Richard Powers’s Generosity: An Enhancement (2009): Transhumanism, Metafiction and the Ethics of Increasing Human Happiness Levels through Biotechnology

  • Carmen Laguarta Bueno Universidad de Zaragoza


This paper analyzes Richard Powers’s Generosity: An Enhancement (2009), a self-reflexive novel in which Powers explores some of the possibilities and challenges of increasing human happiness levels through biotechnology. As this work sets out to show, Powers’s greatest success in the novel may be his choice to adopt certain conventions typical of metafiction to provide a fervent critique of this pressing issue. Drawing mainly from Waugh’s seminal work on metafiction, the present work analyzes how the different metafictional techniques Powers uses in Generosity combine with the transhumanist discourse on the possibilities that biotechnology opens up in order to create a happier population. Ultimately, this article argues that through building a self-reflexive narrative the writer calls the reader’s attention to the constructed character of the transhumanist view of happiness as an engineering problem. Accordingly, he presents an alternative view of happiness as a state of mind that can be achieved by being resilient in the face of our problems and by enjoying the here and now.

Author Biography

Carmen Laguarta Bueno, Universidad de Zaragoza
Carmen Laguarta-Bueno teaches at the Department of English and German Philology of the University of Zaragoza. Her present research focuses on contemporary U.S. fiction, transhumanism, critical posthumanism, and bioethics. She is the author of a monograph on transhumanism in twenty-first century fiction and of some articles in peer-reviewed journals such as Nordic Journal of English Studies (NJES) and Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos (REN). She has also been an academic visitor at New York University, the University of California, Riverside and at Trinity College, Dublin.


American Psychological Association. 2020. “The Road to Resilience.” American Psychological Association, February 1. [Accessed January 10, 2021].

Bostrom, Nick. 2011. “In Defense of Posthuman Dignity.” In Hansell and Grassie 2011, 55-66.

— et al. 2013. “Transhumanist Declaration (2012).” In More and Vita-More 2013, 54-55.

Domestico, Anthony. 2009. “Pointless Counterpoint.” Commonweal Magazine, October 19. [Accessed January 22, 2021].

Fukuyama, Francis. 2002. Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Grey, Aubrey and Michael Rae. 2007. Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Hamner, Everett. 2011. “The Predisposed Agency of Genomic Fiction.” American Literature 83 (2): 413-41.

Hansell, Gregory R. and William Grassie, eds. 2011. H+/-: Transhumanism and its Critics. Philadelphia: Metanexus.

Höpker, Karin. 2012. “Happiness in Distress: Richard Powers’s Generosity and Narratives of the Biomedical Self.” In Kley and Kucharzewski 2012, 285-312.

Hughes, James. 2004. Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Cambridge: Westview Press.

Ickstadt, Heinz. 2012. “Asynchronous Messaging: The Multiple Functions of Richard Powers’s Fictions.” In Kley and Kucharzewski 2012, 23-43.

Kelly, Bernard. 2009. “Review: Richard Powers’ Generosity.” The Star, November 15. [Accessed January 22, 2021].

Kley, Antje and Jan D. Kucharzewski, eds. 2012. Ideas of Order: Narrative Patterns in the Novels of Richard Powers. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter.

More, Max and Natasha Vita-More, eds. 2013. The Transhumanist Reader. Oxford: Willey-Blackwell.

Piep, Karsten. 2019. “‘You’re going to make us all happy’: Orientalist appropriations of the Berber woman in Richard Powers’s Generosity.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 60 (1): 49-57.

Powers, Richard. 1991. The Gold Bug Variations. New York: William Morrow.

—. 2006. The Echo Maker. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

—. 2009. Generosity: An Enhancement. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The President’s Council on Bioethics. 2003. Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Harper Perennial.

Prince, Gerald J. 1988. “The Disnarrated.” Style 22 (1): 1-8.

Richardson, Brian. 2001. “Denarration in Fiction: Erasing the Story in Beckett and Others.” Narrative 9 (2): 168-75.

Schaefer, Heike. 2012. “The Pursuit of Happiness 2.0: Consumer Genomics, Social Media, and the Promise of Literary Innovation in Richard Powers’s Novel Generosity: An Enhancement.” In Antje and Kucharzewski 2012, 263-84.

Stock, Gregory. 2002. Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava. 2018. “In Pursuit of Perfection: The Misguided Transhumanist Vision.” Theology and Science 16 (2): 200-22.

Walker, Mark. 2013. Happy-People-Pills for All. New York: Wiley Blackwell.

Waugh, Patricia. 1984. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London and New York: Methuen.


Funding data