Gonzalez  1   Towards  a  Novel  Discourse  on  Truth:  An   Unexpected  Call  to  Action  in  Margaret  Atwood's  Oryx

 and  Crake  

  Important  Questions  

In   the   past   10   to   20   years,   significant   time   and   energy   has   been   dedicated   to   discussing   the   future   of   biotechnology;   it   is   widely   believed   that   the   impact   of   the   rapid   expansion  of  technoscience  in  the  coming  decades  will  have  an  unprecedented  impact  on   humanity.     Interestingly,   more   recent   discussions   on   the   future   of   biotechnology   have   turned   to   fiction   when   exploring   its   implications;   in   a   recently-­‐published   position   paper   titled  “The  Ethics  of  Genetic  Engineering,”  David  Koepsell  invokes  Margaret  Atwood’s  novel   Oryx   and   Crake   to   highlight   the   potentially   favorable   aspects   of   scientific   endeavors   like   genetic   engineering:   “Eventually,”   writes   Koepsell,   “as   envisioned   in   Margaret   Atwood’s   Oryx   and   Crake   (2003),   animal   variants   used   as   food   sources   might   even   be   engineered   without   anything   more   than   an   autonomous   nervous   system,   arguably   eradicating   many   of   the   ethical   concerns   involved   with   the   wholesale   slaughter   of   large   mammals   for   food”   (12).       For   those   familiar   with   Atwood’s   novel,   Koepsell’s   reference   to   Oryx   and   Crake   in   optimistic   terms   will   likely   come   across   as   odd.     In   the   contemporary   controversies   surrounding   the   future   of   biotechnology,   it   is   far   more   common   for   novels   like   Oryx   and   Crake   to   be   referenced   in   the   interest   of   exploring   technoscience’s   potentially   harmful   outcomes,  a  fact  that  members  of  the  scientific  community  are  keenly  aware  of.    In  2010,  an   article   was   published   by   io9,   a   blog   whose   primary   focuses   are   the   subjects   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”   for   the   sake   of   plot.     While   the   stated   goal   of   the   article   is   to   see   “whether   any   science  

 

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fiction   gets   [the   science]   right,”   several   of   the   scientists   interviewed,   including   Dr.   David   Barash,   an   evolutionary   psychologist   and   sociobiologist,   nevertheless   use   the   question   as   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,   “although   evo-­‐psych   presumes   genetic   influence   on   behavior,   it   definitely   doesn’t   imply   anything   like   the   genetic   determinism   found   in   [novels   like   Atwood’s].”     Barash   argues   that,   in   this   sense,   these   books   are   not   only   a   misrepresentation   of   science,   but   a   “mis-­‐use”   of   it   as   well,   that   is   “likely   to   confirm   the   worst  fears  of  readers  who  don’t  understand  the  science  itself.”       Underlying  these  conversations  is  what  I  characterize  in  this  essay  as  the  recursive   paradox   of   humanity’s   relationship   with   nature,   which   can   be   summarized   briefly   by   the   idea   that   humanity,   despite   its   efforts   to   distance   itself   from   nature,   is   nevertheless   inextricably  bound  to  it.    While  this  paradox  has  always  existed,  the  state  of  contemporary   science   has   made   a   confrontation   of   this   paradox   more   urgent   than   ever   before.     The   frequency   with   which   novels   like   Atwood’s   are   referenced   during   conversations   such   as   those   just   mentioned   raises   important   questions   about   the   role   that   fiction—and   fiction   about   science,   in   particular—plays   in   our   confrontation   of   this   paradox,   and   our   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   the   context   of   contemporary   debate   over   the   future   of   technoscience?     This   essay  will  explore  these  questions  by  taking  a  closer  look  at  Atwood’s  novel  Oryx  and  Crake.    

 

Gonzalez  3   The  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.     The   primary   character   in   the   novel’s   pre-­‐singularity   narrative   is   Jimmy.     Tellingly,   the   names   “Snowman”   and   “Jimmy”   are   actually   different   names   for   the   same   person;   Snowman/Jimmy   is   an   identity   split   by   time.     The   novel   opens   on   the   far   side   of   the   singularity,   and   follows   the   day-­‐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,   not   by   the   disembodied   observer,   but   by   the   thoughts   and   actions   of   Snowman.    This  style  of  narration  lends  the  novel  a  stream-­‐of-­‐conscious  quality  that  allows   for   jolting   shifts   in   temporal   setting.     In   this   way   the   narrative   describes   both   the   immediate   actions   of   Snowman   and   the   irreversible   experiences   of   Jimmy   by   constantly   shifting  between  the  novel’s  post-­‐singularity  present  and  irrecoverable  past,  respectively.       The   reader   quickly   recognizes   that   the   pre-­‐singularity   world   of   Oryx   and   Crake   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   spider   silk,”   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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Science.     The   privileged   members   of   society   inhabit   “compounds,”   sprawling   living   communities   and   centers   for   biogenetic   research   with   high   walls,   invasive   and   militant   security   forces,   and   strict   security   protocols.     The   compounds   serve   to   separate   the   elite   from   the   have-­‐nots,   who   inhabit   crime-­‐ridden   “pleeblands,”   poorly-­‐monitored,   underprivileged,   and   economically-­‐crippled   cities,   home   to   “the   addicts,   the   muggers,   the   paupers,”   and   “the   crazies”   (Atwood   27).     Jimmy   is   a   member   of   the   socioeconomic   elite,   which   is   comprised   primarily   of   scientists.     Both   of   Jimmy’s   parents   are   accomplished   scientific  investigators,  though  his  mother’s  recent  objections  to  the  direction  in  which  the   science  of  the  day  is  heading  have  caused  her  to  cease  conducting  research.    The  decision   by   Jimmy’s   mother   to   abstain   from   research   is   a   point   of   contention   between   Jimmy’s   parents,   a   point   of   contention   that   underscores   much   of   the   ethos   of   the   pre-­‐singularity   narrative.    As  Jimmy  matures,  he  finds  that  he  must  navigate  a  minefield  of  contentions  that   seem  to  be  centered  largely  on  the  issue  of  potentially  transgressive  science.   In   the   novel’s   present,   Snowman   must   struggle   to   survive   in   the   aftermath   of   an   apocalyptic  event  that  has  severed  him  almost  entirely  from  the  pre-­‐singularity  world.    The   means  by  which  Jimmy  can  access  the  familiar  truths  of  the  humanity  he  once  belonged  to   are   limited:   rather   than   interacting   with   humans,   Jimmy   spends   his   days   observing   and   reacting   to   a   world   densely   populated   with   the   ideas   and   inventions   of   phantoms— individuals   and   corporations   that   existed   prior   to   the   singularity.     When   Snowman’s   memories   do   not   shift   the   narrative   into   the   parallel   storyline,   they   haunt   him,   as   his   conception   of   everything   that   once   was   (culture,   art,   language,   science,   truth),   in   the   absence   of   any   other   humans,   begins   to   dissolve.     Posthumans   that   populate   the   post-­‐ singularity  world  exacerbate  Snowman’s  loss  of  contact  with  his  prior  conceptions  of  truth.    

