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Title: 'Life itself' in Doris Lessing's space fiction : evolution, epigenetics and culture
Author: Choksey, Lara
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 4730
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis explores Doris Lessing’s writing of evolution and genetics in her space fiction through two contexts: first, through a historical global crisis for capitalism in the 1970s following a temporary breakdown of post-war Euro-US financial hegemony; and second, through a philosophical shift in scientific discourse from an age of reductionism to an age of complexity or emergence. After almost two decades of writing realism, Lessing started writing what she calls ‘space fiction’ in the late 1960s in the final section of The Four-Gated City (1969), and she did not stop for over a decade, with The Sentimental Agents of the Volyen Empire (1983). Focusing on Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) and the Canopus in Argos series (1979-83), I argue that space fiction allows Lessing two modes of inquiry, the first based in realism and the second on speculation: first, to explore the human body as a political object, or the biopolitical; second, speculations on resistance to biopolitical governance through living ambivalently (not competitively), for the sake of metabolic survival, or biosociality. If biopolitics is enabled through reductionist constructions of ‘the body’ as a unit of analysis (‘bio’ signifying ‘type’ or collection of genes), then biosociality understands ‘bio’ as metabolic systems that extend between individuals, across species differentiations. The posthumanism of biopolitics leads towards transhumanism, while the posthumanism of biosociality is what Eugene Thacker calls ‘peripheral life’: ‘life that is perpetually going outside itself’. The vehicle of this critique is what I call ‘epigenetic poiesis’. I develop this term throughout the thesis to describe literary and cultural representations of epigenetic changes, using ‘poiesis’ to describe how these changes emerge through responses to chance events which put subjects out of equilibrium, enabling or forcing fast adaptation to changed contexts (a forced displacement to another planet, an arranged marriage, an ice age). Lessing’s sf novels express modes of survival activated outside the restrictions of biopolitical control, chance responses to the end-game of a world-system that exploits, determines and tracks the bio-energy of the living matter under its dominion for the sake of accumulation and expansion. The novels also anticipate biopolitics under neoliberalism as a matter of data control, rather than the discipline of individuals. Throughout, the narratives disturb the construction of a liberal subject under capitalist modernity by staging a broader speculation on the intricacy, interdependency and interpretative activity of ‘life itself’ with regard to all kinds of material relations. The texts are literary engagements with what Nikolas Rose calls ‘vital politics’, both a reflection on the governmental co-option of life processes, and an exploration of the multifaceted dimensions of ‘life itself’ loosened from anthropocentric categorisations.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Wolfson Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature