The heart of the drama in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) is the heart of the discussion we have been having in class, the conversation between the human and the posthuman. The titular bounty hunters make it their mission to hunt down and kill rogue Replicant androids, and they do this by administering tests to verify humanity. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is employed under the law to keep the boundary between the human and the nonhuman distinctly separate, but as Hayles reminds us, once you are sitting with the machine in the Turing Test, you’ve already become posthuman.
Through the dystopian cyberpunk future Los Angeles the film offers a rich presentation of the posthuman, capturing so many of the fears, philosophies, and visceral images of the subject. My paper will contextualize the posthuman study in the world of the film, and will focus on how Deckard confronts the posthuman in his trials along the neon lit city sprawl. Consistently the human is linked with empathy; the focus of the film and the paper exists equally between Deckard’s interaction with his love interest Rachael (Sean Young), the leader of the Nexus 6 Replicant fugitives Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), and the larger societal struggle of human versus other as the line between human and nonhuman bursts at the seams. The work of the paper will be to deconstruct the segregated world of Blade Runner and pull out the posthuman narrative being told, and fit the definition of the human therein with the themes of our class.
The Posthuman Post-Humanity
Professor Seaman’s article Becoming More (than) Human: Affective Posthumanisms, Past and Future successfully portrays the posthuman in contrast to modern humanity, providing myriad examples and explanations. The article proves to be intriguing and informative but fails to address the outcome of the posthuman outside of being associated with modern humanity. More specifically, it does not address the possibility, and thus the aspects of the situation, of complete dominance of the posthuman in a world with no modern humans. The conclusion of the article revolves around each of the examples of different posthuman concepts striving to embody human characteristics but in each of those examples, the posthuman figures live in accordance with modern humans. Thus, it tends to be inevitable for them not to compare themselves to their more raw form. If they did not live side by side with their predecessors, they would not try to “deliberately retain…the weaknesses and vulnerabilities” of humans and would instead thrive more smoothly, never trying to be more emotional or human-like (Seaman 270).
Therefore, if current humanity goes completely extinct, the posthuman will continue taking steps forward and never look back. Rather than an “all too affected and affective self,” it will continue evolving, both physically and “mentally” in order to overcome any obstacles and achieve perfectness (Seaman 270). Through other posthuman examples and analyses, a slightly different generalized concept of the posthuman can be portrayed disregarding any association with modern humanity, but simply overcoming it and constantly moving forward.
Unlike much work in the English Studies department, which often attributes a text’s age to our understanding of it, my paper with put two texts of similar subjects in direct conversation with one. The term, chronohybridity, refers to the idea that the premodern and contemporary may co-exist in a matter of hybridity, rather than working as an exemplification of evolution or metamorphosis. The core texts of my paper, the premodern “Bisclavret” and the contemporary television series “Being Human” will then exemplify the perpetual state of the werewolf and how our representation of the werewolf continues to reinforce our thoughts and fears about humanity.
Even through centuries of change, the instillation of monsters in literature has conveyed a timeless message questioning the boundaries of humanity and personhood. Through analysis of both texts, as well as secondary sources, I hope to compare the representations of the werewolf and what either do in a larger conversation about how we perceive ourselves as human. While I am challenged with the idea of chronohybridity in literature, I have also tasked myself with a subject that personifies the idea of hybridity. Throughout the paper, I will analyze the representations of a divine/human hybrid such as the werewolf or Christ as well as the ideas involving humanity and humanism these creatures challenge.
Buying a Name Brand Utopia
For my final paper I’m working with two literary sources; Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Both novels discuss futuristic worlds where humanity lives, mostly, within a virtual reality because the real world has been destroyed by earlier generations. Both novels are discussions on how we are treating our world and how society, as a whole, ignores the damage we are causing while focusing on personal comfort. Snow Crash was published in 1992 so many of the futuristic ideas in it are extremely outdated but it has a lot of critical essays written about it. Ready Player One was published in 2011 and while the illustration of the possible future is more in line with our understanding of technology today, there are fewer critical writings published on it.
There are two critical discussions that apply to these readings and both discussions are related to each other so I’m going to cover both in my essay. The virtual worlds represent a faux utopia created as an escape for humanity from the distopic world that exists in reality. People spend as much of their days in VR in order to avoid the harsh realities of the world they live in, preferring an escape instead of attempting to change or repair the world. Consumerism is prevalent in these faux utopia societies and both novels focus strongly on the evils of allowing corporations to be in charge of all aspects of society. These societies aren’t just consumer focused, the governments are either nonexistent or corporation run. My rough thesis is, these novels show, through use of virtual reality, how corporations lure people into a sense of a better life by focusing on worldly goods instead of actually making reality better.
Talking Back: Sophisticated Cognition—A Human/Werewolf Investigation
In a scholarly article, “Becoming More (than) Human,” published in 2007, Dr. Myra Seaman suggests that in a posthumanist world, the traditional human subject is an endangered species. Throughout her article Seaman emphasizes that the posthuman is not an entirely new species but rather a version of homo sapiens that is more human. Oftentimes posthumanism is understood as a more modern concern, however Seaman’s essay is unique in that it cites cases in medieval literature where there exists a kind of posthuman. These medieval posthumans seem to come in the form of hybrids or shape-shifters and almost always incorporate some version of an animal—especially the wolf. For poshumanists like Seaman (see also Bynum and Essed), certain human hybrid species, such as the werewolf, are fascinating not only because of their bizarre nature, but because in being an animal hybrid they possess heightened sensory perception capabilities. It is this kind of advanced technology that allows us to approach medieval hybrid characters with a posthuman perspective.
