Posthuman bodies

Paul Sheehan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Of all the ‘post’ terms that have gained a foothold in the humanities – post-historical, postcolonial, postpolitical – it is the posthuman that, arguably, presents the greatest challenges. Even just determining what it stands for raises some troublesome questions: Is it a utopian aspiration, a cautionary critique, an evolutionary end-point? Is the posthuman era upon us, or must it remain a permanent possibility, forever just out of reach? Yet despite these uncertainties, there is now a significant corpus of theoretical and critical writing that could be termed posthuman studies, within which a variety of posthuman bodies have taken on distinct identities (or anti-identities) of their own. And although, as noted, no single outlook defines it, a chief characteristic of posthuman enquiry is that it draws much of its prestige not just from philosophical reflection and artistic practice, but also from scientific research. Indeed, recent developments in biotechnology and computer-based information systems have made certain posthuman becomings seem more real than hypothetical. Given this science-based focus, and its emphasis on innovation, a great deal of posthuman theorizing derives from the specifically technological outcomes of thinking through and beyond the human. This technoscientific framework organizes its reflections around the cybernetic, android body as a separate entity; the prosthetic enhancements that define the cyborg body, at the interface of the machinic and the organic; and the genetically engineered or cloned body. It is the dream of human perfectibility that often inspires these corporeal reimaginings, spurred by a faith in technological progress and in the principle of abstract, rational deliberation. Although these factors should not necessarily presuppose an unbridled technophilia, affirmatory voices do tend to outnumber critical or dissenting points of view. Yet technoscientific prognostication does not cover every permutation of the posthuman body, for technology is but the agency that produces such an entity, not its conceptual underpinning.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Body in Literature
EditorsDavid Hillman, Ulrika Maude
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages245-260
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781107256668
ISBN (Print)9781107048096
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

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