Science-in-Fiction: Science as Tribal Culture

in the Novels of Carl Djerassi


In 2002, the Innsbruck based Haymon Publishing Housere-is­sued the German translations of the first two novels of CarlDjerassi’s Science-in-Fiction tetralogy under a new title, Stammesgeheimnisse(“Tribal Secrets”). Thistitle was designed to generate new interest in Djerassi’s two mostsuccessful nov­els, Cantor’s Dilemma (1989; German translation 1991) and Bourbaki’sGambit (1994; German 1993, one yearbefore the original version in English), which had previously been pub­lishedin German by another publisher.[1] But the title Stammesgeheimnisse also provides an interpretive insight into CarlDjerassi’s fictional inquiry into the cultures of modern sci­ence whichhe deals with in both his novels and his plays. In the preface to this newedition, he refers to scientists, especially those “at the harder edgesof chemistry and physics,” as “mem­bers of a tribal culture,whose idiosyncratic ways of behavior are not only foreign to outsiders butfrequently not even recognized by the members of the tribes themselves.”[2]This knowledge is transmitted from teacher to student in the course of a long,tra­ditional relationship likened by Djerassi to an “osmotic pro­cess.”

Like the many anthropologists who have dealt withtribal cultures in the past two centuries, Djerassi attempts an explora­tionof the “cultural practices” of this tribe which he terms eso­teric.The anthropological approach implied in his fictional pro­ceedings arerather traditional. To describe contemporary West­ern society, Frenchsociologist Michel Maffesoli has defined a new kind of postmodern tribalism ofsmall, very temporary communities, very unstable tribes, which human beings con­stantlyenter and leave again.[3] Djerassi’s scientific tribe haslittle that is postmodern in this sense. At least at the outset it is her­meticallysealed off and rather static, thereby resembling tradi­tional tribaldefinitions. In contradistinction to anthropological methods, however, hismethod of exploration is fictional and it is easy to see why. Djerassi was– and in many ways still is – a member of that tribe. Thus, givenhis own experience in this little known culture, he promises not only ananalysis of tribal behavior, but also a revelation of its“secrets.” Unlike most an­thropologists and ethnographers, forwhom a radical distance between their own biographical, social, familial, andeducational contexts and their target cultures is a methodological must, herequires a medium which makes possible a heightened degree of self-reflexivity.Science-in-fiction, Djerassi claims, is autobiog­raphy,[4] and itis precisely the lack of self-reflexivity which he criticizes in naturalscientists and which led him, in his early sixties, to exchange his laboratorycoat for the writer’s pen.

What the reader of Djerassi’s novels gets is a kind of fictionalcultural anthropology, a novelistic, and later drama-based, envi­ronmentwhere Djerassi fictionally constructs the very worlds which are at the sametime the objects of his literary scrutiny – and all this in one and thesame fictional discourse without any formal differentiation between one and theother. From the point of view of modern science, this is not as paradoxical asit may seem, as it acknowledges the fact that researchers are always in someways not only directly implicated in their research, but that their veryscientific intervention actually co-determines the out­come of theirinvestigations. Anthropology, especially, would seem to be amenable to such anapproach. We have not only experienced a pervasive “anthropologicalturn” in literary stud­ies, but also a, maybe less vehement,“literary turn” in anthro­pology which acknowledges thenarrative and narratological qualities of its research.

It seems justified, therefore, to use the occasion ofCarl Djer­assi’s prominently placed anthropological reference toevaluate his science-in-fiction, and in particular the first of the novelssubsumed under the title Stammesgeheimnisse, in the context of tribal discourses. I will arguethat in this way, he both critiques the culture of the “hard”sciences and opens up a dialogue be­tween the natural sciences andliterature (the humanities) as part of his pedagogical attempt to raise thescientific literacy of our society to higher levels.


In Routledge’s Encyclopedia of Social andCultural Anthropol­ogy publishedin 1996, one will not find “tribe,” “tribal” or“tri­balism” as a main entry. However, it does appear in thefine-print glossary at the end of the book where it says: “The terms‘tribe’ and ‘tribal’ [...] have a variety of meanings,some of which are taboo in modern anthropology.”[5] Apartfrom the fact that I find it amusing, and maybe also an indication ofpost-modern self-reflexive humor, that an anthropological reference work usesthe term “taboo” for the description of its own disci­plinarydevelopments, this indication of a forbidden subject strongly points to thesignificance this category will have for the analysis of Djerassi’sworks.

