Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Our Baconian Posterity: Bio-political Progeny, and Heirs to Interpreted Nature

Fergus Armstrong.

Generations-to-come are prefigured in the already established succession of present and past generations. A prior interpretive synthesis informs even the most vague, general or fleeting allusion to posterity. Anticipation pre-constitutes future generations in two, interrelated ways: (1) as descendants or successive progeny and (2) as heirs or legatees. In imagining the future of humanity we tend to posit tacitly the endurance of both a living, progenitive matrix and a hereditary economy. I shall attempt to explicate the difference between posterity-qua-progeny and posterity-qua-heirs via a close reading of certain passages in Francis Bacon's essay `Of Parents and Children' (1625 version).

Bacon's writings in general embody a framework or perspective that can be characterised as `epochal'. In his literary-philosophical works (such as `The Advancement of Learning', `Novum Organum' and `New Atlantis') he avows both (1) a radically critical appraisal of the intellectual and cultural legacies that deeply inform his contemporary milieu and (2) the present and future innovation of material benefits to the whole of humanity via the reform of natural philosophy and pursuit of properly administered scientific and technological projects.

I shall suggest that Bacon's work can be construed as the early modern, archival encryption of a `bio-politics' and a `materialism' that remain definitive for us. Negotiating between humanism's enduring archive and techno-scientifically determined, material reality, we reconstitute the Baconian legacy for our (post)human posterities.


Fergus Armstrong  (Australia)
Postgraduate Research Student
Department of English
University of Sydney

Fergus Armstrong is a postgraduate research student in the Department of English at the University of Sydney. He is writing a thesis on early and late modern configurations of posterity (generations-to-come). Some of his current research interests are: the works of Francis Bacon, the present and future status of Shakespeare's `procreation' sonnets, Samuel Daniel's Musophilus; humanism and the humanities as structures of expectation; long-term, subterranean time capsules; the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft; earth as material and biogenetic archive.

  • Future
  • Posterity
  • Generation
  • Heredity
  • Post-human
  • Archive
  • Literature
  • Early modernity
  • Late modernity
Person as Subject
  • Bacon, Francis

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)