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Environmental and ecological readings

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Philippe Laplace

Part II. Nature, the Environment and the Posthuman: Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Shall We Try ‘Something New’?: The Posthuman in Brian McCabe1

Jessica Aliaga Lavrijsen

Texte intégral

  • 1 Part of this paper is based on previous research, published in The Fiction of Brian McCabe and (Sco (...)
  • 2 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of (...)

Sex is not a function, it is what makes a body a body.2

I. Introduction

  • 3 ‘Something New’ in Scotland into the New Era (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2000), pp. 129-37.
  • 4 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition. Consciousness Beyond the Brain (Bristol: Intellect Books (...)

1Before we start the analysis of the representation of the posthuman in Brian McCabe’s short story ‘Something New’,3 we need first to clarify the term posthuman, which is used in the contemporary thinking to describe a number of various related things. According to Robert Pepperell: first, it is used to mark the end of that period of social development known as Humanism – meaning in this sense “after humanism”. Second, it refers to the profound transformation of our understanding of what constitutes a human being. And third, it refers to the convergence of biology and technology – and thus standing for what is post-biological.4 Therefore, the posthuman cannot be easily defined in simple objective terms.

2Our approach will focus mostly on the inherent anxieties and hopes of this profound transformation of the human in the coming post-biological development of mankind, as portrayed in this Scottish science-fictional short story by Brian McCabe. As we shall see, personal identity is a complex issue in a posthumanist setting, as this new identity involves futuristic technological advancements that enhance the possibilities of the human – human beings can communicate with others beyond time and space restrictions by means of the Internet, for example, or they can buy bodily appendixes that have been carefully designed – as well as old anxieties regarding the fluidity of the self as well as of the world we call reality – we still need others, real people inscribed in time and space, to conform and negotiate our own identity, and we have bodily desires and appetites too. ‘Something New’ does not resolve this tension for us, on the contrary, the story seems to be precisely focused on this fluid and liminal space between human and posthuman identities, between the old and the new.

II. ‘Something New’ and the Posthuman

  • 5 Valerie Shaw, The Short Story. A Critical Introduction (1983; London: Longman, 1992), p. 195.

3In Brian McCabe’s short story ‘Something New’ (2000), included in the anthology of the Canongate Prize for New Writing titled Scotland into the New Era, we encounter the far future and find out that Scotland does no longer exist, that Europe has been unified and that human beings, who have become hybrid genetically designed monsters, try to learn about their far ancestors. The story is indeed “something new” if we consider the style and evolution of Brian McCabe’s writing. As in the rest of his short stories, the vocabulary and syntax are relatively undemanding and simple, something that seems to be deliberate – perhaps this is an influence of his minimalist and concentrated style as a poet. Characteristically, the narrators and/or the main characters in Brian McCabe’s fiction undergo some kind of crisis; in that sense, they may be said to be in transition. Many of the short stories are populated by narrators and characters who are ‘frontier subjects’5 – a concept that seems to be rooted in Modernist concepts such as Virginia Woolf’s ‘moments of being’ –, that is, marginal subjects who are in “threshold periods” which are entire unto themselves, such as childhood, old age, periods of crisis, etc.

4These ‘frontier subjects’ are clearly observable in Brian McCabe’s short stories, since most of the focalisers we find are either children, adults with altered states of mind – whether mad or suffering from a nervous breakdown –, or individuals who encounter or are forced to face the other in different ways – as a stranger on the street, as witness to a peculiar event, etc. These characters reveal a position that understands vital stability as an apparent and passing cognitive construction, since they have to be flexible and open to the other (s) if they are to adapt to the environment and survive.

  • 6 Gregory Smith, Scottish Literature, Character and Influence (London: MacMillan & Co., 1919), p. 36.

5Moreover, the liminality of the particular situations or processes that the characters undergo in McCabe’s short stories affects sometimes the whole text-world, as the boundaries between reality and imagination or fantasy are blurred by the focalisers’ perceptions. This indeterminacy in the characters and in the narration challenges ‘the traditional exclusiveness of certain subjects’, as Gregory Smith said on Scottish literature in general,6 and also the exclusiveness and fixity of the subject. McCabe’s stories are so imaginative, that sometimes they even enter the realm of the fantastic. Nevertheless, they are always set in Scotland, depict common people with everyday problems and questions and are, mostly, close to his own experiences. ‘Something New’ is thus his first story so far set in a futuristic science-fiction setting, and one of the few short stories of the genre set in Scotland.

