Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor: N. Katherine Hayles

Since 2003, the Critical Inquiry Distinguished Visiting Professorship has been held by some of the world’s most renowned scholars.  The CI Professor is in residence at the University of Chicago for an academic quarter, where he or she teaches a graduate seminar and offers two public lectures.

For Spring 2015 we are proud to welcome N. Katherine Hayles, a professor of literature at Duke University. She is the author of ten books, including How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in CyberneticsLiterature and Informatics, and more recently, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis.

Read Hayles' 2006 piece in Critical Inquiry, "Traumas of Code," here



 “Nonconscious Cognition and Material Processes: Part 1”

May 8 at 5:00pm: Kent 120

This talk discusses the relation of nonconscious cognition to consciousness/unconscious, which I call the modes of awareness.  It develops the idea of cognition in technical systems, particularly computational media, showing how principles of selection and specification of contexts lead to the creation of meaning out of information inflows/ingresses and outflows/egresses.  It discusses the relation of agency within technical systems to human agency, arguing for a model of “punctuated agency” analogous to the “punctuated equilibrium” proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and others.  It proposes the idea of “evolutionary potential” as a way to talk about trajectories of technological developments, arguing that computational media have a greater evolutionary potential than any other technology ever invented by humans.  Finally, it argues that technical cognitive systems are interpenetrating human complex systems so pervasively and ubiquitously as to change the nature of what it means to be human, and the challenges that this interpenetration poses particularly to the  humanities.



Nonconscious Cognition and Material Processes: Part 2

May 22 at 5:30pm: Social Sciences 122

This talk offers a general definition of cognition that applies to humans, nonhuman biological lifeforms, and technical systems.  It identifies nonconscious cognition in humans as a level of neuronal processing inaccessible to consciousness/unconsciousness but that nevertheless performs functions essential for consciousness to function.  It distinguishes between cognitive systems on the one hand, and on the other material processes that give rise to them but are not themselves cognitive.  It discusses the special cases of criticality phenomena that, according to some accounts, provided the structures and processes from which life arose, providing clues to the processes intrinsic to cognition.  It distinguishes between nonhuman objects enrolled by humans as part of their extended cognition and cognizers in themselves, suggesting that such objects be called “cognitive supports” to make clear that they do not perform cognitive operations by themselves.   Finally, it suggests that a distinction be made between “actors” and “agents,” often used as synonyms in actor-network theory (ANT), reserving “actors” for cognizers and “agents” for cognitive supports and material processes.


SEMINAR: "Nonhuman: Theories and Implications" (ENGL / 43205)

If you are interested in taking the class, please email Critical Inquiry ( with a paragraph about your interests and qualifications for the course. Once we have selected the students, Professor Hayles will provide you with additional information about the course. Space is limited, so please send your paragraphs soon.  

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar will focus on the broad sweep of theories, practices and fictions that explore the implications of anthropocentrism and propose other models for encountering the richness of the world.  For our purposes, the nonhuman may be understood to include other biological species such as animals, technological devices capable of nonconscious cognition, and “others” including alien life forms and chemical and mineral interactions.  Despite their significant differences, these various approaches share in common challenges to the idea that perspectives focusing on the human should be privileged above all others, and that only humans have significant agential capacities to shape the world. Texts include: essays by Derrida, passages from Heidegger and Uexküll, Agamben’s The Open, Roberto Esposito’sBios, Mick Smith’s Against Ecological Sovereignity, the video Project Nim, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Materiality, Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, Tim Morton’s Hyperobjects, Bruno Latour’s Aramis, Nigel Thrift’s essay on the technological unconscious,  Ted Chiang’s The Life Cycle of Software Objects, Alex Pentland’s Honest Signals, and a selection from Mark Hansen’s new book, Feed-Forward.

ENGL 43205 in Rosenwald 405, 10 classes, Tuesdays & Thursdays, April 28 - May 28, 3:00-5:50 pm.




Past holders of the CI Professorship are:

Fredric Jameson 2003-2004

Julia Kristeva 2004-2005

Stanley Cavell 2005-2006

Slavoj Žižek 2006-2007

Ian Hacking 2007-2008

Jacques Rancière 2008-2009

Joan Copjec 2009-2010

Leo Bersani 2011-2012

Peter Galison 2012-2013

Samuel R. Delany 2013-2014