- “Always Becoming”: Posthuman Subjectivity in Young Adult Fiction
Anita Tarr and Donna R. White’s edited collection, Posthumanism in Young Adult Fiction: Finding Humanity in a Posthuman World, interrogates the extent to which post-humanism is conveyed and explored in young adult (YA) literature. The collection is organized into four parts and comprises twelve chapters. The contributors come from a variety of disciplines, including education and pedagogy studies, media and cultural studies, and English, with specializations in British and American literature, Victorian literature, and children’s and YA literature. Tarr and White deftly frame the work with an introduction that succinctly positions how posthumanism is defined within the context of the collection, and they provide a convincing argument for the focus on the posthuman in YA literature.
Throughout the book, a significant distinction is made between liberal humanist and posthumanist perspectives on what it means to be human, and who and what are denied this designation. Where the liberal humanist “portrait” of the human experience includes unified and universal characteristics of rationality, independence, and autonomy (ix), posthumanists “deny the . . . definition of human as boundaried, exclusive, unique, expectational, or naturally dominant” (xi). Rather, posthumanists view human intelligence, bodies, and behaviours as “interconnected with other species and the environment” (xi). The interconnected nature of the posthuman is emphasized throughout the collection, and this leads many of the contributors, including the editors, to argue that at its core a posthuman identity is “networked and communal, fluid and changeable, always becoming . . .” (xvi). [End Page 208]
Tarr and White also explain and defend the collection’s focus on YA literature by arguing that the genre’s focus on the developing subjectivity of adolescent characters aligns particularly well with the posthuman perspective that humans never reach a “fixed state,” but are “always dynamic, still changing, always evolving. Always becoming” (x). Nearly every author in the collection echoes or restates this argument. However, Tarr, White, and some of the other contributors further argue that YA literature which depicts posthuman identities can “create vibrations that emanate outwards, causing the walls that define humanism to come tumbling down . . .” demonstrating to implied readers that “[o]ur speciesism, our sense of privilege as (male) humans, our fortressing against the Other have all been performances, socially constructed acts based on fear and dominance” (xxi). The editors argue that exposure to depictions of posthuman identities may convince implied readers that “[w]e are all hybrids,” and that “[w]e are all networked with others and the environment” (xxi). If the editors’ hypothesis that implied readers are urged to reconsider their humanist subjectivities is correct, then reading posthuman YA significantly impacts how readers interact with their surrounding communities and the wider world.
The first part of the collection, “Networked Subjectivities,” comprises two chapters that interrogate the common tension in YA literature of budding subjectivity versus conformity to society. Mathieu Donner considers “ethical subjectivity” (3) in Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind. According to Donner, Butler does away with the humanist conception of complete autonomy and repositions her characters in “a wide network of similarly connected individuals . . .” (12). In doing so, she redefines being human as a performance: it is not what one is, but what one does that makes one human, or not. The performance of humanity entangles what it means to be human with one’s “ethical treatment” (21) of others.
Where Donner sees an empowering depiction of a posthuman network, Shannon Hervey examines adult anxieties in four YA novels about social media networks: #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, Feed by M. T. Anderson, and The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. The novels position social media as a form of self-writing that can “allow and encourage the emergence of a collective voice,” but Hervey argues that they depict this network as “a [End Page 209] system that silences” (39). Hervey finds the texts do not attribute “many, if any” positives to a network of adolescents, but instead...