Posthuman Encounters: Desires, Fears, and the Uncanny
Thursday, 19th of May 2022
13:00: Lunch Buffet at Intercity Hotel
14:00-14:30: Conference opening (Joachim Frenk, Jana Burnikel)
14:30-15:30: Keynote & discussion
15.30-15:45: Coffee break
17:30-19:00: Panel 2
Friday, 20th of May 2022
09:00-10:30: Panel 3
10:45-12:15: Panel 4
14:00-15:30: Panel 5
15:30-15:45: Coffee break
15:45-16:45: Talk & discussion:
19:30: Conference dinner at Café Kostbar
Saturday, 21st of May 2022
09:30-11:00: Panel 6
12:00-12:30: Final address (Joachim Frenk, Jana Burnikel) and publication questions
12:30-13:30: Lunch buffet at Intercity Hotel
Keynote speaker: Prof. Dr. Kevin LaGrandeur (New York Institute of Technology): "The Promise and Peril of Digital Brain Enhancement"
Dr. Kevin LaGrandeur is Professor Emeritus at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, and co-founder of the NY Posthuman Research Group. He specializes in technology and culture, ethics, and education. Dr. LaGrandeur is a member of the founding editorial boards of two journals: AI and Ethics, and the Journal of Posthumanism. As well, he is on the founding editorial board of the book series Critical Posthuman and Citizenship Studies, by the publisher Rowman and Littlefield. He has published more than 50 articles and media productions, in both professional venues and the popular press, and 2 books: Artificial Slaves (2013), which won a 2014 Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies Prize, and Surviving the Machine Age (2017), with sociologist James Hughes. Among his current projects, he and his colleague John Misak are developing an Augmented Reality game to help students understand Shakespeare and his world.
Jana Burnikel, M. A. (Saarland University): “Monstrous Wombs, Artificial Births, and Uncanny Mothers in the HBO Series Raised by Wolves” Jana Burnikel studied British Literary and Cultural Studies at Saarland University. Her doctoral thesis examines the representations of artificial intelligence in the social roles of parents/children in contemporary sci-fi texts. She has been a scholar of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and received seed funding for the research project “The Posthuman 'Uncanny' in Contemporary AI Narratives".
Prof. Dr. Joachim Frenk (Saarland University)
Joachim Frenk is professor of British and Irish literary and cultural studies at Universität des Saarlandes, Germany, He has published for instance on Shakespeare and early modern literature and culture, Victorian literature (with one focus on Charles Dickens), and British popular cultures in global contexts (e.g., on James Bond). Together with Christian Krug, he has pursued the project "Interactivity of Digital Texts" (supported by the German research community DFG). He has also published on internet censorship and filmic imaginations of digital futures.
Prof. Dr. Susanne Gruß (University of Bonn): "The Posthuman in Fungal Gothic Fiction: Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty (2018) and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (2020)"
Dr. Susanne Gruß is visiting professor of English Literature at Bonn University and senior lecturer in English literature and culture at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg. She has published a monograph on contemporary feminist writing, co-edited a collection of essays and a special issue on neo-Victorianism, and written articles on film adaptation, contemporary literature, psychogeography, early modern piracy, and law and literature. Her research interests include the intersection of legal discourses and literature, early modern drama and popular culture, gender studies, contemporary literature, and the gothic. After finishing her second book project, entitled The Laws of Excess: Law, Literature, and the Laws of Genre in Early Modern Drama, she is now working on research projects on the practices of collaboration in early modern theatre and the cultural work of fungi in contemporary literature and film.
Anne Hess, M. A. (Saarland University): "Sci-Fi Waste Spaces as Incubators for Uncanny AI"
Anne Hess studied British Literary and Cultural Studies at Saarland University. Her doctoral thesis examines the representations of waste and waste spaces and their impact in contemporary sci-fi texts.
Dr. Christian Krug (FAU Erlangen): "The Sentimental Disposition of (Popular) Trans- and Posthumanism"
Dr. Christian Krug is a senior lecturer at the English Department at Erlangen University (FAU), where he focusses on the politics of popular culture, past and present. He is part of FAU‘s interdisciplinary ‚Global Sentimentality Network‘ and the associated DFG Research Training Group ‚Das Sentimentale in Literatur, Kultur und Politik‘.
Prof. Dr. Stefan Laqué (FU Berlin): "Enter a Robot: What Shakespeare can teach us about AI"
Dr. Stephan Laqué is professor of English Literature at Freie Universität Berlin who is working in the fields of literary theory and postcolonialism as well as early modern and late modern / postmodern literature. He is the author of the monographs Hermetik und Dekonstruktion: Die Erfahrung der Transzendenz in Shakespeares Hamlet and The Metaphysics of Isolation: Delimitation, Knowledge and Identity in 20th century Literature. He has co-edited a number of volumes on early modern literature including Realigning Renaissance Culture: Intrusion and Adjustment in Early Modern Drama (2004) and Acts of Crime: Lawlessness on the Early Modern Stage (2015).
