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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 4 The Simulacrum

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Chapter 4

The Simulacrum

To be born is to have a soul, I guess.

– Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)

Henry: Look! It’s moving. It’s … it’s alive. It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive! It’s ALIVE!

Victor: Henry – in the name of God!

Henry: Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to BE God!

– Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)

Automata, androids, robots, replicants, intelligent software, virtual assistants, avatars: all these figures belong to the same category, that of the artefacts which in different ways artificially imitate or simulate men’s appearance, behaviour or functions. They are all different technological versions of the ‘simulacrum’, or, in the words of Victor Stoichita, any ‘artificial construct, devoid of an original model’, which ‘does not necessarily copy an object from the world, but projects itself into the world. It exists’ (2008: 2). By including all the artificial beings of our fictional imagery in this single general category we are able to identify some features which are common to all of them. For instance, as a simulacrum, an artificial being is always identifiable with an object, a product which has been built or assembled, so it is always possible to reproduce it in another specimen or in a series. At the same time though, the simulacrum presents itself as a singularity, a unique entity, somehow autonomous from the circumstances of its creation and/or its creator, and...

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