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Title: Monstrous Modernity: The Terror of the Posthuman
Authors: Vanvelk, Jan
Issue Date: 2-May-2015
Conference: Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association edition:46 location:Toronto date:30 April - 3 May 2015
Abstract: In a review of The Island of Doctor Moreau in 1896, Chalmers Mitchell lamented that H. G. Wells’s new book, contrary to his debut The Time Machine, was too much invested in the horrific imagery of “blood in the sink,” the details of vivisection, and “the insistence upon the terror and pains of animals” to be considered a work that presents a fair depiction of scientific practice. Begging Wells to make “a return to his sane transmutations of the dull conceptions of science into the living and magical beauty” of before, Mitchell closes his review by remarking that the combination of “living material from different creatures” is not even scientifically possible – a comment that today resounds as a vain attempt at warding off an anxiety that is intensely real. Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, modernity has attempted to imagine for itself the revolutionary reconfigurations of what it means to be human. The breaching of the boundaries of the human triggered by scientific developments is regularly represented by the quintessential appeal to the empathetic response: pain, horror, and terror as immediate effects of the process of ‘dehumanization’ through new invasions of the human. These negotiations of future possibility in fiction writing are as real today as they were a hundred and two hundred years ago, witnessing an editorial of the journal Nature in 2011 entitled “The Legacy of Doctor Moreau,” in which it is warned that “instinctive revulsion [to new technologies that might result in “mixing species”] should not automatically block future research that will undoubtedly pave the way for therapies for currently incurable diseases.” This paper will engage with texts such as Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to focus on such moments of horror not as the culprits responsible for a legacy of “instinctive revulsion,” but as the imaginative heritage of the constant reconceptualizations of the human that were provoked by new scientific theories (evolution) as well as new emerging technologies (bioengineering, surveillance). The particular emphasis lies on the modes of contact (torture, vivisection) that are figured to establish a terror reaching beyond the limits of human selves (modernity) yet also of the human itself (posthuman).
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Text and Interpretation, Leuven (-)

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