Abstract: Infinite Oppenheimers and Postnatural Metahistory: Jonathan Hickman’s Manhattan Projects

Below is an abstract for a paper I will be presenting at the 2013 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Conference, taking place October 3-6 a Notre Dame University.

Infinite Oppenheimers and Postnatural Metahistory: Jonathan Hickman’s Manhattan Projects

From the perspective of what number of young scholars and nuclear critics are calling a second nuclear age, I would like to suggest that one site of the “postnatural” can be found in the remarkable cultural intersection between narratives of nuclear history and contemporary ecological understandings of catastrophe and risk. Though there are any number of instances of such aesthetic correspondences and dissonances, for instance the spectacle of cinematic destruction that dominated the last decade, one might do well to look to texts that, parallel to the non-event of Mutually Assured Destruction, eschew moments of narrative disaster. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra’s The Manhattan Projects (Image Comics, 2012- ) is such a text, imagining that work on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos was “a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs.” Hickman’s writing picks up a tradition of re-imagining nuclear history, familiar to any reader of Thomas Pynchon, and adds a superheroic twist: J. Robert Oppenheimer is consumed by his infinite personalities, Enrico Fermi is an alien, F.D.R. is reborn as an A.I., Albert Einstein plays the role of Wolverine, etc. This paper will argue that Hickman’s work emerges from a particular moment in which nuclear, information, and biological sciences are raising a host of interesting questions for contemporary narrative. Hickman’s radically alternative history of twentieth century science and politics emerges from a postnatural perspective whose horizon surpasses the globe, positioning nuclear history within a galactic ecology in order to rigorously problematize the posthuman.