He, She and It
|He, She and It|
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He, She, and It, published as Body of Glass outside of the United States, is a novel written by Marge Piercy and published in 1991. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom.
He, She, and It is set in the near future of the year 2059, in North America. The ice caps have melted due to global warming, and a large portion of the earth is radiated due to nuclear weapons. During this time, economical and political power in the society is held under control of huge multi-national enterprises known as multis. These multis have created a wealthy society with their own social hierarchy. The main population however live in what is known as the "Glop" outside of the multis, which is dominated by poverty and is run by gangs. This begins to give the reader a sense of the present and the future. The gangs and poverty is common knowledge to people, but there is still a good balance of the unknown due to the far future setting. The exceptions of these two societies are the free towns that remain independent. The main character Shira loses the custody of her son to her ex-husband Josh in the beginning of the novel. This leads Shira to move from her multi Yakamura-Stichen (Y-S) to her hometown which is a Jewish freetown. While in her hometown Shira works to socialize the cyborg Yod, who she eventually ends up having a relationship with. Yod is the tenth cyborg, created illegally to protect the city, following the previous failed experiments and programmed by Shira's grandmother, Malkah.
After a confrontation when invited back for her sons custody hearing Shira and Yod decide to infiltrate the Y-S network base. Upon finding out that Y-S has been conspiring against Shira and the whole town of Tikva from the beginning, the two travel into the glop and begin to form a plan to kidnap Shira's son. All this time Tikva, a society that survives by coding 'Chimeras', software programs, is under increasing attack from Y-S the large multi who wants to absorb it. Y-S agrees to hand over Ari in exchange for Yod, and Avram agrees because he believes he can simply build another, even more human cyborg model. Little does he know that when Yod infiltrates Y-S he detonates himself but also a simultaneous blast in Avram's lab which destroys his notes and kills Avram. This has stopped all possibilities of there being future cyborgs and so while Shira is further and further integrated into Tikva's society with her son safely returned. She initially plans on recreating Yod but ultimately respects his last wish and does not pursue it.
Shira: techie and a morrano (a Jew who works for a multi but practices Judaism secretly at home). She has lost custody of her son Ari, who is the most important part of her life.
Josh: Shira's ex-husband. He has taken their son Ari away to live on the Pacifica platform.
Avram: The father of Gadi, a former lover of Malkah. Works on military and security Artificial Intelligences. One of the two parents of Yod (along with Malkah).
Ari: Shira and Josh's son.
Malkah: Shira's grandmother who is well known for her work in cybernetics. She is responsible for giving Yod human-like characteristics, along with Avram.
Yod: An illegal cyborg created to protect the town. His name is derived from the Hebrew alphabet.
Gadi: Shira's ex-lover from when she was younger
Riva: Shira's mother, an information pirate
Nili: enhanced human being sent from the Black Zone to represent her race (of all cybernetically-modified women) and learn from the rest of the world. She later accompanies Malkah to the Black Zone/Eretz Israel.
Questions/Prompts & Analysis
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. What do you think it says about the society in He, She, and It that "marriages were on the basis of five or ten year contracts"? Also, we see how Y-S treats Shira in the custody proceedings over Ari. What do the verdict and the reasons behind it show about the culture of the environment?
The existence of contractual marriages in He, She and It and the treatment of Shira by Y-S suggests that Y-S society is a corporate, authoritarian hive mind obsessed only with productivity and governed by patriarchy and utilitarianism. This also implies that the traditional understanding of family as it is viewed today has been left behind in Piercy's novel.
The contractual marriages in He, She and It show that the institution of marriage has vastly changed from how we view marriage traditionally. As we enter a marriage it is traditionally to last until “death do us part”, or that is at least what you vow. However in this novel the marriage are on a basis of five- or ten-year contracts which implies that there will be an end if you chose not to “re-new” the contract. Marriage has seemed to become more of a business deal and more of a legal aspect rather than a it being a sacred and religious tie between two people. The fairy tale idea of marriages lasting and complete monogamy seems to have withered away and these contractual marriages is in away promoting people to have multiple partners because as you enter marriage it is only going to last for a set period of time rather than “to death do us part”.
The contractualization of marriages seems to be a common theme in the cyberpunk genre as it also appeared in Schismatrix; however, the reason for its employment in Schismatrix differs from He, She, and It|He, She and It. In the former work, the unnatural longevity of humans made it difficult to maintain relationships across the face of centuries, so the use of marriage contracts was simply a convenience to accommodate for an emerging post-human society. Later in the novel, however, it seems that the formation of marriage contracts has more to do with restructuring family values. Y-S, as Piercy points out, is a patriarchal society, and it becomes clear to the reader that a strict caste system is in effect there. These two forces, it seems, have led to a new interpretation of what family means. Piercy mentions that children belong to the paternal gene line, and that it is common practice for Y-S officials to "retire" spouses in favor of younger companions. In Y-S, the nuclear family has been replaced with a more heritage-conscious, class-based understanding of family. Y-S is a large corporation with enough influence that it is effectively a government; we see a similar situation of corporate control in The Girl Who Was Plugged In.
The implementation of marriage "contracts" seems to reference a very business-like transaction to promote productivity rather than a sacred bond between a husband and wife. Contract marriages seem to be a Piercy's statement that younger generations now value the religious and family aspects of marriage less than the legal aspect. Also, many characters have several partners throughout the novel, which reflect the promiscuity and raising divorce rates in Western countries. From this aspect, it is easier for a government to issue a marriage contract than be bogged down by the large number of divorce cases. As for the divorce proceeding, favoring the father over the mother seems to be part of the exaggerated Japanese patriarchal society from pre-WWII and slightly after.
The verdict on the custody of Ari between Josh and Shira is a blatant example of the patriarchal and utilitarian system of Y-S. Men, in general, seem to be entirely in charge of Y-S and consequently men in society seem to be found more important by the Y-S council. Piercy could be alluding to a Middle East society. Y-S awarded Ari to Josh because of his higher "tech rating,” which signifies a higher rating of productivity. The Y-S legal system awarded Ari to Josh because he was calculated to be more useful to Y-S than Shira.
It is discovered later in the novel, however, that Y-S gave Josh custody over Ari for other reason.
The marriages based on contracts suggests that YS is a corporate society as well as an authoritarian one in which all areas of life are measured including marriages. The contracting of marriages suggests a more socialistic society where the greater good is for the group as opposed to the individual. What is one raindrop when compared to the storm? What is one man or woman's happiness compared to the colony? The government sees marriages as business deals and propositions, what will benefit the company in the future, not what will benefit the family.
2. How have the characters shown use of technology as a means to exceed the limits of the human body thus far in the story?
