In 2017, Rosi Braidotti wrote in the inaugural volume of Journal of Posthuman Studies, “[w]hether we appreciate the term or not, these are posthuman times and scholarship in this field is in full expansion. Spectacular developments, notably in the life and neural sciences and the study of the earth and ecological systems, as well as digital information technologies, have altered our shared understanding of what counts as the basic unit of reference for the human.” As she suggests, posthumanism continues to be a contested term, both what it actually means and whether it is a valid concept, and yet nevertheless we must wrestle with its meanings and implications. Indeed, is the term “transhumanism” more effective or precise in naming this mode of thought that bridges disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The figure of the posthuman takes on various manifestations—monsters, superhumans, cyborgs, and so forth—and has generated a social discourse (in other words, posthumanism) that continues to be a way of thinking about the human subject and its Others. This course will explore the category of what is considered human in relation to theories of posthumanism, focusing on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, its film adaptation Blade Runner, and the latter’s sequel Blade Runner 2049. Rather than trying to pin down what precisely posthumanism is or means, we will use discussions about it as a springboard to consider the range of issues it invokes and how these issues are represented in literature and film. Like other “post-”concepts that have operated in the realm of high cultural visibility (poststructuralism, postmodernism, postcolonialism), fixing the nature of posthumanism is perhaps a fool’s game. Instead, we should try to understand the range of questions and issues that fall within its orbit. We can then begin to explore these questions and issues and consider how they are treated in literature and film, particularly the series of texts considered in this course. How do we define what it means to be human and, perhaps more importantly, what is not human?
What do these definitions entail for our relationships with animals or the environment? In what ways do technological/medical enhancements to and replications of the human body reflect both optimistic and dangerous futures? Have we reached a point where the liberal humanist subject and other traditional models of identity no longer serve us in our everyday lives and the social structures within which these occur? Is it possible to escape an anthropocentric understanding of the world around us? My hope is that students will bring their own questions to bear on the texts we will investigate in this course. There will be approximately 70 pages of fiction to read as homework for each class session (essays will be less than 30 pages)
Students will gain an understanding of the interplay between science and society, specifically as it affects human identity, as well as the literary representation of science. Nonnative speakers of English will have the opportunity to develop their academic English skills in reading, discussion, listening, and writing.
The course will be based mostly on class discussion based on the readings.
Class participation: 40%
Final paper: 40%
Blade Runner: The Final Cut. 1982. Directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros., 2007.
Blade Runner 2049. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Warner Bros., 2017.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968. Phoenix, 2012.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century.” 1985. The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments, edited by Joel Weiss et al., pp. 117-58.
Hayles, N. Katherine. “Toward Embodied Virtuality.” How We Became Posthuman: Virtual
Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp.1-24.
Miah, Andy. “A Critical History of Posthumanism.” Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, edited by Bert Gordijin and Ruth Chadwick, Spring, 2008, pp. 71-93.
Milburn, Colin. “Posthumanism.” The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 524-36.