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Posthuman Metamorphosis

Narrative and Systems

Bruce Clarke

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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Title Page

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p. iii


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p. v

Figures and Tables

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

At the 1999 Society for Literature and Science conference, Joe Tabbi asked me to write up Friedrich Kittler’s recently translated Gramophone, Film, Typewriter for the electronic book review, prompting a rewarding engagement with media theory. This project began in earnest under the title ‘‘Bodies of...

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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...

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1. Narrative and Systems

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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...

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2. Nonmodern Metamorphosis

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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...

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3. System and Form

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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...

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4. Metamorphosis and Embedding

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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...

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5. Communicating The Fly

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pp. 127-157

In displaying the transformative power or posthuman agency of communications technology, The Fly unfolds 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...

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6. Posthuman Viability

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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...

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Conclusion: The Neocybernetic Posthuman

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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...


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pp. 197-219


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pp. 221-233


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pp. 235-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248377
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823228508
Print-ISBN-10: 0823228509

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 652250371
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Posthuman Metamorphosis

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cyborgs in motion pictures.
  • Human body in motion pictures.
  • Cyborgs in literature.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Fantasy literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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