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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Posthumanism
Posted: November 20, 2019 at 5:48 am
The idea that humanity can be transformed, transcended, or eliminated either by technological advances or the evolutionary process; artistic, scientific, or philosophical practice which reflects this belief.
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Posted: at 5:48 am
About Posthumanism TheoryIn as brief a definition as possible, humanism is centered on the idea that human needs, values, concerns, and ideals are of the highest importance, or that the human being is the epitome of being. As a development of this idea, posthumanism is based on the notion that humankind can transcend the limitations of the physical human form. In a traditional sense, humans have been considered to be solidly and indisputably classified as high-functioning animals, but animals nonetheless. In this way, the same biological and physical constraints that limit the entire animal kingdom tether humankind to that base level. Posthumanism Theory suggests it is both possible and for the best for humans to attempt to surpass these limitations, often through the use of technology to augment biology (in a way, using the physiological capacity of the human brain to accelerate the functions of the entire human form).This progressive mentality is an important aspect of the human condition to consider in the course of modern document design and technical rhetoric. Operating under posthumanism ideals requires authors and creators to venture into the hypothetical and the unexplored because these are the areas that build upon and even improve what we already have established. Posthumanism holds this sentiment at heartthe idea that we, as humans, have no inherent barrier to making our physical and mental functionality much more efficient and powerful than it currently is. To apply these ideals to writing and rhetoric, there is the potential to incorporate the conventions of posthumanism both integrally and progressively. Integrally, a posthuman text should reflect the central ideas of posthumanism: what can authors do to make their texts transcend the perceived limitations of text and writing? How can documents be made to do more than what they currently can do, and how can their readability, usability, and accessibility be expanded? Progressively, a posthuman text should relatably adapt for evolutions in interaction: it might explore such questions as how will human interaction with documents change in the next 10, 20, 50, or 100 years? How can texts encourage mental expansion? What changes in technology can be predicted and accounted for in the delivery and interaction with documents and writing?Progressions in Usability and FunctionalityWhile the primary focus of posthumanist progression lies in the realm of higher technology, there are developments both in effect and yet to come that have much to do with technical writing and rhetoric. For many, many centuries, writing has been constrained to paper with static text. In more recent decades, the advent of computers and the Internet have caused documents to evolve and adapt. Institution of newer technologies allows for new methods of interactivity, which allow different senses to be utilized by human beings who interact with such documents. Through the use of technology, document designers and writers can allow their readers to interact at a more functional level which is more natural and fully engaging than mere reading.The qualities of new media enable documents and their interactive elements to tap into the human mind to a higher degree. In that way, technology is being utilized to better the human experience and tap into the full range of human capability. New developments in technology such as mobile phones, touch screens, e-readers, and other similar technology afford better interactivity and have evolved the way humans interact with their professional and social worlds. Technology is always changing to accommodate more natural, intuitive means of interactivitybut the most posthuman aspect of this technological innovation creep is the ubiquity of technology that allows delivery of writing and documents. Technology has filled in an accessibility gap that now grants access to documents and writing not only on printed paper, but on desktop computers, laptop computers, smartphones, and other such devices. This technology augments human beings' functionality from two directionsit enhances the ability of the audience to read and respond to writing, and it also enhances the ability of the author to create and distribute his or her writing.Posthumanist rhetoric requires a full understanding of the operation of the human being as an entity, both collectively as an audience and singularly as individual readers. Writing and rhetoric are able to be at their most posthuman when they utilize technology to transcend the physicality of humans as well as the temporality of their existence. In this way, authors begin accommodating more means of delivery and spreading the availability and accessibility of documents in addition to making documents available at much more timely intervalseven as far as on-demand. Posthuman authors who embrace technological advances gain new dimensions of interactivity both within their text as well as in response to their text. A posthuman rhetoric mindset enables the document to blossom further as a medium as it works in harmony with the qualities of its audience and their humanity.
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Posted: at 5:48 am
This entry originally appeared in Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova, eds., Posthuman Glossary (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). Reproduced with permission.
Critical posthumanism is a theoretical approach which maps and engages with the ongoing deconstruction of humanism (cf. Badmington 2000). It differentiates between the figure of the posthuman (and its present, past and projected avatars, like cyborgs, monsters, zombies, ghosts, angels etc.) and posthumanism as the social discourse (in the Foucauldian sense) which negotiates the pressing question of what it means to be human under the conditions of globalisation, technoscience, late capitalism and climate change (often, very problematically, by deliberately blurring the distinctions between science fiction and science fact [cf. science faction in Herbrechter, 2013]).
The prefix post- (in analogy with the discussion of the postmodern and postmodernism following Lyotard ) has a double meaning: on the one hand, it signifies a desire or indeed a need to somehow go beyond humanism (or the human), while on the other hand, since the post- also necessarily repeats what it prefixes, it displays an awareness that neither humanism nor the human can in fact be overcome in any straightforward dialectical or historical fashion (for example, in the sense: after the human, the posthuman).
