University of Extremadura

November for us means AEDEAN Conference! The Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies celebrates this year its 45th International Conference (November 16-18, 2022).

Four of our team members are participating in this event:

Wednesday, November 16, 12:30-14:00 (GTM+1)

Dr. Rubén Peinado Abarrio: «A Posthumanist Reading of Kate Zambreno’s Drifts»

This paper proposes a posthumanist reading as understood by Stefan Herbrechter and Ivan Callus, i.e., one that identifies the “opposition between the human and the nonhuman at work in a text”, effectively troubling the purity of these categories (2008, 97). Unlike increasingly common posthumanist approaches to science fiction, fantasy, utopian and dystopian fiction, in my paper this type of reading is applied to a text not written in the mode of speculative fiction. Although it does not challenge the limits of the human in any obvious way, Kate Zambreno’s Drifts (2020) allows for a posthumanist reading in at least three ways, which are in turn the three main discussion points in this analysis. First, I address the representation of nonhuman animals in the text. Drawing on Donna Haraway’s ‘companion species’ (2003), I pay particular attention to the symbiotic relationship between the female narrator and Genet, her little black terrier. The emotional and physical bonds between woman and dog hint at the possibility of a “human-dog entity” (Lestel et al. 2006, 170), which destabilizes the distinction between human and nonhuman in fundamental ways, even more so as the narrator gives over to an “animal state” on the late stages of her pregnancy (Zambreno 2020, 309). It is this narrative of pregnancy that represents the second phase of my posthumanist reading, for which I rely on Rosi Braidotti’s ‘placenta politics’ and Rodante van der Waal’s ‘pregnant posthuman’ (2018). In Drifts, the pregnant body is presented, at the same time, as a site of collaborative growth that generates potency, lucidity, and productivity, but also as monstrous, sick, and overconnected to the point that the pregnant woman feels “weirdly interconnected with everyone who has ever had a child or has been born or died” (Zambreno 2020, 204). The final element of analysis is the fragmentary disposition of Drifts as a result of its self-referential problematization of the artistic struggle to write the present tense, record time and capture the energy of thought and the distracted nature of the internet. The attraction and danger of social media affects the constitution of the text while the narrative voice finds herself “scattered […] in fragments online” (Zambreno 2020, 20), in a movement that echoes the gradual indistinguishability between cyberspace and meatspace reconceptualized by Luciano Floridi as the “onlife” of our “hyperconnected era” (2015). The exploration of these three key elements is based on both the textual and paratextual—epigraphs, photographs—material of the book, the resulting image of which is one of perplexity, vulnerability, and complexity. Ultimately, the proposed reading of Drifts aims to participate in the discussion whether posthumanism can be a “meaningful analytical [tool] for literary analysis” (Guesse 2020, 23).

Wednesday, November 16, 18:00-19:30 (GTM+1)

Dr. Miriam Fernández-Santiago: «AI Embodiments: Narrative Forms of Transhuman Vulnerability in the 4th IR. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (2021)»

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4th IR) has been defined as the historical context where the wider spectrum of posthumanist embodied continua (Braidotti 2013; Herbrechter 2013; Nayar 2014) becomes specific in the fusion, interaction, and co-evolution of the physical, the digital and the biological (Schwab 2016). Strongly supportive of transhumanist premises envisioning a better future for humanity through technological development, advocates of the 4th IR also warn against, but mostly prepare for the challenges that may threaten the full implementation of a2a (anything to anything) connectedness in the near future (Floridi 2014). As we witness nowadays reality racing towards the singularity (Kurtzeil 2005) of the human and the non-human, the role of science fiction as an instrument to imagine and/or prevent embodied forms of transhuman vulnerability (Vint 2007) gets increasingly similar to, rather than allegorical of, our experience of the present (Schmeink 2016) (Ishiguro 2021). This paper explores the depiction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) embodiments in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (2021) by delving into the individual and social vulnerabilities of transhumanist alleged perfectibility. Ishiguro’s novel is a first-person narrative focalized through the algorithmic processing of a humanoid Artificial Friend that has been designed to give company to and take care of children who become sick because of bioengineering enhancement in a not-so-distant future. Firstly, it questions the human ontology of transhumanist individuals whose humanity is reduced to mere data when their intelligence is uploaded to synthetic storage systems imitating human appearance. Secondly, by favoring rationality as the quality that determines human ontology, transhumanism disregards the physical vulnerabilities that transhumanist premises not only take for granted, but also inflict upon human beings who are therefore disabled as a species. Also, the novel also problematizes transhumanist ethics regarding human perfectibility, as it may trigger class/speciesist divisions based on genetic difference and labor redistribution in the service sector. Finally, the unconditional hospitality of AF Klara, embodied as a female child, updates the literary trope of the ingénu to complicate transhumanist premises in the 4th IR by opening the possibility of AI empathic subjectivity and its possible humanization via readerly identification with AI homodiegetic subjectivity. Stylistically though, the novel reads smoothly with a well-paced calculation of tension and momentum that are constructed around the narrative focus of the AI ingénu. The effect is intensely erotic in terms of the progressive disclosure and demands that readers participate in completing the information lacking in AI intelligence, adding a satisfactory effect to readerly bare human superiority that runs contrary to transhumanist premises. However, the novel’s closure is transhumanist in essence in the sense that its narrative of hope, faith, trust, and generosity relies almost absolutely on the narrative construct and construction of an AI.

