Biomimicry in Lágrimas en la lluiva (Emma’s response, 5/5)

Rosa Montero’s Lágrimas en la lluvia, like many a good science fiction novel, treats the theme of the “other” from a unique perspective. In this case, we are called to identify with the protagonist, Bruna, who is both familiar and distinctly “other” to the reader. She has human sentiments and memories but the humanness of these traits is constantly called into question, both by Bruna and those around her, because of her status as a replicant. She has been bioengineered. Elizabeth Johnson’s “Reinventing Biological Life, Reinventing the Human” looks at the phenomenon of biomimicry and, along with Donna Haraway’s theory of the “cyborg,” helps to shed some light on Bruna’s conundrum. Johnson considers the ideal use of biomimicry and the less-than-ideal uses to which it is being put currently (at least from an environmental and holistic perspective). She outlines the ideas of biomimicry theorists and practitioners, describing, “the ultimate promise of biomimicry – that it will undermine the conceptions of human and nonhuman life upon which the traditions of technological production and progress were built… the true hope of biomimicry [is] that they will engender a more respectful, responsible, and humble engagement with nonhuman as well as human life” (183). In Bruna’s case, the matter becomes more complicated, as her existence and her superhuman abilities, create “conditions for life’s expansion” (183) that infringe upon the human a little too much. That is, having an uncannily human form, she calls into question the boundary between human and non-human in a way that is very different from the “robot lobsters” that Johnson describes and, in turn, she challenges the potential for success of these utopian biomimicry ideals.

Bruna is, both literally and figuratively, what Donna Haraway would call, a “cyborg” who lives in “permanently partial identities” (295) and experiences an “intimate experience of boundaries, their construction and deconstruction” (316). Not only is she a hybrid of the organic and the technological, being born of technology, she also lives on the border of too-human emotion and cold killer instinct and possesses memories that are at once true and forged. This cyborg nature is more threatening to those around her than even the aliens that populate the world in which she lives because she is not “other” enough to be safely separated from the human, yet not human enough to be fully part of it. Haraway points out that, “The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential” (293). This idea, especially, brings into light the difference between Bruna and other forms of biomimicry. Johnson acknowledges the militarist and capitalist turn that all biomimicry has taken, suggesting that rather than being used to find harmony between the human and the non-human, it is simply becoming a new way to prioritize and protect the human from external threats while, at the same time, creating new methods of production for capitalism to exploit. Bruna is a product of this tendency, as she was created to aid in military exploits and produced within a capitalist framework. However, unlike Johnson’s robot lobsters, Bruna’s ability (and tendency) to rebel is a trait of her human-cyborg status. In the idealistic eyes of many biomimicry proponents, Bruna’s humanness should shorten the gap between human and non-human, and allow for a more respectful engagement with non-human life; however, the reality for her is almost entirely the opposite. Though the novel takes on a more hopeful tone for human-rep relations in the end, the truth in the novel’s projected setting is that we have a long way to go until biomimicry, (even on a non-humanoid scale) is far from fulfilling its goal of fostering harmonious relations between the human and non-human.

One thought on “Biomimicry in Lágrimas en la lluiva (Emma’s response, 5/5)

  1. I think that with a your final idea you are sticking a thorn in the side of the biomimicry enthusiasts. Of course there are nuances and Bruna is a product of synthetic biology rather than robotics, but the truth is that all these most advanced and some still fantastic technologies of life put to work for the sake of the success of bioeconomy simply cannot have the intimate interests of these new forms of life as a goal. Standard rhetorics of bioeconomy (as before that of capitalism) insists that the economic success will be for the sake of everyone, but that has never been the way. The utopian character of Montero’s novel consists in the faith that an individual can liberate herself from he systemic conditioning and even win the fight against the system that produced her. As Davis notes, we need utopias not to give up.

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