Production and reproduction of posthuman figures in contemporary British literature
Kathleen Coyne Kelly
Laura Morgan Green, Patrick Mullen
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Arts and Sciences. Department of English.
British, clone, cyborg, genre, literature, posthuman
British literature--History and criticism, Identity (Philosophical concept) in literature, Narrative art (British)
English Language and Literature
As a replacement for, or supplement to, the human, the posthuman produces figures that highlight the socially constructed nature of human identity. This dissertation undertakes to demonstrate how several British novelists have used the concept as a supplement or replacement for the human in order to re-imagine the experience of the outsider. It argues that the importance of the posthuman is not its portrayal of a potential utopian or dystopian future or change for the human, but in how the posthuman draws our attention back to how we define ourselves as “human.” Fictional posthuman figures differ from the human both in degree (like clones, whose origins differ from the ordinary) and in kind (like cyborgs, whose prosthetics often mark them as radically different from ordinary humans). Yet these posthumans often act in ways indistinguishable from everyday humans, suggesting that the idea of a natural human is a social construction. This dissertation argues that there are three antinomies that inform these posthuman narratives: the organic and the mechanical, the body and human consciousness, and genetic determinism and cosmopolitan multiplicity. Through these antinomies, posthuman figures function as metaphors or allegories for colonial and racial tensions. More often than not, the posthuman other is marginalized, inviting figurative comparisons with more traditional marginalized groups, so that the narratives of conflict with, or oppression by, a dominant group can act to represent the conflicts over multiculturalism and belonging that continue to plague post-imperial Britain in the twenty-first century. The dissertation applies the three antimonies to texts by Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Ken MacLeod, Amitav Ghosh and Justina Robson, exploring how those antinomies play out in diverse genres such as science fiction, realist fiction and magical realism to suggest that the posthuman can find expression in a wide range of literatures.
Braun, Michele, "Cyborgs and clones : production and reproduction of posthuman figures in contemporary British literature" (2010). English Dissertations. Paper 4. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d20000029
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