Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-hd6rl Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-08T07:36:36.627Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Biocultures: An Emerging Paradigm

MLA Annual Convention 29 December 2007, Chicago: A special session

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Jay Clayton*
Vanderbilt University


Literature and Science Policy: A New Project for the Humanities

The misfortune lies with a single gene, in an excessive repeat of a single sequence—CAG. Here's biological determinism in its purest form. More than forty repeats of that one little codon, and you're doomed.

—Ian McEwan, Saturday (94)

Huntington's disease. Perowne, the neurosurgeon in Ian McEwan's novel Saturday (2005), readily diagnoses the genetic abnormality that afflicts a petty criminal who is assaulting him. It is like a tic with Perowne. He cannot stop himself from analyzing the biological causes of the poor emotional control, the violent temper, of the man who is mugging him. Perowne regards himself as a “professional reductionist,” a man of science who “can't help thinking it's down to invisible folds and kinks of character, written in code, at the level of molecules” (281). A lifetime of medical experience has led him to conclude that much of our behavior is dictated by biology. But Huntington's disease represents an extreme case. For someone with this condition, the “future is fixed and easily foretold” (94).

Forum: Conference Debates
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Works Cited

Clayton, Jay. “Victorian Chimeras; or, What Literature Can Contribute to Genetics Policy Today.” Biocultures. Ed. Davis, Lennard J. and Morris, David B. Spec. issue of New Literary History 38.3 (2007): 569–92. Print.Google Scholar
Committee on Assessing Interactions among Social, Behavioral, and Genetic Factors in Health. Genes, Behavior, and the Social Environment: Moving Beyond the Nature/Nurture Debate. Washington: Natl. Acads., 2006. Print.Google Scholar
Elaine, Hadley. “On a Darkling Plain: Victorian Liberalism and the Fantasy of Agency.” Victorian Studies 48.1 (2005): 92102. Print.Google Scholar
Kass, Leon R.Being Human.” Introduction. Being Human: Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics. Washington: President's Council on Bioethics, 2003. xvii–xxv. Print.Google Scholar
McEwan, Ian. Saturday. New York: Anchor, 2005. Print.Google Scholar
President's Council on Bioethics. “Session 2: Science and the Pursuit of Perfection: Discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Short Story ‘The Birth-Mark.‘” 17 Jan. 2002. Web. 15 Apr. 2008.Google Scholar
Wald, Priscilla, and Preface, Jay Clayton. Genomics in Literature, Visual Arts, and Culture. Ed. Wald, Clayton, and Holloway, Karla F. C. Spec. issue of Literature and Medicine 26.2 (2007): vi–xvi. Print.Google Scholar