Whereas according to the Encyclopedia, the category is ac­ceptable for the designation of a “political unit largerthan a clan and smaller than a nation or people, especially when indigenouspopulations themselves use the term” – something that clearly has not been the case among natural scientists before Djerassi – it is “less politicallycorrect in some quarters,” and indeed is “generallydiscouraged” when referring to “aspects of culture other thanpolitics.”

It is precisely this taboo territory that Djerassi’sscience-in-fiction addresses. The lack of political correctness has to do withthe evolutionist approaches in anthropology and the attendant value judgments,which would define some forms of social and cultural organization as superiorto others, with “tribal” cultures of course occupying a positionpretty much at the bottom of the list. Such a value judgment is a result of ourwhite, male, euro­centric and in any case self-proclaimed position ofsuperiority which must be abolished both for reasons of scientific objectiv­ityand – political correctness.

Djerassi’s tribe, however, represents, with someexceptions, a white, predominantly male, and eurocentric group – at leastin terms of its rationalist, efficiency-oriented direction which is underscrutiny in his novels. Whereas Marxist anthropologists have described theconception of the “tribe” as a colonialist con­struct providedby anthropologists to validate and vindicate co­lonialist exploitation,[6]in the case of the tribe called “Natural Science,” this critique isturned against itself. The paradoxical situation is that, evolutionarilyspeaking, the “Natural Sciences” tribe is one of the youngest, andin some way, the most devel­oped. Yet, in spite of this, members of thattribe retain many qualities of the tribes located at the other end of theevolutionary spectrum, in the “infancy” of humanity.

The critical – and ironic, often delightfullycomical – poten­tial of Djerassi’s novels is located preciselyin that seeming paradox. Cantor’s Dilemma, published in 1989, is still Djer­assi’ssingle most famous literary work and it will be my pri­mary focus in thisessay. In the afterword, the author explains that “Science is both adisinterested pursuit of truth and a com­munity, with its own customs, itsown social contract.”[7] Charac­terized by rationalism andan emphasis on thinking and logic, scientists should not be expected to displaythe naiveté of tribal cultures. Yet, in spite of this, and possiblybecause of it, scien­tists behave in the “primitive manner” oftribal societies.

But how exactly is the tribal conception used in Djerassi’s worksand which insight does it provide? In an Americanist context, is it an Americantribe? Functionally, how does the in­terpretation of the culture of thenatural sciences as tribal reflect on that area of scientific inquiry? And,finally, can the tribal model, as a sort of annex to the widely branched-outfield of literary anthropology, contribute to our understanding of theconstruction of the sciences in fiction?


There are as many characterizations of what tribalcultures are and represent as there are studies of tribes and cultural anthro­pologistsor ethnographers investigating them. Still, there are some constants which recur in most studies no matter inwhich part of the world they have been undertaken. In addition to summaryexpositions of the subject, my conceptional sources are“traditional” studies such as those of African and Austral­asiancultures.[8] Also, I have consulted a very helpfulrecent investigation of the patriarchal family of the Balkans, especiallyAlbania, the Kosovo, Macedonia, and various regions of Ser­bia.[9]

As an overall conception, the comparison seems faultyat first, because tribes lived or live in relatively self-sufficient iso­lation.Scientists, on the other hand, are part of a society with an extremely highdivision of labor and thus closely interlock with all other parts of the socialsystem. Given their central position for society, one would expect their locationin it to be similarly in themiddle. However: it is not. In Djerassi’s novels, especially in Cantor’sDilemma, natural scientists live faraway from the “real world” with which they have an uneasyrelationship. When central protagonist Professor Isidore Cantor, in short I.C.,wants to have something of a private life every few weeks, he drives hours fromhis large midwestern university to Chicago, where he owns a fancy condominiumwith a magnificent view. There, the internationally famous organic chemistturned cell biologist meets up with three friends and they engage in somethinglike Hausmusik. But neither hisgraduate students nor his colleagues know anything about his private life– it took years until his fa­vorite graduate student finally set footinto the door of Cantor’s private home – and such a private lifebarely exists for this workoholic, at least until he meets the sophisticatedwoman of his dreams.