 

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These  “Crakers,”  or  “Children  of  Crake,”  are  a  genetically  ideal  race  bioengineered  by  Crake,   Jimmy’s  genius  best  friend  and,  incidentally,  the  scientist  responsible  for  the  extinction  of   mankind.    Snowman  is  an  anachronism  to  the  posthumans,  who  were  left  in  his  charge  by   Crake.     Left   with   the   task   of   looking   after   the   Crakers,   Snowman   must   confront   the   new   system  of  truth  that  he  shares  with  the  Crakers  while  his  grasp  on  his  old  system  weakens.   Given   the   description   of   the   novel   that   I   have   provided,   the   answer   to   our   second   question—What   is   the   underlying   message   to   Atwood’s   novel   that   is   most   commonly   invoked?—prima   facie,   seems   clear:   Oryx   and   Crake   appears   to   be   a   warning   about   the   potentially  destructive  capacity  of  an  aggressively  technoscientific  culture;  by  investigating   our   first   question—What   about   Atwood’s   fiction   allows   it   to   be   included   in   serious   discussions  about  the  future  of  biotechnology?—I  will  reveal  how  one  can  easily  arrive  at  the   conclusion  that  has  caused  many  people  to  view  Oryx  and  Crake  in  these  terms.    Beginning   with   what   I   have   defined   as   the   recursive   paradox   defining   humanity’s   strained   relationship   with   nature,   I   will   explore   through   the   theories   of   postmodernist   Jean   Baudrillard  how  Atwood’s  novel  can  be  cast  so  convincingly  in  a  dystopic  light.    I  will  then   address  our  third  question—Is  there  anything  we  can  extract  from  Atwood’s  novel  that  has   yet  to  be  explored  in  the  context  of  contemporary  debate  over  the  future  of  technoscience?— by  reexamining  Oryx  and  Crake  using  theory  borrowed  from  theorists  in  the  emerging  field   of  science  studies.    In  doing  so,  I  will  arrive  at  the  primary  argument  of  this  essay:  that  at  its   core,  Oryx  and  Crake  is  not,  despite  appearances,  a  dystopian  warning  about  the  potentially   catastrophic   effects   of   unbridled   biological   engineering.     Rather,   the   novel   works   by   calling   attention   to   the   need   for   a   new   way   of   talking,   not   necessarily   about   "science"   but   about   "truth,"  in  order  to  reclaim  the  possibility  of  a  unique  future.      

  The  Future  is  Now  –  Temporal  Collapse  and  the  Loss  of  a  Unique  Future  
  [I  like]  to  make  a  distinction  between  science  fiction  proper—for  me,   this  label  denotes  books  with  things  in  them  we  can’t  yet  do  or  begin   to  do,  talking  beings  we  can  never  meet,  and  places  we  can’t  go—and   speculative  fiction,  which  employs  the  means  already  more  or  less  to   hand,  and  takes  place  on  Planet  Earth                                                                                -­‐Margaret  Atwood  

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  While  the  sentiment  is  certainly  one  that  has  been  uttered  with  varying  degrees  of   irony  and  exaggeration  in  the  last  several  decades,  there  exist  compelling  arguments  that   the   future   really   is—now   more   than   ever—now.     In   a   list   of   “recent   scientific   and   technological   breakthroughs,”   compiled   by   social   theorists   Douglas   Kellner   and   Steven   Best,   the   validity   and   immediate   significance   behind   this   otherwise   hackneyed   phrase   is   thrown  into  perspective:       There   has   been   intense   speculation   and   research   concerning   black   holes,   wormholes,   parallel   universes,   ten-­‐dimensional   reality,   time   travel,   teleportation,   antigravity   devices,   the   possibility   of   life   on   other   planets,   cryogenics,   and   immortality.     Moon   and   Mars   landings,   genetic   and   tissue   engineering,   cloning,   xenotransplantation,   artificial   birth   technologies,   animal   head   transplants,   bionics   robotics,   and   eugenics   now   exist.     At   the   same   time,   weighty   questions   are   being   raised   about   how   many   “realities”   and   “universes”   might   simultaneously   exist,   whether   or   not   nature   is   “law-­‐ like”   in   its   fundamental   dynamics,   and   just   how   exact   scientific   knowledge   can  be.                                                                                                                                                                            (103)  

  What  Kellner  and  Best  call  indirect  attention  to  is  precisely  what  Veronica  Hollinger  notes   in   her   article   “Stories   about   the   Future:”   that   many   of   us   who   currently   live   in   a   world   infused   with   technoculture   have   “come   to   experience   the   present   as   a   kind   of   future   at   which   we’ve   inadvertently   arrived,   one   of   the   many   futures   imagined   by   science   fiction”   (452).    This  situation,  in  and  of  itself,  hardly  seems  awkward  or  problematic,  especially  in   the   context   of   what   humanity   is   up   against;   disease,   poverty,   global   food   shortages—in   a  

 

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rendering  of  the  present  where  “we  apprehend  a  version  of  the  future  in  the  features  of  the   contemporary   science-­‐fictional   moment,”   a   version   where   the   divide   between   “the   facticity   of   realism   and   the   subjunctivity   of   science   fiction”(452)   is   beginning   to   vanish,   there   are   many  who  are  optimistic  about  the  potential  that  such  an  historical  moment  holds.    Among   the  ranks  of  individuals  excited  about  the  prospect  of  a  future-­‐present,  however,  are  many   who   nevertheless   question   what   it   means   to   name   the   present   after   a   narrative   genre   devoted  to  the  imaginative  creation  of  future  worlds.    In  light  of  novels  like  Oryx  and  Crake,   which   turn   to   science   fiction   (or,   as   the   epigraph   to   this   section   suggests,   speculative   fiction)   as   a   means   of   characterizing   the   day-­‐to-­‐day   experience   of   a   science-­‐and-­‐ technology-­‐infused  present,  it  is  easy  to  see  that  our  society  is  one  that  is  more  and  more   attuned   to   the   increasingly   complex   nature   of   the   future   in   technoscience.     In   this   section,   I   explore  how  postmodern  theory  from  critic  Jean  Baudrillard  interacts  with  science  fiction   through  the  recursive  paradox  that  we  find  in  Oryx  and  Crake.    In  the  following  section  I  will   extend   the   discussion   into   the   realm   of   science   studies   to   see   how   Oryx   and   Crake   interacts   with  science,  or  fact  production,  itself.     There  are  many  who  believe  that  the  publication  of  novels  like  Atwood’s  Oryx  and  

Crake  is  symptomatic  of  an  increasingly  intrusive  technoscientific  futurity  on  the  present,   an   intrusion   so   dramatic   that   the   future   has   collapsed   upon   the   present   in   a   way   that   undermines  the  possibility  of  a  conditional  future.    Jay  Clayton,  for  example,  contends  that   our   current   attitude   toward   time   is   so   pervasive   in   the   spheres   of   genetics   and   biotechnology   that   it   should   be   called   “genome   time”   (33).     In   genome   time,   explains   Clayton,   one   finds   “a   perpetual   present,   which   paradoxically   takes   an   eschatological   stance   toward   the   future…all   times   are   inscribed   in   the   present,   encoded   in   the   moment”   (33).     In  

 

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his  essay  “Futuristic  Flu,”  Istvan  Csicsery-­‐Ronay,  Jr.  goes  so  far  as  to  refer  to  the  intrusion  of   the   future   onto   the   present   in   pathogenic   terms,   characterizing   the   condition   as   one   “in   which   a   time   further   in   the   future   than   the   one   in   which   we   exist   and   choose   infects   the   host  present,  reproducing  itself  in  simulacra,  until  it  destroys  all  the  original  chronocytes  of   the   host   imagination”   (45).     What   Csicsery-­‐Ronay,   Jr.   describes   as   the   destructive   potential   of   the   futuristic   flu,   and   what   Clayton   characterizes   as   the   paradoxical   nature   of   genome   time’s   eschatological   stance   toward   the   future,   get   at   the   heart   of   what   is   at   stake   in   a   perpetual   future   present:   that   when   change   defines   the   present,   it   robs   the   future   of   any   chance  of  unique  significance.   Csicsery-­‐Ronay,   Jr.’s   invocation   of   the   concept   of   simulacra   draws   attention   to   theoretical  models  of  postmodernity  propounded  by  theorist  Jean  Baudrillard  in  his  essay   “Simulacra   and   Science   Fiction,”   who,   as   early   as   the   1980s,   foresaw   the   emergence   of   a   brand  of  science  fiction  distinct  from  hard  science  fiction.    Oryx  and  Crake  is  precisely  this   new   brand   of   fiction.   Our   exploration   of   the   collapse   of   the   future   onto   the   present   will   begin   with   the   recursive   paradox   from   which   countless   others   can   be   derived:   that   humanity  is,  simultaneously,  isolated  from  yet  inextricably  linked  to  nature.    I  will  begin  by   introducing  this  paradox  in  the  context  of  Oryx  and  Crake,  then  go  on  to  explore  theoretical   models  posited  by  Baudrillard  which  will  help  me  place  Oryx  and  Crake  in  a  more  central   position  in  the  dialogue  surrounding  temporality,  science,  truth,  and  change.   Let  us  begin  our  examination  with  one  of  the  questions  that  Oryx  and  Crake  aims  to   deconstruct  in  its  exploration  of  truth  in  the  context  of  humanity’s  relationship  with  nature:     what   do   we   define   as   artificial?     For   most   people,   artificiality   can   only   be   thought   of   and   contextualized  as  a  counterposition  to  the  natural.    However,  most  people  would  agree  that  

