Academic journal article Gender Forum

"I Should Have Let Her Die": A Posthuman Future between (Re)-Embodiment and Cyborgian Concepts

Academic journal article Gender Forum

"I Should Have Let Her Die": A Posthuman Future between (Re)-Embodiment and Cyborgian Concepts

Article excerpt

"I will be a real girl" (Lewitt 518). Thus ends Shariann Lewitt's short story "A Real Girl" (1998), which presents a female 200-year-old AI that is obsessed with the idea of becoming an embodied human girl, instead of being a mere disembodied online personality. Whereas she eventually desires a body for perceiving the world more fully, her initial aspiration is to experience a genuine romantic relationship: "But I wanted, craved, needed to be loved. For myself. I wanted to know what it was all about" (511). Despite the risks that come with her unprecedented transformation from machine to (post)human, the nameless AI is willing to give up her immortality that enables her to exceed human physical abilities: "I am trading a good, secure, and fulfilling eternity for nothing but risk, and the potential for pain and disaster" (517). The idea of attaining a physical body is implemented in her consciousness after multiple love affairs with female scientists that are studying the AI. Men, however, are not interested in her and deny her wish to become human - for which she collectively discredits them as narrow minded. The short story questions what it means to belong to a female gender and its accompanied discriminatory state in society. By drawing on Lewitt's story and two other works from different writers and periods, this paper aims to lay bare the liberating scope of science fiction literature for the gender discourse and to evaluate the beneficial aspects of a futuristic setting for commenting and criticizing on unequal past and presents circumstances. Whether for whitewashing the past, picturing alternate timelines or mapping out a new future: the genre of science fiction holds the potential to fabricate old and new in an intriguing uncanny symbiosis.

Both dreaded and desired in "A Real Girl", the inferior pain-filled human state sets the starting point in James Tiptree Jr.'s "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" (1973) and C.L. Moore's "No Woman Born" (1944) [1] . In "The Girl Who Was Plugged In", the seventeen-year-old Philadelphia Burke (P. Burke throughout the story) - born physically deformed - is no longer able to cope with living as a social outcast, for which she is repulsively described as "one rotten girl" (Tiptree 546) and "the ugly of the world" (547), by the mischievous narrator Weasel Face, eventually resulting in her attempted suicide. Her brain is then disembodied from her "own grim carcass" (556) and linked to a "flawless" (552) female artificial body, called Delphi [2] , which is used to advertise products for the repressive GTX company. By using Delphi's body, P. Burke is allowed to join the ranks of celebrities, who are elevated to a god-like status: "This whole boiling megacity, this whole fun future world loves its gods" (546). However, P. Burke realizes that her new life is equally depressing as she is condemned to maintain the mindless cyborg body of Delphi and follow the order of her 'fatherly' figure Mr. Cantle, without the right to voice her opinion. Merely loved for her new outward appearance, the story culminates in P. Burke's gruesome death by the hands of her lover Paul.

Like P. Burke in "A Real Girl", the main character in "No Woman Born" is also confronted with her own mortality. The world famous Deidre is presumed dead after falling victim to a theatre fire, and is subsequently mourned by the masses. Her manager Harris considers her "the loveliest creature whose image ever moved along the airways" and claims that there has "never been anyone so beautiful" (261). The scientist Maltzer resurrects her by transplanting her brain into a metallic golden body, which, although featureless and solely resembling the silhouette of a human being, allows her to ultimately perform and enthuse the audiences yet again. Upon careful study by her creator and Harris, Deidre is able to reproduce her old voice and unmatched talent to fool them into believing that she is submissively following their orders, when she really has no desire to be forced to match the expectations of her oppressors and longs for an empowered state, which she validates with her "superhuman" (299) qualities. …

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