Rereading Christa Wolf's "Selbstversuch": Cyborgs and Feminist Critiques of Scientific Discourse

by Friederike Eigler
Rereading Christa Wolf's "Selbstversuch": Cyborgs and Feminist Critiques of Scientific Discourse
Friederike Eigler
The German Quarterly
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EIGLER Georgetown University

Rereading Christa Wolf's "Selbstversuch": Cyborgs and Feminist Critiques of Scientific Discourse

In her seminal "Cyborg Manifesto," Donna Haraway invokes the cyborg, that hybrid of organism and machine, as a fig- ure for a subversive feminist practice. Haraway breaks with traditional feminist approaches that have relied on Western or- igin myths and dualistic thought.' Instead of rejecting or avoiding the male-domi- nated fields of technology and science, Haraway, by embracing the figure of the cy- borg, calls on women to actively shape sci- entific and technological developments. This call resonates with Christa Wolfs story "Selbstversuch," in which a female scientist participates in and critically com- ments on a biochemically induced sex-change experiment. Wolfs story combines elements of science fiction and bio-techno- logical discourse-two areas in which cy- borgs abound. Thus "Selbstversuch" pro- vides an ideal framework for critical reflec- tions on the relationship between gender and science in general and on Haraway's feminist reading of the cyborg figure in partic~lar.~

The main protagonist in "Selbstver- such" assumes a double role: she is a scien- tist who prepares and subsequently under- goes the experiment, and who writes the classified research report during the exper- iment (this official report is merely alluded to in the text); and she is the first-person narrator and "author" of the story "Selbst- versuch: Traktat zu einem Protokol1"-a "treatise" on the official scientific report.3 She writes this treatise in hindsight, i.e., after breaking off the experiment and transforming herself back into a woman.

In this critical commentary, ironic and per- sonal in tone, she addresses her professor, who functions rhetorically also as the em- bodiment of male-dominated scientific dis- course. The reference in the story's subti- tle to a "Traktat" (treatise)-traditionally representing a scientific or philosophical argument-illustrates the narrator's objec- tive: to challenge established scientific conventions from within. The narrator's ironic comment, "[es gibtl nichts Komi- scheres [...I als Frauen, die Traktate schreiben" (SV 86-87;4 "there is nothing funnier than women who write treatises," SE 215)indicates the social sanctions (ridi- cule) for female authorship of a male-domi- nated genre and hence the transgressive character of her undertaking.

Supplementing the classified research report with a treatise penned by a female author accomplishes three things. First, by adopting the perspective of the usually si- lenced subject of the experiment, this ap- pendix questions the exclusive truth claim of the scientist-embodied in the official report. Second, the treatise gives voice to another traditionally silenced subject posi- tion: that of the female scientist who no longer adheres to an androcentric position. Thus the female subject/scientist takes control not only of her body (by breaking off the experiment), but also of the way the experiment is interpreted. Third, by breaking the secrecy code of the classified report, the treatise brings out into the open the moral void left by the report. As I will il- lustrate later in the article, the treatise ul- timately calls for a different approach to

The German Quarterly 73.4 (Fall 2000) 401

the sciences, one that considers the ethical and social implications of bio-technologi- cal research not as separate from but as part and parcel of its epistemological foun- dation.

Wolf wrote "Selbstversuch" in 19725, situating the story twenty years into the future-in the year 1992. Yet from today's perspective, the story takes place in the re- cent past and the experiment has indeed lost some of its science-fiction dimensions due to advances in the field of bio-technol- ogy, especially in the areas of genetic engi- neering and reproductive technologies. Even the 1989 film adaptation of "Selbst- versuch" produced by DEFA and directed by Jochen Vogel in the last year of the GDR's existence demonstrates the extent to which "reality" has caught up with the sci-fi character of the original text. The only part of the film that remains "unreal" is the technology of the actual sex change (induced through a series of injections). Arguably the story's pertinence as a critical commentary on the state of bio-technologi- cal discourse has increased precisely be- cause reality has in many ways surpassed what was barely imaginable twenty-five years ago.

Most of the secondary literature on "Selbstversuch" discusses the story in the context of women's roles and gender rela- tions within the GDR socialism of the early 1970~.~

For instance, in a compelling early article on "Selbstversuch," Helen Feher- vary and Sara Lennox read the treatise as Wolfs critique of patriarchy and of author- itarianism within the Marxist-Leninist party and, ultimately as a call for infusing feminism into Marxism. More recent stud- ies focus on the story's discourse on gender and science within the GDR from a post- Wende perspective (Rossbacher, Emme- rich), explore the theoretical implications of the story's discourse on gender (Herr- mann) or the story's multi-voiced narra- tive (Fattori).

Wolfgang Emmerich, in an article sur- veying the discourse on science and tech- nology in GDR literature, mentions "Selbst- versuch" as one of the few texts that cannot be easily identified with one of the two mu- tually exclusive trends in GDR literature: the literature of the 1950s and 1960s was marked by an enthusiastic embrace of technology and science which became cen- tral metaphors for the presumed ideologi- cal superiority of socialism over capitalism; in the mid-to-late 1970s, the disillusion- ment with socialism frequently manifested itself in the explicit rejection of technology or in the retreat to a seemingly pre-techno- logical community (Emmerich 231-54; 247; cf. also Rossbacher 21-56; 84-105).7 Emmerich's assessment of "Selbstversuch" as belonging to neither of these trends supports my reading of the story as a feminist critique of science from within scientific discourse. Overall, the existing research provides valuable historical, po- litical, and cultural contextualizations and I see my own analysis-which dislodges the text from an exclusive focus on Christa Wolf and the GDR-as complementing other readings of "Selbstversuch."

