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.
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 really enjoyed Taylor’s creative presentation, it was interesting to see people outside of class react to the questions we discussed over the semester. Personally, I had never even considered that my concept of what it meant to be human was socially constructed or how much it influenced my perception of things. As I watched the interviews, what struck me the most was the variety of responses. People noted the need for free will, intelligence, emotion, and the obvious physical aspects that commonly define humanity. Perhaps the most uniting feature of their responses was the strong strand of traditional liberal humanist notions. Everyone seems to possess this deeply engrained concept (in the United States at least) that being human means the ability to think independently and affect change on their environment. Few people realize the ways in which our aspects environment (especially technological ones) play a part in shaping our world independently of our design. For instance, we also discussed the way in which constant internet action has come to seriously change the way our brain functions. I don’t think the people who invented the internet expected that the very chemical processes of our brains would change! So, coming back to Taylor’s presentation, I find it surprising that the concept of the Post-human is not better known to society, that we still cling to somewhat outdated beliefs. For me, the Post-Human means the awareness of the constantly evolving nature of humanity, effectually inter-connected through all various cultural interactions past and present.
I had a very similar reaction to Jay’s creative presentation as Hannah did. To me, it was very concerning to realize how believable it was — a project like Google Universe is one that I could totally see happening. I thought Jay did a great job of capturing just how invasive Google can be with projects like Google Glasses (and if you think about it, how invasive it already is). Continue reading