Humans at the End of the World: Reimagining the Limits of the Human in Contemporary Spain
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Humans at the End of the World: Reimagining the Limits of the Human in Contemporary Spain


This dissertation examines the concept of the posthuman within the context of contemporary Spain, looking at how a variety of cultural objects (literature, film, earth art, and digital literature) question or otherwise explore the limits of the fundamental modern concept of the human. The nature of this investigation works in two directions, asking both how the study of contemporary Spain can help better understand the posthuman and how the posthuman as a critical concept can reveal novel insights or connections within the existing scholarship on Spain and its cultural production. Ultimately, by employing a variety of analytical frameworks and disciplines to interpret this diverse collection of objects, I propose that the posthuman can serve as a transversal concept in Peninsular literary and cultural studies, linking disciplines, discourses, and historical periods through associations that might otherwise be overlooked. The general understanding of the posthuman that guides this dissertation is one that takes as its point of departure Michel Foucault’s initial provocation, found in the final pages of The Order of Things, to historicize and critique the concept of the human. It is likewise informed by a general deconstructionist exercise in critiquing the instability of the human-nonhuman binary in all its myriad manifestations. More specifically, I approach the posthuman from two perspectives: the digital and the environmental. For the first of these two, informed by the work of N. Katherine Hayles, I comprehend the digital posthuman not as a way to transcend the corporeal or material limits of being human, but rather a way to consider how the affordances of digital technology can be used to critically reevaluate the formation of the liberal human subject. For the environmental posthuman, I explore the binary between human culture and the nonhuman environment, employing the framework of ecocriticism and engaging with the work of various scholars such as Donna Haraway, Cheryl Glotfelty, and Jason W. Moore in order to contest the formation of this binary and consider alternative ways of comprehending the interrelations between humans and nature. In chapter 1, “The Lichen at the End of the Novel: Emilia Pardo Bazán and the Question of Naturalism in Late-Nineteenth-Century Spain,” I study Bazán’s canonical novel Los Pazos de Ulloa within the context of the nineteenth-century debate on mechanism and vitalism, in this way contextualizing my inquiries regarding the posthuman within a larger history of critiquing Western scientific thought. Prior to my analysis of this novel, I review the debate between mechanism and vitalism as found in the writings of Claude Bernard, Émile Zola, and Emilia Pardo Bazán. Ultimately, I argue that Bazán offers a complex view of the relations between humans and nature that critiques the mechanist insistence on this binary. Jumping forward a century but staying in the rural, in chapter 2, “Transhumant/Transhuman: A Posthuman Reading of Julio Llamazares’s La lluvia amarilla,” I analyze the different ways of approaching the posthuman that are apparent in Julio Llamazares’s novel about an abandoned village in the mountainous, northern extremes of Spain: in particular, I focus on the binaries of human-tree, human-animal, and human-environment. Situating this investigation within the context of the infrastructural and demographic changes of late-twentieth-century Spain – most of which occurred in the final two decades of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship –, this chapter considers how Llamazares reflects on the changing perspectives to the concept of nature in contemporary Spain and imagines new possibilities for understanding the ways in which humans affect and are in turn affected by the environment. Chapter 3, “Unhelpful Tools with Destructive Inertia: Posthuman Destruction in Eugenio Tisselli’s degenerative and regenerative,” argues that these two works of electronic literature serve as allegories for the dangers of digital posthuman assemblages, which I define as a collection of humans and nonhumans, facilitated by and comprised of digital technology, that can effect significant actions in the world. In this chapter, I use scholarship on the posthuman – bringing into conversation the work of Latour, Braidotti, and Hayles – and new media – in particular, the scholarship of Wendy Chun – to consider how Tisselli offers a general critique of digital technology in contemporary capitalism. Complementing this, I also employ Guillem Martínez’s concept of the Cultura de la Transición, a framework that criticizes the political deactivation of culture in democratic Spain, to help comprehend these works within the context of contemporary Spain. Finally, in chapter 4, “Life and Death in the Anthropocene: Various Approximations to the Prestige Oil Spill,” I analyze three objects: the earth art sculptures of Manfred Gnädinger, the experimental film Costa da Morte by Lois Patiño, and a set of chapters from Agustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla Experience. Linking these objects through their common connection to the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, I consider how the concept of the posthuman can be represented in works of art, rather than just literature, and ask to what extent the posthuman can serve as a critical methodology for studying a contemporary world of increasing digital abstraction and impending environmental catastrophe. Although the analyses found throughout the four chapters of this dissertation revolve around this question, the discussion of the final chapter, by directly addressing an environmental disaster, more directly recognizes the urgency of this type of critical practice. Wrapping up the dissertation, the conclusion offers a brief commentary on the importance of criticism – both in Peninsular studies and more broadly – to more explicitly engage with how artists use formal experimentation to explore the posthuman and the various fields traversed by this concept

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