Building A Universe, Part 2

Building a Universe, Part 2: Rifts, Absences and Omissions (1987): a satiric and experimental drama that focuses on the new reproductive technologies and the scientists responsible for their development. It was presented as a multi-speaker performance at the Alternative Museum, 1987; included on the Music Works 53 magazine, "Radiophonics and other -phonies," 1991; and distributed by New American Radio, 1991.

  The piece opens with the sound of an old record: rhythmic thump of the needle on channels 1&2; the scratches on 3&4. Thumps should alternating emphases—first one channel, then the other. Followed by a period of silence.
Male Voice: (channel I) It's nine o'clock. Do you know where your children are?
  Silence, and slow feeding in on channels 3&4 of electric ticks. Initially they sound like someone or something moving in the back of the room. Then slow fade in of computer sounds, followed by a kh tones—both on all four channels. At roughly 4:12, buzz and clicks are heard, then more ticks to 4:42. At 4:51, the sound of a record being scratched, followed by...
Pamala's welcome: A stuttered "Welcome to body: click "Welcome to body" etc. and "One and two and three and four" click "one and two and three and four." The crackle of the records. "Welcome to body by Jake" repeated. On channels 3 & 4, a click and slow fade in of "Infanticide Music.”
Sarah: Natural Selection: If there is one thing natural selection has given to every species, it is the ability to adjust to different developmental environments. If there is one organism most elaborately endowed with this flexibility, it is the human organism.
  Infanticide Music follows. Fading in under Music the sound of “Stretch, stretch, stretch” and a large scratch of the record, leading directly to...
Regine: Hello. I'm smiling at you. I'm young and slender and so very happy, sitting here by the open fire....
  Infanticide Music fades in over top. Then...
Sarah: Course Book 1. Technical Discussion A. Reproductive Interests: When to engage in female infanticide. As noted in the text, the problem with infanticide is that those who practice it forfeit the long term interest of their genes in the cause of status, influence, or perhaps money in the immediate future. Nonetheless there are situations in which parents are careless of their offspring—and societies in which parents kill their offspring. This behavioral adjustment is evidence of the plasticity of the human organism.
  Infanticide Music.
Pamala: (fading in under) And “stretch and stretch an/ click/ And stretch and stretch" etc.
  A loud scratch on the record, and...
Regine: Hello. Me again. I'm smiling at you. I'm young and slender and so very happy. I have a cute little pout—overwhelming confidence. In a minute I'm going to slip on my things and sweep down the steps to the circular drive and into the waiting limousine.
  Fade in over voice, Infanticide Music. In which can be heard Pamala: “A stretch and stretch...”
Sarah: Course Book 1. Technical Discussion A. Reproductive Interests: How to engage in female infanticide. Societies that have practiced female infanticide include: the Greek... the Roman... the Chinese... the Tibetan... the Eskimo... the Arab... the Japanese... the Indian. And here are some of the methods that have proved successful:

Suffocation: Parents have suffocated their unwanted infants with pillows, with blankets, by hand and in plastic bags.

Exposure: Parents have left their unwanted infants on mountain tops. They have thrown them into ditches.

Parents have smashed in the skulls of their unwanted infants.

Parents have abandoned, drowned and buried their unwanted infants alive. Where, as noted in the text, the above procedures are prohibited by law, systematic neglect has achieved the same result.
  Fade in Infanticide Music. The sound of Pamala's voice, “Stretch, Stretch.” a loud scratch on a record and...
Regine: Hello. Hello. I'm smiling at you. I'm young and yes, impossibly slim. My dress hangs well—clings a little here, a little there. My breasts are forever pert as if as if a cold wind is blowing or perhaps just perhaps it's you.
  Fade in Infanticide Music, in which can be heard Pamala, “a lean machine,” click, “a lean machine.”
Sarah: Course Book 1. Technical Discussion A. Reproductive Interests Trivia Quiz: What is the origin of the expression “to raise a child?” (pause) And now the answer. According to an ancient Roman custom, a newborn was placed on the ground and allowed to live only if the father raised it. This is the origin of the expression “to raise a child.”
  Fade in Infanticide Music in which can be heard Pamela,“a lean machine,” click, “a lean machine.” "So fight that fat, attack that flab, destroy that bulge and stretch" and a period of silence.
Male Voice: It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?
  As before the question is followed by electrical ticks on channels 3&4, They continue through, with four-channel computer sound until click to Artificial Music, with 4 channel babies (crying). After awhile, music fades away. The bleat of a cow is heard.
  Live Reading: July 1984. Harry dropped the ampoule of frozen sperm into a thermos of hot water; and let it thaw. Then, standing in the barn, he loaded the sperm into his gun. He placed a rod over the gun. He tightened it. Then, pulling a transparent plastic glove over his left hand and up to his elbow, he walked into the coral. The farmer and his helper had already driven the 14 month old heifer into the pen. She was frightened. Her eyes were wide, terrified.

