Since everyone posted a possible question for section 1, I figured I might pose a possibility for the final essay: Throughout this course, we discussed how we perceive ourselves and others as human beings and how it informs the behavior/beliefs of individuals. Using at least one primary text from each section and any number of critical sources, compare and contrast how Medieval and Posthuman authors employed differing views of embodiment (through appearance and/or actions) to assert their claims on what it truly means to be human. For instance, how does Julian of Norwhich’s belief that the human soul as eternally living through God’s love compare to the relationship between Spike and Billie in The Stone Gods? How do these works with contrast Transhumanist notions regarding the possibility of immortality through technology? There are a good number of possibilities.
Susan Akbari says her essay “Becoming Human” on pg.274 that “it is helpful to keep in mind these two pre-modern modes of categorizing the human – one theological, one philosophical; one based on how man differs from what is above him (God), one based on how man differs from what is below him (the animal)” when interpreting medieval literature. Choose one critical text and one imaginative text from the second half of the semester that utilizes a comparison with either the divine or the animal to position the medieval definition of humanity into context and explain why the author chose this particular medium as a point of comparison.
I think this question would be most useful in the first half of the exam, in section II, that deals with short essay questions focused on the material we learned post midterm.
This question would belong in Part I, Section I.
Between pages 278-9, Akbari first explains Seaman’s conception “[h]ybridity [being] essential to Christ’s participation in the human” and then goes on to explain how she believes it “is precisely not a state of hybridity” (Akbari 278-9). The passage that we discussed in class can be found on 279 and would serve as the text that is provided; “Since, in the Aristotelian framework, man already has total animal being (because he is the rational animal, separated from lower animals simply by the power of his mind), the werewolf has always (even when he was a man, before his original transformation) fully participated in animal being. In this respect, the werewolf differs from the Son of God, who takes on human being only at the time of the Incarnation. To put it another way, the werewolf is always already two things at once; Christ becomes two things at once, and that moment is the temporal hinge of sacred history” (Akbari 279).
Based on the complexities of this prompt, it may be better suited in Part I, Section II.
In Part one, Section 1, the explaining the passage section of the final, I think it could be useful for us to respond to a passage from Bynum’s chapter. In this chapter, Bynum explains and dissects the many different wolf-human and metamorphosis stories that have existed throughout history. She displays the many differences between Ovid’s Lycaon and Marie’s Bisclavret towards the middle of the chapter. I found the following passage very thought-provoking and I think it lends itself very well to this section of the final.
“Whereas Ovid’s wolf carries traces of a former self on his skin, there is in Marie a suggestion of over and under, inner and outer, of a person under the shaggy wolf…” (Bynum 172).
(*In my opinion, there is a possibility that one might want to include the sentence that follows the above passage, simply for clarification, but I did not choose to include it here.)
For Part One, Section One of the Final, I think that a passage from Shaw’s “Embodiment and the human from Dante through tomorrow” has a useful passage on p. 170. The passage is as follows: “At the core of the posthuman is the same hermeneutic feature that is key for humanity: the ability to understand the other” (Shaw 170). I think the passage generally sums up Shaw’s challenge of the necessity of embodiment by claiming that it does not matter so much what the posthuman looks like, as long as we can understand it in a human way. He uses Dante’s human interaction with the “trees” after his return from the afterlife as proof that the posthuman will not be about “corporeality but rather the personality and sustainability of their personality” (Shaw 170). Additionally, the passage includes a difficult vocabulary word in hermeneutic — a method of or principle of interpretation. Finally, I think this passage is especially relevant because the idea of an entity with a non-human appearance being interacted with as a human is one that we have repeatedly explored throughout the second half of the semester in werewolf texts such as “Bisclavret” and William of Palerne.
In Bynum’s “Introduction” she portrays the idea of change through metamorphosis and hybridity. Gerald of Wales’ The Topography of Ireland refers to how many of the topics in his book, were similar to things from the past. Bring Bynum’s notion of change into a broader picture, by comparing two works, one pre-modern and one post/human work and put them in connection with each other.
I would also like a question focusing on Bynum’s chapter ‘Shape and Story’. However, I’d prefer it to be focused on her passage about identity. Bynum gives three distinct terms for identity in the very start of the chapter: “identity is that which makes me particularly, distinctively, even uniquely me” , an “identity position”, and “spatiotemporal continuity” (163). I think a good question would involve looking at these issues of identity in terms of ‘Bisclavret’ and ‘William of Palerne’ as well as the modern texts of The Surrogates and maybe even Iron Man (perhaps in analyzing whether he is Iron Man or Tony Stark).
In Part I section two of the final exam, I would like to have a question explaining a the significance of material taken from Bynum’s “Shape and Story.” I think one of the best passages to offer as a prompt to the larger underpinning significance of the medieval conception of personhood and embodiment in this chapter is : “Shape matters…without it, there is no story, and hence no self. For my self is my story, known only in my shape, in the marks and visible behaviors I manifest–whether generic or personal. I am my skin and scar, my gender and pigment, my height and bearing, all forever changing–not just a performance, as some contemporary theory would have it, but a story” (181).
I thought Jay’s presentation on Google Galaxy was a fascinating response to questions about technology we’ve considered in class. A lot of the scientific possibilities we’ve encountered throughout the semester have honestly been difficult for me to imagine, at least in a society that resemble ours. Within our lifetimes, I can’t imagine we’ll witness a harvesting of organs from clones like in Never Let Me Go or manufacturing of skin as seen in Oryx and Crake. However, it is conceivable to me that we may soon find ourselves utilizing tools very much like Google Galaxy. Continue reading