Beyond Utopia: Posthuman Bodies and Our A-mortal Future in Ghost in the Shell | PCA/ACA
The a-mortal state of posthuman bodies will lead to an enormous impact on all levels of human society, especially the ethical structure. It is undoubted that we are moving toward the posthuman era and we need to examine the traditional mode of thinking about what a better society might be like.
Ghost in the Shell offers us a good example to discuss a possible future in which prosthesis challenges our conception of humanity and the human body. I propose to explore a prosthetic perspective to discuss the new state of society in which the humans will eventually turn into a-humans.
Skip to main content. Science Fiction and Fantasy. Presentation type:. In physical terms, she is reasonably comfortable and well cared for. Once her isolation is broken by contact with an Oankali, the worst aspect of her situation is the loss of choice and agency. She is infantilized, unable to obtain food for herself or to leave her room without assistance. Furthermore, her physical integrity has been broken, her boundaries penetrated.
She vehemently objects to this tampering with her essential self, even when the changes are to her advantage. Lilith clings to her limitations, even to a disease that will kill her, rather than give up her sense of self-control and independence, or her belief in an inviolate self. The humans are deployed by the aliens toward an end they have not chosen and cannot participate in shaping. But the humans face in Oankali culture an apparently seamless form of power. Though Lilith does agree to participate in the Oankali plan, she continues to think about how she might escape their power, once she has been returned to Earth.
Altogether, this seems at first to be the classic dystopian plot in which an oppressive hegemonic reality--the Oankali and their project--is opposed by a narrative of human resistance and liberation Baccolini. But here is where Butler begins to shift the ground of judgment by casting into doubt the legitimacy and even wisdom of the quest for human survival. Throughout the trilogy, those human beings who hold most tightly to their human identities are also the ones who exhibit the worst elements of humanity. Whether out of stupidity or calculation, they rape, steal, mutilate, and murder, all in the name of keeping intact their supposedly superior species identity.
These human beings would all be dead, as a result of human actions, if they had not been rescued by the aliens. With most of them, their opposition appears more an irrational psychological resistance than a true desire for liberation. Butler vividly evokes the visceral terror the humans initially experience upon seeing the Oankali. In this particular manifestation of their constantly-evolving identity, the Oankali have a humanoid form but are covered with sensory tentacles. The Oankali are constantly penetrating and being penetrated, dramatizing a terrifyingly limitless intimacy.
This need is described as a hunger; to be separate from others, is to starve. Sight and hearing are both forms of sensation that can be experienced at a great distance from what is sensed. The Oankali, by contrast, literally take knowledge into themselves, make it a part of themselves, and pass it on to others in the intimate exchanges of linked neurological systems. This hunger must qualify any characterization of the Oankali as all- powerful slavemasters; their own freedom is curtailed by the instincts which drive them—as is the case for humans, Butler has said Potts, It is clear that the humans feel that to lose their species identity by merging with the Oankali would mean the loss of the independent agency that they see as essential to humanity.
Here in a nutshell is the ludicrous illogic of the human thinking about humanity. And what is there, in such a vengeful and xenophobic humanity, to which any rational being would wish to remain loyal? This coupling--or rather, tripling--is a virtual experience, an out-of-body experience; the humans plugged into the ooloi are unconscious, passive, not actually touching each other, yet more perfectly joined than is possible through the human sensorium.
In ways much inflected by the issue of agency, the humans feel dirtied and shamed after having given in to this seduction. The men find the experience particularly humiliating, for once penetrated by those filaments, they feel they have been feminized. Perhaps this is why Butler imagines the humans as unable to touch each other in loving ways once having bonded chemically through an ooloi. The exquisite pleasures of posthuman sexuality make human pleasures obsolete. These alluring ooloi, with their capacity to manipulate DNA and their pressing upon the humans a metamorphosis into something no longer human, serve as a figure for the power and attraction of biotechnologies and cyber-technologies that offer us unimaginable gains at unpredictable costs.
Although one of the Oankali asserts that through the gene trade the humans will become not better, only different, it is clear that the Oankali have amassed ever-greater powers and sophistication through their long history of gene-trading. And yet, because to merge with the Oankali would bring the disappearance of the human type and the diffusion of the humanist subject, such metamorphosis is regarded with horror by the human beings to whom it is offered.
The Oankali, by contrast, feel no species loyalty. The best qualities of each group will be combined into something new. Bodies change. Ways of living must change. Did you think your children would only look different?
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Their hunger for the new is one characteristic that persists through each trade. In Dawn, then, two narratives are established and placed into conflict--that of the aliens, justifying their practices; and that of the humans who attempt to resist those practices and cling to their human identity. As in many classical dystopias, we encounter an oppressive, nearly omnipotent, ubiquitous power from the perspective of a resistant consciousness, a rebellious soul.
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But unlike in classic dystopias, it is not clear which of these narratives is to be preferred. Where we might expect the resistant humans to represent a lost ideal to be recuperated or an endangered essence to be preserved, most of these human beings exercise agency in only the most brutal forms. The true horror has already occurred, and not as a result of predatory aliens: human beings themselves have already nearly succeeded in wiping out the species. Thus, the humans are imprisoned and enslaved most irrevocably by their own species nature.
The second and third volumes of the trilogy achieve no satisfactory resolution of these ambiguities. Some humans have been returned to a rehabilitated Earth to carry out the gene trade. Those who refuse to parent the hybrid offspring created with their genetic material have been allowed to escape and to found their own villages. Their behavior continues to bear out, for the most part, the wisdom of the Oankali judgment, further destabilizing the meaning of the resistance plot. In Dawn, we looked through the eyes of Lilith, who comes to accept the inevitability of her situation, but never entirely to reconcile herself to the expected disappearance of her species.
