Deckard’s Posthumanist Transition
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Phillip K. Dick’s science fiction novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
the author portrays a day in the life in of bounty hunter, Rick Deckard in
2021 San Francisco. Deckard, as a police officer in the San Francisco Police Department
is enlisted with the task of “retiring” or killing six rogue androids. As the
novel develops, we begin to see Deckard’s transition from a humanist character
to a posthumanist character as he grapples with the blurred line between
human/android, reality/simulation, and the consequences of these blurred lines.
We see this transition in a number of moments, but it is most beautifully
illustrated in his interactions with Luba Luft and Phil Resch, and confirmed
with the novel’s ending as he handles the death of his goat and the revelation
that his newfound toad, is indeed electric. By the novel’s end, Rick is
beginning to erases his notions of human superiority over machine, recognizing
that androids have lives too. He may not
necessarily embody a complete posthuman transition, and think that their lives
are as important as human lives, but he is beginning to destroy his anthropomorphic
sensibilities, and adopt the rhizomatic, posthuman vision.
the beginning of the novel, Rick is an extremely self-centered, anthropomorphic
character. His electric sheep does not only embarrass Rick, but he completely
resents caring for and nurturing it. Additionally, Rick only cares about Iran’s
depression as far as it impacts him. He criticizes her for her lack of
“vitality” and “desire to live” (94). Instead her only tells her to just use
the mood organ, instead of actually showing compassion and empathy. Not to
mention, his very profession requires him to be impersonal and focused only on
the task at hand. He is only focused on the financial rewards of killing the
androids. For the first portion of the book, Rick is dedicated to killing
enough androids so that he can make enough money to buy a real animal. This
way, he can improve his social status, and more importantly, he can demonstrate
his empathy through the animal. The idea of killing the androids does not
bother Rick, at all however. Instead, he considers them to be subhuman,
inferior in every way, especially in their ability to empathize. The paradox
here is obvious: he believes androids are subhuman because of their inability
to express empathy, and yet, he does not express empathy towards the androids.
Indeed, he can’t even express empathy towards his electric sheep or his wife.
He exalts the human over all technology and animal, but his worldview is only
limited and discriminatory, and more than that, not in tune with reality. In
reality, the line between human and android is blurred and almost without distinction.
This, Rick will learn as he embarks on his journey.
important step in rick’s progression from a humanist character to a
posthumanist character is in his interactions with the android, Luba Luft and fellow
bounty hunter, Phil Resch. Through these characters, we see Rick’s distinction
between android and human between to collapses. On one hand, society is telling
him that androids are evil and emotionless, and humans are dignified and
superior to the androids. Yet, his experiences with these two characters
demonstrate the opposite. In Luba, he sees someone who is not only interesting
and talented, but someone who is remarkably similar to himself. They each share
a love for opera—Rick is a fan of opera and Luba as a distinguished opera
singer. Rick doesn’t see Luba as an android, but rather someone who can sing
beautiful opera and enjoys art of all kinds. He seems to connect with her more
than his wife and more than the rest of the humans in the story. Rick begins to
feel empathy for Luba and the life that he is being commissioned to take away.
Rick is not only beginning to feel empathy for the androids, but he is also
beginning to acknowledge the inevitable ending of man’s existence. As he
listens to the rehearsal of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, he muses to himself,
“This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die;” (98).
Mankind will vanish, the music will end, and Mozart will vanish into oblivion.
Or as Rick notes, “The dust will have won,” (98). And yet, Rick begins to see
that although humans can’t transcend the dust, androids have the potential to
transcend both humanity and the dust. He does not want to kill Luba anymore
saying, “I’ve had enough. She was a wonderful singer. The planet could have
used her. This is insane.” (136). He even goes so far to say, that she “seemed
genuinely alive” (141)
contrast Luba Luft, is the fellow bounty hunter Phil Resch. While Luba Luft
embodies life, talent, and sophistication, Resch is blood lusting and without
any hesitance for killing androids. The irony, of course is that the android is
much more dignified, empathic, and loving than the human, and yet, it is Luba who
will have her life taken away. As Rick watches Resch operate, he realizes that
he does not want to live his life like that. He wants to follow the example of
Luba instead. Resch’s complete lack of empathy for the androids makes Rick
reconsider everything he knows about his society and especially himself. Once
Luba has been killed, Rick says to Resch, “You like to kill. All you need is a
pretext. If you had a pretext, you’d kill me,” (137). He begins to see himself
in the androids and seeing the androids as fully human. It seems as if Rick
sees two sides of himself in Luba Luft and Phil Resch. Luba Left reflects the
more emotional, sentimental, and loving side of himself, and Resch reflects the
apathetic, selfish, and violent side of himself. Even though Phil Resch ends up
killing Luba Luft, his interactions with the two characters mark his
development and his transition from a humanist perspective to post human
goes on to sleep with Rachel Rosen as she attempts to distract Rick from his
mission of killing the remaining androids. Despite her attempt to manipulate
him, he goes on to kill Pris, Irmgard, and Roy—the remaining androids. In
response, Rachel kills his prized goat. Rachel’s motives behind this are
ambiguous: it may be that she is angry with Rick for sleeping with her and then
leaving, but it is more likely that she is seeking revenge for the androids
that he has killed. It is almost as if she is displaying empathy for these
other androids. Not only did she manipulate Rick into sleeping with her in
order to save them, but she also takes a sort of revenge in the sake of her
friends, taking the life of what Rick values most—his “real”, living goat. In
either scenario, it is interesting that Dick sutures this scene with Rick’s
killing of Rachel’s fellow androids, a scene where he is at his most inhumane
and depraved. Dick is blurring the line once again between human and android,
and complicating our notion of whether Rick truly has progressed. After
viciously killing the androids and Rachel killing his goat, he calls them
“stupid” and remarks, “I didn’t have any trouble retiring them… The only one
who was right is Mercer,” (233-234).
Rick reflects that he should have killed Rachel, instead of sleeping
with her. Initially It seems as if he is changed, but not in a positive or
rhizomatic sense, instead only reaffirming his stance at the beginning of the
reaction to the toad displays that even though, the change is not dramatic, he
certainly has become more empathetic and has embraced a posthuman mode of
thinking. Initially, he is bitter and ruthless to the androids after killing
them, much like Phil Resch, but his reaction to the toad being electric demonstrates
some peace and progress in his worldview of androids and humans. On one hand,
Rick even seems to be disgusted with his murderous actions when he thinks to
himself, “everything about me has become unnatural; I’ve become an unnatural
self,”(230). The distinction between him and the androids that are supposedly
evil has begun to disappear. Rick seems to understand that his murderous
actions and his greed have made him embody the very characteristics that he is
depressed at the death of his goat, Rick takes off for Oregon to clear his head.
Here he fuses with Mercer and finds the toad. He initially is elated that he
has found a real toad, the most valued animal according to Mercerism. The toad
will give him prestige and happiness, but upon returning home, Iran reveals to
him that the frog is electric. Rick is disappointed at the revelation, but
instead of being completely depressed or angry, Rick is more resigned to the
fact, and perhaps even a little comfortable with this fact. It seems as if Rick
has transformed. Rick admits, “electric things have their lives, too.” (241).
It is not to say that Rick has become fully empathetic, despite what his fusing
with Mercerism or his response to the toad might suggest. However, it is clear that
he has become much more empathetic to the machines and he has expanded his anthropomorphic
mind to embraces more fully the tenets and possibilities of posthumanism. He is
a changed man, for the better.