The critical in the phrase critical posthumanism gestures towards the more complicated and non-dialectical relationships between the human and the posthuman (as well as their respective dependence on the nonhuman). Posthumanism in this critical sense functions more like an anamnesis and a rewriting of the human and humanism (i.e. rewriting humanity, in analogy with Lyotards notion of rewriting modernity). Critical posthumanism asks a number of questions that address these complications: how did we come to think of ourselves as human? Or, what exactly does it mean to be human (especially at a time when some humans have apparently decided that they are becoming or have already become posthuman)? What are the motivations for this posthumanising process and when did it start? What are its implications for nonhuman others (e.g. the environment, animals, machines, God, etc.)?
The adjective critical in the phrase critical posthumanism thus signifies at least two things. It refers to the difference between a more or less uncritical or popular (e.g. in many science fiction movies or popular science magazines) and a philosophical and reflective approach that investigates the current postanthropocentric desire. This desire articulates itself, on the one hand, in the form of an anticipated transcendence of the human condition (usually through various scenarios of disembodiment an approach (and an entire movement) that is best designated by the term transhumanism) and, on the other hand, through a (rather suspicious) attempt by humans to argue themselves out of the picture precisely at a time when climate change caused by the impact of human civilisation (cf. Anthropocene) calls for urgent and responsible, human action.
The other meaning of critical is a defence and possibly a reinvention of some humanist values and methodologies which, in the face of a fundamental transformation provoked by digitalisation and the advent of ubiquitous computing and social media, appear to have become obsolete, or to be in urgent need of revision (esp. critical methodologies which are related to traditional forms of literacy, reading and thinking). The question here is how to remain critical in the sense of developing reading techniques, forms of conceptualisations and subjectivities that are both self-reflexive and aware of their own genealogies (i.e. able to stay critically connected with humanist traditions and esp. literal, literary and textual approaches).
Studies of literatures 21st-century extensions have questioned the broader resonances of the idea that the literary is currently being overtaken by processes of digitalisation, globalisation and technoscientific change. In this current supposedly post-literary moment, a critical posthumanist (and countertextual) approach is both aware and wary of the contemporary desire to leave the humanist apparatus of literacy and its central institution of literature, with all its social, economic and cultural-political implications, its regimes of power and its aesthetics behind.
To counter the trend of seeing posthumanism merely as the next theory fashion, my Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis takes as its starting point the question as to what extent poststructuralism and deconstruction have anticipated current posthumanist formulations and critiques of subjectivity. This aspect is particularly important with regard to the current discussion about the relevance and future role of the humanities. The first academic publications that systematically engage with the idea of the posthuman and posthumanism appear in the late 1990s and early 2000s (in books and articles by Neil Badmington, Rosi Braidotti, Elaine L. Graham, N. Katherine Hayles, Cary Wolfe and others), all of which approach posthumanism through a more or less poststructuralist or deconstructive lens. They do so, however, by embracing two new aspects: a return to or of the question of technology (as it had been provocatively formulated by Heidegger) and the question of the future of the humanities.
An increasing part of the academy and the (theoretical) humanities in particular have been embracing this new context to form new, interdisciplinary alliances with the sciences and critical science studies (e.g. with Bruno Latours actor-network-theory, speculative realism, or new feminist materialism). One major aspect concerns the redefinition of the relationship between humans and technology or the role of the history of technics for human (and non-human) evolution. Donna Haraways early work on the cyborg (in the 1980s) received the widespread discussion it deserved. Attempts to rethink the ontological aspect of technology and the political role of technological determinism, however, also look at previous philosophies of technology (esp. in Heidegger, Ellul and Simondon), most prominently, in Bernard Stieglers work. In the aftermath of the so-called science wars, which highlighted at once the necessity of cultural recuperations of scientific practice and the call for a new dialogue between the sciences and the humanities, the new or posthumanities (cf. the title of Cary Wolfes influential series with University of Minnesota Press) are set to overcome the traditional two cultures divide at last.
This is, however, happening under extremely adverse conditions: the material base of an increasingly globalised advanced and neoliberal capitalism, and the transition from analog (humanist, lettered, book or text-based) to digital (posthumanist, code, data or information-based) societies, cultures and economies. The currently emerging posthumanities therefore have to engage with the positive but also the problematic aspects of the transformative potential that a new dialogue or alliance between the humanities and the sciences contains. The focus on the posthuman as a discursive object, on posthumanism as a social discourse and on posthumanisation as an ongoing historical and ontological process, allows both communities the humanities and sciences to create new encounters and test new hypotheses that may lead to greater political and ethical awareness of the place of the human, the nonhuman and their environments (especially in connection with pressing issues like climate change, depletion of natural resources, the destruction of biodiversity, global migration flows, terrorism and insecurity, biopolitics etc.).
