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Posthuman Language

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Organizer: Nina Begus

Co-Organizer: Guangchen Chen

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Some of the biggest breakthroughs of the twenty-first century in science and technology took place in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology. AI recreates the mind apart from the body and biotechnology enhances the body apart from the mind. The next step is to combine the two technological concepts into a new posthuman entity. Such ideas were, until recently, in the domain of science fiction rather than science.  
One of the more challenging tasks in creating humanoids is establishing a genuine communication with humans, first and foremost through proper (humanlike) responses to human cognition and emotions. If in the posthuman, as Katherine Hayles claims, “there are no essential differences and absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals” (1999: 2-3), then language could be created or enhanced in both nonhuman and human entities. We ask how the merging of an organism and machine affects language and how nonhuman entities acquire language in the first place. And further, how do nonhuman simulations of language work and affect our communication? The questions of technological language, perfection, performance and authenticity were already addressed in the times of mechanical automata (Pinocchio, Olympia and Coppélia; the Mechanical Turk, Euphonia) and are still relevant today. Language in the posthuman, denaturalized as a source and form of information, cannot uphold the humanist cogito ergo sum in a world where technology alternates and extends human minds and bodies. What happens next?
This seminar explores literary and cinematic reflections of scientific and technological attempts to recreate the human and, more broadly, nature. The main topic of the seminar is nonhuman entities’ use of human language, however, we also welcome papers that deal with other aspects of recreation, enhancement and imitation of the natural world, coming from the fields of literature, film, music, linguistics, history of science, medical humanities, animal studies, disability studies, monster studies, and gender studies. 

Please submit a 250-300-word abstract through the ACLA website between Thursday, August 30, at 12 p.m. EST and Thursday, September 20, at 9 a.m. EST.
Do not hesitate to contact nbegus@fas.harvard.edu or g.chen@princeton.edu for questions and suggestions.

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