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ENGL 607.80 - The Posthuman

Instructor: Dr. A. Camara
Schedule: R 10:00-12:45

Course Description:

The 1999 publication of N. Katherine Hayles’s landmark work, How We Became Posthuman, signalled the increasing importance of notions of the Posthuman to contemporary cultural, technological, and literary studies. Since the appearance of that work, a profusion of cross-disciplinary scholarly interest has transformed the Posthuman in ways that not even Hayles herself envisioned. For example, in his work Posthuman Life (2014), David Roden uses advancements in cognitive science and technology studies in order to suggest the possibility of fully digitizing human consciousness and uploading it to a computer network, thereby challenging Hayles’s emphasis on embodiment as a necessary precondition for future Posthuman beings. Moreover, in the last seven years, the philosophical movement called “Speculative Realism” has exerted a huge impact—inside and outside its discipline—on critical formulations of the Posthuman. Challenging Immanuel Kant’s insistence on the un-thinkability of the noumenon, or the thing-in-itself, this philosophical orientation explores the reality of objects and the non-human cosmos by deploying speculation as a rigorous method of inquiry. Although the various schools united under the umbrella term “Speculative Realism” have since parted ways, the movement persists in the enduring popularity of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO), which deploys aesthetics in order to inform its discussions of material entities and metaphysics. Thus OOO enjoys a special influence on literary critics, especially those working in the fields of ecocriticism, science fiction, and horror. Yet OOO is just one example taken from a diverse body of emerging critical theories that investigate the Posthuman, among them New Materialist Feminisms, Thing Theories, and Inhuman Phenomenology. 

The objective of this course is to familiarize students with key developments in the intellectual history of the Posthuman, with emphasis on its articulation in the fields of critical theory and literature. By the end of the course, students should not only have an understanding of the Posthuman informed by its foundational expressions as well as its contemporary innovations, but they should also be able to draw on the Posthuman as a lens for textual analysis. To that end, many course readings will be philosophical in nature, but the syllabus also includes novels, a film, and a serialized comic book. Class assignments include two short annotation exercises, in which the student locates a difficult passage from a work and uses secondary sources in order to explicate the passage and pose discussion questions. Students will also complete a twenty-minute in-class presentation on any work from the syllabus, and a 4,000 word (minimum) final paper, which can be based on the presentation. Philosophical readings are by N. Katherine Hayles, Graham Harman, Vilém Flusser, Rosi Braidotti, Jane Bennett, and David Roden, while the fictional texts are by H. P. Lovecraft, Greg Egan, Charles Burns, Octavia Butler, Juliana Spahr, and Charles Stross. The class includes a screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).