Literature and the Post-Human
General Catalog Course Title:
Research Seminar
Terms Offered:
Fall 2012

Does a life become a human life through the possibility of narrating a coherent story about a bounded person through time? This class explores the connection between narrative and the human against the backdrop of technological developments that threaten to unravel a diachronic unity of time over time and thus implode the coherence of the human as such. We will read novels that explore the breaks in biography afforded by the possibility of various enhancements that enable apparently extra-human powers and the possibility of monstrous, inhuman births of posthuman selves created from the moment of conception. How are we to make sense of ‘enhanced’ and ‘artificial’ lives; how far do the older narratives of Prometheus, Faust and Frankenstein take us in the twenty-first century? Are we taking powers reserved for the Gods or sacrificing our soul or humanness for extraordinary powers; will we make monsters of ourselves? Are there other than dystopian possibilities?

In works of speculative fiction, how is the post-human imagined? How do such imaginings change our conception of the merely or all too human, the lot of the vast majority on this earth? Are there new insidious imaginings of the subhuman implicit in speculative fiction?  Or will the person merely disappear or dissipate--we will also explore the dissolution of the boundaries of a stable self into ever-shifting networks of possibility.

I am interested in creating the critical space to imagine the future beyond the poles of technophobia and breathless optimism.

Class discussion will draw on literary theory, science studies, futurology, race and postcolonial studies, gender studies and philosophy. Readings will include David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas: A Novel;, China Mieville: Perdido Street Station; Philip Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Mary Shelley: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus; Villuers de l’Isle-Adam: “The Future Eve”; Cary Wolfe: What is Posthumanism? (excerpts); Paul Ricoeur: Time and Narrative (excerpts); H. Porter Abbott: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative.

For more detailed information about classes, please visit the UC Berkeley Online Schedule of Classes.