Printer Friendly

Animals and animality from the Island of Moreau to the Uplift universe.


This essay argues that H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau is best understood in the context of feminist critiques of science, animal studies, and antivivisectionism. This context allows us to see that the novel's themes are concerned with the very foundational assumptions of science as a practice that objectifies and 'tames' nature and all those (non-whites, women, the working classes) who are associated with the body and nature. A comparison of Wells's novel with David Brin's Uplift series--more explicitly concerned with imagining animal sentience--reveals that Brin's failure to critique the values of science crystalized in the 'unmarked' body of the 'scientist' (white, male, bourgeois, Homo sapiens) results in a more conservative treatment of subjectivity and ethics in this latter work.


H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, (1) published in 1896, is deeply concerned with the relationship between scientific development and moral progress, and the consequences of the former outpacing the latter. It tells the story of a mad scientist who alters animals in order to make them more human; and in our present-day world of genetic engineering and xenotransplantation, as well as advocacy of animal legal and civil rights, its subject matter has never seemed more pertinent. Just as Darwinian science, the context for this and other Wells novels, created a moment of incredible disruption for Victorian society by connecting human and animal life in ways previously unimaginable, recent research in animal cognition, communication, and social organization similarly threatens to challenge and perhaps displace our cultural assumptions about human and non-human life.

Building on Claude Levi-Strauss's assertion that 'animals are good to think with', I want in this essay to bring together a reading of The Island of Doctor Moreau with recent scholarship in the emerging field of animal studies. I argue that the focus on how the human/animal boundary is articulated in Wells's novel enables us to perceive more clearly the critique of science contained within it. If we examine the work from the point of view of animal studies, it becomes clear that its critique of science extends beyond specific practices contemporary with its publication, to a critique of the founding assumptions that shaped scientific practice as it emerged in the seventeenth century. Wells's concerns have much in common with recent feminist critiques of science, and also connect The Island of Doctor Moreau with the feminist and antivivisectionist positions prevalent at the time he was writing. Finally, I compare Wells's treatment of these themes with the more recently published Uplift series by David Brin. Brin's work is also concerned with modifying animals genetically to be more like humans. He specifically positions his work as more progressive than what he terms the 'morality tales' of Wells and other earlier science fiction, arguing:

I noticed that nearly all these tales assume that human 'masters' will always do the maximally stupid/evil thing. In other words, if we do meddle with animals to raise their intelligence, it will be in order to enslave and abuse them. [...] I feel it is now unlikely our civilization would behave in a deliberately vile way toward newly sapient creatures, because the morality tales did their job! (2)

By comparing the relationship that Wells and Brin, respectively, have to the feminist critique of science, I argue that, despite Brin's explicit desire to present humans and animals as equals, his failure to question the speciesist assumptions that have shaped Western science and metaphysics undermines the ability of his work to achieve this goal. Thus animals studies give us further insight into Moreau as a 'mad scientist', and enable us to see that his madness exemplifies some of the problems with Western science conceived as a discourse of taming nature, a madness that persists unexamined in Brin's Uplift novels.

Many critics have noted the correspondence between The Island of Doctor Moreau and late nineteenth-century racism. (3) Without challenging the insight provided by such readings of the novel, I want to suggest that thinking about the beast men as animals rather than as metaphors for animalized racial others can provide additional insight into the novel's critique of science and vivisection. In order to do this I shall first look briefly at a text that possibly influenced The Island of Doctor Moreau--Francis Bacon's The New Atlantis (1627). (4) In her work on animals in the Renaissance, Erica Fudge describes The New Atlantis as a fictional tale of shipwreck as well as the 'bible' of the new science and a manual for vivisection. (5) Francis Bacon is one of the most influential and vocal defenders of the new experimental science emerging in the seventeenth century. As Fudge explains elsewhere, Bacon associated science both with power over nature and with man's proper place as separated from animals and close to God. For him, the Fall separated man from an innate understanding of other species, and thus learning is now required to restore man to his 'position as sovereign and commander of creation'. (6) Science and experimentation give man knowledge, which is also power, a power of exploitation that becomes 'proof of humanity [...] To experiment on animals--a means of understanding, "naming" them--is to place the human in a God-like position'. (7)

The New Atlantis, this manual for dominating nature and recovering man's proper place, like The Island of Doctor Moreau, 'presents experimentation which sounds very much like the contemporary practice of genetic engineering: the alteration of appearance and reproductive faculties, the creation of new hybrids'. (8) Thus the mad scientist Moreau, who encourages his modified animals in a cult that worships him as Master, whose Hand 'makes', 'wounds', and 'heals' them in his 'House of Pain', (9) is the model of the perfect New Scientist, who asserts his own humanity by forcing nature to submit. The founding moments of science thereby rely on the assertion of the human/animal boundary because 'dominion, with its inevitable consequences for the natural world, is the means to fulfil human potential: the exploitation of animals is a necessity'. (10)

Victorian society in particular seems to embrace the exploitation of animals as a way to further scientific knowledge. Rod Preece argues that animal experimentation remained 'isolated and occasional until the publication of Claude Bernard's Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine in 1865', after which 'the capacity and propensity to use animals as a mere means of human welfare grew rapidly'. (11) Bernard, in fact, might well be the model for the figure of Moreau. Coral Lansbury points out that he encouraged an ethos of sanctity, of a new priesthood, around the practice of science, and, again like Moreau, he felt that there were no limits on the capacity of science to master and modify nature, including the nature of human being. The introduction to Bernard's Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine presents a portrait of the ideal scientist that seems a blueprint for Moreau:

The physiologist is no ordinary man: he is a scientist, possessed and absorbed by the scientific idea that he pursues. He does not hear the cries of animals, he does not see their flowing blood, he sees nothing but his idea, and is aware of nothing but an organism that conceals from him the problem he is seeking to resolve. (12) This vision presents the vivisector in terms of values also proposed by Bacon and which by this time had become exemplary of scientific practice--objectivity, detachment, distance, narrow and specific focus. In Wells's novel, however, we see these same qualities turned into sadism, the distorted delusion of a man who has made himself into a god.