6In this unusual short story, the focaliser and main character of the story, Jack, has been searching for his ancestors on the World Wide Web, and he finds out that ‘they’d got their own parliament in 1999.’ (McCabe, p. 129) Something unexpected for the homodiegetic narrator: ‘Strange’, he thought, supposing ‘it couldn’t have achieved very much, coming so late in the day – just a decade before the Unification of Europe in 2009’ (McCabe, p. 129). As the diegesis is set in a not-so-distant future, to talk overtly about the Scottish political situation at the turn of twenty-first century, when the collection was published, minimizes the political charge of the story, since the futuristic context allows for the expression of a half-concealed opinion on the issue of Scottish nationalism without being too polemical. Instead, the short story focuses more on the issue of human identity in the age of the posthuman.

7The openness of the genre of science fiction – which makes the future setting possible – allows for a questioning of identity without explicitly tackling detailed political opinions about Scotland’s devolution or independence process. But this does not imply that the genre of science fiction is apolitical; only that the political issues related to nationalism are not dealt with in ‘Something New’. Although late capitalist ideology is overtly criticized at certain points, as we shall see later, the nationalist agenda is not directly undertaken in the story. Identity seems to be understood immersed in politics but also as existing beyond the historic and political forces that used to work in humanism. There is, on the one hand, a negation of the humanist values based on the “natural” body – that is, “virgin” from technology – and, on the other hand, there is also some kind of nostalgia of humanist meaning, spontaneous feelings and real – that is, physical – contact among individuals.

  • 7 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), p. 49.
  • 8 As second-wave feminists taught us, ‘the personal is political’.

8It must be said that the relation between the posthuman and nationalism is quite complex in itself, since the posthuman focuses basically on the human, that is, on our shared identity and our attachment to the species, ignoring local differences among human beings; but it also analyses the relationship between self and others and thus cannot ignore the sociocultural context we are immersed in, as well as our personal biological characteristics. This paradoxical approach towards the human – both ignoring differences as well as analyzing them – may be a consequence of the fact that, in postmodernism, identity is understood as something nomadic and relational, that is, decentred and multiple. Rosi Braidotti has defined ‘the critical posthuman subject within an eco-philosophy 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’.7 So, even if individual differences are overlooked in favour of those characteristics that could be attributed to the whole of our species, when focusing on identity from a relational or nomadic perspective, one cannot simply ignore the specific contexts of the human.8

  • 9 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 2.

9As Braidotti has put it: ‘the posthuman condition introduces a qualitative shift in our thinking about what exactly is the basic unit of common reference for our species, our polity and our relationship to the other inhabitants of this planet.’9 Thus, in a sense, a reflection on the nature of the human, or rather, on the posthuman, necessarily leads us to a questioning of cultural and national constructs. As she has further stated:

  • 10 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 26.

The human is a normative convention, which does not make it inherently negative, just highly regulatory and hence instrumental to practices of exclusion and discrimination. […] The human is a historical construct that became a social convention about “human nature”.10

10Again, the mutation of what we understand as the human calls for a questioning of identitarian and cultural concepts and relations.

III. Virtual Representations

  • 11 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Inf (...)
  • 12 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition, p. 5.

11The nature of human relationships changed at the end of the twentieth century with the creation and spread of the Internet and the use of virtual representations. In the virtual world, the conception of time and space continuum is different too, as the computerized sharing of information exceeds previous human communication capacities and is no longer attached to the physical. The Internet provided the notion of “cyberspace”, a dimension of reality where human experience consists in the pure flow of data.11 According to Pepperell, ‘ [t]he “point-and-click” environment of the Web, giving simple access to inconceivable volumes of data, allows Web sites to become natural extensions of to the multimedia desktop, giving the impression of an ‘info-world’ devoid of time and space.’12

  • 13 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition, p. 5.
  • 14 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Inf (...)

