The Hysterical Sublime: A Critical Study of the Aesthetics, Rhetorics, and Ethics of New Materialist and Posthumanist Critical Theory

The goal of this project is to produce a new dialectical theory of humanism & ethics for the age of the Anthropocene-Capitalocene through a critique of New Materialist and Posthumanist theory. Using the concept of the hysterical sublime first coined by Fredric Jameson in his writing on postmodernism to describe fears of technology overshadowing our fascination with nature this project will analyze the aesthetics, rhetorics, and ethics of New Materialist and Posthumanist critical theories in the humanities, including: ActorNetwork Theory; ObjectOriented Ontology; Vitalist Materialism; New Animism; Speculative Realism; Assemblage Theory; Automation Discourse; and, Accelerationism.

These theories focus on the age of the Anthropocene, pointing to anthropocentrism and anthropogenic climate change resulting from the rise of industrial to digital cultures. Many of these theories propose a strategic anthropomorphism to mitigate the problems of anthropocentrism, and others propose dissolving the human/nonhuman distinction altogether.

However, my hypothesis is that these theories enact a performative contradiction, and that they still rely upon an inherent but disavowed anthropocentrism. To prove this, this project elaborates on the concept of the hysterical sublime, which has remained underdeveloped since its initial usage, and applies it to an interpretation of New Materialist and Posthumanist criticisms of anthropocentrism.

I show that these theories aesthetically and rhetorically displace anxieties about the flaws of capitalism, and its technological impact on nature/the nonhuman and humanity, onto the deficiencies of past failed and philosophical humanisms.

This project is funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2020-2022).