Gillian Whitlock, v
This special issue of Biography may seem exotic. It engages with a series of concepts that are unusual in studies of life narrative: beginning with zoegraphy and ending with the anthropocene. It turns to scenes of auto/biographical expression that may seem bizarre: animalographies, bioart, narratives of chronic pain, autobiogeography. It embraces creatures, critters, produsers, and avatars. Its critical canon is not traditionally associated with studies of life narrative: Bruno Latour, Deleuze and Guattari, Cary Wolfe, Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti, Jane Bennett, Neil Badmington, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben. The critical issues, concepts, and contexts we engage with in this issue, however, are anything but exotic. To the contrary: what it means to be human is a question that is fundamental to autobiographical narrative, and embedded in the history of autobiography in western modernity. Around posthumanism an assemblage of work is emerging that is important for critical work on life narrative now, and the essays in this special issue suggest why this is so.
Zoegraphy: Per/forming Posthuman Lives
Louis van den Hengel, 1
Drawing on various theories of life from the perspective of philosophical posthumanism, feminist new materialism, and the work of Gilles Deleuze, this article examines the capacity of contemporary art to extend life writing beyond the figure of the human. Through a theoretical and autobiographical engagement with aesthetic practices that turn “life itself ” into a work of art, the essay develops zoegraphy as a radically post-anthropocentric approach to life narrative.
Visual Diary as Prosthetic Practice in Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings
Julia Watson, 21
British performance artist Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings, created over a decade during a struggle with mental illness for which she was institutionalized forty-one times, explores and images aspects of self-experience that have been marginalized in the humanist tradition of autobiography. Refracting her self-portraits through various forms of the inhuman—animal, vegetative, machine—she develops a tropology of visual images that “unmirror” self-representation in the violence of self-misrecognition. Her reflections on her own process chart a posthuman prosthetic practice that does not therapeutically reincorporate her to the human, but generates a culminating self-portrait as an ahuman landscape of the self.
Melinda Rackham’s web-based multimedia installation carrier invites its audience to consider the intersections of virus and human, through an investigation of the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and its impact upon conceptions of the self in the posthuman digital era. Rackham uses her experience with HCV to posit the infected as more-than-human, and in doing so she prompts new ways of thinking about the personal story in a hypertextual framework.
This article analyzes Facebook profiles and accounts as instances of life writing that create simultaneously humanist and posthuman lives. Facebook members produce corporate selves in a collaborative auto/biographical act with the site’s network—both its software and other members. This co-production of networked lives invites a reconsideration of how we read and create life narratives in an online context.
Agency Without Mastery: Chronic Pain and Posthuman Life Writing
Leigh Gilmore, 83
This article examines how recent life writing about chronic pain produces a relational autobiographical subject possessing agency-without-mastery; it analyzes how such a subject challenges the humanist legacy embedded in life writing and clinical discourse about pain, and expresses a potentially posthuman view of relationships, environments, embodiment, and temporality; and it brings a feminist analysis to bear on the ethical issues posthumanism raises in the domain of life writing about chronic pain.
This article contrasts two versions of posthumanism. In one, argued to be in continuity with humanism’s own self-critical tradition, metaphysical questions, existential dilemmas, and issues of authentic human existence persist. In the other, dubbed “post-metaphysical,” such questions are abandoned. The article uses a literary autobiography, Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation, to demonstrate the importance of keeping posthumanism human.
Dave Eggers’s What Is the What is the fictionalized real-life story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys.” Critical of a rhetoric of rescue and promise, the novel questions humanitarianism and the prescriptive, colonial, and even racist undertones of its humanism, while at the same time sustaining the value of a humanist language of rights in humanitarian life writing.
Reading the Posthuman Backwards: Mary Rowlandson’s Doubled Witnessing
Sidonie Smith, 137
Taking its cue from theorists who note the persistence of a humanist imaginary in popular iterations of posthumanism, this essay queries how the posthuman subject projected by theory might “speak” the autobiographical, and troubles the notion of the posthuman as an epochal designation by turning back to consider what a posthuman lens might reveal about the earliest of colonial American autobiographical narratives, Mary Rowlandson’s 1682 captivity narrative. In The True Relation, Rowlandson affirms to her reader how the practice of Biblical exemplarity sustained the afflicted captive as she endured successive removals, and how it sustains the writer as she narrates the story of affliction and restoration. Yet, witnessing to survival, the narrator of The True Relation shifts discourse to become an accidental, unsystematic, proto-humanist ethnographer of encounter, dislocating the saint as posthuman subject through an incipiently humanist attentiveness to difference.
His Master’s Voice: Animalographies, Life Writing, and the Posthuman
Cynthia Huff and Joel Haefner, 153
“Animalographies,” life writing “by” and about animals, are examples of popular posthumanism where human subjectivity persists, while Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet engages critical posthumanism by analyzing the “coshapings” of human and non-human, and melding autobiography, biography, image, and theory. Haraway’s text interrogates agency, subjectivity, authenticity, and the ideological underpinnings of life writing.
Through readings of two “walking memoirs”—W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks—this article considers the implications of the geological concept of the Anthropocene era for the field of life writing studies and its understanding of the human. It considers the ways these and other authors imagine the human, and the costs of the human pursuit of freedom for other species and things, from a planetary perspective.
A Personal Post(human)Script: Further Reading/Reading Further
G. Thomas Couser, 190
Posthumanist life writing expresses what humanist life writing has historically suppressed or denied—the reality that, individually and collectively, humans are deeply dependent on each other (especially at the beginning and end of life); on other species (for sustenance, labor, raw material, and companionship); and of course, to an increasing extent, on technology.
Excerpts from recent reviews of biographies, autobiographies, and other works of interest, 198