Hamner's essay analyzes Richard Powers's novel Generosity: An Enhancement as an example of genomic fiction, a genre-bending science fiction subgenre focused on relationships between biology and identity. Prefacing this study with brief readings of novels by Michael Crichton and evangelical author Angela Hunt, the essay reflects extensively on the metaphors and mythologies involved in contemporary genomics. Here Powers has the distinct advantage of being one of only eight individuals, as of 2008, to have had his entire genome sequenced. Hamner interweaves essays about such experiences from Powers and others with questions about the extent to which genomics can be expected to yield new self-understanding. The essay's broadest argument is that by juxtaposing fictional creativity and genomic modification, Generosity effectively illustrates the need for bridge-building across science-religion, religion-humanities, and humanities-science divides. Specifically, Powers reveals the extent to which genes are gaining sacrosanct status in U.S. culture, and in response offers a postsecular, metanarratival science fiction that contextualizes some of the more inflated rhetoric. Defending scientific research but denouncing its metamorphosis into techno-transcendent spectacle, Powers's work aligns fiction and evolution as processes of painfully slow, bottom-up “compositing,” wherein complexity emerges from simplicity, purpose appears in apparent randomness, and agency persists in tension with both inherited and environmental determinants. Ultimately, Hamner's essay shows that beneath questions about genomic identity lie even more profound ones about the nature and purposes of narrative.
Everett Hamner; The Predisposed Agency of Genomic Fiction. American Literature 1 June 2011; 83 (2): 413–441. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1266108
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