Lit review: The Cinematic Life of the Gene: Introduction

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CLG-cover.jpgAs I work through secondary sources, I'll post short summaries or key points as a way to share how they are informing my research.

Stacey, Jackie. The Cinematic Life of the Gene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

In the Introduction, Stacey argues that the cinema has proven especially adept at exploring the fears and possibilities surrounding genetic engineering, in part because they are "both technologies of imitation" that "seek to imitate life" (7). Cinema is an art form that can visualize the invisible and create images to analyze the unseeable processes of genetics.

Stacey sees three main areas of cultural anxiety around genetic engineering, mirrored by the three complementary desires leading us to pursue them (10-11):


  1. "To imitate life"
  2. "To secure identity as legible through screening technologies"
  3. "To anchor embodied difference by making it stable, predictable, and visible"


  1. "The separation of sexuality from reproduction;" "the detraditionalization of heterosexual reproduction and the queering of biological processes;" the loss of autonomy/individuality
  2. "Identity theft and genetic impersonation;" the repositioning of kinship
  3. "The destabilization of traditional markers of difference and privilege" (e.g., race, ability)

In their own way, all of the films Stacey analyzes in the book are "preoccupied with this paradox: the impossibility of seeing someone's genes despite the ubiquitous presence of genetic discourse" (11).

1 Comment

There a similar argument made about Darwin and the cinema, and the way in which evolution (and, more specifically, the observation of invisible processes in nature) was made visible through the medium of the cinema. The argument is that the cinema and the idea of evolution evolved in parallel with each other.

It might help make legitimate your focus on biological processes as the true subject of cinema - which is a "mass" cultural artifact. (Hmm...what is possible in experimental cinema?)


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