Posthuman Wounds: Trauma, Non-Anthropocentric Vulnerability, and the Human/Android/Animal Dynamic in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Despite Philip K. Dick’s penetrating portrayal of trauma in his most recognized work, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), most critics avoid this topic, debating instead the novel’s treatment of “authentic” human subjectivity. To address this gap, this article aligns the novel’s much discussed binaries—human/android, authentic/artificial—with the its principal but overlooked concerns: trauma and ethics. Dick uses his fictional post-apocalyptic culture to articulate and critique cultural practices of trauma-deferment, which displace the effects of trauma onto the illusory model of a testable, privileged anthropocentric humanism. These deferment practices postpone the realization that the human has always already been the posthuman. In order to keep the myth of human exceptionalism alive, the animal and the android become part of an ideological dialectic that defers traumatic experience by reifying the essential human as superior to the android (who cannot empathize) and empathetic toward the animal (whose vulnerability necessitates human care). Engaging recent developments in posthuman theory, I argue that, in Do Androids Dream?, unmediated traumatic encounters perform a temporary erasure of the essentialized human subject, which, in turn, opens humans up to trans-subjective engagements with the android and the animal that facilitate a radical posthuman ethics of expansive vulnerability.