12In ‘Something New’, definite three-dimensional space and linear time, that is, absolute time and space – the two coordinates that defined the Newtonian physical world – have become a boundless virtual and quantum spacetime reality. As virtual representations are combined with digital communication, virtual presence becomes more important in this electronic world than one’s physic attributes.13 Virtual reality is said to make physical presence absolutely irrelevant, and thus personal identity may be affected by the simulacrum it inhabits and relates to. As Katherine Hayles explained: ‘The technologies of virtual reality, with their potential for full-body mediation, further illustrate the kind of phenomena that […] make presence and absence seem irrelevant.’14

  • 15 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition, p. 5.
  • 16 Donna Haraway, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, (...)

13From all this derives the tension inherent to our experience of these computerized communication tools, which, in a sense, suggest a diminishing of human contact while simultaneously extending it.15 Therefore, in the posthuman, every limit or permanence is being questioned, and the possibility of a fixed identity, from biological determinism to nationalism, is being contested. Every boundary that used to help us to fix a certain human identity in the past is useless in a posthumanist context, since in the cyborg myth, the so-called natural boundaries – man / machine, feminine / masculine, human / animal, organic / inorganic, physical / non-physical, etc. – are constantly being confronted.16 In ‘Something New’, this deconstruction of natural boundaries is radicalized and leads to the collapse of Cartesian identity.

14Jack, the story’s narrator and main character, is immersed in the posthuman, as he has many bodily implants that have completely changed (or created) his physical identity, and he also uses virtual reality (VR) in his everyday life, even when being intimate with his wife. Katherine Hayles explains how virtual reality works in the following terms:

  • 17 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Inf (...)

Already and industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars, virtual reality puts the user’s sensory system into a direct feedback loop with a computer. In one version, the user wears a stereovision helmet and a body glove with sensors at joint positions. The user’s movements are reproduced by a simulacrum, called an avatar, on the computer screen. […] At the same time, audiophones create a three-dimensional sound filed. Kinesthetic sensations, such as G-loads for flight simulators, can be supplied through more extensive and elaborate body coverings. The result is a multisensory interaction that creates the illusion that the user is inside the computer.17

  • 18 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman’, p. 2167.

15As Hayles further states, from her own experience at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Washington in 1989, there is a ‘disorienting, exhilarating effect of the feeling that subjectivity is dispersed throughout the cybernetic circuit.’ As she further states, in these systems, ‘the user learns, kinesthetically and proprioceptively, that the relevant boundaries for interaction are defined less by the skin than by the feedback loops connecting body and simulation in a technobio-integrated circuit.’18

16The above-mentioned sensation of deep disorientation might be the cause of Jack’s search for his biological roots as well as of his longing for real connection and skin-to-skin contact. Hence, Jack still has some nostalgia for the humanistic past where direct physical contact was important. However, this humanistic past, as we shall see, cannot be accessed directly, as for Jack it is only part of this cyber-space reality where presence and absence, as well as the past, present or future, do not have the same categorical distinction as before. Instead, presence, as well as the past, are revealed as constructs, as goods to be purchased, to help him create a more or less stable identity in a posthuman world where identity seems to be fluid, too fluid maybe and a bit too intangible sometimes.

IV. Identity

17Under this light, nationalism, or rather we should say Scottishness, shows a double nature: on the one hand, national identity appears as something artificial and even ridiculous in the future time of the story; and, on the other, national identity, or rather Jack’s biological and cultural antecessors, seem to haunt his imagination. Jack feels the need to try to get to the very core of his identity – even if it also is a simulated or synthetic identity –, in order to try to recover an original identity he has already forgotten. So we will find this tension between the search for an original and stable identity – a soul? or some kind of historic legacy? – and the impossibility of finding a natural and pure identity.

  • 19 This may sound as a plausible fantasy, as one of the consequences of a hyper-technological and all- (...)

