed pubescent girls who always have their nose in a book.

This was supposed to be a review of the Tiptree biography. Oh well. I tried. Let me end by telling you that I ordered a copy of the book to be sent to my mother, whose collection of Ray Bradbury novels got me thinking about the possibilities of the future in the first place. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of it.


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