Someone left the cake out in the rain

by Yule Heibel on February 12, 2004

I went to a seminar at UVic’s recently established Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture (PACTAC) this afternoon to hear William Leiss speak on the Cultural Politics of Bio-Genetics. The afternoon before I had listened to an early-release report on NPR about the Korean scientists who had successfully cloned a human blastocyst, a news item Leiss also discussed at length as biogenetics provided the frame for his discussion. Leiss’s discussion took the long historical view: he began with Francis Bacon, in Leiss’s view the early 17th century initiator of the modernist project in science. The underlying gist of this project is Naturbeherrschung — Leiss used the English translation: “the domination of nature” — but as he advised at the outset of his talk, he is a Hegelian and familiar with Frankfurt School thinking, and Naturbeherrschung in any translation is a signature word from Adorno & Horkheimer’s Dialektik der Aufkl


maria February 13, 2004 at 8:38 pm

Oh my gosh … here I go gushing. Bill Leiss was department chairman in Communications Studies at SFU when I was there, finishing my thesis. I did not study with him, but I remember him…. All these years I never once thought about him or his work … so it was fascinating to read how he had taken his approach to a deeper critique of the issues in this division….

Your last paragraph foreshadows a chilling vision — and not one, I assume, he addressed in his talk?

Yule Heibel February 13, 2004 at 10:37 pm

He did address it, actually. That was his main thing, genetic engineering, especially of the brain, as a threshhold. He mentioned the Paul Allen Foundation, which is giving tons of $$$ specifically to neurogenetic research: mapping, figuring out the genetic code or whatever of the brain! And he pointed out that every single deadline / prediction thus far has been reached / broken ahead of time. We’re going to be in a place very soon, he thinks, where this business of fiddling with the genetic code & sequence will be real, and the scientists will ask us, “What do you want us to do?” One of the points of his talk was that there isn’t enough public discourse to generate reasoned answers to these questions.

Cool, that you were in proximity with him at Simon Fraser University. I tell you, UBC & SFU are/ were two damn good institutions. UVic is coming up now a bit, although it’s always been very fine for music. It’s interesting that Arthur & Marilouise Kroker are at UVic now. But of course, where did I read Kroker in the early 80s? At UBC, where else…. The book was Excremental Culture, I think. Lovely title, still spot on.

Kroker & PACTAC co. were supposed to put Leiss’s talk on the CTheory website, but so far there’s nothing there. Check the link at the bottom of the page later, though.

Joel February 15, 2004 at 4:21 am

Thinking about this….response being processed for posting later….

Joel February 16, 2004 at 11:57 pm

Check the article on my blog entitled “On Clovis Points and Automobiles” at

It is the beginning of a response that leads to more questions.

Joel February 18, 2004 at 1:35 am

And here is the second in the series….

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