18In the story, Jack has access to his ancestors through ‘The Human’, an Orwellian Government that provides all the information and goods required through the web, and where users can buy anything from music to genetically-chosen body implants. Jack has done some research in order to choose those (artificial) parts that he might have inherited from his ancestors. So he builds his newest self, based on simulacra taken from a feasible or imaginable past, in order to construct a coherent imagined identity.19

19Of course, one can choose the finest virtual experience or buy the best and most authentic body parts only if one can afford them. So the posthuman has not freed itself from the material conditions nor has it transcended the material. In fact, most of these technological experiences can only be enjoyed by a few. So, at a certain point in the story, Jack chooses a new ‘3-Gs – genetic genital grafts’, from his personal genebank:

His new cock was pale, because all the accessible options in his GB were pale. […] His male ancestors – from Scotland, before the Unification of 2009, the Genie had been pretty clear about that – were pale-skinned people. Anyway, it was certainly an improvement on the one he had been born with. (McCabe, pp. 130-31)

20It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that the traditional association of Scottishness with masculinity is parodied in this passage. If we understand the postmodern self as a dialogical and performing entity, then, masculinity becomes pure performance, just a role (or roles) to be played, or something to be acquired – by buying an authentic and huge Scottish cock.

21Therefore, in ‘Something New’ there is no real “masculinity crisis”, and there is no “Scottishness crisis” either, as, in the postmodern era, both concepts are portrayed as commodified constructs with can be chosen, acquired and then discarded. Even the very notion of being human is called in question, as in this future, genetic transplant companies have an incredible range of options available for anyone who can afford it to change his or her physical identity. Moreover, pills, injections, sprays will provide for a fully realistic experience of anything that was authentic a long time ago. However, this might not be sufficient for Jack to feel authentic. As he explains: ‘He knew from his genebank transactions that his ancestors had come from Scotland, but since Scotland no longer existed it was difficult to know what to look for.’ (McCabe, p. 136) As in Jean Baudrillard’s simulacrum, the original referent of the copy has been lost. In Late Capitalism, there is only the simulacrum, and originality becomes a totally meaningless concept. Nevertheless, Jack seems to think that the origin is still important and he seems to feel certain nostalgia of an idealised past where relationships were still direct, visible and ‘more real’ in a sense. The transcendence of natural boundaries and the transgression of natural bodies seem to disturb him a bit. And that is because even if gender and national labels are negated, there can be some sort of an identity crisis, as, in the story, the self is being liberated from many labels and assaulted by undecidability.

22The bodily changes that the protagonist orders online ‘were so many, it was sometimes difficult to remember which parts of his body were his own.’ (McCabe, p. 131) A univocal and fixed identity associated with the integrity of the body is thus erased by this posthuman pick’n’mix identity, something that could be extrapolated to the whole of Scottish society. The artificiality of the character’s body and the rapid and constant changes he compulsively acquires, eventually affects his sense of self:

He’d more or less replaced everything you could see, and lots you couldn’t: heart, lungs, liver and quite a few bones. […] His face had undergone so many changes, he sometimes accessed and enhanced ancient facial images of himself, searching for an original face. It was impossible to find his real face, because ultimately all that came up was the face he’d had as a baby, before his carers modified it according to their version of it, according to their tastes. (McCabe, p. 131)

23Echoing Dr Jekyll’s bafflement after his metamorphosis into Mr Hyde, the protagonist feels increasingly ‘disconcerted by the way a new body part could be grown with such alarming speed.’ (McCabe, 130)

24The rapid growth and change of his body becomes an emblem of the threat of instability and change affecting the (Scottish) body politic, since both the individual and the political bodies are constructs reflecting the ideology of normative social groups. This is an ideology that cannot be easily separated from economic interests. As the narrator explains: ‘Jack was aware of the dangers of 3-Gs. He had chosen carefully from his GB, his personal gene bank. It has used most of his credit, but now he congratulated himself on a good investment.’ (McCabe, p. 131) We are presented in the story with a late capitalist society that seems to foster idealised pick’n’mix identities in order to increase economic profit: ‘ [Jack] suspected that some of the most expensive options were fiction, invented by some Fantasy Consultant for a fat fee. They used the impossible to tempt you to buy the possible.’ (McCabe, p. 131)

25But this same society also promotes an increasing dissatisfaction. As the narrator explains, in the Human they are well-aware of the economic advantages of effective advertisement and programmed obsolescence:

The enormous crease between his buttocks was beginning to exude a peculiar, almost reptilian odour. The tight bottom he’d bought on impulse had lost its firmness in a few weeks, then it had spread at an alarming rate, becoming thick and lardy, eventually affecting every other part of his body – not only in an aesthetic way, as a horrible visual contrast, but also in terms of weight. […] That was the trouble with geneplants – depending on the quality, they could age in anything between a week and a year or two. (McCabe, p. 132)