Basically, what is at stake is a rethinking of the relationship between human agency, the role of technology and environmental and cultural factors from a post- or non-anthropocentric perspective. Postanthropocentric posthumanities are still about humans and the humanities but only in so far as these are placed within a larger, ecological, picture (cf. for example the institutionalisation of medical humanities, environmental humanities, and digital humanities).The latter, in particular, will have to address the role of new and converging media and their social and cultural implications, as well as the proliferation of digital and virtual realities and their biopolitical dimensions (e.g. new forms of surveillance and commodification, new subjectivities and biomedia [cf. Thacker, 2004]).
Critical posthumanism thus draws together a number of aspects that constitute our early twenty-first-century reality and cosmology and links these back genealogically to their beginnings and prefigurations within humanism itself (cf. Herbrechter & Callus, 2005 and 2012).
Coventry University, November 2017
 Neil Badmington, ed., Posthumanism (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).
 Stefan Herbrechter, Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp.107-34.
 Jean-Franois Lyotard,The Postmodern Explained to Children: Correspondence 1982-1985 (Sydney: Power Publications, 1992).
 Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991).
 See for instance the journal, CounterText (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), accessible at: <http://www.euppublishing.com/journal/count>.
 Herbrechter, 2013.
 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977) pp.283-318.
 Rosi Braidotti (2013), The Posthuman (Polity Press: Cambridge).
 Eugene Thacker (2004), Biomedia (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis).
Ellul, Jacques, Le Systme technicien (Paris: Le Cherche Midi, 2004 ).
Graham, Elaine P., Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002).
Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
Haraway, Donna, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).
Hayles, N. Katherine, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
Herbrechter, Stefan and Ivan Callus, eds., Posthumanist Shakespeares (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
Herbrechter, Stefan and Ivan Callus, eds., Cy-Borges: Memories of the Posthuman in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2005).
Latour, Bruno, Reassessing the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Simondon, Gilbert, Sur la technique (1953-1983) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2014).
Stiegler, Bernard, Technics and Time, (3 vols.) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, (2008-2011).
Wolfe, Cary, What Is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
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Posted: August 11, 2017 at 6:06 pm
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Dr Harry T Dyer is a digital sociologist and lecturer in education at the University of East Anglia.
Harry joined UEA as a lecturer after successfully completing his PhD with UEA in the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning. He has a broad academic background, with degrees in linguistics and social science research methods, as well as his ongoing research in online identity presentation.
Harrys current research is in the emerging field of Digital Sociology, in which he looks at how social media platform design affects identity presentation and social interaction. His research proposes a new theoretical framework through which to consider the relationship between platform design and user that results in unique but bound identity performances.
Harry has taught on a range of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, including courses on research methodology, social theory, media and education, and research ethics. Given his broad academic background, Harrys research and teaching interests are equally expansive, and include education, digital sociology, identity theory, social theory, science and technology studies, research methodology, ethics, sociolinguistics, posthumanism, poststructuralism, and media.
Posted: July 12, 2017 at 12:14 pm
Cyborg anthropology is a discipline that studies the interaction between humanity and technology from an anthropological perspective. The discipline is relatively new, but offers novel insights on new technological advances and their effect on culture and society.
Donna Haraways 1985 ""A Cyborg Manifesto" was the first widely-read academic text to explore the philosophical and sociological ramifications of the cyborg. A sub-focus group within the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting in 1992 presented a paper entitled "Cyborg Anthropology", which cites Haraway's "Manifesto". The group described cyborg anthropology as the study of how humans define humanness in relationship to machines, as well as the study of science and technology as activities that can shape and be shaped by culture. This includes studying the ways that all people, including those who are not scientific experts, talk about and conceptualize technology. The sub-group was very closely related to STS and the Society for the Social Studies of Science. More recently, Amber Case has been responsible for explicating the concept of Cyborg Anthropology to the general public. She believes that a key aspect of cyborg anthropology is the study of networks of information among humans and technology.
Many academics have helped develop cyborg anthropology, and many more who haven't heard the term still conduct research that may be considered cyborg anthropology. Amber Case likes to tell people that the actual number of self-described cyborg anthropologists is "about seven".The Cyborg Anthropology Wiki, overseen by Case, aims to make the discipline as accessible as possible, even to people who do not have a background in anthropology.
Cyborg anthropology uses traditional methods of anthropological research like ethnography and participant observation, accompanied by statistics, historical research, and interviews. By nature it is a multidisciplinary study; cyborg anthropology can include aspects of Science and Technology Studies, cybernetics, feminist theory, and more.
The object of study for cyborg anthropology is the cyborg. Originally coined in a 1960 paper about space exploration, the term is short for cybernetic organism. A cyborg is traditionally defined as a system with both organic and inorganic parts. In the narrowest sense of the word, cyborgs are people with machinated body parts. These cyborg parts may be restorative technologies that help a body function where the organic system has failed, like pacemakers, insulin pumps, and bionic limbs, or enhanced technologies that improve the human body beyond its natural state. In the broadest sense, all human interactions with technology could qualify as a cyborg. Most cyborg anthropologists lean towards the latter view of the cyborg; some, like Amber Case, even claim that humans are already cyborgs because people's daily life and sense of self is so intertwined with technology. Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" suggests that technology like virtual avatars, artificial insemination, sexual reassignment surgery, and artificial intelligence might make dichotomies of sex and gender irrelevant, even nonexistent. She goes on to say that other human distinctions (like life and death, human and machine, virtual and real) may similarly disappear in the wake of the cyborg.
