Call for papers: The Human and its Limits, University of Bergen 9-10 December 2010

Conference organized by the research group Literature and Science, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, The University of Bergen 9-10 December 2010

Invited speakers include:

Nick Daly, Professor of English Literature, University College, Dublin; Joanna Zylinska, Reader in New Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College, University of London; Dr. Paola Spinozzi, English literature, University of Ferrara; Ole M. Høystad, Professor of Cultural Studies, Syddansk Universitet, Odense.

As we prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century, the long history of fascination with the specifically human and its limits continues to intrigue, constantly inspiring new perspectives, developing in complexity and changing in actuality along with current advances in science and technology. Since La Mettrie published L’Homme Machine in 1747, extending the Cartesian analogy of the machine from its application to animal and human bodies to apply to the bodies and minds of humans, conceptions of the human being as a function of purely physiological processes have grown increasingly dominant. In more and more complex ways, nature and mankind are understood not simply by means of technological advances, but as projections of new technologies. Today’s intelligent machines serve as means as well as models in attempts at understanding and controlling biological as well as cognitive processes. Experiments in cybernetics and bio-cybernetics are producing new combinations of humans, animals and machines: mice with human brain cells, pigs with human blood, genetically engineered or computer-simulated (human) life. At the same time, the post-humanist community of humans, animals and machines remains a site of conflicting ethics and emotions, haunted, some would say, by the “lost soul” of humanism. The fundamental question is still with us: how to think (and rethink) the limits of the human in the wake of the post-humanist critique?

The objective of this conference is to address the changing notions of the human in the age of cyborgs and neuro-implants, but also to open up for longer historical views. We therefore welcome a range of approaches – historical, theoretical, ethical and aesthetical – to the idea of the (specifically) human and its limits; its points of transition and contact with other modes of being (animate or inanimate, virtual or material). Proposed topics might address:

  • The role of literature and the arts in defining the nature and limits of the human
  • What it means to be human and what it might mean to be non-human: ahuman, ab-human, parahuman
  • Aesthetic and cultural preoccupations with mutants, cyborgs, monsters and aliens
  • Metamorphosis, hybridity, transformation
  • Automatism and animism as defamiliarising devices
  • Literary topoi such as naturalism’s bête humaine or futurism’s idealized machines
  • Human evolution in relation to technology and tools
  • Biotechnology, genetic mapping and engineering; prosthetics
  • Cognitive science, Neuroscience and Evolutionary theory
  • Historical, philosophical and aesthetic approaches to the body/mind relationship
  • Emotion and affect

The organisers invite proposals for twenty-minute research papers on these or other aspects of the conference topic. Please e-mail your proposed topic and preliminary paper title by 30 July, followed by a 250-word abstract by 1 September, to one of the following addresses: OR OR