Another basic question which would have to be asked at the outset iswhether scientists all belong to one tribe or whether there are differenttribes competing with each other. The answer to this question is uncertain, inpart because of the different definitions of tribes, in part because of theuncertainties written into Djerassi’s texts. To the extent that theyshare similar myths, also myths of origin, which are central to anthropologicaldefi­nitions of tribes, they are members of one and the same tribe. To thedegree that a tribe is defined territorially, they would, given their differentdisciplines and their different geographical loca­tions, be members ofdifferent, competing, albeit also in some ways related, tribes.

Because these are fictional works playing with thesecon­cepts, it is advisable not to be overly narrow in the comparisonbetween tribal existence and scientists’ lives, nor to place too muchemphasis on anthropological consistency. It is not critical that the“Natural Science” tribe meet all characteristics tradi­tionallyascribed to tribes by anthropologists. It is much more important to explore thedifferent, at times contradictory, models of tribal behavior amongDjerassi’s scientists. The brutal com­petition among scientists, forexample, could be either inter­preted as intratribal feuds or intertribal warfare. In their rites, certainly, they seemall very similar, thus appearing to be mem­bers of one tribe, or at leastof several closely related tribes.

Territoriality, a central concept in the definition oftribes, is in two ways an important aspect also of the tribal quality ofDjerassi’s scientists. It is, of course, not the territoriality of modernstatehood, but, rather, territory directly connected to the workingenvironment. Although Harvard is referred to as an Empire in Cantor’sDilemma, it is really much more a tribalterritory with a chief, the “big man,” in Cantor’s line of re­search.The novel mentions quite a few other tribal territories, located mostly on theEast or the West Coast, but also, like Cantor’s, in the Midwest. Loyaltyis clearly owed, though by no means always paid, to one’s territoriallydefined tribe. When Jeremy Stafford, Cantor’s student, decides to changesides and moves from the Midwest to Harvard, his boss considers this treasonand lack of solidarity which are inacceptable in any tribal society. AmongDjerassis tribes, one can be accused of tribal infidelity for much smallerinfractions. Earlier in the novel, even a visit to Jeremy’s supposedlysick grandfather has Cantor complain: “‘Where’s theman’s loyalty,’ he grumbled, to his grandfather or to thelab?” (86)

The second, and more important, version ofterritoriality, is the field itself which is defined, measured, defended, andcon­tested. More than even geographical territoriality and in many waysinterlocked with it, it defines tribal limits. Interdisciplinar­ity, then,can be either viewed as large-scale tribal feuding or as inter-tribal alliancesdesigned to bring about something new – such as the cooperation betweenfour elder scientists from dif­ferent fields in The Bourbaki Gambit which brings about PCR (polymerase chain reaction), acollaboration which ends in great difficulties because of disciplinarydifferences and an overly competitive spirit.

The territoriality principle in tribal life iscounteracted by an­other principle central to tribal organization, namelythe taboo of inbreeding. In traditional tribal society, this obviously does notapply to the tribe as a whole, but to smaller segments such as families. Thereare very complex systems designed to avoid in­cest and in some ways,scientists, especially in their formative years, follow that pattern. The movefrom one institution to the next results in a productive intellectual mix whichhelps to avoid the negative effects of an inbred research community. That, in Cantor’sDilemma, seems to be the main task ofthe large state universities and other second-rank institutions – namelyto pro­vide new blood for the institutions of, as it says several times inthat book, the academic superstars. Tribal researchers have pointed to exogamyas a strategy to enlarge one’s network of relatives, and thus one’spower. In Cantor’s Dilemma,it says explicitly that one reason for moving from one territory to the next isto establish an “old boy’s network” of mentors who will besupportive in one’s career.

