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American Literary History 14.1 (2002) 160-180
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Science under Glass
What can be said for science studies is that, cheerful and engaging, historically corrective or philosophically adept, such studies agree not to blaspheme. No moral questions are ever asked directly. Only when political context raises self-evident evils, such as the Nazi period or Cold War arms races, do these inquirers into the world of science, or its representational follies and epistemological quandaries, venture into issues of purpose and control. 1 The danger Martin Heidegger called to question in the late 1940s, that technoscience will turn all that lives and is into the "standing reserve of transmutable power" (17), has been either acceded to and sidestepped or, frankly, ignored. 2
Now that molecules of our very cells are up for sale, one would think that the "imperative of responsibility," the title of Hans Jonas's still cogent 1984 book, would be weighing in among us. But perhaps we have been preparing for the millennium for too long, at least since the last fin de siècle, when utopian and dystopian visions of the technoculture future were urgently pressed into service. 3 Now, the mood is one of satiation. I borrow that term from Donna Haraway's Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_ Meets_OncoMouse. She writes "there is always evidence of nastier and nastier technoscience dominations" [while] "dazzling promise has always been the underside of the deceptively sober prose of scientific rationality and modern progress within the culture of no culture" (41). She for one is "satiated" between the press of "radiant hope and bottomless despair." For "we pay dearly for living within the chronotrope of ultimate threats and promises" (41). Haraway goes on to write a book almost crazed in its commitment to entangled, fused scenarios. Her satiation gives her boundless running energy, as if the very thickness of her extruded vision will protect her. For there is dread. She chooses as her "ethnographic" vehicle the "mutated murine eyes" (52) of the field mouse dropped through the wormhole into a laboratory, redesigned into a privately owned, cancer-sick techno-mechanism; she designates her surrogate agent as the "FemaleMan." The first, a completely terrorized creature, and the second, a "contingent and disrupted foundational category of woman" (52), keep her, as she says, from [End Page 160] being literal-minded as she sensitizes us to learn how to avoid "the narratives and the realities" of "the net" (3)--technoculture's global grip. Sensitize us she does, in innumerable tales and readings. But as her OncoMouse has no conditions of avoidance, and as the realities faced by her FemaleMan are semiologically entrapping, one gasps: sauve qui peut. Haraway does point to ethical issues; her book may be profitably compared to Jonas's. The glutted world from which she speaks, however, appears to offer no point of leverage.
A good part of the rest of the intellectual, scientific, and cultural life is busy contemplating its capacity for capitalization. The cycles of fear and hope have broadened out, flattened by the more ubiquitous rationalism of all: the exchange of goods and services. Science stands less as a standard of reason (against the forces of ignorance) than as the engine of...