Christina Bieber Lake
Prophets of the Posthuman provides a fresh and original reading of fictional narratives that raise the question of what it means to be human in the face of rapidly developing bioenhancement technologies. Christina Bieber Lake argues that works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Marilynne Robinson, Raymond Carver, James Tiptree, Jr., and Margaret Atwood must be reevaluated in light of their contributions to larger ethical questions. Drawing on a wide range of sources in philosophical and theological ethics, Lake argues that these writers share a commitment to maintaining a category of personhood more meaningful than that allowed by utilitarian ethics. Prophets of the Posthuman insists that because technology can never ask whether we should do something that we have the power to do, literature must step into that role.
Each of the chapters of this interdisciplinary study sets up a typical ethical scenario regarding human enhancement technology and then illustrates how a work of fiction uniquely speaks to that scenario, exposing a realm of human motivations that might otherwise be overlooked or simplified. Through the vision of the writers she discusses, Lake uncovers a deep critique of the ascendancy of personal autonomy as America’s most cherished value. This ascendancy, coupled with technology’s glamorous promises of happiness, helps to shape a utilitarian view of persons that makes responsible ethical behavior toward one another almost impossible. Prophets of the Posthuman charts the essential role that literature must play in the continuing conversation of what it means to be human in a posthuman world.
“As we attempt to make sense of the technologically accelerated—and ’enhanced’—world in which we find ourselves, Christina Bieber Lake provides incisive analysis of contemporary encroachments upon our common humanity. She demonstrates how centrally significant the inexorable march of science to know and do whatever it can will be to our individual and collective sense of self.” — Avis Hewitt, Grand Valley State University
“In Prophets of the Posthuman, Christina Bieber Lake unfolds in detail her belief that ‘fiction is the art of love for persons.’ Her aim is, in part, to help scholarly students of literature once again focus attention on the question of how we should live. But she also wants to help us all read in such a way that we see others as persons to be loved rather than as collections of attributes to be reshaped and enhanced. Wide-ranging and discerning, this is a book full of insight.” — Gilbert Meilaender, Duesenberg Professor in Christian Ethics, Valparaiso University
“Prophets of the Posthuman ought to be heeded as a humane and Christian counter-witness to the powerful forces of consumerism and scientific positivism that threaten to dominate the cultural landscape, especially where matters of healthcare are concerned. To my mind, this book is best suited to ethics classes and to general readers concerned about the implications of biotechnology." — John Sykes, Wingate University
“Lake produces an arresting social commentary on the ascendancy of transhumanism and posthumanism—technoprogressives. Blending fictional works with technoprogressive aspirations, Lake contrasts different notions of the ‘good life.’ . . . This book will reward anyone interested in a Christian approach to the challenge of technological enhancement.” — Religious Studies Review
“Prophets of the Posthuman develops a self-professed Christian response to the belief that human problems can be solved through biotechnologies such as plastic surgery, genetic engineering, and psychiatric drugs. Reading authors from George Saunders to Walker Percy, Toni Morrison to Flannery O’Connor, the monograph argues that the culture of biotechnology contributes to a pernicious view of the human as lacking unique personhood and always requiring improvement. . . . This readable book will interest scholars of bioethics and Christianity." — American Literature
“In this refreshing take on the hoary debate between science and faith, Lake investigates the ethical dimensions of the biotechnology revolution based on the biblical assumption that the most basic human good is neighborly love. . . . Writing in engaging prose, Lake works to make literary criticism relevant for contemporary life. . . .” — Choice
“Lake’s method throughout the eight chapters of the book is to set up a contemporary champion of enhanced, winnowed, genetically perfected future humans and then to show how a particular fiction writer questions and undermines such idealized (and perverse!) visions. . . . Lake always seems to find something in the literary insights that resounds with the reader. . . .” — Journal of Markets and Morality
“Tightly structured, the study offers close readings of novels and short stories that illuminate hitherto ignored dynamics of these narratives. Bieber Lake demonstrates their potential to challenge the dominant culture of consumerism, scientific positivism, and the bioenhancement technologies. A rich bibliography ranging from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Ray Kurzweil accompanies the book.” — American Studies
“The book skillfully interweaves the futuristic predictions of biotechnology advocates, such as Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Lee Silver, Simon Young, Ray Kurzweil, and Rodney Brooks, with selected narratives from nine of our most perceptive fiction writers. . . . All librarians will find its extensive bibliography a helpful guide to insightful books on bioethics and to some great, ethically engaging fiction.” — Catholic Library World
First-place Winner, Faith and Science category, 2014 Catholic Press Association AwardsWinner of the 2014 Aldersgate Prize