 

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“artificiality”  is  an  extension  of  the  natural,  like  the  machine  is  an  extension  of  the  body.    It   is   the   naturally   evolved   creative   capacity   of   humanity   that   allows   it   to   simultaneously   rival   nature  and  triumphantly  remold  it  in  its  own  image.    Rocks,  sticks,  language,  plows,  yokes,   cotton   gins,   machines,   computers,   genetic   manipulation:   they   are   all   extensions   of   a   “nature”   destined   to   encompass   one   dynamic   and   organic   body.     In   this   rational   view,   humanity   itself   is   just   a   medium   by   which   nature   manifests   and   expresses   itself   on   a   larger   canvass,  even  when  that  medium  would  appear  to  distance  itself  from  nature.       In   Oryx   and   Crake,   the   (non)divide   between   nature   and   man,   between   natural   and   artificial,   is   illustrated   most   clearly   in   the   imagery   used   to   describe   the   post-­‐singularity   world.     Here   the   medium   of   mankind   is   revealed   as   being   mixed   in   confusing   and   indiscriminate   ways   with   nature’s   other   mediums.     In   the   opening   pages   of  Oryx   and   Crake,   we   find   that   on   the   latter   side   of   the   genetic   singularity,   the   human   extensions   of   the   natural   world,   including   those   extensions   that   would   serve   to   isolate   us   from   that   world,   have   become   indistinguishable   from   the   very   aspects   of   nature   that   first   made   them   distinctly  “human.”    The  novel  opens  with  Snowman  awaking  from  sleep  before  sunrise:   Snowman  wakes  before  dawn.    He  lies  unmoving,  listening  to  the  tide  coming   in,   wave   after   wave   sloshing   over   the   various   barricades,   wish-­‐wash,   wish-­‐ wash,  the  rhythm  of  heartbeat.    He  would  so  like  to  believe  he  is  still  asleep.                                                                 (3)     By  invoking  organismal  metaphor  in  the  comparison  of  the  wish-­‐wash  of  the  ocean  to  the   rhythm  of  a  heartbeat,  Atwood  is  relating  the  human  body  to  its  natural  origins;  does  the   ocean  wish-­‐wash  like  a  heart,  or  does  the  heart  beat  rhythmically  the  way  the  ocean  ebbs   and  flows?    This  image  of  Snowman  awaking  before  sunrise  is  one  that  occurs  on  several   occasions   over   the   course   of   the   novel,   and   Atwood   rarely   misses   the   opportunity   to   use   the   description   to   conflate   the   natural   with   the   human,   or   with   human’s   extension   of   the  

 

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natural:     the   sun   rises   above   the   horizon,  “lifting  steadily  as  if  on  a  pulley1”  (146);  the  sun’s   rays,   personified   as   “evil,”   bounce   off   the   water   and   “get   at   [Snowman]”   (37);   Snowman   scans  the  horizon  through  his  one  sunglassed  eye  and  calls  the  sea  “hot  metal,”  the  sky  a   “bleached   blue”   (11);   straining   to   hear   past   the   heartbeat   of   the   ocean,   Snowman   listens   intently   as   the   shrieks   of   birds   that   live   in   distant,   offshore   towers,   and   the   sound   of   the   distant   ocean   “grinding   against   the   ersatz   reefs   of   rusted   car   parts,   jumbled   bricks   and   assorted   rubble”   combine,   sounding   “almost   like   holiday   traffic”   (4).     Prior   to   the   singularity   that   wiped   out   humanity,   it   was   the   uniquely   human   capacity   for   man   to   pry   himself   away   from   the   natural   world,   to   confirm   it   and   master   it,   that   provided   the   distinct   illusion  of  a  separation  or  isolation  from  nature.    The  fact  that  this  separation  was  begotten   by   means   of   things   like   genetic   manipulation   highlights   man’s   tie   back   to   nature,   thereby   upholding   the   recursive   paradox   and   compounding   the   complicated   and   uncomfortable   relationship  with  nature  that  the  characters  of  Oryx  and  Crake  experience.       It   is   important   to   note   here   that   the   relationship   between   the   “artificiality”   of   the   human   experience   and   the   “natural”   world   is   intricately   bound   up   with   humanity’s   conception  of  reality—read  nature—and  man’s  reconception  of  that  reality  in  the  form  of   simulation   and   simulacra.     In   Simulacra   and   Science   Fiction,   Jean   Baudrillard   expands   upon   his   seminal   discourse   on   images,   signs,   and   their   relationships   with   contemporaneity,   which   he   began   in   Simulacra   and   Simulation.     In   doing   so,   he   foretells   the   emergence   of   fiction  like  Oryx  and  Crake,  and  lays  the  framework  for  examining  the  puzzling  relationship                                                                                                                   1  For  an  insightful  examination  of  how  changes  in  knowledge  about  the  natural  world  relate  to  the  
increasing  use  of  mechanical  metaphors  to  describe  natural  processes,  and  the  increasingly   complex  relationship  between  human  subjects  and  the  natural  objects  of  their  observation,  see   Steven  Shapin’s  The  Scientific  Revolution.    Shapin’s  book  relates  directly  to  the  topics  covered  in  the   second  section  of  this  essay,  which  deal  more  explicitly  with  the  emerging  field  of  science  studies.  

 

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between   the   imaginary   and   the   real   by   noting   that   “there   is   no   real   and   no   imaginary   except  at  a  certain  distance”  (309).    The  distance  that  Baudrillard  is  referring  to  can  best  be   thought   of   as   a   definitive   gap   separating   the   real   from   the   imaginary.     What   makes   the   relationship   between   the   real   and   the   imaginary,   and   by   extension   the   relationship   between   man   and   nature,   so   complicated   in   Oryx   and   Crake   is   the   narrowing   of   that   gap.     What   we   witness,   both   within   the   pages   of   Oryx   and   Crake,   as   well   as   in   our   relationship   to   it   as   a   piece   of   fiction,   is   the   dramatic   shrinking   of   this   distance   in   the   novel’s   pre-­‐ singularity  society,  wherein  the  repeated  compounding  of  the  recursive  paradox  upon  itself   parallels  humanity’s  alienation  from  reality,  in  spite  of  his  intrinsic  link  to  it.       In  Simulacra  and  Science  Fiction,  Baudrillard  posits  the  existence  of  three  orders  of  

simulacra,   each   of   which   corresponds   to   an   unspecified,   albeit   distinctly   different,   distance   in  the  gap  between  the  imaginary  and  the  real.    The  first  is  naturalistic  simulacra,  which  is   based  on  “image,  imitation,  and  counterfeiting.”    The  second  is  productionist  simulacra,  the   aim  of  which  is  Promethean:  “world-­‐wide  application,  continuous  expansion,  liberation  of   indeterminate   energy.”     The   third   is   simulation   simulacra,   and   its   aim   is   “maximum   operationality,   hyperreality,   total   control”   (309).     Baudrillard   contends   that   the   common   conception   of   the   utopian   possibility   corresponds   to   the   first   order,   in   the   sense   that   through   this   order,   the   utopia   of   the   future   will   involve   the   ideal   institution   (or   reconstitution)   of   nature   in   God’s   image.     Belonging   to   the   second   order   of   simulacra   is   hard   science   fiction   –   the   branch   of   science   fiction   with   which   Atwood   herself   claims   no   allegiance  (I  refer  you,  again,  to  the  epigraph  for  this  section).    Referencing  the  third  form   of   simulacra,   Baudrillard   asks,   hypothetically:   “is   there   yet   an   imaginary   domain   which   corresponds  to  this  order”  (309)?    In  response  to  his  own  question,  Baudrillard  continues  