Thursday, November 17, 12:30-14:00 (GTM+1)

Lucía Bennett Ortega: «Intersecting Mental Health and Climate Change in Contemporary US Fiction: The Case of Bewilderment (2021)»

Set in the present capitalogenic climate crisis, Richard Powers’ most recent work, Bewilderment (2021), follows the story of Theo, an astrobiologist, and Robin, a neurodivergent child with a great sensitivity towards the natural world. In the novel, technological and digital advances, the “race for priority” (Powers 2021, 43), and the constant need for instant gratification do little to help Robin’s desire for “all sentient beings [to] be free from needless suffering” (Powers 2021, 24). In Powers’ text, climate change is not presented as the backdrop of the story, nor as a simple concern or preoccupation of the characters. Rather, climate change and current damage to the environment constitute a trigger for Robin’s mental health issues. In my paper I argue that Bewilderment does not only raise mental health awareness by resisting the labelling and stock categorization that frequently accompany notions of disability, it also allows for the character to become and intersectional site of functional and environmental vulnerabilities. For this reason, in my paper I aim to combine the critical frameworks of disability and ecocriticism. My main objective is to analyze how Robin’s neurodivergence is not constructed as a literary device on which narrative prosthesis relies on (Mitchell and Snyder 2000), but is instead presented as an experience of socio-political implications inserted within the wider frame of environmental degradation. In my analysis, I firstly examine the double conceptualization of ‘bewilderment’ as on the one hand, the state of confusion that emerges within an anthropocentric and ableist society, and on the other hand, as a celebration of nature’s uncanniness, preventing disability from being limited to a positivist convention of normalcy (Michalko and Titchkosky 2009). In addition, I explore how the novel, seemingly avoiding the cynical nihilistic misanthropy that Braidotti warns readers against falling into (2013), emphasizes that climate change and ableism are brought about by a lack of human empathy, clearly evoking Philip K. Dick’s (2007) envisaging of a world in need of an empathy box for its survival. Finally, I delve into the sense of discouragement and impotence that dwindles all hope in the novel. Very much in line with Johns-Putra’s (2019) “sense of no ending”, Bewilderment concludes with an element of cyclicality, denying readers any sense of closure or optimism with regard to the vulnerabilities it depicts.

Friday, November 18, 12:30-14:00 (GTM+1)

Dr. Esther Muñoz González: «When Doris Day Lost her Home and Agreed to Be a Prisoner: Capitalocene and Posthuman Dictatorship in Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last»

As Marshall McLuhan claimed, the interaction between human beings and our technological extensions transforms the human at a very quick pace with the result that technology becomes a quasi-biological extension of the human (1994, 46). That is, technology has a direct and appreciable effect upon human nature in a compressed time than any other extension of man had in past times. Some voices are concerned and pessimistic about the possible negative consequences of these precipitated alterations in the form of socio-political and ethical changes (Fukujama 2002). Not only human rights, but also the construction of human identity undergo changes brought about by technology and its effects on everyday moral decisions and experience. To map these changes, I would like to discuss how the identity of The Heart Goes Last’s main character, Charmaine, is influenced by her gradual acceptance of new rigid socio-cultural patterns, that compromise her civil rights, identity formation, and that ultimately trigger her evolution into a specific kind of (post)human being. On the other hand, and according to Laurie Vickroy, a shared feature of many of Atwood’s female characters is that they “are victim-survivors who are ethically or emotionally compromised by their fears of male violence and exploitation” (2013, 254). Trying to understand Charmaine’s motivation to accept living in a society without personal or communal freedom and with a priori unacceptable impositions of behaviour, especially shaped and altered by the intervention of technology, in this paper I examine Charmaine’s family background. The Heart Goes Last outlines how her childhood history of unspecified violence, together with an escapist education, led her to crave for the domestic dream of happiness based on a safe home for her own, and eventually to marry Stan, a “sturdy” man. After being abused by her father, Charmaine is encouraged to forget about the issue, and hide and calm her fears within the domestic realm. Due to the economic crisis depicted in the novel —which originated because “someone had lied, someone had cheated, someone had shorted the market, someone had inflated the currency” (Atwood 2015, 6)—Charmaine loses her dream of happiness, her domestic safety. However, and even if corporations and the capitalist system seem to be abstract formations free of human participation, individuals always have some weight and responsibility in the development of history and contribute to making society. In this age that is baptized as the Anthropocene period but also as the “Capitalocene,” humans are both victims and perpetrators of the situation. In The Heart Goes Last, Atwood renders a version of the predicted apocalypse, the apocalypse of the weakest part of society. Atwood remarks how the capitalist system devours those who allow the system to determine their destinies, and buy the capitalist dream of success. The result is a wild unsupportive society populated by a new kind of humans who, devoid of any principles, become a kind of unethical [post]humans.

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