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Book Reviews

Last Flesh: Life in the Transhuman Era

by Christopher Dewdney

This is a cult book in the making. Author Christopher Dewdney, a TV media pundit and academic with the McLuhan Institute in Toronto, describes the way people are being changed by technology, concluding that the division between human and machine will eventually dissolve.

The good news about Last Flesh is Dewdney’s courage in making the kinds of generalizations that others would cringe to utter, for example, “on a planetary scale, most of us are already transhuman to some degree. We are the products of bioengineering…eventually neural implants will be used to augment our brains.”

The bad news is that much of the book reads like disconnected nonsense. Try this – “Fashion is a pure example of the process of cultural self-cannibalization that the West has embarked on.” How so? “Western civilization itself is locked in a cycle of fast-forward nostalgia.”

Other insights: “Body piercing is a celebratory premonition of the eventual fusion of human flesh with the machine.” And “associative television advertising…[shows] caffeinated cola is a multiracial sex party.”

Last Flesh is at its best and most literal in describing the cultural significance of computers and software. When Dewdney moves on to relate transsexuals to transhumans and to the possibility that people will have hyper-genitalia (“a trend”), he is more vague.

Dewdney predicts future humans will have disembodied consciousness. Data will be uploaded from disk to head. Thus “it might become possible for recipient individuals to acquire copyrighted living simulations of a portion of a gifted individual’s brain.” These enhanced cerebral functions will make it possible for people to know and control everything in the universe, unless the whole thing collapses, a Wagnerian flourish that would end the omnipotent beings technology will have created.

Dewdney’s message may go over well among those who haven’t heard or perhaps have forgotten the 1970s when ethereal nonsense was in vogue. Cults, after all, thrive on dreams.