Iain M. Banks has been at the forefront of the space opera science fiction scene since the publication of the first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, in 1987. Upon Banks’ death in 2013, the culture series became a complete body of work. Whilst some criticism has focused on the social and political implications of the culture universe, little has engaged with the philosophical concepts that underpin it in relation to the current debate regarding our posthuman future. This paper seeks to show how Banks problematises the relationship between the human and posthuman through an exploration of the representation of the posthuman body. Furthermore, it also seeks to address the implications of current concepts of what it means to be human by exploring the relationship between the posthuman and form of Artificial Intelligence that Banks presents. to illustrate these arguments, three culture texts will be discussed: The Player of Games (1988), Excession (1996), and “The State of the Art” (1989).
The Posthuman offers both an introduction and major contribution to contemporary debates on the posthuman. Digital ‘second life’, genetically modified food, advanced prosthetics, robotics and reproductive technologies are familiar facets of our globally linked and technologically mediated societies. This has blurred the traditional distinction between the human and its others, exposing the non-naturalistic structure of the human. The Posthuman starts by exploring the extent to which a post-humanist move displaces the traditional humanistic unity of the subject. Rather than perceiving this situation as a loss of cognitive and moral self-mastery, Braidotti argues that the posthuman helps us make sense of our flexible and multiple identities.
Braidotti then analyzes the escalating effects of post-anthropocentric thought, which encompass not only other species, but also the sustainability of our planet as a whole. Because contemporary market economies profit from the control and commodification of all that lives, they result in hybridization, erasing categorical distinctions between the human and other species, seeds, plants, animals and bacteria. These dislocations induced by globalized cultures and economies enable a critique of anthropocentrism, but how reliable are they as indicators of a sustainable future?
The Posthuman concludes by considering the implications of these shifts for the institutional practice of the humanities. Braidotti outlines new forms of cosmopolitan neo-humanism that emerge from the spectrum of post-colonial and race studies, as well as gender analysis and environmentalism. The challenge of the posthuman condition consists in seizing the opportunities for new social bonding and community building, while pursuing sustainability and empowerment.
#mscedc reflecting on our film festival and seeking examples of films that illustrate 'a playful and pleasure-prone relationship to technology that is not based on functionalism'(Braidotti) or a dystopian premise. Any recommendations?
This interview with N. Katherine Hayles, one of the foremost theorists of the posthuman, explores the concerns that led to her seminal book How We Became Posthuman (1999), the key arguments expounded in that book, and the changes in technology and culture in the ten years since its publication. The discussion ranges across the relationships between literature and science; the trans-disciplinary project of developing a methodology appropriate to their intersection; the history of cybernetics in its cultural and political context (particularly the impact of Norbert Wiener’s work); the changed role for psychoanalysis in the technoscientific age; and the altering forms of mediated ’embodiment’ in the posthuman context.
As I look at one of the readings this week from N. Katherine Hayles’ 1999 book, How we became posthuman: Virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics, this interview ten years on helps to put it all in context.
Fascinating to see that her interest in both literature and science – which, for her, was ‘always intermingled’ – led to her looking at the posthuman (Hayles 2010: 318). Great inspiration for ‘intermingling’ our films and readings this week while, in Hayles’ (2010: 389) words, being ‘sceptical of everything’!
In November 2019, Leon Kowalski found himself in the offices of a large corporation in Los Angeles, answering some odd questions. “You’re in a desert. You look down and you see a tortoise…” When the questioner moved on to ask about his mother, things didn’t end well.