Cobb's Metamorphosis
Dan Stein

'Self' is not so much symbol as it is simulation; it depends upon its medium to exist. There is more to us than voltage potentials; we consist of chemicals and tissue that may not be entirely rational.

As Kelly Maudslien writes, the self is not necessarily truly independent of the body. Upon reading Rudy Rucker's Ware Trilogy, I could not keep from thinking about the one and only Gregor Samsa in Kafka's The Metamorphosis.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely.

What had happened to me? he thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human bedroom, only rather too small, lay quiet between the four familiar walls.

As we read Kafka's work, we see that once Gregor's body is transformed, his whole life is changed. Initially, and perhaps most importantly, the amount of autonomous control over his new body is quite lacking, as it takes him a tremendous amount of! time to merely get out of bed.

To get rid of the quilt was quite easy; he had only to inflate himself a little and it fell off by itself. But the next move was difficult, especially because he was uncommonly broad. He would have needed arms and hands to hoist himself! up; instead he had only the numerous little legs which never stopped waving in all directions and which he could not control in the least. When he tried to bend one of them it was the first to stretch itself straight; and did he succeed at last in, making it do what he wanted, all the other legs meanwhile waved the more wildly in a high degree of unpleasant agitation.

As Gregor has not yet adjusted to his new body, we see a parallel in Cobb Anderson's first experiences with his Bopper body. Like Gregor's new insect legs, Cobb discovers there are certain things about his body which he can't quite control.

Without even consciously controlling what he did, Cobb knelt down on the sand and clawed at the vertical scar on his chest. He was too full. Finally he pushed the right spot and the little door in his chest popped open. He tried no to breath as the rotten fish and lukewarm sherry plopped down into the sand in front of him... He stood up, still moving automatically, and went inside to rinse the food cavity out with water. And it wasn't until he was wiping it out with paper towels tha! t he thought to notice anything strange about what he was doing.

The Bopper body doesn't allow Cobb to do what he'd normally do in such a stressful situation, namely get trashed, but as Lora Lee points out, it seems to have a mind of its own which can actively intervene if it wants or needs to.

Yet we see from this evolutionary process that the transition from flesh to robotic hardware is problematic; the human mind, when reduced to software, becomes a reductive piece of an unknown whole. The new robot body houses this human software in a manner that does not preserve the former self but shadows it, even mocks it.

As if losing control of one's own bodily functions isn't bad enough, we find out that as a result of Gregor's metamorphosis, the people around him start to treat him differently. Even his own family starts to react negatively towards Gregor's change, and to treat him as if he isn't even Gregor anymore, but a thing to be dealt with.

"My dear parents," said his [Gregor's] sister, slapping her hand on the table by way of introduction, "things can't go on like this. Perhaps you don't realize that, but I do. I won't utter my brother's name in the presence of this creature, and so I all I say is: we must try to get rid of it. We've tried to look after it and put up with it as far as is humanly possible, and I don't think anyone could reproach us in the slightest."

In the setting presented to us in the Ware trilogy, the Boppers live on the Moon, not with the humans on Earth. These are even hated by Earth's human inhabitants, to the extent that Cobb is terrified to let anyone discover his transformation into! a robot.

Cobb opened the bathroom door and glanced out nervously. He thought he had heard something. It wouldn't do for him to be found talking to himself. If people suspected he was a robot they might lynch.

These transformations of the body, experienced by both Gregor Samsa and Cobb Anderson, seem to have quite negative results on the psyche of these two characters. They eventually feel alone, alienated, and regretful of their transformation. "Immortality my ass", Cobb says, as he starts to realize the downsides of being inside a foreign robot body.

[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's - Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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