Thus far in the book, there have been many instances of technology which "exceed" the limits of the human body in their own ways. We are first introduced to Shira having a clock display within her eye, specifically her cornea. Other pieces of information could and may be displayed in her eye's vision as well. Shira has also used a moving sidewalk, probably similar to ones in airports today, to transport herself from place to place. The moving sidewalks are not really examples of technology that allow humans within the book to exceed the limits of their body, but it does give humans a bionic feeling. We also see a socket within Shira's temple that can be connected to a terminal to allow for access to the worldwide Net. Once plugged in, she has the Net projected into her, enabling her to learn "far faster than in real time". The socket in her temple also allows her access "stimmies" which are simulated experiences. In these simulations, people are able to be whoever they want and do whatever they want. Gadi and Shira used stimmies as children to experience sex before having real sex together. The Y-S dome itself is another way in which the characters use technology to exceed the limits of their body. Without the dome, the characters of the story could not possibly survive the extreme temperatures of the Nebraskan desert. The apes, who are "simply people altered chemically and surgically and by special implants for inhuman strength and speed," are another example. While the name implies brute strength made possible by technology, it also implies that these people are somehow "dumbed down" to the intellectual level of apes.
3. Discuss the following quote: "What we are forbidden to know can be-or see what we most need to know."
To say "what we are forbidden to know can be--or seem--what we most need to know" is simply an affirmation that humans are curious by nature. However, this is not to say "curiosity killed the cat," but rather to acknowledge that curiosity can lead to both positive and negative outcomes. Just before Malkah makes the previous statement, she says, "Not always is the knowledge forbidden because dangerous: governments will spend billions on weapons and forbid small sects the peyote of their ecstasy." Piercy, one could assume, is not condemning the regulation of psychoactive substances with this example, but rather is arguing that curiosity can be beneficial. Piercy is proposing that knowledge may be forbidden for different reasons, and that the pursuit of it may present a path to danger -- in which case it only seemed to be "what we most need to know" -- or to happiness -- in which case it was indeed "what we most need to know."
On another note, Piercy could be advocating the liberation of information with this quote. She maybe implying that certain information is kept forbidden by the government or corporations because the public would be enraged by the information and denounce the entities who keep it. A similar quote is later said by Nili: "The many know less and less and the few more and more."
4. Compare and contrast the environments of Shira's childhood home, to which she returns, and the Y-S.
Shira's childhood home has a much more organic feel to it than Y-S. The dome of Y-S prevents the influence of the outside weather from reaching its inhabitants, whereas Shira's home is surrounded by a translucent bubble that allows some sunlight to pass through. Also, Y-S seems to be completely devoid of living animals and robot imitations are used as replacements for pets. The presence of the sun and animals combined with the deregulated behavior of the people provides a more natural feel to Shira's home, compared to the strict, rigid and sterile environment that the environment of Y-S.
The one difference between her childhood home and Y-S is the security. The Y-S is a multi where people literally live under a bubble protected from the outside world. The narrator describes changing places as crossing from safety to hell. Y-S is also a symbol of security in the need for the workers to scan in to have access to the world within the bubble. This is obviously to keep out the kind of people that live in the Glop and to keep Y-S's reputation high. As she travels through the Glop, she has to cover herself with a black robe that everyone uses there to not let people know her sex, class, looks, credit, etc. Another detail in the story that shows how dangerous outside the Y-S is when she says that her bags will probably get stolen by pirates. Shira still feels as though getting home to Boston is well worth the risk of traveling though the Glop.
Another difference is the fact that while Y-S is very uniform and monochromatic, Shira's home is very unique and values the individual. People are allowed to look and act differently, be loud, talk to whomever they wish, and enjoy other freedoms that would be frowned upon in Y-S. When Shira finally arrives home, she is ecstatic. "After the uniformity of the Y-S enclave, the colors, the textures, the sounds and smells provoked her into a state of ecstasy" (page 36). Tikva is a completely different and more friendly environment than that of Y-S. This enviroment lends itself to more creativity and expression, as evidenced by the house that Shira lives in and the ease of which she is allowed to move and go out on her own. Though it is not specificly stated, it is assumed that there are sections of Y-S where Shira is not allowed to go.
Shira's childhood home has more of a comfortable and natural feel than YS. YS neglects outside influence however Shira's childhood home is surrounded by sunlight. Furthermore, YS is monochromatic while Shira's old home allows people to be free in their actions.
5. In chapter 9 we meet the cyborg, Yod. Both Malkah and Avram refer to Yod as a person, just as much as they do any other, yet Shira seems hesitant to consider Yod anything more than a machine. Why do you think this discrepancy exists? What themes and other discussion in our past readings tie into this dispute over Yod's "personhood"?
Although Malkah and Avram refer to Yod as a person, Shira hesitates to do so. She is impressed with how human he seems, but still treats him like a machine. The line between human and machine is clearly drawn in this society. Robots are not allowed to look human and are not allowed to harm humans. Shira does not believe yet that Yod is truly different from other robots she has interacted with in the past. Also, by nature, humans and machines work differently. Shira notes that machines work algorithmically. They follow whatever instructions they were programmed with and follow them as completely as possible. Humans do not follow any algorithm. Humans can do things not only because they need to but because they want to. Machines aren't able to do this, with the possible exception of Yod. Shira believes that "Avram [claims] for his cyborg far more than she consider[s] credible." Perhaps because Avram and Malkah have spent a great deal more time with Yod and have seen with their own eyes how he works, they can consider him to be more human. This tendency to refer to computers as people has been seen in many of our novels, including Neuromancer, when Case refers to Wintermute as "he."
6. Contrasted to many of the stories we have read so far, He, She, and It puts a large focus on gender roles and differing societies. Compare and contrast Y-S, Tikva, and the settings of our other readings.
7. Let's take one from the front page. How are we seeing technology re-arranging communities and how are we seeing communities re-arranging technology thus far?
In order for Shira to reach her hometown of Tikva, located on the outskirts of Boston, she must first pass through the Glop. The Glop is a large, unregulated, dangerous, and overpopulated area spanning from Boston to Atlanta. It starkly contrasts with Y-S where everyone has their place in society and laws are extreme. Most people in the Glop wear a black cloak to conceal their identity from gangs. The area seems desolate; it is filled with screams, violence, and there is a clear lack of maintenance (i.e. sewage and leaking coolant). It should also be noted that spikes, which are outlawed in Y-S, are sold very easily in the Glop. The Glop is home to many drug salesmen, illegal guns, and vicious gangs. The Glop is very much like Chiba City (from Neuromancer) in that it is the slum of slums.The situation in the Glop is horrible, and just like Chiba city it seems like a place for outcasts. When Shira finally gets to her mother's house she is exposed to a wrap, which in contrast to the dome that exists over Y-S is more permeable to light and weather. Also in Tikva, windows are open, which apparently causes Shira to feel disconcerted because windows in Y-S are rarely open.
Big cities are naturally going to have larger populations and get overcrowded because they are where most of the job opportunities lie. There is such a low population everywhere else because the earth on which they live is dying; resources are used by too many people too quickly. Their society needed a remedy, so reducing the population was necessary.
The world in He, She and It contains a low population due to resources being abused and the earth overall dying. Society needed to reduce the population in order to sustain the population in the Glop. Also, many people sought to move to the Glop in order to pursue their lives on technology.
