Friday, 17 September 2010

““It’s Game Over Forever”: Atwood’s Satiric Vision of a Bioengineered Posthuman Future in Oryx and Crake” by JB Bouson.

I recently read an interesting article by one Bouson, JB (whose gender I've yet to determine, but I'm leaning towards a she), and thought I'd jot down its contents before I forget.

The article is in regards to Oryx and Crake, in particular its vision of our very own bioengineered future. Bouson calls it a 'dystopian' novel, Atwood herself prefers 'speculative fiction', but I am not budging my label of 'post-apocalyptic'. The first point Bouson makes is “the division between the humanities and the sciences through the stories of her two male characters, Jimmy and Crake” (Bouson 2004: 140): aside from marketing jingles, Atwood's future seems to have no use for “word” people at all, focusing solely on “numbers” people like Crake. This, it seems, is at the centre of Atwood's dystopian vision: a world where scientists hold all the power and the liberal arts have become “little more than worthless pastimes” (Bouson 2004: 144) is also a world without ethics. The most ethical, altruistic scientist we find in this whole novel is probably Crake, and his solution is very much in character, but simultaneously very much not a solution at all: “in a strange twist on the idea of scientific imperialism, uses science not to conquer the natural world but to control human nature by creating his bioengineered and environmentally friendly hominids, the Crakers, as a replacement for humanity” (Bouson 2004: 141). Crake, then, represents the “the 'postmodern' scientific mindset that openly flouts the 'laws' of nature posited by modern science and works to collapse boundaries among species” (Bouson 2004: 145). However, it is exactly in the 'Crakers' that Crake fails: he is unable to genetically remove the desire to sing and dance, for curiosity, and ultimately for symbolic thinking of the kind that leads them to regard Crake as a God, Oryx as a Goddess, and Snowman/Jimmy as their prophet.

In other words, despite their set of strange characteristics, the 'Crakers' are human in all the important aspects. Likewise, the last apparent human survivor is a “words” person, someone who, in what Bouson terms the “post-catastrophe” world, is constantly plagued by words and wordplay, by clichéd bits and pieces of self-help books and whatnot. “If Atwood uses the clichéd language and borrowed speech that runs through Snowman’s mind to discredit her character, she also works to redeem him, in part, by revealing his reverence for art and language.” (Bouson 2004: 152). After civilization ends, as Jimmy notes, all that remain are the words, the stories, the legends: and these he is, during the whole course of the novel, passing on to the Crakers. The saving grace, then, of humanity, and the ultimate discrediting of the Crakean view of life.

Bouson, J. Brooks. 2004. ““It’s Game Over Forever”: Atwood’s Satiric Vision of a Bioengineered Posthuman Future in Oryx and Crake”. In The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 2004 39: 139: 139-156. Available: DOI: 10.1177/0021989404047051.

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