15th Annual Meeting of the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies

20-23 November 2008

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Figure 1. Damien Hirst, Away from the Flock

BABEL Working Group panel:

The Turn to the Post/human: Desires, Bodies, Selves, Histories

Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), Organizer

Craig Dionne (Eastern Michigan University), Presider

With reference to Malory's fifteenth-century Tale of Balyn and Balan, from his Morte dArthur, as well as to current theories in sociology regarding the nomadic, disembedded precariousness of the late modern individual (pace Anthony Giddens, Scott Lash, Ulrich Beck, and Zygmunt Bauman), this paper argues for a longer history of the compulsive and obligatory self-determination, and fractured space-time relations, thought to be unique features of late modernity. This paper also explores the social terms and anxieties (both personal and more broadly social) attendant upon the precariousness of the individual in different historical time periods, both early and late, in order to grapple with what I believe are very important and troubling ethical questions that have always been at stake and remain unresolved: how is it possible, for example, for the individual to be moral without recourse to what the philosopher Charles Taylor has called the "social imaginary"--broadly speaking, how a given group of persons imagines their collective social life and shares common understandings, without which a moral order of any sort is not possible? At the same time, how to protect the individual when, as political theorist George Kateb has written, "groups are imagined too vividly" and individuals "lose sight of themselves and are lost sight of," leading to a situation where ordinary persons "cooperate with their undoing and the victimization of other ordinary persons"?