Digital anthropology is concerned with how digital advances are changing how people live their lives, as well as consequent changes to how anthropologists do ethnography and to a lesser extent how digital technology can be used to represent and undertake research. Cyborg anthropology also looks at disciplines like genetics and nanotechnology, which are not strictly digital. Cybernetics/informatics covers the range of cyborg advances better than the label digital.
Questions of subjectivity, agency, actors, and structures have always been of interest in social and cultural anthropology. In cyborg anthropology the question of what type of cybernetic system constitutes an actor/subject becomes all the more important. Is it the actual technology that acts on humanity (the Internet), the general techno-culture (Silicon Valley), government sanctions (net neutrality), specific innovative humans (Steve Jobs), or some type of combination of these elements? Some academics believe that only humans have agency and technology is an object humans act upon, while others argue that humans have no agency and culture is entirely shaped by material and technological conditions. Actor-network theory (ANT), proposed by Bruno Latour, is a theory that helps scholars understand how these elements work together to shape techno-cultural phenomena. Latour suggests that actors and the subjects they act on are parts of larger networks of mutual interaction and feedback loops. Humans and technology both have the agency to shape one another. ANT best describes the way cyborg anthropology approaches the relationship between humans and technology.
Researchers like Kathleen Richardson have conducted ethnographic research on the humans who build and interact with artificial intelligence. Recently, Stuart Geiger, a PhD student at University of California, Berkeley suggested that robots may be capable of creating a culture of their own, which researchers could study with ethnographic methods. Anthropologists react to Geiger with skepticism because, according to Geiger, they believe that culture is specific to living creatures and ethnography limited to human subjects.
The most basic definition of anthropology is the study of humans. However, cyborgs, by definition, describe something that is not entirely an organic human. Moreover, limiting a discipline to the study of humans may be difficult the more that technology allows humans to transcend the normal conditions of organic life. The prospect of a posthuman condition calls into question the nature and necessity of a field focused on studying humans.
Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci argues that any symbolic expression of ourselves, even the most ancient cave painting, can be considered "posthuman" because it exists outside of our physical bodies. To her, this means that the human and the "posthuman" have always existed alongside one another, and anthropology has always concerned itself with the posthuman as well as the human. Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Welsch point out that the concern that posthumanism will decenter the human in anthropology ignores the discipline's long history of engaging with the unhuman (like spirits and demons that humans believe in) and the culturally "subhuman" (like marginalized groups within a society).
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Posted: July 5, 2017 at 9:03 am
Everything has been said, but not everything has been said superbly, and even if it had been, everything must be said freshly over and over again. Paul Horgan
The times they are a-changing, especially in the realm of self-publishing.Acres of verbiage have been expended on the pros and cons of authors doing it for themselves.We will have to content ourselves here with saying, Not all tomes produced in this fashion are valueless. Heres one worthy candidate: Cherubimbo (Xlibris, trade paper, $19.99, 190 pages, ISBN 978-1-4628-4731-0) by Gabriel S. de Anda. With prior publication credits in several respectable zines, these stories come pre-vetted by an editorial acumen that is so often absent in other DIY productions. A practicing lawyer, de Anda infuses a couple of pieces with stefnal legal expertise, in the vein of Charles Harness. Time travel offers him lots of room for playful speculation, particularly in the emotionally resonant 1969. And some colorful posthumanism informs My Year To Be A Horse. De Andas touch is solid yet light-hearted, a winning one-two punch.
Paul Di Filippo 2013
Here are a two more books by Gabriel S. de Anda.
Posted: July 3, 2017 at 8:04 am
Super Sad True Love Story is the third novel by American writer Gary Shteyngart. The novel takes place in a near-future dystopian New York where life is dominated by media and retail.
The son of a Russian immigrant, protagonist Leonard (Lenny) Abramov, a middle-aged, middle class, otherwise unremarkable man whose mentality is still in the past century, falls madly in love with Eunice Park, a young Korean-American struggling with materialism and the pressures of her traditional Korean family. The chapters alternate between profuse diary entries from the old-fashioned Lenny and Eunice's biting e-mail correspondence on her "GlobalTeens" account. In the background of what appears to be a love story that oscillates between superficiality and despair, a grim political situation unravels. America is on the brink of economic collapse, threatened by its Chinese creditors. In the meantime, the totalitarian Bipartisan government's main mission is to encourage and promote consumerism while eliminating political dissidents.
The novel won the Salon Book Award (Fiction, 2010) and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (2011). It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (Fiction & Poetry, 2010), New York Times bestseller (Fiction, 2010), and Amazon's Best Books of the Month in August 2010. It was named one of the best books of the year by numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, O:The Oprah Magazine, Maureen Corrigan of NPR, and Slate. The literary critic Raymond Malewitz has recently published an article on "digital posthumanism" in the novel in the journal Arizona Quarterly.
