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Category Archives: Posthumanism

Talk utilizes postmodern approaches to explore images of the medieval body – NIU Today

Posted: February 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm

The 2016-2017 Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Series presents Dr. Sherry Lindquist, an alumna of NIUs art history program and an associate professor of art history at Western Illinois University, speaking on The Body and the Book of Hours: Somaesthetics, Posthumanism and the Uncanny Valley.

The presentation will be given at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 2, in room 100 of the Visual Arts Building. The talk is free and open to the public.

The Book of Hours and the Body:Somaesthetics, Posthumanism and the Uncanny Valley explores our corporeal connection to the past by considering what three recent theoretical approaches to the postmodern body may reveal about premodern terms of embodiment.

Lindquist received her M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from Northwestern University. The author of numerous publications, her book, Agency, Visuality and Society at the Chartreuse de Champmol, was published in 2008. She has also edited a number of volumes, including The Meanings of Nudity in Medieval Art (Ashgate, 2012).

The Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Series is hosted by the Art History Division and funded in part by the NIU School of Art and Design Visiting Artists and Scholars Program. For more information email avandijk@niu.edu.

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Denis Dutton on Bad Writing

Posted: December 7, 2016 at 8:01 am

Pick up an academic book, and theres no reason to expect the writing to be graceful or elegant. Many factors attract people to the scholarly life, but an appealing prose style was never a requirement for the job.

Having spent the past 23 years editing a scholarly journal, Philosophy and Literature, I have come to know many lucid and lively academic writers. But for every superb stylist there are a hundred whose writing is no better than adequate or just plain awful.

While everyone moans (rightly) about the decline in student literacy, not enough attention has been given to deplorable writing among the professoriate. Things came to a head, for me, a few years ago when I opened a new book aptly called The End of Education: Toward Posthumanism. It began:

This was written by a professor of English. Hes supposed to teach students how to write.

Fed up, I resolved to find out just how low the state of academic writing had sunk. I could use the Internet to solicit the most egregious examples of awkward, jargon-clogged academic prose from all over the English-speaking world. And so the annual Bad Writing Contest was born.

The rules were simple: Entries should be a sentence or two from an actual published scholarly book or journal article. No translations into English allowed, and the entries had to be nonironic: We could hardly admit parodies in a field where unintentional self-parody was so rampant.

Each year for four years now the contest has attracted around 70 entries. My co-editors at Philosophy and Literature and I are the judges, and the winner is announced in the journal.

No one denies the need for a specialized vocabulary in biochemistry or physics or in technical areas of the humanities like linguistics. But among literature professors who do what they now call theory mostly inept philosophy applied to literature and culture jargon has become the emperors clothing of choice.

Thus in A Defense of Poetry, English Prof. Paul Fry writes: It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness rather than the will to power of its fall into conceptuality. If readers are baffled by a phrase like disclosing the absentation of actuality, they will imagine its due to their own ignorance. Much of what passes for theory in English departments depends on this kind of natural humility on the part of readers. The writing is intended to look as though Mr. Fry is a physicist struggling to make clear the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Of course, hes just an English professor showing off.

The vatic tone and phony technicality can also serve to elevate a trivial subject. Many English departments these days find it hard to fill classes where students are assigned Milton or Melville, and they are transforming themselves into departments of so-called cultural studies, where the students are offered the analysis of movies, television programs, and popular music. Thus, in a laughably convoluted book on the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding affair, we read in a typical sentence that this melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of un-narratived representative bodies back into recognizable heterovisual modes.

The pretentiousness of the worst academic writing betrays it as a kind of intellectual kitsch, analogous to bad art that declares itself profound or moving not by displaying its own intrinsic value but by borrowing these values from elsewhere. Just as a cigar box is elevated by a Rembrandt painting, or a living room is dignified by sets of finely bound but unread books, so these kitsch theorists mimic the effects of rigor and profundity without actually doing serious intellectual work. Their jargon-laden prose always suggests but never delivers genuine insight. Here is this years winning sentence, by Berkeley Prof. Judith Butler, from an article in the journal Diacritics:

To ask what this means is to miss the point. This sentence beats readers into submission and instructs them that they are in the presence of a great and deep mind. Actual communication has nothing to do with it.

As a lifelong student of Kant, I know that philosophy is not always well-written. But when Kant or Aristotle or Wittgenstein are most obscure, its because they are honestly grappling with the most complex and difficult problems the human mind can encounter. How different from the desperate incantations of the Bad Writing Contest winners, who hope to persuade their readers not by argument but by obscurity that they too are the great minds of the age.

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What Is Posthumanism? (Posthumanities): Cary Wolfe …

Posted: November 10, 2016 at 5:34 pm

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What does it mean to think beyond humanism? Is it possible to craft a mode of philosophy, ethics, and interpretation that rejects the classic humanist divisions of self and other, mind and body, society and nature, human and animal, organic and technological? Can a new kind of humanities-posthumanities-respond to the redefinition of humanity’s place in the world by both the technological and the biological or “green” continuum in which the “human” is but one life form among many?

