‘iBook, Therefore I am’ – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

‘iBook, Therefore I am’

Fisher Center Lecture Explores Texts and Technology “I thought that maybe there should be question mark after the title on all of the fliers for my lecture around campus simply because of how complex and subtle the dynamics are that I’m presenting tonight,” explained Fisher Center Pre-doctoral Fellow Cynthia Current in the introduction to her lecture Making Memory: Fingerprinting to Genomics, Literature to Bioculture, the fourth Spring 2008 Fisher Center lecture. Open-ended and question-filled as it might be, how memory, race and gender are created anew in “biocultures,” or minglings of science, technology and literature, was at the center of Current’s discussion. “In the wake of Darwinism and the prevalence of science afterward, the scientific perspective has been present in literature and many other areas of other culture,” explained Current. “According to L. J. Davis and David Morris’ ‘Bioculture Manifesto,’ it’s difficult for us to think of science without its literary and many other contexts.” Citing the work of Davis and Morris, University of California Professor and Chair of the Consciousness Program Donna Haraway and German Egyptologist Aleida Assmann, Current used two novels, Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson” and Octavia Butler’s “Dawn,” as the basis for exploring the intricate interrelationship between science, technology and literature. “In Twain’s novel, the use of fingerprinting is at the center of the plot. For Twain, fingerprinting provides an objectivity,” Current said. “The individuality of fingerprints allows Wilson—a lawyer and fingerprinting hobbyist—to solve the murder. Wilson uses his archive of the town’s fingerprints to undermine the visual untrustworthiness of “Tom’s” skin, that appears white despite the fact that he is actually Chambers, a 1/32 black slave. Technology therefore calls to light his black identity and leads to him being jailed and sold as a slave to settle the debt of killing the real Tom’s uncle.” “Throughout “Tom’s” murder trial, fingerprinting is used as evidence of guilt but also as evidence of race. All of this allows culture and technology (fingerprinting) to organize race and gender,” Current said. “In Butler’s novel, the character Lilith and a number of other humans are abducted by a ‘gene-trader’ alien species called the Oankali after Earth is destroyed by war between humans,” explained Current. “Written 100 years after ‘Pudd’nhead Wilson,’ Butler’s ‘Dawn’ also presents a hypermediacy of technology, biology and bodies. Butler’s Oankali are subsumed in the biological, everything from their ship to their portraits are made of living, biological matter.” “Through their organic archiving of those they abduct, Butler presents an admixture of memory, biology and technology are one inseparable confluence. It’s only by using these living portraits that the Oankali are able to overcome their genetic inadaptability.” “Both Butler and Twain have a clear dynamism in their novels between what we can’t forget, realized and organized memory and reconstituted memory.” Closing her lecture with insightful conclusions like these, Current was applauded not just by an audience, but a room full of admiring colleagues and students. “The lecture tonight was a real showcase of Cindy’s genius on a topic she’s clearly passionate about,” said Center for Teaching and Learning Jumpstart Geneva Site Manager Paul McNeil ’05 after the lecture. “Cindy has done a truly great job this year as the Fisher Center’s fellow,” Alysa Austin ’08 said. “She’s a truly incredible professor and scholar.” Current is completing a Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a certificate in Women’s Studies from Duke University. Her dissertation, “Fingerprinting to Genomics: Technologies of Race and Gender in American Literature,” explores the implications of technology on identity formation in American literature from 1880 to 1910. A concluding chapter draws such concerns into recent debates on human genomics. She has a forthcoming essay, “Innovation and Stasis: Technology and Race in Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson,” and served as a co-editor of The North Carolina Roots of African American Literature: an Anthology of Nineteenth-Century African American Writing.

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