paper proposal woodward

“Them Vs. Us: Posthuman Values and Boundaries in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road”

My project will involve a posthuman reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While recent scholarship (see Shelly Rambo and Christopher Pizzino) has shed new light on McCarthy’s attention to philosophical values within the novel, there has been considerably less attention to what I would suggest are the obvious “posthuman” qualities of the text. The wanderings of a father and son through an apocalyptic wasteland serves as vehicle for McCarthy to offer commentary on the failure (and indeed disaster) of the unchecked individualism and private subjectivity brought on by the spread of traditional humanist values.

Inspired by a previous project involving an eco-critical approach to McCarthy’s masterful Child of God, I intend to first ground my analysis in the nature-centric and boundary concerned  work of scholars Gabriella Blasi and James Corby. With the ownership of nature by man no longer possible, Blasi asserts that the continuation of humanist “rights” is equally impossible. I am very interested in putting Blasi’s position together with that of Corby in his article “Originary Translation in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road” wherein he argues that the nameless boy in the novel serves a kind of cultural storage unit. I think McCarthy’s posthuman discourse is most readily found in these two “parts” of his novel: ecological disaster and the attempted (and possibly futile) preservation of cultural information through language and morality. The ecological death that pervades the text’s landscapes forces moral choices (weather to disregard humanity through cannibalism), effects the transmission of language, and brings to the forefront the importance (or perhaps the futility) of retaining cultural information through visual witnessing.

Though I am convinced of the posthuman characteristics of The Road, I am still unsure about how much “work” my project will need to complete in order to ensure my audience shares my view of the posthuman. Much of the criticism surrounding the text seems to cling to a reading of the novel as outwardly humanist and optimistic, leaving me unsure about the best way to combat this common critical position. Finally, as probably indicated in the section above, at this stage, I am unsure weather I should pursue further the notion that what I see as the “preservation” effort of humanist values taken on by the father and son is truly depicted as futile.

The “Common”

In a portion of Mandeville’s description of India, he goes to great lengths to discuss the “common” among some in Indian society. He writes that, among other things, “all the crops are held in common…nothing is locked away and each man is as rich as another” (79). Given Mandeville’s clear concern with the material culture / “goods” from the places Continue reading