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Towards a Posthuman Imagination in Literature and Media

Monsters, Mutants, Aliens, Artificial Beings


Simona Micali

What if the human species were to get in touch with another intelligent species, thus far unknown?

This question is the impetus for a vast, exciting catalogue of science fiction and fantasy stories. They serve as hypothetical answers in narrative form but can also be regarded as cognitive exercises by which we investigate the nature and destiny of humanity. In other words, any creature and any story produced in response to this question requires an assessment of our notion of the human and a redefinition of our position and role in the world.

This volume aims at mapping and analysing the very rich catalogue of non-human figures which inhabit our contemporary imagery, with particular regard to science fiction literature and film. It is suggested that monsters, clones, zombies, aliens, artificial beings, cyborgs and mutants can function as ideological tools intended to confirm the role of humankind (and Western civilization) as the only possible standard of intelligent and ethical life. But they can also become cognitive instruments devised to question or criticize our vision of and behaviour toward the world, other species and ourselves. This privileged critical perspective – and the point of arrival of the book – is the category of the posthuman, which is regarded as the symbol of a possibly revolutionary vision of humanity, a wish and an invitation to embrace a new, more humble way of being and living.

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Chapter 2 The Subhuman


Chapter 2

The Subhuman

It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive.

If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.

– H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1928)

Help! Wait! Stop! Stop and listen to me! …

These people who’re coming after me are not human!

– Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)

In this chapter I will consider a wide group of figures, which share the fact of being insufficient, degenerated, hybrid or monstrous versions of humans: zombies, orcs, monstrous aliens, animal/human/vegetable mutants, hybrids, androids, clones, vampires and all the possible variants of freaks which inhabit our popular imagination. The result is quite a large and diverse catalogue of beings, which at first sight may seem unsuitable as the subject of a serious, substantial investigation. Firstly, these figures are different in nature, derive from different genealogies (which may be historically very long and rich) and belong to different fictional genres. Orcs are typical fantasy creatures, zombies are characteristic of horror, while aliens, clones and androids are generally...

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