8. The population of this world seems rather low, though the Glop is still rather crowded. What does Piercy seem to be saying with this crowd-controlling future society? Should we as a society consider this notion?
As made apparent in the first pages, nuclear technology and its consequences have clearly rearranged communities. It has made most of the earth's surface, interestingly dubbed the "raw," uninhabitable due to fallout radiation and has forced the population to live in pockets of civilization in the form of climate-controlled domes.
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. At this point in the novel, a fairly direct description of the Net and the Base system of He, She, and It 'has been given to the reader. How does the relationship between people and the Net/Base compare to that between people and the matrix in 'Neuromancer<b>'? Taking into account the fact that 'He, She, and It </b>was published in 1991, do recent trends in communication technology agree with Piercy's vision of the Internet of the future?
Both He, She and It and Neuromancer use physical devices (like a plug or a jack) to connect to the Net/Base or the matrix. The Net/Base in He, She and It seems to be very similar to reality, more so than the matrix portrayed in Neuromancer. The matrix that exists in Neuromancer is more abstract, where the entire reality of what makes up the human universe is forgotten and replaced. In Neuromancer's matrix, everything is new and unfamiliar. Shira, Yod, and the others move around within the Net/Base very easily, just as they would in real life. However, people don't talk in the Net/Base. Instead, they communicate with an outflow of thoughts. Malkah also works in the Base as a programmer, spending a lot of time plugged in. This raises the question of how different programming might be in that environment. Current communications technology is like the "Net" in that it enables large groups of people to communicate in real-time. However, communication of direct physical stimuli (except visual stimuli) is uncommon today.
2. Gadi caustically compares Yod to Frankenstein's monster after learning that he is a cyborg. Interestingly, Haraway also brought up Shelley's Frankenstein in her discussion of a political cyborg mythology. How do the two relate? What characteristic of cyborgs immediately draws reference to Frankenstein? What is Yod's perspective in this issue according to the novel?
It is clear that even though he is a cyborg, Yod experiences human feelings. He often admits what he is "feeling" to Shira, be it boredom, guilt, or desire, but she usually responds with skepticism, asking Yod if he can actually feel emotion. Yod has the ability to feel, similar to what we have seen in our other readings. When he expresses these very human qualities, Shira seems to remember that he is not a human at all. Shira presumes that Yod cannot experience feeling or emotion the same way that a human can, but it seems, by Yod's descriptions, that his "feelings" affect him the same way a human's affects them. His actions, expressions, and language are influenced by what he "feels," just as a human's would be. Yod seems to have been programmed to have these emotions, and as Shira continues to do social exercises with him, he learns what each emotion is, and is able to express himself more readily in the different situations they come across. This goes back to the debate of nature vs nurture which we discussed in class. Shira probably questions if he was actually programmed to have these types of "feelings", or if he just learns or picks them up as they continue to do the exercises.
3. Shira constantly questions whether Yod's emotions are equivalent to human emotions, and Yod himself acknowledges that he uses human terms to describe his "feelings" because he has no other way of expressing himself. What assumptions does Shira make in proposing that there are distinctions between humans emotions and Yod's feelings? How does this relate to Haraway's cyborg myth?
Part of Yod somewhat represents a male made in a woman's image. Yod is built as the ideal man. This leads to some interesting behavior in Yod. His behavior is marked by sharp transients between masculine brutality (desiring to crush Gadi's skull) and feminine sensitivity (wanting to please Malkah and Shira). The story implies that Malkah programmed Yod to be especially skilled in the act of sexual intercourse, as he displays with Shira. Shira had previously been almost asexual following her falling-out with Gadi, but Yod enables her to experience what she had experience in her teenage years with Gadi. This is an example of how technology has allowed Shira to exceed the limits of her body, as human male would probably not have been able to achieve the same results.
Shira describes her experiences with Yod as the "best she had ever had." This suggests an element of superiority when compared to normal males. Also, Malkah confides in Yod, which brings a non-sexual element into play. Yod seems to interact with Shira (sexually) and Malkah (non-sexually) better than normal males based on Shira's comment and the fact that Malkah actually confided in him. This is probably due more in part to Malkah's programming than Avaram's. While Avaram did make Yod anatomically correct, He wouldn't have included sexual desires into what he considers purely a weapon.
Yod represents the perfect man to Shira. He was created to have the good things a man has, without the bad things. For example, he is created to have the sexual organs of a man and the strength. However, he lacks body odor and moral flaws. His creation seems to echo the thought that he is created to cater to the woman. Through him, they accomplish things they never had with any man.
4. How do Shira's and Malkah's interactions and relationships with Yod allow (or disallow) them to exceed the limits of their bodies? Moreover, do their sexual encounters with Yod represent what they are not able to achieve with "normal" males?
5. Sex is very common through out the book so far. At one point, there is contact between Shira and Yod within the Base that is very similar tosex, but is only mental. Yod states that what he wants is the actual physical version. What does this say about the connection between mind and body? Does Shira also prefer the physical encounter, rather than the mental one?
There is a connection between mind and body. Sex is a perfect example of this. Yod cannot have the physical connection that humans can have because he is just a robot. However, he can through sexual intercourse. It feels that having a mental connection is not enough. Shira, as a human, is the opposite. She can have and enjoy physical connections, but mental ones are more important. However, after they have sexual intercourse, the new experience changes her mind. She had never felt such a strong physical connection before.
One must understand the intrinsic and dependent relationship between the mental and physical acts of sex. Sex, especially in the diction used to portray it in this novel, creates this kind of twilight zone where Piercy can begin to suggest more interesting relationships between humanity and sex. Although we know that Yod cannot physically enjoy sex and even mentally his 'feelings' are even artificial, it is the way that Shira perceives sex that is important. The fact that in this twilight zone she begins to believe that Yod truly wants to please her she begins to forget that he is a cyborg. Shira's body and mind are almost working in harmony to convince her of Yod's humanity, even in its absence. It is important that Piercy chose to heavily focus on the relationship between sex and humanity because it is something that we, almost exclusively, do for both pleasure and reproductive purposes. Not only is sex the act of creating life (already a theme in He, She, and It) but it is also a relationship between to humans. The fact that Yod can partake in it at all shows how close to humanity he is and yet the fact that he doesn't experience all the emotion involved, most readers feel as though he 'just doesn't understand'. It is kind of like the ultimate 'you had to be there' moment and by presenting it as such Piercy suggests that the humanity in sex comes from the reliance we have on both a physical AND mental experience, we necessitate the mind AND body.
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. Shira thinks to herself about how she had responded to Yod, thinking of him as a machine that was programmed to satisfy. Do you agree with this interpretation of what Yod is? Does it even matter what Yod is?
Yod does not seem to have been literally programmed to satisfy his sexual partners, but rather his ability to do so is derived from his general design. Although Malkah was not afraid to program her own emotions and feelings into Yod, she was surely aware that Yod was not meant to be a tool but was meant to replicate humanity. Needless to say, Avram was also staunchly supportive of this end. Together it is unlikely that Yod was programmed explicitly for sexual prowess. However, Yod is very goal-oriented and Shira continuously notes how he is able to direct his attention fully to a desired task. As a result, it seems that these facets of Yod's "personality" lead to his ability to satisfy Shira. However, over the course of time, he has evolved into a creature of individualism. We see this when he thinks about running away. He seems to have his own prerogative instead of only acting upon the desires of others.