 

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by   surmising   that   the   “’good   old’   SF   imagination   is   dead,   and   that   something   else   is   beginning   to   emerge”   (310).     That   something,   according   to   Baudrillard,   is   a   genre   of   fiction   that  is,  itself,  an  apprehension  of  the  real,  thus  leaving  “no  room  for  fictional  extrapolation”   (310).    The  end  product  of  this  third  order  of  simulacra  is  the  same  loss  of  a  unique  future   that  theorists  like  Csicsery-­‐Ronay,  Jr.,  Clay,  and  others  have  emphasized  in  recent  years.   Indeed,   what   we   find   in   Atwood’s   novel   is   the   brand   of   third-­‐order   simulacra   fiction—which   Baudrillard   saw   emerging   some   thirty   years   ago—in   its   full   form.     The   world   of   Oryx   and   Crake,   and,   by   Baudrillard’s   estimation,   our   own,   is   one   where   the   fascinations  of  the  third  order  hyperreal  that  are  increasingly  overlaying  the  “lost  utopia”   of   the   real,   work   implosively   to   block   the   possibility   of   any   meaningful   future   change   or   transformation.    Symptoms  of  third  order  simulacra  abound  in  the  pre-­‐singularity  world  of   Oryx   and   Crake,   where   the   recursive   paradox   of   nature   is   most   compounded.     In   a   scene   from  Jimmy’s  childhood,  he  finds  that  he  is  not  only  fearful  of  but  also  drawn  to  the  sight  of   a   pile   of   animals   that   are   being   burned   to   prevent   the   spread   of   a   biogenetic   pathogen   intentionally   planted   by   eco-­‐rights   activists.     The   scene   reveals   the   importance   of   spectacle   to  the  community  of  the  compound,  and  the  self-­‐referential  nature  of  Jimmy’s  relationship   to  reality:    

  Jimmy,  like  the  rest  of  the  crowd  that  has  gathered  to  watch  the  animals  burn,  is  part  of  a   larger   system   which,   in   combination   with   the   heap   of   burning   animals,   has   become   a  

He  thought  he  could  see  the  animals  looking  at  him  reproachfully  out  of  their   burning   eyes.     In   some   way   all   of   this—the   bonfire,   the   charred   smell,   but   most   of   all   the   lit   up,   suffering   animals—was   his   fault,   because   he’d   done   nothing   to   rescue   them.     At   the   same   time   he   found   the   bonfire   a   beautiful   sight—luminous,   like   a   Christmans   tree,   but   a   Christmas   tree   on   fire.     He   hoped   there   might   be   an   explosion,   as   on   television.                                                                                   (Atwood  18)  

 

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spectacle  like  one  might  see  “on  television.”    The  fact  that  Jimmy  relates  to  his  immediate   situation   through   terms   of   reproduction   speaks   to   the   notion   of   “hyperreality”   that   Baudrillard   refers   to   when   describing   third   order   simulacra.     The   amplification   of   simulacra  in  the  bonfire  scene  mirrors  the  recursive  paradox  of  nature  that  gives  rise  to  the   bonfire   in   the   first   place;   spurred   by   a   fear   of   the   diseases   that   are   a   natural   part   of   his   existence,   man   is   intrigued   by   the   possibility   of   harnessing   nature   in   the   interest   of   controlling   its   effects.     In   so   harnessing   nature,   he   is   at   once   abdicating   himself   from   his   involvement  with  it  and  re-­‐implementing  himself  into  its  process,  playing  by  nature’s  rules,   as   it   were.     In   seeing   the   nature   that   man   has   supposedly   harnessed   turned   on   him   by   individuals  who  object  to  its  manipulation,  the  absurdity  of  the  situation  comes  full  circle,   and   we   find   humanity,   once   again,   simultaneously   fearful   of,   yet   drawn   to,   the   natural;   when  Jimmy’s  father  lifts  him  up  into  his  arms  as  they  watch  the  bonfire,  he  believes  it  is   because   Jimmy   “wants   to   be   comforted,”   which   he   does,   “but   also   [he]   wants   to   see   better”   (18).     The   more   we   come   to   understand   about   life   before   the   singularity,   the   more   we  

come   to   recognize   its   participation   in   third   order   simulacra.     The   “outside   world,”   which   Jimmy   relates   to   exclusively   through   the   internet,   electronic   games,   and   web-­‐casts,   is   simultaneously   amplified   and   estranged   due   to   the   nature   of   the   websites   themselves.     Speaking  to  the  style  of  the  performances  by  the  adolescent  girls  on  the  HottTotts  website   that  he  and  Crake  frequent—girls  they  regard,  not  as  “real,”  but  as  “digital  clones”  (90)— Jimmy   observes   that   they   are   always   characterized   by   “at   least   three   layers   of   contradictory  make  believe,  one  on  top  of  the  other”  (90).    This  persistent  questioning  of  

 

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reality   is   one   that   extends   to   many   other   sites,   inciting   Crake   to   state   outright   that   “you   never  know…what  is  reality”  (83).       This   confusion   that   Jimmy   experiences   in   his   relationship   with   reality   is   directly   related   to   humanity’s   confusing   and   intrinsic   tie   to   nature;   as   the   society   that   Jimmy   is   a   part  of  participates  in  greater  and  greater  efforts  to  distance  itself  from  nature,  it  becomes   doubled  and  tripled  back  onto  nature,  but  the  relationship  is  obscured  on  every  subsequent   connection,  further  complicating  the  relationship.    This  recursive  quality  can  be  observed   throughout  the  novel  in  the  way  that  the  pre-­‐singularity  world,  given  its  seemingly  limitless   biogenetic   capabilities,   cannot   envision   a   utopia   that   counterposes   “an   ideal   alternative   world,”   but   instead   adds   to   the   present   one,   “multiplying   the   world’s   own   possibilities”   (Baudrillard  310).    Consider  that  the  world  of  Oryx  and  Crake  is  not  populated  with  totally   foreign  species,  but  rather  hybrids  of  animals  we  are  all  familiar  with;  rats  and  skunks  are   spliced   to   form   rakunks,   and   massive   pig-­‐like   animals   are   grown   to   harvest   human   organs.     Reality   has   managed   to   “surpass   fiction”   (310);   the   imagination   necessary   for   the   pre-­‐ singularity  society  to  envision  a  future  different  than  its  present  has  vanished.    We  now  see   how  the  collapse  of  the  future  onto  the  present  has  facilitated  the  admittance  of  Atwood’s   novel   into   serious   discussions   on   the   future   of   technoscience;     when   combined   with   Atwood’s  shift  to  a  speculative  brand  of  science  fiction,    Oryx  and  Crake  is  removed  from  the   farcical   and   unthreatening   history   of   science   fiction   proper,   and   is   placed   firmly   into   a   realm  of  graver,  more  urgent  consideration.          