Ben Stiller and Media Rights Capital are producing a TV series for Showtime.
Posted: June 29, 2017 at 11:06 am
What is Posthumanism?Edit
According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
1. post-humanism: A system of thought formulated in reaction to the basic tenets of humanism, esp. its focus on humanity rather than the divine or supernatural
2. posthumanism: The idea that humanity can be transformed, transcended, or eliminated either by technological advances or the evolutionary processl artistic, scientific, or philosophical practice which also reflects this belief
...to find more information on this history of the word Posthumanism, click HERE
N. Katherine Hayles was born in St. Louis Missouri on December 16, 1943. She attended Rochester Institute of Technology where she earned a B.S. in Chemistry. She then attended the California Institute of Technology and earned a M.S. in Chemistry as well. In 1977, she went to the University of Rochester and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature.
N. Katherine Hayles is popular critic of posthumanism. She is most known for being the author of "How We Became Posthuman". She believes that although we can put our intellect into another machine, we still need to keep in mind who we are and that our information is not completely transferable-- we still need the use of our own bodies. She has become a critic to many believers of posthumanism who believe the body acts as a piece of hardware just as any other computer.
thumb|316px|left|Interview with N. Katherine Hayles by Stacey Cochran
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Hayles' paper on posthumanism intertwine with one another as Hayles believes in a "Separation between body and mind is a consequence of historical change rather than what must inevitably happen as part of their materialized life." As we progress further into a new age of humans slowly developing into an android-like state (people getting prosthesis to help them function better) we are not going against humanity but simply flowing with the tides of history. With this kind of change, we are brought with the question: what makes us human? In DADES the only method to determine who is a human and android is by one concept: empathy. Some of the humans follow a religion known as Mercerism which is based on empathy. By utilizing an empathy box, it links them to other humans as they take upon the obstacles that Mercer faces as a cohesive unit. We are brought upon a concept of how humans, identify ourselves as individuals and as members of a group through Mercerism by being able to feel empathy towards each other. The novel toys with the concept of expanding this group to the few existing animals on Earth, and even androids. These androids are advanced to the point where it is only possible to determine whether or not one is human or android by a test involving empathy. When the bountyhunter in DADES, Deckard, has to retire these androids, he begins to ponder if he in fact is human. He believes that if being human is the ability to feel empathy, then how can he truly be human without feeling empathy when he retires the androids. In order to expand the definition of human to androids, Hayles and Dick both believe that a new mixture of man and machine must occur to fulfill this expanded category to androids. A mixture of machine and man are already amongst us (as shown in one group's presentation of a man with a robot eyeball) and many already have robotic arms/legs etc.
Bladerunner is a movie based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric sheep. The film did not fare well in box offices, but has since become a classic. Some may say the film needed time to catch on but it is used in classrooms all around the United States to teach about posthumanism.
Shelley Jackson was born in the Phillippines in 1963. Jackson attended Stanford undergraduate and Brown for her M.F.A. in creative writing. While at Brown Jackson was inspired to create her first hypertext fiction titled, Patchwork Girl. This work at the time was the best selling CD for electronic litterature and is considered a cornerstone in starting the electronic litterature movement. Jackson is currently teaching in The New School in New York City.
Similar to These Waves of Girls, "My Body" is a Hypertext Fiction that explores a young girl's memories of childhood and growing up. Many of the memories involve stories relating to growing up, sexuality, and body development. This hypertext fiction maps out different parts of a woman's body for readers to click and to discover the author's inner thoughts.
To navigate for yourself click HERE
Posted: June 25, 2017 at 2:03 pm
2017 marks a quarter century for one of the UKs leading Masters programs in Human Geography at the University of Bristol.
To celebrate, the School is launching a newly designed information booklet that features the art and images from past and present staff and postgraduate students.
Well known and respected within the field, the Masters in Human Geography: Society and Space programme in the School of Geographical Sciences has been at the forefront of contemporary human geographical postgraduate research and education since its inception in 1992.
The programme began as a collaboration between the Department of Geography (as it was called then) and the then School of Advanced Urban Studies (now part of the School of Policy Studies). It was started under the leadership of Professor Sir Nigel Thrift, then a professor of Human Geography at Bristol, and today an Honorary Doctorate and Emeritus Professor with the School of Geographical Studies.
Under Sir Nigel, the Society and Space program rapidly became a world leader in delivering innovative and cutting edge theoretical and critical research in contemporary human geography. The programme aimed to provide then, and continues to do so today, a thorough understanding of the theoretical debates around issues of society and space, and how these translate into practical research agendas and the formation of critical politics and policy. Teaching continues to be based around topic specific modules, seminars, and research dissertations, some of which, every year, go on to be published in leading academic journals.