From a European and U.S. American perspective at the millennium, Wolfs text has gained profound relevance for a critical discourse on gender and the natural sci- ences. Since the story portrays bio-technol- ogy in the context of a sex change experi- ment, it also raises questions about con- ventional notions of sex and gender. My analysis of "Selbstversuch" addresses both, gendered conventions of scientific discourse (part I) and the discourse on sex and gender (part 11). My reading of Wolfs "Selbstversuch" draws therefore on three interrelated strands of research: feminist approaches to the philosophy and history of science; studies on cyborgs and cyborgol- ogy, most prominently Haraway's "Mani- festo"; and theoretical approaches within literary and cultural studies that challenge the sedgender system.

Feminist critics in science studies- many of whom have a background as prac- ticing scientists themselves--often focus on scientific discourse, for instance on the use of metaphors and analogies in scien- tific language (Harding 114-16, 118; Ste- phan; Keller). Informed in part by literary and cultural studies, they consider linguis- tic conventions to be not separate from but intertwined with cultural assumptions and biases that shape scientific practices in ways that compromise traditional notions of scientific objectivity. Written from the position of a literary critic, my own analysis adopts the converse approach but pursues similar goals. Taking a fictional text as point of departure, I draw on feminist cri- tiques of the sciences to explore a literary rendering of the science question. What makes the consideration of a literary text potentially very useful is the writer's heightened awareness of the powerful and polyvocal dimension of language (see, for instance, SV 67, 83, 86). Yet despite this awareness that distinguishes the literary from the scientific realm, I challenge the juxtaposition of the "bad sciences" versus the "good arts" proposed by Sandra Har- ding in her landmark study The Science Question in Feminism (245).8 Instead, I subscribe to an approach informed by Foucauldian notions of disciplinary power and resistance.9 Literature has potentially powerful normalizing effects just as it may include dimensions that resist or challenge dominant discourses from within. I will therefore explore the extent to which "Selbstversuch" participates in, avoids, or critically examines aspects of the sedgen-

der system and of scientific discourse.

In one of her earlier articles Evelyn Fox Keller, professor of the history and philoso- phy of science, surveys various critiques of androcentrism in the sciences, i.e, the charge that the sciences use the male as a model while professing to represent all hu- mans. She distinguishes a wide spectrum of liberal and radical positions, a spectrum that is frequently collapsed into one "femi- nist position" and marginalized within sci- entific communities (Keller 28-31). The liberal positions address, for instance, the under-representation of women in the sci- ences or the biases in the collection and in- terpretation of research data (e.g., the al- most exclusive focus, until recently, on male subjects in health studies sponsored by the NIH). These kinds of problems, Keller points out, could be corrected without ques- tioning traditional notions of scientific ob- jectivity. By contrast, radical critiques hold that there are not only androcentric biases in the ways established methods of re- search are applied, but also in the actual design of research projects, i.e., in the choice of problems and the formulation of hypotheses. These radical charges include both the so-called "soft" sciences and the "hard" sciences and they go to the core of the traditional idea of "science" by ques- tioning its foundational notions of objec- tivity and rationality. One of the crucial questions Fox Keller raises-and this ques- tion continues to be central within science studies-is how to alter the very notion of objectivity without abandoning "truth claims" altogether. I will return to this question at the end of the article. In its fic- tional context "Selbstversuch" is written by the female scientistlsubject after break- ing off the experiment, and it can thus be read as a meta-critical commentary on the state of science and scientific discourse. In fact, the story addresses several of the criti- cal positions outlined by Fox Keller. In the sections that follow I shall comment on the ways the story addresses the liberal as well as the radical charges of androcentrism in

the sciences.

The experiment performed in "Selbst- versuch" can be read as a trope for de- mands placed on women within the sci- ences. The sex change experiment is the logical conclusion of a long socialization process that includes the narrator's attempt to replicate the professor's distance and presumed neutrality vis-a-vis his re- search project (SV 71,83). As the narrator realizes in hindsight, she had to deny her gender in order to be successful as a female scientist. In other words, in order to prove herself as a woman, she had to become (like) a man (SV 76).

Some critics assert that the female pro- tagonist's main motivation for participat- ing in the experiment is her erotic attrac- tion to her professor; she seeks to become "indispensable" and to find out the "se- cret" of the professor's emotional detach- ment by turning into a man (see Popp; Stephan 156), an assertion that is in part based on Wolfs own comments on "Selbst- versuch" (see her interview with Hans Kaufmann, 94). This reading also informs the film adaptation which presents the narrator's erotic interest in her professor as her main motivation for undergoing the experiment.The film script was changed in ways that support this focus on the per- sonal and erotic, whereas the literary text is arguably far more ambiguous.1° Yet fo- cusingon the erotic attraction between the narrator and the professor risks obscuring not only the larger social implications of the story's critique of scientific discourse; by working within a heterosexual logic, it also downplays aspects of the story which undercut heterosexual norms.

