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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Research Postgraduate Seminar: Science Fiction as a Prediction of the Future: Rereading Posthumanism in 'The War of the Worlds' and 'Independence Day'

28th November 2008, 15:00 to 17:00, Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin's Hall, Palace Green


A cross-disciplinary trope, the posthuman is associated with two different drives. On the one hand, posthuanism denotes the political moment when liberal humanism has become universal to all mankind, the steady state of social order inhabited by the "last man at the end of history," to use Francis Fukuyama's term. On the other hand, cybernetics and biology is continually changing the physical constitution of the human, and hence the nature of the wider body politic shaped by these technologised bodies.

In accordance with its manifesto, science fiction has naturally tried to imagine the forms posthumanism might take. However, in this paper, by looking at H.G. Wells' 1898 'The War of the Worlds' and its loose adaptation in the 1996 film 'Independence Day', I argue that once the future imagined by science fiction seemingly has become the present of the reader, our interpretations of the posthumans the fiction presents change quite radically. Read in the moment of the fiction's inception as an imagining of the future, the posthuman seems principally to relate to technological and scientific developments; read retrospectively, after the events imagined by the fiction appear to have been realised, the posthumanism it represents is more concerned with the social, particularly the failure of liberal humanism. The relativity of reading retrospectively also therefore implies the difficulty in constructing a stable definition of the "posthuman" to come through science fiction.

This seminar is open to all research postgraduate students but places must be reserved in advance by emailing the Institute.

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