Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Universes without Us

Posthuman Cosmologies in American Literature

2013
Author:

Matthew A. Taylor

Universes without Us

Reimagining posthumanism through the work of canonical American writers

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. Taylor shows how posthumanist theory can illuminate American literary texts and how those texts might, in turn, prompt a reassessment of posthumanist theory.

Universes without Us provides incisive and illuminating readings of a wide range of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American literature. This book helps us to reconceive American literature through its compelling connections and intersections and to rethink the place of the human in American literature through its reconstruction of both pessimistic visions of a universe without us in Poe and Adams and potentially more livable posthuman existences through African-American literature.

Paul Gilmore, author of The Genuine Article: Race, Mass Culture, and American Literary Manhood

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.

Universes without Us

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

Universes without Us

Universes without Us provides incisive and illuminating readings of a wide range of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American literature. This book helps us to reconceive American literature through its compelling connections and intersections and to rethink the place of the human in American literature through its reconstruction of both pessimistic visions of a universe without us in Poe and Adams and potentially more livable posthuman existences through African-American literature.

Paul Gilmore, author of The Genuine Article: Race, Mass Culture, and American Literary Manhood

Intricate and thoroughgoing, each chapter is beautifully composed and endlessly interesting.

Poe Studies

Universes without Us

Contents

Acknowledgments

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”

Notes
Index