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This essay examines how transgenic paradigms of recombination and mutation have influenced contemporary lyrical poetry. These paradigms offer poetic strategies that highlight a growing uncertainty about the future of biodiversity and the curious anticipation of the evolutionary unknown. The central poetic question becomes one of survival. Can the transgenic survive? How has the transgenic become a symbol for the unnatural, the inorganic, the monstrous? Is a transgenic population, and therefore an unnatural population, a vision of the future? And if so, how will the human fit into such vision? For a discourse that has historically equated poetry with the human, this signals a new future that expands the parameters of poetry’s engagement with biopolitical formations on account of science’s continuing renegotiations with human bodies and human consciousness.

Transgenic Poetics

In this essay, I focus on what I call transgenic poetics, examining how molecular culture has shaped contemporary poetry. In the past ten years, theories from the molecular sciences developed by scholars such as Colin Milburn (“molecular erotics”i) and Nikolas Rose (“the molecularization of vitality”ii) have given us a foundation to investigate an emerging transgenic paradigm based on the evolutionary potential of mutation. The transgenic imagination has transformed the way we conceive of poetry’s engagement with subjectivity by borrowing a complex nonhuman agency from a scientific culture centered around customization and mutation.

I make two arguments here about transgenic poetics. The first is that the transgenic imagination has morphed away from disciplinary boundaries within medicine and agricultural policy and is reorienting our aesthetic categories in light of debates about artistic freedom, pleasure, and comfort. This shift in how we understand the transgenic underpins certain feminist and queer materialist critiques of the ways that new understandings of scientific matter transgress and exceed the biological body. It is not coincidental that scholars invested in marginal identity politics now consider the care, ethics, and ontologies of objects, matter, and animals as worthy of serious inquiry.iii The new wave of scientific materialist criticism has claimed an interest in exploring non-identitarian agency that nevertheless remains deeply rooted in a feminist and queer ethics of critical empathy and care.

Secondly, I explore how contemporary poetry by Matthea Harvey and Eleni Sikélianòs has co-opted recombinant discourses from transgenic culture by examining the phenomena of “crossing” and “surrogacy,” two ways of imagining genetic taboos that often render unpredictable results. Crossing and surrogacy become poetic tropes for thinking about the hybridity of different scientific forms of matter (as well as their origins and reproduction), and the central poetic question becomes one of survival. Can the transgenic survive? How has the transgenic become a symbol for the unnatural, the inorganic, the monstrous? Is a transgenic population, and therefore an unnatural population, a vision of the future? And if so, how will the human fit into such vision?

My argument addresses two examples of contemporary poetry collections of poetry, Harvey’s Modern Life (2007) and Sikélianòs’s Body Clock (2008), that are committed to the lyrical examination of transgenic culture. My goal is not to define the transgenic instrumentally as a pheno- or genotypically altered creature with mixed genomes, but rather to consider the ways that the making of new creatures and objects allows us to focus on epistemological rather than ontological poetic practices. The transgenic mediates the lyric and emancipates poetics from mere self-expression; instead, the paradigm of mutation pushes towards a more dynamic, ecological model of distributed agency. I will examine how lyrical practices of syntax, voice, and imagery produce such a model. For the discourse that has historically equated poetry with the human, this signals a new future that expands the parameters of poetry’s engagement with biopolitical formations on account of science’s continuing renegotiations with human bodies and human consciousness. The poetic texts investigated in this paper all engage in a kind of eco/techno-materialism. They are about crossed-matter: recombined creatures, unnaturally merging landscapes, metal flesh, robot wombs—a wild gathering of dissociative idioms. Therefore, the poetic fascination with the transgenic is a fascination not only with the molecule as an agent of mutation, but also...

Additional Information

ISSN
1053-1920
Launched on MUSE
2015-12-07
Open Access
N
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