Moreau was banished to his island due to vivisectionist cruelty, driven from London by the combined scandal of a sensationalist pamphlet exposing conditions in his laboratory and 'a wretched dog, flayed and otherwise mutilated, [that] escaped from Moreau's house' (p. 23). Moreau is characterized as the Baconian sort of scientist from The New Atlantis who embraces the domination of the natural world, but Wells ensures that Prendick--and we--regard this version of scientific practice with horror. Prendick complains that there is no 'application' to justify the pain caused by the experiments, but Moreau rejects Prendick's perspective as too 'materialist' (p. 54). He continues:

For it is just this question of pain that parts us. So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick, so long as your own pains drive you, so long as pain underlines your propositions about sin, so long, I tell you, you are an animal, thinking a little less obscurely what an animal feels. (p. 54)

Here we observe in Moreau's attitude what Donna Haraway has referred to as the 'god trick' of scientific discourse, where science is seen as some idealized practice based on 'what escapes human agency and responsibility in a realm above the fray'; (13) this vision of science as disembodied and distant is one that Haraway rejects. It is telling that pain is the issue that divides Prendick from Moreau. Moreau's comments on pain associate him with the vision of the scientist celebrated by Bernard as someone indifferent to the pain of those he experiments upon because he is focused only on the intellectual question at hand. Like Moreau, Bernard took a dispassionate attitude towards his research subjects; in viewing animals as mere machines whose 'cries were no more than the grating of gears in a machine', and in believing that 'it was mawkishly sentimental to place animal pain before the interests of science', (14) he seems to have surpassed even Decartes himself.

Although Bernard and his imitators embraced this vision of science, it did provoke outrage among some of his contemporaries, particularly following the testimony of his student Emmanuel Klein to the Royal Commission in 1875 regarding the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act. Klein told commissioners he used anaesthetic only to protect himself from bites and scratches, and that he did not consider the animal's suffering in his experiments. He went on to compare this to the similar lack of concern demonstrated by a sportsman towards game, which was taken to suggest that perhaps he enjoyed the torture. Lansbury argues that the explosive popular response to this testimony directly lead to critical artistic responses such as The Island of Doctor Moreau. (15) Even more crucial, however, is what the discussion of pain reveals about the disembodied perception of self shared by Moreau and the culture of science in general.

Wells thus anticipates the critique of objectivity offered by feminist critics of science like Haraway and Sandra Harding, who point out that such a construction of objectivity is connected to a series of intellectual moves that separate man from body and nature and posit the scientist as the neutral, unmarked, and unconnected observer--a distorted and limited perspective. Instead of the godlike scientist, Haraway 'insist[s] on the embodied nature of all vision, and so reclaim[s] the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere'. (16) The Island of Doctor Moreau corresponds to Haraway's critique in a number of ways, particularly in its recognition that embodiment or animal being is that which must be denied and repressed by figures such as Moreau in order to continue science in this image. Contemporary feminist and other activists also recognized these links. In addition to vivisectors such as Bernard, Victorian society also gave birth to legislation against animal cruelty, with the SPCA founded in 1824, the Vegetarian Society in 1847, and the antivivisectionist movement during the 1870s. (17) The last was closely connected with the feminist movement of the time, as many women 'saw links between the fate of animals in science and the possible fate of women'. (18) The Victorian antivivisectionist movement was a critique of the culture of science as well as a plea for animal rights, and it quickly became a gendered discourse as 'womanly sentimentality' was contrasted with manly, scientific objectivity and distance. (19) The taming of women and the taming of nature continue to be recognized by feminist critics of science such as Haraway and Harding as interrelated projects that reinforce one another; they argue that scientific practice does not have to continue this heritage of dominating nature. Lynda Birke in Feminism, Animals and Science argues that the domination of nonhuman animals is a feminist concern because 'systems of domination remain intertwined, so to understand human oppressions more fully requires us to consider also how those oppressions are related to nature's domination'. (20)

Moreau's description of those who experience pain as more animal-like and less human also takes on a gendered note in the experimentation on the puma woman, the creature whose pain is most directly described in the novel. When Prendick first hears her screams and thinks them those of an animal, he is overcome by a feeling of sympathy, and is driven from his room so that he is not compelled to hear the pain any more and suffer 'the emotional appeal of those yells' (p. 26). Here Prendick betrays, in Moreau's terms, both his link to animality through his empathy with pain, and also, in contemporary vivisectionist discourse, his link to female sentimentality. (21) When Prendick returns and hears the puma woman cry again, he concludes:

There was no mistake this time in the quality of the dim broken sounds, no doubt at all of this source; for it was groaning, broken by sobs and gasps of anguish. It was no brute this time. It was a human being in torment! (p. 36)

In her study of the nineteenth-century antivivisectionist movement, Coral Lansbury has argued that many women were drawn to this movement as much for the space it allowed them to express their anxieties about the status of women and women's bodies within their culture as for their concern with animal welfare. Many contemporary antivivisectionists compared the fate of the suffering animal to the suffering of women under the hands of surgeons whose practices seemed not so far removed from those of vivisectionists. Activist Elizabeth Blackwell became haunted by 'the image of a woman like a vivisected animal', given her recognition that

increasingly women were being used as subjects for medical research; the only difference between the rich and the poor woman was that the latter could not always expect the solace of chloroform and the comfort of her own home when she was examined or operated upon. (22)

In the diary of another activist, Anna Kingsford, we find the description of a woman dying of consumption in a charity hospital who could not be left to die in peace but instead was continually awakened and prodded by rows of medical students; her gender and poverty required her to provide 'yet another lesson in return for the charity she has received, and as a penalty for being a pauper'. (23)

The vulnerability of such women indicates the consequences of the way science has divided the active investigator from the passive world. The scientist has been constructed on the basis of a myth of objectivity, distance, disembodiment, and separation from the world of nature. The rest of nature--including those reduced to the body, such as women, the lower classes, and non-whites--can be used and exploited as raw material, their agency erased from the official discourse of science. As Victorian antivivisectionists and many feminists have since recognized, the human/animal boundary has significant ethical implications for many humans, given the binaries of Western thought that have allied science with man, culture, mind, whiteness, objectivity, and agency, but relegated women and many others to a category of 'not quite' human if full humanity requires occupying this supposedly unmarked category. (24) Humans who are not male, white, and bourgeois have often been categorized as boundary figures, not quite fully human but nonetheless sufficiently human that they cannot be relegated to an entirely separate category of being. Animals, in contrast, despite many connections to humans (as fellow mammals, fellow primates, etc.) are traditionally viewed as occupying a sufficiently separate category that our many uses of them as resource are not considered abuses or morally significant. Particularly when it comes to the practice of science, however, the degree to which animals as well are problematic boundary figures becomes apparent. They must be sufficiently different from humans for it to be morally defensible to torment them for research and kill them when that research is complete. At the same time, however, they must be sufficiently similar to humans for the research results to be deemed pertinent to human health. The critique of the 'mad' scientist in The Island of Doctor Moreau reveals how early Wells realized these connections among the discourse of science, the human/animal boundary, and the marginalization of women, workers, and non-whites in Western epistemology.

The beast men of The Island of Doctor Moreau have typically been read as revealing the problematic status of the non-white other because of the racialized descriptions that Prendick applies to them when he first sees them. The incident of the puma woman, however, reveals the degree to which gender is also central to the novel's concerns. Not only does her torture remind the reader--particularly the contemporary reader--of the treatment of women by the medical profession, but the description also bears disturbing similarities to aspects of contemporary pornography. Lansbury discusses at length the degree to which imagery drawn from the 'breaking' of horses is present in nineteenth-century pornography in the form of bridles, straps, whips, and other bondage paraphernalia. In such texts,

Women are subdued and held by straps so they can be mounted and flogged more easily, and they always end as grateful victims, trained to enjoy the whip and straps, proud to provide pleasure for their masters. There is an uneasy similarity between the devices made to hold women for sexual pleasure and those tables and chairs, replete with stirrups and straps, which made women ready for the surgeon's knife. (25)

Thus the image of the puma woman 'bound painfully upon a framework, scarred, red, and bandaged' (p. 36) connects Moreau's practices both to the treatment of women by contemporary physicians and to a tradition of sadism in pornography.

Even more revealing is the correspondence between the images of women displayed in contemporary pornography with the marketing of apparatus for vivisection. Lansbury notes that the icon of bound and tortured woman is the staple of nineteenth-century pornography, and further discusses the correspondence between the devices used to bind women, described at length in such pornography, and the apparatus of the vivisector. There are similarities among these tools of pornography, the design of contemporary gynaecological chairs used to hold women and make their bodies accessible to the surgeon, and trade catalogues of vivisectionist apparatus, which were often displayed with 'photographs and drawings of animals fixed to boards with straps and cords, together with an array of scalpels and ovens, vices and saws'. (26) The animals seem in such catalogues to be on display, just as women are displayed in visual pornography. The women in pornographic stories are also often specifically animalized, especially in their expression of suffering: 'throughout her flogging, the woman does not scream: she howls, mews, screeches, and yelps, for the pornographic novelist is careful to limit the amount of human feeling permitted his victim in her suffering'. (27) Lansbury notes that many contemporary antivivisectionist novels chart a progression of scientists who move from experimenting on animals to experimenting upon and often killing their wives. (28) It is worth reminding ourselves here of the specific licence to discount the suffering of others that comes with the 'proper' scientific attitude of dispassionate intellectual pursuit; and, furthermore, of Bacon's belief that it is in exerting power over the other that the scientist/man asserts his full humanity, by putting himself in his proper, 'god like' relationship to nature. The many correspondences between this construction of science and the pornography of sadism suggests how very important is a feminist critique of science, not merely at the level of specific scientific conclusions, but also on the more fundamental level of the structures of scientific practice itself.

