Clarke and previous criticism
Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008, was a British science fiction writer most famous for being the co-writer of the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as the author of the novel of the same name. In total Clarke has written over 100 books, in addition to hundreds of articles that has received several prestigious awards. A common theme throughout Clarke’s works is optimism that humanity can improve life with technology and science. Clarke was convinced that humanity’s destiny was to leave Earth to venture to other planets and solar systems, and that humanity only can improve from space exploration, which is reflected in his novels. Clarke was a scientist as well as a science fiction writer, contributing to the development of radar during World War II as well as the satellite network enabling global communication. Realising that he never would venture into space, Clarke settled for exploring the depths of Earth, moving to Sri Lanka where he became an avid scuba diver exploring the oceans. After his death Clarke finally achieved space travel as a lock of his hair was launched into space, allowing Clarke to share his DNA with the universe (Pelton and Logsdon 189). Not much has been written on Clarke’s novel The City and the Stars, but the one article about the novel is written by Tom Moylan. Moylan is critical of Clarke, claiming Clarke is anti-communist and urging the USA to “carry on the white man’s burden” in space, establishing a galactic empire in his novels in general as well as in The City and the Stars (152). Furthermore, Moylan links Clarke’s novel The City and the Stars to cold war ideology, the two societies in the novel representing the Western societies and the Soviet Union respectively. Moylan argues that the novel socializes young readers into capitalist norms and society (151). The main character of the novel, Alvin, finds his place in capitalist society and reforms it so that humanity once again can be on its way towards galactic colonization and empire building. Moylan argues that Clarke allows Alvin to critique the problems of western society, but at the same time diverts potential rebels into socially useful roles as Alvin in the end settles as a technocrat in a reformed society. Post-war capitalism is not to be overthrown, instead it is to be changed and reinvigorated, as Alvin reinvigorates Diaspar. Technology has improved life in Diaspar, but it is not enough. Life and growth must exist as well, and according to Moylan, Clarke implies that life and growth come through capitalism and the new markets that are opened now that Alvin has opened Diaspar for new possibilities (153). In Moylan’s view, Lys is a communist utopia, a decentralized society with non-alienated labour. A perfect society according to Moylan, but as it is a communist utopia “it does not fulfil the needs of capitalist-imperialist political economy” and is abandoned at the end of the novel (154). Moylan argues that Alvin’s friend, Hilvar, should be the protagonist of the novel. He is superior to Alvin in many ways as Hilvar is intelligent, wise, kind and responsible. But as Alvin is a child of capitalism he must be the protagonist, even though he is individualistic, manipulative and crass (154). When Alvin enters space he encounters another youth, a mental being developed by the galactic empire billions of years ago. Both Alvin and this mental entity are drafted into the empire, while Hilvar remains a Marxist outsider (155-156). Moylan agrees that Clarke is an optimistic writer, but that he is also a capitalist writer. Science and capitalism together can solve any problems. Lys, the communist society, is forever a distant utopia. It is always in the background in the text, no matter how attractive it may be, for the novel favours capitalism and Diaspar. The novel may appear to criticize the bourgeois world of the 1950’s, but in the end it reinforces it. (156) In Clarke’s reply to Moylan’s article he disagrees with Moylan on the point that the tension between Lys and Diaspar is a product of cold war ideology. Clarke even compares Moylan’s methods of argumentation to those of Joseph Goebbels. Clarke strongly argues that it is not cold war ideology at all in The City and the Stars, and that he in fact started writing the novel in the 30’s. The inspiration was taken from his own life instead, as he moved from rural Somerset to urban London and the conflict between the rural and the urban has haunted him ever since. Clarke did agree on some points of Moylan’s, though he did not specify what these were. He claimed, “I don’t have time to dig them out” (Clarke 88-89). Another response to Moylan’s article is from a writer signed RDM. He writes that the only difference between Lys and Diaspar, two societies that have solved technological, social and economic problems, is how they solved the remaining problem: boredom. The difference between the two societies is trivial according to RDM, and certainly there is no cold war tension between them. Furthermore RDM insists that growing vegetables and being born naturally and maturing over the years is no more socialist than eating technologically produced food and being born an adult through technological means. These are merely trivial differences. In the end the novel is about challenge and response, this author claims. (RDM 305-306). While I agree with RDM that neither Lys nor Diaspar is more Marxist or capitalist, I disagree with RDM on making the difference between Lys and Diaspar trivial. The novel is indeed about challenge and response and how the response affects humanity, but there is definitely a major difference between Lys and Diaspar, a difference that is of importance to the novel. The differences in the lives between those living in Diaspar and those living in Lys is of great importance as it dictates how they live their lives. An immortal person does not make the same decisions as a mortal person would make. In the same way our emotions are effected if there are no children. The way they live their lives shape their experiences, and consequently their personalities and emotions. In a safe utopia where technology serves all inhabitants there is no need for exploration.
