Introduction: The Limits of “The Limits of the Human”
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Introduction: The Limits of “The Limits of the Human”

As Frenchy Lunning points out in this volume’s opening statement, the limits of the human constitute a theme that has been at the center of manga and anime for quite some time, but it is only relatively recently, with the explosion of academic interest in the posthuman, that criticism’s attention has turned to this question, or at least to this formulation of its perennial questions.

It is tempting to summarize posthuman studies by enumerating various human/nonhuman dichotomies that characterize its different branches: biological versus mechanical, human versus animal (or monster), bounded self versus distributed field. If the machine, the creature, and the network constitute a trio par excellence of nonhuman others, then posthuman criticism might be defined as that which seeks to revise or overcome conventional notions of the human by blurring or erasing the lines that divide us from these nonhuman alternatives. Lunning’s trio of the cyber-person, the fuzzy, and the otaku represent three of these posthuman hybrids, but these are points of excursion rather than destinations. While the essays in this volume are grouped largely according to these familiar hybrids and dichotomies, we note at the outset that enumerating the varieties of the nonhuman is an act that often threatens to reinstate convention and solidify the contours of the [End Page xi] human rather than expand its boundaries. What Lunning and all the authors in this volume call us to do is to be open to the expansion or contraction of the human along entirely unexpected frontiers. This is the impulse behind the headings of the book’s three sections: “Contours,” “Companions,” and “Compossibles.” Each is intended to be descriptive in ways outlined below, but also unfamiliar, counterintuitive, productively strange. The critical manga that come between sections function in the same way, shifting media to shake loose new ideas: The Signal of Noise is an original reading of Serial Experiments Lain by Adèle-Elise Prévost, recast as a manga by Prévost and MUSEbasement. And Natsume Fusanosuke’s pioneering critical manga Komatopia is an effort not just to illustrate a textual argument but to think and argue visually.

The uncertain territory of the posthuman is the space Mark C. Taylor attempts to chart in the volume’s first conceptual essay. Along with the volume postscript by Cary Wolfe, Taylor’s is one of two provocations on the general nature of the posthuman Mechademia solicited to place the other essays in a wider intellectual context. Taylor’s map of the contours of the human is a Venn diagram, and his overlapping sets suggest that none of the dichotomies mentioned above is ever permanent or complete: the intersecting systems we now delineate as nature, culture, society, and technology are part of a network, and each is in turn composed of smaller networks, with products emerging and evolving through the spontaneous organization of connected elements. The changing, aleatory quality of these emerging phenomena and the fractal nature of this structure—in which there is no universal metanetwork, and each subnetwork subdivides infinitely into still smaller ones—combine to ensure that no division will ever be permanent or absolute. Information itself emerges only in the interval between too much and too little change.

So, following Taylor, the meaning of the texts in this volume should emerge less from the groupings imposed by the editors (or the metalanguage of this Introduction) than from the spontaneous interaction between the various pieces. With that caveat, we attempt to trace some of the larger relations linking the different essays.

The chapters that follow Taylor’s in the first section all revolve around [End Page xii] the notion of the monstrous, a space that defines the contours of the human by lying on the other side of some perceived supernatural divide. Michael Dylan Foster’s essay on manga artist Mizuki Shigeru traces the link between Mizuki’s own life and his monstrous yōkai subjects like his classic character Gegege no Kitarō. Foster shows how Mizuki constructed an autobiographical mythology alongside his manga and anime fictions and his semifictionalized studies of yōkai folklore: in all three narratives...