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kgbrown's picture

Biology, Gender, and Literature

In his lecture on Tuesday, Paul Grobstein explained that science, in this case biology, is not about facts and truths, but instead is a story used to understand observations. While reading the first book of Eugenides Middlesex, I was thinking about the similarities and differences between literature and science, if, as Grobstein said, science is, like literature a story. What I discovered (though, as Grobstein said, "We never know anything for certain.") was that while biology may tell a story, it seems to be a depersonalized version. Biology is about individuals, but only as far as they are subjects to be studied. Literature, on the other hand, focuses on the individual people and what actually happens to them, not on diagrams that represent individuals and their "environment." This point is even seen in the narration of Middlesex. When Cal explains the biology behind the mutation on his fifth chromosome, it becomes about heredity and genetics. But when he describes how it affected his life or how his grandparents' decisions brought this mutation into being, it is about people; it becomes literature. I think that there is something to be said for the difference between these two stories and, in the case of Middlesex, these two different types of stories seem to compliment each other: the biological explanation highlights the literaryness of the novel. An example of this is when Cal explains the biology of his genetic mutation and then uses this as a platform to explain how the mutation has affected his life as a person: "I'm not androgynous in the least. 5-alpha-redustase deficiency syndrome allows for noral biosynthesis and peripheral action of testosterone, in utero, neonatally, and at puberty. In other words, I operate in society as a man. I use the men's room. Never the urinals, always the stalls" (Eugenides 41). Though I do find the biology and the literature to be complimentary, I do wonder whether the use of biology (which I have already stated I find impersonal) discredits the notion that gender is something that people can choose.


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