The men slapped wooden slats into place around her neck. She tried to pull her head out. Harry walked from the barn into the corral - and then into the pen. Without a word and hardly breaking his pace, he drove his left arm into the heifer's rectum. She jumped and squirmed, and once again struggled to free herself from the head catch. “Whoa” the men shouted. Harry moved his hand in the cow's rectum. He found and held the cervix, his right hand, he inserted the rod into her vagina at a 45 degree angle. He located the opening of the cervix. Twisting he worked the rod through the cervix. He shot the gun into her.

Henry took his arm and gun out of the cow. The men released her head from the lock. They opened the gate by her head so she could return to the corral. They talked among themselves. They didn't look at her. She began backing slowly, cautiously out of the pen, returning the way she had been driven in. Her sides were shaking. Her eyes big. She made no sound.
  Silence follows the reading, and then...
Male Voice: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You gotta take into account they're a machine. If they don't produce a live calf every year, they go down the road...Look at it like any type of machine. If it doesn't produce its gotta go. Now this one here, she's a very productive machine. I wouldn't be surprised if she's a egg donor some day, she's that good.
  As farmer begins to talk, fade in industrial cow breeding sounds. Thirty seconds roughly after farmer, the cow dealer speaks:
Male Voice: Yes, you can identify a superior cow. You have to assess— first, the cow's maternal ability; second, the structural soundness of her udder, legs and feet; and third, the carcass traits of her offspring: the milk or meat characteristics transmitted. Cattle are intrinsically worth only the milk or meat they produce.
  The industrial cow ambience continues, in which is the four-cahhel cow moo, preceded by the sound of an engine. These sounds stop, and the sound of a door opening is head, and once open, the sound of computers and beeps. Then a researcher speaks: (channel 4).
Male Voice: Everyone knows that animal research is costly, time consuming and of questionable value. And anyway, we're working with women. What does that mean? Wel1, if women aren't the best primates money can buy, I'd like to know what is…
  A door opens, channel 2. Sounds are now heard in channel 2, as a doctor speaks:
Male Voice: It's called a prophylactic elective hysterectomy with bi... Never mind. It simple means the removal of the uterus, the fallopian tubes and both ovaries. It's a common surgical procedure, and in your case advisable as proper preventative medicine. Believe me, thousands of women have this operation every year. It's quite safe....quite safe...quite safe...
Male Voice 1: Ah doctor, I'm glad I ran into you. We have a reproductive body coming in at eleven. Elective hysterectomy.
Male Voice 2: Good, good. If you could throw an ovary my way. Not that you should take it out on my account, but if it's coming out...
Male Voice 1: You've got it. Operating Theater 3 at eleven.
  Fade in Infanticide Music.
Sarah: Course Book 1. Technical Discussion A. Reproductive Interests: How to engage in female infanticide, continued,
Here are some contemporary methods for eliminating the female: One, at the fetal stage. As noted in your text, sex detection plays a large part in the elimination of the female before birth. The following sex detection methods are in use:
Amniocentesis. The Ashan aspiration technique. The detection of fetal sex through examination of the saliva, cervical mucous and/or blood of the pregnant female. the detection of fetal sex by means of FACS—the fluorescent activated cell sorter.
ultrasound...For further information on the detection of sex at the fetal stage, consult Appendix A.
  Fade in Infanticide Music. Two seconds of silence and then, from channel two and throughout this section:
Male Voice: XX XX XY XX XX XY XY
  Shortly after beginning of "XX, XY" a voice:
Male Voice: It's great, A whole new science!
Male Voice 2: You have to be a bit of a philosopher in this game. You have to understand that people are frightened by the new technologies, and you have to make an effort to convince them that what you're doing is natural…a natural development. And it is, you know. Who needs pain? Who needs uncertainty? Who needs all the inefficiency and redundancy of the so-called natural process. We're finding safer, easier and more efficient ways. That seems natural enough to me.
  A door opens. Computer sounds and beeps begin quietly, as Doctor advises his patient.
Male Voice: You're better off not to risk the natural reproductive process. Really. You should rely on a safer, planned process—where you know in advance what you're going to get—and where you can watch it grow....
  Fade in Infanticide Music. "XX, XY" continues.
Sarah: Course Book 1. Technical Discussion A. Reproductive Interests: How to engage in female infanticide, continued:
Male Voice: To be able to control the sex of your child is an expansion of your options. Think for a minute. Rather than just letting your kid happen—male or female by accident—you're making a choice. You're saying, I don't want to have a wrong sex child. I don't want to keep trying and trying—having wrong sex kids year after year. You know, being a wrong sex child can lead to sex role confusion, homosexuality, all kinds of psychological problems. You're saying, I don't want that for my kid, not my kid. Contemporary methods for the elimination of the female at the embryo stage: The sex of the embryo can be determined in the laboratory and only those of the desired sex implanted in wombs.
