Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

English

Supervisor

Dr. Tilottama Rajan

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the way Romantic-period philosophers, artists and writers were critically engaged with various Romantic-period disciplines, those branches of learning that were complexly enmeshed with the inhuman and putting increasing pressure on the concept of “the human.” Over the course of five chapters, this study pursues the problematic of “the human” across the borders of philosophy, where Immanuel Kant entertains extraterrestrials while organizing the new discipline of pragmatic anthropology; the early and late illuminated work of poet-engraver William Blake, which enables us to think the inhumanities within the human; the closet drama and poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, which think the inhumanity of life; and the fiction of Mary Shelley, as a thought experiment about the end of man and posthuman survival of man’s cultural achievements. “The Romantic Posthuman and Posthumanities” analyzes the human at its borders with the inhuman in Romantic literature. It examines the erosion of these borders through the way key disciplines (aesthetics, literature) were thematized in literary texts by Blake and the Shelleys. This thesis makes the case that a theoretical thinking about the end of man, of a humanism associated with man and his disciplinary formations, and a reflection on what comes after this end, all have their inception in Romantic thought.

Here, Romanticism is a sign of history for man’s fragilization, for a privileged conception of man and of a certain understanding of life, a counter-discourse to Enlightenment humanism. What emerges – and this is the real importance of this endeavour – is a more comprehensive portrait of the ways in which the human and a decidedly humanistic understanding of life in the long Romantic period were widely and complexly enmeshed with – to follow Blake – an “innumerable company” of inhumans, including ether, rocks, plants, infusoria, and animals. This study reflects on our contemporary lives within what is increasingly being called the “posthumanities,” and hopes that as we move towards this new humanities we will acknowledge and better understand our debt to Romantic thought, our model for a hybridized interdisciplinary thought wherein art and science, human and inhuman are frequently entwined.


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