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Haerin Shin

Assistant Professor

Haerin Shin received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Stanford University, working on contemporary American, Korean and Japanese literature, culture, critical theory and other forms of media such as film, animation and graphic narratives. Her research focuses on ontology and technology, cognitive literary theory, psychoanalytic criticism, cyborg theories, the posthuman, speculative fiction, and Asian American literature.

Shin is currently completing a book entitled Dialectic of Spectrality: A Transpacific Study on Being in the Age of Cyberculture, 1945~2012, in which she notes that the advent of computers, the internet and networked mobile devices throughout the latter half of the 20th century has brought abstracted flows of data to the fore of social interaction and communication. With ghost-like images flickering on computer screens, disembodied voices in phone conversations flying all over the globe, and faceless chat windows occupying our daily lives, the touch and feel of physical interaction appears to have lost its necessity, burying us in fragmented sensory inputs and free-floating information. The greater body of critical and scientific scholarship produced so far has seen this proliferation of immaterial, digitally codified data as either an evolutionary triumph of technology or a deterioration into a cold, inhuman dystopia. In this book, subverting the two contending views’ premise that material agents could be divorced from the content of consciousness and knowledge, Shin asserts that electronic telepresence and communication technology in fact reinstates, rather than denies, the significance of fragmented, transgressive and incomprehensible modes of being as crucial constituents of human existence.  

Shin is also in the process of designing her next book, which will be on the topic of immortality and consciousness. This project springs from her previous work’s conceptual inquiry into the question of ontology, and focuses on forms of im/mortality that novels and other cultural productions have structurally created (i.e. ghosts, zombies, vampires or clones) to overcome its mortal fate within the context of technological innovations on our visible horizon. The understanding that someday our existence would be inexorably terminated is a fearful prospect, for it not only runs against every grain of our biological instinct but also undermines the construct of reality as a consciously perceived plain of self-affirmation. Immortality, naturally, has been an abiding desire throughout history, as humanity struggled to prolong its physical and conceptual reach beyond the point of individual annihilation through religion, science and culture. Modern technological breakthroughs have in fact succeeded in holding death at bay by expanding the scope of our bodily and mental presence in various ways, for we now live in an age when mechanical augmentation, extension, or even replacement of the body is a realistic venture, and the properties of the human mind can be reproduced, preserved, and emulated in the form of digitalized codes. However, extended or reinforced life is not exactly equivalent to ultimate triumph over death itself. Shin will ask, are not the variegated modes of being brought forth by technological apparatuses mere redefinitions of death as life’s other side of the coin?

Specific topics to be explored include artificial life and its limits, technologically enabled afterlife, and virtual resurrection seen in digital avatars or memory constructs. In addition to literature, Shin will look at animation, film and game narratives to capture the cultural imaginary surrounding the issue of immortality. One text of particular interest will be Alvin Lu’s Asian American novel titled The Hell Screens, in which multiple strata of individual, national, and physical identities effectively consolidate the cultural topography Shin sketches out in her transpacific spectrum of comparison. In the novel, a Chinese American computer engineer visiting Taipei as a collector of tales of the strange ceaselessly suffers from hellish visions when his contact lens becomes contaminated in Taipei’s humid climate. Shin reads the disfigured lens, which is literally a “screen”–in reference to the novel’s title–and conduit between his sensory perceptions and the external world, as a subjectivized means of technological mediation that grants access to deeper layers of a fragmented and variegated identity. As the story unfolds, the ghostly legacy of Taiwan’s colonial history, the protagonist’s dissociative identity disorder, and tales of reincarnation come together to form a transversal entity that defies, or perhaps can be instantiated only through, death. Drawing on Abraham and Torok’s notion that memory and historical trauma are “transgenerational phantoms,” Shin will further explore the motifs of boundary infringement and the resultant subjects who arise against, and from the gap between, cultural and physical barriers.