Over the course of the novel Prendick goes through a variety of responses to Moreau's activities. Each of these responses--simply the fact of responding at all--excludes Prendick from the category of scientist as articulated by Bacon and Bernard. Prendick is most distressed when he thinks that the animals are humans who have been experimented upon by Moreau, pointing to the importance of the human/animal boundary for constructing a moral line regarding our treatment of the other. The novel, on its surface, appears to reinforce this boundary, for Moreau's experiments fail and the animals devolve back to their animal nature, but a closer examination shows that this boundary is never secure. Prendick, when first rescued and being transported to the island, notices the 'pale green light' with which the attendant's eyes shine, then goes on to add, 'I did not know then that a reddish luminosity, at least, is not uncommon in human eyes. The thing came to me as a stark inhumanity' (p. 12). Later, he comes to feel a kinship with the animal creatures, and he too reverts to more 'primitive' behaviour when left alone on the island after the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery. Christensen points out that in Prendick's first encounter with the beast people outside the compound, it is obedience to the law--the performance of the chant--that makes one a man; before Prendick engages in this symbolic performance, his status is unresolved for the beast men, despite his morphology.

In this and other ways the novel demonstrates how the human/animal boundary is something produced by discourse and ideology--such as the ideology of Baconian science. Derrida has argued that the construction of the human subject is as dependent upon this binary as it is upon the privileging of male over female, suggesting that the metaphysics of human subjectivity should be understood as the logic of 'carno-phallogocentrism', (29) using the practice of eating meat as a metaphor for the many ways in which some subjects are consumed or made into objects as compared with the white, male subject. This is similar to Moreau's sense that he asserts his humanity by being indifferent to pain. The novel, however, reminds us that the gap between humans and animals is not as stable as Moreau would suggest. For example, it is the preparation of meat for human consumption that seems to push the beast men towards reversion, demonstrating once again that the category of 'human' is something that is performed, and that certain behaviours are classified differently--as civilized or as savage--based solely on the status of the one performing them.

The most obvious way in which the novel suggests the commonality of humans and animals against Moreau's scientific separation is through its parallels with Book iv of Gulliver's Travels, the voyage to the Houyhnhnms, which most forcefully makes Swift's argument that man is not a rational animal but rather an animal capable of reason. The voyages begin with both a shipwreck and some 'animal-like' behaviour by humans, with the result that Gulliver and Prendick each finds himself adrift at sea. Unlike Gulliver, however, who cannot recognize his kinship with the Yahoos and returns to England hating mankind and isolating himself with his horses, Prendick is able to see himself in the beast men. After Moreau's death Prendick spends ten months alone with the beast men, a period not chronicled in his narrative and of which he says, 'In the retrospect it is strange to remember how soon I fell in with these monsters' ways and gained my confidence again' (p. 95). Despite calling them 'monsters', he soon realizes that he is not able to return to 'civilization' smoothly. He tells us 'unnatural as it seems, with my return to mankind came, instead of that confidence and sympathy I had expected, a strange enhancement of the uncertainty and dread I had experienced during my stay upon the island' (p. 102). Just as Gulliver is no longer able to see humans as rational creatures after his sojourn with the Houyhnhnms, so Prendick too finds that he cannot 'persuade [himself] that the men and women [he] met were not also another, still passably human, Beast People, animals half-wrought into the outward image of human souls; and that they would presently begin to revert, to show first this bestial mark and then that' (p. 102). Unlike Gulliver, Prendick does not classify himself apart from the rest of humanity, but rather sees himself as an animal as well.

Prendick hopes to nurture 'whatever is more than animal within' (p. 104) during the remainder of his life. From one point of view, the conclusion thus seems to reinforce the human/animal boundary. However, the critique of the Baconian model of scientist evident in earlier sections of the novel opens a space for thinking of the differences between humans and animals in less damaging ways, to founding a definition of humanity on something other than the domination of nature. The empathy Prendick felt for the puma woman suggests that this model might be something consistent with the feminist embrace of the other, and the recognition that speciesism has much in common with sexism, racism, and similar structures of discrimination. Derrida suggests that we can think about the 'eating' of the other not in terms of carnophallogocentrism, but rather as something that emerges from 'respect for the other at the very moment when [...] one must begin to identity with the other, who is to be assimilated, interiorized, understood ideally'. (30) This sort of knowledge and understanding, this relationship across species difference is markedly different from the sort of scientific knowledge championed by Bacon and exemplified by Moreau's advice to Prendick to resist empathy via intellectual detachment--a sense that 'The thing before you is no longer an animal, a fellow-creature, but a problem. Sympathetic pain--all I know of it I remember as a thing I used to suffer from years ago' (p. 56).

Focusing on the animals in The Island of Doctor Moreau thus enables us to see the centrality of the category of the animal to our conceptions of human subjectivity, and the relationship between this concept of the human and the practice of science. As I suggested at the beginning of my article, this question never seemed more pertinent that in this current age of genetic science. Wells was equally concerned with connecting his moral discourse with contemporary science. The very end of the novel, following the 'signature' of Prendick as the author of the preceding narrative, contains an editor's note that states: 'Strange as it may seem to the unscientific reader, there can be no denying that, whatever amount of credibility attaches to the detail of this story, the manufacture of monsters--and perhaps even quasi-human monsters--is within the possibilities of vivisection' (p. 104).

