This paper studies the hybridization practices of plant breeder Luther Burbank in order to better understand how the gene theory of heredity emerged from late nineteenth and early twentieth century spatial practices. Although Burbank bred plants that could fit the consumption habits of an industrialized America, he never adopted the informational practices useful to industry, such as standardized forms or numerical record keeping. Consequently, Burbank's hybridizations brought forth lives built on and intended to exploit new industrial spaces but Burbank never saw the incentives for describing these lives in terms genes, a language made possible by the spaces of the distribution of large amounts of manufactured goods.
Even narratives critical of new economic structures of globalization have come to focus on animals, often rare, genetically modified (GM) animals, in a world in which every year markets for GM plants and plant products grow astronomically, a propensity signaled by the adoption of the Monarch butterfly as a symbol of the anti-genetic-modification movement. This adoption suggests a broad representational problem: why do animals (and not plants) loom large in the transgenic imaginary while plants (and not animals) become the medium of daily encounters with transgenic organisms? This article explores this complex dynamic through the interconnected stories of GM potatoes, people, and insects in Ruth Ozeki's novel All Over Creation (2003), which closely follows the commercial introduction and unprecedented, rapid recall of the first bioengineered crop plant to be marketed. Although at key moments the novel invokes animal stories that limit the terms of GM debates, its structure significantly models the nonhierarchical, nonlinear relationships that distinguish the unfolding histories of genomic science and plant fictions alike, thereby indicating at least one way in which literary representations might revolutionize public discussion.
As a mode of narrative, scientific accounts of extinction trace the decline of species into total loss. With anthropogenic extinction, the narrative of loss becomes an apocalyptic mode of expression: extinction, the endpoint in the drama of threatened and endangered species, resists representation in both popular science writing and fiction. This paper examines how techniques of genetic science and assisted reproduction, such as DNA extraction from recently extinct animals and cross-species surrogacy in backbreeding, work within and against the apocalyptic mode of expression in extinction accounts. Hypothetical and fictional scenarios of recuperating extinction through these techniques reflect the bodiless, multi-medial viability of DNA. Developing Jay Clayton's notion of "genome time," the sense of a "perpetual present" created by the infinite mutability of the DNA molecule, I examine woolly mammoth and thylacine recuperation efforts to show how such projects revise evolutionary narratives to fulfill cultural imperatives.
The persistence of eugenic themes in cinema over the last 100 years reflects fundamental societal beliefs about heredity's role as the source of social problems. From its earliest days science fiction cinema's critiques of eugenics were not aimed at the movement's underlying assumptions that humanity's fundamental nature lies within its genome and its relationship to social problems. Most science fiction films either implicitly accept these assumptions or incorporate them into their narratives and visuals. At the same time, however, these films criticize anyone who would change human heredity. By accepting the proposition that the essence of humanity, both the good and the bad, is deeply rooted within our genome, science fiction films take a conservative stance by critiquing any attempts to change the elements that make us "human."
This essay examines the role of evolutionary psychology in shaping the popular understanding of genetics and human behavior. Evolutionary psychology draws heavily on comparisons to other social mammals to speculate on the underlying biological bases of human social behavior. Although the discipline's relationship to genetic science is tangential, evolutionary psychology has heavily influenced popular ideas of genetics. We can see this best in depictions of wolves and men, most specifically in examples that embody both: the alpha male and the werewolf. Tracking this wolf-man through multiple genres—from werewolf films to dog-training manuals and supernatural romances—reveals a dramatic shift over the past several decades in the understanding of predatory male behavior: what once was seen as villainous has become sexy. Genes have been marshaled as a justification for embracing predatory sexuality and ruthless competition as a model of healthy, attractive masculinity.
Even as the biotechnological and genomic revolutions have promised spectacular life-saving and life-extending drugs and therapies, social and cultural critics have highlighted injustices associated with contemporary systems of biocommerce, often drawing on concepts of "sacrifice" and "savagery" to highlight social and class inequities. While sympathetic to these critiques, Mitchell argues that the concept of sacrifice is a problematic means for addressing these inequities, for it binds critics to the Enlightenment logic of the systems of biocommerce that they question. After outlining the sacrificial logic of "innovation" that runs through public policy defenses of biocommerce, Mitchell turns to two cinematic depictions of biocommerce (Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) and Paul W. S. Anderson's Resident Evil (2002)), as well as to philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon's concept of "individuation," to argue that these films outline an approach to biomedical innovation that allows us to think injustice beyond concepts of sacrifice.