Exploring how both critical thought along with cultural practice have reacted to this radical repositioning, Cary Wolfe-one of the founding figures in the field of animal studies and posthumanist theory-ranges across bioethics, cognitive science, animal ethics, gender, and disability to develop a theoretical and philosophical approach responsive to our changing understanding of ourselves and our world. Then, in performing posthumanist readings of such diverse works as Temple Grandin’s writings, Wallace Stevens’s poetry, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, the architecture of Diller+Scofidio, and David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, he shows how this philosophical sensibility can transform art and culture.

For Wolfe, a vibrant, rigorous posthumanism is vital for addressing questions of ethics and justice, language and trans-species communication, social systems and their inclusions and exclusions, and the intellectual aspirations of interdisciplinarity. In What Is Posthumanism? he carefully distinguishes posthumanism from transhumanism (the biotechnological enhancement of human beings) and narrow definitions of the posthuman as the hoped-for transcendence of materiality. In doing so, Wolfe reveals that it is humanism, not the human in all its embodied and prosthetic complexity, that is left behind in posthumanist thought.

The Posthuman

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How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

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The Nonhuman Turn (Center for 21st Century Studies)

Richard Grusin

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When Species Meet (Posthumanities)

Donna J. Haraway

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Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (a John Hope Franklin Center Book)

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Zoontologies: The Question Of The Animal

Cary Wolfe

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Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English at Rice University. He is the author of Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the Outside (Minnesota, 1998) and Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory, and the editor of Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota, 2003).

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Wiley: Posthumanism – Pramod K. Nayar

Posted: July 29, 2016 at 3:10 am

This timely book examines the rise of posthumanism as both a material condition and a developing philosophical-ethical project in the age of cloning, gene engineering, organ transplants and implants.

Nayar first maps the political and philosophical critiques of traditional humanism, revealing its exclusionary and speciesist politics that position the human as a distinctive and dominant life form. He then contextualizes the posthumanist vision which, drawing upon biomedical, engineering and techno-scientific studies, concludes that human consciousness is shaped by its co-evolution with other life forms, and our human form inescapably influenced by tools and technology. Finally the book explores posthumanisms roots in disability studies, animal studies and bioethics to underscore the constructed nature of normalcy in bodies, and the singularity of species and life itself.

As this book powerfully demonstrates, posthumanism marks a radical reassessment of the human as constituted by symbiosis, assimilation, difference and dependence upon and with other species. Mapping the terrain of these far-reaching debates, Posthumanism will be an invaluable companion to students of cultural studies and modern and contemporary literature.

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Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis: Stefan Herbrechter …

Posted: July 23, 2016 at 4:11 am

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Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism

Posted: July 3, 2016 at 6:33 pm

1.

Many philosophers argue that humans are a distinctive kind of creature and that some capacities that distinguish humans from nonhumans give us a moral dignity denied to nonhumans. This status supposedly merits special protections that are not extended to nonhumans and special claims on the resources to cultivate those capacities reserved for humans alone.

However, I will argue that if we are committed to developing human capacities and welfare using advanced (NBIC) technologies (see below) our commitment to other humans and our interest in remaining human cannot be overriding. This is because such policies could engender posthumans and the prospect of a posthuman dispensation should, be properly evaluated rather than discounted. I will argue that evaluation (accounting) is not liable to be achievable without posthumans. Thus transhumanists who justify the technological enhancement and redesigning of humans on humanist grounds have a moral interest in making posthumans or becoming posthuman that is not reconcilable with the priority humanists have traditionally attached to human welfare and the cultivation of human capacities.

2.

To motivate this claim, I need to distinguish three related philosophical positions: Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism and explain how they are related.

Humanism (H)

For the purposes of this argument, a philosophical humanist is anyone who believes that humans are importantly distinct from non-humans.

For example, many humanists have claimed that humans are distinguished by their reasoning prowess from nonhuman animals. One traditional view common to Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant and others is that humans are responsive to reasons while animals respond only to sensory stimuli and feeling. Being rational allows humans to bypass or suppress emotions such as fear or anger and (for better or worse) cultivate normatively sanctioned forms of action and affection.

Responsiveness to reasons is both a cognitive and a moral capacity. The fact that I can distinguish between principles like equality and freedom, for example, allows me to see these as alternative principles of conduct: The power to set an end any end whatsoever is the characteristic of humanity (as distinguished from animality) (Kant 1948, 51).

Most humanists claim that the capacities such as rationality or sociability that distinguish us from cats, dogs and chimps also single us out for special treatment.[1]

For Kant, this capacity to choose the reasons for our actions to form a will, as he puts it, is the only thing that is good in an unqualified way (Kant 1948, 62).

Even thinkers who allow that the human capacity for self-shaping is just one good among a plurality of equivalent but competing goods claim that autonomy confers a dignity on humans that should be protected by laws and cultivated by the providing the means to exercise it.

Thus most humanists hold some conception of what makes a distinctively human life a valuable one and have developed precepts and methods for protecting and developing these valuable attributes.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the generic humanist techniques for achieving this are politics and education.

