Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Critical Posthumanisms

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DESCRIPTION This unit reviews posthumanism as a shaping episteme of our times which engages with the “transhumanising” aspects of new media, the life sciences, and the various bio-, nano-, cogno- and info-technologies that look to reshape the reach and the nature of the human and, by extension, the humanities. The unit therefore explores how technology, its promises and its threats have been represented in literature (particularly in English and American texts) , theory, philosophy and popular culture.

It also considers posthumanism's differences and affinities in regard to postmodernism and poststructuralism.

An overview of major literary texts within the canon which have come in for major posthumanist appropriation,among them Ovid's Metamorphoses and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, will be provided, and close reference will be made to key passages in Dante, More, Shakespeare, Poe, Stoker, Stevenson, Wells, Gibson, Powers, Gaiman, etc., before moving on to consideration of some of the key thinkers in this field, among them Donna Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles, Cary Wolfe, Bruce Clarke, Eugene Thacker, Rosi Braidotti, Stefan Herbrechter and others. Reference is made to the work of figures like Heidegger, David Wills, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Jurgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson and others in order to help students think further about how posthumanism can become a critical paradigm. Finally, students will be asked to think further about posthumanist themes and tropes in popular culture, especially in film and television.

Study-unit Aims

This unit aims to:
- introduce students to the distinctiveness of posthumanism as an episteme;
- help students decide whether and how posthumanism can be viewed as a critical paradigm;
- establish definitional issues within posthumanism;
- establish the conceptual background to posthumanism within literature, myth, philosophy, and critical theory;
- review posthumanist figurations in myth, literature and popular culture;
- make students aware of how technology has been figured and approached within diverse discourses within the humanities, both classically and currently;
- help students appreciate why, in this field, popular culture can turn canonical;
- help students appreciate the wealth and influence of English and American literature in the field of posthumanist literature and culture;
- help students relate posthumanism to postmodernism, to transhumanism and to futurological approaches to culture and society.

Learning Outcomes

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- value the urgency and resonance of posthumanism as a critical paradigm;
- appreciate the specificity of posthumanism as, variously, a field of study; an observed episteme, dominant (Tynyanov) or structure of feeling (Williams); a trend within contemporary art, literature and popular culture;
- handle the ideas of figures like Haraway, Hayles, Wolfe, Clarke, Thacker, Braidotti, etc.;
- appreciate the major themes and tropes within the posthumanist imagination and their rich contextual and conceptual extensions within the History of Ideas;
- relate popular or mainstream posthumanism to perspectives drawn from literary and critical theory;
- identify and critically evaluate the major debates and documents within posthumanism;
- distinguish between 'posthumanism' and 'post-humanism'.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- distinguish between transhumanism, posthumanism and "critical posthumanism";
- critically analyse posthumanist themes and tropes within canonical texts and popular culture;
- contrast Heideggerian outlooks on "the question concerning technology" with Haylesian ideas on "how we became posthuman";
- engage with the interdisciplinary extensions of posthumanism;
- discern and critique the "posthumanist unconscious", as it has been termed, within diverse aspects of contemporary culture.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings

- Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Translated by D. Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Badmington, N. (ed.) (2000) Posthumanism. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.
- Braidotti, R. (2012) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity.
- Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.
- Clarke, B. (2008) Posthuman Metamorphoses: Narrative and Systems. New York: Fordham University Press.
- Derrida, J. (2008) The Animal that Therefore I Am, In: M.L. Mallet (ed.). Translated by David Wills. New York: Fordham University Press.
- Graham, E. (2002) Representations of the Post/human. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
- Habermas, J. (2003) The Future of Human Nature. Cambridge: Polity.
- Haraway, D. (1991) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association.
- Haraway, D. (2008) When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Hayles, N.K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Hayles, N.K. (2005) My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Hayles, N.K. (2006) Traumas of code. Critical Inquiry 33(1): 136–157.
- Heidegger, M. (1977) The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, Translated by W. Lovitt. New York: Harper and Row.
- Stiegler, B. (1998) Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, Translated by R. Beardsworth and G. Collins. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Stiegler, B. (2009) Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation, Translated by S. Barker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Stiegler, B. (2010) Technics and Time, 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise, Translated by S. Barker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Thacker, E. (2004) Biomedia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Thacker, E. (2007) The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Thacker, E. (2010) After Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Weisman, A. (2007) The World without Us. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.
- Wolfe, C. (2010) What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM2 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Ivan Callus

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