Theoretical Framework: Utopia and Humanity
For this essay utopian theory and theories about humanity will be used. The novel covers two utopian societies and their inhabitants, and a greater insight into the literary genre of utopia is needed to fully understand and analyse Clarke’s vision of different utopias in his novel. The different aspects of utopian literature are used to determine if the two societies in fact are utopias, and if the concept utopia is beneficial for the inhabitants in The City and the Stars. The relationship between creating a perfect society and a perfect species to inhibit such a society is a recurring theme in utopian literature. What humanity’s role in society is, and in fact if humanity can survive in a utopia is explored in the novel, and can be further understood with knowledge of the concepts. For this reason a definition of humanity is necessary in this essay to examine how Clarke tests the limits of humanity and utopia by creating the societies and their inhabitants.
There are two types of utopia: trying to achieve utopias in real life through political practices and ideologies, and utopias in literature. It is the latter form of utopia that will be used in this essay. A basic definition of the concept utopia is necessary before continuing to the different aspects of utopias and utopian literature. Utopia is the “perfect society” desired by humanity. It is a society where all social problems have been solved and nothing plagues humanity any more (Jameson 1-3). Utopia, meaning “no-where” or “no-place”, perhaps implying that social perfection is not achievable (Franko 207). Four different types of utopias in literature have been distinguished by Raymond Williams. The first type is the paradise, a utopia that already exists and is discovered by humanity. The second type of utopia occurs after natural events alter the world, thus creating the utopia for humanity. The third type of utopia is created by human effort, it is a utopia created with a specific goal in mind. This type of utopia is the most common type in literature, as it showcases humanity’s wish for creating the perfect society. The fourth and last type of utopia is brought by technological advancement, but it is the unexpected transformation of society after the introduction of a new technology and not a utopia created by intention. It is similar to the third type of utopia, but there is a clear difference as the third type is created with a purpose in mind (Williams 203-204). There is a small but significant difference between the third and fourth type of utopian literature. They both concern the human transformation of society. In both utopias transformation can be initiated or made available by technological advancement, but it can also be that other forms of technology transform society; namely social machinery. Social machinery can be new laws or new relations within the society that fundamentally changes society. This further blends the difference between the third and fourth type of utopia, making them almost interchangeable. But it is still the intention behind the changes that determine what type it is, if it is largely unintended creation of utopia it falls under the fourth category while if it was intended change with the new technology it fall under the third type of utopian literature (Williams 208). Transformation into the third type of utopia, the willed transformation, is usually inspired by scientific spirit, as rational thought and action or in combination with scientific discoveries. It can also be political or social transformations (Williams 204). According to Fredric Jameson, utopias are created as a solution to a problem. The creation of utopia must have its start somewhere, and the initial spark comes from a fundamental problem that exists in a society that utopia deems itself to be able to solve. Even if there are several problems plaguing a society, they all have, or seem to have, the same cause. Thus removal of the root of all evil will result in the disappearance of the lesser problems as well. The solution is usually accepted (or forced upon) the whole of society. This is a prerequisite because the solution should be so simple and obvious that society cannot do other than accept it. Historically these problems in society have been materialistic in nature. Problems range from money and property in More’s Utopia (Jameson 11-12) to class and centralised state in Marxism and once the problem is removed utopia is created (Mohan 10). Ralf Dahrendorf has summarised the structural requisites that all utopias must have. First of all, Utopias are isolated in time. While regular societies are affected by time, changing and affected by time, utopias are not. They are stationary societies, settled in their own pocket of time, and thus distancing themselves from the movements of time and the changes that are brought with it. In most literature utopias do not have a vibrant past. The past they do have is a past that is clouded by the passing of time making it uncertain what is real, and what is part of the fictional past. Utopias are simply just there one day. Nor do Utopias have a future, as they are an unmoving island in the river of time, never changing (Ed. Kateb 104). Another factor that makes utopias stable is the uniformity that exists in them. All decisions within utopias are made with consensus, or at least what would appear to be consensus. As all decisions are made with universal consensus there are no quarrels or oppositions in utopias. Universal consensus is just one of several factors leading to the stability of utopian societies. The society is perfect, and there is no reason to quarrel. It is not uncommon in utopian fiction that there is a character who is different, someone who does not conform to the norms of the utopian society. These characters are outsiders, because a perfect society would not be able to produce a non-conformist person, and they are often given a specific reason for their different ways. Winston