Dr. Diane LeBlond (University of Lorraine, IDEA): "Klara and the Vagaries of Human Hearts. What Kazuo Ishiguro’s AI tells us about the Uncanny Valley"Diane Leblond is a Lecturer in British Contemporary Literature and Visual Culture at the University of Lorraine in Metz, and a member of the research team IDEA (Interdisciplinarity in Anglophone Studies). Her PhD thesis entitled “Optics of Fiction” consisted in an exploration of visual culture through its representations within British contemporary fiction. Her current research explores the interface of visual culture and literature, and the epistemics, ethics and politics involved in the distribution of the sensible as manifested in contemporary writing and audio-visual media. In the fall of 2022 she will be co-organising a conference commemorating the work of author and art historian John Berger. Over the past academic year, Diane organised the seminar series “Our Extended Bodies, Ourselves,” as part of a wider project on critical posthumanism entitled Humanities After Humans?
Dr. Cordula Lemke (FU Berlin): “Of Moving Pictures and Sexbots: The Delights of the Uncanny”
Dr. Cordula Lemke teaches English Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin. She has published in the fields of Gender Studies, Postcolonial Studies and 19th to 21st century literature. Her publications include a book on notions of experience in the novels of Virginia Woolf and Jeanette Winterson, Wandel in der Erfahrung: Die Konstruktion von Welt in den Romanen von Virginia Woolf und Jeanette Winterson (2004), Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) (2007, coedited with Claus Zittel) and Weeds and Viruses: Ecopolitics and the Demands of Theory (2015, coedited with Jennifer Wawrzinek).
Dr. Heike Mißler (Saarland University): “They are here. They are everywhere. They are us.” – Posthuman Encounters in Samanta Schweblin’s Little Eyes (2018)"
Dr. Heike Mißler is a lecturer in British Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Saarland, Saarbrücken. Her teaching and research interests include gender and queer studies, feminist theory, critical whiteness and critical race studies, posthumanism, and contemporary British literature and film. Her book The Cultural Politics of Chick Lit: Popular Fiction, Postfeminism, and Representation was published with Routledge in 2017.
Dr. Dunja Mohr (University of Erfurt): "Homo Crispr and the Uncanny Art of Self-Reproduction”
Dr. Dunja M. Mohr is a senior lecturer at Erfurt University. She serves as head of the Frauen- und Geschlecherstudien, is a member of the Gesellschaft für Kanada-Studien, a board member of the Margaret Atwood Society, and part of the advisory board of the Utopian Studies und Margaret Atwood Studies. Her research interests focus on utopian/dystopian literature, Anthropocene fiction, the New Weird, posthumanism, new materialism, Monster studies/Frankenstein, Canadian literature, Brexit, Adaptation Studies, and post-9/11. Currently, she is holding a DAAD research fellowship "Artpolitical - literature, aesthetics, and politics" on the topic of “Approximating the non-human/the ahuman” and is a visiting lecturer at the CCEAE/IRTG, Université de Montréal, Canada.
Jenny Moran,M. A. (Cambridge University): "The Racial Origins of the Non-Human: an Analysis of Monstrosity in Masahiro Mori’s 'Uncanny Valley'"
Jenny Carla Moran (she/her) is a PhD candidate in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies at Cambridge University, where she applies critical theory to AI-embodying, humanoid robots, and the narratives which inform their design. Her thesis, "Loveability," develops the idea of a “stratified assignment of humanness,” or a series of conditions which must be met in order for a subject (or object) to be humanised. It proposes this assignment to be prerequisite to the capacity to flourish, or to be loved (enabled, protected, provided-for) in a broad societal definition of the term.
Prof. Dr. Lena Steveker (University of Luxemburg): "Desire in the Speculative Fiction of Jeanette Winterson"
Lena Steveker is Assistant Professor in English Studies at the University of Luxembourg. Her research interests include early modern English drama, news culture, and pamphlet literature as well as contemporary British fiction and popular culture. She has published on Shakespeare, Middleton, Jonson, and news pamphlets of the English civil wars. She is the author of Identity and Cultural Memory in the Fiction of A.S. Byatt (Palgrave, 2009), and she co-edited Heroism in the Harry Potter Series (Ashgate, 2011). She has published articles and book chapters on ethics and literature, trauma fiction, neo-Victorian novels, neo-imperialism narratives, the James Bond films, and fantasy fiction. Two special journal issues on representations of British borders, co-edited with Joachim Frenk, will be published in 2022. Her interest in posthumanist fiction originates in her research on both neo-Victorianism and the ethics of literature
Alexandra Szugajew, M. A. (University of Warsaw): "Breaking the Boundaries of Flesh: Medical Procedures and the Uncanny in Contemporary Literature"
Aleksandra Szugajew is currently working on her PhD thesis in English Literature on identity creation and self-life writing in memoirs written by physicians. She has conducted research and published articles in the fields of the medical humanities (Life-Writing by Medical Professionals: The Doctor to Patient Change of Perspective … , The Right to Decide: Literary Approaches to a Child’s Informed Consent …) and fairy-tale studies (Adults Reclaiming Fairy Tales Through Cinema …). She is also interested in how (bio)ethical issues interplay in posthumanist literature (she wrote her Master’s thesis on the literary portrayal of clones).