V. Posthumanist Tensions

26Ironically enough, the protagonist’s obsession with the reshaping of his body is based on a certain nostalgia to recover the past, and the impossible and naïve attempt to get at the origin of things, at the origin of his own self: ‘It was difficult to remove himself from their version of him, without a very expensive search.’ (McCabe, p. 131)

  • 20 Neil Badmington, ‘Theorizing Posthumanism’, Cultural Critique 53, Winter 2003: 10-27, p. 13.
  • 21 Neil Badmington, ‘Theorizing Posthumanism’, p. 13.
  • 22 Jacques Derrida, ‘The Ends of Man’, Margins of Philosophy, trans. by Alan Bass, (Hempel Hempstead: (...)
  • 23 Neil Badmington, ‘Theorizing Posthumanism’, p. 14.

27As Neil Badmington has stated, posthumanism does not imply the death of humanism: man is still alive in the picture.20 As he further explains, using Jacques Derrida’s theoretical work, ‘thought itself is bound to bear some trace of […] tradition’, precisely because it always takes place within a certain tradition.21 Therefore, no one can think him or herself entirely without it. As Derrida expounds in ‘The Ends of Man’ (1968), there is no absolute break and absolute difference from established anthropocentric thought.22 ‘The new now secretes the old then. Humanism remains’.23

  • 24 René Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking the Truth in (...)
  • 25 Brett Lunceford, ‘The Body and the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’ (2009), <https://www.academia.edu/302070/The_Body_and_the_Sacred_In_the_Digital_Age_Thoughts_on_Posthuman_Sexuality>,</https> (...)
  • 26 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 78
  • 27 Elaine L. Graham, Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture(...)

28In fact, posthumanism seems to be based on traditional Cartesian understanding of the individual as having a rational mind which is entirely different from the body. As Descartes put it: ‘I was a substance whose whole essence or nature is solely to think, and who, in order to exist, does not require any place, or depend on any material thing. So much as that this “I”, that is to say the soul, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body.’24 Then again, cyberspace might separate the mind from the body, as Brett Lunceford has argued, but the body still shapes the mind.25 The body and the mind belong to the same feedback loop and influence and modify each other. So, “[i]f we are evolving toward a state of technologically induced hybritidy, then what of the body?”26 Well, the contours of human bodies are being redrawn as technology is assimilated into the very structures of the human body.27

  • 28 ‘Monster’ is used here as defined in The Compact Oxford Dictionary as ‘something extraordinary or u (...)
  • 29 The concept also reveals its ideological investment as deviant from the norm, and at the same time, (...)

29This nostalgia paradoxically leads him to opt for an artificial recovering of his – imagined – cultural and genetic past: ‘He laid the pills out, poured two glasses of Highland Water, selected some Ambient Scottish Music – it sounded like a Personal Alarm Device that wasn’t working right – dimmed the lights, then pulled the sheet over his breasts’ (McCabe, p. 135). His pathetic attempt to reproduce artificially his “true” Scottish cultural and genetic past, like Dr Jekyll’s attempt to liberate his repressed id by chemicals means, only produces a monster,28 that is a hybrid self. A monster, which is usually made out of various parts, avoids a clear-cut categorization and thus questions boundaries; and it also deviates from natural (or sociohistorically constructed) order.29 In short, a monster escapes from rational classification; it overflows categories.

30Without the constrains of the given body, as opposed to the chosen body (ies), gender identity is blurred with bodies taking hybrid forms. Thus, the protagonist’s new breasts ‘were modest, small and firm and pinknippled, with a delicate purity that made him think of rain and Scotland.’ (McCabe, p. 132) With these delicate pubescent breasts, which have sensorial memories, the protagonist can feel those that could have been ‘his own mother’s breasts’ (McCabe, p. 136), and he experiences/remembers the/his breasts feeding a baby that could be ‘his own baby image’ (McCabe, p. 136). Allow me to focus briefly on this disturbing and fascinating fragment:

