The Posthuman

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." ~ George Orwell

COURSE DESCRIPTION:


In this course, we will think about what it is to be human and about how the human is being transformed by rapid advances in technology. Through our close examination of films like Metropolis, Donnie Darko, and Night of the Living Dead, we will consider the following sorts of questions: What is our relationship as a species to the rest of the natural world? How have we evolved and how will we continue to evolve? In our incessant push toward invention, what sorts of monstrous havoc are we wreaking? Conversely, what sorts of wonders and miracles do evolution and invention beget? Finally, how do we relate to one another, how do we construct a politics, in this new era of the posthuman?

The posthuman is a figure that demands a reconsideration of what it is to be human, a figure that disrupts binaries, especially the distinction between man and machine. 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. 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.

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. Corpses are posthuman in a very literal sense. They have the material shape of the human but few of its requisite features. They are an evolution of the human, an annihilation of the human, a rewriting of what it is to be human. The zombie does similar 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) (pre)determine us.

We’ll also consider our own relationship to the works of the course (and our own potential for transformation), exploring the real (psychological and physical) impact literature and film have on us. The subjects of the course will lead us through some difficult terrain (topics like monstrosity, genetic manipulation, bodily mutilation, dead bodies, etc.). And, thus, we will likely have to sludge through a little gore along the way, so if you are utterly squeamish you would probably prefer another course.