Presentation Title

The 21st Century Subject in Ruth Ozeki's Posthuman, Cosmopolitan World

Faculty Mentor

Mitchum Huehls

Start Date

17-11-2018 9:00 AM

End Date

17-11-2018 9:15 AM

Location

C305

Session

Oral 1

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Subject Area

humanities_letters

Abstract

In Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, sixteen-year-old Nao’s diary travels from Japan to the shores of an island in the Pacific Northwest where the character Ruth resides. Although the two characters occupy vastly different corners of the world, they begin to share a cosmopolitan connection as Ruth starts reading the diary. Soon, Ruth realizes she can affect Nao’s narrative through dream sequences where she becomes a disembodied figure creating changes in Nao’s life. The nomadic characters in Ozeki’s novel reflect the figure of the lost, cosmopolitan nomad that has been around in literature for centuries ever since the Greek philosopher Diogenes declared himself a citizen of the world in the fourth century BC. However, the 21st century has caused a shift in the traditional notions of humanist cosmopolitanism to a more posthuman approach. In the era of the Anthropocene, the deconstruction of the traditional binaries of human-nonhuman and subject-object has led to a world where the human being is immersed within the material and immaterial elements. The cosmopolitan individual loses its prior dominance as a human subject and instead becomes a mere speck in the universe. Therefore, what happens once cosmopolitanism gives up its normative ideas about the oneness of humanity? Can it even be considered cosmopolitanism anymore if the human recedes into the background? If we remove the human from the picture, what kind of politics and ethics will posthuman cosmopolitanism generate, or can it be political at all? Ozeki’s novel thinks through these questions as it features a struggle between centering the human subject in the novel, while also making it fade into the background amidst the environmental and technological elements. Therefore, my paper aims to examine subjectivity created in the 21st century through the lens of A Tale for the Time Being in order to understand what a posthuman approach to cosmopolitanism entails and the bigger ethical and political concerns it raises. My paper focuses on 21st century discourses on posthumanism and cosmopolitanism to make the argument.

Summary of research results to be presented

This research came out of my departmental honors thesis which I started in Spring 2018. My research process involved closely examining Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale for the Time Being in order to ascertain the new kind of cosmopolitanism that Ozeki’s novel engenders through its posthuman approach to the world. I also looked at current discourse on cosmopolitanism and posthumanism to consider how the novel deviates from the usual approaches and fosters a shift in current discourse. The theorists who were central to my thesis included Pheng Cheah, Rosi Braidotti, and Rebecca Walkowitz, all of whom consider a post-normative approach to cosmopolitanism. Tale for the Time Being includes cosmopolitan aspects like migration and internationalism; however, it does not consider human life particularly significant. The novel battles with the question of giving the human subject in the novel agency and their centeredness, thereby raising the question whether cosmopolitanism can truly ever be posthuman at all. My results showed the posthuman nature of the cosmopolitan subject through two ways. Firstly, the novel tries to deal with the human/posthuman dilemma by portraying a shift from agency to affect. Secondly, the novel’s new materialist form, which depicts an ongoing process of meaning construction, points to the dissolution of the boundary between the reader and the writer, as well as between language and the world. Both these strategies result in the novel proposing an affective mode of cosmopolitanism, which is supported by the text and the theories which I will present.

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Nov 17th, 9:00 AM Nov 17th, 9:15 AM

The 21st Century Subject in Ruth Ozeki's Posthuman, Cosmopolitan World

C305

In Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, sixteen-year-old Nao’s diary travels from Japan to the shores of an island in the Pacific Northwest where the character Ruth resides. Although the two characters occupy vastly different corners of the world, they begin to share a cosmopolitan connection as Ruth starts reading the diary. Soon, Ruth realizes she can affect Nao’s narrative through dream sequences where she becomes a disembodied figure creating changes in Nao’s life. The nomadic characters in Ozeki’s novel reflect the figure of the lost, cosmopolitan nomad that has been around in literature for centuries ever since the Greek philosopher Diogenes declared himself a citizen of the world in the fourth century BC. However, the 21st century has caused a shift in the traditional notions of humanist cosmopolitanism to a more posthuman approach. In the era of the Anthropocene, the deconstruction of the traditional binaries of human-nonhuman and subject-object has led to a world where the human being is immersed within the material and immaterial elements. The cosmopolitan individual loses its prior dominance as a human subject and instead becomes a mere speck in the universe. Therefore, what happens once cosmopolitanism gives up its normative ideas about the oneness of humanity? Can it even be considered cosmopolitanism anymore if the human recedes into the background? If we remove the human from the picture, what kind of politics and ethics will posthuman cosmopolitanism generate, or can it be political at all? Ozeki’s novel thinks through these questions as it features a struggle between centering the human subject in the novel, while also making it fade into the background amidst the environmental and technological elements. Therefore, my paper aims to examine subjectivity created in the 21st century through the lens of A Tale for the Time Being in order to understand what a posthuman approach to cosmopolitanism entails and the bigger ethical and political concerns it raises. My paper focuses on 21st century discourses on posthumanism and cosmopolitanism to make the argument.