Famously, the Society and Space programme, as it is known throughout the discipline of human geography, became associated with the development of non-representational theory. Non-representational theory (NRT) has transformed, sometimes controversially, many conceptual and empirical landscapes within cultural and political human geography, and is now almost indelibly associated with human geography research at Bristol. So strong has been the legacy of the course with NRT that the programme will also be the subject of analysis in a forthcoming book on non-representational theory (with Routledges Key Ideas in Geography series) by 2006 graduate of the program, Paul Simpson.
Given its history, the MSc programme is known for training a very high number of students who go on to study PhDs at Bristol and elsewhere. Early graduates of the course, and critical exponents of NRT, have made their names and careers from research inaugurated on the program. Leaders in the field of Human Geography like John Wylie, Beth Greenough, Emma Roe, James Ash, and Nick Gill are all alumni of the MSc.
Owain Jones, an early graduate, and now Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa, commented on his experience with Society and Space: I can say without any exaggeration that doing the course was a life transforming and enhancing experience (as university postgraduate education should be). I did not do an academic degree [prior to Society and Space] but an arts practice based degree, so the MSc really marked my conversion to academia and to geography.
Today, the focus on non-representational theory has morphed and matured into a demanding, deep curriculum that encompasses topics ranging from affect, technology, and biopolitics, to posthumanism and experimental methodologies, to decolonial and postcolonial geographies, to post-development, political ecology, and hermeneutics. ESRC accredited, the course offers qualitative and quantitative training, and is also a regular contributor to the SWDTP and the University of Bristols Doctoral College. Every year we are pleased to welcome ESRC funded 1+3 students keen to study contemporary issues of society and space as they translate into practical research agendas and critical, innovative analyses of the present.
2016 saw the launch of a course blog which features articles written by current students and staff. As part of their course, all students contribute accessible synopses of their research dissertation ideas to the blog.
If you would like to learn more about Society and Space, please do visit our blog, download the web ready booklet, send enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to contact the course director, Naomi Millner, herself a graduate of the program.
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Posted: June 9, 2017 at 1:08 pm
JUNE 9, 2017
DURING THE FIFTH and final season of Orphan Black (premiering June 10, 2017), I will offer regular responses to the seriess episodes via the LARB blog, BLARB. These will not be episode recaps or reviews; these short essays will assume that readers have already been viewers and will examine the show for some of its subtler suggestions about sexuality and gender, intertextuality and genre, and science and posthumanism. The following excerpt from Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genome Age (Penn State University Press, October 2017) emphasizes scenes from season two and doubles as a preface to the kinds of questions I anticipate exploring during season five, which I lay out further at the end of the piece.
At its best, Orphan Black is one of the most thorough explications of the epigenetic tension between genes and environment ever to appear on screen or page. Beyond the quality of its writing, acting, and post-production, the foundation of the shows success is its alignment of feminist, queer, and even post-secular critiques against a too-easy biotechnological corporatism. At the same time, it maintains considerable open-mindedness about the positive potential of genetic research and new medical technologies. Embodying an intertextual consciousness that has become a predominant trait of genetic fiction, this TV serial builds not only on major works by Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley, but also lesser-known, more recent novels like Pamela Sargents Cloned Lives (1976). In the process, it demonstrates how genetic influence is both very real and yet only part of what shapes human destinies. Perhaps most strikingly, it asks how love may be described by biology but still exceed it, suggesting that this prospect depends on defying religious fundamentalisms and global capitalisms mutual complicity in human objectification.
The shows alternate-history premise is that a combination of US corporate and government interests began secret experimentation with reproductive human cloning soon after the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, long before Dolly the sheeps birth announcement in 1997 and just as bioethicists, government watchdogs, and most scientists were beginning to think it possible. The resulting children are now adults, but not all are aware of their origins. In the first two seasons, viewers are invited to identify with three clones in particular: Sarah, initially a negligent mother prone to disappear for a year at a time and to make ends meet selling drugs, a habit patiently resisted by Felix, her gay stepbrother; Alison, an obsessively organized suburban soccer mom with two adopted children and a chubby, always-snooping husband, Donnie; and Cosima, whose doctoral work in genetics allows her a unique perspective on the activities of the shows Dyad Institute, even as her dreadlocks and lesbian self-discovery land her in a relationship with a woman revealed to be one of its top scientists, Delphine. Then there is Helena, the Ukrainian avenging angel hell-bent on murdering her sestras. Helena has been brainwashed by a religious cult, the Proletheans, that raised her to believe her clone sisters are the demonic copies of her original source material, and much of the early plot turns on her decisions about whom to believe. As it turns out, Alison and Cosima are aware of the threat, having already been in contact with other clones like Beth Childs, the police detective whose suicide Sarah witnesses in the pilots opening scene and whose identity she assumes in an attempt to access the womans bank account. To say that complications ensue vastly understates Orphan Blacks intricacies, and only determined viewers can stay cognizant that all of these characters are played by a single shape-shifting actress, Tatiana Maslany. This is to say nothing of the male clones who emerge in the shows third season or of additional developments in seasons four and five.