 

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An  Unexpected  Call  to  Action  –  Reframing  Oryx  and  Crake  in  Constructivist  Terms   The   aim   of   this   section   is   to   undergo   a   shift   in   our   discussion,   from   investigating   how   postmodernist   criticism   interacts   with   Atwood’s   brand   of   speculative   fiction,   to   exploring  what  the  emerging  field  of  science  studies  can  tell  us  about  how  Oryx  and  Crake   addresses   the   issue   of   truth.     I   will   facilitate   this   shift   by   providing   an   example   that   illustrates  the  crossover  from  the  loss  of  a  unique  future  in  Oryx  and  Crake  to  the  perceived   loss  of  a  unique  future  outside  the  fiction.    I  will  then  proceed  to  explore  the  implications  of   this   crossover   by   situating   it   in   the   larger   discussion   of   fact-­‐production   with   a   brief   introduction  to  science  studies,  followed  by  a  constructivist  reading  of   Oryx  and  Crake  that   draws  on  the  work  of  Bruno  Latour,  a  science  studies  theorist.    Through  this  reading  I  will   argue   that   Atwood’s   novel,   when   framed   by   the   reconception   of   “nature”   and   “truth,”   opposes  the  tendency  to  place  the  danger  of  rampant  technoscience  at  the  cynosure  of  all   discourse  surrounding  the  novel.   The   point   I   concluded   with   in   the   previous   section—the   idea   that   an   “increasingly   acute   sense   of   the   shape   of   things   to   come   has   already   been   determined,   undermining   in   the  process  the  [components  necessary]  to  create  an  open,  ‘conditional  future’”  (Csicsery-­‐ Ronay,   Jr.   33)—serves   as   an   ideal   turning   point   for   guiding   our   discussion   from   criticism   dealing   with   Atwood’s   brand   of   speculative   fiction   to   criticism   that   explores   how   Atwood’s   novel   actively   engages   science   and   truth   directly.     To   make   this   transition,   I   will   return   briefly   to   a   discussion   that   mirrors   those   referenced   at   the   beginning   of   this   essay   to   anchor   my   overall   analysis.     In   a   2004   article   published   by   the   Brookings   Institution2,  

                                                                                                                2  The  Brookings  Institution  is  based  in  Washington,  D.C.  and  is  one  of  the  capital’s  oldest  think  
tanks.  Brookings  describes  itself  as  independent  and  non-­‐partisan,  is  a  nonprofit  public  policy  

 

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Michael   J.   Sandel,   Harvard   philosophy   professor   and   member   of   former   president   George   W.   Bush’s   Council   on   Bioethics,   and   Lee   M.   Silver,   Princeton   professor   of   molecular   biology   and  public  affairs  and  controversial  author  of  Remaking  Eden:  How  Genetic  Engineering  and   Cloning   Will   Transform   the   American   Family,   weighed   in   on   the   topic   of   the   ethics   behind   genetic  engineering.    The  contrast  in  their  opinions  is  one  familiar  to  those  acquainted  with   the   debate;   Sandel   argues   that   genetic   enhancements   are   unnecessary,   and   are   part   of   “a   troubling   overall   trend   towards   human   mastery,”   the   implications   of   which   include   an   alteration   in   “the   fundamental   principles   of   a   society   built   on   a   sense   of   community.”     It   goes  without  saying  that  Silver’s  response  to  Sandel’s  concerns  is  what  one  expects  in  this   type   of   debate;   acknowledging   Sandel’s   reservations,   Silver   nevertheless   advocates   prudent  advancement  in  the  field  of  genetic  enhancement.    What  makes  Silver’s  response   relevant   in   the   context   of   our   discussion,   however,   is   his   outward   expression   of   what   I   believe   to   be   the   oft-­‐unspoken   subtext   to   arguments   such   as   his:   that   while   the   concerns   surrounding   genetic   engineering   raised   by   Sandel   may   seem   worrisome,   it   is   “not   clear…how  we  can  stop  [genetic  engineering  from  happening].”   In   Sandel’s   statement,   we   witness   the   conditions   surrounding   the   loss   of   an   open   and   conditional   future   move   from   the   pages   of   Oryx   and   Crake   into   the   real   world   in   the   form   of   what   Polish   microbiologist   and   philosopher   of   science   Ludwik   Fleck   referred   to   over  70  years  ago  as  a  “proto-­‐idea.”  Proto-­‐ideas  are  “developmental  rudiments  of  modern   theories”   that   originate   “from   a   socio-­‐cogitative   foundation”   (25).   The   socio-­‐cogitative   foundation  that  Fleck  is  referring  to  is  what  he  described  as  a  Denkkollective,  or  “thought   collective,”   a   self-­‐sustaining   community   of   persons     “mutually   exchanging   ideas   or                                                                                                                  
organization,  and  conducts  research  and  education  in  the  social  sciences,  primarily  in  economics,   metropolitan  policy,  governance,  foreign  policy,  and  global  economy  and  development.  

 

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maintaining  intellectual  interaction.”    According  to  Fleck,  the  most  surprising  thing  about   proto-­‐ideas   is   how   often   they   eventually   give   rise   to   contemporary   conceptions   of   truth,   even  as  those  contemporary  conceptions  of  truth  look  back  on  the  proto-­‐idea  and  identify   its   premises   as   patently   “false”   or   misguided.     Given   that   a   fact   can   develop   from   a   “hazy   proto-­‐idea,   which   is   neither   right   nor   wrong”   (25),   we   can   envision   the   proto-­‐idea   as,   simultaneously,  two  things.    The  first  is  a  vehicle  through  which  intentions  greater  than  the   thought   collective   that   conceives   of   the   proto-­‐idea   manifest   themselves;   the   second   is   a   space  so  replete  in  its  will  that  it  seems  to  deny  alternative  forces  any  power  whatsoever.     Sandel’s   treatment   of   genetic   engineering   can   therefore   be   equated   to   the   concept   of   the   proto-­‐idea3.   The   proto-­‐idea   is   an   important   component   of   Fleck’s   seminal   work   of   scientific   philosophy,   Genesis   and   Development   of   a   Scientific   Fact.     The   text   was   written   in   1935,   and   its   title   is   unique   because   of   what   it   suggests.     The   logic   of   scientific   philosophy   at   the   time   that   Fleck   wrote   his   book   characterized   the   idea   of   science   as   discovery—the   uncovering   of   a   truth   that   is   always   and   already   in   existence.     This   concept   embodies,   to   this   day,   the   mainstream   philosophy   of   science.     The   idea   that   a   scientific   “fact”   could   therefore   be   generated,  or  developed  over  time,  as  Fleck’s  title  suggests,  was  in  every  way  contrary  to                                                                                                                   3  It  is  worth  mentioning  here  that  the  reading  of  genetic  engineering  as  a  proto-­‐idea  could  be  used  
to  reinforce  readings  of  Oryx  and  Crake  as  a  dystopic  warning  of  the  destructive  capacity  of   unchecked  science.    This,  however,  is  missing  the  point.    The  example  provided  is  used  for  the   express  purpose  of  redirecting  our  discussion  towards  how  Oryx  and  Crake  approaches  conceptions   of  truth  the  way  that  science  studies  investigates  the  constructivist  nature  of  science.    What  one   should  take  away  from  the  example  of  the  proto  idea,  more  than  science’s  belief  in  that  idea,  is  the   fact  that  a  proto-­‐idea  must  be  conceived  in  the  framework  of  a  thought  collective.    The  implications   of  this  concept  are  explored  in  greater  detail  later  in  this  section.    For  now,  the  salient  point  in  the   context  of  our  present  discussion  lies  in  understanding  that  there  exist,  at  any  given  historical   moment,  several  competing  and  inharmonious  thought  collectives.  

