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Title: Superhuman, transhuman, post/human : mapping the production and reception of the posthuman body
Author: Jeffery, Scott W.
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2013
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The figure of the cyborg, or more latterly, the posthuman body has been an increasingly familiar presence in a number of academic disciplines. The majority of such studies have focused on popular culture, particularly the depiction of the posthuman in science-fiction, fantasy and horror. To date however, few studies have focused on the posthuman and the comic book superhero, despite their evident corporeality, and none have questioned comics’ readers about their responses to the posthuman body. This thesis presents a cultural history of the posthuman body in superhero comics along with the findings from twenty-five, two-hour interviews with readers. By way of literature reviews this thesis first provides a new typography of the posthuman, presenting it not as a stable bounded subject but as what Deleuze and Guattari (1987) describe as a ‘rhizome’. Within the rhizome of the posthuman body are several discursive plateaus that this thesis names Superhumanism (the representation of posthuman bodies in popular culture), Post/Humanism (a critical-theoretical stance that questions the assumptions of Humanism) and Transhumanism (the philosophy and practice of human enhancement with technology). With these categories in mind the thesis explores the development of the posthuman in body in the Superhuman realm of comic books. Exploring the body-types most prominent during the Golden (1938-1945), Silver (1958-1974) and contemporary Ages of superheroes it presents three explorations of what I term the Perfect Body, Cosmic Body and Military-Industrial Body respectively. These body types are presented as ‘assemblages’ (Delueze and Guattari, 1987) that display rhizomatic connections to the other discursive realms of the Post/Human and Transhuman. This investigation reveals how the depiction of the Superhuman body developed and diverged from, and sometimes back into, these realms as each attempted to territorialise the meaning and function of the posthuman body. Ultimately it describes how, in spite of attempts by nationalistic or economic interests to control Transhuman enhancement in real-world practices, the realms of Post/Humanism and Superhumanism share a more critical approach. The final section builds upon this cultural history of the posthuman body by addressing reader’s relationship with these images. This begins by refuting some of the common assumptions in comics studies about superheroes and bodily representations. Readers stated that they viewed such imagery as iconographic rather than representational, whether it was the depiction of bodies or technology. Moreover, regular or committed readers of superhero comics were generally suspicious of the notion of human enhancement, displaying a belief in the same binary categories -artificial/natural, human/non-human - that critical Post/Humanism seeks to problematize. The thesis concludes that while superhero comics remain ultimately too human to be truly Post/Humanist texts, it is never the less possible to conceptualise the relationship between reader, text, producer and so on in Post/Humanist terms as reading-assemblage, and that such a cyborgian fusing of human and comic book allow both bodies to ‘become other’, to move in new directions and form new assemblages not otherwise possible when considered separately.
Supervisor: McIntosh, Ian Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Posthumanism ; Transhumanism ; Superhero ; Comics Studies ; Rhizome ; Deleuze and Guattari ; Superheroes Psychological aspects ; Comic books, strips, etc. Psychological aspects ; Human body (Philosophy)