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This chapter addresses discourses of self-optimization and especially pharmo-chemical reconfigurations of life. Drawing on anthropological critiques of clinical drug trials and the economic hegemony of chemical corporations that Kaushik Sunder Rajan calls pharmocracy, this chapter thinks through how health and profit intersect in these industries, and what this nexus means for concepts of sociality and governance. It reads three speculative texts: Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous makes visible the ongoing production of inequality through the uneven distribution of pharmaceuticals, for both treatment and for enhancement; Sue Burke’s Semiosis envisions a new kind of society made possible through a posthumanist ethos that engages other species, including plants, through rubrics of collaborative survival instead of accumulative appropriation; and Thomas King’s The Back of the Turtle contrasts Western and Indigenous epistemologies and scientific practices in a tale about a biochemical company and a catastrophic chemical spill. Each suggest ways to optimize the social vitality of life rather than its economic productivity, and the hopeful communities they propose demonstrate how a posthumanist dispositif of personhood enables this new orientation toward life and the living.
This chapter asks what happens as the commodification of life expands from biological tissues to the abstract concept of “life itself” now understood as a commodity. It draws on research on synthetic biology to analyze sf texts whose futures promise manufactured, nonhuman workers. Beginning with Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? this chapter considers how the globalized distribution of labour, and particularly a reliance on migrant labour that disavows civic belonging to such temporary workers, instantiates a dehumanizing precarity. Turning to the film adaptation of Dick’s novel, Blade Runner, and especially to its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, the chapter connects these imaginaries to discourses about synthetic biology that imagine life as a standard toolkit of reconfigurable metabolic functions. The chapter concludes with a reading of Rosa Montero’s Bruna Husky series, which directly references Blade Runner, a forceful critique of economic logics that reduce living beings to a means to economic ends. This series offers a posthumanist, multispecies vision of renewed political community as a remedy for the real subsumption of life by capital.
This chapter thinks through the transnational market in organ transplantation, an industry that has many economic and geographic parallels with the fertility industry. I demonstrate how it, too, is implicated in a racialized production of the human and the channeling of vitality toward lives deemed more valuable in a global organ economy. The chapter analyzes two recent novels that extend this precarious condition more widely, to argue that this generalized vulnerability to becoming commodified is central to why the liberal humanist dispositif is not only historically compromised but also contemporarily ineffective. Both Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit are premised on an expansion of the category of disposable life that is at root an economic assessment of the contribution that life can make. These novels reiterate and draw our attention to how the real subsumption of life by capital, as shaped by the transplantation industry, is rewriting how we value life in contexts that extend far beyond the lives of organ donors and recipients.
The Conclusion contextualizes the argument for a posthumanism mode of being argued for in this book in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic and especially how the framework of biocapital can help us to understand the racialized economic equality upon which Western democracies rely – systemic injustice made all the more visible by the effects of the pandemic. Working through Roberto Esposito’s critique of the concept of personhood as it has unfolded in Western political theory, and how we might think through his notion of immunitary biopolitics in relation to this global situation, as well as drawing on new work on immunity that requires us to reject previous metaphorical figurations of the immune system in military terms of borders and purity, I show how his critique of personhood aligns with the arguments for posthumanist politics made throughout this book. Both share a critique of rights-based frameworks for ethics and suggest the urgent need for new figurations, new ontologies, new ethics. The book concludes by suggesting that “normal” is not a state to which we should desire to return but that instead the failure of existing systems in the face of the pandemic calls for a renewal of our political imagination through posthumanist theory.
This chapter argues for the importance of posthumanist thought to remaking subjectivity and agency in ways that can respond to the crisis of the real subsumption of life by capital. It takes up the figure of the immortal vessel in a new way. It considers texts that reorient the ideal of immorality to express a surplus of vitality rather than just the extension of life, rooted in life’s capacity to exceed how capital engineers and constrains life. Drawing on the posthumanist philosophy of Rosi Braidotti and Claire Colebrook, and especially on the materialist political theory of Samantha Frost, it shows how these texts demonstrate posthuman possibilities for renewal. Rather than lamenting the precarity of life in a context in which the dispositif of liberal humanism is no longer sufficient shield against capital, these works offer in its place another imaginary of life and of multispecies personhood. Anne Charnock’s A Calculated Life shows that even engineered, synthetic life has a vitality beyond what is designed. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy reorients how we understand massive ecological change, changing a tale of disastrous ending into one of emergent beginning.
This chapter shows how the pervasive commodification of living tissue in biomedicine intensifies a neoliberal hegemony that encourages us to value all life in strictly economic metrics. Drawing on Hannah Landecker’s work on how cell cultures enabled the separation of living tissues from organisms, this chapter examines texts that narrate the experience of those whose bodies are targeted for extraction of vitality. Carola Dibbell’s The Only Ones and Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves are both set in a future in which disenfranchised people have nothing beyond their biology to bring to market. Dibbell’s novel concerns clones and it deconstructs reactionary discourse that valorize the “natural,” showing how a fixed and unchanging notion of proper humanity reinscribes racialized divisions into valued and dispossessed classes of people. Dimaline’s novel literalizes the extraction of vitality in a grim future where the settler colonial state harvests bone marrow from indigenous peoples. Finally, Claire North’s 84K envisions a future UK in which all governance has been replaced by actuarial metrics, entirely displacing ethical and legal systems that adjudicate questions of justice with an accounting of financial gains and losses.