 

 

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scientific  epistemological  thinking.        What  Fleck  considers  is  the  historicity  of  truth,  and,   more  radically,  that  there  can  be  instances  in  time  when  scientific  facts  do  not  yet  exist  or   no   longer   exist,   and   that   this   status   is   intricately   bound   up   with   and   driven   by   the   competing  social  forces  of  different  thought  collectives.       Fleck   has   since   been   acknowledged   as   something   of   a   founding   member   in   the   emerging   field   known   as   science   studies.     Since   Fleck   published   his   book,   science   studies   has   drawn   on   thinkers   from   a   variety   of   fields,   including   historians,   sociologists,   and   philosophers,   who   approach   the   production   of   science,   and,   by   extension,   truth,   in   constructivist   terms.       This   approach   allows   them   to   observe   the   processes   that   underlie   the   creation   of   scientific   facts   while   delineating   the   limits   and   purposes   of   these   processes.     Utilizing   concepts   from   science   studies   theorist   Bruno   Latour,   I   will   here   argue   the   relevance   of   Oryx   and   Crake   as   a   work   of   fiction   that   contributes   to   the   discussion   surrounding  the  future  of  technoscience  by  illustrating  its  call  for  a  renewed  discourse  on   truth.    Moreover,  I  will  explain  why  describing  Oryx  and  Crake  as  a  dystopic  warning  robs   the  novel  of  this  relevance.   In  Latour’s  Science  in  Action,  he  explores  the  process  by  which  facts  are  “made”  by   entering  science  and  technology  “through  the  back  door  of  science  in  the  making,”  rather   than  “through  the  more  grandiose  entrance  of  ready-­‐made  science”  (4).    Latour  describes   “ready-­‐made”  science  through  the  metaphor  of  a  closed  black  box.    The  contents  of  a  closed   black  box  can  be  thought  of  as  something  that  is  readily  accepted  as  an  inherent  truth,  be  it   by  members  of  the  scientific  community  or  members  of  the  larger  population.         The   formation   of   a   black   box   begins   with   a   single   statement.     That   statement   can   be  

inserted,   in   its   original   form,   into   various   other   statements   that   can   either   lead   it   “away  

 

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from   its   conditions   of   production,   making   it   solid   enough   to   render   some   other   consequences   necessary,”   or   “toward   its   conditions   of   production,”   explaining   in   detail   “why   it   is   solid   or   weak   instead   of   using   it   to   render   some   other   consequences   more   necessary”   (23).     These   sentences,   which   either   qualify   or   question   the   veracity   of   the   original   statement,   are   known   as   positive   and   negative   modalities,   respectively.     The   ongoing  incorporation  of  an  original  statement  into  positive  and  negative  modalities  can  be   thought   of   as   the   process   by   which   a   black   box   is   closed   or   opened   (how   a   statement   becomes  accepted  as  fact  or  rejected  as  untrue),  respectively.    This  concept,  which  Latour   introduces   in   the   first   chapter   of   Science   in   Action,   has   numerous   implications,   many   of   which   Latour   spends   the   remainder   of   the   book   unpacking.     However,   the   two   most   important   things   to   take   away   from   this   model   (according   not   only   to   Latour,   but   based   on   concepts  of  his  that  I  will  introduce  below)  are  as  follows.    The  first  is  that  the  status  of  a   statement   depends   entirely   on   future   statements—positive   and   negative   modalities   that   make   the   original   statement   more   or   less   of   a   certainty.     The   second   is   something   so   critical,  not  only  to  his  discussion  but  to  ours,  that  Latour  goes  so  far  as  to  deem  it  the  “first   principle”   of   investigating   the   nature   of   truth:   that   the   “construction   of   facts…is   a   collective   process”  (29,  emphasis  in  original).     In   the   aftermath   of   Oryx   and   Crake’s   biogenetic   singularity,   Snowman   is   forced   to   suffer   an   abrupt   severance   from   the   collective   that   once   defined   his   reality   while   also   realizing  his  place  in  a  new  system  of  truth;  he  is  perpetually  confronted  with  black  boxes   that   are   opening   and   closing,   often   in   disorienting   and   confusing   ways.     On   one   hand,   Snowman  must  struggle  with  the  fact  that  the  network  of  supporting  modalities  that  once   defined  his  reality  prior  to  the  singularity  has  been  reduced  to  a  collective  of  one—himself.    

 

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Nursing  a  hangover,  Snowman  wishes  aloud  that  he  had  more  alcohol:  “’Hair  of  the  dog,’  he   says”  to  the  empty  beer  bottle  in  his  hand.    The  turn  of  phrase  that  he  mutters  is  beyond   arcane;  he  is,  as  far  as  he  knows,  the  only  organism  in  the  world  who  would  understand  the   reference.     His   turn   of   phrase   is   fitting   given   the   context   of   our   discussion,   especially   when   one  considers  the  self-­‐reflection  that  Snowman  engages  in  a  few  lines  later:     He  wishes  he  had  something  to  read.    To  read,  to  view,  to  hear,  to  study,  to   compile.    Rag  ends  of  language  are  floating  in  his  head:  mephitic,  metronome,   mastitis,   metatarsal,   maudlin.     “I   used   to   be   erudite,”   he   says   out   loud.     Erudite.     A   hopeless   word.     What   are   all   those   things   he   once   thought   he   knew,  and  where  have  they  gone?      What’s  happening  to  his  mind?    He  has  a   vision  of  the  top  of  his  neck,  opening  up  into  his  head  like  a  bathroom  drain.     Fragments   of   words   are   swirling   down   it,   in   a   grey   liquid   he   realizes   is   his   dissolving  brain.    Time  to  face  reality.                       (148-­‐149)  

 

This  bout  of  self-­‐reflection  is  just  one  of  many  that  Snowman  engages  in  throughout   the  novel,  wherein  he  indulges  in  the  memory  of  words  that  no  longer  have  meaning   and   will   be   lost   forever   when   he   dies.     Some   he   recalls,   but   “can’t   reach…he   can’t   attach  anything”  to  them  (39).    This  results  in  a  “dissolution  of  meaning”  (39)  that   leads   him   to   the   conclusion   that   truths,   like   the   various   words   and   phrases,   are     “fantasies  in  themselves”  (99).     While   Snowman   is   reeling   from   the   loss   of   a   firm   conception   of   truth   that   held   its  

form  in  the  pre-­‐singularity  time  frame  of  the  novel,  he  is  simultaneously  faced  with  the  task   of   looking   over   the   Crakers,   and,   in   doing   so,   establishing   a   new   system   of   truth.     Scenes   depicting   Snowman’s   participation   in   the   generation   of   truth   are   often   presented   in   the   form   of   him   addressing   Craker   children.     He   explains   to   them   many   things,   ranging   from   the  overall  mythology  surrounding  their  creation  to  the  purpose  of  his  baseball  hat,  which   they  like,  but  do  not  understand  the  need  for  because  he  “hasn’t  yet  invented  a  fiction  for  it”  

 

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(8).     What   fictions   he   has   created   in   the   time   he   has   spent   looking   over   them   have   been   accumulated   by   the   Crakers   as   “a   stock   of   lore,   of   conjecture”   (8),   a   stock   which,   when   combined   with   their   own   experiences,   has   become   a   system   of   truths   capable   of   taking   shape  independently  of  Snowman’s  participation:   Snowman   was   once   a   bird   but   he’s   forgotten   how   to   fly   and   the   rest   of   his   feathers   fell   out,   and   so   he   is   cold   and   he   needs   a   second   skin,   and   he   has   to   wrap  himself  up.    No:  he’s  cold  because  he  eats  fish,  and  fish  are  cold.    No:  he   wraps  himself  up  because  he’s  missing  his  man  thing,  and  he  doesn’t  want  us  to   see.     That’s   why   he   won’t   go   swimming.     Snowman   has   wrinkles   because   he   once  lived  underwater  and  it  wrinkled  up  his  skin.    Snowman  is  sad  because  the   others  like  him  flew  away  over  the  sea,  and  now  he  is  all  alone.                                            (8-­‐9)  

