Welcome to English 243, “Genetics in Literature and Film,” taught by Professor Jay Clayton at Vanderbilt University.
In the nineteenth century, evolutionary theory was as much a cultural as a scientific concern. Questions about evolution’s impact on religion, social theory, racial science, degeneration, and eugenics were debated among scientists, religious leaders, politicians, journalists, poets, and novelists. Today, the revolution in genomics has had an equal impact on contemporary culture. Novels, films, visual arts, and popular culture explore topics such as cloning and stem-cell research; genes for violence, homosexuality, and long life; ecological protests against manipulating the genetic code; religious objections to evolution; genetic privacy; the patenting of genes; DNA evidence in criminal cases; and bioterrorism
In this course we will look briefly at Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle (1839) and Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), move on to Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), but spend the majority of our time on late-twentieth and twenty-first century texts. Readings will be drawn from a number of different genres, including science writing, postmodern fiction, science fiction novels and films, and autobiography.
Students should purchase the following texts:
- H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)
- James D. Watson’s The Double Helix
- Andrea Barrett, Ship Fever (1996)
- Nancy Kress, Beaker’s Dozen (1998)
- Simon Mawer, Mendel’s Dwarf (1998)
- Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
- Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003)
- Kazua Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005)
- Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005)