Re: The hazards of writing fiction about posthumans

From: Matt Arnold (
Date: Tue May 03 2005 - 12:01:09 MDT

where can we hear serial composition?
-Matt Arnold

On 5/3/05, primeradiant <> wrote:
> 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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