Posthuman drama: identity and the machine in Twenty-First-Century playwriting

Jordan, Richard (2015). Posthuman drama: identity and the machine in Twenty-First-Century playwriting PhD Thesis, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2015.1010

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Author Jordan, Richard
Thesis Title Posthuman drama: identity and the machine in Twenty-First-Century playwriting
School, Centre or Institute School of Communication and Arts
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2015.1010
Publication date 2015-11-06
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Stephen Carleton
Joanne Tompkins
Total pages 220
Total colour pages 4
Total black and white pages 216
Language eng
Subjects 190404 Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies
190402 Creative Writing (incl. Playwriting)
Formatted abstract
This thesis offers a new model for classifying theatre works themed around digital technologies: a text-based genre called posthuman drama. Primarily a creative writing project, the thesis consists of a new play, Machina, as well as a critical essay that positions the play as an exemplar of this new genre. Since the early 1980s, western society has experienced a monumental shift in how human beings perceive, identify, and communicate with each other. The rise of the internet and global satellite systems have ushered in what many have described as a “digital age,” where ubiquitous communication technologies have challenged both how we interpret reality and other humans. Out of these developments has emerged the growing discourse of posthumanism – a reconfiguring of the relationship between humans and intelligent machines – and my critical essay applies posthuman concepts to contemporary drama texts, drawing on the work of N. Katherine Hayles, Thomas Carlson, Stefan Herbrechter, and Cary Wolfe. While the impact of digital technologies on theatre practice has created a large volume of scholarship in recent years, the focus has overwhelmingly tended towards digital spectacle over theme or content. To redress this imbalance, I identify three contemporary plays that construct digitally-integrated subjects – posthuman subjects – via the “technology” of dramatic form, as case studies of a larger movement in western playwriting: The Sugar Syndrome by Lucy Prebble (UK 2003), I Love You, Bro by Adam J. A. Cass (Australia 2007), and Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl (USA 2007). In each of these examples, human and nonhuman agents are constructed as being “essentially similar” to each other, and intelligent machines form an imperative feature of the plot. I argue these plays offer a model for classifying digitally-themed theatre works beyond the realm of spectacle. The thesis concludes with my own posthuman play – Machina – which tells the story of a man who uploads his consciousness into a digital ether, killing his body in the process. By constructing identity along cybernetic lines, Machina seeks to explore the inherent conflict between a liberal humanist value system and a posthuman, digital world.
Keyword Posthuman
Digital age
Intelligent machine

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Mon, 02 Nov 2015, 17:49:08 EST by Richard Jordan on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service