Tribal research consistently points to the question oflineage in tribal society, i.e., a generally believed myth of descendance froma particular mythical forefather. Natural scientists form such a lineage whichis important for their identity. Carl Djer­assi’s novels and playsare replete with references to the history of science(s). Even in his ownautobiographies, Djerassi always explains his most important achievements interms of the tradi­tion in which they stand.[10] Inhis play Oxygen (2001), he intro­ducesthe idea of a “retro” nobel prize in order to celebrate sci­entists’past achievement. In Cantor’s Dilemma, problems or questions are frequently solved byconsulting predecessors: “[...] in preparation for their trip toStockholm, many Nobel laureates have studied the records of their predecessors:what words they voiced here; what their experiences were in subsequentyears.” (189)

In most cases, lineage implies a patriarchical systemof soci­ety with the present chief claiming identity with, or at leastproximity to, the mythical forefather. Patriarchal, Djerassi’s sci­entifictribe certainly is, though increasingly challenged by en­ergetic youngfemales who, however, are forced to adapt to the prevalent models of behaviorand relationship. The novel speaks of “scientific machismo” (86)and this manifests itself nowhere more clearly than in the relationship betweenmentor and young researcher. The “picking of a Ph.D. mentor is probablythe sin­gle most important decision they [graduate students] make when theystart their graduate work. It’s really like an orphan picking a newfather.” (24) However, the mentor resembles more a god­father, whose function, according to tribalresearchers, is to en­ter into a mental, or even intellectual, relationshipwith his god­child.

Trust and cooperation between mentor and Ph.D. student are a centralcharacteristic of Djerassi’s scientific tribes. The favo­rite –often said to be the most intelligent or advanced – student, carries anespecially large burden. If that relationship, as in the case of Cantor andStafford, is uneasy or even disturbed, the life of the tribe is in danger. Theman on top is then unable to ope­rate effectively, scientific developmentcomes to a standstill.

Djerassi’s fiction is justly famous for a numberof female re­searchers and scientists who are true role models for theirpeers in the extrafictional terrain. In volume four of the trilogy, NO (1998), a woman from India is introduced who makes itin the American corporate as well as scientific world. Yet, these ad­vancesare only successful if women are willing to become members of the tribe on itsterms. Ethnographic research has shown that under certain conditions it ispossible to join tribes, but therequirements for acceptance are often complex and in­tense.

In Cantor’s Dilemma, the best example is one Celestine Price who seems tohave almost been born a control freak. When she decides that it is time to loseher virginity, she throws a towel at her swimming team trainer and commands himto lay her. Whether she is conscious of it or not, she picks her males ac­cordingto her academic and career needs, getting, as her housemate, adeconstructionist graduate student of English, ob­serves, “access to[a man’s] knowledge through [her] sexuality” (119).

Just as among her successful male counterparts, the sciences determineCelestine’s behavior; in fact, it can hardly be sepa­rated from them.For her, sex is at times “an experiment rather than a romanticinterlude,” and it is maybe not surprising, that, as a record of thatexperiment, she has learned to become a ver­bal lover who insists on anoral protocol of the act. Her rigidity in choosing sex life and partners isastounding. She is not alone: many characters in Djerassi’s books findthat the combination of sex and the lab, sex in science, is irresistible andthe connection of work and sexuality is often made explicit.

Sex is not restricted by many taboos in this tribe,although the central character of Cantor’s Dilemma, Isidore Cantor, has been sexually abstinent for overa decade. Another professor’s habit of not pursuing his female studentsuntil he has handed in their grades and not before they have turned 21 has alegalistic con­notation, though it reminds one of initiation ceremonies.But the real rituals take place in the lab, in the lecture hall, and at con­ferences.A pervasively oral culture rules life in these territories. Even though onewould think that in the natural sciences it is not important how a message is delivered but what is said, the re­sults, the polished rhetoric andthe etiquette-ridden way of ask­ing and answering questions are obviouslyof prime importance for success or failure. In Kurt Krauss’ famed noonseminars at Harvard, successful presenting is at least as important as thescientific argument. Other examples of oral communication also abound: thereare “rumors” (5) emerging from the lab, and alto­gether, a“lore” (10) develops which goes far beyond the indi­vidualmembers of research groups of graduate students and attaches itself to aparticular chairholder or even the chair itself.

