Memoirs of a cyborg: American autobiography as a genre of the (post)human
Carpintero Torres-Quevedo, Maria Elena
This dissertation will look at the relationship between autobiography and the construction of the American subject. The introduction will outline the parameters of the genre and its shared history with the discourses of Enlightenment humanism and American national identity. It will then go on to explore posthumanism as a philosophical and political response to the naturalisation of the subject constructed by those discourses. I argue that there is an emerging field of posthuman autobiography in the United States that uses generic variation to dramatise the failures of American Enlightenment rhetoric and the experiences of subjects marginalised by both the rhetoric and the sociopolitical environment that it is a product of and that is simultaneously perpetuates and obscures. My chapters will go on to look at particular cases of such posthuman autobiography, deploying posthuman theory with a particular American focus alongside genre-focussed close reading to elucidate what the theory reveals about the texts and how the texts dramatise and contextualise the theory in turn. The four chapters will look at Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, Roxane Gay’s Hunger, and convergence era televised autobiographical works. I have focussed specifically on autobiographies written by women in part because of the pervasiveness of traditionally masculine traits in the discourse of the Enlightenment subject, but also because a number of foundational posthumanists, such as Donna Haraway and Katherine Hayles, have theorised the field with women at their core. I have also chosen autobiographies that portray a spectrum of experiences of marginalisation within the US, looking at the way factors like class, race, and sexuality influence and inform the American subject. I argue that these autobiographical texts offer a radical challenge to the subject that has been central to American discourse.