A Journey Through Genetics and Literature

•April 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The link to download Max and Sophie’s final project, an interactive journey through genetics and literature, can be found HERE.


Play safely.


Text Adventure Game: The Complex

•April 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A quick link to the text adventure game we built for this class can be found here. It’s inspired by many of the dystopian themes that appear throughout the books we’ve read and even features a few cameos from classmates and famous scientists.


– Zach

What’s the Point?

•April 15, 2014 • 1 Comment

In Magaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Crake tries to create a new race of human beings that he believed would be perfect. They wouldn’t suffer from sexual dissatisfaction, they would have no fear of death because they wouldn’t know when they might die, they would just drop dead all of the sudden. They would have no interest in art or religion, they would be free from the chaos that plagued humanity. While Crake tries to justify this mission throughout the novel, I was just left with too many questions to count and a lot of confusion.

The story makes it clear throughout that Crake is beyond intelligent, a point which is reinforced by his ability to clone and modify human beings and create a super-virus that decimates humanity. Furthermore, Jimmy is constantly in awe of Crake’s mind, it’s part of what draws them together. But for all Crake’s brilliance, he still seems to fail in his goal. Toward the end of the novel the Crakers begin to show sign of worship, looking to Oryx, Crake, and even Snowman as holy figures. But all this left me with the question of why Crake even bothered to create this new race. It seems apparent that all of what Crake hated about humanity – the greed, worship, frustration – is central to any intelligent being. Why did he even bother with the Crakers, and not just kill all of humanity?

By taking away everything that makes humans human, Crake essentially just created a new kind of animal. And in fact, in many ways the Crakers take on the characteristics of animals – no ability to read or interest in culture, a complete lack of monogamy, and no conception of death. Furthermore, humanity adopted all of these characteristics over a long period of evolution, shaped by natural and universal laws, so any solution he came up with would inevitably only be temporary. So again, I’m left wondering why Crake even bothered.

Letting our Age Define Us

•April 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Age is a major theme in Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian novel set in the near future. This includes both personal age, as in how old one is, and the different ages we live in. Joshie Goldman, on one hand, is constantly trying to go back in time and make himself look young again through replacing parts of his body. He also tries desperately hard to flirt with Eunice, who is much younger in age than him. This desire parallels the dystopian nature of the future, suggesting that we are much better off younger and in an earlier age than older in the future. Society has majorly regressed in the book, and Joshie believes that he has regressed as well. While we usually like to think that forward movement in time is related to forward progression, the novel tells us that forward movement in time refers to regression. 

Lenny also makes comments about age and when life will end through his diary entries. For example, the opening sentence of his diary reads, “Today I’ve made a major decision: I am never going to die,” indicating that he never wants his life to end. The fact that the diary starts with this marks the importance of the statement. Eunice is also 15 years younger than Lenny, so while his interest in her isn’t as bizarre as Joshie, there is still a major age difference between the two characters that plays a large role in shaping their relationship. 

The novel presents a society that is overwhelmingly youth-obsessed, and it is quite frightening. However, after my initial shock and disgust, I started to realize that it wasn’t quite as far off from our current society as I thought. While people don’t replace organs to look younger, plastic surgery is everywhere and the cosmetic industry is definitely in the business of trying to make people look younger. A major part of our economy is comprised of youth enhancing products and procedures, just as in the novel. 

The second way that age is referenced in the book, more concerned with eras than individuals, is also seen in our modern day society. For example, earlier decades are romanticized and yearned for. In movies such as Midnight in Paris and The Great Gatsby, the past is presented as much more beautiful and less corrupt than the present. 

Another Super Sad True Love Story

•April 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

**Sorry this is a little late. I published it to my own blog accidentally.**
While reading Super Sad True Love Story, I can’t help but identify with Eunice Park. Maybe it’s because as a young, heterosexual female also living in a very consumer driven generation, I find it easier to identify with a woman only five years my senior rather than a middle age man. Maybe it’s because as a member of society, I find it difficult to over look faults in the opposite sex, because it’s biologically ingrained in my DNA through generations of sexual selections to seek out flaws subconsciously in hopes that my offspring will “go forth and prosper”.

Yet, I believe that’s a main cause of Leonard and Eunice’s super sad true love story. Love isn’t a biological driving force of evolution. If anything, it’s a deterrent of the success of the human race. Love does have psychological importance in society as it lends itself to have a major impact on culture and it heavily facilitates sexual reproduction. But above all, love is blind, and blindness has a cost.

The attached video is of a spoken poem about a man who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Although it’s another super sad true love story, I can’t but find hope that society is able to look past one’s differences (given not for very long in this case) to love someone that may not be biologically “normal” or similar to the majority of the global population (the National Institute of Mental Health labels OCD as a mental disease potentially caused by brain activity concerning areas connected to emotions of fear and anxiety). So, don’t fret. Despite it’s lack of biological importance, society will continue to be full of super sad true love stories.