Although Yod may not be programmed to satisfy sexually, it is a reasonable adaptation from the base concepts he was programmed with. Yod may be a machine but he still has human tendencies. During a conversation in the book, they mentioned how Yod is between the lines of human and machine, much like Nili is, and Riva mocks Shira for having an emotional attachment to a "dildo.” Arguably, however, there are humans who already occupy a similar job. The whole purpose of Yod is to simulate being human, and to do so he must be a convincing sexual partner. Assuming that the above assertion is true, this fact is significant when trying to understand Yod. Piercy makes references throughout He, She, and It suggesting that there are artificial intelligences much more powerful than Yod in existence. Therefore, Yod's intelligence and ability to mimic human thought processes is not what makes him unique. His construction does set him apart: he is designed like a human. His physical attributes--including his ability to satisfy Shira--are important when considering what Yod's existence really means.
As stated above, Yod was obviously created to replicate and satisfy humanity. However, Piercy seems to make a major point to state that Yod is great at sexually pleasing people. Based on these facts, Piercy is trying to make the statement that people in general think sexual stimulation is an important part of truly being happy and being human. However, most people would not claim to agree. Does this mean that Piercy is simply trying to portray what she believes will be the values of future society or is she trying to say that people actually do claim to value sexual pleasure as a major portion of their overall happiness?
Yod was programmed to satisfy sexually. He was made to be just like that of a human and have have human tendencies. Sexual satisfaction is a human tendency. Also in the story Piercy points out how Yod is sexually satisfying people. It is possible that Piercy is trying to point out that Yod does have some form of programming to sexually satisfy because Yod was created to adapt and learn human tendencies so this could be his adaptation.
The relationship between Yod and Shira is not an idealized one. Yod can be very adolescent at times. After Gadi refers to Yod as theFrankenstein monster, he becomes angst-ridden and depressed. It is Shira who eventually talks to Yod and improves his emotional state. Though Yod himself admits that he is beyond physical appearance, there is still many issues that Shira and Yod go through that is not in line with our idea of the "perfect relationship." However, this just lends itself as evidence that Yod is much closer to humanity than machine. A machine does things perfectly in line with its programming, but Yod is outside the realm of his programming and is making mistakes, just like a human would.
Although cyborgs are meant to emulate humanity, it is clear that they cannot emulate everything. Part of a "healthy" relationship is the daily sacrifices and agreements that must be made between both parties. Neither party will have everything exactly as they like it, and when problems like money and children come into play, the couple's ability to compromise will be thoroughly tested. There lies a large problem with the relationship between Yod and Shira. A benefit of two humans working together is that they will bounce ideas off each other, brainstorming together to come to the ideal solution. In Yod and Shira's case, Yod could potentially know the "right" answer to everything, but this would allow Shira no say in the relationship, something she will eventually come to dislike. Conversely, if Yod is programmed to accept all of Shira's wishes without protest, Shira will inevitably fall into poor decisions. The definition of relationship implies some sort of two way action. In this particular "relationship," this interaction seems to be less real than it would between two humans.
It seems that we are missing a critical point of thinking about what it means for each party to be self-aware during sexual relations, and what if one isn't? It would seem that Yod is so sexually skilled because he can set his mind to a task and pursue it without wavering, or considering his own emotions. With human sexual partners they are constantly alternating between receiving pleasure themselves, and giving it, enjoying themselves, and trying to understand what their partner is feeling. Yod deals with none of these doubts or inabilities because he is concerned only with goal of pleasing his partner. He is like a slave in many way in this respect, but a willing one. In this case Shira asks that if that is all he was designed for then why shouldn't she take advantage of it. Even here though, when one party is not human, Shira is already questioning the 'feelings' of Yod. In this manner when humans consider their partner as just 'existing to satisfy' then in essence they are just a glorified sex toy. It is when human emotion becomes involved that sex becomes more than the physical act, and this is what happens to Yod despite his inability to have 'feelings'.
2. In Chapter 23, Riva states, "Information shouldn't be a commodity." What does this say about Riva and how does it connect with our other readings? This attitude seems prevalent in many of our readings. What might this say about humanity?
According to Riva, "information shouldn't be a commodity." This idea ties in with Steven Levy's Hackers. According to Levy, the availability of information and the ability to play with that information is what the hackers in the story valued. The commodification of information, which is abstract and intangible, signifies the never-ending conquest of humans to control. Information shouldn't be a commodity because when information is purposefully kept secret and is commoditized, it gives enormous amounts of power to those with the information. It is a power that allows individuals or small groups to control large amounts of people, and is therefore a prime reason against the commoditization of information. Also, earlier in the novel, when Shira first found out about Riva, it was mentioned that Riva "stole" the information on how to cure a disease that was killing many people, and freely distributed it on the net to save lives. Though what she did was legally wrong, it was also morally right in this case.
When Riva states that information should not be a commodity, she is addressing a problem that exists both inside and outside the novel. In this futuristic society governed by large multis, the multis are all fighting for information, control, and profit. Similarly, there are many companies that exist nowadays in conflict with other companies. Especially concerning information, companies like Microsoft and Google are attacking each other on software patents and question who has control over what, bringing back the idea of humans wanting to control everything. Another example of this is when Sony was sued over the creation of Blu-ray discs. This thought that an idea can be owned by one particular person is dangerous and toxic. Those who have the money to protect their ownership of an idea will keep control of that idea, while simultaneously "stealing" new ideas from the less fortunate. Riva's belief that "information shouldn't be a commodity" ties back into our other readings that suggest that information should be free and available to everyone. It also shows that Riva cares about reestablishing the connections amongst the people that have been severed by the multis. This quote also shows the power obtained simply by having access to information and thus the massive power held by the multis who control an immense portion of available information.
3. When representatives from Y-S offer to take Shira back, she refuses, and the ensuing violence stopped any chance of seeing her son again. What do you think this says about Shira? How does her relationship with Malkah and Yod factor into her decision?
When Shira goes to the Y-S and they talk about her going to see her son again, her decision doesn't really show that much about how she has changed. She has been taken advantage of by the Y-S already, and she can see through their ploy. Shira realizes that their promises, however grand they may be, might be empty. Although this is true, she still thinks about accepting on a level. Her maternal feelings for her son are something she cannot escape, no matter what. If she could be assured that she would get her son back, Shira may have left Yod that very moment Her relationship with Yod is probably the biggest factor in her decision to stay. She has found a companion no matter human, machine, or animal; companionship is valuable. Yod is the husband she never had, and she values Yod more than Josh.
4. Riva's death affected many of the characters in the novel. Nili, who might have known Riva the best, seemed to have little outward emotional reaction to Riva's death whereas Malkah and Shira both obviously grieved, although maybe for different reasons. What do you think this says about the implications of biology and family in terms of emotional significance?
