Review: Amit Marcus, “The Ethics of Human Cloning in Narrative Fiction”


Marcus, A. (2012) The ethics of human cloning in narrative fiction. Comparative Literature Studies,49-3, p. 405-433.

I decided to focus on cloning as (1) a subject I’m due to read more on and (2) a major theme in one of the short stories read within the Le Guin repertoire. Amit Marcus’s “The Ethics of Human Cloning in Narrative Fiction” provided me with a solid survey of the theoretical assumptions surrounding the academic discourse on cloning in narrative fiction. Intended for a more general audience within the field of comparative literature, Marcus primes the readers on the relevance of science fiction as a social-hyperbolic mirror of sorts, before engaging a number of texts as emblematic of the tropes he then presents. But first, he holds the reader’s hand while explaining the real-world differences between cloning in narrative fiction, and cloning in actuality.

Marcus first explores the social fear of and therein the prominence of “cloning without consent” by analyzing a few major texts, namely Lambrich’s A Ton Image, in which the wife of the main character is cloned without her consent for myriad of reasons. In this discussion, Marcus illuminates the major tropes of this specific genre of cloning fiction, specifically that of the general, social “fear of scientific advancement,” as well as the disruptive implications cloning within a family might have on the family as a construct.

The article goes on to its only other substantial section on “cloning and the craving for immortality” wherein Marcus explores the themes that arise in a variety of stories. The first philosophical assumption about the motivations for immortality is the obvious setting of an egomaniacal “mad scientist,” but Marcus digs further into this theme within a few novels and determines that this motivation can account for other lacks in a character’s life: One could want to “live on” (so to speak) in order to realize one’s perfect potential as a being, or one could want to “live on” in order to amend past transgressions, in a veritable situation of materialist absolution, if you will. It is at this point that Marcus veers dangerously close to his earlier critiqued colleagues’ theories that many fears and problems that could arise in cloning are almost equally as relevant in natural biological reproduction. Marcus makes no note of this.

He closes the article by again stating his motivation: to convince bioethicists to pay attention to themes present in speculative/science fiction. He claims that these stories are important not only as a vehicle to make aware the collective consciousness on the subconscious fears of cloning, but also as potential warning narratives for bioethicists to take into account within the discourse of cloning altogether.

While this article pointed me in the direction of a number of books that sound great, the argument was largely ineffective, and the piece seemed more like a conduit for this scholar’s musings on the themes he recognized in various fictional narratives.

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