Genealogies and Critical Distance
John Dupre’s lunch seminar on Genomes and Genetics was an invaluable opportunity to see a criticism of hard science from within a scientific framework. Using chemistry to critique the prevailing popular (and occasionally scientific) notions of the genetic code as a one-way informational program has, to me at least, some obvious parallels with what our class is attempting to do. Dupre believed that a chemical or microbiological perspective on SNPs allowed geneticists a better explanatory model for empirical phenomena. Although clear in his belief that one explanation (the chemical) was more empirical and in some sense objectively “better” in aiding human understanding of the phenomena, I see no reason why the chemical model he was critiquing won’t be modified and complicated by the new information being uncovered. There is no reason I can think of why an informational or digital explanation has to be simply deterministic or one way. A computer program can determine information but also be influenced by interactions with its environmental input. Or, more pertinent for me, there is no reason why a critical interpretation of a piece of literature can’t influence how the literature operates. But it seems to me that an improved understanding in these scientific modes is only possible with a genealogy of models which are continually modified.
Regina Gagnier brings science and humanities into dialogue much more eloquently than I feel capable of doing in this short space, and if anyone reading this blog gets a chance, I would suggest picking up her works of criticism, whether in article or book form. But to criminally oversimplify her work, in certain novels she sees a polyphony of understanding which mirrors the way Dupre sees epigenetic phenomena as integral to understanding how the genetic codes operates. In her Conclusion to The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope’s Novels, Gagnier uses many of the authors we have dealth with in this course to recover a new dialectic which puts the humanities and science in serious dialogue. Specifically, she uses Nietzsche and Darwin, two philosophers from roughly the same time, in order to suggest a mutual construction of individual and society which emphasizes process over fixed subjectivity. Both of these authors are obsessed with genealogies or history in a broad sense, and I wonder if her focus on these authors, as well as this class’s focus on genetics, leaves out or leaves unacknowledged the necessity of genealogies and historical understandings in order to have an equal discussion of literature studies and sciences. Basically, I wonder if since both science and humanities require a simliar historical perspective to be comprehensible, is a genealogical understanding the first step in a dialogue between humanities and science? If so, perhaps we should be working to drag a historian to the policy table when we’re talking about genetic ethics, even as we’re attempting to bring our own interpretive talents to bear on science.