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In this volume, we see both Oankali and Human life from the perspective of Akin, a construct child who combines traits of both species. Through Akin, Butler begins to explore just what it might mean to replace the human phenotype and sensorium with another more fluid and relational. From before his birth, Akin embodies an intensely relational form of subjectivity. His captor no doubt considers himself a free agent, acting in opposition to Oankali tyranny, but to Akin he is pathetically incomplete, because so thoroughly deprived of relation to others. To link with others is to enter into wholeness, not to lose oneself.
Aspects of villages which appear to be trees, grasses, houses, and so on, are actually parts of the larval ship that have been trained to grow in these ways, for the use of the inhabitants.
Both the ships and the tilio receive pleasure from the exchange of sensory information that occurs with any contact with the Oankali. Whatever their origin, there is no implication that these conscious beings experience any oppression in their service to their creators, or that the relation is exploitive. And combining both Human and Oankali qualities as he does, Akin feels that the uniqueness of the human should be preserved. His intersectional identities, Human and Oankali, create in him an understanding that requires and enables action.
But Akin can exercise no direct agency in a form we would recognize. In order to act toward his goals, he must enter the political process by merging with others. Linked through the ship entity, adult Oankali and constructs engage in simultaneous transmission of their thoughts and feelings. But he does so through direct sharing of experiences, an opening of himself to others. Thus, an individual has powerfully moved the collective to acknowledge an alternative view and to assist a dissenting group to achieve its wishes.
A truly fascistic consensus would brutally repress dissent to achieve a fully unified collective; but although the Oankali link their minds for purposes of decision-making, the individual mind is never unaware of itself in this complex relation, nor must any individual give up an independent view once the decision has been reached. Every strand seemed to go its own different way, bending, twisting, spiraling, angling.
Yet together they formed a symmetrical, recognizable shape. By contrast, I see the Martian project as affirming neither the human, nor human agency , in any straightforward way. First, human nature as Butler portrays it does not appear to be particularly worthy of preservation. When Akin is kidnapped as a child, his kidnappers treat him roughly, drink to excess, and fight. He observes a revenge shooting in which several people are killed. Violent raids are common and there is a trade in kidnapped women and stolen construct children.
Despite some exceptions, such irrational fear, resentment, and brutality also characterize human behavior as Akin observes it later in life. Ultimately, it is not human agency, but posthuman agency, that makes possible the survival of something like the human. There can be no permanent home, only endless struggle, unless Humanity changes in fundamental ways. Although they disdain their fellow Humans who have agreed to participate in the gene-trade and contribute to the next generation of Oankali, even the Martian colonists must evolve toward the posthuman or die.
At this point the human emigration to Mars has been under way for fifty years. But the evocation of the Mars colony as a utopian alternative has become peripheral to the drive of the narrative and is mentioned only occasionally from this point forward.
Bodies of Water
The combination of ooloi powers with human volatility is seen as extremely dangerous. But along with these increased powers comes an increased vulnerability, a porosity of self. This mutability means that without mates--without any permanent relation to others--Jodahs has no stable self. It must return to its siblings, in order to recover a coherent self.
Only after finding human mates is Jodahs able to harness its powers and retain a coherent self. The price of its powers, then, is interdependence, to the point that an ooloi will die if one of its mates dies. Its body, starving for the intimate contact of neurosensory linkage available only to mates, undertakes a kind of suicide.
Nevertheless, she concludes her trilogy with what is clearly meant to be a happy ending. Out of love rather than fear or capitulation, a group of humans have agreed to mate with Jodahs and other constructs, and the Oankali collective has given its permission for the next stage of evolution to occur, the stage that will bring about the new species in its achieved form. It does not seem to me, however, that this new community will be significantly different in character, structure, or culture from the community originally envisioned by the Oankali. But neither choice is achievable without collaboration, interdependence, and accommodation with the posthuman.
In her depiction of selves whose boundaries are both established by and overlapping with those of others, Butler suggests the possibilities and the problematics of posthuman subjectivity and bodies. The rewards of the posthuman are ecstatic joinings, augmented consciousness and knowledge, the expansion and extension of self. In the Oankali pentangle of lifelong mates and in the extended families of children produced year after year for centuries, exist a harmony and security unknown to humanity. In the group process of consensus-making is a form of politics more intimate, more immediate, and more stable than any human structure could be.
The costs of the posthuman are an intensified dependence and an apparent loss of identity and of individual autonomy. But feminist theorists of agency would suggest that the entirely independent and self-determining subject was never more than a fantasy—and a destructive one at that.
However, if we read her work as a metaphor rather than as proposal, a different kind of political use might be made of it. Her extreme depictions of both the humanist self, violently defending its integrity against the threatening Other, and of the posthuman self, struggling to maintain any coherence in the absence of constituting Others, might both be read as cautionary accounts of the excesses of humanist and posthumanist thought.
In these novels, Butler ultimately asks her readers to set aside their fears of difference and of change, and to enter willingly into less absolutist, more relational ways of being and acting in the world. Allison, Dorothy. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Meridian, Anzaldua, Gloria. Baccolini, Raffaella. Sciliani, A. Cecere, V.
Beyond Utopia: Posthuman Bodies and Our A-mortal Future in Ghost in the Shell
Intononti, and A. Fasano: Schena, Barnes, Barry. London: Sage, Bonner, Frances. Boulter, Amanda. Tim Armstrong.