Inventing the Human/Animal
Instructor: Ryan Heryford

In the closing paragraph to his seminal text, The Order of Things, Michel Foucault writes, “as the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.” If Foucault is correct, and our conception of ‘humanity’ is indeed a social and historical construct, how has the idea of ‘culture’ helped to facilitate and encourage our belief in this construct? And what does Foucault mean when he suggests that this construct is nearing its end? The goal of this course will be to study the means by which culture continually invents and reinvents ‘the human,’ and vice versa. In addition to a survey of theoretical essays grounded in cultural studies, this course will analyze a series of films, literature, visual arts, and performance pieces that reinforce or question our understanding of what it means to be a part of the ‘human’ species. Additionally, in this course we will investigate the ‘invention of the human’ as bound within mechanisms of patriarchal, racist, and class-based violence, as well as the ways in which forms of exploitation and the oppression of groups within society are reflected and reinforced in the relationships between human/nonhuman communities. This course will conclude with a look at texts in Ecocriticism, Critical Species Theory, and Posthumanism, a speculative discipline that deals in utopian and apocalyptic depictions of the human and nonhuman worlds. Films for this course may include Planet of the Apes, Jurassic Park, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Spirited Away. We may also engage such authors as Bhanu Kapil, Anne Waldman, Indra Sinha, Cormac McCarthy, and Amitav Ghosh.