Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
Stories of babies born from transplanted uteruses, fetuses created from three biological parents, a booming global surrogacy market, and embryonic gene selection have all made national headlines in the past two years. We live in an era of science fictional childbirths. Reproductive technologies that didn't exist a decade ago are now peddled to whomever can afford them, and science fiction has responded. Post-1980 speculative fiction confronts a potent convergence of various sociopolitical and reproductive trends, including the rise of neoliberal conservatism; the "test tube baby" boom; polarized reproductive rights debates; and Diamond v. Chakrabarty (1980), the Supreme Court decision granting corporations the ability to patent genetically modified life forms.;In North American dystopian fiction written after 1980, anxieties about technological reproduction manifest in metaphorical figures I term "biopolitical cyborgs." Evocative of Aldous Huxley's vision of a brave new world, biopolitical cyborgs are citizens whose hybrid features are designed to hinder political agency and personal autonomy. My project reads the biopolitical cyborg as a metaphor of the myriad ways life processes are governed in liberal democracies. I argue that these hybrid denizens of posthuman futures forecast the potential for powerful states and corporations to wield biomedical technologies in their favor, essentially creating citizens designed to comply with state agendas. However, the open and ambiguous endings characteristic of the critical-dystopian genre infuse these dystopian figures with eutopian glimmers, opening possibilities for biopolitical cyborgs to learn to use their hybridity to work towards a posthuman ironic liberation.;Each chapter of my dissertation explores one of four manifestations of this complex figure. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a dire account of an authoritarian state gaining control of women's fertility, introduces the figure of Mother-soldiers. Mother-soldiers are female citizens who, locked in biopolitical wars, are transformed into soldiers and coerced to use their reproductive abilities in wars for the future of the nation. Soldier-cyborgs, such as the Community citizens in Lois Lowry's The Giver, are genetically modified or artificially augmented humans. In essence, the state uses genetic modification to create perfect, subservient citizens. Bare-life-cyborgs, such as the New People of Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, are human/nonhuman hybrids whose transgenic DNA places them outside the protections of human rights laws. Bare-life-cyborgs forecast using the patenting of hybrid life forms to bypass constitutional protections, allowing corporations to legally create and sell a slave class within liberal democracies. Finally, I have termed future posthuman generations born to cyborgs as Lilith's-children. Exemplified by the human/alien hybrids in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, these novels feature a post-apocalyptic earth where only a modified human can survive. As posthumans, Lilith's-children have the potential to move beyond dualistic gender, race, and class hierarchies.
Surrett, Valerie Ann, "Biopolitical Cyborgs in Post-1980 North American Critical Dystopias" (2017). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 6747.