‘If This is a Man’: technological development and human disappearance in US Sf since 1945

Halden, Grace (2014) ‘If This is a Man’: technological development and human disappearance in US Sf since 1945. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis examines how literal and figurative disappearance can be said to have occurred through certain technological developments after World War II. This study investigates key concepts of the human condition alongside notions of disappearance, underpinned by the contextual framework of Primo Levi’s pivotal question and statement: ‘if this is a Man’. As a survivor of Auschwitz, Levi reflected on threats to the human through Holocaust testimony in If This is a Man (1947) and through his science fiction (sf) which explored technological perils after 1945. Like Levi, my work focuses on the ways in which ‘Man’ can be challenged and undermined. While my work uses a similar approach, it goes further by applying ideas of disappearance and by exploring technologies outside Levi’s remit and within US sf. To look at the concept of human replacement and destruction, I build on the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard who argued that humanity is at risk of figuratively ‘disappearing’ through a blurring of boundaries between the real and the artificial. Baudrillard speaks of losing traditional concepts of the human condition through simulacra and technological dominance. I combine Baudrillard’s idea of disappearance with Levi’s concerns over technological threats to the human. In this thesis, I speak of literal disappearance as involving death (especially to the collective through genocide or extinction) and figurative disappearance through an alteration of the traditional concept of what it means to be human. Through representative sf texts, I explore how many writers have portrayed the human as under pressure through certain technological advancements especially after World War II. My thesis is arranged thematically, tracing three key technological epochs within a chronological structure. The themes for the three parts are intended to highlight some key concerns emerging from sf which relate to the human condition and disappearance, such as the threat of the nuclear, the emergence of cybernetics, and the development of artificial intelligence. I use these historic events to reflect on how US sf explores technological apocalyptic themes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2014 08:50
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2015 14:15
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/93

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