Between Jeff and Abnesti there was a strong binary in which Abnesti was dominant over Jeff. Being that Jeff was a criminal submitting to the experiments of Abnesti the scientist, Abnesti held most of the power in their relationship. Although Abnesti was clearly dominant, the two conversed as if they were almost friends and they had an understanding of the reasoning behind the work they were doing. It also seemed as though Abnesti was attempting to give Jeff a false sense of mutual recognition by making himself appear as a normal human being and constantly reminding Jeff that he has a family, he has feelings, all to make Jeff feel equal to Abnesti as two humans with emotions. On page 68, Abnesti asks Jeff, “Am I a monster?… Do I remember birthdays around here? When a certain individual got athlete’s foot on his groin on a Sunday, did a certain other individual drive over to Rexall and pick up the cream, paying for it with his own personal money?” (Spiderhead, 68). For a moment, Abnesti’s description of how he is not a “monster”, makes Jeff think he isn’t all that bad and he’s just doing his job. This almost makes Jeff feel equal to Abnesti, when in reality Abnesti does not see Jeff this way.
The following passage gave me that “tingle down the spine” we keep talking about:
“…killers all, all bad, I guess, although, in that instant, I saw it differently. At birth, they’d been charged by God with the responsibility of growing up into total fuckups. Had they chosen this? Was it their fault, as they tumbled out of the womb? Had they aspired, covered in placental blood, to grow into harmers, dark forcers, life enders? In that first holy instant of breath/awareness (tiny hands clutching and unclutching), had it been their fondest hope to render (via gun, knife, or brick) some innocent family bereft? No; and yet their crooked destinies had lain dormant within them, seeds awaiting water and light to bring forth the most violent, life-poisoning flowers, said water/light actually being the requisite combination of neurological tendency and environmental activation that would transform then (transform us!) into earth’s offal, murderers, and foul us with the ultimate, unwashable transgression.
Wow, I thought, was there some Verbaluce in that drip or what?
To me, Jeff is realizing the cruelty of the world he lives in during this out-of-body experience. It’s very dark because he basically says there is no hope. He claims that people’s destinies are already decided (as a combination of nature and nurture) and inevitable. This is certainly a disturbing message from the text.
The writing is also carefully written with pacing in mind. As Jeff continues, he stumbles into this very long sentence that made me read with more speed and more excitement. He makes a joke about using Verbaluce to produce such insightful language. Then, he follows with “But no” (a two word paragraph). This completely stopped me in my tracks, and I instantly reread the whole thing again. There is so much meaning here, and it is delivered flawlessly.
In the short story “Escape from Spiderhead” it details the experiences and decisions of a former jail inmate. In one of the pertinenet moments of the story Jeff has to choose between giving the Darkenfloxx to either Heather or Rachel, the two girls he formerly had relationships with. Before the second trial was held with Rachel, the head of Spiderhead, Abnesti, gives Jeff the details of why Rachel was also in the testing facility to make it easier for him to hurt her. She too was there because her extensive involvement of drugs and the murder of three different people. After Abnesti informed Jeff of her actions he thinks to himself, “But I still didn’t want to kill her” (75). Jeff’s thought to himself resonates to the theme that actions do not always define the person. In Jeff’s mind although Rachel had done horrible things to many people in her life, it didn’t effect Jeff’s decision to not want to hurt Rachel; because the actions of others do not always effect morals. Additionally, Jeff’s former actions also do not change his ultimate decision. Closer to the end of the story Jeff explains why he was also in the testing facility. Jeff too commited a murder and by most or all people he would be considered a bad person for killing an innocent human. However, although he too had killed someone he did not want to hurt Rachel or anyone in the facility. He knows that it is the worng thing to do and it makes him feel pain. Therefore, this section of the story relays the messege to the reader that although Jeff had done terrible things in his past it doesn’t mean that that is who he is as a person and that he would ever want to hurt someone again. It also informs the reader that someone elses bad actions doesn’t make it morally right to do wrong back to them.