  Fade in Infanticide Music. “XX, XY” can be heard as music fades away, then the same voice, whispering:
Male Voice:
I will get a Nobel.
  A click follows, then 20 seconds of silence.
Male Voice: It's eleven o'clock. Do you know where your children are?
  A click is heard, then a three-channel rewind, followed by two clicks and the Artificial Music, first on channel three, then other channels. It is accompanied by four channel baby crying. After approximately 59 seconds, a four-channel click, shuts it all off. There is a second of silence, the sound of a 1 kh tone, some electrical static, then the research once again:
Male Voice: XX XY XX XY etc.
  The static continues lightly throughout, intensifies, and there is a channel change—from channel 1 to 2, sounding like a radio channel change. Static continues, but the Senate Hearing is quite audible:
Dr. Entrope: ...In answer to your question, Senator, I'd like to ask you one. If women continue to work outside the home. If they use contraception and produce fewer babies, how will the next generation be produced? The State may very well have to provide financial incentives for childbearing. The State may very well have to license mothers and introduce required training. And -it may prove to be extremely efficient and a benefit to the nation if it does. A state institutionalized system could help produce both quantity and quality. Mothers could be selected for their IQs and desired physical attributes. An assembly line approach could be used. Valuable females— the ones with high IQs and good physical attributes could be superovulated, white the non-valuable are sterilized and used as breeders. We already have excellent models for such a system in our animal reproduction laboratories. Colorado State, for instance...
Senator: But your feeling is that this sort of thing will happen in the private sector first?
Dr. Entrope: Oh yes, and very soon.
Senator: Dr. Seed, do you have anything to add?
Dr. Seed: I'm in basic agreement with Dr. Entrope. But I would like to make one correction. Superovula—
  Throughout the above the sound of static is heard; it increases toward the end, and at the word “superovula”, a channel change occurs, from channel two to three. Static continues there, but quietly at first, as a businessman speaks.
Male Voice: The medical technology is a given. You doctors have created and developed and proven that this non-surgical embryo transfer is the state of the art. It works. It's wonderful. But that doesn't trans-late into getting one woman to say I will toss away all my concerns and my ethics and the advice of my friends and relatives and share my fertility. Can you, for example, retain 50 donors for each market the program would go into? That's the kind of question that has to be answered. Well tonight I think I bring you good tidings. The answer is absolutely and unequivocally yes. The tremendous potential that this company has for growth quite simply is reflected because your egg primary resource for that growth—the donor woman and her fertility exists in cost-effective abundance. And I can't state that strongly enough. So now I want to thank all the people who have made this company possible—doctors, investors. It's great to be here tonight. So let's toast to the highest return on our new investment industry, and the first thousand babies we create! To the first thousand we create.
Voices: Hear, he...
Direction: The static builds during the last part of this speech and at “hear, he-“ there is a channel change, from channel three back to channel two, and the second Senate Hearing. Static continues through this as well.
Senator: Let me get this straight. Doctor. You and your sponsors have in mind having embryos flown from city to city, where and when they are needed, on a nation-wide basis, and making a rather large sum of money from it. Now that's what you have in mind, isn't it?
Doctor: They do have plans like that.
Senator: That's what your business partners have in mind?
Doctor: It's what my sponsors have in mind and it's a big business because a lot of it needs to be done. There're a lot of women out there that want these babies. What I have in mind is to be a scientist and do my research work.
  The sound of electrical snaps are heard, a sudden strange sound, and the Dr.'s voice begins to repeat:
Doctor: my research work, do my research work, do my research work....
  The Doctor's voice continues to repeat, as the Infanticide Music fades in over...
Sarah: Course Book 1. Technical Discussion A. Reproductive Interests: How to engage in female infanticide, continued. Contemporary methods for the elimination of the female before the embryo stage. The female can be eliminated at a stage earlier than the embryo stage by eliminating those sperm—the gynogenic—that engender females. Techniques for distinguishing male engendering sperm—the XY sperm— from the female engendering sperm—the XX sperm—include: Centrifugation and sedimentation: the spinning of sperm at high speed so that the heavier sperm settle out. Electrophoresis: the using of alleged differences in the electrical charges of the two sperm types to separate them.
Racing: placing sperm in a test tube full of viscous liquid and letting the two types race each other to the bottom. Ultrasound: snapping off the heads of the wrong sex sperm with sound waves. Other sex determination methods can be found in Appendix F.
