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The Emergence of the Posthuman Subject

Author: • Jun 30th, 2010 •

Category: Ballardosphere, posthumanism

Registration here

The Emergence of the Posthuman Subject

Early Bird Fee
2-3 July 2010

To be Held at University of Surrey, Continuing Education Centre (CEC), 2nd Floor Senate House.
Full Description
The Emergence of the Posthuman Subject
An Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of Surrey
2-3 July 2010.

Over the past two decades the theories and critical practices associated with the field of posthumanism have become an increasingly significant presence in the Arts and Sciences. Inspired by the radical innovation that period has seen in information and communication technology, philosophers and writers have hailed what amounts to a break with the humanist tradition that has underpinned western civilisation for over five-hundred years. The formerly absolute differences between human and inhuman, set out, for instance, by Rene Descartes in his Discourse on the Method, have blurred. It is now easy to imagine a machine that might think as rationally as a man and increasingly difficult to believe that an animal is little more than a machine, without the consciousness that makes suffering possible. With every new species discovered to possess language-skills, the capacity for logical thought, or the ability to make and use tools, some quality once cited as a trait which distinguished the human, a rational animal, distinct from the rest of creation, is dissolved. As Jacques Derrida noted in his final book, Cartesian Humanism in now in crisis; the traumas inflicted on the validity of the concept “humanity” by Darwin, Freud & Marx are at last beginning to change the way people perceive their world, permitting subjects in the west to cast off a “normative” category that has been used to suppress those modes of being not in line with the supposedly “natural” order characterising the “Family of Man”.

Posthumanist thought is therefore right at the heart of developments taking place in critical theory since the 70s. The posthuman is the point at which the most pressing concerns in gender studies, post-structuralism, cultural materialism & postmodernism converge. Crucially, posthumanism provides what is perhaps the one vital theoretical point of crossover for research taking place in the Arts and Sciences. Posthumanism can be defined as the attempt to think on how the latest technological innovations and the considerable advances that are even now taking place in the fields of physics and biology, impact on our concept of the human and on our perceived place in the world.

This conference presents papers from academics and postgraduates working in disciplines as diverse as Literature, Psychology, Philosophy, Anthropology, Film Studies, Palaeontology, Zoology, Theatre, and Theoretical Physics: on the Emergence of the Posthuman Subject. The conference is to take place at the University of Surrey, the institution at the forefront of space exploration technology in the UK, and situated right in the centre of the territory west of London criss-crossed by flight-paths and motorways celebrated as a source of endless fascination in key novels by JG Ballard.

Potential topics would include but not be limited to:

1. Key issues of discussion
the evolution of homo sapiens; the cultural assimilation of quantum physics and string theory; the emergence of cyborg sexualities; the shifting boundary-line between the Human and the Animal; the “avatar” and the virtual world;

2. Cultural and artistic prototypes and responses
the prototypes of the posthuman in the modernist movement; apocalyptic literature; the impact of information-communication technology on the form and content of film, music, literature and art; visions of the planet after the extinction of our species;

3. The work of relevant artists, scientists and philosophers
JG Ballard, Jean Baudrillard, Charles Darwin, Philip K. Dick, Jacques Derrida, R.D. Laing, William Burroughs, Italian Futurists, Isaac Asimov, Judith Butler, Steve Mann, Stelarc, Wyndham Lewis, H.P. Lovecraft, Steven Hall etc, etc.

E-mail submissions and any questions to David Ashford (D.Ashford@surrey.ac.uk) and James Riley (rjer2@cam.ac.uk).

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2 Responses »

  1. Lovecraft and Judith Butler as posthuman writers – an intriguing idea. Butler’s programme to destabilise gender by questioning essentialism fits the remit, but I’m going to have to think about Lovecraft. Interesting. Wish I could have made the conference.

  2. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness” contains certain elements that would latter become standards in science fiction, such as fully functional brains being contained in mechanical devices.

    This plot device is a crude, but direct ancestor of mind uploading and other similar ideas championed by the Posthumanis front.

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