This post, about the heroine Vin from the book Mistborn, contains major spoilers for the series. No, seriously, this isn’t casual spoiler time, this post contains notable story-ruining plot-twisting spoilers. Unless you’re determined never to read the books, please don’t ruin this for yourself. (Even if you haven’t read the Mistborn series, this post does assume you’ve read the previous blog post about Vin, which you can find by clicking here.)
Posthumanism is a big topic with a lot of big ideas, but they stem from a central idea, or a central question: What makes a human actually a cyborg, instead of a human?
The nerdiest (and possibly most common) answer is, “whenever their humanity is directly intersected by technology,” or whenever they have a robotic appendage. The answer is much more complex, however; if a human relying on technology makes them a cyborg, then what if the technology is a pacemaker, hearing aid, or a pair of reading glasses? What if a human isn’t relying on a robotic appendage, but simply uses it in day-to-day life, or is who they are as a byproduct of their appendage? If these examples also count, then every person in modern society is technically a cyborg. With that conclusion out of the way, we can explore the relationship people then have with technology and the world around them, and leave behind a notion that “human” is a separate entity from the influences of the outside world – after all, as we’ve just noted, everyone is a cyborg, so we have no example or frame for “human” outside of what is also “cyborg.” Thus the label ‘posthumanism.’
Posthumanism explores ideas of human development, reliance on and integration of technology, body image (and purpose, and use), and the ‘making’ of people. After all, cyborgs aren’t born, they’re created…but if everyone is a cyborg, then what creates them?
Posthumanism as a lens lends itself very well to Mistborn, and specifically Vin, thanks to a number of parallels that conveniently line up – for example, though neither posthumanism nor Vin are actually about metal and technology, they both frequently use metal and technology as a vehicle and conduit. Vin, as an Allomancer and Mistborn, carries glass vials of metal flakes, which she has to swallow and ‘burn’ in her stomach in order to use her powers. When others fight Vin, they use glass or obsidian daggers, because Vin can push and pull on metal objects with her mind – in fact, metal armor makes Vin’s enemies more vulnerable, as it lets her control them directly. Inversely, Vin keeps metal on her at all times, because she can propel any small piece of metal at extreme speeds, weaponizing coins, trinkets, nails, silverware, and anything else handy. Even carrying metal is a sign of either rampant foolishness or extreme confidence, which doesn’t deter Vin in the slightest.
Yet, excluding a bag of metal coins and such, Vin never carries glass daggers, swords, or any other weapon – throughout the story, Vin instead uses her body as a weapon in a literal sense, burning metals in her stomach to enhance her physical strength, speed, and agility. Vin fights and moves using her surroundings and wit, pushing her enemies into weapons or disarming opponents into their own weapons rather than staying armed herself. As she increases in skill and embodies and more and more literal “weaponized” heroine, she embraces a repeated metaphor that characters in Mistborn use to refer to her – she is the Knife, or the Assassin. Despite being characteristically unarmed, petite, and even weak, Vin is seen taking down entire armies using just her self.
Vin, as nothing more than an isolated ‘human’ could never actually take down armies. She’s small, malnourished, and has had little opportunity in her short life to work out and get stronger. Yet, her Allomancy is a part of her genetically, despite requiring an outside and ‘non-human’ component to work. Even though Vin has to swallow metal to use her powers, if we equate ‘electricity running through silicon to make things happen’ to ‘magic,’ there’s little difference between Vin’s Allomancy and a cyborg with metal in their body to use robotic abilities – both are equally integral to their character. Vin as an ‘isolated human’ is the same as Vin as an Allomancer – she is, by definition, a cyborg, and Allomancy poignantly makes the point that ‘humanism’ is not and can not be isolated from its external influence.
But there’s more. As Mistborn (the series) goes on, it’s revealed that Allomancy is just one tier of the full magic system; where Allomancy requires consuming metal to release power through people, there’s also Feruchemy, which stores power in metal for people, and Hemalurgy, which requires consuming people to release power through metal.
Through Hemalurgy and the sacrifice of some Allomancers and Feruchemists, metal objects can be charged with power and then stabbed through other people. This lets those other people harness otherwise genetically inaccessible Allomantic and Feruchemical powers, so long as they keep said metal objects piercing their body. In addition to gaining the ability to have multiple powers, and needing to keep large metal spikes in your body at all times, Hemalurgists get the added benefit of hearing Ruin, the God of Destruction, speak as dozens of voices in your mind, driving you insane. With both the sociological aspects of posthumanist study, and the more literal comparison of having metal implanted in your body to gain new abilities (and the discussion of sacrifice and where to draw the line on a purist view of humanity), Hemalurgy serves as a fascinating comparison to more traditional cyborgs in the world of Mistborn. But how does Hemalurgy relate at all to Vin?
In the preview picture to this blog post and the last blog post about Vin, did you notice the small metal stud piercing her ear?
Vin has an earing, which she affectionately keeps in her ear throughout the story. Vin showcases being much stronger than other Mistborn, sometimes even accomplishing feats with Allomancy that were previously thought to be impossible. See where I’m going with this?
Vin’s earing is actually a Hemalurgic spike, and grants her enhanced Allomantic powers (as well as the trauma of hearing Ruin speak into her mind through her half-brother’s voice, influencing her decisions and perceptions of the world around her). She is, in other words, enhanced by a piece of metal technology that she considers integral to her being. Though Vin can (and at times does) remove her earing without much suffering, other character have spikes through their chest (or through their eyes and out the back of their heads), and if these characters have their Hemalurgic spikes removed, they die.
Posthumanism as a lens and concept is showcased brilliantly with Vin.