Although Malkah and Shira had not seen Riva for many years prior to her death, they both grieve for her. Malkah truly loves her daughter and wishes that she could have done more for her as she grew up. Even though she barely new her mother, Shira is sad because of Malkah's distress. Shira also regrets that she was never able to know or understand her mother. She made little effort to learn about or get close to her mother before she was killed. She feels she should have because she believes a mother and daughter should have some type of relationship. Nili, on the other had, admits that she only had a physical relationship with Riva. She was never emotionally close to her, and is not as affected by her death as Malkah or Shira.
5. Many versions of the Golem legend involve words on the Golem's forehead or inside his head. Do you think it is significant that Malkah's version omits this? Might this difference relate to her involvement in the creation of Yod?
6. What can be seen by Nili not understanding Gadi's viron room? Can what she said be applied to any other ideas/objects within the book (i.e. Yod) or in our world?
7. What changes can be seen in Yod from his introduction in the beginning of the book? How has this affected the characters around him?
8. The main plot of centered around Shira and Yod and the side plot of Joseph has been going on for a while. How do similarities and differences between the two speak about technology and society?
9. Can a cyborg ever truly be treated as a human? No matter how much Yod and Shira interact there is still always a wall that seem to block Yod's acceptance as a human.
A cyborg or any kind of robot will never be accepted as human just because they are not made of real flesh and blood. They will never be able to have kids or any deceases in health which is something that is considered as human. Also, the fact that somebody has constructed the cyborg and that everything it does really is programmed by somebody else makes it feel very inhuman.
The idea that a cyborg can never be human is simply prejudice. Their inability to sire children is no different from a same-sex couple or a couple where one of the members has fertility problems. Not being made of flesh and blood is wholly irrelevant to being categorized as human (in the sense of humanity, obviously not the biological aspect of it). You and I are not humane because we have flesh and a beating heart. We are humane because we can sympathize and feel for others. If our programming skills become sophisticated enough to replicate this empathy, then we will literally have become gods.
As humans, we shy away from accepting anything other than our traditional biological and psychological view of humanity as human. We feel threatened by the idea that we can build and create something that can be defined as 'human' because humans have a tendency towards superiority. Yod s not only able to protect and serve, but he is also able to please sexually and emotionally. If he were to be considered human, he would pose a great threat.
Aside from the fact that Yod isn't necessarily flesh and blood, I feel that limiting the category to simply humans isn't the best approach. As humans, we not only accept humans, we also accept dogs, cats, fish, and all other sorts of animals and living things. That being said, I agree with the person above in that I don't think humans will accept Yod as a part of this greater category that i guess we can call "living" for lack of a better word. This is probably because, as humans we readily accept all other species with the thought process that they are inferior to us and easy to control. Taking, for example, a tiger. Seeing a tiger in the wild and the way it behaviors and attacks us, we make sure we are properly equipped with the label "monster" for these situations. However, a tamed tiger at the zoo or a circus is just as easily considered a "majestic" creature, because, unlike in the wild, we are in control and feel superior to them. Yod is the same way, except, at this point, we are unsure about whether a cyborg like Yod is controllable in any situation or not. Thus, we humans won't accept him into this greater category because we feel that Yod is or has the potential to be very much superior to us in all scenarios and are unable to accept that fact.
A cyborg in the sense that Yod is a cyborg will never be considered human because of its fundamental differences from a real person, and that it was created by our knowledge, so it's maximum knowledge is defined. When talking about cyborgs where if you have used technology to better your being, then yes they will be accepted. They must be accepted because we are all in a way cyborgs.
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. On page 276, Avram and Shira get into an argument that machines do have the ability to make choices. What does this say about society today, and how is this similar to the artificial intelligences of Neuromancer?
The inherent doubt that humans possess as to whether machines can make choices seems to indicate that modern society still views machines as being mechanical inventions rather than intelligent entities. Electronics, and particularly digital electronics, are still in their infancy compared to the existence of other technologies in human history. For example, mechanical systems had long preceded electronics, extending in one form or another to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. When modern society thinks of technology,it perceived it with the same preconceptions as humans have historically viewed mechanical systems. Since mechanical systems are by their nature unintelligent, today's society habitually associates modern technology with this same lack of intelligence. Digital systems today may not be truly complex enough to make their own independent choices, but regardless the question of whether technology can exceed its programming – transcend the intentions of its designer – would most likely be met with a firm denial by society due to the notion ingrained in human culture that technology is unintelligent
Yod believes that asserting independence goes along with the process of becoming more human and more integrated in society. His ability to freely make choices without outside influence probably caused Shira to argue with Avram because Shira and Yod seem to have a strong connection. His feelings of being bound like a slave make him want to be free make his own choices and decisions. This is a common theme that we have seen in history, when in the past humanity has considered certain groups as not human and have restricted their freedoms because of their differences.
What is a choice? A choice is being able to make a decision - to favor one course of action over another. Machines have been doing this for decades. Machines have been predicting the best course of action when given external variables for years (ie safety parameters for cars and such).
In this novel I think i can conclusively say that Piercy does not even entertain the idea of technology making decisions. I want to make a distinction here between technology and Yod. Yod, for Piercy, is an anomaly to this society, a kind of trial of what it means to be humans. Technology in this novel can be thought of in the same manner it has been considered for ages, a tool, a trump card, a construct of power. Technology enables one human to put himself above another. For a feminist such as Piercy using technology to control the patriarchal authoritarian society found in Y-S is just a way for her to create a metaphor for men having power over women. Similarly when Tikva is selling their 'technology' it is just saying that this power can help to sustain freedom. Technological determinism is almost a footnote in this cyberpunk novel and Piercy is not even questioning whether or not technology can make decisions, her answer is no, it cannot. What is important to her is the way that humans use technology (power) to make decisions and whether or not they have this power changes the decisions they would make.
2. Yod says he has perfect record for every moment of his existence. What would this mean if this applied to humans?
If perfect recall of the sort Yod is capable of was an ability available to all humans, it would dramatically shift society. Many of the world's cultures are based on traditions and legends that, by their definition, evolve as imperfections and interpretations arise in them through retellings. This is not to say that these cultures would cease to exist or that circumstantial debates – such as those held in courtrooms over eye-witness testimony – would disappear. Rather, the interpretation of events of themselves, rather than that interpretation of one's recollection of an event, would become significant in the world. Emotionally, perfect recall would also transform humanity. As Malkah mentions in He, She and It the ability to forget some experiences can be comforting and the vividness of certain memories from one's youth can be pleasurable. These feelings, which transcend culture and are common to all humans, would be erased from existence.
