Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels… Francisco de Goya


This is an interesting study and the title gives the answer – even if that may not have been the author’s intent. The word Unnatural refers specifically to that which is created and exists outside of nature and monster’s are outside of nature – however much they may emulate it. Take the example of Goethe’s Faust and you have a man who makes a deal with Satan to escape the humanity that binds him to this world and this theme extends itself through Shelly’s Frankenstein where the monster is created externally. In neither case can the creator or their creation absolutely escape the bonds of nature’s consequences.  It is only with Huxley that the natural consequences begin to be escaped – through the miracle of pharmacology – which can be its own escape from the natural order with a whole other set of consequences. Altogether an interesting if not completely satisfying read, like Goya’s definition, there is something fundamentally wrong in uncoupling reason and nature and while doing so may create marvels it does not create art!

Unnatural : the heretical idea of making people  Philip Ball  London : Bodley Head, 2011  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 373 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Can we make a human being?

That question has been asked for many centuries, and has produced recipes ranging from the homunculus of the medieval alchemists and the clay golem of Jewish legend to Frankenstein’s monster and the mass-produced test-tube babies in Brave New World.

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All of these efforts to create artificial people are more or less fanciful, but they have taken deep root in Western culture. They all express fears about the allegedly treacherous, Faustian nature of technology, and they all question whether any artificially created person can be truly human. Legends of people-making are tainted by suspicions of impiety and hubris, and they are regarded as the ultimate ‘unnatural’ act – a moral judgement that has its origins in religious thought.

In this topical study, Philip Ball delves beneath the surface of the cultural history of ‘anthropoeia’ – the creation of artificial people – to explore what it tells us about our views on life, humanity, creativity and technology, and the soul. From the legendary inventor Daedalus to Goethe’s tragic Faust, from the automata-making magicians of E.T.A Hoffmann to Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein – the old tales and myths are alive and well, subtly manipulating the current debates about assisted conception, embryo research and human cloning, which have at last made the fantasy of ‘making people’ into some kind of reality.

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