The Posthuman

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." ~ George Orwell


COURSE DESCRIPTIONIn this course, we will think about what it is to be human and about how the human is being transformed by rapid advances in technology. Through our close examination of films like Metropolis, Donnie Darko, and Night of the Living Dead, we will consider the following sorts of questions: What is our relationship as a species to the rest of the natural world? How have we evolved and how will we continue to evolve? In our incessant push toward invention, what sorts of monstrous havoc are we wreaking? Conversely, what sorts of wonders and miracles do evolution and invention beget? Finally, how do we relate to one another, how do we construct a politics, in this new era of the posthuman?

The posthuman is a figure that demands a reconsideration of what it is to be human, a figure that disrupts binaries, especially the distinction between man and machine. Theories of the posthuman argue that the human is evolving into a new species, a new sort of animal liberated from the ideologic constraints of its body even as it is (re)located, in a visceral way, within that very same body. In the introduction to Posthuman Bodies, Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston write, “We have rehearsed the claim that the posthuman condition is upon us and that lingering nostalgia for a modernist or humanist philosophy of the self and other, human and alien, normal and queer is merely the echo of a discursive battle that has already taken place” (19). For Halberstam and Livingston, the posthuman is not a conceptual creature; rather, the transformation, from the human to the posthuman, is already underway.

The posthuman depends (at least etymologically) upon the human; however, by calling the human so thoroughly into question, the figure of the posthuman implies that the human is, in fact, the more conceptual creature. Corpses are posthuman in a very literal sense. They have the material shape of the human but few of its requisite features. They are an evolution of the human, an annihilation of the human, a rewriting of what it is to be human. The zombie does similar posthuman work, beckoning, seizing, and folding our bodies into its monstrous embrace, then biting, tearing, and perforating the culturally-controlled binary oppositions that (fail to) (pre)determine us.

We’ll also consider our own relationship to the works of the course (and our own potential for transformation), exploring the real (psychological and physical) impact literature and film have on us. The subjects of the course will lead us through some difficult terrain (topics like monstrosity, genetic manipulation, bodily mutilation, dead bodies, etc.). And, thus, we will likely have to sludge through a little gore along the way, so if you are utterly squeamish you would probably prefer another course.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, WE3

Animatrix: "The Second Renaissance"
Encounters at the End of the World
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Donnie Darko
The Social Network
Blade Runner
Night of the Living Dead
The Walking Dead, "Guts"

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: Since this is a collaborative course, focusing heavily on discussion and work in groups, you have a responsibility to yourself and your classmates to show up for class on time and prepared.  The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community.  And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course.  Because of this, participation will be a very large component of your final grade.  In order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you complete all assigned work before each class session.  If you are going to miss class or can’t finish the assigned work for any reason, your best strategy is to discuss this with me in advance either in person or via e-mail.

OFFICE HOURS: I’m frequently in my office and also available by appointment. If you’d like to meet in person, I’d recommend setting up a time in advance. I’m always happy to meet with you (to discuss the course or just to chat). This is the most effective way for me to give you individual attention and get to know you better. I encourage you to meet with me as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns. I’m also very easy to reach by e-mail. In fact, e-mail is (by far) the best and quickest way to contact me. You can send questions or comments to me at And you can also contact me via Twitter (@Jessifer).

E-MAIL: I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss important information.

ONLINE COURSE CONTENT: There are numerous links on this webpage that take you to various assignments and readings we will be doing throughout the term.  You can access e-texts of some of the readings via this web page--just click on the title in the schedule.  My advice:  if you make this web site your friend, you’ll have no trouble completing all the reading and assignments for the course.  As we proceed, I will be uploading additional content, including course notes, activities, and assignments, so keep checking for updates.

COLLABORATION: I encourage collaboration on many of the assignments you’ll complete this quarter, especially the final project.  If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point. 

THE WORK OF THE COURSE: Specific details for major assignments forthcoming as the semester proceeds.

Participation. This includes your attendance, involvement in class discussion, in-class assignments, and small-group work. As mentioned above, this is (by far) the most important component of the course.

Leading Class Discussion. You will be asked to help lead discussion at least one time throughout the term. This is, by no means, a formal presentation. Rather, on the day you sign up for, be prepared to come to class with a few questions or topics related to the film for the day, and bring at least one or two clips which you’d like the group to look at in detail. You are also encouraged to engage the group in writing or other activities related to the text you’re discussing. As you are leading class discussion, I will be mostly silent, moderating the discussions to some degree but primarily acting as a member of the group w/ my own questions, comments, etc. This activity will generally help shape the direction our discussion takes for the rest of the class period.

Blog. This is essentially an offshoot of class participation. Throughout the semester you will be writing responses to the course blog. Some of these responses will be more structured (i.e. a response to questions I give to you), while many of them will be more flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of the text/film we are studying. Responses should be as collaborative as possible. In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum. Instead, ask questions of each other and use the other responses as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc. The length of each response isn’t as important as your contribution as a whole over the course of the semester. You are required to write at least 1-2 posts each week. While they are “officially” due on Sunday, I encourage you to post to the blog as early as possible during the week.

Worksheets. As a tool to help us focus our discussion, there will be a number of short worksheets due during the term. These will consist of a single question or a set of questions designed to get you thinking about various themes, conflicts, and issues at play in the works we’ll be discussing. Refer to the schedule for more info.

Final Project. The goal of your final project is to investigate one of the important subjects of this course. There will be two components of the final project: a creative component and an analytical component. The degree to which these two elements overlap is up to you.

The creative component can take any of a number of forms, including but not limited to fiction, film, video, photography, Powerpoint, painting, sculpture, poetry, screenplay, etc. The idea here is for you to do a bit of creative work yourself, investigating one or more of the subjects of the course, using whatever style/form/medium you find best suited to the task. For example, you might address ideas from the course through a series of still photographs accompanied by written captions. Or, you might produce a short film that explores or complicates one of the subjects that arises in our discussion. We’ll consider more examples together as the term proceeds.

The other component of the final project will be an analytical paper. The length of this paper depends on the nature of your creative work. For example, if you do an elaborate creative project, you might write a short analytical work, drawing connections between your creative work and one or more of the texts we’ve read. On the other hand, you might write a longer analytical paper about a particular text (or film), accompanied by a more simple creative project that illustrates your points.

Feel free to develop your project from one of your worksheets or responses, broadening its scope or reinventing it in some significant way. You may also collaborate on this project, if you’d like. A 1-page plan or sketch of your final project will be due in advance of the finished product.

GRADING: While I will be assigning final grades, you will also be evaluating your own work.  At the middle of the term, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work and contributions throughout the course.  You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the term.  Having your account of your own process is a very big part of how I assign grades.  I will be giving feedback as necessary on major assignments, and you will definitely hear from me if I have concerns about your self-evaluations.  The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to.  If this process causes you anxiety, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. 

Participation (including worksheets, leading discussion, etc.) -- 30%
Blog Responses -- 30%
Final Project -- 30%
Midterm and Final Self-evaluations -- 10%

PLAGIARISM: First, I will say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it is in your best interest to discuss the situation with me.  Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy.  At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create?  Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged).  So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class?  Let me go out on a limb and say:  in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates).  However, even more, I encourage you to really make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head.  In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others.  It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image.  This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it.  That’s just stealing.  Instead, think very consciously about how you are influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance.  And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.  

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