Klavan, Shakespeare, Transhumanism

Shakespeare vs. the Transhumanists

One of the most insightful essays I have ever encountered on the topic of transhumanism, oddly enough, as seen through the eyes of King Lear and Prospero the Magician.

Mr. Klavan begins:

I find these days that even friends with no religion have begun to speak in religious terms. Recently, within a single week, I heard the word “demonic” used five times, four times by people who don’t believe in demons. Stranger still, and not long after, I found myself in two separate conversations in which the sort of men who would never speculate upon the coming of the “end of days” began, with some embarrassment, to do exactly that.

The subject, in each case, was transhumanism: transgenderism, artificial intelligence, artificial wombs, the melding of man and medication, man and machine. There was a sense that we were arriving at a moment of choosing—choosing, each of us, whether we would continue to be what we were originally made, male and female, mortal, fallible, passionate, irrational, seemingly random in our individual qualities and yet recognizable, even if only in metaphor, as the image of God. Or would we, through medication, surgery, implants, and the like, become whatever it is we would: happier presumably, smarter in some sense, maybe even eternal in some sense, free in form, no mere image of God, but electric gods ourselves?

He goes on to examine two Shakespeare plays in which a king shouts commands at a storm, and, unlike the Messiah, is unheeded by deaf and roaring nature.

Klavan goes on to say

In these two plays, Lear and The Tempest, a single story unfolds simultaneously, once as flesh and once as spirit; once as tragedy, once as a comedy of grace. The difference lies in the imaginative interpretation of physical life into spiritual truth and the willingness to use the body to perform the rituals that bring that truth to life.

What interests me particularly in the essay is the framing of Prospero, the Magician, as a symbol both of poetic craft and divine grace: the creations of the creator, so to speak. One is tempted to wonder what should be the role of fantasy and imagination both in literature and life, if the effort is to baptize the imagination and direct it toward properly ordered ends.

I do not ask whether science fiction can be used for social engineering or fantasy for propaganda. We have all seen to much of that. And even propaganda in a good cause kills the Muse.

I ask if there is a certain fitness of fairy stories for supernatural things so the muse takes her proper place as a handmaiden of the Lord.  Certainly CS Lewis, Tolkien, and Gene Wolfe thought so.

I note that Andrew Klavan himself, by disposition and training a writer of thrillers and mysteries, turned to fantasy and fairy tale when it came time for him to pen a novel soaked in religious themes: the aptly named ANOTHER KINGDOM.

He does remarkable well for a man writing in a genre with whose conventions he is unfamiliar. It is a trilogy I recommend. If you can hear the audio version read my Michael Knowles, all the better.