Thursday, 7 March 2013

Monsters, gods and posthumans - oh my!

This past week my reading has continued its focus on posthumanism and I read the two books at the heart of last week's journal articles: Francis Fukuyama's The Posthuman Future and Elaine Graham's Representations of the post/human, both published in 2002.

First up, Fukuyama (and yes I see where O'Hara's 'conservative populist' description comes from). At the start of his book Fukuyama tells us his aim is to prove that that 'Huxley was right' and '...the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a "posthuman" stage of history.'

Fukuyama is not a huge fan of biotechnology, and sees it as a threat to creating an overclass of genetic-enhanced haves dominating an underclass of plain old humans. His book is more about the moral and political threats posed by, in particular, neuropharmacology and genetic enhancement. It doesn't really examine what posthumanism is in terms of what makes someone human rather than posthuman. He is more focused on rights and morality.

For the purposes of my research, The Posthuman Future tended too much toward the political implications of biotech. Nevertheless, I found some of his insights interesting. Rebel that I am, I liked his "people's revolution" scenario, where he states '...it's unlikely that people in modern democratic societies will sit around complacently if they see elites embedding their advantages genetically in their children' and sees that this could inspire political activity by those wanting the same advantage. 

After Fukuyama I tackled Elaine Graham's treatise on what posthumanism might be. Keeping in mind O'Hara's criticism of Graham that she completely misreads Foucault, I nonetheless found Graham's book a thought-provoking and insightful examination of all things post- and transhuman.

In terms of my research, her book had a lot more to offer me, and sparked some new questions and ideas about whether or not my co-protagonist Quarter, the leader of the Dirt Circus League, is or is not posthuman. Is he something other? A hybrid, or perhaps a monster? Do the birds' eyes displace his humanity or merely weaken it? The animal skin grafts on his arms, face and chest were also created by technology yet they did not make him less-human. But the birds' eyes, by changing the nature of his brain and how it works, I believe do have the potential to make him other than human. But after reading Graham's book, I think that Quarter's potential as a posthuman, and what that might mean, is more of an open question.

I also liked what Graham had to say about the place of story-telling:

'It is a reminder that 'the stories we live by' can be important critical tools in the task of articulating what it means to be human in a digital and biotechnological age.' And, '...the human imagination - not technoscientific this time, but activities of storytelling and myth-making - is constitutive, a crucial part of building the worlds in which we live.'

After all, I am a storyteller, and although my focus right now is on the research to build the thesis side of my PhD I must always keep looping it back to my creative practice, which is my speculative fiction manuscript, and the reasons why I chose to tell this particular story.

I believe we do live in a posthuman world, the implications of which we're not really sure of (can we ever really know the implications of the technology we produce?). However what is known is that it is today's children and  young adults who are growing up in this world. They are the ones that must deal with the fallout, whether that be Fukuyama's bleak view of Huxley's nightmare come true, or another future where the struggle to retain whatever it is that makes us human must be balanced against a bombardment of new technologies that promise to make us as perfect as gods. Which leads to the question, do we want to be perfect, or just better? And where is that line?

Where better to explore those questions than through story-telling.