Fiction and Other Minds: Embodiment, Free Will, Queer Sexuality, and the Posthuman

This term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar will be hosting Dr Charlotte Ross and Dr Matt Hayler to discuss the topic of Embodiment, Free Will, Queer Sexuality and the Posthuman.


‘Empathy, Phenomenology and the Queerly Misaligned Girl: A New Take on the Bildungsroman of the 1920s and 30s’
Dr Charlotte Ross, University of Birmingham

This talk, based on Ross's current research project, explores the ways in which French and Italian coming-of-age novels published in the 1920s and 30s, narrate the experiences of queer girls of growing up and emphatically not fitting in. Ross's corpus includes lesser known novels, which have been largely ignored by recent scholarship (although they were read at the time of publication). These novels avoided censorship but, she argues, offer decidedly queer discourses on girlhood. Drawing on Sara Ahmed's work on queer phenomenology and emotion, as well as ongoing discourses about empathy in relation to queer narratives, Ross explores some of the ways in which these novels articulate the sense of queer misalignment suffered by the protagonists, and how, nevertheless, they persisted.

‘Against a Simple I: Posthumanism's Inevitable Implications for Free Will
Dr Matt Hayler, University of Birmingham

Perceptions of free will and intentionality are typically dependent on a sovereign notion of the self and an expectation of our ability to perform as rational and responsible actors. Personal and social pressures, or medically recognised conditions, may be factored in as extenuating circumstances, but, largely, humans are meant to make choices of their own volition. Hayler argues, however, that a posthumanistic understanding of the self requires us to (re)ask questions about the freedom of our choices by more fully recognising human subjects’ entanglements with their own bodies (and its chemical and microbiotic flows and influences), other humans, our histories and memories, the grammars of our social and environmental architecture and norms, and so on through the vast number of factors which play into making us, the factors which shape our limitations and our potentials. Currently, posthumanist thinking ably brings out our interconnections with the world, but it also fails to face up to its own inevitable demands that we recognise our actions as emerging out of the networks of forces that we’re inescapably embedded within. This paper calls for posthumanist work to better address the implications of its revelations of the entangled human subject.


The seminar is convened by Professor Ben Morgan ( Dr Naomi Rokotnitz (

As always, the talk will be followed by drinks for all attendees.


About the Seminar Series: The Fiction and Other Minds seminar series showcases current research in the Cognitive Humanities by hosting scholars working at the interface between literary studies, visual and performance art, phenomenology, philosophy, and the cognitive sciences. The seminars explore how features investigated by the cognitive sciences can be tested and expanded across different cultural contexts, media, and artistic genres. In particular, we explore how literary texts often challenge and differentiate theoretical insights—especially through their attention to the culturally situated aspects of cognition—and how cognitively informed approaches to literature can deepen our understanding of the embodied and affective processes that underpin meaning-making, including literary reading. For more information, please see the Fiction and Other Minds research strand page.