Saturday, 18 September 2010

Paradice Lost, Paradise Regained: homo faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in Oryx and Crake.

“Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake (2003)critiques modernity’s commitment to homo faber—he who labors to use every instrument as a means to achieve a particular end in building a world, even when the fabrication of that world necessarily demands a repeated violation of its materiality, including its people.”

(DiMarco 2005: 170)

This is basically the point DiMarco is trying to make in her article, which much like previous criticism I have read focuses mainly on the two characters of Jimmy and Crake and what exactly they represent. Crake, then, is “the quintessential homo faber” (DiMarco 2005: 170), the working man, the creator-man, the tool-using man. One of the theorists working with this concept is Hannah Arendt, who (quoted in DiMarco 2005: 174), says thathomo faber is contrary to animal

laborens because he has always destroyed nature, not worked with it.” As good a description as any of Crake, I should say. The problem, DiMarco (2005: 174) notes, is that in modern days homo faber has turned from altruistic, ethical and community-oriented goals for his powers of creation towards more selfish and inwards-looking goals – in the case of the scientists running Atwood's dystopia it is the pursuit of money and power and immediate physical gratification. The blame obviously lies with capitalism and commodification – a cornerstone of post-modernism – which Atwood is here attempting to overturn.

DiMarco, like Bouson, makes much of the division of labour between people: first there are the compounds and the pleeblands, then within the compound the 'words' and 'numbers' people, and finally Crake's own invention, the Paradice Dome which is a compound within a compound (DiMarco 2004: 177-179). DiMarco (2004: 178) calls this “[p]ower through enclosure”, the idea that there are 'wild' areas and 'civilized' areas and that it is within the civilized, metropolitan centres that the 'work' of the homo faber takes place. The problem, of course, is that the work of the compounds, although marketable, is hardly ethical or desirable or even necessary, and as we get to the post-apocalyptic part, we come to realize they are dangerous (such as the human-eating Pigoons). Interestingly, DiMarco seems to think Crake engineered the bio-plague for profit (DiMarco 2004: 183), and that seeing it as anything else (such as 'culture' work) would be a misunderstanding. This probably explains why DiMarco glosses over what Bouson called the 'assisted suicide' of Crake by Jimmy in the end, giving only this very odd interpretation of events: “[Jimmy] cannot allow her—or Crake—to re-enter Paradice in their known human existence, for both have “sinned” against the potential goodness of humanity. So he shuts the doors on them both and stands alone in Paradice.” (DiMarco 2004: 187). Although this fits with the general neo-Marxist, anti-capitalist reading of DiMarco, I personally think it stereotypes Crake's character too much: Oryx and Crake may be an exercise in the evident, but it would be a mistake to think the characters are mere archetypes.

DiMarco ends with an analysis of Jimmy's character, who according to her “has the ability to be compassionate and ethical, to see himself as embedded within the world as opposed to separate or above it” (DiMarco 2004: 187-188), and who has a closer relationship with nature and the living other (e.g. animals, plants): this is curiously reminiscent of God's Gardeners that we are introduced to in The Year of the Flood, although DiMarco obviously could not have read that book at the time of her writing this article. Some good points are made regarding Jimmy's character: despite all of his vices, what comes through ultimately is a likeable and ethical person who, unfortunately, did not have the same backbone has his mother had in rejecting the compound, homo faber world. When that world collapses, and we are left with the post-catastrophe world, Jimmy suddenly comes closer to the animal laborens, working only to live. “As he journeys toward Paradice it is as though he moves backward through history, tending to the reality that consumption for physical and emotional sustenance and survival is potentially separate from production for economic gain.” (DiMarco 2004: 190). The final part of DiMarco's article deals with the choice Jimmy is left with at the very end: should he hide from, attack, or interact with the other three human survivors he comes across? And if he chooses to interact, what kind of society will they rebuild? Will they follow in the footsteps of homo faber and instrumental philosophy, thus restarting the whole escapade, will they entirely abandon homo faber and find “some new way of community building and caring for one another” (DiMarco 2004: 194) or will there be something in between?

Way to go asking the question post-apocalyptic literature has been asking since the beginning!

DiMarco, Danette. 2004. “Paradice Lost, Paradise Regained: homo faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in Oryx and Crake”. In Papers on Language & Literature; Spring2005, Vol. 41 Issue 2: 170-195.

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