PerfectlySuperNaturalOur culture and our history is permeated with obsessions of mental, spiritual, ideological and moral renovation of mankind.Concepts of the "Homme Nouveau" can be found in ancient Greece (Plato), in the Christianization, the epoch of the Renaissance, the age of Humanism and Enlightenment and in theories of the French Revolution (Condorcet). The 20th century provided as disparate proclamations and articulations of the New Human as the Manifest of the Italian Futurists, the Marxist theory and the Nazi racial ideology.
The 16th, 17th century and the age of Enlightenment expected from history to be a move toward completion of the individual via education and the systematic application of science onto nature and society.
There was a strong belief in the idea of a collective, permanent self-completion with the help of science. No wonder that Saint Simon's fictive vision replaces Christ by the physician Newton as a redeemer.
The mechanical age generated the notion of the human as 'l`homme machine' which can be optimized by human engineers. The new race of super humans was meant to be the creation of a ingenious scientist who was supposed to produce a new human prototype.
Since the 19th century models of the human were adapted to the theory of evolution and the science of biology. Many biologists felt to have a mission to prepare the next step of human evolution and to optimize the biological equipment of future generations.
Our century tried to force the Übermensch by both relentless ideology and relentless physical attack on the body itself. And the notion of 'improved' human beings has not collapsed with the political ideologies - though it lost its innocence.
The phantasm of New Human rises again from the so called science of life, in the popular discourses about the possibilities of biotechnology and artificial intelligence: Horror visions for those who fear New Human as a product or effect of an unleashed technological fury ('in science what can be done will be done') - promises of a better life for others. The imaginations of clons, super brains or atavars continue to include all the human dreams of eternal youth, prosperity and happiness which have often been promises of New Human ideas.
How soon might we design our children?
The necessary pieces are quickly falling into place. The first artificial human chromosome was created in 1997. By 2003 the Human Genome Project will have decoded all 3 billion chemical letters that spell out 70,000 or so genes. Animal experiments designed to show that the process will not create horrible mutants are underway. (However the deep uneasiness about repro genetics rises not from the horror of failure but from the perils of success).
As James Watson, advocate of the Human Genome Project, Nobel laureate and codiscoverer of the double-helical structure of DNA, puts it: "If we don`t play god ourselves, who else should do it?"
Just about anything goes in the pursuit of improved health. Presumably few people would object to being spared a fatal disease or being provided with 'spare parts' for their body. So we will see an increasing acceptance of these new technologies.
But what about genes for personality traits?
We witness a global and presumably irreversible transformation of life into made-to-order beings by changing the 'germ line' (eggs and sperm) forever. Natural evolution becomes ignorable in this prospect.
It isn't hard to foresee a day like that painted in the film "Gattaca", where only the wealthy can afford to genetically engineer their children with such 'killer applications' as intelligence, beauty, long life or health.
The natural condition of our genetic constitution is becoming a social construct.
What we consider desirable today could be our descendants' traits and features tomorrow.
(Let's hope that our imaginations and our reason will go beyond our projections suggested in the science fiction genre with its authoritarian models of subjectivity and collectivity - often militaristic and chauvinistic - with its visions of Hybrids, Cyborgs or perfect technoid bodies that never fail).
Inevitably there is "The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values" ( subtitle of D.T. Suzuki's and P. Knudtson's book already written in 1989) and we necessarily need a public discussion on the social and ethical dimension of molecular or DNA based medicine as well as on the extend and limit of genetic intervention.
Since the rise of molecular biology the view onto the body (as an organism, as a biological system) has changed fundamentally. It is regarded as the place where genetic information is stored, processed, changed and accumulated. Molecular genetic engineering is able to construct information-carrying-molecules in an extra cellular project and then slipping them into the cell of a living organism. The body itself transposes and reproduces them and 'testes' their quality. So the body itself becomes the test-tube. It turns into a laboratory. What once was a extra cellular representation to understand live processes has turned into a intracellular implementation progressing to the transcription of life and to invent biological future.
No doubt the "body is a battleground"(Barbara Kruger) for that what can be made. And the body is in question now more than ever. This is shown by many exhibitions and objectives of art and literature - whether it is abused, objectified, discovered, aroused, desired, censored, mythologized, manipulated and celebrated, whether created or recreated, whether it is vanishing into virtuality -whether it is idealized or even perfect.
The ancient Greek had a vision of the divine body - which was rediscovered in western history so many times - and they developed to make their (initially more abstract) marble and bronze visions more and more look like life and nature during the classical and even more in the Hellenistic period.
In our PERFECTLYsuperNATURAL project we decided to explore what happens when the ancient notion of divinity meets real, normal people you can encounter in the streets.
We think their idealization after Greek provenance reflects an old dream that continues until now - until the most recent obsession of the perfect body and the super human.
In Literature, philosophy and science we can find plenty of approaches to the idea of the New Human:
J.J. Rousseau, S. George, Nietzsche, Jünger, G.Benn,Teilhard de Chardin, Edward Bellamy, H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley.They all think of a renewed human even when some concepts restore an older already existing model.
Darwinistic positions and eugenic ideas were conceived and articulated in writings and utopic novels like Francis Galton's "Laputa" (1865) or "cantsaywhere" (1910) describing an eugenic utopia.
Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward 2000 - 1887" is a science fiction on the perfect human and perfect society / biologic elite, genetic selection.
H.G.Well's utopic story "Men like Gods" (1923) describes a scientifically organized society which reaches virtual perfection after a hundred generations.
Psychologist William Mc Dougall conceived in "Island of Eugenia" the model of a reproductive community. Its new humans were of perfect shape, higher moral and superb intelligence.
Many human genetics joint the Nazi regime.
The Soviet geneticist H.J. Muller published in 1936 "Out of the Night. A Biologists View of the Future" which was a synthesis of Darwinism and Marxism (including selection, reproduction of embryos, artificial conception, egg transplantation, surrogate motherhood etc).