In Cantor’s Dilemma, this hierarchy is prominently reflected in thequestion of the order of the authors. Should all authors of a research group belisted alphabetically, or should the tribal chief always receive first place?One clever female professor, realizing that she will not have much of a chancewith a name like Yardley, starting with a “Y,” goes to the courthouse, pays a small fee, and becomes “Ardley,” thus putting herselfinto aca­demic pole position. It is the Ph.D. student in Englishliterature, an ardent Bakhtinian and deconstructionist and obviously mem­berof a very different tribe ofscientists, who gets to ask Prof. Ardley why a professor, not having done anyof the lab work, should be listed on the publications of their staff at all?Whereas the deconstructionist argues in political terms, the natural sci­enceestablishment defends itself in tribal language, namely that it is a groupeffort and that all members of a team deserve to be on it. Implicitly, ofcourse, the point is that the head of the tribe is responsible for what isgoing on in his group and, logically, shares in all its achievements.

Djerassi’s natural scientists are a veryAmerican tribe, but it seems as though their American tribal origins have beenex­panded to all members of that tribe globally or that they existindependently of their American existence. Thus, the pervasive competitivenessrules not only the lives of American scientists but of scientists world-wide.One of Djerassi’s most important conceptions, discussed in virtually allof his novels and plays, is priority.By this is meant scientists’ peculiar preoccupation with making aparticular discovery first. If one researcher makes a discovery but is only oneday later in the publication of his re­sults than his colleague who hashappened to have the same in­sight, years of work will be useless. Evensimultaneous discov­ery, should it occur and be established as such, willtake away much of the researcher’s triumph. This explains the aura of se­crecywhich surrounds the labs in Djerassi’s novels and the long discussionsover how, where and when to publish particular findings. Whereas thiscompetitiveness may strike us as very American, it is, of course, also part ofthe tradition of tribal feuds. It is interesting that in spite of the intensityof these feuds, also in Djerassi’s novels, there is a sense ofegalitarianism be­tween the different segments of the one tribe or betweenthe different tribes, however one wants to interpret Djerassi’s scien­tists.The various groups around the country, which are very similarly structured,accept each other. It is a kind of competi­tive collegiality with anawareness that all parts of the system need each other. Paradoxically, thestriving for hegemony does not invalidate this egalitarianism.

Although success manifests itself in originaldiscoveries and publications, the ultimate dream of any natural scientist inDjer­assi’s tribal world is the Nobel Prize. Nobel lust is the main subject of Cantor’s Dilemma and no scientist is immune to it. The recognition it provides, nationally and internationally, the ritesone goes through when receiving it in Stockholm, are the supreme fantasies inthe life of a scientist. It is not the consider­able sum of money connectedwith the prize that these scientists are after. It is the distinction –and the Nobel lecture the prize winner gets to give – which is important,because it will make a scientist immortal. It is easy to see that through theNobel dis­tinction, scientists are able to partake in the defining myth oftheir tribe and are raised to the status of those who give meaning andsignificance to it.

A prerequisite for a smooth functioning of tribal life as I havedescribed it so far is trust. It is a concept which goes beyond the solidarityand loyalty often reported as characteristic of tribal life and yet it is thecentral characteristic of Djerassi’s tribe. In order for scientists tosucceed, they must be able to trust each others’ results and researchmethods. However, this ability to depend on the results of a scientistcolleague is threatened by the very human qualities of the researcher. Cantorhimself points to a “dissociative” personality of scientists:

[...] on one side, therigorous believer in the experimental method, with its set of rules and itsultimate objective of advancing knowledge; on the other, the fallible humanbeing with all the accompanying emotional foi­bles. [...] Ascientist’s drive, his self-esteem, are really based on a very simpledesire: recognition by one’s peers, the Krausses of this world. (113)

Cantor here points to a basic incompatibility which ispoten­tially destructive for the whole life of the tribe. Cantor’sgrand design for a model explaining the formation of tumors, an “in­tellectualtour de force,” as the novel repeatedly says, is threat­ened by thesloppiness of his favorite student, Stafford, in exe­cuting the experimentwhich would prove the theory. His own credibility is threatened, exposinghimself to Schadenfreude, as itsays in the English text, the gloating over the failure of other, lesssuccessful scientists. Instead of breaking the vicious circle and talking toStafford about his failings, Cantor now starts hiding things from him, therebyexpressing his own distrust in his collaborator – who, in turn, hurt bythis lack of trust and rec­ognition of his mentor, takes his leave andstarts to work for the competition.