For example, in Politics 1 Aristotle claimed that virtues like justice, courage or generosity need a political organization to provide the leisure, training, opportunities and resources to develop and exercise these valuable traits:

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, andthat man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and notby mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity;he is like the

Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,

whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts

Rousseau and Marx, likewise see the political as the setting in which humans become fully human. Liberal political philosophers may be more wary of attributing intrinsic value to politics but most see the social goods secured by it as thesine qua non of a decent existence.

Transhumanism (H+)

Transhumanists share core humanist values and aspiration. They think that human-distinctive attributes like rationality and autonomy are good, as are human social emotions and human aesthetic sensibilities.

They also think that these capacities should be cultivated where possible and protected: e.g. by ensuring basic liberties and providing the resources for their fullest possible development.

However, they believe that the traditional methods that humanists have used to develop human capacities are limited in their scope by the material constraints of human biology and that of nature more generally.

Our biological and material substrate was not a political issue until relatively recently because we lacked the technological means to alter it. Although philosophers like Aristotle, Hume and Kant proposed theories of human nature, this nature was essentially an encapsulated black box. One could know what it did and why it did it, but not how it did it. Thus a basic cognitive function, such as imagination is described by Kant as ahidden art in the depths of the human soul, whose true operations we can divine from nature and lay unveiled before our eyes only with difficulty (Kant 1978, A1412/B1801).

Transhumanists believes that prospective developments in a suite of technologies called the NBIC technologies and sciences will at last allow humans unprecedented control over their own and morphology.

NBIC stands for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science.

The smarter we are the more effectively we can develop techniques for developing human capacities: e.g. by eliminating starvation or scarcity with new agricultural and manufacturing techniques, finding cures for diseases or by becoming better democratic deliberators.

Thus if advancing human welfare is a moral priority, and extending human cognitive capacities is the best way of achieving this, we should extend our cognitive capacities using NBIC technologies all other things being equal (A supplementary argument for a transhuman politics assumes that certain capacities are necessarily characterized in terms of some end or fulfilment. Thus they are exercised appropriately when their possessor strives to refine and improve them See Mulhall 1998).

The exercise of rationality requires many cognitive aptitudes: perception, working and long-term memory, general intelligence and the capacity to acquire cultural tools such as languages and reasoning methods. There appear to have been significant increases the level of general intelligence in industrialized countries during the twentieth century particularly at the lower end of the scale. These may be explained by public health initiatives such as the removal of organic lead from paints and petrol, improved nutrition and free public education.

These increases, if real, are a clear social good. However, there seems to be a limit to the effect of environmental factors upon cognitio
n because the efficiency of our brains is constrained by the speed, interconnectedness, noisiness and density of the neurons packed into our skulls.

Thus the best scientists, philosophers or artists currently alive are no more intelligent or creative than Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz or Kant. There are far more thinkers on the planet than in Aristotles time and they are better equipped than ever before but their minds, it seems, are no more able than those of previous artists, scientists and philosophers.

For transhumanist thinkers like Nick Bostrom and Ray Kurzweil, this suggests that many major improvements of intelligence will require us to escape our biology by outsourcing our thinking to non-biological platforms such as computing devices. The components of the fastest computers operate tens of millions times faster than the spiking frequency of the fastest human nerve cell (neuron) so this suggests an obvious way in which humans transcend the biological limitations on our brains.[2]

Many early 21st century humans offload the tedious tasks like arithmetic, memorizing character strings like phone numbers or searching for the local 24-hour dry cleaner to computing devices. Transhumanists claim that the process of outsourcing biologically based cognition onto non-biological platforms is liable to accelerate as our artificially intelligent devices get more intelligent and as we devise smarter ways of integrating computing hardware into our neurocomputational wetware. Here the convergence of nanotechnology, information technology and biotechnology is liable to be key.

Brain Computer Interfaces like the BrainGate BCI show that it is possible to directly interface computer operated systems with neural tissue, allowing tetraplegic patients to control devices such as robotic arms with their thoughts.

Transhumanists see future humans becoming ever more intimate with responsive computer systems that can extend physical functions using robotic limbs or arms well as cognitive functions such as perception or working memory.

Thus it seems quite possible that future humans or transhumans will be increasingly indistinguishable from their technology. Humans will become cyborgs or cybernetic organisms like the Borg in the TV series Star Trek with many of the functions associated with thinking, perception and even consciousness subserved by increasingly fast and subtle computing devices.

As Star Trek aficionados will be aware, the Borg do not seem to represent an attractive ideal for the humanist who values individual autonomy and reason. The Borg area technological swarm intelligence like an ant or termite colony whose individual members are slaved to goals of the Collective.

Collectively the Borg possesses great cognitive powers and considerable technical prowess though these powers emerge from the interactions of highly networked drones, each of which has its human rationality, agency and sociability violently suppressed.

However, many argue that it is nave to associate the status of the cyborg with that of dehumanized machines.

