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  • Writer's pictureGoutam Manna

MORPHOLOGICAL FREEDOM: POSTHUMANIST MIRAGE IN MEDICAL HUMANITIES

Updated: Sep 2, 2023


In the era of developed medical and technological science, everything has been a means of developing human life. Medicine increases human immunity and provides strength to fight against Nature; Internet and network system helps a lot for education, business, communication (and what not!) which are obviously a holistic approach of human well-being. The modern days are very much habitual of using cosmetics like anti-aging cream, body transforming, or organ transplantation. But it is again a nonhuman or machine or chemical which dominates and controls us which we assumed with an error of judgment as a means for our well-being. We are like a foolish Caliban (in The Tempest) who got impressed by Stephano and his 'celestial liquor' (as Caliban himself took it) and also wanted to be Stephano's servant to be free from Prospero's colonization. He conspires with Stephano to forge a and fight against Prospero which is quite foolish and humorous. But, quite tragically, these means destruction and loss of existence for man which is clearly shown in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003) through the super-pill called 'Blysspluss' that promises health and happiness for human being, but secretly causes sterilization, a synonym for the extinction of race! The nonhuman in every case formed a 'plane of immanence' to make their existence stable and so that they can forge a violent protest against man.


Here I discourse this human transformation by using the familiar narrative of Kafka ‘s The Metamorphosis. The transformation of Franz Kafka’s locked-up protagonist into an insect is an allegorical account of the human adaptability to hostile, unliveable climatic conditions. The discourse inverts the demise of Kafka’s protagonist by celebrating his mutation as it is seen to point to a conception of human life that is protected from, and no longer contributing to, climatic disaster.


What actually happens in the text is the loss of 'phenomena' and a birth of 'noumena' within human society. 'Noumena' is the world of nonhumans - their laws and order that is indiscernible to humans. The protagonist here Gregor Samsa has turned into a nonhuman physically, but still has a human soul. One of themessages of the text is clearly a realisation of the pathetic plight of the nonhuman creatures as treated by the humans. The most interesting fact is that the text suggests a world of alienation where all are unknown to another, and thus it is the loss of 'phenomena' in crux of human egotistical anthropocentrism. The case of allegorical Gregor is highly complex and pathetic. The presence of human soul within the nonhuman body is not realised by the other family members or the society with human body and human soul. But, Gregor, the victim is fully aware of the reality. But he is unable to make them understand the reality. My point is, this crucil discourse of the text simply points at the future of morphological freedom.


The fact is, morphological freedom does not provide any freedom at all to the soul. Rather, it brings a neglected 'noumema' within our soul. The loss of the original 'body' changes the 'self'. Because what 'hylomorphism' says is that 'body' and 'soul' together form a 'self' which is faced by a massive perturbation. It brings again a Cartesian dualism( the mind-body problem). In addition, this morphological freedom also hampers the self-reliance, self-recognition because through it human creats a noumena within oneself too. Leibniz in his famous principle of Analytic ontology "the identity of indiscernible" suggests, " there can not be two things exactly same in properties yet differing only in number". So, the nonliving bioprosthetics or medical technologies or other nonhumams have purely different properties that form their 'self'. It is not that the nonhuman lacks the qualities of human. Rather, they possess a dustinct 'soul' and 'body' or a distinct self that is noumenal to human phenomena. This sense of intellectual superiority is thus a fallacy-- what I call a Phenomenological Fallacy. Anyway, the point is that the medical nonhuman creats their world - their 'immanence' that disturbs and dominates the human 'self' after such medical metamorphosis.


In today's 21" century, animals and humans are dissected in the science lab, whereas Kafka's Metamorphosis dissects human soul in the animal body. In this human-centered world, humans lack feelings for non-humans, in whom humans hardly think there is even the soul or feelings. Along with people's growing concern for ecological balance between humans and non-humans. posthumanists or ecocritics blame anthropocentric nature of humans to bypass the existence of animal nature or animal soul. In this context, however, Metamorphosis has done the dissection of human soul successfully.Kyleen Oldham claims," TheMetamorphosis states the idea of being a center of society and the center of family being altered". Gregor transformed into a bug, but he had the human soul. Therefore, he had the human nature, which judged how people round him changed because of his non-human body. The novella explores how along with the change of Gregor's body the nature of his family and society changed. This new body allowed him to see and understand about humans and human nature that he had failed to do as a human. Hence, non-human body seems to have been a great advantage for him to understand the human nature.


The notion that the body can be changed at will in order to meet the desires and designs of its 'owner' is one that has captured the popular imagination and underpins contemporary medical practices such as cosmetic surgery and gender reas- signment. In fact, describing the body as 'malleable' or 'plastic' has entered common parlance and dictates common-sense ideas of how we understand the human body in late-capitalist consumer societies in the wake of commercial biotechnologies that work to modify the body aesthetically and otherwise. If we are not satisfied with some aspect of our physicality - in terms of health, function or aesthetics - we can engage with a whole variety of self-care body practices - fashion, diet, exercise, cosmetics, medicine, surgery, laser - in order to 'correct', reshape or restyle the body. In addition, as technology has advanced and elective cosmetic surgery has unapologetically entered the mainstream, the notion of the malleable body has become intrinsically linked to the practices and discourses of biomedicine and, furthermore, has become a significant means to assert and affirm identity.


Underpinning discussions and practices about modifying the human body through medical and biotechnological interventions is the philosophical concept of morpho- logical freedom, an idea central to the discourses of transhumanism, some branches of posthumanism, body- or bio-hackers, and the practices of some pioneering experimen- tal performance artists who endorse experimentation with biotechnologies in order to augment, modify or enhance the human body. However, beyond these fringe move- ments, the idea of morphological freedom has entered the mainstream and circulates liberally, both explicitly and implicitly, when talking about modifying the human body outside of therapeutic or health-related interventions. In this chapter, I will explore the concept of morphological freedom in order to see if it is a viable concept when considering embodied experience and within medical practice. Although there are many important philosophical questions regarding the body, identity, autonomy and self-ownership at stake when considering the idea of morphological freedom, the pri- mary focus is the sociocultural landscape within which biomedicine and the so-called ‘malleable body’ come together.


The malleability or plasticity of the body is, of course, central to the notion of mor- phological freedom, the idea being that if the body can be transformed or modified, we should not be prevented from doing so if this will 'improve' or 'enhance' our lived experiences. However, as all elective medical interventions such as cosmetic surgery and the enhancement procedures imagined by transhumanist and posthumanist think- ers are, for the most part, commercial practices that rely on a certain level of social capital or economic solvency, morphological freedom becomes inextricably bound to the right to make particular consumer choices within a medical context. In fact, as noted above, morphological freedom rests heavily on what David Serlin identifies as the rise of 'medical consumerism' in the post-World War II period. During this time, he argues, medicine became positioned as 'a tool of self-realization'. But, this self-realization turns again into a means of self-destruction. No doubt, this modern maladies of morphological freedom simply recalls the pathetic plight of Gregor Samsa.


I may agree with the claim by Bruce Mazlish (1993) that, the machine became an object of human interest, a means to an end, accentuating the role of human being as a tool user. Medicine and medical technology is being used for attaining the human morphological freedom which is nothing but a posthumanist mirage!


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