Down the hole up the ladder

The protagonist in Edward Bulwer-Lutton’s “The Coming Race” ends up in an utopian parallel univers underneath the surface of the earth. Here he meets something humanlike, but strange and queer which scares him. This alienation says a lot about the human reaction to the unknown. During his stay our protagonist gets better acquainted with these strangers and his terror turns to joy. The politeness and hospitality he experiences, opens his mind. Maybe that’s how Lutton wants us to meet the otherness?

Lutton extrapolates not just a new way to approach the world and the species in it, but also a new alternative social structure by presenting the society of this world. A civilized society with art and culture much stronger and more developed than the human one in present time.

This society has undergone a series of social, technological, political and cultural changes and are on this given time on a stage the humankinds only dreams about (1871:43). Lutton points into the future, which is unusually compared to the normal contemporary focus on the present and the past. At the same time he pulls down man from the anthropocentric piedestal, we have placed ourselves on.

Examples on the exceeding is seen among other things in the relation between individual and the kind. The society is not tied together by laws but by a powersource Viril. There are no class lines, no servants or labour, and a gender quality maintaining differences between the genders.

It seems to me that he is searching for an alternative worldview, one that destroys categories and distinction. This can be considered as a posthuman tendency. Like Donna Haraways conception of the cyborg, the dualism is broken down. Supporting for this thesis is this kins telepathic ability repealing the divide between consciousness and the outside world.

The people our protagonist meets are kind and cooperating with other species, they have the forces and power to destroy the human, but have no interest in such. Instead they want peaceful coexistence. Lutton seems positiv about the idea of the other/the posthuman, but like Bostrom he calls for at need of reflecting and discussing “ how the important fundamental features of the human condition may change or remain constant in the long run.” (2007:2)

With fiction as the tool Lutton critics the contemporary society and reflects on the same time about the future. Like in the later modern art is this novel exploring our conception and position in the world.



Edward Bulwer-Lytton :“The Coming Race”, 1871, cpt. 1-12

Nick Bostrom: “The Future of Humanity” in “New Waves in Philosophy of Technology” eds. Jan-Kyrre Berg Olsen, Evan Selinger, & Soren Riis (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2009)

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3 Comments on "Down the hole up the ladder"

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Eva Krarup
Eva Krarup
Hi Katrine! I like your optimistic reading of the narrative. I know it was not a part of the excerpt for lesson 2, but I cannot stop wondering how the ending of The Coming Race influences the otherwise utopian impression that the parts we have read here leave us with. It is a strange tendency, I think, within two of the texts that we have read for this lesson, that they first off depict a somewhat utopian society and vision of a superhuman and then, towards the end, let their visions end in warnings of destruction. It does give the… Read more »
Eva Krarup
Eva Krarup

Hi Katrine! Sorry for the late reply. I think you are right in pointing at the contradictory elements as a way to provoke reflections and discussions about the possible future among the readers. And I think your second reflection sounds very possible too. I do, however, also see it as somewhat characteristic for a number of early posthuman fantasies (that the imaginations revolve around the human and that the anthropocentric perspective prevails), but I’m not sure I’ve read enough early posthuman narratives to be able to judge. It would be worth diving further into.