Enveloped in the rhetoric of a brave new world of genomic application, surrounded by a culture enlivened by hopeful medical breakthroughs, and awash in media rumors of secret stock trades and biotech deals, a groundswell of artistic activity has been inhabiting the interface of technology and culture, biology and body, algorithmic computing and artistic creation for almost two decades. Of particular cultural and artistic importance is the combination of interdisciplinary research and creative production brought about by the arrival of The Human Genome Project. Employing concepts articulated by Walter Benjamin, most notably "artistic simulacra," this essay considers the range and cultural stakes of artworks, exhibitions, and catalogues that dialogue with the Human Genome Project, as well as the cultural stakes of such artistic experimentation. It demonstrates how projects in digital and technological art have articulated with prophetic forcefulness the complex sociocultural challenges facing humanists in an increasingly corporatized intellectual and political culture.
This essay explores the relationship between genetic art — art incorporating material from genetic research — and the construction of a public sphere of debate about genetic research. First considering an exhibit titled Paradise Now that toured in 2000, the author then turns to Eduardo Kac's GFP Bunny project and finally to the work of Steve Kurtz, an artist who has been trying since 2004 to untangle himself from an FBI investigation associated with his work on transgenic organisms and biotoxins. While the Paradise Now exhibit and Katz's work show the fault lines between the didactic aspirations of much genetic artwork and the reality of its reception; Kurtz's case has revealed a perhaps more troubling disjunction — between the artist's notion of the "public" as participant and spectator and the US government's notion of the "public" as a group of citizens that need to be protected from the hazards of experimental art.
In recent years humanists, scientists, and the press have argued that race is no longer a meaningful concept. Alongside evidence that there is no gene for race, we hear the mantra that genomics leads us "beyond race." Indeed assertion of the non-existence of race comprises what may be dubbed the "post-racial" consensus. And yet, when people purchase genetic materials for reproductive use (artificial insemination, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization), participate in recreational genealogy, or practice race-based medicine, they routinely proceed as if genetic race is of paramount import. The concept of "racial aura" describes the paradoxical status of race in contemporary culture. It is also a concept, built on ideas formulated by Walter Benjamin during the rise of Nazi eugenics, which powerfully describes contemporary visual art. Such art simultaneously meditates on the purported "end of race" and on race's persistent reanimation in everyday life. In this way such art teaches viewers about the vexed concept of race in our biotechnological age.
Scientists, medical personnel, and others have recently re-asserted the equivalence of human genetic variation and social categories of "race". This essay identifies strong cultural and scientific motives for creating, defending, and deploying that equivalence. However, the essay employs visual depictions of human genetic variation and critical analysis of scientific and lay vocabularies to show that human genetic variation has a complex structure that cannot be directly fit into a simple category set of race terms. The essay suggests that efforts to equate patterns of human genetic variation and social terms for "race" rely on the rhetorical strategies of casuistic stretching and the deployment of a mediating term through a two-step argumentative structure. The essay closes by discussing the difficulties involved in implementing social policies based on this procrustean category system, utilizing the case of the "race-based" heart disease drug Bi-Dil.
This essay offers a literary history relevant to contemporary methods of surveillance attached to genetic identities. It reads Mark Twain's Puddn'head Wilson into emergent juridical and scientific panics regarding identity and indicates how our nation's obsessive regard of race has provoked science-based public policies that are designed to protect and maintain an identifiable whiteness. The construction of DNA databanks at the historically black Howard University, the isolate prison populations in Guantanamo, and those immigrant and native populations subject to nouveau biologic forms of state scrutiny reify the historic interests of US culture in the discernment and targeting of the racialized other in the midst of the US populace. Science and the law have historically cooperated in these identitarian projects, and the fact of our national fiction, like Twain's novella, is evidence of this preoccupation