According to Yod, he has a "perfect record" of every event in his existence. If humans had this ability, things would be significantly different. In a positive aspect, we would never forget where we last placed our keys because that was an "event" in our existence. When having disputes with friends, we would never have discrepancies as to "what happened when." On the other hand, however, remembering every single event can possibly be harmful. If the event, such as child abuse, affected one's mental health, having a perfect recollection of the each episode of the abuse would obviously be detrimental. It seems that if Yod's ability were to be applied to humans, there would be both positive and negative effects. Everyone wishes they had but only the good aspects of a flawless memory. Humans are different from machines like Yod in the fact that they don’t want to hurt themselves by remembering the bad things that occurred over their lifetime. Instead they would rather remember the good things and try to forget the bad.
Having a perfect record of past events I think would not amount to much in a man. These records would still be subject to interpretation. In essence, man has a very good record, but he often remembers only what he wants to remember. Having a perfect memory does not exclude one from many biases associated with memory.
"Time heals all wounds". With the ability of perfect record this would no longer be possible. I read about a women who can remember every single detail of her life since she was 14 years old. To her it is a curse. It also does not help that her husband died early and that she can never let it fade from her memory.
I have posited before on this wiki the connection between 'The Republic' by Plato and He, She, and It. One of the central ideas of The Republic that Plato develops is that it will be ruled by a council of philosopher kings. This has several important implications that are paralleled and investigated by Piercy in He, She, and It. First it is recognized by both the importance of the poet, the cultural story telling, the weaving of the fabric of a society. The ability to remember everything means that Yod loses the ability to distinguish what is important and what is irrelevant. The power of the poet is in being able to decipher from the infinite pool of our human experience the key instances and emotions that are universal, relatable. I think that Piercy, through the persistence of Yod remembering things he shouldn't and forgetting to mention important details he does remember, is trying to have us realize the importance of reflection through the poetry (cultural story telling, narrative) of a society. If we all were to remember everything then we would have no need to learn history, discuss past events, question details, investigate perceptions. We would all remember the same thing and be forced to accept it as fact. In doing this we lose and important process of reflection where humans learn from their mistakes, learn not to repeat them, remember what is important, cherish memories while letting the meaningless details sink below the surface of our conscious memory. Once again this relates to Plats's Republic in that both Piercy and Plato respect the Form (Theory of Form) of a memory, this end result of a process by which we begin to comprehend our own human condition.
3. Yod and Shira's relationship is a significant element of He, She, and It. How is this similar to 'Neuromancer', and also how is it similar to 'Sherry Turkle's discussion about having relationships on the Internet or with robots?
Though Yod is defined as a machine, it is hard to connect similiarites between him and the robots in Sherry Turkle's articles due to his fictional nature. The limitations to Yod's capacity to be human is so ambiguously described in the book that it is impossible to compare him to nursing robots or toy seals that attempt to simulate affection. In light of Yod, real cyborgs and robots appear crude and rudimentary. Thus, the relationship betweed Yod and Shira is not comparable to the relationships which Sherry Turkle criticizes in her articles. The main gripe which Turkle has against relationships with machines is that they can only simulate emotion. However, as described in the novel, it is very possible for Yod to surpass this limitation and actually feel emotions.
4. One of Yod's goals is to live freely. If humanity does have the ability to create cyborgs at some point, will humans give cyborgs the ability to choose, and what does this mean for humanity if these cyborgs are given the ability to live freely?
This idea of freedom is integral to a debate that questions Yod's ability to "think," or to become more human. Freedom is often associated with humanity not because humans have always been free, but because humans all have a desire to exist in a place in which they are content. Freedom is an interesting concept because it can be argued that even Americans, who traditionally value the idea of freedom, are not particularly free. Clearly, from the standpoint of minorities or immigrants from repressive regimes, America is one of many countries in which there exists much freedom. It is more likely to see a born and bred American citizen critiquing the idea of freedom in America than it is to see an African immigrant who was born and bred in a time of slaughter based upon ethnicity or social class. It follows that there are different definitions of freedom, not all of which can be used interchangeably, Yod has a different interpretation of freedom, but the gist of it is the same.
The question then becomes "what is freedom?" How is it defined? What is the difference between absolute and partial freedom, and how much freedom are humans willing to sacrifice for stability and safety? By living in America, we all give up some of our liberties in return for government protection and regulation of our lives. Although there are voices that correctly observe social, political, and financial pressures that certainly affect our freedom, the bottom line is that Americans do not have to worry about our government being overrun by rebels or the widespread genocide of a specific group. In Y-S, society is arranged in a similar way. There is a balance between freedom and control that is maintained for the benefit of the whole. Society in Y-S and in America is engineered so that life will, for the most part, run smoothly.
We tend to romanticize the idea of freedom without looking at the implications of what absolute freedom would mean for our society, let alone our species. The advent of human-level artificial intelligences will doubtlessly lead to a violent reaction from human society in which the liberties of those artificial intelligences will be restricted. By nature, humans try to control what they do not understand or what they perceive as a threat. Historically, this has worked in mankind's favor by giving society insight into the mechanisms governing what was once the “unknown.”
For example, rain is a very bizarre phenomenon, so today weather forecasting is used to predict it to some degree. This simultaneously gives mankind a better understanding of weather, which is beyond our ability to control. At the same time, this instinctual reaction has led to much injustice in the world: if different cultures do not understand one another, they each try to subjugate the other in an attempt to control that element of the “unknown.” Likewise, it seems plausible that humans would treat cyborgs, robots, or artificial intelligences – in a controlling manner just like all of the situations presented above.
5. In one of the golem scenes, Joseph tries to comfort Chava, but he does not understand how to do so; he thinks to himself that whatever he touches will break. What does this say about technology having emotions, and will technology ever be able to express emotions in the same way as humans?
6. How will the line of humanity be blurred if technology is given emotions, just like humans? Do you think the world would be peaceful if this were the case? Why or why not?
If technology was given emotions, it would become nearly impossible to differentiate between what was human and what was not. No longer would we be able to say for certain that the entity that we were interacting with was human or machine. With robots being one step closer to being able to emulate humanity, it would be very likely that a feeling of paranoia would be present whenever people interacted. It is also very likely that a world with emotional robots would be more war-like rather than peaceful. Since the robots technically aren't "alive", they could make excellent weapons, while emotions allow them to make the judgment calls that a human soldier could make, effectively eliminating the need for actual human fighters.
The presence of emotion is considered a very human quality. However, we know that humans are not the only beings to experience emotions. Animals, such as dogs, also show emotion, but we don't consider them human. The threat that is present in technology having emotion, however, is that they are designed to emulate humanity. Thus, giving them even more human-like qualities means that they are that much closer to being human.
7. Y-S seems to hold control over a large amount of people, and Y-S officials are considered elite in their society. How is this situation similar or different to The Girl Who Was Plugged In, and how is it different? Are there relations to any of the other class readings?
