The text we will read for next week is posted in the Resources page. It begins on page 19 and the selection we will discuss in class is pages 19-31. These are not many pages but you may find them challenging and should make time to read them. They reference the humanities in general and some theoretical ideas that have been important to literary criticism since the beginning of the 21st century. Try not to get bogged down in any one section but try, also, to look some things up when you come across material or words that are unfamiliar to you.
One term that comes up is “affect.” Affect is similar to, but very different from, feeling or emotion. The word refers to the sense of intensity that bodies can pick up on, a sense that is “prepersonal.” Here is a link to a more elaborate and specific definition to the way that “affect” written about in the Humanities.
The first half of this reading–the selection we will discuss on Tuesday–is mostly about the field of Animal Studies and the Humanities. It will prepare us to discuss the course theme, posthumanism, from the perspective of animal studies. The references to subjectivity should remind you of the discussion we had a week ago about the concept of a subject as a person who can exert his (historically male, European) will, freely–separate from the wills of others–upon an external environment or situation in order to achieve his own ends. This traditional Humanist concept of the subject has received criticism and developed greater complexity, especially through the 20th century. The term refers to the “individuality” of a person, but that individuality has been questioned by thinkers who notice our conformist tendencies, on the one hand–in which we take social constructs to be personal preferences and, as part of our “uniqueness,” want what everyone else wants–and it has been questioned by thinkers who notice how interconnected we are with medical and digital technologies. A long line of thinkers have criticized the liberal human subject and we will only be able to look at a few of them this semester. For now, I think it just helps to know that the audience to whom Lynn Worsham has written her essay is very familiar with this long history. Even so, it is a very accessible essay for readers who are not her intended audience.
When we delve into the second half, Worsham will establish a vocabulary for thinking about ethics and trauma, and these may be helpful for thinking about our world today as well as the literature we will read this semester.
If you have difficulty following the text, remember to read ACTIVELY. That is, write questions in the margin, write a definition in a margin, try to write what you read in your own words if you feel it is an important part of the writer’s argument, and freewrite a response to a section of the reading to help you prepare a response and questions for class on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, you will be asked in your in-class writing a kind of “quiz” question. I will ask you to explain the following quotation and what the quotation explains in the essay selection:
“Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function as a deflection of reality.”