Prof. Megan Telligman

As technologies proliferate, many authors and theorists have investigated a future in which the concept of the “human” become increasingly difficult to define. What makes a human, and when do innovations like artificial intelligences, genetic modification, and nanotechnology make the human, as we’ve known and defined it, unrecognizable? 

 Perhaps in reaction to this ambiguity, other authors have argued for an ecological understanding of the human, or the human-as-animal, situated within a biosphere that affects and is affected by human technologies. Is the human a part of nature? What is gained or lost in this understanding of the human?

 Is humanity ecological or technological? This course will investigate past and present definitions of the human as we try to discover what the limits of this term are, and how our future might demand a new understanding of the human. Science Fiction writers will help us imagine new worlds, as their thought experiments take us through utopic, or dystopic, futures. Ecological writers help us imagine humanity as implicated in, not apart from, the natural world. All these writers challenge us to think about the ramifications of these possible futures in terms of our knowledge, identity, autonomy, and morality.

Through close-reading and textual analysis, authors examined may include: William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, William Wordsworth, H.G. Wells, Walt Whitman, Robinson Jeffers, Aldo Leopold, William Gibson, Richard Powers, Charles Stross, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, J.M. Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle, Denis Johnson, and Karen Tei Yamashita.