In the short story “Escape From Spiderhead” by George Sanders, Jeff has to decide whether Heather or Rachel will be injected with Darkenfloxx, a deadly potion. When talking to Abnesti, he makes the remark that the choice will be random.
“I can’t decide,” I said. “It’s random.”
“Truly random?” he said, “Okay. im giving the Darkenfloxx to Heather.”
I just sat there.
“No actually,” he said, “I’m giving it to Rachel.”
Just sat there(57).
Abnesti believes that Jeff truly has no preference. With this, Jeff believes he has saved them from Darkenfloxx but in turn, Heather ends up dying. When reflecting upon this, it shows that sometimes the end result you try so hard to stay away from, still happens. Jeff would have most likely killed one of the women if he had chosen a name. But that was no difference because Abnesti killed at least one of them anyways.
To me, one of the biggest themes of the story is morality. The people being experimented on are criminals, but they are still being tortured, emotionally and physically. At the end, Jeff is asked to give the scientists permission to put someone through extreme pain. He is hesitant to do it, but he finally gives in. When it kills her and he asked to do it again to someone else, he refuses, ending his own life instead. It’s a very dark story line, but a very important one because Jeff finds a way to escape from the darkness of the power binary he is in. The story ends with Jeff’s final thoughts; “I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would.” He finds joy in his own death because by finding his humanity, he is able to escape.
In the beginning of the story, it’s very unclear who Jeff is, where he is, why he’s there, what he did, etc. As the story goes on, it becomes easier for the reader to connect these dots concerning Jeff’s character. I found it really interesting that although Jeff is given the drug Verbaluce to enhance his thoughts and the way he verbally conveys them, the thoughts he has without the drug are so complex. Also, when we find out later in the story that Jeff has committed murder and that’s why he is in spiderhead, we can see the progression of his character, from committing that crime to not wanting to see Rachel or Heather suffer from Darkenfloxx despite his neutral feelings towards both women. In the end, when Jeff “escapes” from spiderhead, he thinks about the fate of everyone in spiderhead. He ponders how everyone ended up this way, if they chose it, etc. He conveys his thoughts in a way that really flow and come out almost elegantly, so much so that Jeff says “Wow, I thought, was there some Verbaluce in that drip or what? But no. This was all me now.” I found this quote interesting because Jeff is portrayed as I guess different, for a lack of a better word, from the other people in spiderhead, as he thinks more intensely about what is going on and why, and I think that quote really captures that idea.
The power structure in the drug testing experimental home, as Abnesti resides as the main scientist who tries to justify his actions. Which is seen most clearly when talking to Jeff, “a few minutes of unpleasantness for Rachel, years of relief for literally tens of thousands of underloving or overloving folks.” This justification followed by his need to get these answers for science, while he takes the blame of himself and saying he wasn’t a bad person. This oppression and deception forces Jeff to say “Acknowleadge,” to become part of a inhumane experiment. As this reading goes on Jeff does have aprehensions about Abnesti as he does these horrible things. Justifying those bad actions because of their past to say everyone is bad and he deserves it. Moreover he hides behind science to create a non emoitional response to the experiment so as to collect his data. This system of opression and deception rages on until Jeff uses it against all of them breaking free.
Throughout Escape from Spiderhead, the story mentioned some very thought provoking ideas that apply to the lives of both those in the story and the readers. A quote that really stuck with me was towards the end of the story, “At birth, they’d been charged by God with the responsibility of growing into total fuckups.” (79). This quote was very striking to me. They way that it challenges an idea that we often hear while growing up made made me think whether it is true, or just something that we are told as kids. A predetermined destiny is often something that we are not taught. While growing up, we are taught that we can accomplish anything that we want if we work hard enough. And while this may be true to a certain extent, hard work can only go so far, some people are dealt with bad cards and it is nearly impossible to turn them into a winning deck. All of the people in Escape from Spiderhead study were ex-convicts. While we do not know all of their stories, it can be questioned if they were all determined to end up in this life, or if other things are factored in. Jeff was only nineteen when he killed his Mike (76), was Jeff born a killer or did he just get too angry and aggressive in that moment. Many moments in this story make you think deeper into the story.