  The   structure   of   the   dialogue   between   the   Crakers   blurs   the   lines   between   the   fictions   that   Snowman  has  imparted  upon  them  and  the  “conjectures”  that  they  have  come  up  with  on   their  own,  and  also  shows  how  quickly  his  “fictions”  are  transformed  and  instated  as  facts.     Here  we  see  a  paradox  that  arises  out  of  Latour’s  black  box  model:  by  involving  the  Crakers   in   his   process   of   fact   production,   Snowman   enlists   individuals   who   may   pass   that   truth   along.    This,  however,  is  dangerous  for  Snowman,  not  only  because  he  must  remember  the   fictions   he   is   turning   into   fact,   but   because   each   individual   who   becomes   a   part   of   the   collective   can   behave   as   what   Latour   describes   as   a   multiconductor,   someone   who   may   “have   no   interest   whatsoever   in   the   claim,   shunt   it   towards   some   unrelated   topic,   turn   it   into   an   artifact,   transform   it   into   something   else,   drop   it   altogether,   pass   it   along   as   is,   confirm   it,   and   so   on”   (Latour   207).     The   situation   signals   Snowman’s   integration   into   a   new  collective  of  dynamically  formed  facts,  even  as  his  old  conceptions  of  truth  are  in  the   process  of  dissolving.   It   is   here   worth   investigating   what   happens   when   Snowman’s   old   conceptions   of   truth  collide  with  his  new  ones.    The  meeting  of  the  two  is  explored  particularly  well  in  the  

 

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chapter   titled   “Toast.”     Snowman,   ravaged   by   hunger,   spies   a   rabbit,   which   fills   him   with   carnivorous   desires;   “he   longs   to   whack   it   with   a   rock,   tear   it   apart   with   his   bare   hands,   then   cram   it   into   his   mouth,   fur   and   all”   (Atwood   96).     However,   owing   to   the   myth   that   he   has  created  for  the  Crakers  (which,  you  will  recall,  has  been  integrated  into  a  collective  of   facts),   he   is   unable   to   do   so,   because   “rabbits…are   sacred;”   to   kill   one   would   be   to   risk   offending  the  Crakers  (96).    While  berating  himself  out  loud  for  not  “making”  rabbits  edible,   one  of  the  children  of  Crake  hears  him  talking  to  himself,  which  leads  to  several  children   asking  him  a  series  of  questions.    When  the  children  begin  to  get  on  Snowman’s  nerves,  he   threatens  that  if  the  children  do  not  stop  bothering  him  they’ll  be  “toast.”    His  utterance  of   the   word   “toast”   opens   a   door   that   Snowman   would   rather   have   avoided:   “Please,   oh   Snowman,   what   is   toast?”     Snowman’s   “error,”   as   he   describes   it,   was   his   use   of   another   (beyond)   arcane   metaphor.     Snowman’s   rumination   over   his   slip-­‐up   warrants   a   lengthy   citation:   “What   is   toast?   Says   snowman   to   himself,   once   [the   children   have]   run   off.     Toast   is   when   you   take   a   piece   of   bread—What   is   bread?     Bread   is   when   you   take   some   flour—What   is   flour?     We’ll   skip   that   part,   it’s   too   complicated.     Bread  is  something  you  can  eat,  made  from  a  ground-­up  plant  and  shaped  like   a  stone.    You  cook  it.    Please,  why  do  you  cook  it?    Why  don’t  you  just  eat  the   plant?    Never  mind  that  part—Pay  attention.    You  cook  it,  and  then  you  cut  it   into  slices,  and  you  put  a  slice  into  a  toaster,  which  is  a  metal  box  that  heats  up   with  electricity—What  is  electricity?    Don’t  worry  about  that.    While  the  slice  is   in  the  toaster,  you  get  out  the  butter—butter  is  a  yellow  grease,  made  from  the   mammary   glands   of—skip   the   butter.     So,   the   toaster   turns   the   slice   of   bread   black  on  both  sides  with  smoke  coming  out,  and  then  this  “toaster”  shoots  the   slice   up   into   the   air   and   it   falls   onto   the   floor…“Forget   it,”   says   Snowman.       “Let’s   try   again.”     Toast   is   a   pointless   invention   from   the   Dark   Ages.     Toast   was   an  implement  of  torture  that  caused  all  those  subjected  to  it  to  regurgitate  in   verbal   form   the   sins   and   crimes   of   their   past   lives.     Toast   was   a   ritual   item   devoured   by   fetishists   in   the   belief   that   it   would   enhance   their   kinetic   and   sexual  powers.    Toast  cannot  be  explained  by  any  rational  means.                        (97-­‐98)     This   dense   scene   reveals   much   about   how   Atwood’s   novel   confronts   truth   in   the   same   way  

 

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that  science  studies  does.  Snowman’s  system  of  classification,  his  tie  to  a  former  reality,  has   been   violently   severed.     His   memories,   his   influx   of   soon-­‐to-­‐be   extinct   words   and   conceptions   of   truth   that   once   tied   him   to   a   larger   thought   collective,   now   threaten   to   isolate   him   from   the   Crakers   if   he   himself   does   not   abide   by   the   facts   that   have   been   borne   from  his  “fictions.”    While  Snowman  may  have  started  as  the  single  authority  on  facts  to  the   Crakers,  his  capacity  in  that  role  since  contributing  to  the  formation  of  their  conception  of   truth   has   been   diminished   considerably.     Why   doesn’t   Snowman   just   kill   the   rabbit   and   change   the   “truth”   that   he   has   laid   down   for   the   Crakers?     Because,   Snowman   concedes,   “internal  consistency  is  best”  (96).    If  caught  in  a  minor  contradiction,  he  might  be  able  to   recover   by   introducing   new   “fictions,”   or   revising   established   facts.     To   do   this,   however,   would   be   to   risk   confronting,   either   directly   or   indirectly,   what   Latour   refers   to   as   a   “paradigm,”  that  is:  “the  most  solid  point”  (35),  the  black  box  which  no  one  would  dare  to   open.    In  doing  so,  Snowman  would  become  “very  isolated”  (Latour  44),  even  more  isolated   than  he  already  is;  for  him  to  risk  isolation  from  the  only  other  viable  system  of  truth  on   earth  would  be  tantamount  to  existential  suicide.     Snowman’s   situation   in   Oryx   and   Crake   is   arguably   one   that   would   be   impossible  

outside  of  a  fictitious  setting  because  it  places  him  at  the  nexus  of  what  Latour  calls  “The   Great   Divide,”   which   operates   via   the   supposition   that   “there   is,   on   the   right   hand,   knowledge  embedded  in  society,  and  on  the  left  hand,  knowledge  independent  of  society”   (213).     If   Snowman   still   had   access   to   the   societal   forces   that   once   confirmed   his   conceptions  of  truth,  he  would  likely  confront  the  system  of  truth  adopted  by  the  Crakers   as  one  that  they  uphold  based  on  belief,  rather  than  objective  judgment.    While  Snowman   may   instinctively   relate   to   the   inchoate   system   of   facts   adopted   by   the   Crakers   from   the  

 

