The Management of Animal Life in Margaret Atwood’s Dystopian Fiction

Abstract:

Drawing on animal studies and biopolitical theory, in this paper I argue that transgenic animals play a crucial role in Margaret Atwood’s novel of speculative-fiction, Oryx and Crake (2003). Although Atwood critics have emphasized the representation of human genetic engineering in the novel, little attention has been given to the various genetically engineered animals that populate the narrative. In this paper, I explore the stakes of altering life and demonstrate that in Oryx and Crake, a shift in the perception of animal life translates understandings of life itself.

My readings of the novel will focus on Atwood’s representations of transgenic animals—as food, as companion species, and as predators. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate that the catastrophic events that occur in the novel result from global networks of capitalist exploitation of both human and nonhuman bodies. In Atwood’s dystopian vision of unregulated biotechnological experimentation, we see the heavy debt humans are accruing in their use and misuse of animal bodies and tissues.

The society portrayed in Oryx and Crake troubles definitions of humanity, animality, and definitions of organic life. Putting Donna Haraway into conversation with the biopolitical theories of Foucault and Agamben allows me to argue that biopolitical theory needs to take animal life into its account of how bodies are disciplined and managed in the service of global capitalism.

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