24 October 2011

Post 440: Dust

Dust by Joan Frances Turner. ISBN: 9780441019281.

On the surface this appears to be a somewhat creative, but not entirely mind blowing novel about zombies. The zombie narrator was a bit novel at the time this was written, but it seems to be growing in popularity, and  underneath the skin of zombie exterior lies a subtext crawling with life. Dust is not a novel about zombies; it's not even really a coming of age novel. It is a novel about privilege very cleverly disguised as those other things. This book is about Indians Black Americans deaf people Others in zombie clothing. And it seems a lot of people have missed that.

Dust presents us with a group of... people who have their own culture, food, rituals, and language. These people are seen as Savage, Stupid, Undesirable, and Needing Correction. And while there are a number who do hunt human flesh, there are other groups that only feed on animal flesh, yet the entire population is negatively categorized. So certain scientists seek to create a disease which will correct the zombie problem by making them look more like humans... and they "succeed."

Unfortunately having a zombie look like a human doesn't really solve any "problems" for the humans. Instead, now they have non-decaying, super strong, ultra-hungry zombies AND a disease that affects humans in similar ways so that they essentially wiped out both peoples. Humans: making stupid decisions for everyone since forever. Meanwhile, the zombies, or at least the gang we're introduced to, were happy living in the forest spending their days hunting, talking to each other, dancing, and beating the ever loving crap out of each other as some sort of weird-to-us form of bonding.

And that's the problem with privilege. What appears weird-to-us may be perfectly normal and healthy for another society that has functioned that way for hundreds of years, and all of a sudden removing that function could be detrimental to both societies. Which is not to say that some things shouldn't be changed, but there is perhaps a right way and a wrong way to do so. Forcing someone to convert to a certain way of life (Spanish missionaries and Native Americans immediately come to mind), is not the best way to get someone to change and causes plenty of strife. However, working within the culture to promote change and allowing them to create their own cultural reasons for doing so will be healthier and last longer than forced change. I am not suggesting that murder and rape be allowed in cultures that do not consider them crimes, etc., but that there should be an amount of understanding about why and how those things came to be widely accepted and to assist in making changes, rather than coming in and strong arming a country into a certain set of moral values. We lose things that way. We have lost a whole plethora of knowledge regarding subsistence living, craftsmanship, and who knows what else because our ancestors came in with guns blazing and ready to claim land and resources at any cost.

Not to side with the zombies in every case, but if they can and will live without human flesh, what benefit is it to us to kill them other than we don't want to share resources?

One of my favorite bloggers, Trisha, at eccentric/eclectic gives good reasons for why she didn't love this book. Destroy the Brain has a much more positive review, which I am more in agreeance with. Additionally, it looks like a great zombie/horror resource.
LibsNote: I bought this sucker from the library sale table as one of three books for a quarter. Too cheap not to buy.
*I am not comparing anyone to zombies, there are simply similarities in the treatments of the Other by those who view them as such from a position of privilege. Also, my focus on Native Americans probably stems from reading this around Columbus Day. Correlations, they happen.
**Also, my opinions on influencing other cultures change depending on what's being done. I'm weird about what I find acceptable versus what I don't and it changes based on why a society does what it does, etc. For instance, not a fan of female circumcision, but if an adult woman decides to remove her clitoris I can't really object to it despite health concerns.

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