While the manufacture of quasi-human monsters might now (though not then) strike us as ludicrously beyond the reach of Victorian vivisection, it is a threat that appears in our own science news. I shall mention briefly just one example of this, a study by Phillip Karpowicz, Cynthia Cohen, and Derek van der Kooy (31) about the ethical implications of the creation of human/non-human chimeras through the transplantation of adult human neural stem cells into prenatal mice in order to study the development of human neural cells without the use of human embryos. This particular experiment raised much more public concern than other work in xenotransplantation, potentially because we associate the brain or mind with what it means to be human more than we do any other part of the human body. In their review of arguments for and against this research, the authors note that the fears expressed about it were linked to questions regarding where these human/nonhuman chimeras would fall on our moral mapping, whether the human neural cells would take over the hosts resulting in mice with human brains or mice that thought like humans. They argue that such fears are based on a misunderstanding of the science involved, as the 'overall architecture of the animals' brains would not be affected by the presence of these cells' because the neurological 'organization would be governed by the host animal'. (32) What interests me here is why such fears about human/nonhuman hybrids are so strong, as they point to the extent to which the human/animal boundary is foundational to ethics, not simply the ethics of experimental research, but also overall ethical definitions regarding who does or does not count as a subject. (33) As Kate Soper points out, the category of the animal has been a shifting one and 'Western culture has at various points in its development deemed "inhuman" or less than properly human [...] barbarians (those who do not speak one's own language), slaves, negroes, women, Indians, savages, "wild" or "wonder" men, witches, sorcerers, dwarfs, and idiots'. (34) We may be at a moment in which certain animal species are about to join these ranks as newly qualified subjects, a shift in perspective that, if accepted, will be as much a challenge to twenty-first-century thought as Darwinism was to nineteenth. (35)

I shall conclude by considering briefly David Brin's more recent fiction--the Uplift series (1980-98) (36)--about genetically changing animal species. What interests me about Brin's work is the world that he develops as the background for imagining human/animal relations in the future. Humans have been incorporated into a Galactic society that is based on a strict hierarchy between patrons and clients, and, among various species of patrons, based on length of time since they have achieved spacefaring capacity. It is an axiom that sentience cannot be achieved by evolution but only through genetic manipulation by an already sentient race--uplift--in return for which the newly sentient species owes 100,000 years of servitude to their patrons. Patron species are charged with ensuring the proper moral development of the client species, especially around issues related to preservation of the environment and respect for species that may evolve to the point of presentience. Humans are an anomaly in this universe, a 'wolfing' species who claim to have uplifted themselves. The only reason humans have any status is because they had already uplifted chimpanzee and dolphin clients, and the status this gives them as patrons prevents them from being forcibly 'adopted' by another sentient species or else wiped out, a penalty enacted in this universe for those who refuse to respect strict environmental laws.

Brin felt that the morality tales about the abuse of non-humans by humans had done their job, and thus it would be unlikely that humans would abuse newly sapient species. Many of his Galactic species, however, do abuse their client races, creating them to specialize in various sorts of labour. (37) On the surface, Brin does design a universe in which humans, chimpanzees, and dolphins cooperate with one another as equals, but the novels are still characterized by two persistent tendencies that, I believe, betray a greater allegiance to the human/animal boundary than is found in Wells's novel. The first is the tendency for humans to be the central heroes of all the narratives, a quality that is mocked as human hubris in the novels, but characterizes their tone nonetheless. Near the end of the final novel, Heaven's Reach, a human character is warned that 'one of the great mentational dangers of sapient life is egotism--the tendency to see all events in the context of one's own self or species. It is natural that you perceive the whole universe as revolving around the troubles of your former clan, little and insignificant as it is'. The passage continues, perhaps with intentional irony, 'Now, I admit recent events may appear to support that supposition', (38) a statement that might be taken as a capsule summary of the entire series.

One of the chief ways in which this human centrality or superiority is evoked in the novels is through the idea of devolution. Most of the dolphin crew eventually fall back into primitive, 'animal' behaviour because of the stress of their situation; the chimpanzee characters similarly have moments of 'throwback' behaviour, although on the whole they do better than the dolphins, and, when they are praised, it is for this tendency to be 'men' rather than chimps. Even the alien characters aspire to devolution or a return to presapience as a spiritual Path of Redemption. Only humans are uniquely unsuited to this Path: 'No matter how hard we try, we'll never tread its road to innocence. [...] We're meant for the stars. We simply don't belong here.' (39) In contrast, all but a few dolphin crew members devolve, leading one character to comment, 'confronted by a frolicking mob of his own kind--former members of an elite starship crew, now screeching like animals--Kaa knew it shouldn't take fins long to achieve "redemption"'. (40) This sense that humans have a more god-like status, that they are more 'rightly' sentient than other species is the same dull hubris that has resulted in the extinction of many species--a model of science as domination, and many other things that Brin overtly critiques but to which he betrays a continued allegiance in the speciesist assumptions that persist in his work.

