In the prequel to the Alien series of movies, Prometheus, we see what Herbrechter
and Callus would term”the posthuman ‘other’ and how it “tap[s] into the long history of humanity’s excluded (the inhuman, the non-human, the less than human, the superhuman, the animal, the alien, the monster, the stranger, God….)” (97). All of these figures are in the story, as the human (and android) spacefarers go to an alien planet searching for the roots of humanity and perhaps our creator/God. However, what they find is something entirely incomprehensible to them and incommensurable with any of their narratives about what they will find. Carey Wolfe, in What is Posthumanism, says that “what language is and how it is related to our subjectivity, consciousness, and the like…cannot be addressed without investigating our assumptions about what knowledge is and the kind of knowledge we can have or ourselves and of others [including nonhuman others]” (31). The film examines these questions by introducing a number of different languages (the language of the Engineers, the genetic code that identifies them as human, the digital mind language of David, the android, and the language of myth that couches the expectations of each member of the crew, and the incomprehensible mind/language of the apparent bioweapon the Engineers have built) and shows how understanding a language is not necessarily understanding the mind of another. In the image shown above, the last Engineer reacts to hearing his own language from creatures he doesn’t recognize with fear and rage. The act of ripping the android to pieces and killing the human he is aiding does not result from offense but misunderstanding and fear, much as humans often react to the alien
Later, the Engineer, who is attempting to kill all the humans, and to send a bioweapon to Earth, is attacked by one of his own creations, who has augmented its DNA with the DNA of one of the spacefarers, in essence her baby. All of this is mysterious to the viewers (which may be why the movie was not satisfying to many) but it makes sense that a truly alien environment and evolution would not be commensurate with our own.
As Clarke notes, “the alienation of focalization is an important service of science fiction narrative as an active mode of social self-reference” (39). The discomfort of this posthumanist narrative is that humans are the other, feared and hated by the AI, David, who sees himself as a superior creation, and, in a Frankenstein turn, by our creators, who find us abhorrent.
Clarke, Bruce, Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems. New York: Fordham UP, 2008
Herbrechter, Stefan and Ivan Callus, “What is a Posthumanist Reading?” Angelaki 13.1 (2008)95-11.
Wolfe, Cary. What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010.