The fact that the female scientist has to deny her gender is further exemplified in the impossibility of negotiating the con- flicting demands she faces in her private and professional lives. These demands, embodied in her boyfriend Bertram on one hand and in her professor on the other, ef- fectively force her to give up her private life for the sake of pursuing her career (SV 75-76) .I1In a revealing aside, her colleague Riidiger tells his newly acquired "buddy" (i.e., the protagonist after she turns into a man) about his disregard for professional women. He compares women in their at- tempt to pursue a career while taking care of family and household responsibilities with a falsely programed cybernetic mouse (SV 80). Following this logic, the sex-change experiment-itself ironically closely rela- ted to cybernetics-is a rectification of an "unnatural" and misguided development, namely women's pursuit of both private and professional lives.lZ This juxtaposition of the "unnatural" character of professional women and the unquestioned and, in this sense, "naturalized" character of the scien- tific experiment underscores the sexist im- plications of androcentrism in the scien ces.13 Both, women's culturally learned gen- der characteristics (e.g., their presumed "subjectivity" and "emotionalism") and their gender roles (e.g., their continued re- sponsibilities for family and household), are seen as incompatible with conventional and presumed gender-neutral notions of science and scientific practice. Instead of questioning the "objectivity" and "ratio- nality" of the research project at hand, and instead of calling for men's participation in domestic responsibilities, the story resorts to a radical remedy: it turns a promising and ambitious female scientist into aman.

Despite the gender bias that pervades the story's discourse in the professional and the domestic realms, the story refrains from representing women as victims.14 In- stead, the main protagonist is portrayed as assuming partial responsibility for the ex- periment she undergoes. Thus the experi- ment can also be read as a commentary on women's willing participation in the exist- ing scientific discourse. Ever since she had been a student, the narrator vowed to be on the cutting edge of science (SV 72). Later, she gladly accepts the professor's offer to supervise the research group on sex change and chooses to be the first human subject to undergo the experiment. This set-up suggests that the mere call for women's equal opportunity falls short of changing the parameters of scientific discourse. Yet women's equal access to the sciences is the prerequisite for any meaningful critique. It is precisely the protagonist's knowledge and insight as a successful woman scientist that enable her ultimately to adopt a criti- cal stance and to view the experiment as highly questionable (SV 67,68). This criti- cal distance informs the entire treatise which challenges the pretense of objectiv- ity in the official scientific report. "Selbst- versuch" thus addresses both women's complicity in, and their resistance to, domi- nant scientific discourse.

In addition to the story's concern with gender inequity in the sciences (represent- ing, according to Fox Keller's taxonomy, the liberal humanist critique), Wolfs story, by probing conventional notions of scien- tific objectivity and rationality, moves into the terrain of radical feminist science cri- tique. This radical critique concerns the very choice and design of scientific experi- ments and their ethical implications. Whereas the female narrator is actively in- volved in the preparation of the human ex- periment, it is her male professor who de- termines its parameters. He had envi- sioned a sex-change experiment long before it became scientifically feasible. The elaborate tests that are developed in con- junction with the experiment suggest that, beyond proving that man is capable of engi- neering "sex," the experiment is supposed to demonstrate and measure as precisely as possible the presumed biologically deter- mined differences between genders according to rather stereotypical notions of gender roles.

The overall parameters of the experi- ment in "Selbstversuch" relate directly to what Sandra Harding describes as the "ob- session" with gender difference in the dis- cipline of biology. Scrutinizing the kinds of questions deemed worthy of exploration, specifically in theories of evolution and mo- lecular genetics, Harding challenges the presumed objectivity of the sciences. Com- pared to all other species, humans have dis- tinctive characteristics including their im- mense plasticity, creativity, and conscious adaptability. Thus Harding considers the exclusive focus on gender differences within species and sexual sameness across species an example of the bias in formulating worthwhile questions for scientific inquiry. "Only masculine investment in the evolved distinctiveness of men's achievements and the unevolved naturalness of women's ac- tivities appears able to account for this ex- cessive focus" (Harding 1986, 100). It is precisely this focus on gender difference that informs the design of the experiment in "Selbstversuch." This reading is sup- ported by the narrator's comment on the sex change experiments with apes that in- dicated no change in personal characteris- tics; the fact that the human sexchange ex- periment continues to be pursued is fur- ther illustration of the "obsession" with identifying gender differences (SV 74).15

In addition to the focus on gender dif- ference in "Selbstversuch," the set-up of the experiment also serves as a commen- tary on the ways research programs in the natural and social sciences, if they consider gender issues at all, focus on gender as "a property of individuals rather than also of social structures and conceptual systems" (Harding 34). Acknowledging gender only in the context of personal identity keeps existing social structures in place by con- taining and de-politicizingissues of gender. While the parameters of the experiment are only concerned with gender as a prop- erty of the individual, the treatise ad- dresses what the experiment excludes: it looks at the role of gender in scientific dis- course and in social relations.

Finally, the story foregrounds in an alle- gorical manner the lack of an adequate eth- ical discourse within bio-technology. Dur- ing the experiment, Anders--or "Other" as the professor names the newly created man-temporarilly loses hislher ability to speak (SV 90-94). This loss of voice is symptomatic of the loss of identity during the transformation from woman to man, and it underscores the narrator's observa- tion that men and women inhabit different linguistic worlds. Personal identity is thus conceptualized as inseparable from the bi- nary sedgender system: there appears to be no language and no subject position available that transcends the either-or pre- scription of this system. In addition to this commentary on the sedgender system, the scientist's loss of a voice might be read as an allegory for the central dilemma hu- manity faces amid a fast-changing high- tech society: the silence would then point to the lack of an adequate ethical discourse on the desirability of what is scientifically possible (e.g., regarding reproductive tech- nologies and genetic engineering). In other words, the aphasia the experimental sub- ject experiences in the transition from woman to man signifies the moral void in the "no-wo/man's-land" of contemporary bio-technological advances (a play on the

term "Niemands1and"-no-man's land-used in the story, SV 81).

