Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology
Susan Merrill Squier. Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology . New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994. xiii + 270 pp. Ill. $48.00 (cloth); $17.00 (paperbound).
It is a truism today that the scientists and engineers in the space program of the second half of the twentieth century were heavily influenced by their earlier reading in science fiction, ranging from H. G. Wells to Amazing Stories. Susan Merrill Squier begins her study with a similar claim, directing our attention to the role of metaphors in shaping issues involving reproductive technology in today's society. Focusing on a small influential group of thinkers related to each other socially, politically, professionally, and familially, Squier traces the historical construction of metaphors that serve to both describe and construct scientific and medical research.
The book opens with a fascinating analysis of contemporary visual images including magazine covers, newspaper cartoons, and the cover of Robin Cook's Mutation (1989). From there, Squier shifts to the primary focus of her study, literary metaphors in the early twentieth century. She is careful to place her analysis within historical circumstances, explaining: "Both the technologies and those who assess them are haloed by their discursive and cultural contexts, and we must look to contexts for the fullest understanding of the social implications of any technology" (p. 99). The writings of Julian Huxley, J. B. S. Haldane, Vera Brittain, J. D. Bernal, Charlotte Haldane, Aldous Huxley, and Naomi Haldane Mitchison are examined in detail.
One of the most exciting sections of the book discusses the ways in which visualization technologies (such as ultrasound) and reproductive technologies have made the gestating woman virtually invisible. This claim is a commonplace in current feminist theory, but a similar disregard of maternal involvement appeared much earlier, in the interwar period, in the writing of Aldous Huxley--most particularly, his imagery of ectogenesis in Brave New World (1932). Here Squier is most specific about the connection between literary metaphors and scientific research. Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe invoked the same images in A Matter of Life (1981), their memoir tracing the research leading to the 1978 birth of Louise Brown, the first so-called test-tube baby.
Other chapters illustrate how early feminist critiques of science, in the work of [End Page 556] writers such as Naomi Haldane Mitchison, used metaphors of reproductive technology to challenge mainstream perspectives. With Donna Harraway's concept of situated knowledges, Squier shows how these authors constructed an alternative view of Western science.
This is a thought-provoking history of reproductive technology. Its analysis makes clear the lineage of many of the images we use today in discussing this critical area of scientific research. Though it would have been stronger if Squier had concluded with a chapter that delineated more clearly the connections between these metaphors and today's research issues, Babies in Bottles is an interesting collection of literary analyses integrated with contemporary scientific concerns.
Rima D. Apple
University of Wisconsin, Madison