Seminar:" Posthumanous Victorians: Eugenics from Francis Galton to Silicon Valley" by Dr. Robin Durnford
ABSTRACT: Francis Galton is a Victorian cyborg. I stalk him in his move from nineteenth-century eugenicist to the computerized construct of my twenty-first-century blinking screen. Using a combination of storytelling and argument—in order to maintain a constant critical engagement with my own knowledge production—I bring the past together with the present in a historical cultural study that traces an unlikely pattern of inheritance from eugenics to the posthuman. Thus, Posthumanous Victorians contextualizes posthuman cultural theory while showing how surprising prescient the now ‘debunct’ science of eugenics actually was. Galton’s eugenics and the “posthuman,” the latter of which N. Katharine Hayles describes as a “view” privileging “informational pattern over material instantiation,” are connected in three ways: first, theories of both eugenics and the posthuman focus on cleansing the subject of the body by turning the body into information; second, both theories promote the externalization of private mental processes for the purposes of surveillance; and third, both are utopian attempts at achieving immortality through virtuality.
In this paper for IIT Bombay I show how Galton’s eugenics—expressed creatively in his unfinished utopia, Kantsaywhere(1910)—is making a comeback in the age of Trump, Brexit, and in the fantasies of Silicon Valley tycoons such as Peter Thiel who believe the answer to the world’s problems is population control, selective breeding, and the singularity. I conclude that it is time for us to confront this posthuman with a past. If Galton is a cyborg, his eugenic future might just be ours.
BIO: Robin Durnford earned a PhD in English Literature and Film Studies from the University of Alberta. Her dissertation, Posthumanous Victorians, is a historical cultural study exploring links between eugenics discourses before and after WWII. She has also published three books of poetry—A Lovely Gutting (2012), Fog of the Outport (2013), and the E. J. Pratt shortlisted Half Rock (2016)—all set in her native Newfoundland, Canada. She is currently based in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.