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Body, Soul and Cyberspace explores how recent science-fiction cinema answers questions about body and soul, virtuality, and spirituality in the digital age by linking cinematic themes with religious, philosophical and ethical concepts.



Introduction: Ethical Questions in Contemporary Science Fiction Films

Magerstädt’ offers a review of contemporary Science fiction narratives and the ethical questions that are raised in contemporary Science fiction films. The Introduction outlines some of the specific changes in recent science fiction cinema, particularly with regard to changes in our relationship to body and soul. The Introduction further sets the frame for Magerstädt’s discussion by explaining the rationale for using science fiction blockbusters The Matrix and Avatar as corner stones in the analysis. This chapter also provides an overview of the three main chapters of the book, each of which circles around the concept of body, soul and cyberspace respectively. She finally highlights the key question of the book, namely what makes us human?

Sylvie Magerstädt

1. Body — Cyborgs, Clones and Automata: The Matrix, eXistenZ, Avatar

This chapter outlines a shift in representations of the body in science fiction from a postmodern, dystopian framework to aposthumanist Utopian frame of reference. Posthumanist notions of body transfer and virtuality are evident in films such as Avatar, as well as in The Matrix, Magerstädt further addresses how the idea of escapism has changed from earlier cyberpunk narratives as presented in eXistenZ to more recent representations in Avatar. Magerstädt’s.analysis highlights an interesting development in the portrayal of technology. She draws on Deleuze’s concept of the spiritual automaton in order to distinguish the organic avatar bodies from earlier cyborgs that appear, for example, in the Terminator films. The chapter concludes highlighting some of the ethical issues that result from these developments.

Sylvie Magerstädt

2. Soul — Cyber-Spirituality and Immortality: The Thirteenth Floor, Aeon Flux, Transcendence

In this chapter, Magerstädt distinguishes the notion of the soul in contemporary Science fiction films from common assumptions of a Cartesian mind/body dualism. She demonstrates how contemporary science fiction presents a concept of spirituality that draws both on traditional religious values and on materialism. Her discussion of Aeon Flux and Transcendence illustrates the ways in which nature merges with technology in contemporary science fiction. Magerstädt further explores the central question of what makes us human by comparing the humanity of virtual characters in The Thirteenth Floor and Transcendence. Important ethical topics such as love, death and the longing for immortality will be discussed in this context. The chapter concludes by highlighting a certain ambivalence between utopia and dystopia in contemporary science fiction films.

Sylvie Magerstädt

3. Cyberspace — Dreams, Memory and Virtual Worlds: TRON: Legacy, Total Recall (2012), Inception

Continuing with the discussion of body and soul, in Science fiction cinema, this chapter looks at representations of virtual reality. Magerstädt draws on Deleuze’s.concept of the crystal image in order to analyse different layers of virtuality, making a distinction between external and internal virtual realities. This corresponds with her insightful analyses of TRON: Legacy, Total Recall and Inception. Concepts such, as memory, escapism and self-identity are examined as are the ways in which virtual realities challenge these. The chapter includes a discussion of nostalgia in contemporary science fiction, which relates to the notion both of memory and of utopia discussed in this book. Magerstädt finally explores the idea of providence in recent films and addresses the ethical questions that arise from the creation of virtual realities.

Sylvie Magerstädt

Conclusion: Imagining Our Future(s)

In Conclusion, Magerstädt highlights how the discussion on body, soul and cyberspace throughout this book has provided answers to the question of what makes us human. She argues that ultimately the answer lies in the relationships we develop and the virtues portrayed by individuals, not in our biological and/or technological frame. Magerstädt finally suggests that Science fiction cinema can have an important function in stimulating debates about our future by illustrating the issues that we face now and the consequences we may be confronted with in our possible futures.

Sylvie Magerstädt


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