The attitude that 'real humans' in the novel have some sort of invisible essence that makes them less susceptible to devolution is the same sort of rhetoric that has been used to exclude the other 'animalized' subjects I mentioned above: women, workers, non-whites, barbarians, etc. This discourse is closely connected with a Baconian model of science as the domination of nature and the necessary separation of 'man' or sentience from all that is associated with nature, particularly the body. Recent feminist and other critiques of the philosophical treatment of the body have much in common with animals studies' critiques of philosophical treatments of the category 'animal'. David McNally's work on materialist, embodied linguistics also makes clear that these distinctions have important class implications. McNally links his critique to the production of the bourgeois body and the abstract quality of postmodern thought that began with capitalism's separation of manual and intellectual labour:

The ruling conceptual paradigm thus reproduces the opposition between abstract and concrete labor in the form of a radical opposition between head and hand, mind and body. [...] For most bourgeois thought, this class opposition is configured as one between nature and culture. Nature is posited as the strictly determined realm of matter, animals, bodies, women, the colonized, and proletarians. Culture on the other hand, is figured as the domain of mind and language, of the autonomous, self-creating bourgeois male. (41)

Within both Brin's and Wells's fiction the animalized subjects--or sentient animals--are often exploited as 'free' labour. Thus we see the degree to which class divisions as well as gender and race ones are constructed through the category of the animal.

Although the relations among species are more equitable in the world that Brin imagines than in the one presented by Wells, the two authors' quite different relationships to the discourse of speciesism demonstrates that Brin's vision is far more conservative and damaging. The anxiety about devolution in both novels demonstrates, to paraphrase de Beauvoir, that one is not born a human but becomes one. Although the characters in Wells's novel appear to believe in the certainty of the human/animal boundary as an ontological category, we have already seen how moments in the novel's narrative, such as Prendick's need to perform the chant to be recognized as human, suggest instead a more nuanced understanding of the categories of human and animal. Brin, in contrast, appears on one level to be suggesting more directly the idea of a continuum through the motif of uplift. At the same time, however, the fact that only the non-human animals appear to devolve in stressful circumstances implies that, despite this continuum, on some level the world Brin imagines retains a sharp and ontological division between 'real' humans, who are able to maintain their sentience no matter the circumstances, and 'almost' human animals, who can easily lose their human status. As I have already argued, the status of 'human' is something that many Homo sapiens risk losing in specific configurations, which is why the question of the human/animal boundary is of ethical import not merely for the sake of the welfare of animals and not only in the context of animal experimentation and human/animal chimeras. Rather, this boundary is foundational for ethics in total.

Giorgio Agamben's recent work on ethics in Homo sacer and The Open also places the analysis of biopower at the centre of ethical and political theory for the twenty-first century, and argues that the centrality of biopolitics is inextricably connected to the boundary constructed between the human and the animal. 'In our culture,' Agamben contends, 'the decisive political conflict, which governs every other conflict, is that between the animality and the humanity of man.' (42) This argument builds on Agamben's critique in Homo sacer of the separation of biological life from the political life of the citizen as the foundation of Western forms of power. Agamben begins with two ways of thinking about life in the Greek language: zoe, which expressed the simple fact of living common to all living beings; and bios, which indicated the form or way of living proper to an individual or group. (43) This gap between 'bare life', or zoe, and bios, or proper life of the citizen, is, according to Agamben, the most important ethical and political boundary in Western thought. He argues that concentration camps enable us to see the undistorted operation of the biopower as the foundation of Western political life, as it is here that we see enacted most fully and materially the full separation from the bare life of Homo sapiens from their life/status as humans. Thus, Agamben suggests, instead of asking how such atrocities could be committed against human beings, we should instead 'investigate carefully the juridical procedures and deployments of power by which human beings could be so completely deprived of their rights and prerogatives that no act committed against them could appear any longer as a crime'. (44)

In his later work, The Open, Agamben more directly connects this question to the human/animal boundary and how it is has functioned through Western history to separate human being from some Homo sapiens through the separation of our humanity (bios, the 'proper' life) from our animality (zoe, 'bare' life). This separation, he argues, this concept of what it means to be human enables our political systems to operate based on a biopower that tends toward totalitarianism. Agamben's critique of biopower can be connected to the foundation of science as a discipline, a foundation that also required the separation of man from nature and a disavowal of the animal side of 'scientist' or human identity. Just as biopower separates the animal part of life from the 'proper life' of man, Sprat's History of the Royal Society, published in 1667, insisted that 'the actions of the Society's members represent a throwing off of the chains that tie humanity to the baser parts of creation, the baser parts of creation here including some humans themselves'. (45) Agamben argues that the way to a less damaging political system must begin with rethinking the very notion of what it means to be human--particularly the degree to which what it means to be human is articulated through opposition to the animal. He writes:

To render inoperative the machine that governs our conception of man will therefore mean no longer to seek new--more effective or more authentic--articulations, but rather to show the central emptiness, the hiatus that--within man--separates man and animal, and to risk ourselves in this emptiness. (46)

Looking at Agamben's ideas in the context of the contrast between Wells and Brin suggest that new concepts of science, as well as new concepts of human being, would emerge from such a shift.

