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Towards a Posthuman Imagination in Literature and Media

Monsters, Mutants, Aliens, Artificial Beings

Series:

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 3 The Alien

Extract

Chapter 3

The Alien

Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not.

Both are equally terrifying.

— Arthur C. Clarke

Humans of Earth! I have come in peace. You need not fear me. I mean you no harm. However, it may be important to know that most of you will not survive the next 24 hours.

And those of you who do survive will be enslaved and experimented on.

— Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Science fiction constantly interrogates the limits of identity and the nature of difference. The latter is frequently described through a quasi-allegorical displacement of the alien on to other countries and planets, following a strategy of encounter whereby readers are encouraged to re-examine their self-conceptions as a result of confrontation with the Other, with beings whose culture is rarely explored in its own right, but rather to highlight the markers of difference. (Seed 2011: 27)

In his ‘very short introduction’ to science fiction, David Seed has effectively summarized the cognitive use of the theme of alien encounters in SF works. As we have seen in Chapter 1, SF works displace the reader in a world which is both alternative and connected to the one s/he lives in; therefore the disorientation for what is different is tightly interlaced with the recognition of what is familiar. Within the various SF trends and works, such an effect is...

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