Mark Dery

The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture at the Brink of the Millennium

Date 4/14/99

Affiliation Critic & Author, New York


Mark Dery will deliver (forgive the pun) "EMPATHY BELLIES," a lecture based on a chapter from his new book, The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink.

Amid the fears and fantasies stirred up by the cloned sheep Dolly, the male dream of creating life seems almost within reach. "Men can have babies, says fertility expert," proclaimed a February, 1999 headline in England's Sunday Times. Lord Robert Winston, the fertility expert who developed the technique of in vitro fertilization, told the Times that a man could carry an embryo and have it delivered by cesarean section. "There is no reason why a man could not carry a child. The placenta provides the necessary hormonal conditions, so it doesn't have to be inside a woman," said Dr. Simon Fishel, director of the Center for Assisted Reproduction.

In "Empathy Bellies," Dery will unravel the tangled meanings of Dolly's cloning, Dr. Richard (Dick?) Seed's mad-scientist threat to begin cloning humans, and the return of the Frankenstein myth on the eve of the millennium. He'll read visions of male motherhood as emblematic of the increasingly unnatural nature of postmodern culture, and symptomatic of what feminist critics have called "the crisis of masculinity." Most eerily, he'll contemplate---and critique---science-fiction fantasies and separatist-feminist nightmares of a man's, man's, man's world of the not-so-far future that may look back on Dolly's virgin birth as the opening verse of a Frankensteinian creation myth.