While [Jack] was waiting for [Jill] he put the screen into sensory mode, slipped on the gloves and the visor and indulged in some solo virtual foreplay. He could use his own body, with its new parts, to stimulate images. He stroked a breast with the fingerpads of his thinly gloved hand and watched as the milky skin dappled with sunlight began to form before his eyes. He began to see and hear and smell and taste and feel them, the memories of the breasts.
It was a cold sunny afternoon. The breasts were in a graveyard. There were being fondled by a hand. He couldn’t see the hand, or its owner. All he could do was feel it. […] Then something else came: something sweet and nurturing, smelling of skin and milk and saliva. Then he saw the baby’s head, swelling beneath his breast. So he was feeding a baby. The baby sucked and sucked until it was falling asleep. But just as it was falling asleep, the baby opened one eye and looked at him as if from very far away, with the same wise, thoughtful look he’d seen in his own baby image – my God, was he seeing himself? Had they given him his own mother’s breasts? (McCabe, pp. 135-36)

31This intellectual tour de force confronts us with the question of the possible access to the primordial origin. Jack becomes his own mother, as well as his own child, in an identification process that goes beyond fantasy and becomes real flesh in a posthuman wet dream where identity is erotically unfixed.

  • 30 Ollivier Dyens, Metal and Flesh: The Evolution of Man: Technology Takes Over (Cambridge: MIT Press, (...)

32As the above quotation from the story has proven, the virtual is not diametrically opposed to the physical. Quite the contrary, it seems to be directed at sexual pleasure, which occurs, naturally, in the body – as well as in the mind. According to Ollivier Dyens: ‘The virtual being is real, but of a different kind of real, one that is both organic and technological.’30 Physical bodies might not be present in cyberspace, but ‘the body still does matter’, argues Monica Whitty in ‘Cyber-Flirting: Playing at Love on the Internet’.

VI. Sex

  • 31 Howard Rheingold, ‘Teledildonics’, Cyberreader, ed. by Victor J. Vitanza, (Boston, MA: Allyn & Baco (...)

33As we have just seen, sexuality in ‘Something New’ has become technologically mediated, but this does not mean that disembodiment has become the ultimate sexual revolution.31 On the contrary: in this futuristic environment where real touch has been replaced by virtual contact, some do miss the old physical intimacy: ‘People didn’t do real touch, or at least they didn’t usually admit to it, but Jack was sure it was more common than The Human would have people believe.’ (McCabe, p. 133) As Jack thinks about trying ‘something new’ with his wife Jill, maybe some real touch, she proposes him instead ‘to choose a baby’ (McCabe, p. 137). A new human being made out of old genes taken from the Gene Bank:

Maybe he was right: tonight “something new” might be the thing he’d been craving. He could feel the heat of her body next to him. He began to unfasten his gloves.
“What are you doing?” said Jill.
[…] “The something new,” said Jack.
“What?” said Jill.
“Touch,” said Jack.
“Touch?” said Jill.
“Real touch,” said Jack.
[…] He turned to her, his naked hand rising towards her naked neck, then he saw her mouth turning down at the corners with disgust.
“No,” said Jill. “Please don’t Jack.”
“I want to chose a baby,” said Jill. (McCabe, pp. 136-37)

  • 32 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 92.

34Here we can see in Jill’s reaction a reflection of Lunceford’s claim that ‘ [p]erhaps posthumanism’s impulse to abandon the body is simply another manifestation of the Puritan conception of the body as something which should be avoided – even one’s own body’.32

35In fact, the banning of affects this scene conveys is strongly reminiscent of the dystopian world of George Orwell’s 1984 with its prohibition of love and sex and its constant remaking of the past in the Ministry of Truth. Even though the short story is about the coming of something new, there is a strong sense of loss in the story, but it is not the loss of identity that the protagonist feels nostalgic about, but the loss of real touch, of direct and physical self-other (s) relation. The lack of a fixed identity forces him to try to regain it firstly by acquiring old organs from a gene bank, and then, we he realizes that this is not enough, that bought organs won’t make him feel authentic and himself again, he tries to re-establish the old direct human contact by means of classic physical sex.

  • 33 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 81.
  • 34 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 81.
  • 35 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. by Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962) (...)

