Prophets of the Posthuman
American Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Ethics of Personhood
Paperback | 9780268022365 | August 2014
eBook (PDF) | 9780268075866 | August 2014
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268158699 | August 2014
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 claims 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.
Christina Bieber Lake is the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College. She is the author of a number of books, including Prophets of the Posthuman: American Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Ethics of Personhood (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), winner of the Aldersgate Prize and the Catholic Press Association Book Award for Faith and Science.
“Christina Bieber Lake’s Prophets of the Posthuman is an insightful and well-written monograph that brings the work of nine American fiction writers to bear on ethical questions concerning biotechnology. . . Lake’s text is brimming with insightful readings of fiction in dialogue with thoughtful ethical reflections.” ~Modern Theology
“Bieber Lake’s treatment of each prophetic work of fiction shows an expansive awareness of the greater bioethical conversation, with a deft perception of the many implications involving the posthuman condition.” ~Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
"This is an engaging, timely book: a study of American fiction twinned with an ethical critique of biotechnology. Bieber Lake writes on several important works of narrative fiction, and in each case thoughtfully and incisively raises questions about the technological changing of the human body. The book is highly readable, and Bieber Lake wears her considerable knowledge very lightly." ~Kevin Hart, Edwin B Kyle Professor of Christian Studies, University of Virginia
“Christina Bieber Lake masterfully integrates fiction and theology in Prophets of the Posthuman: American Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Ethics of Personhood. She asks pressing questions about what it means to be human in an ever braver, newer world.” ~The Christian Century
“On the whole, Lake’s argument is key in helping fiction writers, literary scholars, and others engaged in the humanities and arts to make the case for the relevance of fictional narrative to philosophical speculation and scientific pursuit.” ~Flannery O’Connor Review
“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
"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
"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