Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Posthumanism, power and the search for "infinite self-enhancement"

Most of my reading over the past week has focused on posthumanism and I've stumbled across a few really good articles. Often it seems the right article just seems to turn up unexpectedly in search results when I was looking for something else.

One of these was Elaine Ostry's "Is He Still Human? Are you?": Young Adult Fiction in the Posthuman Age (2004). Apart from giving a comprehensive overview of young adult titles that deal with posthuman themes pre-2004, it also gave me some excellent material I can use to help me position my manuscript within the speculative fiction genre. Ostry's articles discusses the idea that children are already living in a posthuman world, growing up in it, and so are the most likely to be affected by it. She uses Francis Fukuyama's three main categories of posthuman - neuropharmacology, prolongation of life, and genetic engineering - as a framework to discuss several young adult novels, many of which I was unfamiliar with (although the themes and plots were quite familiar). Ostry's view is that exploring the ramifications of the posthuman is important to young adults as 'Through literature, young adults can become aware of, and participate in, the debates surrounding biotechnology.' This is something I relate to as one of my aims in writing about neuroscience and neuroscientific themes in young adult fiction is as a way for young adults to explore the implications of the "neurorevolution" and what it means for them and the world they are inheriting.

Another article discussing Fukuyama's views of posthumanism also caught my attention this week: Daniel T O'Hara's Neither Gods nor Monsters: An Untimely Critique of the "Post/Human" Imagination (2003). While Ostry is clearly a fan of Fukuyama's, I'm not so sure about O'Hara, as in his article he describes Fukuyama as a 'conservative populist' in a way that makes me think this is not a good thing to be. Anyway, name calling aside, O'Hara is clearly some sort of genius with an incredible knowledge of pretty much every philosopher around and basically blew my mind by explaining how he sees Nietzsche's and Heidegger's theories on will and power relating to posthumanism. Even more interesting was the series of questions he raised at the end of his article:

'That insatiable modern will-to-will indeed will, no must, not rest, cannot rest because its only aim is an impossible infinite self-enhancement. But what if the universe is as perfect as it can be already at every moment, and what if any change, however tiny, however carefully done, means everything is abolished as it is, and so all begins to swing wildly out of kilter...wobbling ever more crazily toward an absolute chaos...'

The phrase 'impossible infinite self-enhancement' appeals to me because I think this may be where one of my main characters, Quarter, is heading (although he probably doesn't quite realise it himself). It also ties in nicely with the criticism of neuroscience, expressed in Thornton's 2011 book Brain Culture and in some of the writings coming out of the Critical Neuroscience group, that certain sections of the "neurorevolution" push humans (or whatever we are becoming) to aim for an essentially unachievable goal of perfection.

So, after this week, my ideas board looks like this.

Neuroscience (yellow sticky notes) is looking a bit empty while post/transhumanism (orange) and belonging vs power (green) are coming along nicely with carnivale (pink) close behind them. Not that it's a race or anything...

Most important thing is, the connections are starting to appear.