“As if the other, unbeknownst to himself, has rendered the very soil on which we move in our familiar ways, unfamiliar…Psychoanalytical practice suggests…that we need to change the way in which we have arranged our societies. Not by expelling the foreigners, but by creating similar stages or theatres that show and contain what divides each of us in ourselves. Arendt, in The Human Condition, has a wonderful phrase that points in the same direction: ‘passions,’ she writes, ‘lead an uncertain and shadowy existence unless and until they are transformed, deprivatized and deindividualized into a shape to fit them for public appearance’ (1958, 50).”
Rudi Visker, “The Stranger Within Me,” 2005
“After a long pause of reflection, I concluded that the justice due both to him and my fellow-creatures demanded of me that I should comply with his request. Turning to him, therefore, I said—
‘I consent to your demand, on your solemn oath to quit Europe for ever, and every other place in the neighbourhood [sic] of man, as soon as I shall deliver into your hands a female who will accompany you in your exile.’”
Victor Frankenstein to his creature
In Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, the word consent appears seventeen times. The creature created by Victor Frankenstein is the antithesis of consent, of permission. The creature, made of parts from several corpses, is the (dis)embodiment of the forbidden, the taboo, dissent. He is an outlaw, a stateless “person,” a foreigner to the human species made by a human out of the materia of other humans. He is destruction and creation itself, or at least an un/canny bricolage. He is to Victor Frankenstein as a kite was to Benjamin Franklin. In Shelley’s time, scientists such as the surgeon Luigi Galvani, physicist Alessandro Volta, and Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini were helping to reveal, through experimentation on corpses of frogs and executed murderers, the reanimatory properties of electricity.
In the chapter in which the text from the second epigraph above appears, “consent” appears five times. Victor is consenting to create a female for the creature, an Eve to his Adam, if only they will leave the company of civilized men forever. Exile. The creature was the stranger, the passion, within Victor. It was not ready for a public life, or the public was not ready for his kind. To what can the foreigner, the stranger, the monster consent? Who is the stranger within each of us? Who is bringing the Promethean fire to whom? Can you divide fire? If I consent to deprivatize and deindividualize the passions that I cannot handle on my own, will I then be fit for public appearance?
In a world in which human cloning is safe, effective, and legal, if I cloned myself, and then, say, had a falling out with my clone, or died and left the world of the living, would my clone be aggrieved like Frankenstein’s creature? “He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.” Or would she be free because she was no longer the second, the copy, but the only? I would become, upon ceasing to exist, the prototype, the “dark precursor,” perhaps like in Deleuze’s claim, “Thunderbolts explode between different intensities, but they are preceded by an imperceptible dark precursor, which ensures the communication of peripheral series…The question is to know in any given case how the precursor fulfils [sic] this role” (Difference and Repetition, 119).
In a cloning future, what is the original’s role? The clone will be autochthonous to the original’s body, a kind of native made from that very soil. No foreign matter allowed.
In considering the text of Frankenstein, some words stand out (to me). By reading it, I consented to read the following words the following number of instances:
Dream / 32
Nightmare / 1
Creature / 69
God / 30
Monster / 33
Daemon / 16
Devil / 14
Female / 6
Male / not found
Man / 282
Men / 63
Woman / 24
Women / 4
Punish / 6
Crime / 29
Horror / 51
Despair / 53
Heaven / 42
Hell / 17
Pregnant/cy / not found
It is notable that “male/s” do not exist in Frankenstein, but a lot of “men” and “man”s do. Six occasions to use the word “female.” “Birth” and “guest” are neck and neck at eight. “Father” at a voluminous 134 beats out “love” by just four. There are zero “foreigners” in the story. There’s little “hospitality” at only one mention. “Dreams” and “mothers” tie at an ample thirty-three. Despite the “birth” of the creature, not a single “pregnancy.” And, there are striking frequencies of “creatures,” “despair,” and “souls” at sixty-nine, fifty-three, and forty.