The lack of mutual recognition in the short story, “Escape from Spiderhead”, was demonstrated through the relationships between the criminals and the scientists. Although the participants had to verbally consent to take part in the experiments, this option could be taken away through simple paperwork. After Jeff will not agree to watch Rachel go through extreme agony, the scientist Abnesti states, “‘What good’s an obedience drug if we need his permission to use it?'” (Saunders 75). Abnesti wants to take away all control that has been given to Jeff. This power imbalance represents Abnesti’s lack of recognition that Jeff is still a person who should have control over himself. The absence of mutual recognition in Abnesti’s relationships with the participants leads to a growing mistrust and strong dislike of the scientist by the criminals.
Mutual recognition is something I really thought about throughout the reading. Between the scientists and the inmates, I feel as if no mutual recognition was actually given, and by holding the inmates accountable to their past is what brings the scientists so much additional power. In the story, when Heather is drugged which Darkenfloxx, she passes due to an unbelievably high dosage. While Jeff is crying after having to watch Heather fight death, while Abnesti doesn’t even seem phased. Abnesti responds to Jeff’s reaction of the incident saying “Look, Jeff, these things happen. This is science” (35). This portrays that the inmates actually have no value to Abnesti besides collective data, showing that he is not giving mutual recognition to the inmates.
I think mutual recognition appears at the end of the story and does not really show up while Jeff is still in the Spiderhead. One section that really stood out to me is when Jeff refuses to agree to Rachel receiving Darkenfloxx. On page 75, Absenti asks, “Verlaine, what’s the name of that one? The one where I give him an order and he obeys it?” This reveals the authority binary in this dystopian future. This binary is kept until Jeff sacrifices himself. I believe this is when he experiences mutual recognition and individuality as Benjamin explains because on page 81, Jeff describes his encounter with birds, “I joined them, flew among them, they did not recognize me as something apart from them…” Jeff and the birds recognize each other as equals part of the same community yet being their own individuals.
In the short story “Escape from Spiderhead,” Heather is put on the depressant drug Darkenfloxx and passes away. Jeff doesn’t love her romantically but still feels shaken after seeing what she did to herself. Abnesti understands his sadness but tells Jeff, “‘Look, Jeff, these things happen,’ Abnesti said. ‘This is science. In science we explore the unknown…I hated it. I’m a person. I have feelings. Still, personal sadness aside, that was good'” (72). Although Abnesti recognizes seeing Heather die was deeply saddening, a part of him does not care about the well being of the criminals and will do anything it takes to determine the validity of a drug. I thought this was interesting because Jeff has more feelings about Heather’s death than anyone else. Although Abnesti seems to claim he feels sad, he is eager to test the Darkenfloxx on Rachel next, showing he is okay with the effects. This brings up an important question asking whether it is okay or not to disregard all morals for the sake of science.
Why is the facility tasked with this inhumane drug research named “Spiderhead”? I think the easy answer is that the lay out of the building closely resembles a spider. However, I think the true meaning is much deeper than that. I think the facility is called Spiderhead because of the resemblance between what is happening within the facility and how spiders naturally kill in the wild. Inside Spiderhead they persuade and trap unsuspecting prisoners and criminals and they slowly experiment on them with drugs. They eventually give the humans, like Jeff, Darkenfloxx that leads them to often die. Spiders in the wild build beautiful webs that trap their unsuspecting prey within and then spiders after a prolonged period of time slowly inject their venom and kill the prey. I think the resemblance in the methods of trapping and killing their prey is the reason the facility is called “Spiderhead”.
Abnesti tries to dehumanize Rachel in order to prompt Jeff to administer the Darkenfloxx to her. However, Jeff resists up to the point where Abnesti decides to call in Docilryde that will not give him a choice in administering the Darkenfloxx, but instead make him obey. When it is apparent to him that the Darkenfloxx will be administered whether he likes it or not, he takes his own life rather than take another’s. After he does so he says, “I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would,”(81). I believe this to be the ultimate act of selflessness and sacrifice, since he did not deem his life any more important than another’s.
