Limbs of life: Literature of postmodern anthropomorphic technology and cosmology



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Texas Tech University


The postmodern's inevitable coexistence with machines changes humans into a machine-like processing entity while machines become more autonomous like humans. Especially focusing upon Artificial Intelligence, many postmodern writers deal with the newly emerging third space between human and nonhuman. This dissertation argues that as the cognitive base of human thoughts and languages, this paranormally blended space of quasi-objects (such as cyborgs) suggests the new insightful direction of paratactic postmodern culture, which in certain ways parallels anthropomorphic mythologies.

As the term "matrix" means "womb" in Greek, the metaverse in postmodern cyberpunk fiction is inherently related to creation myths. If "new technologies," as Marshal .McLuhan says, "amputate as much as they amplify," postmodern science fiction writers use anthropomorphic creation myths to reunite those dismembered limbs of the natural body, the human's instinctive transpersonal subconscious.

Richard Powers's Helen and Neal Stephenson's avatars are mechanical anthropomorphic technologies (Mechs in McHale's terms) whose dilemmas are allegorically reflected in their parallels with the Gilgamesh and Galatea myths. Although homogeneity is seriously criticized through Pygmalion's incestuous relation with Galatea and Bob Rife's recovery of glossolalia via a computer virus. Transcendental visions in mechanical anthropomorphic narratives are limited to a less satisfactory level. By contrast, Marge Piercy's Yod and Octavia Butler's Oankali, as the biological anthropomorphic hybrids ("biopunks" in McHale's terms) show the higher reality which is neither matter nor mind. Their parallel to creation myths, to the Gaia hypothesis and to Golem, like chaos theory, reveals that mind and matter are interdependent and correlated.

While answering both "why" questions in science and "how" questions in literature, the entrapment and escapism (mostly in mechanical hybrids) as well as excitement and joy (mostly in machines of blood and flesh) of these anthropomorphic technologies are theoretically applied to some important topics in the postmodern literature of science such as the sublime, metamorphoses, information, chaos theory, allegory and linguistics. Finally, this dissertation examines the potential self-idolatry tendency in these "fractal" anthropomorphic hybrids where the finite is reflected as the small scale of the infinite. In the information-flowing society of masquerade, transcendental and sublime moments are safely illuminated by implosive personifications, such as Octavia Butler's transcultural and persistent metaphor of the humble seed.



Literature and technology, Mind and body in literature, Postmodernism (Literature), Science in literature, Virtual reality in literature, Literature and science, Science fiction -- History and criticism, Artificial intelligence in literature, Mimesis in literature, Metamorphosis in literature, Body, Human, in literature, Anthropomorphism, Technology in literature, Machinery in literature, Personification in literature