36In a sense, the humanistic thought about the intertwining of body and soul leads to the experience of physical connection as leading to connection with the other.33 There is always a desire ‘to bridge the gulf between one human being’ and sexuality, which is a crucial part of human nature, seems to be a way to bridge this gap.34 So what Jack misses is direct contact with the other. According to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, sexual experience is an opportunity, ‘vouchsafed to all and always available, of acquainting oneself with the human lot in its most general aspects of autonomy and dependence.’35

37But Jack’s search for authenticity and direct contact seems to be doomed, as, for all its apparent strangeness, this futuristic society continues to make the same mistakes that characterize our present society. It tries to artificially recover the past in order to gain a sense of self or to establish some identity in terms of permanence and fixation, thus adhering to and reinforcing the racist and nationalistic myth of (Scottish) origins that defines Scottish identity in only white, masculinist terms.

38As Jack states, genetics ‘was the future’, but ‘ [w]hat most people didn’t realise was that it was also the past’ (McCabe, p. 130). As he further explains: ‘When you asked the Genie – the gene-searcher – for a new body part, the search offered you something from the past, even if it used genetic elements from many different generations. What you were getting was a finger from the past, if a new finger was what you had ordered.’ (McCabe, p. 130)

  • 36 Richard M. Zaner, The Problem of Embodiment: Some Contributions to a Phenomenology of the Body (The (...)

39The new is, thus, in fact, the old. And this brings us to the following question: does Jack really want ‘something new’ or is he rather looking for a lost golden age? Maybe direct sexual contact can be both a new sexuality as well as an existential search for Jack. It seems that, in a sense, sexuality, embodiment and existence are still interconnected for him. And, as Richard Zaner explains: ‘to be embodied is to be embodied with a certain sex, and the sexuality of the body […] manifests itself in a variety of manners. It is […] one mode in which consciousness “lives” or “exists” itself concretely. Thus […] sexuality “expresses” one’s existence, and one’s existence “expresses” his [or her] sexuality.’36 So sexuality can be a way to express an unmediated connection, beyond words, beyond technology. However, real touch does not take place in the story, and Jack’s longing has not been satisfied.

VII. Conclusions

40As my reading of Brian McCabe’s ‘Something New’ intended to show, identity has rapidly mutated in posthumanism, being partly enhanced by technological advances that have caused the acceleration of our experience of time and the modification of our perception of space, and partly fostered by a capitalist society that feeds our longing for idealised identities that can be purchased – and, following the logical of capitalism, without getting (totally) satisfied. The inherent tension inherent to this posthuman experience diminishes our sense of direct contact with other human beings while simultaneously extending it beyond the skin. Presence, permanence and limits, as well as the possibility of a fixed identity, are all being questioned.

  • 37 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 49.

41The resulting opposition between a longing for something new, for a liberation from old labels that defined and enclosed the self, and a nostalgia for an ideal past, when identities where supposed to be fixed and personal roles had little ambiguity, is also found in postmodern societies. On the one hand, we claim to seek a liberation of the self and try to set reconfiguration of nomadic identity, and, on the other, we constantly seem to search for the most material aspects of human communication and the essential bond among individuals. It cannot be ignored that, in this twenty-first century, we still have a strong desire for interconnection, for communion, and for “real” – direct – touch. As Braidotti has stated, a ‘posthuman ethics for a non-unitary subject proposes an enlarged sense of inter-connection between self and others, including non-human or “earth” others, by removing the obstacle of self-centered individualism’.37

42If we ignore the reality of a nomadic and dialogic identity, we run the risk of falling victims to trying to maintain a simulated self-centred and individualist identity, not based on real contact with other humans and with non-humans, but on projected shadows that promise us a new golden age of individualistic perfection. So, to understand the reformulation of the (post) human, we have to put special attention on the relationships between self and others, between past and present, and try to contest the ideological forces of the structures of power aimed at obtaining their own economic profit, regardless of the well-being of those who are inhabiting planet Earth.

Notes

1 Part of this paper is based on previous research, published in The Fiction of Brian McCabe and (Scottish) Identity (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013). The author wishes also to acknowledge the support of the project “Trauma and Beyond: The Rhetoric and Politics of Suffering in Contemporary Narrative in English”, financed by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (code FFI2012-32719).

2 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), p. 98.

3 ‘Something New’ in Scotland into the New Era (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2000), pp. 129-37.

4 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition. Consciousness Beyond the Brain (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2003), p. iv.

