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Reading in the Post-Genomic Age

Date and Time: 
Thursday, March 3, 2016. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center Board Room
Workshop: 
Interdisciplinary Working Group in Critical Theory
Meeting Description: 
Speaker:
Lesley Larkin is Associate Professor of English at Northern Michigan University. Her 2015 book, Race and the Literary Encounter: Black Literature from James Weldon Johnson to Percival Everett (Indiana University Press), outlines the strategies developed by modern and contemporary black writers to theorize and intervene in dominant modes of reading race. She is currently working on a study of contemporary U.S. and Canadian narratives that engage postgenomic discourse, with special attention to ethical questions that overlap the fields of science, medicine, and literature.
 
The respondent, Rebecca Wilbanks, is a PhD Candidate in Modern Thought & Literature.

The Human Genome Project officially completed its task of mapping a human genome in 2003, ushering in a “postgenomic age” characterized by the rapid development of technologies for genome sequencing and analysis, a progressively complex understanding of how genes work, the commodification of genome sequencing for medical consumers, and the popular entrenchment of genetic determinisms.  The rise of genomics, coincident with the rise of biomedicine, has the potential both to challenge and to abet disciplinary regimes of biopower. This presentation will focus on the postgenomic turn as an occasion for rethinking the ethical stakes of reading, especially as they pertain to changing racial formations. This focus is prompted by the literary metaphors used in molecular genetics, by ethical questions that overlap literature and medicine, and by contemporary literary works that engage genomics formally, thematically, theoretically, and performatively. Building on Larkin’s previous research into how African American writers engage reading as a racializing practice, this presentation asks: What is ethical reading in the postgenomic age? And how do contemporary writers train readers in dominant or contrapuntal ways of reading postgenomic discourses of race and power? (Writers to be addressed may include Rebecca Skloot, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Richard Powers, Alina Troyano, Margaret Atwood, and Ruth Ozeki.)

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