To further consider the gendered impli- cations of Wolfs critique of scientific dis- course, including the issue of the moral void, the analysis in the following section explores the cyborgian dimensions of "Selbstversuch."

The term cyborg (cybernetic organism) was first coined in 1960 by the scientists Clynes and Kline in an article they wrote for NASA. They proposed changing the make-up of humans "through biochemical, physiological, electronic modifications" to make humans fit for space travel (Clynes and Kline 29). The implications of their article go beyond the immediate concern with space travel. In an almost program- matic manner, the article calls on scientists to take over evolution and to create a "par- ticipant evolution" which, as Clynes ex- plains decades later, would no longer just mean the "survival of the fittest" but which would make fit the "adventurous" (53), that is, those willing to become cyborgs.

In addition to the central role of "cy- borgs" in bio-technological research, the notion of the cyborg encompasses today a myriad of meanings and phenomena, all re- ferring in one way or another to the real or metaphorical reliance of living organisms on technology, including systems of infor- mation (Gray 1-14). While technology in its various forms has played a role in hu- man life since the beginnings of civiliza- tion, Norbert Wiener, the founder of the field of cybernetics, maintained as early as 1947 that the most recent stage of technol- ogy was one of "communication and con- trol."l6 Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Mani- festo" speaks to the continued pertinence of Wiener's assessment forty years later: she employs the figure of the cyborg for a critical analysis of contemporary society in which communication technologies and bio-technologies have entirely restructured our social relations (1985, 580).17 Within cultural studies today, the cyborg, a hybrid of human and machine "predicated on transgressed boundaries," has become emblematic for postmodern notions of identity (Balsamo 32).

My reading of Wolfs "Selbstversuch" draws briefly on the NASA-article on cy- bernetic organisms in order to illustrate that the main protagonist in "Selbstver- such" espouses key aspects of a cyborg as originally conceived by Clynes and Kline. Two issues central to Haraway's cyborg feminism provide the point of departure for my cyborgian reading of "Selbstver- such": the cyborg as a hybrid figure that undercuts not only the distinction between the organic and the mechanistic but also other binaries including the seldgender system; and the cyborg as a figure for a feminist critique that participates in and seeks to shape scientific discourse.

The sex change experiment described in "Selbstversuch" coincides conceptually with the research on cybernetic organisms by Clynes and Kline. In 1960, they defined the term as follows: "the cyborg deliber- ately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control func- tion of the organism in order to adapt to a new environment" (Clynes and Kline 31). This comment refers to experiments with rats whose physiological systems were al- tered through the continuous injections of chemicals using an osmotic pump (Clynes and Kline 30). Correspondingly, the female scientist in "Selbstversuch" receives the drug "Peterine Masculine 199" which in- duces the sex change.lB The conceptual similarities between the NASA research and the sex-change experiment concern the approach and the intended outcome, i.e., the manipulation of organic systems to improve their adaptation to a particular environment. Just as the rats in the NASA research were manipulated so as to better survive in space travel, so too "Selbstver- such" suggests that turning the female sci- entist into a man will better equip herkim for the male-dominated research environ- ment. Thus the cyborgian character of the sex change experiment throws into relief the aforementioned androcentrism and the ensuing ethical considerations. This andro- centric bent not only affects the collection and interpretation of data but the very con- ceptualization of the scientific project: the creation of a male scientist through "cut- ting-edge" scientific research.

Furthermore, the professor in "Selbst- versuch" mirrors Clynes and Kline's belief in unfettered progress. One of the addi- tions to the script of the 1989 film adaption of "Selbstversuch" that underscores the professor's attitude about his research is reminiscent of Clynes notion of "partici- pant evolution." In a lecture on the (ongo- ing) sex change experiment, the professor mentions but then skirts the "janus-faced" debates concerning the opportunities and dangers of scientific advancement by stat- ing "wir nutzen nur die in den Menschen gelegten Mijglichkeiten aus." This addition to the film script highlights the relation- ship between the presumed neutrality of the sex change experiment (which corre- sponds to the presumed neutrality of the original cyborg research) and the notice- able absence of any ethical considerations (which corresponds to a similar lacuna in the original cyborg research, cf. Clynes and Kline 33; Clynes 50). By contrast, the fe- male narrator-scientist in "Selbstversuch" questions conventional notions of scien- tific objectivity by virtue of the knowledge she gained as a "cyborg." As a bio-techno- logically engineered transsexual, she also challenges the (gender-)blind assumption about the greater good of all scientific ad- vancements by foregrounding the andro- centric biases that shape the sex change ex- periment.

Placing "Selbstversuch" in the context of the original cyborg research highlights the cyborgian dimension of the narrator and the extent to which her critical poten- tial is grounded in her familiarity with the effects of bio-technology. But beyond this literal reading of the cyborg's critical posi- tion, the hybrid character of the cyborg has far-reaching epistemological implications. Haraway maintains that cyborgs chal- lenge not only the distinction between or- ganisms and machines, the physical and the non-physical, but the entire Western tradition of dualistic thinking that under- lies these binaries and perpetuates the dom- ination and marginalization of all "others" (1985,489). Feminist critics across the dis- ciplines have shown that the serdgender system is deeply implicated in this Western tradition. It is for this reason that Haraway envisions the cyborg as a figure in a "post- gender world," a world that transcends or undercuts the male-female dualism (1986, 568). To what extent, then, does Haraway's notion of the cyborg's disruptive and sub- versive potential coincide with the protag- onist in "Selbstversuch" whose "experi- ence" (as transsexual) and "knowledge" (as scientist) are products of bio-technol- ogy? Most specifically, to what extent does the story question dualistic notions of sex and gender?

