Annotation: Katherine N. Hayles’ “The Posthuman Body” (1997)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectu here.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Posthuman Body: Inscription and Incorporation in Galatea 2.2
and Snow Crash.” Configurations 5.2 (1997): 241-66. Print.

In her essay Hayles discusses how discourses about the “posthuman” perpetuate a precarious devaluation of the importance of material, embodied existence. The human body is regarded as secondary and even irrelevant as human consciousness carries the core of an individual’s identity and can be downloaded as informational code into another vessel. As posthuman discourses attempt to “configure human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines,” inscription (the signifying capacity of DNA as informational code) is stressed over incorporation (the material aspect of the human body) (242). Hayles argues that Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are science fictional texts that diverge from conventional depictions of the “posthuman” by revealing the enduring importance of the body. Her discussion of Snow Crash will be more relevant for the purposes of my own paper. Hayles examines how the human characters in the novel are essentially presented as computers, as both inscription and incorporation sharply converge. Infected with the computer virus, Snow Crash, the characters are literally turned into automatons and forced to operate according to programmed codes. Hayles ultimately concludes her essay by asserting the importance of acknowledging the great possibilities of contemporary informational technologies without effacing the body as a fundamental aspect of human existence and of being human. I intend to further her argument by examining the treatment of race in posthuman discourses and how avatars serve as one embodied representation of human beings online.