I feel that if cyborgs and technology were given emotions, the line for humanity wouldn't be blurred at all. In fact, I believe that it would become more defined. By giving cyborgs emotion, we are essentially giving them the ability to act impulsively, which us humans have used advantageously to give us an edge over other species. Cyborgs with the ability to act with impulse will be able to do so more effectively because of the machinery perfection and calculations that technology today can achieve. As a result, our reign over the world would be greatly threatened and as humans we do not like living under constant threat of being overturned. The world would most likely fall into a more chaotic state. These cyborgs, who now have emotions, would be seeking acknowledgement and emotional acceptance, just like humans, from us, who refused to accept them as equals. While we continue to attempt to look down on the, the cyborgs' emotions will kick in potentially causing them to learn to retaliate against humans, fueling our suspicion for being overthrown. Although at a global level this may sound far-fetched, even at a minuscule level, people and cyborgs could get hurt.
8. Does Yod belonging to Avram make him less human? Is independence and self-ownership part of the human condition?
Yod's relationship with Avram does not make him any less human. He is not like a common computer we think of that can easily be controlled. In fact, he often disagrees with Avram and sometimes openly rebels. If anything, he is a foil for Gadi. Part of Avram's purpose in creating Yod, though probably subconsciously, is to create the son that Gadi was not. However, it is repeatedly shown that Yod is not any more controllable than Gadi was. He is just as frustrating, though in somewhat different ways. Perhaps Piercy is trying to show how it is futile to try to control your children. Sherry Turkle presents a similar idea. Turkle sees Internet and robot relationships as detrimental to people by allowing them to substitute an artificial reality in place of a fake reality that Shira is experiencing with Yod. Turkle would probably disagree with Shira's relationship with Yod, but in both He, She and It and Neuromancer, human relationships with cyborgs/robots have been beneficial rather than harmful to the main characters. In Neuromancer, Case pulls himself out of his depressed, sorry state through Molly. In He, She and It Shira does the same with Yod after losing her son Ari. In neither case does the non-human relationship cause the character to fall into depression and a artificial reality. Quite the opposite in Neuromancer actually, as without the Net to interact with Case is quite suicidal and addicted to drugs to assuage his adrenaline fix.
Y-S controlled Shira in a way similar to how Avram controls Yod. There is very little independence and tasks are assigned to both characters as though they have no free will or right to choose their actions for themselves. In a sense, Y-S as a culture has programmed its citizens to follow a certain train of thought and have reduced life down to accomplishing tasks and "leveling up". The only major difference between people living in Y-S and a cyborg such as Yod is the ability to be self-aware of the control society has over you, and if desired escape that society. Shira may be forced to accomplish certain tasks and follow a certain path in life while living in Y-S, but she is also capable of being aware that she has a lack of freedom, which is a deciding factor in her decision to leave Y-S. On the other hand, Yod may or may not be aware of the gravity stemming from his lack of independence. Can Yod have independence more than any other computer?
This relationship between Yod and Avram, in my opinion, does hurt Yod's chances to be considered human. Although independence and self-ownership are not direct conditions to being human, they do play a very important roll. In an everyday society, it can be argued that we humans are not completely free and are being controlled by the government. Even though this is true, and similar to Yod being controlled, it is also different in the fact that we choose to be controlled by the government. Humans like the idea of some parts of their lives being controlled to take some of the responsibility away from them and keep some order and understanding in the societies they live in. However, at any point, it is possible for humans to leave said society, and as a result, leave the governmental control as long as they are willing to accept whatever consequence awaits them (including death). In this sense, humans are not really being controlled but more allowing themselves to be controlled to make life easier. At this point in the story, we are unsure as to whether Yod has this same power. The ability to disagree and rebel on little everyday things isn't part of this. Our government isn't going severely punish every 4-year-old that pockets a pack of Pokemon cards on his way out of Walmart. We can only know if we actually have this power when there is a major situation such as choosing to leave behind a society. At this point, it seems that Yod had no say in Avram's control over him, like the say that people have over governmental control.
*NOTE: This section contains questions and/or prompts that still need responses.
1. The theme of technological determinism is present throughout the story. Do you think that technology makes decisions for the characters or is the opposite true?
Technology does not determine society to a large extent in the world of He, She and It. From what we can tell, society was shaped mainly by environmental issues. Tikva's main exports are "chimeras," but that is not purely a result of technology. Any other product could have been substituted and the free towns would still survive. Yod is not constrained by his technology, in fact, he appears to become more human over time. By contrast, everything everywhere bears the marks of past environmental disaster. The Glop is a lawless and destitute place because no one can afford to rule a wasteland in the presence of such scarcity. The multis flourish because the disasters destroyed existing governmental institutions. Organ pirates exist because of the poisons that cause rampant organ failure, as do the various genetic
He, She, and It deals with the theme of technological determinism far less pervasively than the other cyberpunk novels that we have read. I would attribute this to the fact that Piercy's novel was fundamentally questioning the definition of humanity and investigating the state of our society today. Considering she wrote this first in 1991, technology, at least in terms of the internet, AI and robots was not advanced enough for it to be a pivotal issue in her life. In fact I would go as far as to say that she sets this novel as a cyberpunk novel simply to create a situation that is so abstract that people can examine it from an outside point of view. With that being I think that in this novel technology is decidedly not determinant an rather is a construct that allows Piercy to give and take power from various characters in order to investigate how these variations affect both the dynamic of relationships and the dynamics of society.
2. How has Yod changed since the beginning of the story and how have these changes affected the people around "him"?
Since the beginning of the novel, Yod has clearly become more "human." When we first meet Yod, he is much more prone to violence and inadvertently causes a great deal of damage. Shira teaches him how to speak and act as a human being, and we see that Yod learns quickly. Yod begins to express emotions--at least his equivalent of human emotions--and it is not long before he expresses his affection for Shira. By the end of the novel, it is clear that Yod's self-sacrifice indicates that he has matured far beyond is robotic adolescence and has become human.
Yod's development primarily affects Shira, who comes to love him as he gradually becomes human. After first meeting him, Shira considers Yod to be nothing more than a highly sophisticated robot. However, throughout the novel she slowly begins to think of him as being more human and, eventually, comes to accept him as her lover, friend, and stepfather to her son. Shira is able to fully accept Yod as a human being.
3. Discuss the line differences and similarities between technology and humans in the whole book.
The definition of humanity has probably been the crux of the entire novel, drawing the line between man and machine and clearly stating whether or not Yod is simply a robot, or perhaps something more. One of the basest instincts of all living things is the desire to live, to pass on genes and to not die prematurely, which was a concept at the core of Flesh Made Word. Then perhaps wanting more than just striving to survive is what it means to be human? In the end, Yod sacrifices himself for the good of the village, rejecting the most basic of needs and wants - to live - to die. Does his death mean he is a machine? An unflinching, cold, construct fulfilling its role as a weapon? Or does his sacrifice mean that he is something more, an individual willing to go against its most carnal of desires to save someone else?