By representing an ambitious and suc- cessful female scientist as main protago- nist "Selbstversuch" complicates any at- tempt to pitch a feminine-coded anti-tech- nological stance against masculine-coded technological progress. Furthermore, the story suggests that not only gender but also sex is socially constructed rather than naturally given.lg The set-up of the entire experiment, for instance, is based on the idea that sex can be changed through bio- technological intervention-sex is "man- made" or "produced." There are other in- dications that sex is socially constructed: in one of the few comments on the newly ac- quired masculine body, Anders observes that the physical loss of feminine breasts is less significant for the new gender identity than the absence of the male gaze (SV 82). This particular observation substantiates Anders's more general impression that the people she interacts with have changed more than she has (SV 79). These com- ments indicate the discursive production of the (sexed) body: physical differences (e.g., the lack of breasts) assume significance and meaning in response to cultural as- sumptions about gender characteristics and gender roles. It is in this sense that "Selbstversuch" can be read at least in part in terms of Judith Butler's questioning of the distinction between biologically given sex and socially shaped gender: "gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which [...I 'a natural sex' is produced and established as 'prediscursive,' prior to cul- ture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts" (7).

Following Butler's line of argument a step further, it is "the heterosexualisation of desire" or the marginalization of any de- sire that does not fit the heterosexual for- mula that is implicated in the binary and hierarchically organized gender system which, in turn, produces the binary sex sys- tem (17).A story focusing on a sex change experiment such as "Selbstversuch" has the potential of providing the ideal context for making "gender trouble," i.e., for the subversion and displacement of "natural- ized and reified notions of gender" (Butler 34). This is exactly how Anne Hermann reads "Selbstversuch": as "deconstructing gender as an epistemological category" (53)and thus in some ways as both a liter- aryrenderingand literal enactment of But- ler's argument.

Herrrnann's reading of "Selbstversuch" as a "textual" not a "sexual" experiment is compelling; but the story is arguably more ambivalent in its critique of the sexlgender system than her constructionist approach suggests. There are, for instance, numer-

Fall 2000

ous examples in "Selbstversuch" for the kind of traditional dualistic thinking that Haraway challenges in her "Manifesto." The narrator frequently posits "us" (women) against "you" (men) who are pre- sumed to be partially blind (SV 96); and she juxtaposes her true "inner language" with the pseudo-objective language of science (SV 68). Furthermore the story avoids, for the most part, addressing the physical im- plications of the sex change. By largely ex- cludingreferences to the materiality of the body, "Selbstversuch" skirts rather than, as Herrmann maintains, "solves" the question of the relationship between sex and gender. It is precisely this avoidance which, at the very end of the story, creates a textual ambiguity that raises the question of the relationship between desire, gender,

and sex and leaves it in suspense.20

The experiment ends at the very mo- ment when the erotic implications of the sex change come into play.21 Anders breaks off the experiment shortly after she starts dating the professor's daughter and then confronts hislher professor literally and metaphorically on his home turf. The pro- fessor's ensuing request that Anders pre- maturely end the experiment has ambigu- ous implications. There are a number of ways to explain the professor's reaction: first, contrary to the "indifference" which Anders discovers to be the secret of the pro- fessor's success, the encounter with An- ders in his home forces the professor to give up his position of scientific detachment; for the first time, he seems to "recognize" the person he created (he consistently ignores Anders prior to this encounter). His shock could then be explained by his recognition of the human-and therefore ethical-im- plications of his experiment.A second and related explanation for the professor's re- action is that he perceives Anders' involve- ment with his daughter as a threat to his authority as scientist; he insists on ending the experiment to avoid the risk of losing control over the duration of the experi- ment and ultimately over Anders, his ex- perimental subject.

A third reading of the professor's reac- tion draws on his investment in the hetero- sexual system. Despite his masculine ap- pearance, hders's new gender identity is contradictory and incoherent according to conventional notions of gender roles-as the tests she undergoes illustrate. hders' sex has changed, but hisher gender is still in flux. This transitional stage does not so much blur clear distinctions between male and female as it underscores the arbitrary character of gendered attributes. The erotic attraction between his daughter and "his subject" thus threatens the profes- sor's position as guarantor of the hetero- sexual norm which, in turn, governs his own conventional marriage and his success as male scientist. The final encounter be- tween Anders and the professor would sug- gest that the professor, despite his ability to literally "engineer" sex, clings to essen- tialist notions of gender. If one reads the scientist's response to his daughter's in- volvement with his wolman subject as ho- mophobic, it would illustrate, in a curious reversal, the primacy of gender over sex: culturally produced gender stereotypes supercede scientifically engineered sex.

The latter reading of the experiment's premature ending is supported by the film adaptation which is more explicit in its staging of sexual ambiguity than the text version.The heterosexual plot the film privileges is inadvertently undercut by the androgynous performance of the main ac- tor, Johanna Schall, who is cast in both the female and the male role of the main pro- tagonist. Thus, hders' visual appearance on screen is a constant reminder of the woman he used to be. Prior to the sex change, the frequent close-ups of her face underscore the eroticized eye-contact with the professor; that is, they support the het- erosexual plot. After the sex change, these close-ups have the effect of destabilizing the very heterosexual matrix the first part of the film so carefully fosters. Anders' eye-contact with the professor's daughter, for instance, has clear lesbian overtones. The film adaptation provides therefore more evidence for the queer reading sug- gested above than the literary text.22 Tex- tual evidence is lacking because references to the materiality of the body and the homolsexual effects of the sex change are mostly absent in "Selbst~ersuch."~~

