How the dramatic new ways of imaging, controlling, restoring, remaking, and choosing bodies have participated in the reshaping of the notion of the body in the cultural imaginary and the transformation of our experience of our actual human bodies.
Before World War II, the typical American physician had a modest toolbox consisting of a thermometer, stethoscope, and sphygmomanometer, occasional access to x-ray machines and electrocardiographs, and a very limited cabinet of pharmaceuticals. Beginning in the late 1950s, but accelerating at an ever-faster pace at the turn of the millennium, technology has dramatically transformed the landscape of modern medicine. BodyWorks examines the influence of new medical technologies (organ transplantation, endoscopic surgery, genetic engineering, computer-aided tomography, medical imaging, nanotechnology and nanosurgery, molecular and DNA computing, neural implant interfaces) on the American imagination from WWII to the current decade. The aim of the course is to examine the thesis that these dramatic new ways of imaging, controlling, restoring, remaking, possibly even choosing bodies have participated in a complete reshaping of the notion of the body in the cultural imaginary and a transformation of our experience of actual human bodies. The history of recent and contemporary medical technology will serve as our material context to explore this thesis about body-work using theories of postmodernism to address the questions: Are there postmodern bodies? If so, how have they been constructed? Among the themes we will explore is Donna Haraway's notion of the postmodern cyborg body and Katherine Hayles' conception of the posthuman. The class will be conducted as a hybrid graduate/undergraduate colloquium framed by student presentations related to the course readings.