Date of Award

1-1-2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

English Language and Literatures

Sub-Department

English

First Advisor

David Cowart

Abstract

ISS_para>The technology-driven years following the close of World War II provided a new lens through which the human subject could be rethought and, theoretically, improved: no longer did physical and mental shortcomings have to limit the capacity of the individual. The atomic bomb and Colossus computer, though destructive forces, pushed scientists and philosophers to consider new models of the human, including flesh/machine amalgamation and reinscription as downloadable, digital information. While these posthuman constructions promised to distance the human from its material shortcomings, especially its vulnerability to bodily decay and death, they encountered significant resistance in the twentieth century.

By analyzing critical assessments of the posthuman in literature since 1945, this study evaluates the twentieth-century conviction that the human body is inviolable in the face of its increasing malleability. This critical assessment explores the hope for a rewritten, invulnerable human subject as well as the resistance that the emerging theoretical constructions encountered. In general, this resistance revolves around a fear that to be posthuman is to forego subjectivity, an idea born out of a nostalgia for the body as a closed off, single biological unit. Because it exposes the body as sets of distinct and programmable systems and subsystems, posthumanism threatens a presumed tradition of human exceptionalism. While the posthuman project appears to have failed in the twentieth-century--bodily rearrangability remains largely hypothetical--this study also briefly engages early-twenty-first-century estimations of its pending success.

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