SoSe 19: Posthumanism and the Novel: Brute, Cyborg, Zombie, Superhero
The critical consensus that we have never been human is gathering force. The “human being” is increasingly regarded as a construct of the Enlightenment invented to shore up boundaries between humans, ... read more
The critical consensus that we have never been human is gathering force. The “human being” is increasingly regarded as a construct of the Enlightenment invented to shore up boundaries between humans, animals, and machines. Since the 1990s, scholarship on posthumanism has actively sought to deconstruct such boundaries by firmly re-embedding humanity in its biological and technological environments. Human exceptionalism is giving way to a view of human-machine coevolution that radically questions long cherished preconceptions about human agency and autonomy, individualism and universalism, along with the political, economic, and cultural beliefs tied up with these issues. At the same time, since the late nineteenth century the novel—a privileged medium for rendering human consciousness—has been invaded by a host of characters with decidedly sub- or suprahuman characteristics: the figure of the brute (animal and human), the cyborg (human and machine), the zombie (dead and alive), and the superhero (human and god) have all helped to unsettle the humanist assumptions underlying the novel form. At once terrifying and exhilarating, these liminal characters are used to negotiate difficult issues at the heart of contemporary debates about the future of humanity. By combining readings of posthumanist theory with readings of four novels that problematize what it means to be human in different ways, the aim of this class is both to familiarize students with the field of critical posthumanism and to develop the reading skills that will allow us to decipher the current infestation of posthuman monsters in contemporary US culture.
The four novels that we will read are Frank Norris’s Vandover and the Brute (1914), Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011), and Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon (2014).