Prosthesis and the Body

This novel’s opening was fascinating and yet all too familiar.  The story of an explorer finding an advanced race underground and marveling at their politics and bodies is a common plot in several writers of the times, and even now.  And as many of you have pointed out, the text’s racial politics are all too normal for that time.  Western anxieties about race and democracy were quite common, and the eugenics movement revitalized as well during this time, particularly in America where writers such as Lothrop Stoddard (The Rising Tide of Color) and Madison Grant (The Passing of the Great Race) offered racialist arguments about the need for white supremacy to maintain itself through self-selective breeding and other eugenic policies.

What caught my eye as well in this text was the use of prosthesis by the Vril-ya both in terms of their wings and their connection to the Vril.  The body, in this case, becomes enhanced in a manner which allows for their advancement as a race, and develops their connections so that they can function with unity and authority.  While this form of enhancement is more traditionally physical — an enhancement borrowed from animal realms — than what contemporary texts might imagine, such as we saw in some of our last week’s postings, I found it quite useful to consider the wings as a bio-technology.  Viewing it in this way revealed (perhaps unsurprisingly) connections with our own age’s posthuman narratives of technological enhancement.  The end result of emotional and mental connection through evolution and embodied prosthesis seemed to me quite similar to narratives of interconnection through computer or IPhone or social media, although these twelve chapters did not also approach the anxieties of disconnection and serialized alienation that some writers have described regarding our contemporary linkages.

The narrative thus seems to describe the human in embodied terms, and to see the posthuman as arising from the body as primary source of our identities.  And the narrative does offer us early posthuman ideas as the author grapples with his own vision of where we might be headed.  The evolutionary narrative he posits, however, connects to those racialized ideals I mentioned earlier as well as the “positive possibilities.”

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Maria O'Connell

Love this post. You made me wonder if the title The Coming Race referred not just to the Vril-ya not just as a race of people, but also to a coming technological “arms race.” World War II didn’t just bring a lot of racial and sociological anxieties forward, but also greatly accelerated the pace of communication and transportation developments. There seems to be a desire on the part of the narrator to find a way to build on his knowledge (he keeps the watch).

Charlotte Grum

Hi David. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You write: “Western anxieties about race and democracy were quite common, and the eugenics movement revitalized as well during this time” – which made me think of contemporary anxieties about refugees and Other human animals who are still seen as intruders of the social order etablished in some geographical places of this planet. My point is just – these all-too-human worries still exist – and I wonder how they are a part of the posthuman era and in which ways posthuman figurations are racialized?