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About the Author

N. Katherine Hayles is distinguished research professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, and James B. Duke Professor of Literature Emerita at Duke University. Her books include How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999) and show more unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious (2017). show less
Image credit: Dave Pape

Works by N. Katherine Hayles

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Legal name
Hayles, Nancy Katherine
Birthdate
1943-12-16
Gender
female
Nationality
USA
Birthplace
Saint-Louis, Missouri, Etats-Unis
Education
University of Rochester (PhD)
Michigan State University (MA)
California Institute of Technology (MS)
Rochester Institute of Technology (BS)
Occupations
professor (Literature)
Organizations
University of California, Los Angeles
University of Iowa
University of Missouri–Rolla
California Institute of Technology
Dartmouth College
Duke University
Awards and honors
Eby Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Teaching ( [1999])
Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award ( [1999])
Distinguished Scholar Award ( [1998])
Medal of Honor ( [1997])
Distinguished Scholar Award ( [1997])
IAFA Distinguished Scholarship (1997)
Short biography
Hayles was born in Saint Louis, Missouri to Edward and Thelma Bruns. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1966, and her M.S. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1969. She worked as a research chemist in 1966 at Xerox Corporation and as a chemical research consultant Beckman Instrument Company from 1968-1970. Hayles then switched fields and received her M.A. in English Literature from Michigan State University in 1970, and her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Rochester in 1977.

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Postprint: Books and Becoming Computational by N Katherine Hayles warrants rereading after having some time to digest all of the information. What a reader takes from a first reading is going to depend heavily on both what they bring to the book and what chapter most appeals to them.

Very broadly, Hayles uses the concept of a cognitive assemblage to frame the current ideas and concerns around books and print media. Thus the period we're in, postprint, or perhaps more accurately post(exclusively)print. I'll highlight a few of my main takeaways and areas that intrigued me.

I was initially skeptical of the term cognitive assemblage but as she explained both the concept and the thinking behind her choice of words, I came to appreciate it. In particular her decision to use the idea of cognition versus thinking or another similar term. Her explanation that cognition is, and I am very much oversimplifying here, getting information and, based on that information, choosing one of several paths allows for the inclusion of computer-based and even electromechanical operations to be part of a cognitive assemblage. So once all of the steps in a process, whether creating a text or reading a text, are not entirely determined on each iteration by a human we have a sharing of the cognitive aspects and thus a cognitive assemblage. Trust me, she explains this much better than I do.

I found the chapter on university presses to be very interesting. How to meet demands for print and digital, how to look ahead and anticipate future advancements, and how academia, emphasis here on the humanities, can adjust its publishing expectations for hiring or tenure decisions. While this is specific to university presses the ideas and concerns can easily be applied to the publishing sector at large.

Hayles discusses several works that are postprint novels or require a computational element to "read." These analyses are intriguing whether you're familiar with the texts or not. The points I took away had more to do with what the implications are for future works though on my next reading I want to concentrate on the theoretical ideas they represent (either in their narrative or in how they must be "read"). The questions around language, whether words are constrictive or enabling, whether communication would be better or worse if we eliminated the need to put ideas into words, reminded me of a book I recently read, Hegel in a Wired Brain by Slavoj Zizek, that looks at what it might be like to communicate directly brain to brain without forming words. Would nuance be gained or lost?

I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in where books and printed media are going. There is a lot of information here and I have no doubt that someone with a stronger background in this area would have gotten a lot more out of it than I did. But the writing is clear and most terms are explained well enough that a reader can get the flow of the arguments. And yes, this is a book that rewards rereading after having had a chance to let the ideas sink in.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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pomo58 | Aug 22, 2020 |
"How we became posthuman" interprets the concepts and definitions of posthuman amist the evolution of technologies and their correlation to literature and society .
Spanning a period between the 40th and the 90th the author traces a path among the different visions and works that scientists and science fictions writers had about humans and human-like machines that technologist were building or hoping to build. She also explore the desire of scientist to build human like machine and at the same time the fear of having machines that will take over the humans.

The book is very hard to read. It is written in the style that a literary critic would use, as the author is. Not a book that popularize science, but a book beefed up with critical literary comparisons among different works, plays of words, sentences built to have double meaning, and constructions that tend more to art form and complacency than to clear exposition.

The author identifies three different main periods or concepts:
1- Homeostatsis or feedback loop, where system are defined by their workings that tend to an equilibrium with their inside and the environment.

2-Reflexivity, autopoiesis, where the main issue is if the observer is outside the system to study or is part of the system.

3-Virtuality, Emergent behavior, Artificial life, where the system is composed of many parts and the system overall behaviour is the result of the complex interrelation of the parts, of their emergent properties/behavior.

Main themes of the book are embodiment, in particular information embodiment, the border of the human body, and the concept of the liberal humanist. These themes are explored in the three different periods, and the contrasting views scientistists had of them even inside the same period.
How information lost its body and when is peraphs the main discussed theme. Her thesis is that the information must be embodied.

Across all book she describes at lenght the different positions, criticing them, but only in the last couple of pages she presents her solution to the problem: distributed cognition. She just write it there without any introduction or critic, simply as the solution to most of the problems she presented in the book.
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zacchia | 2 other reviews | Jan 20, 2009 |
N Katherine Hayles is one of the most prominent scholars of cybernetics and the cultural theory of cyborgism. Her thesis in this book is that although in our modern age, there is an increasing move in cybernetics to regarding information and human subjectivity as bodiless, in fact, to be posthuman means to be embodied, only in a different way. Hayles discusses her theory while covering the history of the three waves of the cybernetics as well as using literary examples (she has degrees in both chemistry and English).

I read this book in order to supplement an essay I was writing on William Gibson's Neuromancer. Therefore most of my energy and critical analysis was spent on that angle, and I don't think I can offer a proper analysis of Hayles without it. However, just as a general observation: Hayles raises a lot of interesting ideas about the relation between human and machine. If you are even remotely interested in the subject, this is a good book to read. But I have to add that this is a highly academic book. I couldn't imagine a casual reader picking it up and enjoying it.
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veevoxvoom | 2 other reviews | Mar 18, 2008 |
Professor Jessica Pressman has chosen to discuss N. Katherine Hayles’s Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, on FiveBooks as one of the top five on her subject- Electronic Literature, saying that:  



"...From the shaper of digital literature as an academic field, this is an introduction, a primer, and explains the link between print and digital media and also the link between contemporary and older works, literary forms and reading practices..."


The full interview is available here: http://five-books.com/interviews/jessica-pressman
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FiveBooks | Mar 19, 2010 |

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