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chapter four Artificial Humans and the Construction of Race If this study has succeeded at all in demonstrating how early science fiction articulates the structures of knowledge and power provided by colonialism, then it also will have indicated along the way—for example, in the discussion of lost-race fiction or of London’s “The Red One”—that some of the racism endemic to colonialist discourses is woven into the texture of science fiction. The interdependence and permeability between the fictional narratives and the social discourses and circumstances in which they circulate makes the presence of racism in early science fiction inevitable. In focusing on that presence more directly in this chapter, however, I do not mean to draw up a catalogue of notoriously racist works, nor to describe in greater detail the more or less casual contamination of the fiction by the ideological spirit of the age. Instead, I want to ask how science fiction handles the discourse of race and its attendant contradictions in one of science fiction’s most prominent motifs, the construction of the artificial human. The prominence during the period from the 1870s to the 1930s of a scientific discourse about race and of powerful, widespread racist ideologies has much to do with colonialism. Historians of modern racist theories usually locate their origins in the colonial slave trade and the massive use of African slaves in colonial agriculture, practices that differed from classical European and earlier African slavery in that the slaves bore the mark of their inferiority permanently and “naturally” on their skins. But as Nancy Stepan remarks at the outset of her study of the idea of race in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the puzzle is why “just as the battle against slavery was being won by abolitionists, the war against racism in European thought was being lost” (1). The growing virulence of racism after British abolition and American emancipation implies that the concept of race played an ongoing ideological and political role that caused it to outlast its affiliation with slavery in America, in dealing with the effects of the Civil War and in relation to national expansion into the American West, and in Britain, in colonial and imperial management. Nor did the paradigm shift in early-twentieth-century anthropology— away from accounts of savage societies that integrated them into a universal developmental history, and towards an attempt to understand instead their radical cultural difference—have much immediate effect on undermining racist theories. Although the mitochondrial DNA studies that today show that “there is more genetic variability in one tribe of East African chimpanzees than in the entire human species” (Graves 9) were the eventual outcome of the neo-Darwinian synthesis of evolutionary theory and genetics that began to take shape in the first decades of the twentieth century, the first fruits of the rediscovery of genetics included the eugenicist projects of involuntary sterilization that affected tens of thousands of the racially, mentally, and socially “unfit” in the United States and elsewhere . The Nazi holocaust was unparalleled in its ferocity and its grimly bureaucratic thoroughness, but its quasi-scientific rationalization of its project was far from an isolated phenomenon.1 In fact, it would be difficult to name a concept that troubles the boundaries between science and ideology more stubbornly from the midnineteenth century to the Second World War than race. By the same token, no discursive nexus more powerfully interweaves colonialism, scientific discourse, and science fiction than racism, for one of the best reasons to emphasize the importance of evolutionary theory and anthropology to the emergence of science fiction is that early science fiction, at its best, often explores the challenges that those scientific discourses posed to established notions of what was natural and what was human. As the reading of time-travel narratives offered in the previous chapter begins to indicate , the opposition between biological determination and cultural construction is as central to much science fiction as it is to anthropology itself. Pursuing the implications of this reading further will involve spending some time at the locus classicus of the problem of nature versus culture in Wells’s novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. But Moreau’s colony, while it is one of Wells’s most powerful fictional achievements, is also an unusually striking articulation of an often-repeated pattern that can be discerned, not only in The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, but also in the fiction of Mary Shelley, J. MacMillan Brown, Olaf Stapledon...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819573803
Related ISBN
9780819568731
MARC Record
OCLC
847008017
Pages
200
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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