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RTGonzalez_Novel Discourse_2010

RTGonzalez_Novel Discourse_2010

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Published by: rtg2277 on Feb 01, 2011
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09/21/2013

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Gonzalez1
TowardsaNovelDiscourseonTruth:AnUnexpectedCalltoActioninMargaretAtwood's
OryxandCrake
ImportantQuestions
Inthepast10to20years,significanttimeandenergyhasbeendedicatedtodiscussingthefutureofbiotechnology;itiswidelybelievedthattheimpactoftherapidexpansionoftechnoscienceinthecomingdecadeswillhaveanunprecedentedimpactonhumanity.Interestingly,morerecentdiscussionsonthefutureofbiotechnologyhaveturnedtofictionwhenexploringitsimplications;inarecently-publishedpositionpapertitled“TheEthicsofGeneticEngineering,”DavidKoepsellinvokesMargaretAtwood’snovel
OryxandCrake
tohighlightthepotentiallyfavorableaspectsofscientificendeavorslikegeneticengineering:“Eventually,”writesKoepsell,“asenvisionedinMargaretAtwood’s
OryxandCrake
(2003),animalvariantsusedasfoodsourcesmightevenbeengineeredwithoutanythingmorethananautonomousnervoussystem,arguablyeradicatingmanyoftheethicalconcernsinvolvedwiththewholesaleslaughteroflargemammalsforfood”(12).ForthosefamiliarwithAtwood’snovel,Koepsell’sreferenceto
OryxandCrake
inoptimistictermswilllikelycomeacrossasodd.Inthecontemporarycontroversiessurroundingthefutureofbiotechnology,itisfarmorecommonfornovelslike
OryxandCrake
tobereferencedintheinterestofexploringtechnoscience’spotentiallyharmfuloutcomes,afactthatmembersofthescientificcommunityarekeenlyawareof.In2010,anarticlewaspublishedbyio9,ablogwhoseprimaryfocusesarethesubjectsofsciencefiction,futurism,andadvancementsinthefieldsofscienceandtechnology.Thearticleisdrivenbytheideathatthereisatendencyinthegenreofsciencefictionto“fudgethefacts”forthesakeofplot.Whilethestatedgoalofthearticleistosee“whetheranyscience
 
Gonzalez2fictiongets[thescience]right,”severalofthescientistsinterviewed,includingDr.DavidBarash,anevolutionarypsychologistandsociobiologist,neverthelessusethequestionasanopportunitytospeakonthedangersof“misinterpreted”sciencewhenitisappliedtodiscussionssurroundingthefutureofbiotechnology.CitinganothernovelofAtwood’s,
TheHandmaid’sTale,
Dr.Barashnotes,“althoughevo-psychpresumesgeneticinfluenceonbehavior,itdefinitelydoesn’timplyanythinglikethegeneticdeterminismfoundin[novelslikeAtwoods].Barasharguesthat,inthissense,thesebooksarenotonlyamisrepresentationofscience,buta“mis-use”ofitaswell,thatis“likelytoconfirmtheworstfearsofreaderswhodon’tunderstandthescienceitself.”UnderlyingtheseconversationsiswhatIcharacterizeinthisessayasthe
recursive paradox 
ofhumanity’srelationshipwithnature,whichcanbesummarizedbrieflybytheideathathumanity,despiteitseffortstodistanceitselffromnature,isneverthelessinextricablyboundtoit.Whilethisparadoxhasalwaysexisted,thestateofcontemporarysciencehasmadeaconfrontationofthisparadoxmoreurgentthaneverbefore.ThefrequencywithwhichnovelslikeAtwood’sarereferencedduringconversationssuchasthosejustmentionedraisesimportantquestionsabouttherolethatfiction—andfictionaboutscience,inparticular—playsinourconfrontationofthisparadox,andourconceptionsofscience,nature,andtruthinourparticularhistoricalmoment:WhatisitaboutnovelslikeAtwood’sthatallowforthemtobeincludedinseriousdiscussionsaboutthefutureofbiotechnology?Whatistheunderlyingmessagetothesenovelsthatismostcommonlyinvoked?Isthereanythingwecanextractfromthesenovelsthathasyettobeexploredinthecontextofcontemporarydebateoverthefutureoftechnoscience?ThisessaywillexplorethesequestionsbytakingacloserlookatAtwood’snovel
OryxandCrake
.
 
Gonzalez3Thestoryof
OryxandCrake
unfoldsthroughtwoparallelnarratives.Eachnarrativeunfoldsoneithersideofabiogeneticsingularitythathasdevastatedhumanity,leaving,asfarasweknow,justonesurvivor.ThatsurvivorisSnowman,ourprotagonist.ThroughSnowman’smemoriesweareprovidedaccesstothenovel’sparallelstoryline,whichplaysoutinthetimepriortothesingularity,ultimatelyleadinguptotheextinctionofhumanity.Theprimarycharacterinthenovel’spre-singularitynarrativeisJimmy.Tellingly,thenames“Snowman”and“Jimmy”areactuallydifferentnamesforthesameperson;Snowman/Jimmyisanidentitysplitbytime.Thenovelopensonthefarsideofthesingularity,andfollowstheday-to-dayactionsofSnowmaninapost-apocalypticworldravagedbyabioengineeredplaguethatbroughthumanitytoitsknees.Thoughthenovelisrelatedinthethirdperson,thedirectionthatthenarrationtakesatanygivenmomentisdetermined,notbythedisembodiedobserver,butbythethoughtsandactionsofSnowman.Thisstyleofnarrationlendsthenovelastream-of-consciousqualitythatallowsforjoltingshiftsintemporalsetting.InthiswaythenarrativedescribesboththeimmediateactionsofSnowmanandtheirreversibleexperiencesofJimmybyconstantlyshiftingbetweenthenovel’spost-singularitypresentandirrecoverablepast,respectively.Thereaderquicklyrecognizesthatthepre-singularityworldof
OryxandCrake
ismodeledcloselyafterhisown.Setinthenot-too-distantfuture,biotechnologicalresearchandimplementationhasexplodedintoanevenmoresuccessfulfinancialenterprise.Hugecorporationswithstrangelyfamiliar-soundingnameslikeHealthWyzergovernthenovel’ssocioeconomicspheres.Thesesamecorporationsregularlyannounceimpressive-soundingscientificinnovations,like“high-tensilespidersilk,”manyofwhichsoundtoAtwood’saudiencelikesomethingtheymightjustassoonreadaboutinthatweek’sissueofPopular

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