As I write this post I’m sitting at Starbucks in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, waiting for my flight to Switzerland to start boarding. I’ll be at the Approaching Posthumanism and the Posthuman conference in Geneva from 4-6 June, presenting a paper on monsters in remix culture, mingling with the other international attendees, and listening to what promises to be a lot of interesting papers. The conference website describes the event as follows:
The aim of this conference is both to explore the multiple ways in which posthumanism in its various configurations questions, complicates, destabilizes, and “haunts” humanism and the human, as well as to discuss theoretical approaches to posthumanism and/or the posthuman. In addition to inhabiting a wide range of literary periods, genres, and media, posthumanism can also be said to blur the seemingly well-defined borders between humanities disciplines, lending itself to interdisciplinary approaches involving literary and cultural studies, media studies, animal studies, and fields like the digital, medical, and environmental humanities, as well as drawing from multiple theoretical frameworks such as feminism, gender studies, queer theory, race theory, disability studies, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction.
On June 6th there’s also a PhD workshop with each of the keynote speakers. I’m hoping it will be a productive three days.
My paper (which I’m still putting the finishing touches on) is called ‘Cannibalising History and Reanimating the Monster in Contemporary Remix Culture’, and will hopefully provoke some interesting discussion. Here’s the abstract:
This examination of revisionist history and remix culture in present-day popular narrative focuses on the current prevalence of monster mashups: twenty-first-century parodies and pastiches of nineteenth-century Gothic across various media. Examples include the recent novel-as-mashup craze (beginning with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in 2009), the Showtime TV series Penny Dreadful (2014), and the crypto-zoological portrait art of Travis Louie. Drawing on familiar time periods, places, and people, these narratives enable audiences to see the past as something playful and malleable, and are part of a wider ‘neo-historical’ reformulation and appropriation of the past in popular culture. In this paper, I explore why these mashups are so prevalent in twenty-first-century culture, and how they reformulate nineteenth-century humanist ideas to fit present-day perspectives on identity, memory, and history. I also suggest how this phenomenon exists at the centre of emerging tensions between posthumanism and humanism, currently theorised by movements like new materialism.
The impulse to move ‘beyond’ the classical humanism and humanities potentially creates a number of problems. How can we imagine something completely outside the human, when our entire experience is framed in human terms? And how do we safeguard against creating either a dangerously narrow or a uselessly broad definition of the human in our attempts to outline its opposite? Using a past that is technically both unalterable and behind us to move forward is a complicated endeavour, particularly in a time so obsessed with declaring that past dead and buried. Naturally resistant to such binary conceptualisations (human/inhuman, present/past, etc.), monster mashups project present-day multiplicities of identity and history onto the more stable fictions of the past. They create wilfully ‘false’ ruptures in history and subtly incorporate those ruptures into public memory, allowing readers to actively view and shape present perspectives through the lens of past ones.
In any case it’s my last conference presentation of the 2014-2015 academic year – it will be a relief to get back to my thesis next week. I’ll post a copy of my presentation slides here once I get back, and in the meantime you can follow my conference experience on Twitter.
[EDIT 07/06/2015: you can now find a copy of my slides at the link below, in PDF form, or on Academia.edu]