Season two is especially evocative in its exploration of the relationships between literal and figurative children and parents, the latter of whom sometimes suffer from divine pretensions. I examine it here as a microcosm of the entire shows interest in the dialogue between creators and creatures, a 21st-century expansion on the relationships between Frankenstein and his monster and between Moreau and the Beast Folk. One of two highly paternalistic figures in the shows first two seasons, Dr. Leekie is a corporate geneticist whose dystopian role is intimated by his first name, Aldous. This technoenthusiast has developed his own sense of morality, and his TED Talkstyle sales pitches are steeped in transcendent rhetoric. In season one, he recruits Cosima to a lab at the Dyad Institute, at first condescending to her as a junior researcher, but soon realizing that she is not intimidated by his fame and that her dissertation on the epigenetic influence on clone cells has prepared her to grasp the significance of his efforts toward patenting transgenic embryonic stem cells, an allusion to Huxleys novel and its hybrid-species experiments. It is not coincidental that Cosima first encounters Leekie as he is promoting Neolution, a cult-like posthumanist movement. Offering his listeners the possibility of replacing their current visual ability with infrared, x-ray, and ultraviolet capacities, he enthuses, Plato would have thought we were gods. In season two, he waxes similarly poetic before potential investors at a fundraising party for Dyad: To combine is to create; to engineer, divine, he declaims. This is humanity pursuing divinity not with humility but via high-tech mimicry, a pulse-pounding ideology that denies the inevitability of death and views genetics and other cutting-edge sciences as tools for elevating the species into a mystical invulnerability.
If Leekies language exploits religious rhetoric for technocapitalist purposes, the shows other major cult uses biotechnology to serve religious ends. The Proletheans are a group of seemingly low-tech traditionalists living on what appears to be a self-sustaining communal farm. However, their exceedingly modest dress code and decorum mask a heavy investment in the tools of artificial insemination and genetic modification. As Henrik Johanssen explains of the effort to use his sperm, Helenas eggs, and as many brood mare women as possible to expand his clan, Mans work is Gods work, as long as you do it in his name. His public prayer is equally revealing; he informs God, We are your instruments in the war for creation. But Johanssen does not just rely on apocalyptic biblical allusions and militant, paternalistic rhetoric. Beyond the extremist stereotype, he also possesses some attractive characteristics. Like Leekie, Johanssen is awed by genetic biology, embracing its findings as revelations rather than threats to his faith, even if he is similarly overconfident of his ability to control life. Played by Peter Outerbridge, the same actor who helped create the more sympathetic researcher David Sandstrom in another Canadian television show about genetics, ReGenesis, this sexist is blind in his convictions. Yet we also see him leading a childrens story time with genuine charm, amusingly adapting Shelleys novel to create the same happy ending he expects to foster in real life. His creation pursued him with a terrible vengeance, because the doctor had never shown his creation any love, Johanssen tells his enrapt young audience. And so when they finally came face to face, they sat down, and they had a great big bowl of iceberg cream!
Unfortunately for the storyteller, his own ending cannot be sugarcoated, and ultimately, the audience is not sorry. Johanssen never learns one of Orphan Blacks (and much genetic fictions) foundational lessons: love is antithetical to use. The unquestioning patriarchy of Prolethean culture may allow him effectively to take Helena as a second wife, remove her eggs, inseminate them, and then place the embryos in her womb and in that of his daughter; however, it is no coincidence that the show portrays him adapting the same tools to impregnate women as he does cattle they are no less experimental beasts than the humanized animals in Wellss novel. Appropriately, when Helena finally escapes her bedroom prison and overcomes Johanssen (with his daughters help), he finds himself strapped into the same stirrups he used to access his patients wombs. Tied in place, he panics as he senses the clones intentions. Marshaling the farm husbandry implements he had used on her, Helena gleefully asks how far his interest in human-animal hybridity goes: Would you like horse baby? Cow baby? The last we hear of the Prolethean leader is a terrified scream as she shoves the lengthy insemination device through the upper reaches of his anal canal. Helenas triumph is as appalling as it is just, and it represents the rawest form of Orphan Blacks feminist rejection of the patriarchal technoreligious manipulation that Wells imagined a century earlier.
Beyond its shock value, two further elements of this scene deserve attention. First, however brutal Helenas actions, they are motivated by a defense of her babies, as she calls them. While less conscious of social expectations than the other female clones, Helena embodies a childlike innocence that is matched only by her fierce instinct to protect the vulnerable. At the end of the scene featuring Johanssens Frankenstein adaptation, for instance, she observes one of the Prolethean women disciplining a distracted child with needless cruelty. Pinioning her against a wall, Helena informs the woman that she will be gutted like a fish if she does something similar again. Second, the phallic shape of Helenas vengeance against Henrik is not just a clever device for transfixing the audience. By utilizing his own artificial insemination stick, she turns his penetrative power back upon him, creating the most painful of ouroboros images. There is nothing pretty about the outcome, but its reversal of mens violence against women is riveting. A woman raised by a cult to believe that she and her sisters are abominations a commonly decontextualized biblical translation routinely leveled at LGBTQ individuals and sprinkled across the series, starting with the fourth episode of season one rejects their ideology, turns their violence upon them, and departs to defend her true family. It is no mistake that the scenes denouement lingers on Helenas face as she looks back on the burning Prolethean farmhouse. Like Frankensteins creature departing the burning cottage where he had learned to read but was ultimately rejected, Helena is thoroughly disillusioned with her early mentors.
