ABSTRACT

The article focuses on how the motif of avatar was employed on artistic, political and philosophical levels from the original stages of its reception in Romantic orientalism to its contemporary usage in posthumanist orientalism. Eastern Europe, for most of its history situated on the peripheries of Western politics and culture, offers an alternative perspective on the East and the reflection on the motif of avatar is taken from this standpoint. After losing independence to Russian, German or Austrian centres of power, the cultures of Eastern Europe existed in diaspora for over 150 years. On these peripheries and within the diaspora, Western orientalism did take a unique turn. While discussing Romantic orientalism, we demonstrate how the position of superiority present in British, French and German orientalism was displaced by an apprehensive search for liberatory motifs and messianic ideas. While reflecting on posthumanist orientalism, our comparative study of works by Lem, Tokarczuk and Smrekar demonstrates how Eastern inspired motifs can stimulate discourses on the emerging typologies of human enhancement. Whereas the figure of avatar in nineteenth century poetry took allegorical dimensions, in twenty-first century it is taking a pragmatic turn by inspiring both post-human visions of the future and current applications of bio-engineering on the human body or on the entire species. The original vertical axis of avatar descendence is given alternative, non-vertical directions. Indeed, rooted in Indian mythology and represented in contemporary fiction and laboratory bio-art, the transhumanist themes of enhancement, immortality and avatarian transfers between virtual and non-virtual, human and non-human realms, ultimately raise vital issues—and inevitably propose new interdisciplinary trajectories for current post-colonial studies.

KEYWORDS: avatar, Romanticism, posthumanist orientalism, virtual reality, speculative fiction, transhumanism