More than sixty-five years after the United States detonated two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, current events have once again placed Japan at the center of global discussion about the power of nature, nuclear technology, and human life. Anxiety and speculation abound over the unforeseen and unknowable cellular mutations that might result from radiation leaks at the Fukushimi Daiichi power plant as a result of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The nuclear crisis and extensive devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami are powerful reminders that nature, science, human beings, and machines coexist within dynamic frames of contingency and instability that alternately promise new modes of existence as well as contain powers of mass destruction. Science fiction is one literary genre that addresses the intertwined promise and threat of scientific discovery as related to technologies of the body and social organization. Science fiction reminds us of the intimate links between the social, cultural, and political contexts that provoke an imagining of new beings and worlds and the scientific experimentation that participates in such imaginings.
The interconnection between human–machine relations, scientific knowledge, sociopolitical organization, and race and gender is often associated with canonical texts like Frankenstein, films such as Blade Runner, and circulatory frameworks that privilege a Western European–North American axis. The dynamic relationship between human and machine holds an equally important position in circuits of technology and translation present in socialist state-making in the USSR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), nationalist imaginaries in early twentieth-century China, and Japanese cultural responses to the onset of the nuclear era. This cluster of essays analyzes Soviet and Chinese science fiction as well as multimedia translation of popular/ [End Page 99] mass culture engagements with human–machines that link, on the one hand, the Soviet Union, China, and Japan and, on the other hand, Japan and the United States. Read together, the essays highlight how texts concerned with, or created through, self-conscious acts of writing, translation, and cross-cultural slippage in these regions contribute to critical scholarship on human–machine subjectivity and desire.
The cluster examines the fusion of internal and external, and the ways in which ideal states and potentialities are expressed through new bodily forms and technologies. We are centrally concerned with the intimate connections discussed by Alain Badiou (2007) of twentieth-century projects to create humanity and the new human. As such, the essays think through humanity and human–machines as interconnected propositions on the cultural terrain of the Soviet Union, twentieth-century China, and post–World War II Japan. The essays inquire into how the twentieth century “was thought” in these spaces through a conjoining of science, (imperfect) human–machine subjectivity, desire, and projects articulated to moments of rupture in the past, present, and future. The essays also work in the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1980) “body without organs,” a formulation that recognizes the artificiality of existence, as well as the potential for intensive experimentation to be a mode of becoming.
As Badiou indicates in his critique of Deleuze (Badiou 2000), Deleuze draws upon a mathematical orientation that is distinct from the biological orientation favored by Badiou. This essay cluster is framed in reference to Badiou as well as Deleuze and Guattari in order to draw out how these different orientations shaped imagination of human–machines in the Soviet Union, East Asia, and the United States. In particular, the essays by Julia Vaingurt and Tina Mai Chen make explicit the ways in which the use of biological or mathematical formulations of social and scientific organization structure the vision of humanity proposed through, or against, the human–machine. Moving from Zamyatin’s incorporation of mathematical calculation as rationalization in his novel We to Mao Zedong’s organismic conceptualization of qualitative change, these two essays consider socialist revolutionary projects and how, in different valences, the technologies of writing are themselves part of a process of experimentation to bring into being a desired (and desiring) subjectivity. [End Page 100]
The texts analyzed in the essay cluster share a concern with the ability of human–machine forms, whether they...