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Having the human genome is like having a Landsat map of the earth, compared to a world where the map tapers off into the unknown. . . . It's as different a view of human biology as a map of the earth in the fourteen-hundreds was compared to a view from space today.
--Eric Lander, molecular biologist
This is like Vesalius. . . . Before Vesalius, people didn't even know they had hearts and lungs.
--Norton Zinder, molecular biologist
Maps are models of worlds crafted through and for specific practices of intervening and ways of life.
The Human Genome Project turns our to be a ferocious magnet for a host of synoptic metaphors, very few of which actually evoke the human body. Such terms as Holy Grail, code of codes, map of the earth, book, set of instructions, mosaic, jigsaw puzzle, recipe, scripture, blueprint, Talmud, software, the key to human nature, master medical model, summit of human knowledge all crop up regularly both in scholarly and popular discourse. These proliferating metaphors register as totalizing attempts to grasp the sense of the immense project all at once; and, in fact, the HGP is professedly a totalizing project, with the molecular biologist playing the role of the Great Totalizer of Biotech Oz. Critical theory's noble renunciation of grand narratives, its reluctant long goodbye to the project of totalization, has been answered by molecular biology's compensatory inauguration of the unraveling of a code three billion letters long. This gigantic enterprise of genetic totalization has been made feasible, technically and economically, by two other closely related forces endowed with the myth of virtually unlimited (i.e., ever-increasing) power and speed: the computer and globalization. Together these epochal forces now promise at a minimum to free the body …