The Enlightenment cyborg : aspects and origins of the postmodern man-machine metaphor
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Popular media, literature, and theory suggests that technology has induced a newly evolved, posthuman and postmodern (or "post-Enlightenment") cyborg consciousness. I suggest, as an alternative reading to the notion that we are evolving towards a disembodied posthuman state which will revolutionise what it means to be human, that the literature of cyborgs incorporates and reinscribes traditional narratives about human identity. This project analyses representative tropes of the cyborg in contemporary discourse from an explicitly historical perspective. Although dualisms such as mind/matter or soul/body are recognised in current theorising of the cyborg, little has been written about the historical relationship of mechanism and humanity in the ongoing discussion of cyborg mind/body ontology. The cyborg in much of our literature throughout a wide range of genres is represented by the exaggerated and horrifying effacement of human embodiment to embellish an underlying concern about the consequences to the human spirit when we can be reproduced by technological means. This thesis argues that much of the discourse about the novelty of the "postmodern" human-machine, however, is not unprecedented. Cyborg literature re-presents themes and concerns regarding the man-machine of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and continues to reflect a religious debate about the spirit within the material body. Beginning with current notions of the supposed obsolescence of the body, this thesis explores how the contemporary cyborg functions as a device to reflect traditional (frequently Christian) values. Drawing on eighteenth-century medical philosophy and the satirical literary responses to mechanist definitions of body and soul, I demonstrate literary connections between medical and literary metaphors of the Enlightenment man-machine and the postmodern cyborg in popular media, fiction, and theory. The debate surrounding eighteenth-century materialism, primarily metaphorical and analogical in its representation of the body's mechanisms, contributed directly to current notions of figurative disembodiment and the status of the human soul in contemporary literature. I conclude that the cyborg as a figure of literature does not indicate a revolutionary change in social consciousness but repeatedly is a device used to affirm traditional religious concepts of human reproduction, individual free will, spirit and body, and life after death.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Copyright DateSeptember 2001
mind and body