1950s America saw a rise in technologies such as television that not only increased the role of machines in people’s lives but encouraged the mechanisation of certain aspects of society. The minimisation of the human in the workforce due to robots and automated devices led to increased tension in the 1950s by suggesting the obsolescence of the human in favour of automation. Various works published by Alfred Bester during the 1950s address this tension by extrapolating future societies in which the line between man and machine have become blurred, both physically and psychologically. This paper examines the ways in which Bester explores the mechanisation of the human, or the destruction of the human in favour of the machine, and the dissolution of mankind as a distinct species. The move from machine as object to machine as subject works to render the human obsolete by removing the specificity from ‘human’ as a category. It will be shown how the destruction of the individualised (physical and psychological) self in favour of a conformed (mechanised and inorganic) collective blurs the line between man and machine both literally and figuratively by examining the relationship between these merged identities and the conformity found within a 1950s America struggling with the Cold War. The loss of the individual self in the texts examined will be extrapolated to demonstrate how it reflects an overall loss of autonomy through the ways in which Bester questions what makes someone or something human as the physical self becomes increasingly outdated and the role a collective society plays in this. The role of the physical body in personal identity will subsequently be examined by considering how the redundancy and lack of specificity found in automated/mechanised selves hinders personal identification and suppresses individuality.

About the speaker

Molly Cobb currently teaches at the University of Liverpool on 19th through early 21st century American Literature and also contributes to the Science Fiction Studies MA. Her research focuses on how science fiction engages with psychology. She is currently an Affiliate Member of the Olaf Stapledon Centre for Speculative Futures.

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