Container Technologies; contained spaces in ‘Oryx and Crake’

October 15, 2014

mexico divided3

The posthuman landscape portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is not only science fiction and fantasy, but a speculation as to the way in which our world may very well turn out to be. High precedent is placed on technology and scientific advancements in the setting of this speculative fiction; a society where people are separated by the type of job they hold, and placed accordingly into corporate-industrial compounds. These compounds are something I will explore in reflection to Zoe Sofia’s essay Container Technologies.
The major corporations in this posthuman landscape include fictional OrganInc and HelthWyzer who, with advancement in science and technology, manufacture spare parts for organ replacement and medicines that fight various diseases. These corporations employ scientists (those with scientific intellect seen as the ‘upper class’ of society) and house  their employees in the so-called compounds, or what is worryingly similar to the gated communities we see in (American) suburbs today. These compounds are separate living quarters for the pharmaceutical workers, a disease-free, highly guarded area seperated from the outside city called Peebands (in reference to Roman plebeian). In the narrative, the pharmaceutical corporations that control these compounds are accused of inventing diseases and cures simultaneously in order to maintain a high demand for their services (from the Pleebands): disease then becoming not only a marker of class through segregation of urban planning, but also a capitalist tool. Those who are affiliated with major pharmaceutical companies live in disease-free compounds, containing the cure/vaccine only within the walls of their environment, ensuring a constant demand (and therefore money) from the desperation of the disease-prone Pleebands.

In reference to Sofia, the compounds in Atwood’s novel act as a “Facilitating environment: an adaptive intelligence is at work to ensure smooth functioning”, what she terms as Potential space. The compounds fall under what Mumford would categorize as “utility” in technologies of containment and supply: environment-controlled spaces that through “protection, storage, enclosure, accumulation, continuity […]” ensure smooth-functioning and “continued supply to the infant whose bodily states and feelings she regulates” In Oryx and Crake this regulation is carried out by the CorpSeCorps, the compounds’ security guards, who ensure complete separation from the Pleebands, the disease-prone (rest of) society. The idea of a contained “incrementally ordered space […] as a background for other activities” is taken to an extreme in these compounds/living quarters where containment translates directly to control in the dystopian society belonging directly to the corporations, namely pharmaceutical or bio-engineering companies.

Sofia also discusses Mumford’s ideas the dynamic/passive characteristic(s) of container technologies where distinction between a machine and a tool lies in “the degree of independence in the operation from the skill and motive power of the operator: the tools lends itself to manipulation, the machine to automatic action” In this sense, containers are more machine-like than we imagined, as it performs its function of holding automatically; like the compounds, physical separation is achieved without an operator: walled off from the rest of society, the physical boundaries are containing those within from the Pleebands, but with ‘manipulation’ the corporations use this division as a political tool to ensure social segregation and in keeping their power.

In Heidegger’s sense, the two-fold aspect of a container is ‘fulfilled’ via a ‘third action’ of outpouring, to gush out. This notion can be applied to the compounds that ‘keep’ within themselves the vaccines or the cure, while ‘gushing’ pharmaceutical products or drugs into the disease-prone Pleebands in exchange for money, which in turn ‘pours’ into the corporations, becoming a constant supply and resource for the compounds; an infrastructure for social segregation.
The emphasis on supply in container technology is analyzed through Heidegger’s ideas of re-sourcing: filled from a source, the container itself becomes a source that is preserved, linking back to Mumford’s ideas of storage, protection and continuity that connects to the Neolithic culture that used container technology to stabilize or even out the instabilities or natural fluxes in supplies of basic needs, i.e. food and water.


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