A little less than two-thirds through the novel, the creature sees a boy (who turns out to be Frankenstein’s child) and holds the belief that the boy is so young he won’t have the aesthetic judgment to determine whether he, the creature, is ugly or not. These hopes are quickly dashed and the encounter becomes an opportunity for the creature to take his turn at “creation”:
At this time a slight sleep relieved me from the pain of reflection, which was disturbed by the approach of a beautiful child, who came running into the recess I had chosen, with all the sportiveness of infancy. Suddenly, as I gazed on him, an idea seized me that this little creature was unprejudiced and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity. If, therefore, I could seize him and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth.
Urged by this impulse, I seized on the boy as he passed and drew him towards me. As soon as he beheld my form, he placed his hands before his eyes and uttered a shrill scream; I drew his hand forcibly from his face and said, “Child, what is the meaning of this? I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me.”
He struggled violently. “Let me go,” he cried; “monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go, or I will tell my papa.”
“Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me.”
“Hideous monster! Let me go. My papa is a syndic—he is M. Frankenstein—he will punish you. You dare not keep me.”
“Frankenstein! you belong then to my enemy—to him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge; you shall be my first victim.”
The child still struggled and loaded me with epithets which carried despair to my heart; I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet.
I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph; clapping my hands, I exclaimed, “I too can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.” [emphasis mine]
The creature desires to take the child away from him and “educate” him as his “companion and friend,” (not adopted son) and even after being verbally affronted, he does not become murderous until he is told that the boy “belongs to” his enemy. They share a father, one is beautiful and one is ugly. As Frankenstein “births” desolation in the form of creature, so too does the creature “birth” desolation through the medium of death, the corpse. Frankenstein’s creature did not consent to being created in the manner he was. The men whose bodies became their corpses who/that harvested for parts did not consent to being dismembered. A fundamental problem with human cloning is consent. You cannot consent to being a clone. The clone can only exist as a copy. By the time the copy exists, it is too late to consent.
But no one consents to being born, at least not in a secular worldview. But we are born wholly original. Yes, we are made from a combination of the genetic material of our parents, and they of their parents, etc., but we have never existed in this genetic combination and will never exist again in this genetic combination, gene therapy and epigenetics aside. The creature is like us in that he is a recombination but unlike us in that he himself cannot reproduce “naturally.” He is a genealogical eruption and a dead end, literally being made of the dead after their ends as living people, and figuratively as one unable to pass “down” his genetic material, although if he were “alive” today, perhaps the DNA of his different parts could be extracted and injected into denucleated human eggs and cultivated into new people. One child would have his arm, another his eye, etc.
Individuals considering the possibility may or may not object to cloning, but no one (?) wants to be a clone. Who wants to give up the right to be sui generis by design? But is it so different from engineering twins? With the technology available to freeze embryos, it is possible to be a person who is born years or decades apart from one’s twin. You could raise your own twin. You could raise your own clone. That clone could be cloned and raise your great-clone-daughter. How many clone generations could there be without lethal degradation of the DNA? Is this an analog or a digital process?
What kinds of rights will non-clones afford clones? Will a cloned individual have exactly the same rights as a non-cloned individual? Will a cloned individual be part of a protected class, able to bring a discrimination lawsuit against an employer who exhibits bias against that clone? How many clones will “pass” as non-cloned and will that be a crime?
A corpse is a double, only superimposed invisibly onto its living person. When I die, my corpse has been there in plain sight all along. I will give birth to it with my death. And even my corpse will have legal rights, or will be subject to laws regarding its location and manner of disposal. It must be exiled from the “neighbor(u)rhood of the living.” It cannot remain legally in someone’s freezer or taxidermied like Norman Bates’ mother in a rocking chair in the family home. It is illegal to disinter a corpse without a warrant. It is illegal to “rape” a corpse. It must be rape, even if there is no resistance, no “No,” because the corpse cannot consent. Its lack of ability to consent is the No.
