Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ruth Ozeki: Creating Novel Life Forms

"I think that if you take this idea of 'you are what you eat' seriously, then food is our fundamental identity. The act of eating has changed, radically, in the last 100 years. Eating is now primarily a commercial, economic act. As a result, the significance has changed. If you grow what you eat, your relationship to food is very different. However, if you buy what you eat, the implications are quite profound. When you trace the chain of production of something as simple as a potato, you start to realize that in every bite, every mouthful you chew and swallow, you are taking into your body a series of decisions that you really have no idea about. You think you’re simply eating a french fry, but in fact, that fry is the result of a series of decisions that have been made by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, by corporations and scientists, by marketing agencies and PR firms, and it’s hugely complicated. So this idea that the political is the personal, and the personal is political becomes very real. "

--Ruth Ozeki (from the interview linked below)

I've read Ruth Ozeki's second novel All Over Creation and taught her first novel My Year of Meats in my Business Writing courses last year. Ozeki is a powerful writer of progressive novels, with amazing characters and strong narratives... her stories also examine important issues through the development of characters across the political spectrum refusing to fall into easy stereotypes--these are real people, with real problems, and like real people, they can't just be easily dismissed, or sloppily slotted into static categories. Her characters grow and change--some for the better and some for the worse--but none of them can easily be dismissed.



Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. NY: Penguin, 2004.

"Go back to language for a moment, Frankie, and think about this: Genetic engineering is changing the semantics, the meaning of life itself. We're trying to usurp the plant's choice. To force alien words into the plant's poem, but we got a problem. We barely know the root language. Genetic grammar's a mystery, and our engineers are just one click up the evolutionary ladder from a roomful of monkeys, typing random sonnets on a bank of typewriters. We've learned a lot about letters--maybe our ability to read and spell words now sits halfway between accident and design--but our syntax is still haphazard. Scrambled. It's a semiotic nightmare." (124-125)

"Diversity is inconvenient to mechanized farming. This is what happens when agriculture becomes agribusiness. When engineers replace poets, and corporations gain total domination over all our food and all our poems." Geek cocked his head. "Monoculture," he said. "Has a sad and hollow ring to it, no?" (125)

Creating Novel Life Forms—Literally
The Satya Interview with Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki made a big splash in 1998 with her first novel, My Year of Meats, a humorous exploration of the meat industry and the great American obsession—and growing Japanese fascination with—beef [see review in Satya, September 1998]. Four years later, Ozeki presents us with All Over Creation (Viking Press), a playful romp through such heavy issues as the diminishing of American family farms and their conflicts with genetically engineered crops; and the clashes between the biotech industry’s PR machines and the activist subculture trying to counter their slick promotional campaigns. All this is cleverly done through the prism of a dysfunctional inter-racial family on a potato farm in Idaho.

Satya's Ruth Ozeki Interview

Another excerpt from the interview:

Stereotyping is rampant as it always is in situations like this. Our propaganda machine is very powerful. [sighs] You know, so much of this comes out of fear. And we should be scared—really scared. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should meet our fears with a reductive racist ranting. If we can learn to tolerate our fear, maybe we can use it as an excuse to open up instead of close down, to act in a counter-intuitive way—become more curious instead of less curious; become more generous instead of less generous. When we get scared, we decide: “Okay, I’m scared; I’m going to learn more.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful?


Susannity! (Susanne) said...

have u seen this article yet?

Thivai Abhor said...

Thanks I posted it--frightening!

I thought it was going to ba an announcement for a new Ozeki book ;)