Seeking Pleasure in the Confusion of Boundaries: Reading Posthumanism in Children’s Literature

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Literature and art forms contribute significantly to the discussion of epistemological concerns of posthumanism. Which is to say that, literature and art imagine, interrogate and nurture the subjective and embodied attributes of the nonhuman experience. It is through such exploration of the experiential aspects that sensitivity and other similar personal engagements can occur, which can augment our comprehension of nonhuman beings and entities, that in turn can lead to conspicuous epistemological and ethical consequences.

To consider critical posthumanism as established only within critical theory and philosophy, wherein the idea of the human has been the moot point, is to neglect the significant role of popular culture and literature in the revaluation of the concept of the human.

This paper while delineating critical posthumanist ideas in critical theory and discourses like animal and monster studies, techno scientific advancements, vital materialism and actor network theory, also concentrates on literary texts. Therefore, the rationale for conjoining the critical posthumanism with literary texts should be traced herewith.

This paper establishes that children’s literature is a fertile ground where philosophy and representation merge, providing a scope that children might think about their “being” and posits children’s literature as a resource to engage in complex philosophical explorations. The mutation of ontologies in children’s fiction challenges the ideological division between human, animal and the artificial. Since, children’s texts experiment with the idea of being, it puts forth ontological questions to their readers and invite readers to question who they are and what they might become.

This paper partakes in the timely debates discussing the possible ways in which posthumanism could operate in literary research by proving useful as an effective tool of analyzing literary texts for children. Posthumanism may, apparently, seem to be at odds with the traditional purpose of children’s literature to socialize and enculturate.

The essential humanist ideas of agency and selfhood conventionally portrayed in children’s literature are contrasted by the multiple and fluid forms of subjectivity as well as networked and assembled forms of selfhood as identified by posthumanist paradigm. However, posthumanism and children’s literature are connected by their shared interest in ethics. Innately preoccupied with the ethical subject formation, children’s literature provides for a ground ideal for interrogating the exclusionary practices that have historically led to creation of the humanist subject.

Moreover, the everyday state of the child or adolescent subjects as being in-between with respect to their relation with the adults and adult culture is analogous to the position that animals, machines and other nonhuman forms occupy in relation to the human subjects within the humanist scheme of things. In their ability to seek “pleasure in their confusion of boundaries” (Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” 172) children emerge as being the ones who delight themselves in discarding absolute ontologies in favour of posthuman ways of thinking about ways of being.

The primary aim of the paper is to connect posthumanist concerns to children’s texts and thereby examine the ways in which these texts facilitate reconsidering and rethinking the ethical and political questions about the human, nonhuman and posthuman in various aesthetic contexts.


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Cecilie Klingenberg