Taking suggestion from the case of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells, this essay is profoundly interested in the possibilities for new, and alternative, forms of life and being. What forms of sociality and the communal are available for us if we estrange ourselves from the life of our species? And how might these practices of estrangement—queering—actually allow for a new ethical landscape? The essay explores the politics of science in relation to race and sex in historical context. Fantasies about the plasticity of life in speculative thought must consider the histories of social and scientific racism and eugenics. The essay considers two scientific speculators, H. G. Wells and Julian Huxley, whose works demonstrate risks that we must be mindful of in embracing an ontology of life. There are ramifications of self-directed scientific modification of the biological, as Wells's and Huxley's ideas include advanced ideas of the plasticity of life but also the theory and practice of eugenics. The essay still argues for the importance of the utopian, of dreams that reach to new paradigms, that search out the ineffable moments of life that confound us.
Jayna Brown; Being Cellular: Race, the Inhuman, and the Plasticity of Life. GLQ 1 June 2015; 21 (2-3): 321–341. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-2843371
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