Photo: João Paulo Serafim

Companion Possibilities and Problems: Techno-Viral Reconfigurations of the Post/Human and Society in The Companions

Jarrel De Matas

University of Massachusetts

Abstract | As morbid as it may seem, exploring any literary representation of contagion during a real-world pandemic such as the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) allows for a timely consideration of the ways in which literature reflects our present and foreshadows our future. Published in 2020 and during the time of the Coronavirus pandemic, Katie M. Flynn’s The Companions, provides an almost prophetic vision of life and livelihood determined by a pandemic. Although classified as science fiction, there is little about Flynn’s vision that is far-fetched; it certainly is not far-off. The novel brings together thematic considerations of nonhumanness, biopower, and ethics under the umbrella of a contagion narrative. This paper examines these themes alongside a cultural analysis of human sensibilities that are reconfigured in response to the impact of the fictional pandemic. The reconfigured human sensibilities are posthuman insofar as they internalize the pandemic and are juxtaposed with the enhanced sensibilities of the companion robots. Drawing on theories in posthumanism and virology, this paper adds to the genre of contagion literature by examining the ways in which non-living viruses lead to an evolution in who is considered human and what humanity entails. Beginning with the theoretical interventions into contagion literature and henceforth analysing The Companions as a narrative of posthuman contagion, this paper concludes by situating the novel in the ongoing debate about the viability of posthuman theory even as forces of capitalism bear upon who can be deemed human. As the Coronavirus continues to invade virtually every aspect of life; socio-cultural, political, economic, and course of geographical, the imperative to study a contagion novel such as The Companions becomes all the more urgent. Flynn’s novel attempts to go beyond the universal category of the human but is nonetheless attuned to the larger force of capitalism that exercises far-reaching implications of biopower over these companions species that challenge the human.

Keywords | Posthumanism; Contagion; The Companions; Biopower; Coronavirus.