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

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

by N. Katherine Hayles

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226321394
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/15/2008
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 364
Sales rank: 1,038,018
File size: 566 KB

About the Author

N. Katherine Hayles is a postmodern literary critic and the James B. Duke Professor of Literature at Duke University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue
1. Toward Embodied Virtuality
2. Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers
3. Contesting for the Body of Information: The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics
4. Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety
5. From Hyphen to Splice: Cybernetics Syntax in Limbo
6. The Second Wave of Cybernetics: From Reflexivity to Self-Organization
7. Turning Reality Inside Out and Right Side Out: Boundary Work in the Mid-Sixties Novels of Philip K. Dick
8. The Materiality of Informatics
9. Narratives of Artificial Life
10. The Semiotics of Virtuality: Mapping the Posthuman
11. Conclusion: What Does It Mean to Be Posthuman?
Notes
Index

What People are Saying About This

Gregory Benford

An incisive meditation on a major, often misunderstood aspect of the avant-garde in science fiction; the machine/human interface in all its unsettling, technicolor glories...I recommend it highly.
— (Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

Donna J. Haraway

Hayles shows us 'how information lost its body' in order that we might better know how to keep disembodiment from being written once again into dominant concepts of subjectivity. How We Became Posthuman is a powerful prophylactic against our most likely alien abduction scenario—to be raptured out of the bodies that matter in the lust for information.

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