Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview

ten
New Reproductive
Technologies as
Dystopia

DAVID N. JAMES

Beginning as early as Plato, utopian literature has concerned itself with attempts to reconstruct and control human reproduction. But to many twentieth-century writers, the negative consequences of new reproductive technology far outweigh its advantages. Two of the most important twentieth-century literary dystopias in which the dangers of new reproductive technology are addressed are Aldous Huxley Brave New World and Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale. These novels are situated within the historical context of utopian writing that began with Plato because, as Krishan Kumar, one of the most important contemporary scholars of utopias and dystopias, has argued, the histories of utopian and dystopian thinking are closely intertwined. So I will treat two contemporary dystopias, Margaret Atwood's account of coercive surrogate motherhood and Marge Piercy Woman on the Edge of Time, as responses to earlier utopias including Aldous Huxley's account of biotechnology and the eugenics-inspired works of H. G. Wells and the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane. Viewing dystopian warnings as responses to utopian hopes reveals both the continuity and the evolution of thought about the social effects of reproductive technology.

The story of utopian reproductive reordering can be traced, as can the story of utopia, beginning with Plato "Republic". Plato's ideal city is like a

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