Sample Exam Question

“Moreover, shape or body is crucial, not incidental, to story. It carries story; it makes story visible; in a sense it is story.” (Bynum “Shape and Story” 180).

How might we apply Bynum’s regard of the body to Margery Kempe and the significance of her own body and her experiences?

Steel – 12/1 OPTIONAL

Karl Steele’s chapter is largely concerned with shaking up preconceived notions of humans and their superiority. He cites several examples (like Marx pg. 5 and Augustine pg. 6) which insist on human beings’ superiority over all living things. Throughout the semester we have investigated ways in which “human” can (and should) be approached without such a bias. Do you think that the modern world still holds on to the opinion that humans are superior to all, or do you think that we are slowly moving away from this belief system? If not, how can we begin to move away from this bias?

Christ as posthuman – 11/29

At the end of his introduction, Bale states, “A human being is never just one thing or another; Kempe might be seen perfectly to encapsulate the paradox of human subjectivity…” (xxxiii). Approaching Kempe as a paradox of subjectivity allows us to read her Book with a posthuman lens. However, I think that the figure of Christ and Kempe’s relationships with Christ also allows for posthuman access. What examples/moments in the text might prompt a posthuman understanding of Christ?

Domesticity and Intimacy – 11/29

On pages xxiv – xxvi, Bale points our attention to the relationship between Kempe and Christ. He ends this section by asking, “Is a life lived through divine communication sacred or profane?” (xxvi). What do you make of Kempe’s relationship, devotion, and marriage to Christ (Chapters 35 and 36). Has Kempe’s religious devotion crossed the line and become profane? If you think that this kind of relationship with Christ is still sacred then why the need for such intimacy?

Paper Proposal

Talking Back: Sophisticated Cognition—A Human/Werewolf Investigation

In a scholarly article, “Becoming More (than) Human,” published in 2007, Dr. Myra Seaman suggests that in a posthumanist world, the traditional human subject is an endangered species. Throughout her article Seaman emphasizes that the posthuman is not an entirely new species but rather a version of homo sapiens that is more human. Oftentimes posthumanism is understood as a more modern concern, however Seaman’s essay is unique in that it cites cases in medieval literature where there exists a kind of posthuman. These medieval posthumans seem to come in the form of hybrids or shape-shifters and almost always incorporate some version of an animal—especially the wolf. For poshumanists like Seaman (see also Bynum and Essed), certain human hybrid species, such as the werewolf, are fascinating not only because of their bizarre nature, but because in being an animal hybrid they possess heightened sensory perception capabilities. It is this kind of advanced technology that allows us to approach medieval hybrid characters with a posthuman perspective.

I agree with nearly all of Seaman’s discussion on understanding medieval posthumans, however I think that parts of her argument that address “experiences of the body—perceived through sensation and processed through emotion” and human/wolf hybrids (or werewolves) “[submitting] to the rational and sensitive ‘person’ directing [their] movements and gestures” could be updated with the incorporation of scholarly work on cognitive biology, sensory perception (in humans and animals), reports on sensory deprivation (primarily in humans), and further exploration of the significance of intermediary beings.

Ultimately, the goal of my paper is not to dispute Seaman’s argument, but instead provide supplemental research that adds to, as well as updates her findings. Additionally, I would like to encourage readers to think more broadly about cognition and encourage the possibility that forms of “human” cognition that we are most familiar with might not be limited to humans; animals could potentially have just as sophisticated cognitive abilities (see Vollmer). If so, it could be argued that cognition and consciousness is not what makes humans human. Perhaps the term “human” itself should either be broadened or become irrelevant altogether.

Liberal Subjectivity 9/20

Hayles suggests that “the cyborg complicated [liberal humanism] by its figuring of a rational subject who is always already constituted by the forces of capitalist markets” (88-87) Do you think the cyborgs in Elysium (the police, parole officers, military agents) are fully conscious and/or rational? Do they own themselves or do they function under the forces of a capitalist market? In what way does this support or contradict what Hayles is saying?