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Prophets of the Posthuman

American Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Ethics of Personhood

Christina Bieber Lake

Publication Year: 2013

Prophets of the Posthuman provides a fresh and original reading of fictional narratives that raise the question of what it means to be human in the face of rapidly developing bioenhancement technologies. Christina Bieber Lake argues that works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Marilynne Robinson, Raymond Carver, James Tiptree, Jr., and Margaret Atwood must be reevaluated in light of their contributions to larger ethical questions. Drawing on a wide range of sources in philosophical and theological ethics, Lake argues that these writers share a commitment to maintaining a category of personhood more meaningful than that allowed by utilitarian ethics. Prophets of the Posthuman insists that because technology can never ask whether we should do something that we have the power to do, literature must step into that role.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-11

I cannot imagine completing this project without my dear friends who so willingly read the manuscript at various points: Tiffany Kriner, Nicole Mazzarella, and Beth Felker Jones. You women are irreplaceable. I would also like especially to thank Alan Jacobs for his advice, encouragement, and...

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pp. xi-xix

Multimillionaire inventor of the first reading machine for the blind, Kurzweil is best known for his predictions about the future that culminated in his 2009 book, The Singularity Is Near.1 Kurzweil predicts that by 2045 machines will exceed human intelligence and the...

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Introduction. Learning to Love in a Posthuman World

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pp. 1-23

In 1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson published an essay called “Nature” that is not about nature at all. It is about how the triumphant American self should interact with the received world, with whatever it perceives as limitations, and that is by refusing those limitations. Americans...

Part I: Posthuman Vision

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pp. 25-47

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Chapter 1: The Moral Imagination in Exile. Flannery O’Connor and Lee Silver at the Circus

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pp. 27-42

Of all of the contemporary thinkers trying to describe the quagmire of the current ethical landscape, none may be more revealing than those who call for a new science of morality. Sometimes calling themselves “evolutionary psychologists,” sometimes “sociobiologists,”...

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Chapter 2: Aylmer’s Moral Infancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Quest for Human Perfection

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pp. 43-59

It is easy to think of enhancement technology in terms of bold changes to the body that are not yet fully possible: implants to help soldiers see at night; gene therapy to make athletes’ bodies more efficient; drugs that enable college students to go for days without sleep....

Part II: Posthuman Bodies

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pp. 61-83

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Chapter 3: The Faces of Others. George Saunders, James Tiptree Jr., and the Body for Sale

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pp. 63-84

In April 2009, a video clip posted to YouTube generated over thirty million hits in one week. The clip featured Susan Boyle, a previously unknown singer, performing on Britain’s Got Talent, a reality TV show similar to American Idol. But the clip generated interest not because...

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Chapter 4: The Scorned People of the Earth. Reprogenetics and The Bluest Eye

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pp. 85-105

No one would deny that the biotechnological revolution has advanced with astonishing speed. DNA was discovered a mere fifty years before the human genome was completely mapped in 2003. In less than a century, corporate scientists have bioengineered a wide array...

Part III: Posthuman Language

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pp. 107-129

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Chapter 5: What Makes a Crake? The Reign of Technique and the Degradation of Language in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

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pp. 109-130

The first four chapters of this book have considered the ethics of human enhancement technologies by considering individual choices for improvement, whether it be by striving to become more beautiful, more skilled, more authentic—or just happier. From “The Birth-mark”...

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Chapter 6: I Love Humanity, but I Don’t Like You. Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome and the Soul of Scientism

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pp. 131-149

There may be no more reliable way to begin to understand the complicated motives behind the biotechnological revolution than to study drugs. Psychopharmaceuticals is a fast-growth industry; the use of antidepressants alone increased by 48 percent between the years 1995...

Part IV: From Posthuman Individuals to Human Persons

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pp. 151-173

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Chapter 7: Technology, Contingency, and Grace. Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing”

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pp. 153-167

Raymond Carver is not typically the writer we talk about when we talk about technology. When we want to explore our technological society, we usually turn to speculative fiction, stories in which megalomaniacal scientists accidentally kill all humans, or stories in which...

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Chapter 8: The Lure of Transhumanism versus the Balm in Gilead. Marilynne Robinson’s Redemptive Alternative

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pp. 168-189

Utopian fiction, when you can find the genuine article, is usually dreadful. Though aspects of Plato’s Republic are considered utopian, the genre began with Thomas More’s Utopia of 1516, which is interesting largely because it is not really utopian in the way we use the term...


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pp. 190-221


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pp. 222-232


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pp. 233-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780268075866
E-ISBN-10: 0268075867
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268022365
Print-ISBN-10: 0268022364

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 859744781
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Prophets of the Posthuman

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Literature and technology -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Human beings in literature.
  • Ethics in literature.
  • Bioethics in literature.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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