The final exchange between Anders and the professor both confirms and un- dercuts essentialist and dualistic notions of gender. During a brief private exchange in the professor's home, Anders realizes that the professor feels just as she does, "wie im Kino" (SV 99), as if she were merely playing a role. The notion of role- playing calls to mind Butler's concept of gender performance and might suggest the instability and changeability of gender roles. However, the narrator comments on the notion of role-playing in clearly nega- tive terms (as the professor's "Defekt," SV 100) and associates it exclusivelywith mas- culine indifference and inability to love. The inauthentic masculine self contrasts with the more "human" feminine self the narrator recovers when she breaks off the experiment. Does the ending, then, pro- mote a return to notions of feminine inno- cence and wholeness? As stated earlier, it is precisely this kind of humanist thinking that Haraway attacks as counter-produc- tive: notions of authentic femininity are grounded in gendered oppositions that, within Western civilization, perpetuate the very power relations most emancipatory politics seek to overcome. I propose to read Wolfs intermittent recourse to a humanist discourse based on gendered oppositions as further evidence of the ethi- cal dilemma posed by scientific advances, not as a solution to it. From this vantage point, Wolfs recourse to humanism com- plicates but does not render impossible an alternative reading of the story's ending.

This concluding section brings together the at times radical positions the story ad- vances regarding a feminist critique of sci- entific discourse discussed in the first part of this essay and the more contradictory and tenuous critique of the existing sex/ gender system explored thereafter.

The experiment ends-and the story begins-with the narrator's gaining a new voice. The narrator's "unverbliimte Rede" (SV 67) is exemplified in her ironic and crit- ical displacement of the official scientific report. At the very end of the treatise she argues for a different kind of experiment:

Jetzt steht uns mein Experiment bevor: der Versuch zu lieben. Der ubrigens auch zu phantastischen Erfindungen fuhrt: zur Erfindung dessen, den man lieben kann (SV 100).

Most critics read this proposition as a uto- pian call for the reunion of the sexes repre- senting the androgynous ideal of the inte- gration of male and female characteristics (cf. Emmerich 1980, 115; Fattori 22-23; Wichmann; Rossbacher 178-79); or alter- natively as a "concrete utopia" for a re- formed socialism based on the rejection of authoritarian party politics (Fehervary and Lennox). Only a few critics comment in passing on the ending's implications for scientific discourse, arguably one of the main concerns in "Selbstversuch" (cf. Em- merich 1995, 246; Rossbacher 175-79). This is all the more surprising since the language employed in these concluding re- marks has both literary and scientific con- notations, e.g., "Experiment," "Versuch," "Erfindung." These terms, I maintain, al- low for yet another reading: a call for changes in gender relations in conjunction with changes in scientific discourse and practice.

In her final proposition, the narrator- scientist adopts a new subject position, one that is capable of and responsible for de- signing alternative experiments and for formulating different research objectives. "Love" would then not denote romantic sentiments or utopian notions of andro- gyny but the scientist's willingness and ca- pability to recognize the alterity of the other (Levinas 95-101). This reading is supported by the narrator's comment, ear- lier in the story, on the forgotten etymolog- ical relationship of the words "urteilen" (to judge, to assess) and "lieben" (to love), are- lation she seeks to recover after breaking off the sex change experiment (SV 83). From this perspective, the new experiment proposed at the end of "Selbstversuch" can be read as a trope for what Sandra Harding calls the shift from the "Woman Question"

in science to the "Science Question" in feminism (or, in Fox Keller's terms: the shift from a liberal to a radical critique of science). Instead of merely seeking equal treatment within the existing scientific discourse (the Woman Question), the lat- ter approach (the Science Question) chal- lenges science's involvement in "distinc- tively masculine projects," for instance, the very focus on the question of sex differ- ences (Harding 1986, 29).

Feminist critics of science, including Fox Keller, Harding, and Haraway, do not stop at questioning prevailing notions of scientific objectivity: In an effort to avoid the specter of relativism, Harding has coined the term "strong objectivity." Whereas the dominant empiricist episte- mology assumes the subject of knowledge (the researcher) to be invisible and disem- bodied, Harding calls for a systematic ac- knowledgment of the situatedness of the subjects of knowledge. In a powerful rhe- torical move, the notion of "strong objec- tivity" asserts that epistemological consid- erations are not compromised but indeed enhanced by these social (and ultimately ethical) considerations. Drawing on Hara- way's notion of "situated knowledge" (1988), Harding argues that the objectivity claim so central to the sciences would be maximized if one were to systematically include scientists representing non-domi- nant groups and cultures in research pro- jects (Harding 1993, 244).24 Therefore, in her 1991 book, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Hardingallies her feminist in- quiry with other critical examinations of Western science and technology, most im- portantly, African and African American critics of Eurocentrism (viii).25

The moral void exemplified in the nar- rator's loss of language in "Selbstversuch" can perhaps be addressed from the vantage point of "situated knowledge": not in futile and potentially reactionary attempts to impose universal ethical standards, nor in the rejection of any truth claims; but in- stead in the reconceptualization of the very notion of scientific objectivity. This recon- ceptualization would include the recogni- tion of the ways all research pursues cer- tain interests and perpetuates certain bi- ases-exemplified in "Selbstversuch" in the narrator's treatise that challenges the ob- jectivity of the official report. It would also enable previously marginalized groups to actively shape "situated" research projects -and it is arguably this kind of alternative approach to scientific experiments that the female scientist in "Selbstversuch" evokes at the end of her treati~e.~6

The narrator's call for a different ap- proach to the sciences both promotes and presupposes new gender relations. As Herrmann points out, the main protago- nist's sex change, her becoming "other" does not make any "difference." Instead, the sex change reveals the professor's (and increasingly Anders' own) "indifference" toward other humans and his "indiffer- ence" toward the production of meaning through language (48)-including the his- torically situated nature of all knowledge. From the professor's vantage point, the sex change experiment literally means that he reproduces himself in Anders, a phenome- non that has larger implications for the representational economy based not on the "other" (as the protagonist's name "An- dersJ' would suggest) but on "the same" (51). Drawing on Irigaray's critique of Western phallogocentrism, Herrmann ar- gues that "Anders becomes a man by enter- ing a libidinal economy predicated on the logic of 'the repetition-representation-reproduction of sameness"' (50). She there- fore reads the premature ending of the ex- periment and the narrator's return to her "original" sex not as a reaffirmation of the binary sedgender system. Instead of "pre- serving sexual difference, the ending pre- serves the possibility of a different rela- tionship to language, meaning, and power" (54), that is, the possibility of transforming the structure of social relations.

Herrmann's analysis, focussing on the transformation of the sedgender system, complements my own reading which fore- grounds the transformation of the sci- ences. Ultimately, the new experiment the narrator advocates at the end of "Selbst- versuch" has both social and scientific im- plications. In other words, the narrator's proposed project of improving human rela- tions is not at oddds with her involvement in the sciences. Rather, if one reads the nar- rator's final proposition as a call for women's participation in the sciences and for a situated approach to the sciences, the new experiment becomes an integral part of the larger project of promoting social change. It is in this broader context that Christa Wolfs literary rendering of "the Science Question" acquires significance beyond the immediate social and political context of the GDR. On one hand, Wolfs recourse to a mute humanist discourse (based on gender oppositions and the myth of uncorrupted or authentic femininity) in "Selbstversuch" is indicative of a central dilemma: advances in bio-technological re- search have out-paced the ethical dis- courses that historically emerged hand in hand with scientific innovation~.~7

On the other hand, the story's ending suggests that the narrator gains a new voice and as- sumes a position of responsibility within scientific discourse-a shift that resonates with HarawayJs call for women's involve- ment in technology and the sciences.

By evoking both literary and scientific terminology in the story's concluding pas- sage, Wolf once more draws attention to the protagonist's double role as author (of the treatise) and as scientist. In her role as scientist, the protagonist vows to work to- ward changing the parameters of scientific research in ways that recognize rather than ignore or appropriate the other. In her role as author of the treatise, she is actively involved in probing the (gendered) produc- tion of meaning through scientific lan- guage and thus in situating and ultimately in reshaping scientific discourse. Just as the language employed in the final passage of "Selbstversuch" has both literary and scientific connotations, the protagonist's double role as scientist and author reminds us of the creative and critical potentials that lie in the interaction between the dif- ferent disciplines. It is in this sense that I read Wolfs "Selbstversuch" as a literary commentary on "the cultural work of sci- ence and technology" (Balsamo 162) and thus ultimately as a contribution to the in- terdisciplinary field of science studies.


11 want to thank James M. Harding for in- troducing me to the fascinating field of cyborg studies; and I am grateful to the participants of the research colloquium in the German De- partment at Georgetown University for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

2The sci-fi discourse adopted in "Selbst- versuch" coincides with a genre that Haraway considers to be a prime example for the critical potential of the cyborg figure: feminist science fiction (1985, 590-91).

3This critical aspect of the story's subtitle is lost in the first translation into English (1978) which renders "Traktat" as "Appendix" ("Self- Experiment: Appendix to a Report"). "Trea- tise" is used in the subsequent translation (1993).

4References to "Selbstversuch" are abbre- viated as "SX" References to the English ver- sion are abbreviated as "SE."

5Wolf wrote "Selbstversuch" in response to an invitation by the American writer Edith An- derson (who was living in the GDR). Anderson asked five male and five female authors in the GDR to write a story on the topic of sex change or the reversal of the sexes (Geschlechter- tausch). "Selbstversuch" was first published in the GDR journal Sinn und Form in 1973. The anthology was published in 1975 under the title Blitz aus heiterm Himmel.

6Cf. Emmerich 1980 and 1995; Fehervary and Lennox; Hauser; Maltzan; Pegoraro; Ross- bacher, Wichmann.

71n contrast to other works by Christa Wolf, there are surprisingly few references to the GDR or to socialism in "Selbstversuch." The same is true for the 1989 film adaptation di- rected by Peter Vogel.

8Harding's reference to Milan Kundera, who observed that the rise of the novel coin- cides with the hegemony of scientific discourse (1986,245), could also be read in the opposite way: as indicating not literature's critical dis- tance to but its support of scientific discourse. Emmerich's account of literature's embrace of science and technology in the early GDR pro- vides a good example for literature's complic- ity in the dominant discourse on science (1995, 233-40).

gArguably, literature shares some of the characteristics of a "discipline" as defined by Foucault. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault explores the two-fold meaning of discipline: a field of knowledge which, by shaping and nor- malizing its subject(s), exerts power and "dis- ciplines."

1°For instance, the story's narrator states, "Meinen Wert als Frau hatte ich zu beweisen, indem ich einwilligte, ein Mann zu werden" (SV 76; "I had to prove my value as a woman by agreeingto become a man," SE 206).The corre- sponding passage in the film script shifts the emphasis significantly: "Um Ihnen als Frau niiher zu kommen, mul3te ich mich in einen Mann verwandeln" ("To be able to approach you as a woman, I had to turn into a man").

1lThere are some interesting parallels (as well as differences) in Irmtraud Morgner's story "Valeska," a story written for but then excluded from the original anthology Blitz aus heiterm Himmel published in the GDR. Draw- ing on the genre of the fairy tale, Morgner has the female scientist Valeska transform into a man after voicing her "wish" for the third time. The wish, "Ein Mann miisste man sein" (one should be a man) is a direct response to women's double burden and to the double standards in the male-dominated field of the natural sciences.

12The narrator's ex-lover Bertram is even more explicit in his charge that his career-ori- ented girlfriend is "unnatural" (SV 76).

13Agroup of practicing scientists read Wolf s story in a contribution to the volume Weibliche Wissenschaft, Mannliche Wissenschaft (1983) in exactly this way: they see the sex change ex- periment as a commentary on the androcentric and sexist practices in the natural sciences. (Cf. Christine Woesler, "Der menschliche Korper -Neutrum der Wissenschaft?" 83-86).

14Cf. Haraway's discussion of women's re- sponsibility versus feminist notions of women's vidimhood (1985, 574; 588).

15Arguably, this binary notion of sex/gen- der difference is replicated within many femi- nist approaches seeking to challenge or reverse the hierarchical gender system. Post-humanist feminists including Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, Jan Sawicki and Wendy Brown have begun to tackle the binary sexlgender system itself.

l6The mathematician Norbert Wiener studied information and feedback systems us- ing the central nervous system as a model. McLuhan took the converse approach by con- sidering, as early as 1951, the ways in which humans are shaped by (knowledge acquired through) technology and science and his work is therefore important for the emerging field of "cyborgology" in contemporary cultural stud- ies (Hables Gray et al., 1-14).

17Haraway mentions that cyborgs pervade four main areas of contemporary society, namely medicine, entertainment, the military, and computer technology (1985,568).

18The story does not specify how the sex change occurs other than mentioning a series of "injections" which alter the subject's ap- pearance immediately but herhis personality only gradually. This gradual change creates ambiguities regarding the internal (biological) and/or external (cultural) reasons for herhis changing behavior and personality.

IgAdopting a strictly constructionist read- ing of the story, Anne Herrmann argues that "Selbstversuch" represents a "textual" (not sexual) experiment. By positing not the femi- nine but the masculine as the Other ("An- ders"), "Wolf uses the transsexual not to problematize issues of sexuality, but to fore- ground structures of speaking, seeing, and knowing that make questions of sexuality a question of power whose solution lies in the transformation of social structuresJ' (Her- mann 54).

20The entire experiment leaves the essen- tialism/constructionism question in suspense: On one hand, the medically induced sex change suggests that sex can be "made."On the other hand, the elaborate tests that are designed to prove that the sex change was successful indi- cate that gender characteristics are presumed to be stable and quantifiable, i.e., essential to the particular genderlsex.

21This is in marked contrast to Irmtraud Morgner's sex change story "Valeska" which experiments with various forms of desire and sexuality that cut across the hetero/ homosex- ual opposition and create deliberate confusion about Valeska's "realJJ gender or sex. A brief comparison further highlights the implica- tions of the relative absence of the body and of desire in Wolf's story. For instance, the psycho- logical and emotional effects of the transfor- mation into a male body are brushed over in "Selbstversuch," while Valeska comments humourously on the awkwardness of her newly acquired body. Looking at her male geni- tal in a "detachedJJ and ironic manner, Valeska explicitly deconstructs the myth of the phallus. This playful relation to the male body contin- ues when Valeska (who keeps her feminine name and largely her feminine identity includ- ing her memories as a woman) experiments with the new body by engaging in a sexual rela- tionship with a woman friend. Since Valeska's desire for herbis previous male partner has not ceased, she later resumes sexual relations with him. But, in line with the story's fairy tale character that made possible her sex change in the first place, she has sex with him only after momentarily switching back into her female body-a concession to the traditional mores of her country, as the narrator ironically com- ments.

22Morgner's "Valeska," by contrast, ad- dresses, in a far more explicit way than Wolf s "Selbstversuch," the destabilizing effects of an imagined sex change vis-a-vis the existing heterosexualization of desire. These "trans- gressions" contributed to the exclusion of Morgner's story from the original anthology published in the GDR. Cf. Kaufmann, 192.

23References to desire and the body appear in Wolfs intertextual reference to the Teire- sias myth. In this Greek myth of a sex change, it is the knowledge of the sexual pleasures of the other sex that is at stake. Yet the issues of desire and the body disappear in Wolfs refor- mulation of the myth: instead, it serves as a trope for Anders' search for the secret of the professor's "success" as a male scientist, which turns out to be his indifference and his inabil- ity to love in the most general sense of the word (SV 95, 100).

24Harding's standpoint theory contrasts with Haraway's strict constructionist position. Yet their objectives are very similar (Cf. Har- ding 1993 and Haraway 1988).

25Cf. also Chela Sandoval's balanced as- sessment-she considers both the risks and the opportunities-of the tendency among white Western feminists' to draw on third world feminisms (41 1-13).

26 The scientist Christine Woesler sees "Selbstversuch" (specifically the subjective and critical stance which the narrator adopts) as foregrounding the positionality and partial- ity of all science1 scientists (86).

27Wolf addresses this lack of an adequate ethical discourse regarding advances in the sci- ences and technology in a more explicit man- ner in Storfall (1987). Cf. also Hebel's reading (43-44).

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