The android in the anthropocene: a material ecocritical reading of Philip K. Dick's 'Do androids dream of electric sheep?'

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer's concept of the Anthropocene recognizes the human role in climate change and situates the species within a geological timescale. While the idea of the Anthropocene has been adopted by a wide group of academics, scholars working with what they call 'new materialism' describe this naming of our geological time as an overestimation of human agency. They emphasize a furious search for meaning in an environmental context that asserts human superiority to and separation from nature. Instead, new materialists rethink outmoded trends in environmental, historical, and literary theory by recognizing the agency of nonhuman nature. Interestingly, Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', anticipates the anxiety that emerges when humans confront the limits of their agency. He offers robotic animals, organic androids, and a post-apocalyptic space within which humans and nonhumans co-construct meaning and navigate the limits of agency in the late Anthropocene. New attention to materialism allows critics to recognize 'narrative agency,' which endows the nonhuman with meaning assembled with the human rather than through them. Through this material ecocritical framework, human/nonhuman and natural/cultural dualisms may be disrupted, allowing new ways to theorize the human. This paper traces the ways that Philip K. Dick lays the groundwork for an ecocritical posthumanism, demonstrating how nonhuman nature interacts with the human in ways that extend boundaries of agency. In his vision of the near future, the author engages readers in a critical conversation exposing problematic perspectives of nature and the human's place therein.




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