The hazards of writing fiction about posthumans

From: primeradiant (
Date: Tue May 03 2005 - 11:54:51 MDT

After my last contact with this List I'd been discouraged from making any more contributions but just be content to watch things unfold. However, I'm driven to write again in response to Damien's post and Ben's comments.

Most concerns expressed by this particular thread are analysed in some detail in Stanislaw Lem's Microworlds. In his own stories and novels, Lem has focussed on human relations with 'aliens' - my own favourites being Solaris and His Master's Voice (although he comes to the 'human' level with the Cyberiad). The problems Lem identifies in Microworlds come to the fore when we try to envisage posthumans, not to mention any future superintelligent AI, whether friendly or not (would you classify the Solaris entity as 'friendly'?).

Human beings are driven by evolutionary presciptives and the affective residue of primary and inflicted trauma. As such it is impossible to comprehend, let alone empathise with, a being that has transcended these constraints (which a post human surely will have done). We cannot have our cake and eat it. Those of us who do choose to transcend these constraints will have to bid farewell to "life, love, laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, warmth, frienship, sex, naughtiness etc.", in other words "all that makes us truly human" - at least in the sense that we currently understand and experience these things. Whether they will weep or exult in their transformation will be their own affair (as I've written before). Their psychology will be very different. How do you deal with writing about them? Lem is pessimistic.I think Egan experienced this problem - he was unable to reach the depth of Yatima's character and had to fall back on Orlando as our 'human interpreter'.

The music questions you've raised are also very interesting. I'm also a musician and composer and personally find some mid to late 20th century music very emotionally powerful. Our aural system (and therefore music psychology) is structured around the perception of harmony. Schenkerian analysis suggests the reasons why music of the 'classical' period is so emotionally involving - see Structural Hearing by Felix Salzer. I did Schenkerian analysis for many years (my teacher was a pupil of Salzer's, who in turn was a pupil of Schenker's) and have lectured and written about the depth-psychological dimensions of this mode of analysis. The emotional impact of more 'abstract' music depends on the way materials are used - for instance, strong emotive power can be created in serial ('12-tone') music by the judicious exploitation of the extraordinarily rich harmonic potential of the all-combinatorial hexachords. In this way I've often followed Berg in creating a true 'serial' (12-tone) infrastructure on a harmonic substrate. This is a considerable expansion of the technique, involving the use of all dyads, triads, tetrachords, pentads and hexachords embedded within all transformations of the basic set.

I'd always felt that serial composition was the nearest we ever got to a posthuman art form.

Best wishes to all,

Paul Ziolo

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