The cognitive scientist and philosopher Andy Clark has argued that the integration of technology into biology is a historical process that has defined human beings since the development of flint tools, writing and architecture. We are, in Clarks words, Natural Born Cyborgs whose mental life has always extruded into culturally constructed niches such as languages and archives:

The promise, or perhaps threatened, transition to a world of wired humans and semi-intelligent gadgets is just one more move in an ancient game. . . We are already masters at incorporating nonbiological stuff and structure deep into our physical and cognitive routines. To appreciate this is to cease to believe in any post-human future and to resist the temptation to define ourselves in brutal opposition to the very worlds in which so many of us now live, love and work (Clark 2003, 142).

If this is the case, then perhaps the wired, transhuman future that I am sketching here will still be inhabited by beings whose aspirations and values will be recognizable to humanists like Aristotle, Rousseau and Kant.

These transhuman descendants might still value autonomy, sociability and artistic expression. They will just be much better at being rational, sensitive and expressive. Perhaps, also, these skills will repose in bodies that are technologically modified by advanced biotechnologies to be healthier and far more resistant to ageing or damage than ours. But the capacities that define that humanist tradition here are not obviously dependent on a particular kind of physical form.

For this reason transhumanists believe that we should add morphological freedom the freedom of physical form to the traditional liberal rights of freedom of movement and freedom of expression. We should be free do discover new forms of embodiment e.g. new ways of integrating ourselves with cognitive technologies in order to improve on the results of traditional humanizing techniques like liberal arts education or public health legislation.

Posthumanism (SP)

As someone who shares many of the humanist values and aspirations that Ive described, Ill admit to finding the transhuman itinerary for our future attractive. Perhaps some version of it will also be an ecological and economic necessity as we assume responsibility for a planetary ecosystem populated by nine billion humans.

However, there is a catch. While the technological prospectus Ive given may result in beings that are recognizably like us: only immeasurably smarter, nicer, weller and more capable. It might produce beings that are not human at all in some salient respect.

Such technologically engendered nonhumans or posthumans may not be the kinds of beings to which humanist values apply. They may still be immeasurably smarter and more robust than we are, but also alien ways that we cannot easily understand.

I call the position according to which there might be posthumans Speculative Posthumanism to distinguish it from posthuman philosophies not directly relevant to this discussion.

The speculative posthumanist is committed to the following claim:

(SP) Descendants of current humans could cease to be human by virtue of a history of technical alteration.

Clearly, this is a very schematic statement and needs some unpacking.

For example, it does not explain what ceasing to be human could involve. If Clark and the transhumanists are right, then ceasing to be human is not just a matter of altering ones hardware or wetware. A human cyborg modified to live in hostile environments like the depths of the sea or space might look strange to us but might use a natural language whose morphology and syntax is learnable unmodified humans, value her autonomy and have characteristic human social emotions such as exclusive feelings towards other family members or amour-propre.[3] Thus many of the traits with which we pick out humans from nonhumans could well generalize beyond morphology.

Some argue that the self-shaping, reflective rationality that Kant thought distinguished humanity from animality is an obvious constituent of a human essence. An essential property of a kind is a property that no member of that kind can lack. If this is right, then losing the capacity for practical rationality by some technological process (as with the Borg) is a decisive, if unappealing, path to posthumanity.

It can be objected of course that members of the human species (very young children) lack the capacity
to exercise reflective rationality while other humans (individuals with severe mental disabilities) are not able to acquire it. Thus that it cannot be a necessary condition for humanity. Being rational might better be described as a qualification for moral personhood: where a person is simply a rational agent capable of shaping its own life and living on fair terms with other persons.

If posthumans were to qualify as moral persons by this or some other criterion we appear to have a basis for a posthuman republicanism. The fact that other beings may be differently embodied from regular humans intelligent robots, cyborgs or cognitively enhanced animals does not prevent us living with them as equals.

However, it is possible to conceive of technological alterations producing life forms or worlds so alien that they are not recognizably human lives or worlds.

In a 1993 article The Coming Technological Singularity: How to survive in the posthuman era the computer scientist Vernor Vinge argued that the invention of a technology for creating entities with greater than human intelligence would lead to the end of human dominion of the planet and the beginning of a posthuman era dominated by intelligences vastly greater than ours (Vinge 1993).

For Vinge, this point could be reached via recursive improvements in the technology. If humans or human-equivalent intelligences could use the technology to create superhuman intelligences the resultant entities could make even more intelligent entities, and so on.

Thus a technology for intelligence creation or intelligence amplification would constitute a singular point or singularity beyond which the level of mentation on this planet might increase exponentially and without limit.

The form of this technology is unimportant for Vinges argument. It could be a powerful cognitive enhancement technique, a revolution in machine intelligence or synthetic life, or some as yet unenvisaged process. The technology needs to be extendible in as much that improving it yields corresponding increases in the intelligence produced. Our only current means of producing human-equivalent intelligence is non-extendible: If we have better sex . . . it does not follow that our babies will be geniuses (Chalmers 2010: 18).

The posthuman minds that would result from this intelligence explosion could be so vast, according to Vinge, that we have no models for their transformative potential. The best we can do to grasp the significance of this transcendental event is to draw analogies with an earlier revolution in intelligence: the emergence of posthuman minds would be as much a step-change in the development of life on earth as the The rise of humankind.

