Tactics of the Human returns to American fiction published during the 1990s, formative years for digital cultures, to reconsider these narratives’ comparative literary print methods of critically engaging with digital technologies and their now ubiquitous computation-based modes of circulation, scenes of writing, and social spaces. It finds that fiction by John Barth, Shelley Jackson, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ruth L. Ozeki, and Jeffrey Eugenides, by creatively transposing digital writing, material formats, and spatiotemporal orientations into print, registers shifting relations to technologies at multiple sites and scales. Grappling with the digital practices catalyzed by post–World War II biological, information, and systems theory, these literary narratives tactically enlist, and enable speculative diagnoses of, emerging relations to digital technologies. Their experimental technics comparatively retrace emerging relations to the digital as these impact American nationalisms and their transnational economic networks; processes of gendering and racialization that remain crucial to differential discourses of the human; and as they enter, unnoticed, into micropractices of everyday life and lived space.
In the midst of expanding technoscientific processes of digital de- and re-materialization that render multiple, charged boundaries of the human increasingly plastic, Tactics of the Human illustrates why it is ever more crucial to query and assess the divergent (re)understandings of the human now categorized, quite loosely, as posthumanisms with particular attention to women’s, subalterns’, and other knowledges already considered liminal to the human. It identifies here and pursues strains of systems thinking, informed by feminist, new materialist, queer, and subaltern understandings of material practices, revealing why these are so pivotal to ongoing efforts to assess current limits to digital technics and expand upon their biological, cultural, social, and poetic potentialities.
“More than a series of close readings in the posthumanist imagination, this will be one of the first books to consistently bring out the relevance of social systems theory and cognitive contexts for an understanding not of 'fictions' only, but of fictionality in the contemporary lifeworld and mediaverse. The promise of the book is not just to apply certain critical 'approaches' to certain works (although the readings of digital hypertext show just how appropriate systems and cognitive frameworks can be, for emerging literatures in new media). Rather, the author has helped to relocate the literary as such, through a systems theoretical and material feminist perspective that goes beyond 'diversity' and beyond the competition among media thought to be distinct, towards a principled reciprocity (between the literary system and the vast non-literary environment; and also among bodies and subjectivities). Shackelford's Tactics of the Human participates in what are potentially transformative interventions in the field of contemporary literary studies.”
—Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago
The cover image is a computer simulation of the protein ubiquitin—a “ubiquitous” protein occurring in all eukaryotes that serves as a label of other proteins to control their life cycle in the cell—as it gradually unfolds and loses its structure due to a pulling force acting on its ends. (Typical structural elements, beta-sheets and alpha-helices, are shown in yellow and blue, respectively.) The image is used courtesy of Bogdan Costescu and Frauke Gräter.