  Fade in Infanticide Music. As music fades away, the sound of the Doctor's voice can be heard repeating "do my research work." He is clicked off, and the voice of another researcher is clicked on, preceded by the fast running of a tape machine.
Male Voice: The childbearing process still has about it a sense of prehistory. It's sort of savage and elemental. But we're changing it. Medicine and technology are changing it.
  A click is heard in channel two; the doctor continues to repeat “do my research work.” He is clicked off again and channel four clicked on. A second voice repeats “Do my research, do my research...” and is clicked off. There is the sound of the fast running of a tape machine in channel two, a click on and...
Male Voice: In a way you can say we're denaturing the reproductive process. But let me tell you, the babies we produce will be vastly superior to the pitiful specimens “natured” women produce. You wait and see.
  The sound of a fast running tape machine in channel three, a click and then: In channel one, throughout, “XX,XY...” fade in and out.
Male Voice: The female reproductive tract is an environmental phenomenon. It plays and active role in sperm selection, in the transport of the sperm, and in the number of the sperm capacitated—made ready for fertilization. Our object here is to duplicate it in the laboratory, in vitro.
  The fast running of a tape machine in channel two, a click on and...
Male Voice: I'm culturing organ rudiments. I take a female embryo, and just at the point where the ovary begins to emerge, I culture it, and mature it externally. Just the ovary. That way I can provide a supply of eggs for in vitro fertilization without surgical intervention in a woman's body. Clever, huh?
  There is a moment's silence and then the same voice:
Male Voice: Superovulation? Well normal mammals release only a limited number of eggs per cycle. For a more efficient operation, we need more eggs. This is possible through superovulation—the injection of certain hormones into the female that force the growth and ovulation of an abnormally large number of eggs. There are some side effects scar tissue, adhesions, some pain....
  The sound of a fast-running tape machine and a click in channel three.
Male Voice: Superovulation is a rather inefficient method. I'd recommend the use of enzymes to eat up the tissue holding the ovary together that would free thousands of eggs that could be frozen for future use. That way you wouldn't have to rely on the woman or on her natural processes, and you could be using her eggs even when she's dead.
  The sound of a fast-running tape machine and a click in channel four.
Male Voice: And soon, very soon, we'll be able to flush the embryos out of every single woman in the obstetricians office as part of routine pre-natal care—test them for every known genetic and metabolic defect—and only return them to the woman's womb if the embryo is perfect. Or better still, transfer them to a substitute uterus carrier.
  A click in channel one:
Male Voice: It'll bene
  Click in channel two.
Male Voice: It'll benefit wom
  Click in channel three.
Male Voice: It'll benefit women, there's no doubt about it. They can skip the morning sickness, the heavy steps, the fetal kicks, the labor pains—all the awfulness associated with pregnancy.
  Click in channel two.
Male Voice:
Look, she's a walking uterus to me. A container.
  Click in channel one.
Male Voice: We have to duplicate it in vitro.
Male Voice: (channel two, continues)...It's what she contains that's important. The fetus. The baby!
  A click in channel three.
Male Voice: Let's bomb those ovaries with hormones, ok?
  Click in channel four.
Male Voice: Sex selection takes place every day in society.
  Click in channel three.
Male Voice: It's great. A whole new science.
Male Voice: (in channel four continues)...Biomedical procedures merely carry out on a technological level what happens on other levels...
  Click channel one.
Male Voice: It'll benefit women, I am so sure.
  Click channel four.
Male Voice: My research
  Click channel two.
Male Voice: My research work
  Click channel one.
Male Voice: ...with surgery and hormones
  Click channel four.
Male Voice: My research
  Click channel two.
Male Voice: My research work
  Click channel one.
Male Voice: It's great
  Click channel four.
Male Voice: My research
  Click channel three.
Male Voice: It's great
  Click channel two.
Male Voice: My research
  The two voices preceded by clicks alternate back and forth—“my research”—my research, until, on channel two.
Male Voice: I will get a Nobel, I will
  The voices continue to repeat their litany, but are faded down so that the voice in channel one, “XX, XY” can be heard, its volume raised at the same time.
Male Voice: (channel one) XX XY XX
  Click in channel two.
Male Voice: Why don't you just invent a pill that will make all babies male?
Male Voice: (in channel one)…We're working on it. We're working on it.
As he says these works, fade in Infanticide Music. Male Voice returns—a to its business, and is faded out slowly.
Male Voice: XX XY XX
  There are a few seconds of silence and then...
Male Voice: We conclude our broadcast tonight with the following message of comfort.
Male Voice: Good evening. Our Lord said: Suffer the little children to come unto me... Our children are our most precious possessions— the key to our future—to mankind’s future. To know where they are—to know that they are well—to watch them and to protect them—are our god- given duties.

