Johannah Rodgers is a brilliantly witty, protean experimental author/artist and culture critic. Please take the time to visit her web site (click on her name) and marvel at some of the work on display there. See especially her little book 10 Things You Need To Know About Writing, her drawings of places, her word drawings, and her provocative and idiosyncratic “Highly Subjective Recommended Reading Lists.” Rodgers is the author of the book, sentences, a collection of short stories, essays, and drawings, published by Red Dust, the chapbooks, “The Coop Articles: Dispatches from the Park Slope Food Coop 2004-2007” and “necessary fictions,” published by Sona Books, and numerous short stories, essays, and reviews, which have appeared in Fence, Bookforum, Fiction, CHAIN Arts, Tantalum, Pierogi Press, and The Brooklyn Rail, where she is a contributing editor. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and teaches writing and literature courses at The City University of New York, where she is an Assistant Professor in English at The New York City College of Technology.
The excerpt here published is from her futuristic, hypertext novel DNA.
By Johannah Rodgers
“For does not society modify Man, according to the conditions in which he lives and acts, into men as manifold as the species in Zoology?”
— Honore de Balzac, Introduction to the Comedie Humaine
February __, 2075
I have identified four individuals in a ten block radius with whom I share the same genetic code. I will begin profiling each based on the information collected to date, as well as through direct observation to determine which are the best candidates for complete identity theft.
February __, 2075
I can’t say that I completely dislike myself, but there are times when I wonder whether I shouldn’t be something more than I am. These moments then lead me to speculate that it is not what I’ve done, but who I am that is the problem. And, based on the statistical overview of those in my common gene pool, i.e., all of those individuals conceived from sperm A51326 and egg C84327, I am, in all five categories of comparison—total net worth, happiness index, number of children, square feet of living space, professional recognition—clearly well below average. Why this would be when we share 99.9 percent of the same biochemistry can only be attributed to non-biological factors. In other words, “nurture” issues, i.e., how we were raised, which has led to some slight differential in the various choices that each one of us has made over time, resulting in, ultimately, who we are now. What all of this means is that it is purely for reasons of chance that I am who I am today, as opposed to, someone else, i.e., one of those who are, to borrow from the clinic-approved language, my “code partners.”
February __, 2075
One question, of course, is whether we—my code partner of choice and I–will be, and/or will remain, the same person, which shouldn’t be such a difficult question to answer. And yet, it is strangely complicated by the lack of any wholly reliable definitions of “person.” Oxford lists the definition as “a human being regarded as an individual,” which sounds rather wishy-washy, or downright ambiguous. As for Identity, according to Webster’s, that term is defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” So if I call myself something, does that not mean I am it? Individual: “a single human being as distinct from a group, class, or family.” Indeed! One apple is distinct from a dozen apples. Does not that definition have to do solely with number? I have delved lightly and selectively into psychological literature for further guidance and have so far come up with the following results. Personality: “The unique psychological qualities of an individual that influence a variety of characteristic behavior patterns (both overt and covert) across different situations and over time.” But can these not be replicated?
February ___, 2075
I returned today from another humiliating attempt to locate a space greater than 420 square meters in which to live. I had thought that the money from the sale of my parents’ Rural Region property would ensure that I had enough to at least put a down payment on a space twice the size of my current accommodations. Although I do now have enough for a down payment, I am unable to secure any financing for the purchase of the space since banks are no longer lending money to individuals (sic). My ability to remain in a Region where I am, according biological heritage, suited to live are once again thwarted by the reality of my biographical profile.
My readiness to give up what some would rather naively call the “unique” characteristics of my identity stem from a long and profound reflection on the relationship between psychology and biology, as well as the specific socio-economic world order which has been put in place since the Forced Migration.
February ___, 2075
Notes on the Psychological Replication Process
Psychological abduction is an age old pursuit. I tell myself this each day as I contemplate the possibility of assuming the identity of one of my code partners. My research into acting methods, which have fallen into complete disuse as a result of the inability of even the most credulous to believe that a celebrity would be asked to play any role except him or herself offer me a wealth of information. From “An Actor Acts: Notes on Acting”: “Audiences are not interested in the exchange of information, they are interested in the exchange of emotion.” (see “The Actor’s Field Guide: Notes on the Run” (62)). I will begin with the emotions and work from there. Psychologists generally agree that though there are a wide range of emotions, there may be as few as five or six basic ones: happiness, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness.
February __, 2075
Report on Alel Hamilton, Corporate Lawyer, annual earned income $5.2 MM, annual investment income $1.5 MM. Property portfolio: Water portfolio: Annual non-genetically modified food intake as a percentage of annual GMO food intake: 93%.
What makes Alel happy? According to his online profile: helicopter skiing, accomplishment, knowing the right answer, duck hunting. I am now wondering if I should make “compatibility with my current interests” one of the screening variables in my selection of which code partner to select! But of course part of my motivation for this undertaking is to not only indulge my interest in biographical mobility, but to understand the need and desire for things that would otherwise be inaccessible to me. Furthermore, according to my acting handbook, conflict is the key to drama and there are only three kinds of conflict: conflict with yourself, another character, or a situation. Perhaps my inherent conflict with Alel will make it easier to play the role of Alel. But I am making light of what is a very serious situation. How is it possible that Alel and I are as dissimilar as it appears we may be? Based on all of the scientific research that I have read, genetics determines over 80% of behavior. Or is it that based on my new environment I will likewise develop EXACTLY these interests!?!?!? Are they already in me in some dormant state just waiting for the proper environment in which to fully realize and express themselves?
Currently, as I’ve noted, there are some similarities: persistent nail biting, a fondness for caramel, and yet I am neither a runner nor an early riser. Will it be possible to incorporate any of my old behaviors? Given enough time, alterations in daily habits can occur. I will need to further research this.
I begin to wonder if there may be in the language of biology itself some means of interpreting and “performing” the role of Alel. For is DNA not a series of words? And each gene a sentence? He and I already share a common, nay, virtually identical genetic language. Is it not a question of merely tapping into these internal resources? Making the internal explicit? But I hesitate here, because if psychological mobility is my goal, if I have in fact discovered that he and I are the same, even based on our biographical differences, the point of my project becomes null and void.
Continue reading the rest of DNA here.
See also a review of sentences here and a short story, “Before Afternoon,” in Fence.
I’m wondering if this story, juxtaposed with Lynne’s essay on stem cells, is trying to make some commentary on the future of civilization? Thanks for bringing this to NC.
“What makes Alel happy? According to his online profile: helicopter skiing, accomplishment, knowing the right answer, duck hunting.”
Amen! Helicopter skiing and duck hunting…the future? This is great.
Fascinating. I am particularly intrigued by the exploration of “the need and desire for things that would otherwise be inaccessible to me.”
I love the links to “facts” on Wikipedia.
I love the structure.
And am glad to know that ducks are not extinct in the year 2075.