Baudrillard vs. Dr. Richard Seed:
On Cloning Humans

Dan Stein

Baudrillard seems to have much insight (and paranoia) about the future. One particularly timely topic is that of cloning.

Clones. Cloning. Human cuttings ad infinitum, each individual cell of an organism capable of again becoming the matrix of an identical individual.

Could Baudrillard have known that in just over 15 years after his writing Simulacra and Simulation, the world would be facing the issues he brings up about cloning humans? Baudrillard says,

Cloning is thus the last stage of the history and modeling of the body, the one at which, reduced to its abstract and genetic formula, the individual is destined to serial propagation. It is necessary to revisit what Walter Benjamin said of the work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility. What is lost in the work that is serially reproduced, is its aura, its singular quality of the here and now, its aesthetic form... This is what happens to us with cloning... at the level of individuals. In fact this is what happens to the body when it ceases to be conceived as anything but a message, as a stockpile of information and of messages, as a fodder for data processing.

Baudrillard thereby argues that if humans were cloned, then the essence of humanity would cease to retain its aura. He even goes so far as to label clones as a cancerous growth of the base individual:

Cancer designates a proliferation ad infinitum of a base cell without taking into consideration the organic laws of the whole. It is the same thing with cloning: nothing opposes itself any longer to the renewal of the Same, to the unchecked proliferation of a single matrix. Formerly, sexed reproduction still stood in opposition to this, today one can finally isolate the genetic matrix of identity, and one will be able to eliminate all the differential vicissitudes that once constituted the aleatory charm of individuals

Enter Dr. Richard Seed: a physicist in Chicago who has declared that he will open a commercial human cloning clinic. Dr. Seed says that the ability to clone humans will bring us closer to God. Inspired by Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, he is looking for customers who wish to have themselves cloned. He says that h! e once this business gets going, he sees a market demand for as many as 200,000 clones per year. He states that after his first successful attempt (which will cost the consumer $1 million) the price of the procedure will be quite affordable.

Seed does seem like a bit of an eccentric who may not be able to do all that he claims he can do. Baudrillard most certainly would consider him a threat to humanity. But perhaps Baudrillard is being a bit extreme himself. For! as long as we have tried to learn about the workings of the human body, there have been those who have sorted such efforts under the category of Evil. Indeed, the first who dared perform autopsies on human bodies were scorned by society and called violators of the human soul. Teachers of medicine and their students were forced to become nocturnal grave-robbers so that they could continue their pursuit of medical knowledge. As Richard Selzer writes in his n! ovel, Mortal Lessons:

I feel the same sense that one must not gaze into the body, the same irrational fear that it is an evil deed for which punishment awaits. Consider. The sight of our internal organs is denied us. To how many men is it given to look upon their own spleens, their hearts, and live? The hidden geography of the body is a Medusa'a head one glimpse of which would render blind the presumptuous eye.

Perhaps Baudrillard is afraid in the same way as those ancient adversaries of the autopsy. The fear that the observation of the workings of the human body, and the manipulation thereof will result in the dissolution of the human spirit.

[To other discussions of Baudrillard by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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