Anda di halaman 1dari 5

Literature of Truth: The Traditional Basis of Science in Middlesex

Science has for centuries been the benchmark of progress for developing societies. As science

changes the world, however, the traditions that define society’s culture remain unchanged. The two

concepts seem as though they are distinct and unconnected, but Eugenides’ Middlesex seeks to prove their

relationship. His epic novel is in part an exploration of rifts and divides between other, more concrete

concepts such as race and gender, and employs the perceived rift between science and tradition as a third

major subject to investigate, while simultaneously increasing the efficacy of his arguments overall. In

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides breaks the barrier between science and tradition implied by modern society

by revealing the symbiotic dependence each has on the other, while preserving the distinct symbolic

identity captured by each.

In exploring the plotline surrounding Callie’s birth, Eugenides brings about the initial discussion

of the relative merits of science and tradition, using the womb as a battleground on which to mount a war

between the two ideologies that eventually prove to be inextricably linked. Milton and Tessie, when

considering having another child, both want to get a daughter that will contrast with their son Chapter

Eleven. Upon approach to this moral grey area, however, the family sharply divides regarding the

prospect of gender engineering. Uncle Pete, the scientifically gifted friend of Milton, championed the

belief that based upon scientific reasoning, a couple that wants a girl should have sexual intercourse the

day before ovulation, so that the male sperm has had time to rush in and die by the time the egg drops,

leaving only female sperm. This method, endorsed by the men of the family, sharply contrasts the time-

honored thinking of Tessie, whose belief was that “an embryo could sense the amount of love with which

it was created” (8-9). Eugenides uses these two diametrically opposed ideas to pit methodical, nearly

robotic planning against the ephemeral, transcendent beauty inherent to the act of conception. Despite this

pitched setup, however, the novel eventually draws them together at a middle point to reveal their

connection. Tessie’s belief that an embryo’s gender is a factor of love implies that at its most basic level,

even an unfounded tradition will at some point cross paths with scientific theory, in this case by stating
that gender is a factor of embryonic development. Thus, it is Eugenides’ statement that tradition relies on

science to develop a foundation of understanding upon which culture can develop; without this base,

society could never move beyond ignorance to even originate customs. Furthermore, despite her

misgivings about the methodical approach of her husband, Tessie eventually caves and follows Uncle

Pete’s method, resulting in Callie’s birth. Even though the two notions of science and tradition manifest

themselves in two opposing ideas regarding Callie’s conception, Tessie eventually abandons her deep-

seated tradition in favor of science, showing that even the most intrinsic biases can be overcome between

the two, and furthermore that they are not altogether disconnected ideas, but just two parts of one larger

logical plane.

In addition to using tangible arguments like those in the Stephenides family, Eugenides employs

symbolic items in the natural world to demonstrate that the creationist/evolutionist debates of modern

society obfuscate any deeper understanding of the growth of religion from science. The description of

Belle Isle in the novel refers to it as “a paramecium-shaped island in the Detroit River. . .[where] church

groups hold tent meetings” (111). Eugenides uses this description to illustrate with physical analogs his

belief that tradition, in this case of a religious nature, grows on a foundation of scientific understanding.

The paramecium image is representative of biological knowledge, which is a recurring subject as Callie

goes through her metamorphosis into Cal, while the juxtaposition of a church group in the park on the

island signifies the growth of tradition not in spite of, but rooted in scientific information. Furthermore,

having religious imagery associated with that of a single-celled organism instantly recalls the perennial

debate between creationist tradition and the scientific basis for evolution. Here Eugenides is inserting

personal opinion by putting both theories side by side, showcasing that they can be drawn together and

linked by their similarities rather than polarized and divided by differences.

Eugenides continues his symbolic imagery of tradition flowing forth from science with his

description of the Ford Rouge factory, evaluating the significance of nature as the basis for industry. As

Lefty Stephenides enters the city of Detroit, one of the first things he notices is the Ford Rouge factory, a

complex which looked “like a grove of trees, as if the Rouge’s eight main smokestacks had sown seeds to
the wind, and now ten or twenty or fifty smaller trunks were sprouting up in the infertile soil around the

plant” (95). Initially, Eugenides delineates the distinct identities held by industry and nature: his emphasis

on “infertile soil” evokes a mechanized, man-built world while the “sown seeds” idea visualizes a natural,

flourishing one. Despite these distinct images, however, the author illustrates the reliance between science

and technology by identifying the similarities between industrial growth and plant growth. Eugenides

takes a ubiquitous natural icon, the tree, and notes that just as trees release seeds to the wind and the

ground around them bursts forth with more trees, so too do factories like the Rouge expand outward and

grow like organic matter. The relationship between a factory and a tree continues, however, on a more

technical level: factories of the time ran on coal, which is made when ancient forests buried by time are

exposed to the heat and pressure of the earth’s mantle, so the author’s comparison of the factory to a

small forest is evocative of the real source of its power, a previous forest. This reliance entrenched in the

industrial world exhibits the kinship of nature and industry, and thus tradition and science.

