Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems

Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems

Bruce Clarke
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems
    Book Description:

    From Dr. Moreau's Beast People to David Cronenberg's Brundlefly, Stanislaw Lem's robot constructors in the Cyberiad to Octavia Butler's human/alien constructs in the Xenogenesis trilogy, Posthuman Metamorphosis examines modern and postmodern stories of corporeal transformation through interlocking frames of posthumanism, narratology, and second-order systems theory. New media generate new metamorphs.New stories have emerged from cybernetic displacements of life, sensation, or intelligence from human beings to machines. But beyond the vogue for the cyborg and the cybernetic mash-up of the organic and the mechanical, Posthuman Metamorphosis develops neocybernetic systems theories illuminating alternative narratives that elicit autopoietic and symbiotic visions of the posthuman.Systems theory also transforms our modes of narrative cognition. Regarding narrative in the light of the autopoietic systems it brings into play, neocybernetics brings narrative theory into constructive relation with the systemic operations of observation, communication, and paradox.Posthuman Metamorphosis draws on Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Niklas Luhmann, Cary Wolfe, Mieke Bal, Katherine Hayles, Friedrich Kittler, and Lynn Margulis to read narratives of bodily metamorphosis as allegories of the contingencies of systems. Tracing the posthuman intuitions of both pre- and post-cybernetic metamorphs, it demonstrates the viability of second-order systems theories for narrative theory, media theory, cultural science studies, and literary criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4837-7
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Posthuman Metamorphosis
    (pp. 1-12)

    Narratives of bodily metamorphosis depict in various figures the restless transformations of the human. Over several millennia at least, momentous corporeal change has been a remarkably stable form of event that connects the fabulae of mythic and literary narratives. Premodern myth and legend, folklore and fantasy, set forth the perils of human status by dressing the sheer contingencies of the natural order in divine or daemonic guises. Scriptural traditions troped bodies and souls into being through spiritual metaphors that attribute human constructions to nonhuman agencies at large in the extrahuman environment. Against these mythological, theological, and philosophical backdrops of legendary...

  6. ONE Narrative and Systems
    (pp. 13-42)

    Narrative is a primary formal and thematic program running on the complex infrastructures of social and psychic systems. The medium of narrative in society is the network of metabiotic meaning systems and their media environments. The maintenance-in-being of narratives in any textual medium has to be continuously reconstructed within social systems that can use them as elements of communicative exchange. Over time these contingencies ensure the continuous transformation of narratives and, from fictions of metamorphosis to histories of social evolution, the continuous recreation of narratives of transformation.

    For instance, the emergence of cybernetics has been changing the way we narrate...

  7. TWO Nonmodern Metamorphosis
    (pp. 43-60)

    The theory of evolution marks a recent moment in the long history of narratives of bodily metamorphosis, a modern moment when scientific discourse presented new and persuasive explanations for divergences in the forms of living beings. Darwinisms of many stripes replaced more traditional ways of accounting for magical or uncanny changes of species. Technological developments since then, such as television and space travel—magical indeed by traditional standards—added machines to the ranks of “evolutionary” entities. The discourse of cybernetics emerged at mid-twentieth century to explore the increasingly complex interfaces of technological and biological systems. Second-order systems theories mark a...

  8. THREE System and Form
    (pp. 61-93)

    In autopoietic systems theory the system–environment distinction exhibits a double positivity. There is no shearing off into exclusivities of subject or object, system idealism or environmental materialism. Environments secure the being of systems that secure the knowing of environments in an indivisible loop. Thermodynamically speaking, physical or technological systems may be either closed or open, but the shift to autopoietic (biotic and metabiotic) systems overcomes this antithesis: self-referential observing systems are two-sided: at once operationally closed and environmentally open. Paradoxically, autopoietic closure—the condition of the possibility of self-referential operations—is a positive state that includes what it excludes....

  9. FOUR Metamorphosis and Embedding
    (pp. 94-126)

    Postmodern, self-reflexive texts as well as their cyberpunk spawn are well understood as fictive reworkings of cybernetic developments. Narratives of bodily transformation in the cybernetic era are often feedback loops reentering the forms of computation and communication technologies into the stories communicated. But those cultural thematics have left out a more intrinsic level of formal correspondence between recursive forms in the operation of systems and in the structures of narratives. Narrative embedding is the primary textual analog of systemic self-reference. The zigzag play and sequence of embedded and embedding narrative frames reenacts the essential paradoxicality in the operation of observing...

  10. FIVE Communicating The Fly
    (pp. 127-157)

    In displaying the transformative power or posthuman agency of communications technology,The Flyunfolds the paradoxes of media. Friedrich Kittler has written: “no means of transportation are more economical that those which convey information rather than goods and people.”¹ Whereas the sensory data emitted by human bodies—visual images, spoken or written utterances—can fly as code through space like light, or along optical fiber cablesaslight, the persons who present the image or do the uttering must be physically hauled from one place to another. The alarming alacrity of electronically mediated information puts the sluggish inertia of material...

  11. SIX Posthuman Viability
    (pp. 158-192)

    “Hard SF” is distinguished from its fellow genres by the relative verisimilitude of its scientific representations. Modern stories of bodily metamorphosis adapt themselves to this generic pressure at the level of their biological motivations. Both the plausibility and the viability of the depicted transformations can be measured against the life-scientific knowledge and theory standing across the border from the storyworld, at the time of composition and thereafter. But the meanings circulated by stories of metamorphosis also oscillate in the space between psychic constructions and social discourses—and from our particular perspective, that space can be plotted through a neocybernetic understanding...

  12. CONCLUSION: The Neocybernetic Posthuman
    (pp. 193-196)

    To return a last time to Latour’s term, narratives of bodily transformation are nonmodern—at once archaic and posthuman. The narrative metamorphs of every era are allegorical beings that index systemic complexes. Their altered bodies convey the materialities of their own mediated being and the forms of the psychic and social systems in the environments to which their media couple them. Narrative mythopoesis is a nonmodern reflection on the human as a nexus for a complex embedding of systems and environments with operational concurrence but without overriding operational unity. Despite the garish predictions of cyberdigital gurus, there will be no...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 197-220)
    (pp. 221-234)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 235-242)