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      Posthumanism and Colonial Discourse: Nineteenth Century Literature and Twenty-First Century Critique

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          Abstract

          Nineteenth Century novelists frequently picture life beyond and across the edges of humanity—figuratively moving the ‘posts’ of humanity—a practice that this article calls ‘posthumanisation’. Inspired by the accelerating as well as mutually reinforcing dynamics of colonial expansion, empiricism, new biological and scientific findings (Darwin, paleontology, and psychology), and the rise of industrialisation, prominent writers such as Mary Shelley, the Brontë sisters, and Joseph Conrad habitually blur human-animal boundaries. This article engages with versions of posthumanisation in selected novels by these authors—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1898)—and the anonymously published The Woman of Colour (1808), examining how they engage either in critiquing the perfidious overlaps between posthumanisation and colonial discourse ( The Woman of Colour; Frankenstein) or blur Cartesian binaries between humans and animals to reinforce colonialism’s narcissistic politics of non-relation (for example, see Gandhi, 2006; Simmons, 2007; and Drichel, 2018). The article foregrounds the extent to which a thriving colonial discourse and biological racism do not (necessarily) result in a ‘fixing’ of racial others on the side of ‘animal’ (and, as such, in their ‘dehumanisation’), but rather in a strategic ‘flexibilisation’ of ‘hum-animality’ (see Ellis, 2018) in the interest of plausibilising white supremacy and the slavery system. Arguing for the merit of historicizing literary analysis as posthumanist scholarship directs its gaze to the past; building on race-critical contributions to posthumanist discourse (see, for example, Malm and Hornborg, 2014; Jackson, 2015; Jackson, 2020; Davis et al., 2019; and Yussof, 2019); and also engaging with the still-scarce scholarship on the overlaps of posthuman being and race relations in the context of Britain’s ‘imperial century’ (see Ellis, 2018; and Jackson, 2020), this essay contributes to setting on a more solid, historical foundation a discourse that has repeatedly been criticised for engaging a ‘racial’ ‘wilful blindness’ ( Yusoff, 2018). The article thus contributes to diversifying not only historical approaches to ‘proto-posthumanisms’ as they are currently proliferating in the field but also, and by implication, current posthumanist self-understandings and research ethics.

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          Defining the anthropocene.

          Time is divided by geologists according to marked shifts in Earth's state. Recent global environmental changes suggest that Earth may have entered a new human-dominated geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Here we review the historical genesis of the idea and assess anthropogenic signatures in the geological record against the formal requirements for the recognition of a new epoch. The evidence suggests that of the various proposed dates two do appear to conform to the criteria to mark the beginning of the Anthropocene: 1610 and 1964. The formal establishment of an Anthropocene Epoch would mark a fundamental change in the relationship between humans and the Earth system.
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            Interspecies

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              A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                2056-6700
                Open Library of Humanities
                Open Library of Humanities
                2056-6700
                10 December 2020
                2020
                : 6
                : 2
                Affiliations
                [1 ]University of Münster, DE
                Article
                10.16995/olh.613
                Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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                Reading in ruins: exploring posthumanist narrative studies

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