Besides using nature as an analog for tradition, Eugenides also brings the Muslim subplot into the

discussion of science’s relationship with religious tradition, anecdotally linking Islam with scientific

achievement in a refutation of modern theological debate. During a particularly spirited sermon, W. D.

Fard, the charismatic leader of he Detroit chapter of the Nation of Islam, refers to a “God-Scientist” (153)

by the name of Yacub, who “Discovered the secrets of magnetism when he was only six years old. He

was playing with two pieces of steel and he held them together and discovered that scientific formula:

magnetism” (153-154). Immediately striking is the author’s use of the term “God-Scientist”, which, much

like Callie herself, is an amalgamation of differing ideas into one representative icon, in this case a person

who is both a theologian and a scientist. Eugenides’ argument appears not only in his nomenclature of

ancient scholars, but also in the ancient scholars themselves. In the debate over Callie’s conception,

Eugenides made the case that because the logic of tradition is rooted in the logic of science, tradition is

based on science. Fard’s sermon seeks to prove the opposite, namely that discovery is divinely inspired.

While modern science is often thought to disprove religion, recalling the creationism versus evolution

debate, the author instead argues that religion is proof of science, thus intertwining them in a veritable
symbiosis. He does so by once again juxtaposing the two concepts, though instead of putting tradition in a

scientific setting, like Tessie’s notions about conception, it is instead an example of science being tossed

into a traditional religious setting. Despite this adjustment, the author’s goal is the same: to illustrate the

symbiotic relationship between ideas as diverse as magnetism and religion, showing that the two aren’t

opposing forces, but similar ones.

Eugenides also employs the innate importance of the astrolabe to the spread of Christianity and

the practice of Islam as proof of the symbiotic reliance between science and tradition. He first introduces

the astrolabe—calling it a compass as a more familiar yet similar navigational device—as a literary tool

with his description as “Tear-shaped, white with black numbers, the compasses have a drawing of the

Kaaba stone at the center. . .The men revolve, one step at a time, until compass needles point to 34, the

number coding for Detroit. They consult the rim’s arrow to determine the direction of Mecca” (159). The

author includes this rather esoteric device in his novel because, effectively, it is the epitome of a

symbiotic relationship between science and tradition. One of the astrolabe’s original uses was to help

adventurous explorers travel by sea; the explorers of the 16th and 17th century, who used astrolabes to

navigate from Europe to the Americas, where one of their chief goals was to spread their culture and

Christianity to the natives. This was the first in what were several tradition-oriented tasks achieved with

the scientific calculations done by the astrolabe. Eugenides further cites the astrolabe as an example of the

correlation between science and religious tradition, recalling that the device has been used for centuries as

a mechanism to aid prayer by allowing individuals to face Mecca, the holy Islamic city. In this scenario

science is being used to further tradition in a positive fashion, a model for how differing ideas can and

should interact. The astrolabe is, in fact, extremely evocative of another family drama: that of Isaac and

Ishmael, half-brothers who founded Islam and Judaism, the religious precursor to Christianity. It is only

millennia later that the astrolabe serves both Christianity and Islam to meaningful, positive end.

Eugenides thus includes the astrolabe in his novel because it is an ideal example for the relationship

between science and tradition in society: not hostile, not opposing, but cooperative, symbiotic in nature.
In addition to the exploration of religious tradition and its outgrowth from science, the author also

traverses the more ethnically traditional territory of cuisine while furthering his argument that science

relies on tradition for its own stability. Eugenides writes a brief scene in which Desdemona is examined

by doctors because they believe that the reason Greeks stay physically younger for longer “was in [their]

food! A veritable fountain of youth in our dolmades and taramasalata and even in [their] baklava, which

didn’t commit the sin of containing refined sugar but had only honey” (287). Eugenides conceptualizes

the Stephenides’ diet, an admittedly innocuous yet deliciously traditional aspect of their life, as a basis for

the scientific pursuit of medicine. After previously outlining Desdemona to be a clearly traditional

woman, he suddenly thrusts her into a vastly different set of circumstances to demonstrate his point; the

way in which he juxtaposes traditional Greek dishes with clinical trials, placing Desdemona before

physicians whose only questions involve her daily food intake, illustrates in a literal manner that science

often relies on tradition in order for success, a secular counterpart to his example involving the God-

Scientist Yacub. Unlike some of his other, more abstract examples, this quote’s reliance on so relatable a

topic as food attempts to resonate with the reader, even if more the technical models do not.

In Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides breaks the barrier between science and tradition imposed by

today’s society by revealing the symbiotic dependence each has on the other, while preserving the distinct

symbolic identity captured by each. Eugenides, knowing that modern society is a place divided along

racial lines and political lines, along intellectual and longitudinal lines, worked in his novel to overcome

these barriers by drawing more upon similarities than differences, and in doing so revealing that the ideas

in question are often not only similar, but reliant upon one another. As the novel is exploring the concept

of a middle ground between the two genders, it is also revealing that there is a middle ground connecting

what have commonly been seen as opposite ideas, illustrating the reliance that tradition has on science as

a fundamental source of human understanding.