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With digitalculturebooks, the University of Michigan Press publishes innovative work in new media studies and digital humanities. We began in 2006 as a partnership between MLibrary and the Press, taking advantage of the skills and expertise of staff throughout Michigan Publishing. Our primary goal is to be an incubator for new publishing models in the humanities and social sciences.

Tactics of the Human

Experimental Technics in American Fiction
Laura Shackelford
A comparative literary perspective on emerging digital cultures and how the systems-thinking of Post-World War II information and dynamic systems theory have entered into everyday life and lived space, prompting tactical (re)understandings of the human


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.

Laura Shackelford is Associate Professor of English at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Praise / Awards

  • "Shackelford offers a comprehensive, sustained case for the relevance of systems theory in US literary study. Her approach—complementary with both the texts she examines and the time in which she writes—offers readers an uncannily intuitive means for grasping both late twentieth- and twenty-first-century US literature, as well as its extraliterary environments and influences."
    --American Literary History

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 274pp.
  • 5 Figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07238-5

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  • $64.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05238-7

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90016-9

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  • Contemporary American fiction, digital cultures, technics, comparative media studies, posthumanism, cybernetics and systems theory, new materialisms, feminism, science studies, biopolitics, literary systems, digital and transmedia narrative