This chapter interrogates practices of biotechnology related to pregnancy and reproduction. Taking note of a recent proliferation of speculative texts about compromised fertility and draconian measures to control women’s reproductive freedoms, alongside continued legislative attempts to restrict access to abortion and other tools of family planning, this chapter asks what it means that we have become so obsessed with the life of the unborn fetus. Through an analysis of practices in the fertility industry, and especially the transnational market in surrogacy services, this chapter reads two speculative fiction works about changed fertility: Jane Rogers’ The Testament of Jessie Lamb and Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God. It argues that increasingly restrictions that prevent those in the Global North from accessing surrogacy and related fertility services from those in the Global South speak to a perceived crisis in reproductive futurity. The plethora of narratives about a crisis in fertility, then, speak to a racialized anxiety about the scarce “supply” of reproductive capacity: whose fertility and family structures will be preserved into the future?
This chapter explores why the liberal humanist dispositif cannot initiate a better future. Returning to Wynter’s critiques of the human as a colonial category, it links her work with Lisa Lowe’s analysis of labor, empire, and humanization to argue that the human of liberal humanist tradition is fundamentally a category of whiteness. It reads two speculative fiction texts: HBO’s reboot series Westworld, which positions viewers to sympathize with robotic Hosts who are repeatedly traumatized by humanity’s violent fantasies in its empire-themed recreation parks; and Jo Walton’s Thessaly series that explores the related issues of how a culture determines personhood and that it requires someone to perform the labor traditionally done by slaves, by positing an experiment in which Plato’s Republic becomes a material reality. Contextualized within the real subsumption of life by capital, these narratives about the precarious lives of robotic entities are also about the lives of people who are excluded from the protections conferred by the status “human” and discourses of human rights. Thus, the chapter concludes, dehumanization remains a potent force in globalized neoliberalism.
The Introduction explains how and why our contemporary context prompts the reinvention of life as conceptualized by Western metaphysics. It theorizes why biopolitical governance should be understood as the real subsumption of life by capital and argues for the importance of speculative fiction as a cultural mode that reflects upon and responds to how biotechnology is remaking life, conceptually and materially. The Introduction argues that we need a new dispositif of personhood that must necessarily be attentive to issues of colonialism and race. Taking up work by Sylvia Wynter, the chapter connects it to Foucault’s discussions of Homo economicus. It concludes by suggesting that the contemporary world can be characterized as a condition of epivitality, the prefix signifying “over, around, and outside of” and thus signaling the blurring of living beings with objectified things in biotechnology and practices of dehumanizing labor.
This chapter theorizes from the temporalities of finance capitalism, embodied in future-oriented instruments such as derivatives, and the mirror logic of cryonic suspension. Through a comparative analysis of Don DeLillo’s Zero K and Rachel Heng’s Suicide Club, both of which explore extended human lifespans, the chapter argues that these works speak to the crisis of financialized capitalism, in which many people are no longer necessary to the economy and thus appear – from its point of view – as wasted life. DeLillo examines privileged characters who attempt to live in capital’s own temporalities by cryo-preserving their physical bodies in anticipation of arriving in some transcendent and better future. Heng focuses on those whose lives are extended in perceptible time, augmented bodies in need of continual update and upgrading as much as are the technologies that have displaced other workers. Both show the inhumanism and emptiness of the life of neoliberalism’s Homo economicus, a life lived entirely to suit capital. They offer humanist culture as resistance to this trajectory, but the chapter argues these ideals are insufficient in the face of the real subsumption of life by capital.
Drawing on a rich array of twenty-first-century speculative fiction, this book demonstrates how the commodification of life through biotechnology has far-reaching implications for how we think of personhood, agency, and value. Sherryl Vint argues that neoliberalism is reinventing life under biocapital. She offers new biopolitical figurations that can help theoretically grasp and politically respond to a distinctive twenty-first-century biopolitics. This book theorizes how biotechnology intervenes in the very processes of biological function, reshaping life itself to serve economic ends. Linking fictional texts with material examples, Biopolitical Futures in Twenty-First-Century Speculative Fiction shows how these practices are linked to new modes of exploitative economic relations that cannot be redressed by human rights. It concludes with a posthumanist reframing of the value of life that grounds itself elsewhere than in capitalist logics, a vision that, in a Covid age, might become fundamental to a new politics of ecological relations.
This chapter argues that speculative fiction is an important tool for the posthumanism project of deconstructing and critiquing the default “man” of western humanism. The genre’s techniques of defamiliarization and literalizing metphor find parallels in works of posthumanist theory, and I argue that this fiction is a form of everyday theorizing of the same questions that inform posthumanist theory. Like posthumanist theory, science fiction questions what it means to be human, and often attitudes agency and cognition to nonhuman entities. This chapter reviews the genre’s contributions to posthumanism in the areas of transhumanism and smart systems, genetic engineering and synthetic biology, the Internet of Things, and climate change and ecological sustainability. It argues that there is a reciprocal exchange between imaginative visions and material practice, making sf a discourse of world transformation.