Vinges singularity hypothesis the claim that intelligence-making technology would generate posthuman intelligence by recursive improvement is practically and philosophically important. If it is true and its preconditions feasible, its importance may outweigh other political and environmental concerns for these are predicated on human invariants such as biological embodiment, which may not obtain following a singularity.

However, even if a singularity is not technically possible or not imminent the Singularity Hypothesis (SH) still raises a troubling issue concerning our capacity to evaluate the long-run consequences of our technical activity in areas such as the NBIC technologies. This is because Vinges prognosis presupposes a weaker, more general claim to the effect that activity in NBIC areas or similar might generate forms of life which might be significantly alien or other to ours.

If we assume Speculative Posthumanism it seems we can adopt either of two policies towards the posthuman prospect.

Firstly, we can account for it: that is, assess the ethical implications of contributing to the creation of posthumans through our current technological activities.

Vinges scenario gives us reasons for thinking that the differences between humans and posthumans could be so great as to render accounting impossible or problematic in the cases that matter. The differences stressed in Vinges essay are cognitive: posthumans might be so much smarter than humans that we could not understand their thoughts or anticipate the transformative effects of posthuman technology. There might be other very radical differences. Posthumans might have experiences so different from ours that we cannot envisage what living a posthuman life would be like, let alone whether it would be worthwhile or worthless one. Finally, the structure of posthuman minds might be very different from our kind of subjectivity.

Moral personhood presumably has threshold cognitive and affective preconditions such as the capacity to evaluate actions, beliefs and desires (practical rationality) and a capacity for the emotions, and affiliations informing these evaluations. However, human-style practical reason might not be accessible to a being with nonsubjective phenomenology. Such an entity could be incapable of experiencing itself as a bounded individual with a life that might go better or worse for it.

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Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism

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What Is Posthumanism? University of Minnesota Press

Posted: June 24, 2016 at 7:28 am

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Beyond humanism and anthropocentrism

Can a new kind of humanitiesposthumanitiesrespond to the redefinition of humanity’s place in the world by both the technological and the biological or “green” continuum in which the “human” is but one life form among many? Exploring this radical repositioning, Cary Wolfe ranges across bioethics, cognitive science, animal ethics, gender, and disability to develop a theoretical and philosophical approach responsive to our changing understanding of ourselves and our world.

What Is Posthumanism? is an original, thoroughly argued, fundamental redefinition and refocusing of posthumanism. Firmly distinguishing posthumanism from discourses of the posthuman or transhumanism, this book will be at the center of discussion for a long time to come.

Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet

What does it mean to think beyond humanism? Is it possible to craft a mode of philosophy, ethics, and interpretation that rejects the classic humanist divisions of self and other, mind and body, society and nature, human and animal, organic and technological? Can a new kind of humanitiesposthumanitiesrespond to the redefinition of humanitys place in the world by both the technological and the biological or green continuum in which the human is but one life form among many?

Exploring how both critical thought along with cultural practice have reacted to this radical repositioning, Cary Wolfeone of the founding figures in the field of animal studies and posthumanist theoryranges across bioethics, cognitive science, animal ethics, gender, and disability to develop a theoretical and philosophical approach responsive to our changing understanding of ourselves and our world. Then, in performing posthumanist readings of such diverse works as Temple Grandins writings, Wallace Stevenss poetry, Lars von Triers Dancer in the Dark, the architecture of Diller+Scofidio, and David Byrne and Brian Enos My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, he shows how this philosophical sensibility can transform art and culture.

For Wolfe, a vibrant, rigorous posthumanism is vital for addressing questions of ethics and justice, language and trans-species communication, social systems and their inclusions and exclusions, and the intellectual aspirations of interdisciplinarity. In What Is Posthumanism? he carefully distinguishes posthumanism from transhumanism (the biotechnological enhancement of human beings) and narrow definitions of the posthuman as the hoped-for transcendence of materiality. In doing so, Wolfe reveals that it is humanism, not the human in all its embodied and prosthetic complexity, that is left behind in posthumanist thought.

Cary Wolfe holds the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Chair in English at Rice University. His previous books include Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the Outside, Observing Complexity: Systems Theory and Postmodernity, and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal, all published by the University of Minnesota Press.

What Is Posthumanism? is an original, thoroughly argued, fundamental redefinition and refocusing of posthumanism. Firmly distinguishing posthumanism from discourses of the posthuman or transhumanism, this book will be at the center of discussion for a long time to come.

Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet

Wolfe offers a smart, provocative account of posthumanism as an idea and as a way of thinking that has consequences extending from the way universities are organized to decisions regarding public policy bioethics. Although his writing is complex and demanding, the ethical and ecological urgency with which he frames his readings combines with the wide, diversified scope of his scholarship to make this a work to be reckoned with.

Wolfes book, without a doubt, supplies important insights.

Wolfe has created an incredibly useful primer on posthumanist theory. For anyone attempting to engage in academic work relating to these theories, this book is a highly recommended starting point.

Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley

It is one of those books that sucks you in almost immediately.

ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

Readers . . . will find Wolfes analysis of both visual and audio culture to be thought-provoking.

Science Fiction Film and Television

It is a profound, thoroughly researched study with far-reaching consequences for public policy, bioethics, education, and the arts.

Science, Culture, Integrated Yoga

What Is Posthumanism? is an intelligent, extensively argued and challenging work.

Wolfes work shifts the tired terms of the debate in new and needed directions, offering strength and strategies to all those for whom simplistic, technophilic accounts of the posthuman condition are a smooth road to nowhere different.

Electronic Book Review

Tremendous intellectual, scholarly, and artistic breadth.

As a blueprint for where a posthumanist approach could take cultural theory, his book is conceptually invaluable.

Wolfes posthumanism is brilliant in the way it allows us to realize that each of the
se species might have different forms of perception, different ways of being in the world, and that those differences are actually analogous with otherness among human beings.

Wolfe deserves credit for a rich set of discussions that, taken together, bring out the interest of the intellectual trend that he calls posthumanism.

UMP blog: Discovering the HUMAN

3/24/2010 Part of the unfortunate fallout of the conceptual apparatus of humanism is that it gives us an overly simple picturea fantasy, reallyof what the human is. Consider, for example, the rise of what is often called transhumanism, often taken to be a defining discourse of posthumanism (as in Ray Kurzweils work on the singularitythe historical moment at which engineering developments such as nanotechnology enable us to transcend our physical and biological limitations as embodied beings, ushering in a new phase of evolution). As many of its proponents freely admit, the philosophical ideals of transhumanism are quite identifiably humanistnot only in their dream of transcending the life of the body and our animal origins but also in their investment in the ideals of human perfectibility, rationality, autonomy, and agency. Read more …

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What Is Posthumanism? University of Minnesota Press

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Robert Brandom and Posthumanism – enemyindustry.net

Posted: June 21, 2016 at 6:34 am

Text for my presentation at the Questioning Aesthetics Symposium, Dublin, 12-13 May

Dark Posthumanism

Billions of years in the future, the Time Traveller stands before a dark ocean, beneath a bloated red sun. The beach is dappled with lichen and ice. The huge crabs and insects which menaced him on his visit millions of years in its past are gone. Apart from the lapping of red-peaked waves on the distant shore, everything is utterly still. Nonetheless, a churning weakness and fear deters him from leaving the saddle of the time machine.

He thinks he sees something black flop awkwardly over a nearby sandbar; but when he looks again, all is still. That must be a rock, he tells himself.

Studying the unknown constellations, he feels an enveloping chill. Then twilight segues to black. The old sun is being eclipsed by the moon or some other massive body.

The wind moans out of utter darkness and cold. A deep nausea hammers his belly. He is on the edge of nothing.

The object passes and an an arc of blood opens the sky. By this light he sees what moves in the water. Wells writes: It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles trailed down from it. It seemed black against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about..

During the Travellers acquaintance with it, the creature gives no indication of purpose. Its flopping might be due to the action of the waves. It might lack a nervous system, let alone a mind replete with thoughts, beliefs or desires. In contrast, we learn much of the Travellers state. He feels horror at the awful blackness of the eclipse; pain breathing in the cold; a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight.

It is as if Wells text edges around what cannot be carried from that shore. There is no heroic saga of discovery, cosmic exploration or first contact; no extended reflection on time and human finitude. There is just a traumatic, pain-filled encounter.

When viewed against the backdrop of Weird literature, however, the event on the shoreline seems more consequential. As China Miville has argued, the Weird is defined by its preoccupation with the radically alien. This is in stark opposition to the Gothic specter, that always signifies a representation in play between an excluded past and an uncertain future (Miville 2012).

Monsters like H P Lovecrafts Cthulhu do not put representation in play. They shred it. As Mieville writes:

For Cthulhu, in its creators words, there is no language. The Thing cannot be described. Even its figurine resembled nothing familiar to geology or mineralogy (Lovecraft, Call). The Color Out of Space obeyed laws that are not of our cosmos (Colour). The Dunwich Horror was an impossibility in a normal world (Dunwich).(Miville 2012, 379)

The monstrous reality is indicated by grotesque avatars and transformations whose causes erode political order and sanity itself. In Jeff VanderMeers recent Southern Reach trilogy a fractious bureaucracy in a looking-glass USA is charged with managing a coastline that has been lost to some unearthly power. This proves inimical to human minds and bodies even as it transforms Area X into a lush Edenic wilderness. As we might expect, bureaucratic abstraction falters in its uncertain borders. The Reachs attempts to define, test and explore Area X are comically inappropriate from herding terrified rabbits across the mysterious barrier that encloses it, to instituting round-the-clock surveillance of an immortal plant specimen from an unsanctioned expedition (VanderMeer 2014a, b, c). All that remains to VanderMeers damaged protagonists is a misanthropic acceptance of something always too distant and strange to be understood, too near not to leave in them the deepest scars and ecstasies.

