“We trade the essence of ourselves.”

October 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

In 1953 Watson and Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. The role of DNA in inheritance had been discovered over a long period of theorizing about what is passed along in inheritance. Since then DNA has been studied, the human genome mapped, and possibilities of altering DNA have been utilized. How we understand our DNA as it relates to our identities and what makes us who we are has evolved and been viewed in a variety of different ways.

In Dawn by Octavia Butler, a particular understanding of DNA is key for the story. As Jdahya explains to Lilith what it is the Oankali want with the humans, he describes DNA as “the essence of ourselves.” DNA is understood as crucially making up what makes us, us and what makes the Oankali themselves, and perhaps even more so. The behavior of the humans is analyzed with regards to their genes, explained through the existence of certain elements of their DNA seen by the ooloi. In this way, DNA might be understood in this novel to be analogous to how the soul is often understood.

Further on in the novel, Lilith is talking with Nikanj, who brings up altering Lilith’s brain chemically. It provides another example of viewing the significance of chemical, physical makeup of the body as before. Lilith is at first very against having Nikanj affect her in that way, she explains that “no part of me is more definitive of who I am than my brain.” Lilith provides another understanding of essence, one which Nikanj does not share and responds “who you are won’t be changed.” While both of these views are centered on the physical composition of the body as making up essence, they are slightly different and significant as such.

Peter Bryant – make up blog post


§ 2 Responses to “We trade the essence of ourselves.”

  • defabrsa says:

    I loved the structure of this entry, first presenting a concept relevant to all science fiction and then relating it to a wealth of material. As a firm believer in “we need to do something now before we REALLY screw up our earth”, I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties that the cli-fi genre encompasses.
    Whether we are fighting the problem before it’s too late, or just trying to survive in a post-climapocalyptic hell(snow?)scape, there is always a sense that “it’s already too late.” I think the instilment of fear within the genre may be a commentary on our present situation. It’s quite possible that cli-fi authors have resigned to the fact that we have gone past the point of no return. Their works sometimes feel less precautionary and more prophetic, an even scarier thought than the futures they confront us with.
    Of course, I tend to range on the optimistic side; I don’t plan on eating babies and I trust in our power to fix the mess we’ve made. But who know, maybe I’m just a dreamer too.


    P.S. Thank you for the movie recommendation, I look forward to wincing my way through it.


  • defabrsa says:

    Damn it, this was supposed to go on the entry below. Sorry about that.



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