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perspective   of   an   “objective”   observer,   the   reality   of   his   situation   is   that   his   prior   belief   system   does   not   hold;   the   line   tracing   the   divide   between   them   (the   Crakers)   and   us   (Snowman’s   prior   collective)   has   been   effaced.     In   the   process,   the   socially-­‐contingent   nature  of  the  reader’s  own  system  of  facts  are  called  into  question.   What   Snowman’s   situation   forces   us   to   do   is   reconsider   the   supposition   behind   The   Great   Divide.     Consequently,   we   must   reflect   on   how   Snowman’s   collective   thoughts   on   truth   collide   in   the   post-­‐singularity   world   of   Oryx   and   Crake.     In   doing   so,   one   can   more   clearly   see   how   alternative   notions   of   truth   engage   one   another   prior   to   the   singularity,   and,   by   extension,   in   his   own   world   outside   the   novel.     In   the   pre-­‐singularity   world,   the   debate   over   the   potentially   transgressive   nature   of   science   taking   place   within   the   novel   mirrors   the   collective   anxieties   surrounding   the   same   issue   outside   the   novel.     This   debate   is   reproduced   at   its   most   manageable   scale   in   the   rift   between   Jimmy’s   Parents.     By   eavesdropping  on  his  parents’  arguments,  Jimmy  becomes  well-­‐versed  in  the  rhetoric  that   each  one  uses  to  articulate  his  or  her  points  on  the  debate  in  question,  to  the  point  that  he   begins   re-­‐enacting   them   in   the   form   of   hand-­‐puppet   mini-­‐dramas,   which   he   stages   in   the   lunchroom  of  his  school:   His   right   hand   was   Evil   Dad,   his   left   hand   was   Righteous   Mom.     Evil   Dad   blustered   and   theorized   and   dished   out   pompous   bullshit,   Righteous   Mom   complained   and   accused.     In   Righteous   Mom’s   cosmology,   Evil   Dad   was   the   sole   source   of   hemorrhoids,   kleptomania,   global   conflict,   bad   breath,   tectonic-­‐plate   fault   lines,   and   clogged   drains,   as   well   as   every   migraine   headache  and  menstrual  cramp  Righteous  Mom  had  ever  suffered.                          (60)  

  Having   traveled   from   the   time   frame   prior   to   the   singularity—where   the   complicated   doubling  and  tripling  back  of  the  recursive  paradox  upon  itself  contributed  more  and  more   to   the   loss   of   a   unique   future—to   the   post-­‐singularity   world—where   the   socially-­‐ contingent   nature   of   the   reader’s   system   of   facts   could   more   effectively   be   called   into  

 

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question—and   back,   we   are   finally   poised   to   approach   the   argument   between   Evil   Dad   and   Righteous   Mom   the   way   Jimmy   might   have   done   were   he   able   to   straddle   the   thought   collectives   of   his   mother   and   father   the   way   Snowman   is   forced   to   straddle   The   Great   Divide   of   the   novel’s   post-­‐apocalyptic   present.     Evil   Dad   is   “evil,”   and   Righteous   Mom   is   “righteous”   because   each   party,   when   faced   with   the   accusation   of   irrationality,   simply   contends   that   the   other   is   irrational;   each   fails   to   “consider   the   angle,   direction,   movement   and  scale”  (Latour,  213)  of  the  other’s  removal  from  his  or  her  own  system  of  truth.         Jimmy   confesses   to   often   feeling   guilty   after   his   lunchroom   puppet   shows   on  

account   of   what   he   describes   as   an   “uncomfortable   truth”   that   he   would   prefer   not   to   examine  (Atwood  60).    I  propose  that  the  “uncomfortable  truth”  behind  the  arguments  of   Jimmy’s   parents,   behind   the   discourse   on   the   future   of   biotechnology   both   inside   the   novel   and   out,   is   what   Barbara   Herrnstein   Smith   describes,   in   her   analysis   of   contemporary   controversies  such  as  this  one,  as  “normative  and/or  epistemic  symmetry,”  which,  contrary   to  the  idea  that  all  judgments  or  beliefs  are  “equally  good”  or  “equally  valid,”  is  the  idea  that   all   judgments   and   beliefs,   including   one’s   own,   “are   produced   and   operate   equally   contingently,   that   is,   are   formed   in   response   to   more   or   less   particular   and   variable   conditions  (experiential,  historical,  cultural,  discursive,  circumstantial,  and  so  on)”  (8).       In  light  of  this  concept,  it  becomes  clear  that  Margaret  Atwood’s  Oryx  in  Crake  is  not,  

at   its   core,   a   dystopic   warning   about   the   potentially   catastrophic   outcomes   of   unbridled   biogenetic   engineering,   because   to   call   upon   this   reading   of   the   novel   fails   to   contribute   constructively  to  the  discourse  in  which  it  is  most  commonly  used.    The  emptiness  behind   this   brand   of   criticism   is   revealed   in   one   of   Jimmy’s   ruminations,   wherein   he   wonders   why   he  “hadn’t  seen  it  all  coming  and  headed  it  off,  instead  of  playing  at  mean  ventriloquism”  

 

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(64)   (in   reference   to   his   Evil   Dad/Righteous   Mom   mini-­‐dramas).     Instead,   our   examination   of   Atwood’s   novel   has   revealed   within   its   pages   a   hopeful   call   to   attentive   and   pragmatic   action,  and  shown  how  by  confronting  conceptions  of  truth,  Oryx  and  Crake  contributes,  in   a  substantial  way,  not  just  to  the  contemporary  debate  of  the  future  of  technoscience,  but  to   the  recovery  of  an  open,  conditional  future.  

  Works  Cited  

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  Atwood,  Margaret.    Oryx  and  Crake.    New  York:  Random  House,  2004.                              .    “The  Handmaid’s  Tale  and  Oryx  and  Crake  in  Context.”    PMLA  119.3  (2004):  513-­‐ 517.       Baudrillard,  Jean.    Trans.  Evans,  Arthur  B.    “Simulacra  and  Science  Fiction.”    Science  Fiction   Studies  18.3  (1991):  309-­‐313.     Best,  Steven,  and  Douglas  Kellner.    The  Postmodern  Adventure:  Science,  Technology,  and   Cultural  Studies  at  the  third  Millennium.    New  York:  Guildford,  2001.     Clayton,  Jay.    “Genome  Time.”  In  Re-­reading  the  Present:  Time  and  the  Literary.    Ed.   Newman,  Clayton,  and  Hirsch.    New  York:  Routledge,  2002.     Csicsery-­‐Ronay,  Jr.,  Istvan.    “Futuristic  Flu,  or,  The  Revenge  of  the  Future.”    Fiction  2000:   Cyberpunk  and  the  Future  of  Narrative,  Ed.  George  Slusser  and  Tom  Shippey.    Athens,   GA:  Georgia  UP,  1992.    26-­‐45.     “Event  Summary:  A  Debate  on  the  Ethics  of  Genetic  Engineering.”    Health  Care,  Technology.     The  Brookings  Institute,  31  March  2004.    Web.  <  http://www.brooking   s.edu/opinions/2004/0331technology.aspx>     Fleck,  Ludwik.    Genesis  and  Development  of  a  Scientific  Fact.  Trans.  Fred  Bradley  and   Thaddeus  J.  Trenn.    Eds.  Thaddeus  J.  Trenn  and  Robert  K.  Merton.    Chicago:    The   University  of  Chicago  Press,  1979.     Hollinger,  Veronica.    “Stories  about  the  Future:  From  Patterns  of  Expectation  to  Pattern   Recognition.”    Science  Fiction  Studies  33.3  (2006):  452-­‐472.     Koepsell,  David.    “The  Ethics  of  Genetic  Engineering:  A  Position  Paper  from  the  Center  for   Inquiry  Office  of  Public  Policy.”    Center  for  Inquiry,  Inc.    Reviewed  by:  Paul  Kurt,   Austin  Dacey,  Ronald  A.  Lindsay,  Ruth  Pitchell,  John  Shook,  Toni  Van  Pelt.     Washington,  DC:  Center  for  Inquiry,  Inc.,  2007.     Latour,  Bruno.    Science  in  Action.    Cambridge:  Harvard  UP,  1987.     Newitz,  Annalee.    “Six  scientists  tell  us  about  the  most  accurate  science  fiction  in  their   fields.”    Mad  Science.    Io9,  22  Sept.  2010.    Web.    <http://io9.com/5644435/fiv  e-­‐ scientists-­‐tell-­‐us-­‐about-­‐the-­‐most-­‐accurate-­‐science-­‐fiction-­‐in-­‐their-­‐fields>.     Shapin,  Steven.    The  Scientific  Revolution.  Chicago:    The  University  of  Chicago  Press,  1996.     Smith,  Barbara  Herrnstein.    Belief  &  Resistance:  Dynamics  of  Contemporary  Intellectual   Controversy.    Cambridge:  Harvard  UP,  1997.  

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