This misanthropy is implied in Wells earlier shoreline encounter. An unstory from a far future that is perhaps not alive or unalive. A moment of suspense and inconsequence that can reveal nothing because it inscribes the limits of stories.

Yet this alien is not the gaseous invertebrate of negative theology but an immanent other, or as Miville puts it, a bad numinous, manifesting often at a much closer scale, right up tentacular in your face, and casually apocalyptic (Miville 2012, 381). It is this combination of inaccessibility and intimacy, I will argue, that makes the Weird apt for thinking about the temporally complex politics of posthuman becoming.[1]

In Posthuman Life I argue for a position I call Speculative posthumanism (SP). SP claims, baldly, that there could be posthumans: that is, powerful nonhuman agents arising through some human-instigated technological process.

Ive argued that the best way to conceptualize the posthuman here is in terms of agential independence or disconnection. Roughly, an agent is posthuman if it can act outside of the Wide Human the system of institutions, cultures, and techniques which reciprocally depend on us biological (narrow) humans (Roden 2012; Roden 2014: 109-113).

Now, as Ray Brassier usefully remind us in the context of the realism debate, mind-independence does not entail unintelligibility (concept-independence). This applies also to the agential independence specified by the Disconnection Thesis (Brassier 2011, 58). However, I think there are reasons to allow that posthumans could be effectively uninterpretable. That is, among the class of possible posthumans we have reason to believe that there might be radical aliens.

But here we seem to confront an aporia. For in entertaining the possibility of uninterpretable agents we claim a concept of agency that could not be applied to certain of its instances, even in principle.

This can be stated as a three-way paradox.

Each of these statements is incompatible with the conjunction of the other two; each seems independently plausible.

Something has to give here. We might start with proposition 3.

3) implies a local correlationism for agency. That is to say: the only agents are those amenable to our practices of interpretative understanding. 3) denies that there could be evidence-transcendent agency such procedures might never uncover.

Have we good reason to drop 3?

I think we do. 3) entails that the set of agents would correspond to those beings who are interpretable in principle by some appropriate we humans, persons, etc. But in-principle interpretability is ill defined unless we know who is doing the interpreting.

That is, we would need to comprehend the set of interpreting subjects relevantly similar to humans by specifying minimal conditions for interpreterhood. This would require some kind of a priori insight presumably, since were interested in the space of possible interpreters and not just actual ones.

How might we achieve this? Well, we might seek guidance from a phenomenology of interpreting subjectivity to specify its invariants (Roden 2014: Ch 3).[2] However, it is very doubtful that any phenomenological method can even tell us what its putative subject matter (phenomenology) is. Ive argued that much of our phenomenology is dark; having dark phenomenology yields minimal insight into its nature or possibilities (Roden 2013; Roden 2014 Ch4).

If transcendental phenomenology and allied post-Kantian projects (see Roden Forthcoming) fail to specify the necessary conditions for be an interpreter or an agent, we should embrace an Anthropologically Unbounded Posthumanism which rejects a priori constraints on the space of posthuman possibility. For example, Unbounded Posthumanism gives no warrant for claiming that a serious agent must be a subject of discourse able to measure its performances against shared norms.[3]

Thus the future we are making could exceed current models of mutual intelligibility, or democratic decision making (Roden 2014 Ch8). Unbounded posthumanism recognizes no a priori limit on posthuman possibility. Thus posthumans could be weird. Cthulhu-weird. Area X weird. Unbounded Posthumanism is Dark Posthumanism it circumscribes an epistemic void into which we are being pulled by planetary scale technologies over which we have little long run control (Roden 2014: ch7).

To put some bones on this: it is conceivable that there might be agents far more capable of altering their physical structure than current humans. I call an agent hyperplastic if it can make arbitrarily fine changes to its structure without compromising its agency or its capacity for hyperplasticity (Roden 2014, 101-2; Roden Unpublished).

A modest anti-reductionist materialism of the kind embraced by Davidson and fellow pragmatists in the left-Sellarsian camp implies that such agents would be uninterpretable using an intentional idiom because intentional discourse could have no predictive utility for agents who must predict the effects of arbitrarily fine-grained self-interventions upon future activity. However, the stricture on auto-interpretation would equally apply to heterointerpretation. Hyperplastic agents would fall outside the scope of linguistic interpretative practices. So, allowing this speculative posit, anti-reductionism ironically implies the dispensability of folk thinking about thought rather than its ineliminability.

Hyperplastics (H-Pats) would be unreadable in linguistic terms or intentional terms, but this is not to say that they would be wholly illegible. Its just that we lack future proof information about the appropriate level of interpretation for such beings which is consonant with the claim that there is no class of interpretables or agents as such.

Encountering H-Pats might induce the mental or physical derangements that Lovecraft and VanderMeer detail lovingly. To read them might have to become more radically plastic ourselves more like the amorphous, disgusting Shoggoths of Lovecrafts At the Mountains of Madness. Shoggothic hermeneutics is currently beyond us for want of such flexible or protean interlocutors. But the idea of an encounter that shakes and desolates us, transforming us in ways that may be incommunicable to outsiders, is not. It is the unnarratable that the Weird tells in broken analogies,[4] agonies and elisions. This is why the Weird Aesthetic is more serviceable as a model for our relationship to the speculative posthuman than any totalizing conception of agency or interpretation.

