ENGL668C - Readings In Modern Literary Theory: Posthumanism And The Ends Of Nature

Global climate change has been called the “end of nature.” This idea presents a distinct challenge for the humanities, which have long distinguished themselves as the study of what humans create as distinct from the natural or external world. If the impact of human action now encompasses the globe, does not the purview of the humanities need to be similarly expanded? Alternatively, if the idea of the human is predicated upon its distinction from nature, does not the end of nature mean the end of the human as well? Can there be post-human humanities?

In this course, we will take up these questions through readings in a broad range of literary and social theory. We will begin by looking back to Giambatista Vico’s dictum, on which modern humanism is founded, that man may only know what he has created. We will then trace the afterlives of this idea in recent theory on “posthumanism” and related fields such as ecocriticism and science studies.  While the bulk of our attention will be devoted to recent theory engaging with the nature of the human, we will also attempt to trace the deeper currents from which it comes. Thus, the course will serve both as a serious engagement with current questions in these fields and, at least to some degree, a history of them. Readings will be drawn from thinkers such as: Raymond Williams, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Giorgio Agamben, Timothy Morton, Katherine Hayles, and many others. We will also be reading literary texts that deal with similar themes, both to ground our discussions and to gain better insight into the applicability of various theoretical frameworks in critical analysis.

Please note: given the reading load for the course and attention demanded by the theory, familiarity with at least a few of the following literary texts prior to the course is strongly encouraged: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Bram Stoker, Dracula; Margret Atwood, Oryx and Crake; Indra Sinha, Animal’s People.


Week 1: Raymond Williams, “Ideas of Nature”; Bruno Latour, “Has Critique Run Out of Steam?”; Rob Nixon, “Introduction” to Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor

Week 2: Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences

Week 4: Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern

Week 4: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Week 5: Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity

Week 6: Michel Serres, The Parasite

Week 7: Bram Stoker, Dracula 

Week 8: Donna Haraway, “The Cyborg Manifesto”; AND The Companion Species Manifesto Paper 1 DUE

Week 9: Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman

Week 10: Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism?

Weeks 11: Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

Week 12: Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer

Week 13: Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought

Week 14: Indra Sinha, Animal’s People Paper 2 DUE