This is far from the only moment in which Orphan Black redeploys a phallic signifier in order to illustrate the non-utilitarian nature of authentic love and its sexual expression. Not all of these scenes are so serious: when Alisons husband proves impotent with a jackhammer, for instance, the results are comical. Failing to break the concrete in their garage under which they will (repeatedly) bury the accidentally murdered Leekie, Donnie hands her the gas-powered battering ram, scoffing at the notion that she might do better. Alison breaks through the surface immediately and turns to him with a smirk, and their eventual success in completing the unconventional interment proves an aphrodisiac. Orphan Blacks references to phallic power often anticipate violence, though. One of the most emotionally intense sequences in the shows history comes in season twos fourth episode when Sarah slips into the condo of Dyads new leader, her clone sister Rachel, who was raised by the corporation after the disappearance of her early childhood parents, Ethan and Susan Duncan. Eventually caught by one of Dyads hired guns, Sarah is forced into an all-glass shower enclosure and handcuffed to the overhead fixture. After sharpening his razor, the henchman begins an excruciatingly slow process of cutting her throat. The shows avenging angel answers her prayers, however: Helena bangs into the apartment, still wearing the exceedingly modest wedding dress supplied by the Proletheans, and promptly dispatches Rachels thug. But this is hardly good news to Sarah, as she now shrinks from what she fears will be a new assailant, given that she had shot Helena the last time they met. The camera lingers over Helenas hip-high, upturned knife blade as she approaches, but instead of finishing the male torturers violence, Helena shocks her sister into convulsive tears, falling onto Sarahs breast like an exhausted child seeking a mothers comfort. As Jill Lepore noted well before the climactic fight scenes at the end of season four, the shows go-to wound is the puncture: the act of penetration. That pattern makes its embraces all the more poignant.
This scene is so moving not just because of the way Sarah escapes the razor wielded by Rachels minion, but also because Helena declines to turn the knife on her sister. If the point were not sharp enough, it is repeated in the next episode when Sarah convinces Helena to put down a sniper rifle rather than giving Rachel what she too might seem to deserve. Looking through the glass wall of an adjacent skyscraper, Sarah and Helena see their lingerie-clad sister straddling Paul Dierden, who replaces the henchman dispatched by Helena in the previous episode. Significantly, he is not allowed to enjoy the sexual services he provides, earning a slap when he reaches for Rachel. The show reverses but also reaches beyond a form of sexual objectification usually applied to women: Rachel commands him not to kiss her, to be still as she pleasures herself, but remains entirely unaware that Helenas crosshairs rest on her skull. Sarah steps into her sisters line of sight, determined not to let Helena shoot, and the snipers initial response again demonstrates Orphan Blacks stress on loves distinction from use. You only want to use me, Helena accuses Sarah. But her sestra proves convincing, seemingly discovering the truth of her words even as she utters them: No, thats not true. You saved my life. Youre my sister. Helena, I thought I killed you. I couldnt tell anybody what I lost. Reenacting the shower scene of the previous episode, Helena surrenders a different pointed weapon, hoping once again what experience has taught her to doubt that love might not be delusory. There is nothing weak, passive, or sentimental about this choice. On the contrary, Orphan Black reaches beyond the thrillers stereotypical boundaries to demonstrate that an even greater power can imbue acts of mercy than of violence.
Taken together, scenes like these represent Orphan Blacks feminist and often queerly inflected rejection of the corporate, utilitarian power driving a simplistic genetic determinism, whether it is being used to fuel religious fundamentalism or biological reductionism. It is not enough for Helena merely to take revenge, whether on Sarah or Rachel in these scenes or on Siobhan in season three: what she wants is genuine acceptance. Only hope in the possibility of loving and being loved is capable of making a trained killer trust a woman who had previously stabbed and shot her, and it is one of many places in which the show demonstrates a sober hopefulness about individual agency, yet without disregarding biological influence. Not only does Helena grow immensely in her capacity to believe in others though not without serious relapses but Sarah becomes far more responsible, Alison far less self-centered, and Cosima far more willing to accept others help. In these ways, Orphan Black insists that environment not only can make radically different characters of virtually the same genetic material, but also that individuals can learn to make profoundly different choices from those to which they are predisposed, even when a corporation claims ownership of their DNA.
In the months since composing Editing the Soul, I have enjoyed conversations with several of Orphan Blacks creators, taught the first season as a course text, and organized several conference panels on the show. These discussions have heightened my interest in its final season and especially the following questions, which I expect to pursue in subsequent articles in this LARB series:
Everett Hamner is an associate professor of English at Western Illinois University and the author of Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genome Age (Penn State University Press, AnthropoScene series, forthcoming October 2017).