5 Valerie Shaw, The Short Story. A Critical Introduction (1983; London: Longman, 1992), p. 195.

6 Gregory Smith, Scottish Literature, Character and Influence (London: MacMillan & Co., 1919), p. 36.

7 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), p. 49.

8 As second-wave feminists taught us, ‘the personal is political’.

9 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 2.

10 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 26.

11 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics’, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. by Vincent Leitch, (London: Norton, 2010), pp. 2165-66

12 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition, p. 5.

13 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition, p. 5.

14 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics’, p. 2166.

15 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition, p. 5.

16 Donna Haraway, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. by Vincent Leitch, (London: Norton, 2010), pp. 2192-94. See also Gavin Miller’s ‘Iain (M.) Banks: Utopia, Nationalism and the Posthuman’, The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature, ed. by Berthold Schoene, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 202-09 for an analysis of the posthuman aspects in Iain (M.) Banks’ culture novels.

17 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics’, p. 2166.

18 Katherine Hayles, ‘From How We Became Posthuman’, p. 2167.

19 This may sound as a plausible fantasy, as one of the consequences of a hyper-technological and all-controlling futuristic State; but, actually, online gene searchers already exist in twentieth-century Scotland. In the last decades, many genealogy companies have appeared, such as ‘Scottish Roots: Ancestral Research Service’, that, for a small amount, provide you ‘detailed ancestral research’. So by doing a quick search on the Internet, we can find plenty of websites where one can make a search to find one’s own ancestors, such as ‘Scotland’s People’; ‘Sib Folk’, where you can find out if you have Orcadian roots; ‘Scotclans’, where you can search for your clan; and there are even available online research guides for those who want to trace their family tree, such as ‘Find my Scottish Ancestors’.

20 Neil Badmington, ‘Theorizing Posthumanism’, Cultural Critique 53, Winter 2003: 10-27, p. 13.

21 Neil Badmington, ‘Theorizing Posthumanism’, p. 13.

22 Jacques Derrida, ‘The Ends of Man’, Margins of Philosophy, trans. by Alan Bass, (Hempel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1982), p. 135.

23 Neil Badmington, ‘Theorizing Posthumanism’, p. 14.

24 René Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences in Selected Philosophical Writings, ed. and transl. by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff and Dugald Murdoc. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 36.

25 Brett Lunceford, ‘The Body and the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’ (2009), <https://www.academia.edu/302070/The_Body_and_the_Sacred_In_the_Digital_Age_Thoughts_on_Posthuman_Sexuality>, p. 88 [accessed 6 March 2015].

26 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 78

27 Elaine L. Graham, Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002), p. 8.

28 ‘Monster’ is used here as defined in The Compact Oxford Dictionary as ‘something extraordinary or unnatural, a prodigy, a marvel’, ‘an animal or plant deviating in one or more of its parts from the normal type’ (1989 I: 1843).

29 The concept also reveals its ideological investment as deviant from the norm, and at the same time, it implies a questioning both of its unnatural nature and of the naturalness of “natural” order.

30 Ollivier Dyens, Metal and Flesh: The Evolution of Man: Technology Takes Over (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), p. 33.

31 Howard Rheingold, ‘Teledildonics’, Cyberreader, ed. by Victor J. Vitanza, (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1999), p. 207.

32 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 92.

33 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 81.

34 B. Lunceford, ‘The Body & the Sacred in the Digital Thoughts on Posthuman Sexuality’, p. 81.

35 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. by Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962), p. 167.

36 Richard M. Zaner, The Problem of Embodiment: Some Contributions to a Phenomenology of the Body (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), p. 193.

37 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 49.

Auteur

Is a Senior Lecturer at the Centro Universitario de la Defensa Zaragoza (Spain) and a publisher at Jekyll & Jill. After finishing her Doctoral Thesis on contemporary Scottish fiction, she has published several articles, book chapters and books on Scottish literature, such as The Fiction of Brian McCabe (Peter Lang, 2014), as well as on trauma, such as Is This a Culture of Trauma? (Interdisciplinary Press, 2013), as she is also a member of the project ‘Trauma and Beyond: The Rhetoric and Politics of Suffering in Contemporary Narrative in English’.

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