Tonight I want to talk to you about our children—and about those selfless men, who, night after night, year after year, all around this great world of ours, have focused their technology on the generative organs of women—their sole objective, to ensure that the seeds of our future are the best seeds—and that they will grow and flourish in the best of all possible environments—watched over and cared for by the most experienced among us.

Friends, today these devoted men offer our children that best of all possible environments. Today they offer us an open window on our children. They offer us a chance to monitor fetal life—to move our children out of the darkness and obscurity of the womb—to remove them from that perilous environment in which, poor dears, they have been forced to huddle— submissively—Victims, yes victims of the crush and assault of woman's contractions, the merciless hammer of her labor.

Our children deserve a painless and a riskless birth. Consider the choice: Pregnant women live in a world full of cigarette smoke, full of industrial waste, full of infectious diseases and automobile effluents. Can a fetus be safe with them? Can a fetus be safe in a body that does not adequately protect them from agents that cause defects? Can a fetus be safe with a mother who misuses drugs? Who has kidney or heart disease? who is malnourished or subject to uterine abnormalities?

Artificial wombs, my friends, do not smoke, do not drink, do not contract German measles or fall downstairs. Yes, from this day on, we may look to a newer, safer and more efficient method than the natural method. No longer do we have to trust our future to the spin of reproductive roulette. No longer do we have to subject our children to the hostile environment of the womb. We can know where they are. We can watch over and protect them.

Tonight, thanks to the devotion of thousands upon thousands of men around the world, maternity is no more mysterious than paternity—and the delivery of a child, no more awesome than the emptying of a jar. Thank you and goodnight.


© Helen Thorington, 2004