How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

Critical Writing
Publication Type: 
Year: 
1999
ISBN: 
9780226321462 (PB)
9780226321394 (ebook)
Record Status: 
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Abstract (in English): 

In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the "bodies" that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans "beamed" Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.

Hayles relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman."

Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel Limbo by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.

Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, Hayles shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, How We Became Posthuman provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in our virtual age, and of where we might go from here.

(Source: University of Chicago Press catalog copy)

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Critical writing that references this:

Title Author Publisher Yearsort descending
For This We Play: an Introduction to this Issue’s New Media Poems John Sparrow HOW2
Mutability, Medium and Character Dene Grigar Computers and the Humanities 2002
Lost in the Archive: Vision, Artefact and Loss in the Evolution of Hypertext Belinda Barnet 2004
Unusual Positions: Embodied Interaction with Symbolic Spaces Camille Utterback 2004
Metaphoric Networks in Lexia to Perplexia N. Katherine Hayles Electronic Book Review (ebr) 2005
Rhetorics of Surface and Depth in Digital Poetry Anna Katharina Schaffner, Andrew Michael Roberts RiLUnE (Revue des Littératures de l’Union Européenne/Review of Literatures of the European Union) 2006
Born Digital: Writing Poetry in the Age of New Media Maria Engberg 2007
New Textualities Manuel Portela EJES: European Journal of English Studies 2007
Exploiting Kairos in Electronic Literature: A Rhetorical Analysis Cheri Crenshaw 2008
Techno-historical Limits of the Interface: The Performance of Interactive Narrative Experiences Andrew Hutchison 2009
Approaches to Digital Literature: Temporal Dynamics and Cyborg Authors Raine Koskimaa Transcript 2010
Productions of Presence: Sensing Electronic Literature Luciana Gattass 2012
Digital Poesi. Æstetisk Analyse og det Mediales Rolle i Kunstværkers Kommunikation Mette-Marie Zacher Sørensen 2013
Gender Representation Kim Knight 2014
Materiality Anna Munster 2014
Aurature and the End(s) of Electronic Literature John Cayley 2015
Our Tools Make Us (And Our Literature) Post Steve Tomasula 2017
Immanence, Inc.: Algorithm, Flow, and the Displacement of the Real Brian Kim Stefans Bloomsbury Academic 2018
Electronic Literature Scott Rettberg Polity 2018
Postmodern, Posthuman, Post-Digital Laura Shackelford 2018
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