Trying to talk to you–communication in a Super Sad True Love Story

•April 13, 2014 • 1 Comment

I’ll start by saying: all art is in one way or another about communication. When honestly done, this makes art one of the most special things we as human beings achieve. No other species, as far as I can tell, acts on their imagination as much as us. And literature, writing, whether it be poetry or novels, is all the more exemplary of this notion as it uses our verbal language to communicate between the author and reader. Gary Shteyngart makes communication one of the central things of his wonderful novel Super Sad True Love Story as he creates his not-particularly-far-off future. This world is so much like our own as we see the myriad of ways in which communication is so difficult, so hard and yet of the utmost importance to life and meaning. And in his world there is so much technology, so much stuff that is frighteningly similar to what we have today, that exacerbates this difficulty. In his novel there is love abound in a number of incarnations, romantic for Lenny and Eunice, familial for each one of them and their respective families and a dozen other examples of how lust pushes other emotions out and to the side (especially in these rather appalling fuckability scores—how does one get such a number? How can such a score be quantified and standardized?).


While these new, technologically assisted ways of communicating (FACing being but one) increase the interflow in the way FaceBook allows us to talk with people we otherwise could not or would not, they also create increased layers—more and more onionskins to hide behind, even when seeming to bare all. To use the example of FaceBook—and I don’t mean to dis such a thing, because it can be great, connecting people and communities and sharing knowledge and information in ways other generations could never have achieved—but it also tricks us. It makes us think that we know someone before we know someone. There is the age old adage to not judge a book by its cover, but this needs updating—don’t judge anything by their facebook. Because there’s no way (and I truly believe this) that one could ever understand even a glimmer of someone just from their internet selves. Again, to go back to FACing, can we really judge each other based on our health records and bank statements? What our favorite sex position is? No way. Every person is so intangibly different that even human-to-human interface is never enough. Understanding is not necessarily achievable—not in a quantifiable way, at least. This is why we make art in the first place. If Gary could say what we wanted to say in a sentence then wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he be able to sell that for $16 if it could have the same impact? I think so—and yet this isn’t possible.


Art is always communication, and at times tries to communicate the deepest and most nuanced feelings we have. Things that aren’t otherwise communicable. There is no way to put a feeling into a number—no way one could glean this from another’s social media profile. And so summarily, what I’m saying is not that these things are evil—the ways our society as created new and interesting and at times shallow and inauthentic means of communication—I am saying that we ought to be careful. To not forget how important it to see with our eyes other eyes before us. To love outside computer screens. To be with each other, to communicate and to be honest. It is all we have, and unlike the internet, is not infinite. To make the most of it, of each other, is our duty as human beings.



Dystopian Fictions As a Function of Their Times

•April 13, 2014 • 1 Comment

Ever since dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction became genres, both readers and critics alike have debated the predictive qualities of such texts. In hindsight, they sometimes seem to prophesy the future with eerie accuracy, like the “parlor walls” from Fahrenheit 451, which are oddly similar to today’s ever-present televisions. However, while it’s certainly tempting to draw parallels between past dystopias and present reality, the fact is that such fiction can only really offer commentary and critiques on its own time.

This becomes readily apparent if you compare different works of dystopian fiction to the times they were written in. Throughout the semester we’ve read several works of dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic fiction written during different eras. For example, Brave New World, which was originally published in 1932, reflects the concerns of the time. The novel followed on the heels of the rise of the middle class and the emergence of leisure time in the United States and explores how these changes could affect society. Obviously, in contemporary society we still have differentiated social classes and a plenty of leisure time (more, in fact, then they had “back in the day”). As a result, it can seem like Aldous Huxley was speaking to our time as well as his own, and make it easy to forget that he was not trying to predict the future in his seminal dystopian work.

To demonstrate how dystopian fictions are products of their time, consider two more recent works: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, published in 2003, and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, published in 2010. While Oryx and Crake seems like a relatively recent book in comparison to Brave New World, it went to print before many technological changes rocked the modern world. For instance, Facebook wasn’t founded until the next year in 2004, and social media in general had yet to become a cultural phenomenon. Instead, Atwood’s work focuses on the perils of genetically modifying organisms. Given that there were several big developments in the U.S. in genetically modified organisms in the 1990s and early 2000s, it makes sense that Atwood chose to explore this in her dystopia. Likewise, coming in 2010 — long after social media had become popular and technology had become integrated into our everyday lives — it was logical for Super Sad True Love Story to be a futuristic satire exploring the effects such advancements could have.

However, this does not mean that in a couple decades American society will suddenly turn into that of Oryx and Crake or Super Sad True Love Story (or a mash-up of both). Dystopian fictions extrapolate from their own times into the future in order to offer commentary on what is, not necessarily what might be. While they fictional world they create may seem to match the real-world future, all too often this a case of seeing what you’re looking for, rather than what’s actually there.

— Kara Sherrer