Theories of the posthuman argue that the human is evolving into a new species, a new sort of animal liberated from the ideologic constraints of its body even as it is (re)located, in a visceral way, within that very same body. The posthuman is a figure that demands a reconsideration of what it is to be human, a figure that disrupts binaries, especially human / machine and human / animal. In the introduction to Posthuman Bodies, Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston write, “We have rehearsed the claim that the posthuman condition is upon us and that lingering nostalgia for a modernist or humanist philosophy of the self and other, human and alien, normal and queer is merely the echo of a discursive battle that has already taken place” (19). For Halberstam and Livingston, the posthuman is not a conceptual creature; rather, the transformation, from the human to the posthuman, is already underway.
Posthumanism complicates notions of liberal humanism -- complicates the notion that the human is an enlightened, feeling, thinking, unified subjectivity distinct from its mere body. The prefix “post” in “posthuman” suggests at least 3 things: (1) the posthuman comes after (i.e., later than) the human; (2) the posthuman follows upon the human (i.e., advances our conception of what it is to be human); and (3) the posthuman responds to or rejects the human (i.e., troubles our conception of what it is to be human). The posthuman depends (at least etymologically) upon the human; however, by calling the human so thoroughly into question, the figure of the posthuman implies that the human is, in fact, the more conceptual creature. The monster in Alien does peculiarly posthuman work, beckoning, seizing, and folding our bodies into its monstrous embrace, then biting, tearing, and perforating the culturally-controlled binary oppositions that (fail to) determine us.
Then, a task:
Start a thread in this discussion that poses a question about the film Alien and/or explores how the film intersects with the other text for the week, Halberstam and Livingston’s introduction to Posthuman Bodies. Once you’ve started a thread, populate one of the threads of your peers by responding to their thoughts/questions. Read More...
First, about Donna Haraway’s "A Cyborg Manifesto”:
1. Donna Haraway writes, “by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, in short, we are cyborgs.” What does she mean? What is a “chimera”? Why does she refer to our time as a “mythic time”? Are we, indeed, all cyborgs? How? Why?
2. Haraway talks about how “the boundary between physical and nonphysical is very imprecise for us.” What does she mean by this? What effect do virtual reality, the internet, etc. have on the physical body? What sort of body do we have when we converse in cyberspace (in a chat room, via instant message, e-mail, etc.)?
Then, about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep:
3. Consider all the discussion in the novel of pets. Why is owning an animal so important in the world of the novel? What needs does it fill? Does owning an electric animal fill the same needs?
4. Both dust (15-16) and silence (20) are described as plagues in the novel. Why? What’s so terrifying about them? Look at the particular pages mentioned above and find other examples in the text where either “dust” or “silence” is mentioned.
5. What sort of vision of androids has the novel offered so far? How are they described and/or treated? What is their purpose?
Finally, consider the various connections between Haraway’s essay and the novel. How are the questions I’ve asked above about the two connected? Read More...
1. First, what is a “cyborg”? Create a working definition in your own words?
2. What emotional reactions do you have to the primary arguments posed in the essay? Do you feel like we are all, indeed, becoming cyborgs? Do you agree with the remark that “soon, perhaps, it will be impossible to tell where human ends and machines begin” (13)?
3. Brainstorm by creating a tentative list of ways that you might be considered a cyborg (feel free to use some of the examples from the essay). Then, think about other people you know, starting with close friends and family and, finally, celebrities and popular icons. How many cyborgs do you know?
4. How is the relationship of man and machine depicted in Metropolis? What examples do you see of man and machine becoming indistinguishable?
5. Is the so called “cyborg society” we live in a site of imprisonment or a site of physical and spiritual liberation? Would you describe the dissolving distinction between man and machine as progress? What answers does Metropolis offer for this question?
1. What happens to reality when it's put on film? What is the relationship between the reality we see in the world and the images we see on film? How does Donnie Darko force us to reconsider basic assumptions we have about the "real world" and how it works?
2. What genre do you align this film with most closely? Is it horror, science fiction, comedy, drama, satire, etc., or does it deconstruct the notion of genre altogether? If so, what motivation would it have for doing this?
Then, visit: http://www.donniedarkofilm.com/.
3. What does the site add to your reading of the film? Is the site an art object in its own right, or is its primary function promotional?
4. What connections can you draw between Donnie Darko and Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “The Veldt”? What themes do they all share? Does it feel fruitful or random for me to have assigned them together? This question isn’t rhetorical. As I mentioned, I put them together on instinct, having taught all three in a Posthuman course, but never together before.
5. We’re still moving on our journey toward the posthuman, playing with the line between human and what comes after. Is this movie about the human? Or is it about the what comes after?
And, then, some resources you might consider:
The Wikipedia page for the “human”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human.
An elephant paints a self-portrait: http://youtu.be/He7Ge7Sogrk.
Koko with her kitten: http://youtu.be/XqTUG8MPmGg
“Apes on Film” with a review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes: http://moralmenagerie.com/2011/08/14/apes-on-film/.
And our working definitions of the human from class last week:
What is the human? Proposed definition forthcoming in three parts from the students in my Posthuman class. theposthuman.com— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) July 3, 2012
alive, carbon-based, self-aware, curious, dynamic, mortal, emotional, controlling, manipulative, egocentric, creative, abstract-thinkers— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) July 3, 2012
Evolved on earth over the last 3 million years. Humans can talk philosophy. Hedonism. Self-defined species. Creative. Read and write books.— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) July 3, 2012
Human: A living being supported by a system of inventions to sustain habitable environments and an intuitive retainer of evolving emotions.— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) July 3, 2012
What are your thoughts on the experience of reading excerpts from Walden on a computer screen? Did you print them out before reading? What do you think Thoreau would have thought about us using a computer to read his work?
At what point does nature end and the human begin? Is technology natural? Is technology human? Is culture natural? Is culture human? What questions do these texts (Encounters at the End of the World and Walden) raise for us in this class? What potential directions do they propose for our discussions about the posthuman?