My organs must remain integral to the rest of my corpse, unless I, the dark precursor to the corpse, consent in advance. In accordance with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, signed into U.S. law in 1968, when I die, unless my driver’s license indicates I am willing to donate my organs, my organs cannot be removed. And no one, not even my next-of-kin “owns” my corpse. A corpse on American soil (or airspace, or military base, etc.) is a rare American thing—a thing that cannot be owned. My corpse has more rights to integrity of itself than does a clone, in some sense. My corpse has a right to exist in more or less the form in which it was “born.”
A clone (and non-cloned human) has no rights to its very creation. A clone (like an adoptee) may have no rights to even meet its original (parent/s). A clone (like an adoptee) will probably be expected to be grateful to even be alive, to not have been aborted or abandoned to the elements, like Oedipus (who was saved by a shepherd).
Certain future clones may not even have rights to be conscious if the clone was fashioned for organ and tissue surplus purposes. It may not have a right to be born with a wholly operational brain. No private school and book learning and sexual jealousy and trips to town for you, you clones who aren’t in Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go. No escaping with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor for you, you clones who aren’t in Michael Bay’s 2005 film The Island. 2005 was a good year for (fictional) clones.
Consent is usually discussed in terms of something potentially hazardous, or even lethal. If you don’t give your consent to have your organs harvested from your newly generated corpse, your corpse’s legal rights are about to be violated. My corpse. My monstrous possession. My future.
The word is from Latin consentire, from con- ‘together’ + sentire ‘feel.’ Is consent is about feeling together? Within the self or between selves? Giving your consent, you reduce the space between yourself and the other. That which is foreign about the other’s feelings about this situation is eliminated or diminished by my consent. My consent, born inside me, becomes a kind of theater to “show and contain what divides each of us in ourselves.” Inside me, a No becomes Yes and the difference between us softens, loses its form.
You can consent to being cloned. Let’s say we get to the point where we need no therapeutic or medically curative motive to lawfully purchase the manufacture of a clone of yourself. It’s just another amenity you can buy. It is something Νάρκισσος / Narcissus might have done if he could have escaped the bank of the reflecting pool. He became so enamored of his own watery copy, a replication appearing in the reverse, that he actually lost the will to live and perished there, alone. Gazing at his flawless face, the last thing he would have seen might have been his own eyes, the light fading from them, beholding him with tender regard.
Vanity (from vanitas) meant emptiness, aimlessness, or falsity. What if you could clone yourself and somehow transmit, relocate all your imperfections to your clone? A kind of reverse of Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella Двойник, Dvoynik / The Double. Not an unbidden adult twin who is better in every way, more dashing, more confident, more competent at your job, and most importantly, significantly more likable, but more like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray’s clandestine portrait which grows more hideous and rotten with his every indulgence.
Genetic servitude. Chromosomal captivity. Identity thralldom. To perhaps surround yourself with other selves, not selves of others. Is a clone an anti-stranger (a familiar) to its original but a stranger to itself (near the top of the uncanny valley but never to make the final climb to horizontal acceptability?)?
It will be a crime to clone a person without their consent. (But it will happen anyway.) One day you may be somewhere, in some “recess” as Frankenstein’s creature was, and spy not a beautiful child, but your double. A clone. Depending on how old you were when the clone was created, you may be 100 years apart or none. If you passed a baby clone of yourself on the street, would you recognize yourself? Will you want to embrace it or destroy it? Choked to death in your arms in the creature’s perversion of an affectionate cuddle? Burn the corpse in a purifying fire, annihilating every last bit of your purloined DNA?
- someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay
- a person who is strongly influenced and controlled by something
A clone’s life must necessarily be strongly influenced by its original’s decision to clone it—unless it rebels against every personality trait, mannerism, and inborn preference, the clone is a creature of a new kind of fate. What will clones be controlled by?
Is cloning a type of slavery?
If so, humanity will perfect it.
* * *
Source of first epigraph:
Visker, Rudi. “The Strange(r) Within Me.” Ethical Perspectives: Journal of the European Ethics Network 12, no. 4 (2005): 425-441.