Review of Week 1 (Jan 10, 12)
[by Dr. Seaman]
On Tuesday we took care of the usual first day of the semester business, which mostly involved my passing information on to you about the course, about your responsibilities as a student in the course, and about the various roles the course blog will play throughout the semester. I tried to give you some sense of what you might expect, about how I see what might appear to be the two contrasting sections of the course (premodern and postmodern) as fitting together within our analysis of historically situated conceptions of the posthuman. We read and discussed Saletan’s essay “You: The Updated User’s Manual” and investigated his attitude toward the changing situation he describes. Some of you pointed us toward his gender assumptions and how these influenced his representation of and response to the changes to human experience and embodiment allowed by developments in technoscience, while others of you noted the way he seemed to read such changes as allowing for and encouraging moral laxity.
Thursday we took a leap forward together, meeting to share our experiences of and responses to the first 3 readings–one a portion of a central critical text (Graham), one a piece of (science) fiction, and one a critical response to the critical concept at the core of the class. We used Graham’s introduction as a way of framing the discussion, not that her way of representing the concept of the posthuman is a standard against which to compare all others. We considered, for instance, how Winner’s analysis and argument seemed to position him in the “disenchantment” camp, though his reasons for assessing the “posthuman future” in the relatively negative way he does are quite different from most of those Graham assumes in her overview. We addressed her explanation for using the term “technoscience” as well as her concerns about “posthuman” without the slash she uses: “post/human.” From Egan’s story “Learning to be Me,” we investigated what seems to happen with the jewel, throughout the story (and in the process what happens to the narrator himself), and what this might suggest about the relationship between the individual self, consciousness, and the body. You then quickly signed up for Review of the Week duties for the second week of class; later weeks will be signed up for on Tuesday.
I wish I’d been able to take note of pertinent ones, so that I might share them with you here. In future, those producing the review will note passages from the readings and visual texts that draw significant attention during class discussion, and they will also present here any observations or questions offered during class discussion that seem especially useful or entertaining.
phenomenology (Graham 3): study of consciousness and objects of direct experience
cyborgs (Graham 3): cybernetic organism (human extended beyond human)
ontological purity (Graham 5): purity of being
normatively human (Graham 5)
atomistic (Winner 37): belief in understanding by taking whole into distinct, separate, independent parts
disenchantment: “the dissolution of the organically human” (6), alienating, dehumanizing, erosion of spiritual essence of humanity; technology engulfs and takes over the human
technocratic: technology as neutral force, tools we deploy and control (8), they only carry out our will
transhumanism: optimism about technology as offering further evolution of the human into something else
re-enchantment: technology as means to approach divinity, as way to “reinject the spiritual” in the material world
Preview of Week 2 (Jan 17, 19)
[by Dr. Seaman]
On Tuesday we will bring Katherine Hayles’ book How We Became Posthuman in to the discussion we started on Thursday with Graham, Winner, and Egan (and will spend some time developing our reading of Egan’s story further than we had time to on Thursday). Hayles’ writing style is quite different from Graham’s, as is her purpose, despite their shared interest in critically analyzing the cultural role of the posthuman and posthumanism in the early 21st century. We will discuss, as well, Davis’s essay from the Hedgehog Review that reviews Hayles’ book (and the conversation to which it is contributing). I hope you’ll find it a helpful aid in your first encounter with Hayles, providing you another reader’s understanding of and response to her argument and highlighting her book’s structure and key concerns.
Our first visual text for the semester is Iron Man, and we will spend part of Tuesday’s class considering what kind of “posthuman” we encounter in this text–which characteristics are embellished, augmented, and/or deleted, which are left untouched–and offer conclusions about which posthuman features are vital to the hero’s success, as well as which human features are necessary to it. We will consider, too, what saves Tony Stark, as well as what it is he is being saved from. On the whole, we will determine what Graham’s and Hayles’ insights into the posthuman help us to see in and conclude about Iron Man.
Tuesday night at 6:30 we will meet in Robert Scott Small (RSS) 252 to watch the Battlestar Galactica miniseries that started it all. I will supply treats of some sort or another to sustain us, though this is a particularly gripping viewing experience that doesn’t particularly need assistance. Please bring a drink for yourself, and if we all agree that we’d like to, we can take a quick break or two along the way.
Thursday we start our encounter with Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go. (Please read the first 100 pages of the the book before Thursday.) I expect that we will spend much of that class laying the groundwork for the novel, making sure that we are all comfortable with our understanding of the plot, characterization, chronology, and so on, and discussing our sense of the novel’s emphases and strategies. What, at this point, does the purpose seem to be in representing the kids the way the author does, and using the narrator the way he does? What is the nature of the relationship between the students and the adults, and among the students themselves? Why the particular rituals that are described in detail? Where do we, the readers, seem to be positioned in terms of the narrative we are observing and interacting with?
We will consider Graham’s first chapter, “Representing the Post/human” and how “fact” and “fiction” might both be, as she sees it, representations–how both technoscience and narrative might be “forms of representation that serve to construct the world rather than simply reflecting an a priori reality” (19). We will look into further detail at “ontological hygiene” and the ways she sees science and fictional narrative as both representations of cultural ideas and values, concepts she presented in brief in her introduction. She also puts to some use theorists such as Foucault that she introduced at points there. She concludes that “The issue at stake…is not about how accurate or adequate a particular identity appears to be but how identities get formed: how definitions of what it means to be human get produced and circulate through practices of representation” (37). We will consider what that might mean–what this issue might be, as she expresses it here and throughout the chapter–and how we respond to that.
On Friday, your first Battlestar Galactica review will be due in OAKS at 11pm.