Smith from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four is an example of an outsiders, or Alvin from The City and the Stars (Ed. Kateb 105-106). Social harmony within the utopian society is another factor that leads to stability (Ed. Kateb 105). Despite the stability and uniformity in utopian societies they are not dead. Activities and other events do take place, but the events are all planned and follow recurring patterns. Any event that takes place within a utopia is designed to reinforce the status quo of the utopian society. Reproduction of humans and of ideas are controlled by the state to control the society (Ed. Kateb 106). Furthermore utopias are not only isolated in time, they are also isolated in space. What this means is that citizens of a utopia usually are unable to leave their city. If they are allowed to leave their city the reports from travellers are designed to sustain the isolation and not to build bridges with other communities (Ed. Kateb 106). In order for Utopias to remain harmonious and stable outside influence is not to be allowed, as this could change the utopian society, and since utopias are perfect any change would be for the worse. It is therefore essential that utopias are kept isolated from the outside world (Ed. Kateb 8). However, some argue that change in utopia can be for the better as new discoveries are made previous ills can be removed, resulting in improved life for the individual and society (Ed. Kateb 10, 11). The staleness and stability of utopias not only create a boring society, but can also deprive humanity of possibilities of advancement as “utopia does not allow for the heights and depths of human possibility to be reached” (Ed. Kateb 16). Society would indeed be stagnant because only planned events happen. Any chance for discoveries to be made would be destroyed before it was allowed to happen as anything breaking the pattern is not allowed. Nor is humanity’s adventurous and questing nature accommodated in utopias (Ed. Kateb 16-17). Another plausible definition of utopia is the elimination of suffering and the development of a society without suffering, where only happiness exists. It is disputed though if happiness can exist without its opposite, suffering. Some argue that pleasure would lose its meaning if pleasure is all we experience as there is nothing we can compare it to. Humanity needs contrast in order to truly appreciate the good things in life, and an elimination of suffering can therefore be said to be an elimination of pleasure (Kateb 3-4). But elimination of suffering can have several different meanings, it could be the removal of all suffering that could happen to humans and humanity. Another view is that the removal of suffering means only the removal of the greater evils that plague humanity. Inequality, poverty, famine, discrimination, war and alienated labour. Man can live without fear and in comfort. According to this definition man can still experience some suffering in utopia, but of the smaller kinds: thus utopia would still be pleasurable for man. (Kateb 4-5). Humanity can live with sufferings that are more ‘humane’ and acceptable, improving humanity’s lives while suffering still exists, allowing humanity to enjoy the pleasures of life (Kateb 6).
What is human is an elastic concept, a definition that changes over time as new knowledge has forced the reformation of the definition several times, and probably will do so in the future (Seaman 250). Generally speaking, the posthuman is described as a deliberately engineered human being, mainly through technology and genetic manipulation (Seaman 247). This essay will work with the general definition of the posthuman as a new and better human form, where humanity’s lifespan has been increased and its weaknesses been removed (Seaman 247). Medieval historian Caroline Bynum’s work Metamorphosis and Identity will be used in defining humanity. In her book she is discussing the human identity today by comparing it to medieval identity. Bynum’s definition of identity will be used to define humanity. While her definition mainly concerns humanity in individuals I argue that it can be used as a general definition for humanity as a species (Bynum 163). Bynum ask the question, what makes us human? Is it our physical state that defines us, our genes and bodies, unaltered except by nature? Is it the case that any changes to our body or altering of the genes would thus alter what is human? Or is it our mind that defines us? Is our emotions and feelings, our ability to love irrationally and make seemingly irrational decisions which is the defining characteristic for humans? Are we defined by our experiences and memories, the way we are raised by a culture that defines us as humans? Based upon our experiences and notions of what is right and wrong we act in a human way, because we are raised to do so and because we know it from our experiences. How much can be altered in any of these categories before our identity is changed from human to something else? (Bynum 164-165). Perhaps the human is nothing special at all, just a sum of different body parts that can be altered and changed to increase its capacity. The body is considered a machine that can be enhanced to its best possible form. In its current form it is a flawed machine, but science has the power to make it perfect by removing inefficiencies like illness, addiction and ultimately death with the goal of perfecting the species (Seaman 260). There is also the question of who can determine one’s humanity, if society has to grant humanity to an individual or if one self can do it (Seaman 265). The definition of posthuman that will be used in this essay is by Myra J. Seaman in her article “Becoming more (than) Human”. This definition concerns both the physical and psychological aspects of what it means to be human. What constitutes humanity has changed over the years. During the Enlightenment, what was considered essential to humanity, and what differentiated us from other