Even though the novel goes further than that – Harvard chief KurtKrauss, the villain of the book, even dares to blackmail Cantor – thenovel basically deals with such “gray issues” (229) of science. Inthe afterword, Djerassi asks what “harm is caused to its [the naturalscientists‘] culture when the elite displays such occupationaldeviance” (229). Even though he does not provide an explicit answerthere, I believe the text itself, as well as his other texts, provides it.

Finally, to this list of tribal characteristics withpredomi­nantly negative implications, a positive dimension of the meta­phorshould be added. For certain schools of postcolonial thinking, tribes havepositive connotations because they are largely or even completely independentfrom the centralized state and its government and live a self-sufficient,self-sustain­able life style. Both of these aspects form a positive counter­argumentto the charge of isolationism. When scientists link up politically in a peaceorganization in order to bring about disar­mament and global peace aspresented in volume 3 of the series, Menachem’s Seed (1997), or when they collaborate clandes­tinelyagainst senseless bureaucratic rules such as the age limits for professors,there is a positive sense of networking against centralist administrative coercionwhich is rather hopeful.


More importantly even than an understanding of thespecific ritual, mythical, or sexual characteristics of the Scientists’tribe, Djerassi’s anthropological fiction presents the world of naturalscientists as constituting a specific culture of its own. Thus, the project ofthe natural sciences, which is often said to be consti­tuted by objectivityand rationality and thus set into opposition with the humanities, is renderedas relative, preliminary, ritual­istic. The rhetoric of necessity, of Sachlogik and Sachzwang, is subverted and replaced by a relativistic perspective where dif­ferentdiscourses compete with each other.

This does not mean that the “pursuit oftruth,” the ideal of objectivity in the natural sciences, is destroyed.We do not get a characterization of science as a version of magic in the senseof Lévi-Strauss who has pointed to the role magic has played in theprogress of science. We also do not get the feminist,“deep-ecologist” criticism of science as a version of an unacknowl­edged,repressive myth.[11] Instead of setting the naturalsciences against a world of“soft” cultural relativity, it dissolves the false dichotomy ofculture and (natural) science by showing the lat­ter’s own cultural quality. By integrating, or ratherre-integrat­ing, scientists into the scientific project, rather thanabstracting from them, the sciences can be evaluated on a new cultural level.

Of course there have been many novels and plays aboutthe ethical responsibility of scientists for what they are doing. They, too,have included the scientist into the context of his work. In Menachem’sSeed, a number of scientists,including nuclear sci­entists, are shown as participating in what amountsto the fic­tional version of a Pugwash meeting, and they display preciselythat spirit of responsibility and concern.

However, what we get through Djerassi’santhropological perspective on natural scientists is something else; namely alook at the individuals in their own working environment and together with their working environment. It is, after all,science-in-fiction and not only scientists in fiction and that permits us toview the interaction between the two.

The point is not so much that the scientists in Djerassi’s nov­elsare less than pleasant. Of course they are oftentimes dis­gusting. Theirsexist, authoritarian, often slave driver-like be­havior, their clumsyways, their success-driven obsessions, their inability to talk to each otherand their tendency to hide behind ritualistic forms – all of that makesthem frequently very un­pleasant characters. But then, so are most othercharacters, in a variety of similar, but also different ways. What isremarkable is that Djerassi’s fiction places the scientists, who areoftentime considered to exist outside of society, squarely in it. They, justlike everybody else, have a specific culture, a specific way of relating,specific modes of behavior, which can be compared to those of everybody else.Paradoxically, by pointing to lovable or less lovable cultural specfics,Djerassi is destroying the myth of exotic otherness of scientists and also theisolation his characters find themselves in.

The breakthrough which some of his scientists maketowards members of other tribes – such as artists, historians, orbusiness people and, the male ones among them, towards smart and sexy women– suggests that. But even if they do not connect to the outside world,the anthropologial look at scientists as tribal es­tablishes acommunicative avenue between scientists and non-scientists. In this way, hispromise of a dialogue (dialogue for Djerassi being central to literature asopposed to the monologi­cal sciences[12]) between the twocultures is fulfilled, at least incipiently. Unlike C.P. Snow’s twocultures, which remain strangely separate and isolated from each other andwhose breach can only be bridged by knowledge, Djerassi’sscience-in-fiction has opened up adialogue between the cultures and be­tween the texts and their readers. Inview of the prominence of that dialogue, which we find repeated in his othernovels in many different ways, it is not surprising that Djerassi has switchedto theater as an even more congenial genre for com­munication.

