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Dante and transhumanism

July 27, 2015

Heads up: an essay of mine titled “What Dante, Tolkien, and Harry Potter Fan Fiction Can Teach Us about the Contemporary Quest for Immortality” was published today (or yesterday? the dating is confusing) on Public Discourse. The subtitle: “From Dante to Tolkien to Harry Potter fan fiction, mankind has been tempted by the desire to transcend human limitations. This impulse is dangerous, but its dangers are not inexplicable.”

The piece talks about Dante, Tennyson, Melville, Tolkien, Rowling, and Eliezer Yudkowsky—altogether too much for a 2000-word essay, as I realized soon after writing the thing. Especially since I make no claim to original thinking on the first two or three listed writers. But the stuff in the second half might be worthwhile if you care about understanding the rhetoric of both transhumanism and anti-transhumanism.

Incidentally, I wrote this essay in part because I’ve grown interested recently in the author’s relationship with his audience, an interest which has made me more self-conscious about the fact that the writing I do here most often takes the form of thinking out loud. Which is fine, but it means that I make no claim to authority than any audience should take seriously, and (so?) attract almost no audience (~30 hits per day, for those keeping score). Should I care about attracting an audience? Probably more than I do. I thus decided to write a “public” essay, to see whether I knew how; and what topic would be more appropriate for an essay intended to attract an audience than the images various authors offer for the relationship between didactic poetry and its audience?My efforts are occasionally somewhat self-stultifying.

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