Prof. Dr. Dirk Vanderbeke (University of Jena): “The Digital Hereafter or a Nirvana in the Cloud":
Dirk Vanderbeke studied German and English Literature at the University of Frankfurt/Main from where he also received his doctorate degree in English Literature in 1994. He has published on a variety of topics, e.g. James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, John Milton, evolutionary criticism, physics and literature, science fiction, self-similarity, vampires and graphic novels. In addition, he has co-edited an annotated edition of the German translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, published in celebration of the Bloomsday centenary. Since 2007 he is professor of English literature at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena.
Prof. Dr. Jilles Vreeken (CISPA - Helmholtz Center for IT Security): "Fear Not, or, the Impressive Limitations of Modern AI"
Jilles Vreeken is Faculty (W3) at the CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security, Honorary Professor of Computer Science at Saarland University, and Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics. His research interests revolve around developing new theory and methods for extracting useful insight from data. That is to say, he likes to develop new trustworthy AI-based systems that can learn from data, and from which we can then in turn learn what it learned.
(In lieu of) a CfP for the conference "Posthuman Encounters - Desires, Fears, and the Uncanny"
In recent years, the number of artificially created entities, which are ever more indistinguishable from their human creators, has been on the rise. As a result, the human brain is constantly challenged to decide between who is organic and what is artificial, what is mechanic/synesthetic and who is flesh, and whether the what or who can decipher the language of human emotions. In the 1970s, the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori proposed a semi-scientific theoretical model, ‘the Uncanny Valley’, to capture this cognitive emotional confusion that describes how we find humanoid robots appealing up to a certain moment - then, the illusion collapses, and we find ourselves disturbed and repelled by our technological others. It is thus unsurprising that pop culture texts have become replete with imaginations of artificial, posthuman entities (in humanoid shape), with their engagements with their human counterparts, and with the humans' responses to them/it.
The conference "Posthuman Encounters: Desires, Fears, and the Uncanny" aims to shed light on the politics, ideologies, and meanings underlying these fictional encounters between the human and the posthuman. The chances, hopes, but also anxieties that are associated with these encounters in the 'Uncanny Valley' will be discussed. Selected research questions for this conference will include:
- How are encounters between the human and (posthuman) AI constructed and inscribed in contemporary culture? Which poetics and ideologies are at work?
- How do real or imagined developments in machine learning and AI challenge our understanding and perception of the human and the machine?
- How do desires, fears and the uncanny in human / AI encounters relate to the claim of human exceptionalism?
- Which techniques and narratives are applied to evoke and negotiate the uncanny?
- Which futures do fictional texts envision and which solutions or no-longer-human futures do they offer us? What chances are encoded in the desires, fears and uncanny of the scenarios of human / non-human encounters?
This conference is part of the research project "The Uncanny Valley - Das posthumane Unheimliche in der Darstellung
künstlicher Intelligenz in rezenten anglophonen Medienprodukten", which has been awarded with a seed funding grant by Saarland University in April 2021.
Conference Locations & Organisation:
Main conference venue:
- Intercity Hotel Saarbrücken
- venue for the second conference day (Friday, May 20th): Premier Inn Saarbrücken City Center (across from Intercity Hotel)
Restaurants for dinners:
- Noya (location of conference evening dinner, Thursday 19th)
- Café Kostbar (location of main conference dinner, Friday 20th)
- Breakfast for our external guests is served as a buffet and includes carnivore, vegetarian and vegan options.
- Lunch: on Thursday, 19 May, and on Saturday, 21 May, we will have a lunch buffet served at the Intercity Hotel. The buffet will also include meal options for all diets.
Useful links to explore Saarbrücken and the region:
Joachim Frenk & Jana Burnikel
Chair of British Literary & Cultural Studies
Building A5 3, room 1.22
Phone: +49 - (0)681 - 302 - 2583
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Hendrik Bintz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Johanna Geisthövel: email@example.com