Unlike Carl Djerassi who insists on the critical significance of thescientific knowledge imparted by his novels, I believe strongly that one canunderstand and appreciate his work also without a profound knowledge of thescientific principles in­volved. This does not belittle his pedagogicalabilities in ex­plaining processes in the natural science, but they may,unfortu­nately, be lost on some readers. A strong focus should be placed onthe qualities in his fiction which facilitate communication and which go beyondthe pedagogical impetus. It is there, where Djerassi’s greatness lies.

Carl Djerassi’s literary works have opened up anavenue to­wards an understanding of the cultural basis, and thus also rela­tivity,of the natural sciences and, in part, also of the technical sciences. Theexistence of such a specific culture is often not recognized or acknowledged byscientists themselves. One next step might be to investigate more closelywhether these cultures are diversified nationally and ethnically. In many ways,the members of Djerassi’s science tribe are international and univer­salized,part, not of a Gelehrtenrepublik,but of a Gelehrten­stamm. Butcould it not be that these cultures are different ac­cording to nationaland ethnic origin? This might explode the tribal metaphor – but certainlynot Carl Djerassi’s achievement of having formulated these questions.


(From “Science, Technology, and theHumanities in Recent American Fiction,” (ed. P. Freese & C.B. Harris), Verlag Die BlaueEule, Essen, 2004) by permission of the author and editors)

[1]Carl Djerassi, Stammesgeheimnisse: Zwei Romane aus der Welt der Wissenschaft(Innsbruck: Haymon, 2002).

[2]Djerassi, Stammesgeheimnisse, p. 7.– My translation from the German, W.G.

[3] RobShields, “Foreword: Masses or Tribes,” in Michel Maffesoli, TheTime of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Spcieties, transl. from the French by Don Smith (London, ThousandOakes, New Delhi: Sage, 1996), pp. ix-xii.

[4] SeeCarl Djerassi, “Science-in-Fiction ist nicht Science Fiction: Ist sieAuto­biographie?” in Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, ed., Science inFiction: Zum Gespräch zwischen Literatur und Kunst (Wien: Hölder – Pichler – Tempsky,1998), pp. 71-104.

[5]“Tribe, tribal,” in Encyclopedia of Social and CulturalAnthropology (London & New York:Routledge, 1996), p. 626. – For a summary of the anthropological discus­sionof the tribal concept, see also Morton H. Fried, The Notion of Tribe (Menlo Park, CA: Cummings, 1975).

[6]Abdel Ghaffar M. Ahmed, “‘Tribal’ Elite: A Base for SocialStratification in the Sudan,” in Stanley Diamond, ed., Toward aMarxist Anthropology: Problems and Perspectives (The Hague, Paris, New York: Mouton, 1979), p. 329.

[7]Carl Djerassi, Cantor’s Dilemma: A Novel (New York: Penguin, 1991), p. 229. – Subsequentlyquoted parenthetically.

[8] Seefor example Max Gluckman, Politics, Law and Ritual in Tribal Societies (Chi­cago: Aldine, 1965).

[9]Karl Kaser, Familie und Verwandtschaft auf dem Balkan: Analyse einer unterge­hendenKultur (Wien, Köln, Weimar:Böhlau, 1995). – For an example making meta­phorical use of thetribal model, see the proceedings of a conference highlighting the parallelsbetween business/entrepreneurial/company cultures and tribal culture: UtaBrandes, Richard Bachinger, Michael Erdhoff, eds., Unternehmenskultur undStammeskultur. Metaphysische Aspekte des Kalküls (Frankfurt/M.: Georg Büchner, 1988).

[10]Especially in Carl Djerassi, This Man’s Pill: Reflections on the 50thBirthday of the Pill (Oxford & NewYork: Oxford UP, 2001).

[11]See Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of EarthHealing (New York City: HarperCollins,1992), especially the first two chapters.

[12]See Carl Djerassi, The Pill, PygmyChimps, and Degas’ Horse: The Autobiography of Carl Djerassi (New York: BasicBooks, 1992), p. 107.