How the Gene Got Its Groove
Figurative Language, Science, and the Rhetoric of the Real
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Traces the rhetorical work of the gene in scientific and nonscientific discourse throughout the twentieth century.
Against a backdrop of the history of the gene as a scientific and a cultural icon, How the Gene Got Its Groove examines how "genes" function as rhetorical objects. Returning to Wilhelm Johannsen's original argument for the term, Elizabeth Parthenia Shea maintains that the gene was, first and foremost, a rhetorical invention, designed to lay claim to a material reality and to dissociate itself from the problems of language, conjecture, and rhetorical uncertainty. She traces the rhetorical work of the gene through scientific and nonscientific arguments throughout the twentieth century. The gene's travels between scientific and popular texts challenge us to recognize the subtle powers of figurative language in creating a sense that matters of science stand outside the contingencies of language and the influences of rhetoric.
Elizabeth Parthenia Shea is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at Northeastern University.
"This book addresses a significant topic that cuts across English, communication studies, and cultural studies. The author's treatment of the gene-as-object in contemporary culture adds a significant dimension to the understanding of how genetic imagery is materially present in popular contexts." — John Lyne, University of Pittsburgh
"The book is consistent with postmodern views of language and semantics, which hold that words are not precise signifiers. This is an important message that rhetoricians need to continue conveying, especially about scientific language." — Ken Baake, author of Metaphor and Knowledge: The Challenges of Writing Science