The Techno-gothic in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams
Paul Mitchell (Universidad Católica de Valencia San Vicente Mártir)
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, a television anthology comprising ten contemporary re-visions of the renowned SF author’s short stories, was first broadcast on Amazon Prime in 2018. In this presentation, I argue that the series refracts long-standing gothic anxieties about alterity and (post)human existence through a technological lens more often associated with SF. This techno-gothic hybridization (of genres, bodies, and texts) is instrumental to Electric Dreams’ transgression of the paradigmatic binaries between life/death, interiority/exteriority, and difference/similarity. A singular, anthologized body that is also episodic, manifold, and palimpsestic, I interpret the heterotopic textual/diegetic space(s) of Electric Dreams in terms of both hauntology and posthumanist “leakage.” If, as Botting suggests, the uncanny results from “things which do not stay in their place” then the series casts techno-gothic specters that unsettle the temporality of past, present, and future. I illustrate this idea with reference to “Impossible Planet,” an episode that was written and directed by David Farr, in which a 342-year-old woman and RB29, her robot assistant, are taken on a journey through space to what she thinks is Earth, the home of her grandparents that was destroyed over half a millennium ago. By using a theoretical framework that is indebted to both Rosi Braidotti’s posthuman death theory and the EcoGothic, I argue that Farr’s “Impossible Planet” (in dialogue with Dick’s short story) explores how death, rather than being constituted by an absence, is a dynamic process through which individuals become embedded within the cosmos. It is constituted by a difference that affirms the interrelational, the multiple, and the ecological. Representing one aspect of an overarching research project into techno-gothic posthumanism, “Impossible Planet” illustrates how contemporary television drama is an apt medium through which we can explore our evolving understanding of what constitutes the (post)human in the early twentieth-first century.
Technological Posthumanity and Organic Cyborgs in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams
Amaya Fernández Menicucci (Universidad Del País Vasco)
As part of a broader project on techno-gothic posthumanism in contemporary TV series, the present analysis approaches the use of the abject and transgression in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams as a means to expose the ontological anxieties generated by the transhumanist understanding of the relationship between humanity and technology. In particular, I argue that the series can be read as a posthumanist critique of the dualist, anthropocentric views of identity, reality and power that certain currents in philosophical and social transhumanism seem to encourage. In Electric Dreams, the aforementioned Gothic conventions are used, respectively, to challenge the distinction between human and non-human, to monstrify technology and technophilia, and to signify the Heideggerian danger that a failure to recognise the revealing power of technology entails. Owing to formal limitations, I shall focus on two of the ten episodes of which this anthological series consists, “Autofac” (Horton 2018), and “The Hood Maker” (Jarrold 2018) in order to illustrate the way in which posthumanism and Gothic Studies can be simultaneously applied to science fiction, as well as the specific way in which the categories of humanity and technology are subverted, redefined and blurred in the series as a whole. Indeed, in both “Autofac” and “The Hood Maker”, the viewer is presented with the devastating consequences of human abuse of technology à la Victor Frankenstein, and with the postapocalyptic need to redefine subjectivity and personhood in order to secure survival in diegetic worlds dominated by human or AI tyrants. However, while in “Autofac” the process of redefinition of the human into the posthuman results in the digitalisation of the human mind into a cybernetic body, in “The Hood Maker”, the posthuman takes the shape of mutants with organic bodies, but minds that can replace computing technologies and even the Internet. Taking Rosi Braidotti’s and Francesca Ferrando’s understanding of the philosophical posthuman as a starting point, I will explore the way in which these symmetric representations of the technological and the organic posthuman criticise global ultracapitalism and the objectification of the subaltern.
Gothic Xenotemporalities in Reza Negarestani, Keith Tilford and Robin Mackay’s Chronosis
Alejandro Rivero-Vadillo (Universidad de Alcalá)
Although the (relatively new) genre of theory-fiction has normally been defined as an experimental way of combining highly detailed theoretical exposition and narrativization, few authors have attempted to escape the novelistic/essayistic medium to represent their ideas. On April 2021, however, Urbanomic, a popular publishing house in the field of contemporary philosophy, published Chronosis, a sci-fi graphic novel written by theoreticians Reza Negarestani, Keith Tilford and Robin Mackay. Chronosis leads readers through a story in which a strange omnipotent entity, Time itself, visits trauma upon different characters from different races in different times. In order to properly merge theoretical ideas and narrative, the comic employs a bifold sense of gothicism. On the one hand, it aims to induce a traditional sense of gothic horror by creating a narrative in which human/anthropomorphic characters must face what appears to be an incomprehensible alien entity. As if they were Lovecraftian protagonists, they are subject to the unattachable actions of the different incarnations of Time, whose rationalization forces the protagonists (and so, the reader) to reflect on complex philosophical understandings of what time and temporality are. The gothic trope of the imperceptible monster is used as a horrorist conveyer of ideas that are being developed and questioned in contemporary cybernetic-oriented metaphysics. On the other hand, the aesthetics that shape the visual portrayal of the graphic novel also construct the gothic subtone of the narrative. Not only time is incarnated by figures traditionally associated with gothic monsters–from specters, to hooded cult leaders, to amorphous masses of flesh-like matter–, but also the visuals are repleted with dreamlike sequences mixing conscious and unconscious realities, monumental and penetrating architectural spaces and character-isolating scenarios. Thus, the main goal of this presentation is to show the ways in which the different gothic elements become a vehicle to deal with Time’s metaphysics in Chronosis.