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The Speculative Agency of the Nonhuman: Animal, Object, and Posthuman Worldings

  • Author(s): Magnone, Sophia Booth
  • Advisor(s): Freccero, Carla
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

This dissertation explores representations of nonhuman agency across the diverse literary tradition of speculative fiction. I identify speculative fiction as a site where cultural discourses of personhood, species, and power might be challenged and reworked; a loosely defined genre, SF insists on an openness to disruption, exploiting the creative and politically radical possibilities of imagining the world otherwise. The project draws upon an archive of nineteenth- and twentieth-century French, English, and U.S. American texts that adopt a speculative mode in order to literalize long-standing associations of the feminine, animal, and object in the Western patriarchal imagination, populating their pages with figures of feminized cyborgs, animalized women, and mechanized animals. By worlding a range of beings defined by their difference from the human norm, the texts intervene in longstanding anthropocentric discourses of “who” versus “what,” proposing a more inclusive notion of personhood that recognizes collective, interdependent, and passive forms of agency. I draw upon feminist theory, gender and queer theory, animal studies, and posthumanist scholarship to articulate an intersectional approach to multispecies ethics.

The four chapters separate into two parts, each concerned with one vector of the infinitely multiple field of the nonhuman. The first two focus on artificial, machinic life as one alternative to human species-being; Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus in Chapter 1 and Villiers’s L’Eve future and Carter’s The Passion of New Eve in Chapter 2 employ cyborg figures to challenge dominant discourses of gender propriety and authorial agency. The second two chapters focus on animals and animality as a second alternative to humanity; Carter’s Nights at the Circus and Darrieussecq’s Truismes in Chapter 3 and Stapledon’s Sirius and Bakis’s Lives of the Monster Dogs in Chapter 4 attend to the perils and pleasures of bestial life on the margins of human-dominated society. Together, the chapters build toward a notion of worlding as collaboration—between humans, animals, and machines; between genders; between storytellers and stories, authors and texts.

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