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Theme 6: Literature #2

10:35-10:55: Liam Wilby (University of Leeds) - Distributed Cognitive Assemblages in Anthony Joseph's The African Origins of UFOs.

Paper abstract

One of the rare unifying tenets that runs throughout the diverse scholarship collated under the banner of critical posthumanism is the desire to move beyond exclusionary, Eurocentric conceptions of Man. Despite this, the discipline has faced criticism both for its dependence on European postructuralism and its lack of engagement with critical race studies (Alexander Weheliye and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson), as well as for its possible unacknowledged affinities to indigenous epistemologies across the globe (Zoe Todd, Sarah Hunt and Juanita Sundberg). In her most recent work, Rosi Braidotti acknowledges the contribution of postcolonial, decolonial and ‘more ancient indigenous traditions’ to the deconstruction of the Humanist subject. Taking seriously her claim that ‘[d]ifferential, grounded perspectives are the motor for differential patterns of becoming’, in this paper I analyse Anthony Joseph’s The African Origins of UFOs (2008) and argue that the novel provides an aesthetic exploration of a Trinidadian-situated, posthuman subjectivity by drawing on the insights of various perspectives not commonly seen in critical posthuman scholarship, such as the metaphysics of Orisha spirituality, Trinidadian mas festivals, black aesthetics movements and the wider tradition of Caribbean writing. ThroughAfrican Origins’s central framing as a journey through an unnamed narrator’s ‘genetic memories’, Joseph depicts the emergence of a collective consciousness through the networked interaction of ancestral memories located in the novels three intersecting spatiotemporal locations: an imagined future on a distant planet; contemporary Trinidad; and a mythological past Їerè. By cycling recursively through these three time periods, the novel's structure mimics both the autopoietic organisation of embodied cognition and the non-linear time of Yoruba-derived Orisha spiritualism. By adopting this cyclical structure, the novel elides the possibility of singular origins and displaces the linear time of being for the cyclical time of becoming.

About Liam Wilby

Liam Wilby is a PhD student in English Literature at the University of Leeds (UK) where he also completed his undergraduate and Master's degrees. His thesis centres on figurations of Black posthuman subjectivity in contemporary African diasporic science fiction. He is also interested in the ways in which the fictions of Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson and Anthony Joseph draw upon African diasporic cosmologies in their imaginations of the posthuman. Alongside critical posthumanism and science fiction, his research interests include Black studies, postcolonialism, animism and medical humanities.      

10:55-11:15: Shraddha A. Singh (University of Delhi) - ‘Extinctathon’ and the Chthulucene: Making Kin in the Posthuman World of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy.

Paper abstract

In Margaret Atwood’s dystopic MaddAddam Trilogy, an alter-globalist group, MaddAddam, from the pleeblands controls the popular online game ‘Extinctathon’ and uses it as a platform to conduct subversive activities against the big Bio-Corps that govern their world and live protected in their compounds. Apart from many other online games, Crake plays Extinctathon aiming to become a grandmaster. When Crake joins the biocorp RejoovenEsense, he coaxes a group of MaddAddamite grandmasters to work for his Paradice project, which is the cover for his mission of exterminating the human species and leaving the planet to a gene-spliced posthuman species of Crakers. Taking Extinctathon as an allegory for Crake’s grand design, this paper will examine Atwood’s notion of ‘Ustopia’, a mapped location or a state of mind that contains a world, either utopic or dystopic, with the latent version of the other. Theoretical premises like post-structuralism and postmodernism dislodge the human from a position of privilege and bring to the fore the “tentacular others” of Donna Haraway, as the inhuman, the nonhuman and the posthuman. Thus, thinking about Posthumanism through Haraway requires dwelling on subjectivity and the nature of embodiment of the subject, and the reconstituted social order in which new kinds of bodies are shown to exhibit unique ways of articulation. Thus, the paper will establish the MaddAddam Trilogy as an example of Ustopia made possible through Crake’s actions and their aftermath, and display that just like there is an element of chance in gaming, play emerges in the way the survivors of the pandemic come together in undermining the biological divide in what might be akin to Donna Haraway’s Chthulucene, a multispecies cohabitation, and the only way to survive this post-apocalyptic world.

About Shraddha A. Singh

Shraddha A. Singh is an Assistant Professor (English) at the University of Delhi; and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. on Posthumanism and the Anthropocene in Margaret Atwood’s oeuvre at the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Shraddha has several publications; and has presented papers at national and international seminars and conferences. Her areas of interest are Literary Theory, Genre Fiction and Culture Studies.    

11:15-11:30: Q & A