4. Guilt is another human characteristic. Discuss its appearance in these chapters.
Guilt makes a major appearance in the conclusion of He, She, and It, appearing in Malkah, Shira, and Yod. In one chapter narrated by Malkah, Piercy makes reference to Malkah asking Yod for forgiveness. In particular, she apologizes for “having taken part in his formation,” and for the “overweening ambition and pride” with which she and Avram attempted to create a living being that they could use and and control. In doing this, Malkah is ascertaining that she felt guilt for her part in Yod's genesis. She feels that Yod has the ability to live for himself, and that she and Avram did not have the right to control Yod. After Malkah finishes the story of Joseph, she also notes how foolish she had been to give life to a creature that could simulate humanity but never achieve it. Through Malkah's guilt, Piercy is communicating a belief that machines may be able to affect the appearance of a human, but can never truly be human. On the other hand, Piercy may be suggesting that it is wrong to attempt to control Yod because he is an actual person and deserves to have control over his own life. Malkah considers Yod to be a person, so she would naturally feel guilty about giving him the potential to be human without also giving him the freedom a human desires.
Shira also expresses guilt, except for her it was over Josh instead of Yod. After she discovered that Yod had killed Josh when they retrieved Ari, Shira constantly dwelt on the fact that she was responsible for his death, that she had killed a person who was once so important in her life and who, up to that point, was very important in Ari's life. When the meeting with Y-S sequentially convinced her that Josh had not lived and that he was still dead, this guilt became even deeper in Shira. Even though technically Yod killed Josh, Shira feels responsible because Yod was acting as her weapon. She did not explicitly tell Yod not to kill Josh. Yod, being a machine, needs that explicit instruction, so even though he was the cause of Josh's death, Shira ultimately feels for Yod and Josh because Yod is unable to interpret and understand emotion fully.
Guilt was also significant due to the influence it had on Yod's acquiescence to Avram's demands that he die for the good of Tikva. In his message to Shira, Yod notes, “A weapon should not have the capacity to suffer for what it does, to regret, to feel guilt.” Here, Yod is explaining that his existence – the duality between Avram's utilitarian programming and Malkah's emotional programming – is a contradiction, and thus nothing like him should ever again be created. As Yod sees it, a weapon can only be effective if it cannot understand the wrongness it commits in killing humans. In a sense, Piercy is using Yod's guilt as a sarcastic pacifistic remark: no person could bear to exist if he truly understood what it meant to be a weapon. It is interesting that Yod feels guilty over his role as a weapon, as it signifies that he is perhaps ironically more human than he realizes - it shows his final growth as something more than a machine. The melding of his robotic, servile behavior and his emotional programming isn't a contradiction at all; it parallels the functions of the human brain, the balance between the rational, logical left side and the more artistic, emotional right.
Guilt is not just a human characteristic -- it is a natural one as well. Nothing is more natural than understanding the consequences of your actions. Shira feels guilty that Yod strikes down Josh, and Yod also feels guilty about striking down Josh. Guilt is just a natural way to feel when the consequences of an action are unfavorable to an individual. Yod even feels guilty for the result of his existence and the death of Avram. We cannot blame him for feeling this way as we have seen it as natural. Throughout the novel we have seen Yod become more and more "human," but is it really that surprising that he would feel guilt as we do?
Guilt is an emotion to which we humans seem to have an exclusive right. In other words, machines and most other animals do not experience guilt (since it comes with our conscience). However, Yod shows how he possesses this human trait by feeling guilty after his altercation with Josh. As stated previously, Yod has become more and more "human" throughout the novel, and this is an underlying theme that the author is trying show the reader. We have seen Yod have "human relations" with humans, and now we see him having human emotions. Needless to say, however, he is still a cyborg--not a human. Is this Piercy's way of suggesting that technology and mankind are more closely related, or similar, than we once thought?
By the end of the text, guilt becomes a strong common theme between characters. Yod feels like the death of Avram was his entire fault even though Yod was born from it. As Yod became more human, he gained more and more emotion, guilt being the strongest one.
5. What do you think about Shira's reaction when she discovered Malkah had been with Yod first?
6. How does the story of the Golem Joseph parallel with the story of Yod?
The story of Joseph parallels that of Yod both on a superficial and on a conceptual level. Immediately, it is apparent to the reader that Joseph and Yod are similar in both situation and physicality: they are Übermensch of unnatural origin; their creators intend them to fulfill the role of a weapon, while others defend their humanity; through their existences, they begin to value their humanity, even wishing that they could be more human; after filling their roles, their creators destroy them, but not at the cost of the creators' lives. However, the meaning behind both stories are also similar. The tale of Joseph leads one to question what it means to be human and why Joseph did not fit this definition. Additionally, it brings to light the dichotomy that exists within Joseph: an existence as a weapon, yet a weapon with emotion. Likewise, Yod's interactions with humans and especially his relationship with Shira make the reader question why Yod was not firmly declared human, as the town council had in fact never ruled whether he was a citizen of Tikva or property of Tikva. Yod's internal struggle between his guilt and his programmed goal of defending Tikva also precisely mirrors the plight of Joseph.
Yod himself is a creation of powerful people, just like Joseph. When it comes right down to it, the only thing that differs between the two creatures is when they were created, and who they interact with. Because they were created for a single purpose, and not created to truly interact with others, but they do-- they are put into situations which they were not created for. By putting themselves into "different" situations, it makes it harder to fulfill their destiny as they get more and more complicated feelings for "life." In the end, while neither wanted to die-- they did.
7. Was the conclusion between Shira and her ex-husband just? Why or why not?
Although Shira's husband refuses to allow her custody to their son, Josh's death was not just. Josh may be angry at Shira for leaving him, but his custody over Ari is not entirely his fault. As we discover toward the end of the novel, Y-S was conspiring to use Ari and Shira as a means to steal information about Yod. Therefore, it is likely that Y-S influences Josh and his decisions are not entirely his own. However, it can also be argued that Josh's death was necessary for the saftey of Shira, Yod, and Tikva. Had he survived, Josh would have discovered Ari's kidnapping and would have alerted Y-S, possibly before Yod and Shira reached saftey. This could have endangered not only Yod and Shira, but also innocent people in Tikva.
8. Death is given a much larger focus in the ending chapters, how do the characters cope with the loss? Shira is also given the opportunity to remake Yod. What is the book saying about the common wish of bringing someone back from the dead?
When Shira discovers that she can essentially recreate Yod, she is initally thrilled. She believes that she could make him exactly as he was, perhaps without his violent tendencies. While this would make Shira happy and would provide Ari with a father figure, Shira decides that she should not follow through with it. Shira's decision is based partly on Yod's final words, which stated that he did not want to be recreated, and partly on Malkah's belief that the creation of Yod--a weapon similating humanity--was morally wrong. Piercy suggests here that even if we had the capability, we should not bring someone back from the dead just to satisfy our own selfish needs.
- This novel contains a retelling of the famous Golem of Prague story. Although some think that it is an ancient Jewish legend, according to Wikipedia, it is actually a story made up in 1837. There is no historical evidence for the legend, though the people and places mentioned are real.
- Considering that the story takes place both on Earth (as destroyed and ruined as it is) and in a foreseeable future, there are still elements of history integrated into the storyline. Malkah talks about her family's interactions throughout time. Recent American conflicts such as the Vietnam War and possibly even impending conflicts in Kuwait and Iraq (since the book was written in 1991) are influential in Piercy's writing.