beings, was our capacity for reason. In recent years, however, emotion, sympathy and feelings have become the focus for what is and what makes us human (Seaman 262). Reason and rational thought are becoming less human, as these attributes can be decreed to other beings, especially lately to artificial life. Humans who act rationally, yet without emotions, can be considered to have lost their humanity as they became capable of making decisions that humans would not make (Seaman 264). Generally it is thought a mixture of emotion and reason that makes us human (Seaman 268). The human body has many “faults”. It is comparatively weak, has physical limits and the body is mortal. Changes made to the human body to improve its capabilities, as well as to increase the lifespan or even to become immortal are, and have always been, of interest to humanity. Altering the human body does not necessarily change the identity of humanity, though. In fact these alterations to the body can serve to reinforce the concept of identity and humanity as it is an investment in what is human, with humanity more likely to survive hardships with an improved body and mind (Seaman 248-249). However altering the body definitely challenges our perception of our identity. By removing disease, injury and even death from the human experience there are certain to be implications on the mind. The human identity is not necessarily the same when fears of disease, injury and death are removed. Expectations and identity changes with the body, our fears of death and diseases define us, as well as the actual diseases define us (Seamen 249). It is maintained though that while alterations to the body and mind can be made, it is ultimately our experiences and emotions that create and maintain our identity. Emotion is the only feature that remains constant as our bodies change, defining and distinguishing us as human beings (Seaman 249-251). It is important to point out that our physical state does not define ourselves, we are more than what our bodies are. Examples can be seen in medieval werewolf stories where werewolves retain their human nature despite changing physically (Seaman 251). It can be risky to improve the human body, our emotional core can be lost and with it the hybridity of the posthuman body. Transforming the human body too much will result in an alteration of the self and of humanity. Obvious examples are seen in Darth Vader and Robocop. These two individuals were human, but through injury became more machine than man. But these examples are of individuals, and not of the whole species, yet they still showcase what can happen if humanity is altered without any heed for the human core (Seaman 258-259). Humanity does not necessarily change into a different species after improvements are being made to the body, instead it is the same species but enhanced. The best qualities of humanity will remain will hopefully remain in the new body. In the end human behaviour, and its nature, is rooted in feeling and emotions and this is what determines what is human (Seaman 262).
Humanity in The City and the Stars
With a greater knowledge on the concept of humanity it will be possible to attempt to answer the thesis question: How does The City and the Stars challenge our ideas of what is human? To answer the question about humanity in Clarke’s novel one must first be clear of the division. There are the immortal inhabitants of Diaspar, whose body and mind have been engineered to be “perfect” at the same time as a fear of space and curiosity has been inserted. Then there is the telepathic people of Lys, genetically engineered in the same way as those in Diaspar, except that their minds have not been inserted with fears. The inhabitants of Diaspar are perhaps the most unlike modern humans in the novel.
Their bodies have been genetically engineered to be perfect. They have not achieved superhuman strength or other superhuman feats, but their bodies have been streamlined to be “perfect”, any unnecessary parts or habits have been removed. Teeth, nails, body hair, external genitals and the necessity of sleep are concepts of the past (Clarke 117). As sleep has been made unnecessary to the people of Diaspar, Alvin’s tutor has slept only twice in his almost thousand year life, arguing that “A well designed body should have no need for such rest periods; we did away with them millions of years ago” (116). Their bodies are resistant to disease and sickness due to genetic engineering (Clarke 204). Furthermore the minds of the people of Diaspar have been improved, granting all inhabitants what would be considered a genius level of intellect today. Their improved minds allow them to store any information they want, they are in fact able to remember the first words and sights they ever experience (14). Not only do they remember everything from their current life, they remember their earlier lives as well. Being immortal in Diaspar does not have the same implications it usually has. The citizens of Diaspar live for roughly a millennium before they “die”. With death their minds are stored in memory banks, allowing their minds to be inserted in new, fully grown bodies once it is their time to be born again. Hence, they are not born naturally but have bodies engineered for them (20-22). The largest change to the citizens of Diaspar has not happened on the outside of the body, which is fairly similar to our own, but on the inside. Their minds have been altered in other ways than merely granting them higher intellect. The human spirit has been redesigned, the fiercer passions has been removed, among them ambition, curiosity, and adventurous spirit, to create a stable species that would be able to live in utopian Diaspar. A fear of space has also been inserted into the minds of the people of Diaspar, limiting them to the confinements of Diaspar as they all are afraid and therefore unable to leave the city (246).
Table of contents :
2. Clarke and previous criticism
3. Theoretical Framework
5. Works Cited