Thursday, January 29, 2009


To be human is to be flawed, to have thought and understanding. To have emotion. To be human means to be many things. Posthuman, which literally means ‘after human’, implies the end of humanity and all that defines it. The Posthuman is what survives after this end of humanity. “Human death is included in the life of human mind. Solar death implies an irreparably exclusive disjunction between death and thought: if there’s death, then there is no thought.”(Lyotard 11) Lyotard explains that the beginning of the posthuman is the natural end of humanity (by solar death). Yet he suggests that the posthuman be created to in essence carry on a human attribute. That is thought, the most intangible of human traits. Thus, Lyotard’s essay poses the question ‘can thought go on without a body’ but believing that the posthuman is the body, the new question is ‘can thought go on with this (posthuman) body?’

The final chapters of Frankenstein brings about many endings and new questions. It is the conclusion of Victor’s story, his death, and the rediscovery of the monster. By rediscovery, I not only mean the physical, but also his mentality. The monster returns in a similar mood to the one he exhibited in volume two where he makes the demand of Victor for a companion. This time he is remorseful. He explains his mental processes to Walton. In this manner Shelley uses the monster to embody Lyotard’s posthuman. The monster mimics the thoughts and actions of humans. Yet unrestricted by rules and algorithms (as most artificial intelligence is) the emotions he exhibits are overwhelming and extreme. He follows actions that seem appropriate but at the same time he loathes them. Referring to himself as having at some point being “angelic” yet falling from grace with no demons as companions. He has no doubt learned the meaning of an “eye for an eye” (or in his case a few limbs, sanity, and an eye for an eye) when he kills Elizabeth after witnessing Victor’s destruction of the monster’s unborn bride. Through Victor’s eyes we see the monster as nothing but pure evil, yet when questioned, the monster admits to being remorseful even while committing his acts. This triggers the thought that perhaps the monster was not remorseful so much as realizing that he should be. He realizes (or is aware) of these human feelings but only acts on those with the strongest power.

The monster, standing over the body of his now dead creator, metaphorically represents the post human as it begins its own journey to mimic free thinking, free will, and reason. After some time has passed will the monster, as Lyotard suggests, be able to genuinely replicate the thoughts of humanity through its own struggles and memories, or will its actions only be a “ghost” of what humanity is? The idea of creating the hardware that can sustain in an environment which we ourselves cannot only to hold the “software” of ourselves is ironic to say the least. Thought has the potential to survive physical destruction if it only has the host which can survive as well. The human in this case proves inadequate as the case is that humans are meant to die, the posthuman not so much. This does not make the posthuman a perfect creature though. Stronger than the human as it can outlive its predecessor yet flawed in the fact that it can replicate the human entity to high degree but that is all. Replication becomes the very rule it follows. Rules that stray not too far from algorithms, that stray not too far from artificial intelligence. Therefore free thinking and free will become not so free, the posthuman, not so human, the monster, always a monster.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

I'm not sure if all of the first paragraph was necessary, especially since it doesn't lay out a clear line of argument. On the other hand, it's a nuanced explanation of some key ideas from Lyotard, so it's certainly not *bad* - I think it's good that you begin to explore the fact that "the Posthuman" is in question, or in doubt, for Lyotard.

In the second paragraph, you make the very interesting claim that, in his specific mood/mode at the end, the monster *is* posthuman. But you don't really justify that claim in detail, especially given you earlier definition of what Posthuman means. This paragraph is an interesting statement, but it doesn't seem to be a development of your prior thoughts.

I'd say pretty much the same things about your third paragraph.

Short version: This is an interesting take on both texts, but I feel like your initial discussion of what the posthuman means only relates vaguely to the monster at the end - your focus in the first paragraph is more on thought (which you don't define), and later on, you're focusing on the humanity of the monster's emotions.

I guess the short version of the above is that I don't really understand what "the posthuman" means to you by the end, nor am I sure as to whether you see the monster as fundamentally posthuman or fundamentally human (the two ideas seem to be very distinct in the first paragraph, and very similar in the 2nd and 3rd).