The Poetics of DNA

The Poetics of DNA

judith roof
Series: Posthumanities
Volume: 2
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt5k0
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  • Book Info
    The Poetics of DNA
    Book Description:

    In The Poetics of DNA, Judith Roof examines the rise of this powerful symbol and the implications of its ascendancy for the ways we think—about ourselves, about one another, and about the universe. A hyperbolized notion of DNA has become a vector, Roof argues, through which older ways of thinking can merge with the new, advancing long-discredited and insidious ideas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5428-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Epic Acid
    (pp. 1-29)

    At the gala opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, organizers mounted a spectacular tableau of Western cultural history. Merging figures of Greek mythology, the changing aesthetics of Hellenic pottery, and an ascending chain of modern humanity, the Olympic pageant metamorphosed from epoch to epoch, culminating in a cosmic Milky Way lake of lights. In a last transformation (effected by a complex system of wires, projections, and laser lights), the luminous lake rose into the air to form the double helix, a spiraling light show representing, if not the alpha, then the omega of it all....

  5. CHAPTER 2 Genesis
    (pp. 30-69)

    “The secret of life” where structure becomes “one with function,” molecular biology finds beauty at the heart of it all. Flawless, antinomies resolved, deoxyribonucleic acid represents a supreme moment of synthesis and insight. Self-contained and self-identical, DNA does what it is by making more of itself. It provides the solution to an enigma about heredity that had long puzzled scientists: how traits, structures, and living functions are passed from generation to generation in a simple, stable, and reliable fashion. It links agents of heredity directly to the life processes of living organisms. Structure melds with function in a self-reproducing strand...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Flesh Made Word
    (pp. 70-114)

    As James Watson recounts it, the moment of insight was almost apocalyptic: “Upon his arrival Francis did not get more than halfway through the door before I let loose that the answer to everything was in our hands.”¹ By lunch that day, Watson reports, “there was also the too obvious fact that the implications of its [DNA’s] existence were far too important to risk crying wolf. Thus I felt slightly queasy when at lunch Francis winged into the Eagle to tell everyone within hearing distance that we had found the secret of life.”²

    This story provides a clue about how...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Homunculus and Saturating Tales
    (pp. 115-164)

    The popular science writer Matthew Ridley describes the evolution of DNA through the following amalgam of nature and breakfast table:

    The word [DNA] discovered how to rearrange chemicals so as to capture little eddies in the stream of entropy and make them live. . . . The word eventually blossomed and became sufficiently ingenious to build a porridgy contraption called a human brain that could discover and be aware of the word itself.¹

    Ridley’s evocations of words, streams, blossoming plants, and gloppy machines provide an imaginative if strangely botanical illustration of the imaginary epic of DNA evolution. The way Ridley...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Ecstasies of Pseudoscience
    (pp. 165-197)

    Currently in American popular culture, DNA’s subtending narrative of heteroreproduction is being joined or even supplanted by another, less literally reproductive but more oedipal version of that narrative: the question of origins. More the primal scene than the sex scene, the narrative of origins (Where do I come from? Who am I? Who are you?) tends to elide cause and effect chains in favor of a more simple, direct, nominalistic answer that links DNA to an individual without any intermediary. Instead of a logic of production that merges process with agency, origins evokes the practice of naming—of giving bodies...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Rewriting History
    (pp. 198-216)

    The pseudoscientific capabilities that have attached to the DNA gene—will and agency, the magical elision of cause and effect, instantaneity, the operative power of the Word—derive from the analogies and narratives through which it has been transliterated as well as ways of thinking that constantly reprocess systemic complexity into structural simplicity. Imagining willful agency, while displacing human motives, attributes, and biases onto chemicals, situates DNA as our minute causal agent, as us displaced into it. Envisioning DNA as a tiny entity, which in itself contains and elides all cause-effect mechanisms while also expressing and perpetrating condensed versions of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 217-234)
  11. Index
    (pp. 235-244)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)