The second revealing and recurrent motifs in the Uplift novels are many small but irritating moments of sexism, which returns us to the close connections between science, vivisection, and the status of women in Western culture. Brin's attitude towards the history of gender difference is not particularly thoughtful or reflective, as signalled by his insistence that in his invented language of Anglic 'the words "man", "men", and "mankind" apply to humans without reference to gender'. (47) In addition, once the male protagonist, Tom, is gone, and Gillian, his female second-in-command (and sexual partner), takes over the starship, she has more trouble coping. The human and dolphin crew are trying to escape a fleet of alien ships determined on destroying them in order to preserve an archaeological secret. The dolphins, as discussed above, tend to devolve, and thus only humans can be in command. Furthermore, the male human seems more 'naturally' suited to this command. At one point--granted, after dealing with thirty-six hours of disasters under her new command--Gillian finds herself ignoring a message light (the information is important and it would have helped them had she known it sooner), reflecting, 'Tom wouldn't approve, I guess. But a fem has only so much strength, and I've got to take a nap.' (48) Another example is the relationship that develops between Dennie, a female scientist, and the younger Toshio, a rookie soldier. Initially he is attracted to her, but she is not interested. However, once they are stranded away from the ship, she begins to notice his growing 'maturity' as he makes the command decisions crucial to keeping them alive. At one point she realizes she is asking him questions that merely interrupt his work and asks herself, 'Why am I pestering him like this? ... Sure, the stuff 's important, but it's all intellectual, and Toshio's got our corner of the world on his shoulders. He's so young, yet he's carrying a fighting man's load now.' She eventually recognizes her sexual attraction to Toshio and concludes, 'I'm pestering him because I want attention. I want his attention.' (49) Finally, The Uplift War ends with its two main male characters, Robert and Figan, each happily involved in a threesome with two women, each of whom satisfy different aspects of the male's personality, without reference to how satisfying the women find this 'sharing' relationship or any acknowledgement that they too might have needs not met by a single man.

The sexism of the Uplift novels is not incidental but, rather, is deeply connected to their representation of the human/animal boundary. As I have already argued, although Brin represents his novels as offering a more equitable embrace of our relationship to animals and nature, the novels themselves do little to support his explicit political allegiances. The postscript to The Uplift War insists that 'there is one more reason to protect other species. One seldom if ever mentioned. Perhaps we are the first to talk and think and build and aspire, but we may not be the last. Others may follow us in this adventure'. (50) Although this postscript implies that Brin is open to the notion of animal sentience, his fiction reveals that he is blind to the structures of the human/animal boundary as a philosophical discourse that continues to justify our exploitation of animals and often of other humans as well. Considered in the context of the feminist critique of science and animal studies, it seems that this quality of Brin's work is actually connected to the larger ways in which the Uplift books do not challenge the human/animal boundary. Thus the novels' sexism is indicative of larger problems in their vision of what the future of human and non-human interactions might be like if we were ever to share our planet with other sentient species as partners. Despite an overt commitment to the possibility that 'it may happen that some of our fellow mammals will one day be our partners', (51) assumptions about gender and animal nature persist in these novels and position them much closer to the concept of humanity found in Bacon's The New Atlantis than in The Island of Doctor Moreau.

The discourse of animal studies thus enables us to comprehend more fully the critique of science offered by The Island of Doctor Moreau, and to understand this critique as something that is foundational to how we have produced science in the Western world. It is not simply a matter of how science is conducted or what ideologically inflected conclusions it might support while denying its own status as ideology. Instead, the image of the 'mad' scientist in The Island of Doctor Moreau points to enduring problems in how science has been conceived through the separation of man from nature, connected with 'how the development of western science and technology has gone hand in hand with the domination and expropriation of nature'. (52) This domination of nature has included the domination of non-human animals, a topic of considerable concern for feminists. Thus the critique of science and of vivisection in The Island of Doctor Moreau reminds us that we must analyse cruelty towards animals in some scientific practices not as moments of individual depravity, but instead as a product of 'the location of science in the world of late twentieth century industrialized capitalism'. (53) The subtle and lasting influence of the human/animal boundary, even in the work of someone like Brin, who believes himself to be overtly committed to breaking down this barrier, is one more reason to use animal studies to help us see our definition of the human in new ways.

(1) H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau (New York: Dover Publications, 1996). All references will be to this edition.

(2) David Brin, 'Afterword', in Heaven's Reach (New York: Bantam, 1998), p. 537.

(3) Timothy Christensen argues that the sense of the uncanny that Prendick (the story's narrator) keeps perceiving when he looks at beast people, of some feature 'in' the bodies that sets them apart but cannot be described, is akin to the 'mythical' difference of race in works by Edward Tylor and Frances Galton: see 'The "Bestial Mark" of Race in The Island of Dr. Moreau', Criticism, 46.4 (2004), 575-95. Elana Gomel has argued that Moreau's desire to 'burn out all the animal' (Wells, p. 59) and create perfect beings is connected with a fascist aesthetic and racial purifying strategies; she sees a link between the New Man ideologies, which lead to the rise of fascism, and the discourse of fin-de-siecle biology: see 'From Dr. Moreau to Dr. Mengele: The Biological Sublime', Poetics Today, 21.2 (2000), 393-421.

(4) Published by his literary executor the year after Bacon died.

(5) Erica Fudge, Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (London: Macmillan, 2000), p. 109.

(6) Erica Fudge, 'Calling Creatures by their True Names: Bacon, the New Science and the Beast in Man', in At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period (London: Macmillan, 1999), pp. 91-109 (p. 94).

(7) Fudge, 'Calling Creatures by their True Names', p. 92.

(8) Fudge, 'Calling Creatures by their True Names', p. 95.

(9) Wells, p. 43. (Page numbers for further references will appear in the text.)

(10) Fudge, 'Calling Creatures by their True Names', p. 96.

(11) Rod Preece, Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999), pp. 139, 140.

