It has been a while since my last post – I recently moved to Atlanta and started a graduate degree at Emory University in the ILA (Institute of Liberal Arts), so it has been a busy time. Getting back into writing posts has been a bit daunting for me (am I running out of things to say??), so I decided to repurpose a class I’m taking for blog posts. The class: Feminist Science and Technology Studies.
This week we are reading Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet, Part I: “We Have Never Been Human.”
Haraway starts the book with 2 questions: 1. “Whom and what do I touch when I touch my dog?” and 2. “How is ‘becoming with’ a practice of becoming worldly?” (3). From here, a good portion of the book consists of an examination of her dog, her dog’s history, and Haraway’s relationship to this history. How does the history and cultural context of her dog’s breeding implicate her? What does it mean to be a companion to another species? And, what are our obligations/responsibilities to them? What are theirs to us? How/what does the dog respond?
I am interested in her examination of breeding practices versus genetic diversity practices, which seem to be opposed to each other. I am confused, however, by many of her statements that seem to be contradictory to each other (and, for me most importantly, those statements that seem to implicate the existence and continued birth of humans with disabilities – hopefully I will address this another time). Her chapter “Examined Lives” presents a complicated history of purebred dog breeding and genetic diseases. Like with humans, genetic diseases in dogs are also stigmatized and kept hidden. Many of the players in the chapter argue for a thorough screening of genetic diseases before breeding to eliminate/prevent the possibility of passing down certain genetic diseases including epilepsy and CEA (collie eye anomaly). This seems a bit too reminiscent of eugenics practices, and surprisingly enough Haraway discusses briefly the screening for Tay Sachs amongst the New York Jewish population (see 127 and footnote 52, pp.354-5). I am not trying to say that we should be thrilled to have genetic diseases. I am, however, saying that the discourse surrounding the prevention of genetic diseases amongst dogs seems a bit problematic in its rhetoric and aims.
I am still grappling with Haraway’s writing on genetic testing and genetic manipulation. She claims that bioethics is “boring” (136) and I’m not exactly sure why though she claims that bioethics “is firmly on the side of society” and that this “categorical dualism between society and science, culture and nature, is a setup to block a grasp of what is going on in technoculture” (136). This is something that I am interested to find out: is bioethics always on the side of society and does it work to maintain this division. As Harway then claims; bioethics “will have to get real” (136). Still to come…
An artist working with biology as a material in “bioart,” and project in particular, GFP Bunny, came to mind while reading. Eduardo Kac has an entire section of his website dedicated to his bioart practice. Many of the projects feature transgenic work, like GFP Bunny. Alba, the bunny, is a transgenic bunny that glows in the dark.
Kac writes on his website:
Transgenic art, I proposed elsewhere, is a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering to transfer natural or synthetic genes to an organism, to create unique living beings. This must be done with great care, with acknowledgment of the complex issues thus raised and, above all, with a commitment to respect, nurture, and love the life thus created.
What does it mean for us, the viewers, to look upon this work? How should we react? Should we be appalled or delighted? What would Haraway think? She claims in chapter 3, “Sharing Suffering” that she “does not mean people cannot ever engage in experimental animal lab practices, including pain and killing.” Though she does mean that “these practices should never leave their practitioners in moral comfort, sure of their righteousness” (75). How much of this statement is a testament to art? A practice that is supposed to affect us and at times make us uncomfortable; to open up questions? What does it mean that, in the 2nd to last page of Part 1, we are left with a new metaphor of dogs – “great companion animals are like works of art”? (156)
How am I to think of Alba as an artwork, an animal, a science experiment, but also as a pet, a companion animal? At first it appears that each of these categories needs its own set of questions and methods of judgment, however, I am not sure if that would be the best/most appropriate way to view this image of the being named Alba. Like the question Haraway started with in her book, I guess I may end my post: Whom and what do I see when I look at/regard/gaze at Alba?