Recently in Hybridity/humanity Category

Why create human-animal hybrids and chimeras?

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I imagine the most common question in discussions of creating animal-human hybrids is "why do it?" Julian Savulescu wrote an article for the American Journal of Bioethics addressing this question. He assents that there may be questionable motives - "commercial exploitation of 'freaks'; artistic motivation...or curiosity, just to see what it is like" (22). But he also discusses reasons that are more difficult to dismiss.

Medical purposes: Studying oncogenesis, as source of stem cells, or combining our genes with those of a species resistant to certain diseases

Delay aging or prolong human life: Could we incorporate turtle genetic sequences into our own to reduce telomere degradation?

Enhance human capabilities: Incorporate an elephant's memory genes, an owl's night vision, or a bat's ability to navigate in the dark.

Human-animal hybrid literature review

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If "science fiction is the dress rehearsal for social change" (Vint 181), what this genre has to say about human-animal hybridity will not only allow us as individual readers to examine our views on genetic hybrids and chimeras, but it will also become an important foundation for the ethical and moral discussions of society as a whole. The time for these discussions is ripe; the last decade has seen increasing research in the creation of chimeras (a product of two species in which the genes do not combine) and hybrids (each cell contains genetic material from both parents).

These conversations are taking place within bioethical and philosophical journals, but they are also playing out between literary scholars. The five articles I analyzed talk about what it means to be on the cusp of creating beings that occupy the space between human and animal, each calling on literature to ground their arguments in our culture.

Enhanced prosthetics in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

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In the world created for the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Sarif Industries creates high-tech prosthetics whose use is encouraged for everyone in the name of human enhancement. The catch is that once you have one of these prosthetics, you need to stay on the anti-rejection drug for the rest of your life—and drug prices are skyrocketing. Those protesting Sarif Industries use rhetoric like “Human augmentation: enslaving us all” and “Be human. Remain human. Purity first.”

Splice: the "evilutionary biologist" as female

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splice-poster.jpgThe 2010 movie Splice is one of the most recent additions to the Mad Scientist canon. Specifically, main characters Elsa and Clive (yep) are "Evilutionary Biologists," splicing together DNA from many different animals, making new creatures in the name of pharmaceutical advancement. Their success with Fred and Ginger, a pair of flesh-covered slug-like creatures who manufacture a protein desired by the company the scientists work for, leads Clive and Elsa to the inevitable question: what if we added human DNA?

They go through with it, and the result is a creature Elsa names Dren who looks more and more human as it—she—grows. During every stage, from deciding to try the splice, to growing an embryo, to keeping the result alive, Elsa is the one pushing Clive to agree to it. She has quintessential mad scientist lines such as "Scientists push boundaries—at least the important ones do."

Becoming-animal in The Fly

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the-fly.jpg

The main story in David Cronenberg's 1986 movie The Fly--a man becoming a monster-- is not a new one. Kafka's Metamorphosis shares insect roots, while Wells's The Invisible Man and other mad scientist stories share the threat of science turning against its "creator." But many of these stories, including The Fly, are less about one thing becoming another than about getting stuck in the murky space between.

Seth Brundle begins to experience issues with identity and living within a known category as soon as he realizes he was combined with a fly during teleportation. His computer log shows there was a "secondary element" in the telepod with him. He queries the computer:

IF PRIMARY ELEMENT IS BRUNDLE, WHAT IS SECONDARY ELEMENT?

The computer, not having been programmed to know the category "fly," responds:

SECONDARY ELEMENT IS NOT-BRUNDLE

The conversation continues:

Seth: IF SECONDARY ELEMENT IS FLY, WHAT HAPPENED TO FLY?
Computer: FUSION
Seth: ASSIMILATION? DID BRUNDLE ABSORB FLY?
Computer: NEGATIVE
Computer: FUSION OF BRUNDLE AND FLY AT MOLECULAR-GENETIC LEVEL

Now Brundle is faced with this truth: He is no longer Brundle as he understands that signifier. He is both Brundle and not-Brundle. These two categories cannot be separated; each gene of "new Brundle" contains both Brundle and not-Brundle.