(12) Quoted in Coral Lansbury, The Old Brown Dog:Women,Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), p. 157.

(13) Donna J. Haraway, 'Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective', in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 184-202 (p. 196).

(14) Lansbury, p. 155.

(15) Lansbury, p. 130

(16) Haraway, p. 188. See also Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1986).

(17) Preece, pp. 144-45

(18) Lynda Birke, Feminism, Animals and Science: The Naming of the Shrew (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1994), p. 27. Lansbury points out that part of the opposition to vivisection also came from the working class, who feared that they could suffer the same fate at the hands of scientists and surgeons (p. 58).

(19) Birke argues that this created, and continues to create, problems for women who want to claim that they can do science like a man. A limitation of Victorian antivivisectionist rhetoric is that it sometimes used language of essentialism and women's 'natural' capacity for kindness. Birke's analysis reveals how cultures in laboratories and in antivivisection movements in the twentieth century continue to produce the gendered stereotype that men are more likely to be 'objective' (or brutal, depending on one's viewpoint) and women more likely to be sentimental (or empathetic). She notes how conventions of laboratory training and standards for scientific writing work to prevent the animal from appearing as a suffering creature or even particularly as a living being, and she also points out the influence of the social division of labour, which means that technicians rather than scientists spend more time caring for the animals as individuals. Under conditions of patriarchy and racism, technicians are more likely to be female and/or non-white than are scientists.

(20) Birke, p. 134. For a detailed argument regarding parallels between misogyny and the exploitation of animals see Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York: Continuum, 1990).

(21) That the suffering animal is being made into a woman and that she is a feline may also be pertinent. Elizabeth Lawrence demonstrates that it is typical in Western culture to associate cats with women and dogs with men: see 'Feline Fortunes: Contrasting Views of Cats in Popular Culture', Journal of Popular Culture, 36.3 (2003), 623-35. She argues that the greater abuse to which cats have been subject in human history is related to this gender difference.

(22) Lansbury, p. 90.

(23) Quoted in Lansbury, p. 85.

(24) For a more extensive critique of liberal humanist subjectivity, particularly its emergence from a discourse about self and property, see Sherryl Vint, Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

(25) Lansbury, p. 99.

(26) Lansbury, p. 124.

(27) Lansbury, p. 125. Carol Adams in The Sexual Politics of Meat also notes a connection between the display of animal bodies--in this case, in images about the consumption of meat--and the display of women in pornography. Her book provides a feminist analysis of the animalizing of women and the sexualizing of animals for consumption that also suggests many important connections between the discourses of animal studies and feminism.

(28) Lansbury, p. 143.

(29) Jacques Derrida, '"Eating Well," or the Calculation of the Subject: An Interview with Jacques Derrida', in Who Comes After the Subject?, ed. by Educardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 96-119 (p. 113).

(30) Derrrida, p. 115.

(31) 'Developing Human-Nonhuman Chimeras in Human Stem Cell Research: Ethical Issues and Boundaries', Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 15.2 (2005), pp. 107-34.

(32) Karpowicz and others, p. 124.

(33) For a more detailed discussion of the human/animal boundary as foundation of Western metaphysics see Giorgio Agamben, Homo sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); and The Open: Man and Animal (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). See also Derrida, '"Eating Well"'. For a more detailed discussion of how such concepts might be useful for understanding SF see Sherryl Vint, 'Becoming Other: Animals, Kinship and Butler's Clay's Ark', Science Fiction Studies, 32.2 (2005), 281-300.

(34) Kate Soper, What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p. 74.

(35) For an overview of various efforts to assert human civil rights for certain animal species see Joan Dunayer, Speciesism (Derwood, MD: Ryce, 2004).

(36) Sundiver (1980), Startide Rising (1983), The Uplift War (1987), Brightness Reef (1995), Infinity's Shore (1996), and Heaven's Reach (1998) (all published New York: Bantam).

(37) It is suggested that the beast men in The Island of Doctor Moreau are a labour force designed specifically to replace the 'lost' Kanakas natives (p. 57).

(38) Brin, Heaven's Reach, p. 237.

(39) Brin, Infinity's Shore, p. 310 (italics in original).

(40) Brin, Infinity's Shore, p. 546.

(41) David McNally, Bodies of Meaning: Studies on Language, Labor and Liberation (New York: SUNY Press, 2001), p. 6.

(42) Agamben, The Open, p. 80.

(43) Agamben, Homo sacer, p. 1.

(44) Agamben, Homo sacer, p. 171.

(45) Fudge, 'Calling Creatures by their True Names', p. 96.

(46) Agamben, The Open, p. 92.

(47) Brin, Startide Rising, p. 459.

(48) Brin, Startide Rising, p. 326 (italics in original).

(49) Brin, Startide Rising, p. 356 (italics in original).

(50) Brin, The Uplift War, p. 637.

(51) Brin, Startide Rising, p. 459.

(52) Birke, p. 134.

(53) Birke p. 135.


Brock University, St. Catherines
COPYRIGHT 2007 Modern Humanities Research Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Vint, Sherryl
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Previous Article:Constructing America's enemies: the invasions of the USA.
Next Article:Biotic invasions: ecological imperialism in new wave science fiction.

Related Articles
The beast within.
Tantor Media.
Tales from the Thebaide; reflections of a turtleman.
Guest editor's preface.
The Mark of the beast; animality and human oppression.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters