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

Critical Writing
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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)

How We Became Posthuman cover

Critical writing that references this:

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Unusual Positions: Embodied Interaction with Symbolic Spaces Camille Utterback 2004
Techno-historical Limits of the Interface: The Performance of Interactive Narrative Experiences Andrew Hutchison 2009
Small Screen Fictions Paradoxa 2018
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
Reading Digits – Haptic Reading Processes in the Experience of Digital Literary Works Diogo Marques 2018
Productions of Presence: Sensing Electronic Literature Luciana Gattass 2012
Postmodern, Posthuman, Post-Digital Laura Shackelford 2018
Our Tools Make Us (And Our Literature) Post Steve Tomasula 2017
Of Presence and Electronic Literature Luciana Gattass Bloomsbury Academic 2018
New Textualities Manuel Portela EJES: European Journal of English Studies 2007
Mutability, Medium and Character Dene Grigar Computers and the Humanities 2002
Metaphoric Networks in Lexia to Perplexia N. Katherine Hayles Electronic Book Review (ebr) 2005
Materiality Anna Munster 2014
Lost in the Archive: Vision, Artefact and Loss in the Evolution of Hypertext Belinda Barnet 2004
Indian Electronic Writing: Publics, Platforms and Possibilities Samya Brata Roy 2021
Immanence, Inc.: Algorithm, Flow, and the Displacement of the Real Brian Kim Stefans Bloomsbury Academic 2018
Gender Representation Kim Knight 2014
For This We Play: an Introduction to this Issue’s New Media Poems John Sparrow HOW2
Exploiting Kairos in Electronic Literature: A Rhetorical Analysis Cheri Crenshaw 2008
Electronic Literature Scott Rettberg Polity 2018
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Jill Walker Rettberg