The merger and connection between seemingly disparate academic subjects and my affective reaction

Before I started to study with the English Department at UC, I held to a particular paradigm within which I saw English studies fitting. Grammar, literature, foreign language study, writing workshops, and literary theory seemed like the courses I would exclusively encounter.  I saw these courses as strictly relevant to English studies and believed that other subjects (such as computer science, philosophy, psychology, and the natural and social sciences) didn’t line up with English scholarship in any way, other than by analogy.

I was wrong.  As N. Katherine Hayles states in her conclusion of her first chapter, “Toward Embodied Virtuality”, she wants to “demonstrate how crucial it is to recognize interrelations between different kinds of cultural productions, specifically literature and science” (24).  The interrelation includes her use of terms like “posthuman,” “cybernetic,” “informational pattern,” and “autopoeisis”. Before I considered her definitions for these words, I had approximately this affective reaction. Posthuman?  That sounds like something from a sic-fi novel; cybernetic feels like computer science; and informational pattern reminds of terms I’ve found in cognitive science, Kantian philosophy, and computer science.  Autopoeisis has the sound of a Greek, rhetorical term, while still maintaining a connection to computer science.

I wouldn’t call Hayles use of this terminology a threat (challenge) to the my academic path in English studies. As it turns out, these terms do relate to my course of study–particularly autopoesis. Hayles uses these terms, in relation to the move of humanities (including English) to the digital domain.  But the stretching of English studies (and humanities) into scholarly concerns such as autopoeisis (which she defines as self-fashioning, a New Historic lit crit concept) shows a connection between old and new fields of study within English. My interest in American Rhetorical slogans ( like self-made man “rugged individualism) are also relevant to the concept of autopoeisis, which relates to the evolution of cybernetic studies.

Hayles work and use of this terminology convinces me that the separation between academic fields (such as science and literature)  is artificial, though Hayles doesn’t say that directly.  Her first chapter has made me readjust my paradigm of what English studies should and can include.  Instead of being just an English student or a comp/rhet scholar-in-training, I can use her terminology and concepts as methods of inquiry, which spans seemingly disparate fields of my own interests like Rhetoric, American History, consciousness and science (and science fiction). In other words, instead of discord between the subject areas, I can recognize that all subject areas can come together in the context of this moment of digital archiving and humanities.

Precisely because the digital humanities archiving doesn’t have the sense of place as a traditional hard copy archive, a term like virtual reality is necessary.

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