N. Katherine Hayles

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N. Katherine Hayles
Katherine Hayles.jpg
Born (1943-12-16) December 16, 1943 (age 71)
St. Louis, Missouri
Occupation Professor
Nationality United States
Genre Electronic literature
American postmodern literature
Notable works How We Became Posthuman (1999)

N. Katherine Hayles (born 16 December 1943) is a postmodern literary critic, most notable for her contribution to the fields of literature and science, electronic literature, and American literature.[1] She is professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Program in Literature at Duke University.[2]


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.[3] She is a social and literary critic.


Her scholarship primarily focuses on the "relations between science, literature, and technology."[4][5] Hayles has taught at UCLA, University of Iowa, University of Missouri–Rolla, the California Institute of Technology, and Dartmouth College.[3] She was the faculty director of the Electronic Literature Organization from 2001-2006.[6]

Key concepts[edit]

Human and posthuman[edit]

Hayles understands "human" and "posthuman" as constructions that emerge from historically specific understandings of technology, culture and embodiment; "human and "posthuman" views each produce unique models of subjectivity.[7] Within this framework "human" is aligned with Enlightenment notions of liberal humanism, including its emphasis on the "natural self" and the freedom of the individual.[8] Conversely, Posthuman does away with the notion of a "natural" self and emerges when human intelligence is conceptualized as being co-produced with intelligent machines. According to Hayles the posthuman view privileges information over materiality, considers consciousness as an epiphenomenon and imagines the body as a prosthesis for the mind .[9] Specifically Hayles suggests that in the posthuman view "there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation..."[8] The posthuman thus emerges as a deconstruction of the liberal humanist notion of "human."

Embodiment and materiality[edit]

Despite drawing out the differences between "human" and "posthuman", Hayles is careful to note that both perspectives engage in the erasure of embodiment from subjectivity.[10] In the liberal humanist view, cognition takes precedence over the body, which is narrated as an object to possess and master. Meanwhile, popular conceptions of the cybernetic posthuman imagine the body as merely a container for information and code. Noting the alignment between these two perspectives, Hayles uses How We Became Posthuman to investigate the social and cultural processes and practices that led to the conceptualization of information as separate from the material that instantiates it.[11] Drawing on diverse examples, such as Turing's Imitation Game, Gibson's Neuromancer and cybernetic theory, Hayles traces the history of what she calls "the cultural perception that information and materiality are conceptually distinct and that information is in some sense more essential, more important and more fundamental than materiality."[12] By tracing the emergence of such thinking, and by looking at the manner in which literary and scientific texts came to imagine, for example, the possibility of downloading human consciousness into a computer, Hayles attempts to trouble the information/material separation and in her words, "...put back into the picture the flesh that continues to be erased in contemporary discussions about cybernetic subjects.”[13]

Selected awards[edit]

  • Writing Machines: Susanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship
  • How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics: René Wellek Prize for the best book in literary theory for 1998–1999
  • Eby Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Teaching, UCLA, 1999
  • Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award, UCLA, 1999
  • Bellagio Residential Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation, 1999
  • Distinguished Scholar Award, University of Rochester, 1998
  • Medal of Honor, University of Helsinki, 1997
  • Distinguished Scholar Award, International Association of Fantastic in the Arts, 1997
  • "A Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEH Fellowships, a Rockefeller Residential Fellowship at Bellagio, a fellowship at the National Humanities Center and two Presidential Research Fellowships from the University of California."[14]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012. ISBN 9780226321424) [15]
  • Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. ISBN 9780268030858) [16]
  • My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN 9780226321479) [17]
  • Nanoculture: Implications of the New Technoscience (ed.), 2004 [18]
  • Writing Machines, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002. ISBN 9780262582155) [19]
  • How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. ISBN 9780226321462) [20]
  • Technocriticism and Hypernarrative. A special issue of Modern Fiction Studies 43, no. 3, Fall 1997 (guest editor)
  • Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science. (ed.), (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. ISBN 9780226321448)
  • Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990. ISBN 9780801497018)
  • The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984. ISBN 9780801492907)

Book chapters[edit]

  • 'The Time of Digital Poetry: From Object to Event,' in New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories, Morris, Adalaide, and Thomas Swiss, eds. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.
  • 'The life cycle of cyborgs: writing the posthuman.' In The Cyborg Handbook, Gray, Chris Hables (ed.) New York: Routledge, 1996. Also available in Cybersexualities, Wolmark, Jenny (ed.) Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2000.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Citations search: "N. Katherine Hayles" (Google Scholar)". Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  2. ^ Duke University | Program in Literature: People
  3. ^ a b Gale 2004.
  4. ^ Iowa Review Web
  5. ^ N. Katherine Hayles, Avenali Chair in the Humanities 2000-2001
  6. ^ Literary Advisory Board (ELO)
  7. ^ N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman:Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)', 33.
  8. ^ a b Hayles, Posthuman, 3.
  9. ^ Hayles, Posthuman,2.
  10. ^ Hayles, Posthuman, 4.
  11. ^ ,Hayles,Posthuman', 2.
  12. ^ Hayles, Posthuman,18.
  13. ^ Hayles, Posthuman, 5.
  14. ^ N. Katherine Hayles, Literature, Duke University
  15. ^ How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Hayles
  16. ^ Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary website
  17. ^ My Mother Was a Computer excerpt
  18. ^ Nanoculture
  19. ^ Writing Machines supplement
  20. ^ How We Became Posthuman excerpt


External links[edit]