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In preparation of writing this essay I decided to look up the definition of “posthumanism” in the Oxford English dictionary, which, interestingly enough, provides two separate definitions, depending on how you write it. The first one, where it’s written as “posthumanism” states that humanity can be transformed, transcended, or eliminated either by technological advances or the evolutionary process; artistic, scientific, or philosophical practice which reflects this belief. (Oxford Dictionary).
And the second, where a hyphen is added between “post” and “humanism” states that it is a “a system of thought formulated in reaction to the basic tenets of humanism, especially its focus on humanity rather than the divine or supernatural. Also (especially in postmodernist and feminist discourse): writing or thought characterized by rejection of the notion of the rational, autonomous individual, instead conceiving of the nature of the self as fragmentary and socially and historically conditioned.” (Oxford Dictionary).
I believe that for the purpose of this essay it is important to mention these definitions as I try to analyse how the notion of the “posthuman” is a critique on “the Humanistic ideal” (which draws on the Enlightenment idea of the rational subject and its perfectibility) and instead is a “a hegemonic cultural model” that relies on a “universalistic posture and its binary logic”. (Braidotti)
At the forefront on posthuman theory lie Donna Haraway’s seminal manifestos on cyborgs. In the “Cyborg Manifesto” Haraway identifies three main boundaries which are continuously blurred and reconfigured so the formation of the “cyborg” can be made possible – those of human and animal, animal and machine, and physical and non-physical. She writes:
“The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation. […]the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. ” (Haraway)
and in the later “Companion Species Manifesto” she expands by saying
“Cyborgs and companion species each bring together the human and non-human, the organic and technological, carbon and silicon, freedom and structure, history and myth, the rich and the poor, the state and the subject, diversity and depletion, modernity and postmodernity, and nature and culture in unexpected ways.” (Harraway)
In order to give a tangible understanding (at the very least for my own benefit) of Haraway’s aforementioned statements, I will try apply her critical theory and that of other scholars focusing on the “posthuman” in the context of Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic “Blade Runner” The reason of doing this is that one of the uses of popular cinema is to occupy a “place of honor in bioethical rhetoric and popular debate about genetically engineered entities” (Battaglia 495), and that the genre of science fiction helps us examine “the binary oppositions of real and imaginary, human and artificial, and self and other” and comment “on the direction in which our world is moving” (Kirely 285). As Elaine L. Graham argues, fictional worlds can be “just as revealing, in their own way, of the ethical and political dimensions of the digital and biotechnological age as are the material artefacts of humanity’s technological endeavours” (1).
The setup of the first movie is that in a cyberpunk vision of the future, man has developed the technology to create replicants – artificially created humanoids with short, fixed lifespans – which are illegal on Earth but are used in the off-world colonies. In Los Angeles, 2019, Deckard is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants. He is forced to come out of retirement when four replicants escape from an off-world colony and come to Earth. (IMDB).
The whole movie is like an existential rollercoaster of deep thought-provoking topics, concerning themselves about the very notion of what it is to be human. Even though the movie is over 30 years old, it provides valuable speculation of what might our human genome face in the presence of emergent technology. After all, to ignore the influence of technology on our lives would be to deny “the reality of a world in which we are progressively imbricated in a mechanical presence” (Galvan 414).
In the beginning of the movie we are introduced to the binary between “human” and “replicant”. One, a biological being, capable of experiencing feelings, thoughts, memories. The latter, an artificial creation created in the former’s image in order to be enslaved and objectified for the benefit of humanity. This “black and white” distinction between the two is the driving force of the narrative.
“Replicants are just like any other machine, they are either a benefit or a hazard.”
But as the movie progresses this demarcation between “human” and “replicant” becomes increasingly blurry. In one scene, Deckard interviews Rachael, an unsuspecting replicant, and in the process reveals the fact that she is a “created commodity” rather than an “authentic human”. Her response being shedding a single tear to that realization and subsequently questioning Deckard’s own “authenticity”. A question that has captivated the minds of audience members and theorists for over thirty years. One such example is Slavoj Žižek, who insists on the reading of Deckard as a replicant and makes the point by completely reversing the human/replicant distinction. Due to the “non substantial status of the subject” as such, he argues, every human being is nothing but a replicant; or, “man is a replicant who does not know it” (40-41).
Where the movie really makes strides in muddying the definition of “human” and “replicant” is in its antagonist, Roy Batty, the leader of the replicant rebellion. Roy resists classification as he stands on the border between dangerous and playful, beauty and terminability, masculine and transvestite, machine and agency. “The performative side of Roy Batty breaks down traditionally drawn distinctions between the authentic and the artificial, or theatrical” as he “slide[s] from one persona to another” in a “performance of self that becomes an implicit challenge to Deckard’s stoic desire to preserve the ‘real’” (Bukatman 85).
In the movie’s climax, Deckard confronts Batty atop of a building and is left hanging onto dear life. In this moment Roy’s obvious choice would be to let Deckard fall to his death, obeying his programming but instead he teaches Deckard a lesson in humanity. Faced with the realization of his imminent “expiration”, Roy chooses to spare Deckard, destroying the boundary between human and non-human by acting on sympathy – a signifier of his free will and humanity, as well as a direct renouncement to his “ruthless killer” programming.
The ideas and thoughts presented above paint the picture of the “posthuman”/ ”replicant”/ ”cyborg” as one of “multiple belongings, as a relational subject constituted in and by multiplicity, that is to say a subject that works across differences and is also internally differentiated, but still grounded and accountable. “ (Braidotti, 2010)
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