e. Menura Superba: posthuman dreams of ersatz animals

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  • e. Menura Superba: posthuman dreams of ersatz animals

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    “… he ascended clad for venturing out, including his Ajex model Mountibank Lead Codpiece, to the covered roof pasture whereon his electric sheep ‘grazed’. Whereon it, sophisticated piece of hardware that it was, chomped away in simulated contentment, bamboozling the other tenants of the building. Of course, some of their animals undoubtedly consisted of electronic circuitry fakes, too; he had never nosed into the matter, any more then they, his neighbors, had pried into the real workings of his sheep. Nothing could be more impolite. To say, ‘Is your sheep genuine’ would be worse breech of manners than to inquire whether a citizen’s teeth, hair, or internal organs would test out authentic.”   _Dick 1977: 10-11)

    Katherine Hayles’ definition of what it means to be posthuman, extends beyond the anthropocentrism often implied by discourse around techno-progressive and bioconservative approaches, to include a shift in assumptions about subjectivity – from the possessive (rational and objective) individualism of Modernist thought, to a subjectivity where there is ‘no difference or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals.’ (Hayles 1999: 3)

    These demarcations are made problematic and ambiguous in Phillip K. Dick’s speculative fiction Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s speculative fictions are not essentially about technology, as Bukatman notes, the target of Dick’s satire is the ‘mythifying uses to which [technology] is directed by forces of instrumental reason.’ (Bukatman 1993: 53) While Dick’s work has been noted as employing science fiction to explore speculative futures of capitalist production, technology and subjectivity, we are interested in the way Dick unsettles the ontological ground of what constitutes human. Specifically, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by asking whether humanity may be measured not by an ability to reason, but rather by an ability to empathise with and care for other species, and perhaps by way of extension, the environment in which we live.

    This paper discusses the artwork e Menura Superba, and the influence of the broad question – what it means to be posthuman – through the making of this interactive sculpture, based on the form of the Australian lyrebird. Such a discussion necessarily requires consideration of the different approaches to animals and the environment, as seen through the lenses of our selected sources of inspiration, and in the context of information about the impacts of human influenced climate change.