Universes without Us: Posthuman Cosmologies in American Literature

Universes without Us: Posthuman Cosmologies in American Literature

by Matthew A. Taylor

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During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a wide variety of American writers proposed the existence of energies connecting human beings to cosmic processes. From varying points of view—scientific, philosophical, religious, and literary—they suggested that such energies would eventually result in the perfection of individual and collective bodies, assuming that assimilation into larger networks of being meant the expansion of humanity’s powers and potentialities—a belief that continues to inform much posthumanist theory today.

Universes without Us explores a lesser-known countertradition in American literature. As Matthew A. Taylor’s incisive readings reveal, the heterodox cosmologies of Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Adams, Charles Chesnutt, and Zora Neale Hurston reject the anthropocentric fantasy that sees the universe as a kind of reservoir of self-realization. For these authors, the world can be made neither “other” nor “mirror.” Instead, humans are enmeshed with “alien” processes that are both constitutive and destructive of “us.” By envisioning universes no longer our own, these cosmologies picture a form of interconnectedness that denies any human ability to master it.

Universes without Us demonstrates how the questions, possibilities, and dangers raised by the posthuman appeared nearly two centuries ago. Taylor finds in these works an untimely engagement with posthumanism, particularly in their imagining of universes in which humans are only one category of heterogeneous thing in a vast array of species, objects, and forces. He shows how posthumanist theory can illuminate American literary texts and how those texts might, in turn, prompt a reassessment of posthumanist theory. By understanding the posthuman as a materialist cosmology rather than a technological innovation, Taylor extends the range of thinkers who can be included in contemporary conversations about the posthuman.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452940526
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: 12/01/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 264
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Matthew A. Taylor is assistant professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Table of Contents



Introduction: Immortal Post-Mortems
1. Edgar Allan Poe’s Meta/Physics
2. Henry Adams’s Half-Life: The Science of Autobiography
3. “By an Act of Self-Creation”: On Becoming Human in America
4. Hoodoo You Think You Are?: Self-Conjuration in Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman
5. “It Might Be the Death of You”: Hurston’s Voodoo Ethnography
Coda: “The Cosmo-Political Party”


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