I agree with nearly all of Seaman’s discussion on understanding medieval posthumans, however I think that parts of her argument that address “experiences of the body—perceived through sensation and processed through emotion” and human/wolf hybrids (or werewolves) “[submitting] to the rational and sensitive ‘person’ directing [their] movements and gestures” could be updated with the incorporation of scholarly work on cognitive biology, sensory perception (in humans and animals), reports on sensory deprivation (primarily in humans), and further exploration of the significance of intermediary beings.
Ultimately, the goal of my paper is not to dispute Seaman’s argument, but instead provide supplemental research that adds to, as well as updates her findings. Additionally, I would like to encourage readers to think more broadly about cognition and encourage the possibility that forms of “human” cognition that we are most familiar with might not be limited to humans; animals could potentially have just as sophisticated cognitive abilities (see Vollmer). If so, it could be argued that cognition and consciousness is not what makes humans human. Perhaps the term “human” itself should either be broadened or become irrelevant altogether.
Post/Human Embodiment: Gender and Gender Identity
Gender is a complex topic, with our understanding of gender and sexuality still changing and evolving in the present day. I will be approaching the topic of post/human gender as a spectrum, where the clearly defined ‘male’ and ‘female’ of the present becomes much more complex when added to the idea of a virtual, robotic, or cyborg dominated future. From the class texts, I will be using The Surrogates and Battlestar Galactica as my supporting texts, with a variety of articles and books on the topic of gender to ask the question: how is gender and gender identity defined, how does culture impact that definition, and how the issue of embodiment affects a post/human virtual expression of self.
While writing this paper, my argument will be mainly focusing on the representation of gender ideals around men and women. In The Surrogates, the robotic selves could be any gender with any appearance, though many people like Detective Greer choose a surrogate that looks just like their actual self. When confronted with Mr. Clegg, the male operator of the female Surrogate Trudy, Greer and Ford are dismissive of his choice. This is interesting given that Cleggs’ employer or others around him didn’t seem to care. This is one look at a post/human gender representation that is less than positive, while many of my supporting articles like Burnhams’ “Gender Identity in a Post-Human Future: Glasshouse and Schild’s Ladder” address the positive impacts a virtual gender can have in terms of the mind and personality being more important than the gender of the representational ‘avatar’ of the person.
Another key focal point of my paper will be the roles of women and the representation of the female gender in the post/human future. This is where both Battlestar Galactica and George’s “Fraking Machines: Desire, Gender, and the (Post)Human Condition in Battlestar Galactica” will help showcase the issues of the female gender in the post/human. Here we have Six as the deadly Other, contrasted to Starbuck and other human females, yet both are little more than creatures designed to continue their species in many aspects. This focus on the ability to have children occurs throughout Battlestar Galactica, and is a modern-day issue of feminism that is carried into a post/human future. This ties in with other representations of women, either the socially inept nerd, or the sexy scientist, roles still common today that still are seen in many post/human works.
“Them Vs. Us: Posthuman Values and Boundaries in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road”
My project will involve a posthuman reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While recent scholarship (see Shelly Rambo and Christopher Pizzino) has shed new light on McCarthy’s attention to philosophical values within the novel, there has been considerably less attention to what I would suggest are the obvious “posthuman” qualities of the text. The wanderings of a father and son through an apocalyptic wasteland serves as vehicle for McCarthy to offer commentary on the failure (and indeed disaster) of the unchecked individualism and private subjectivity brought on by the spread of traditional humanist values.
Inspired by a previous project involving an eco-critical approach to McCarthy’s masterful Child of God, I intend to first ground my analysis in the nature-centric and boundary concerned work of scholars Gabriella Blasi and James Corby. With the ownership of nature by man no longer possible, Blasi asserts that the continuation of humanist “rights” is equally impossible. I am very interested in putting Blasi’s position together with that of Corby in his article “Originary Translation in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road” wherein he argues that the nameless boy in the novel serves a kind of cultural storage unit. I think McCarthy’s posthuman discourse is most readily found in these two “parts” of his novel: ecological disaster and the attempted (and possibly futile) preservation of cultural information through language and morality. The ecological death that pervades the text’s landscapes forces moral choices (weather to disregard humanity through cannibalism), effects the transmission of language, and brings to the forefront the importance (or perhaps the futility) of retaining cultural information through visual witnessing.
Though I am convinced of the posthuman characteristics of The Road, I am still unsure about how much “work” my project will need to complete in order to ensure my audience shares my view of the posthuman. Much of the criticism surrounding the text seems to cling to a reading of the novel as outwardly humanist and optimistic, leaving me unsure about the best way to combat this common critical position. Finally, as probably indicated in the section above, at this stage, I am unsure weather I should pursue further the notion that what I see as the “preservation” effort of humanist values taken on by the father and son is truly depicted as futile.
How do the travels of Margery Kempe compare to those of John Mandeville, specifically, their relationship with Jesus Christ? Choose one chapter or story from each of their travels and compare and contrast their Christian identity. How do they differ in terms of Kempe’s female and Mandeville’s male perspective/experience?
After she encounters Jesus in her time of sickness, Kempe devotes herself to living by God’s word. As a result, she does things like wearing white despite not being a virgin, or ceasing sex with her husband so she can live chastely. She also speaks of God despite being outside the clergy. Kempe therefore tends to provoke quite a reaction in other people, both contemporary and modern. Do Kempe’s transcendental experiences render her posthuman? Why or why not? How do people see her and her claims? In what ways are their reactions to her similar to or different than how people interacted with possible posthumans in other texts?
In a portion of Mandeville’s description of India, he goes to great lengths to discuss the “common” among some in Indian society. He writes that, among other things, “all the crops are held in common…nothing is locked away and each man is as rich as another” (79). Given Mandeville’s clear concern with the material culture / “goods” from the places Continue reading