Spiderhead, as an establishment, is inherently about power. Abnesti tries to make himself seem like a hero, like he is working towards a greater public good. When he explains to Jeff the new drug they are developing, he talks about the ability to stop wars, help people find love, etc. But it is clear that it is not these results that he necessarily cares about, but rather the control that this gives him. He tells Jeff, “‘No longer, in terms of emotional controllability, are we ships adrift. No one is. We see a ship adrift, we climb aboard, install a rudder'”(58).
In this way, he admits that it is power, rather than conflict resolution, that they are actually after. This is reinforced in the way that Spiderhead functions – with Abnesti and Verlaine in control of all of the prisoners at Spiderhead. This power dynamic is recognized by the prisoners trapped in Spiderhead. The use of the word “acknowledge” implies that there is no real choice for these prisoners. When Jeff begins resisting the commands of Abnesti and Verlaine, they have systems in place to ensure his compliance. The prisoners at Spiderhead lose autonomy as a punishment for their crimes. Upon first read, Spiderhead seems very different from any prison we, as readers, are familiar with. But one has to wonder: is that really the case? Or is the power struggle and lack of autonomy as described here a part of our prison systems?
Within the Spiderhead, there’s an established binary between the criminals and the “humane.” Absenti makes sure to enforce this by reminding the criminals that they are lesser than. He’s “always reminding [Jeff] about [his] fateful night” (58) because he wants to remind Jeff that he’s a murderer. He does a similar thing later in the story by telling Jeff about all the crimes that Rachel has committed, painting her in an extremely negative light. By establishing this binary, he makes it seem like they deserve the torture they’re going through.
Then, in contrast to the criminals, he establishes himself as being a good person. He’s constantly trying to prove this to Jeff, saying things like “Am I a monster?” (68) and “I’m a person. I have feelings” (72). However, despite his attempt to categorize himself as the better of the two options in the binary he’s created, his actions prove that he’s just as bad as the other murderers in the Spiderhead. He’s fine with killing Rachel and Heather, whereas Jeff “had not killed, and never would” (81).
Jeff starts to be put into situations which are exposing him to what is really going on at the spiderhead and what experiment is occurring at the facility. When Jeff realizes that their are two other men also going through this process he begins to think. He even makes a chart to realize who had sex with who. On page 63 Jeff explains, “Back in my Domain, I constructed a who-had-fucked- whom chart…”. Jeff also builds his realization when he talks to Rogan and Keith in the workrooms when the woman are deciding who should be Darkenfloxx, asking them if they had the same experience as he did.
The last line of the short story “Escape From Spiderhead” reads, “I had not killed, and I never would” (pg 81). I find this line very interesting because it was inevitable Jeff would to kill someone. He had to choose between killing himself and Rachel. Either way, the story would have a dark ending. He ended up committing suicide and sparing Rachel’s life, but he did end up killing someone-himself. It seems as if the “Spiderhead” is a murder mission. The experiments that are forced upon prisoners are extremely dangerous, and Abnesti knows that death is a possible outcome. I think it is much worse than a longer period in jail.
Escape from Spiderhead is all about power dynamics and binaries. There is a very clear power dynamic from the very beginning: Abnesti is in the position of power, and Jeff is required to submit to him. This power dynamic is reinforced by the technology of the world in which the story is set, as it states early on in the story, “Abnesti used his remote. My MobiPak whirred” (45). Abnesti has the control in this situation, because he has the remote. As the story continues, we see the way that Abnesti exercises his power over Jeff and other subjects and finally, at the end of the story, Jeff takes back power by using the remote himself. The remote in this story is a tangible representation of the power dynamic regarding Abnesti, Jeff, and the others.
At first, the story was really disturbing and confusing. There was no set up context, so the story just jumped in without explaining anything about where they were, what was happening, and why it was that way. The nature of the story was like understand as you go and it connected the dots as you continued to read it. One of the most powerful sections to me was the comparison to the head of spider, which connected the name to the story. The line was, “Control being like the head of a spider. With its various legs being our Workrooms” (55). The story evolves over time and becomes more understandable as it goes.