In confronting the posthuman future, then, we are more like Wells broken time traveller than a voyager through the space of reasons. Our understanding of the posthuman including the interpretation of what even counts as Disconnection must be interpreted aesthetically; operating without criteria or pre-specified systems of evaluation. It begins, instead, with xeno-affects, xeno-aesthetics, and a subject lost for words on a forgotten coast (See VanderMeer 2014c).

References

Brassier, R., 2011. Concepts and objects. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, pp.47-65.

Bakker, R.S., 2009. Neuropath. Macmillan.

Colebrook, C., 2014. Sex after life: Essays on extinction, Vol. 2. Open Humanities Press.

Derrida, J. and Moore, F.C.T., 1974. White mythology: Metaphor in the text of philosophy. New Literary History, 6(1), pp.5-74.

Harman, G., 2012. Weird realism: Lovecraft and philosophy. John Hunt Publishing.

Malpas, J. E. 1992. Donald Davidson and the Mirror of Meaning: Holism, Truth, Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miville, C., 2012. On Monsters: Or, Nine or More (Monstrous) Not Cannies. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 23(3 (86), pp.377-392.

Roden, David. (2012), The Disconnection Thesis. In A. Eden, J. Sraker, J. Moor & E. Steinhart (eds), The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, London: Springer.

Roden, David. 2013. Natures Dark Domain: An Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 72: 16988.

Roden, David (2014), Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.

Roden, David (Forthcoming). On Reason and Spectral Machines: an Anti-Normativist Response to Bounded Posthumanism. To appear in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn.

Roden (Unpublished). Reduction, Elimination and Radical Uninterpretability: the case of hyperplastic agents

https://www.academia.edu/15054582/Reduction_Elimination_and_Radical_Uninterpretability

OSullivan, S., 2010. From aesthetics to the abstract machine: Deleuze, Guattari and contemporary art practice. Deleuze and contemporary art, pp.189-207.

Thacker, E., 2015. Tentacles Longer Than Night: Horror of Philosophy. John Hunt Publishing.

VanderMeer, J., 2014a. Annihilation: A Novel. Macmillan.

VanderMeer, J., 2014b. Authority: A Novel. Macmillan

VanderMeer, J., 2014c. Acceptance: A Novel. Macmillan.

[1] One of the things that binds the otherwise fissiparous speculative realist movement is an appreciation of Weird writers like Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti. For in marking the transcendence of the monstrous, the Weird evokes the great outdoors that subsists beyond any human experience of the world. Realists of a more rationalist bent, however, can object that the Weird provides a hyperbolic model of the independence of reality from our representations of it.

[2] For example, one that supports pragmatic accounts like Davidsonss with an ontology of shared worlds and temporal horizons. See, for example, Malpas 1992 and Roden 2014 Ch3.

[3] Ive given reasons to generalize this argument against hermeneutic a prioris. Analytic Kantian accounts, of the kind championed by neo-Sellarsians like Brassier, cannot explain agency and concept-use without regressing to claims about ideal interpreters whose scope they are incapable of delimiting (Roden Forthcoming).

[4] In Lovecrafts The Dreams in the Witch House we are told that the demonic entity called Azathoth lies at the center of ultimate Chaos where the thin flutes pip mindlessly. The description undermines its metaphorical aptness, however, since ultimate chaos would also lack the consistency of a center. The flute metaphor only advertises the absence of analogy; relinquishing the constraints on interpretation that might give it sense. We know only that terms like thin flutes designate something for which we have no concept. Commenting on his passage in his book Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, Graham Harman suggests that the thin and mindless flutes should be understood as dark allusions to real properties of the throne of Chaos, rather than literal descriptions of what one would experience there in person (Harman 2012: 36-7)

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Robert Brandom and Posthumanism – enemyindustry.net

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What is Posthumanism? | The Curator

Posted: June 16, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Perhaps you have had a nightmare in which you fell through the bottom of your known universe into a vortex of mutated children, talking animals, mental illness, freakish art, and clamoring gibberish. There, you were subjected to the gaze of creatures of indeterminate nature and questionable intelligence. Your position as the subject of your own dream was called into question while voices outside your sight commented upon your tenuous identity. When you woke, you were relieved to find that it was only a dream-version of the book you were reading when you fell asleep. Maybe that book was Alice in Wonderland; maybe it was What is Posthumanism?

Now, it is not quite fair to compare Cary Wolfes sober, thoughtful scholarship with either a nightmare or a work of (childrens?) fantasy. It is a profound, thoroughly researched study with far-reaching consequences for public policy, bioethics, education, and the arts. However, it does present a rather odd dramatis personae, including a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, a woman who feels most at ease in a cattle chute, an artist of Jewish descent who implants an ID-chip in his own leg, researchers who count the words in a dogs vocabulary, and horses who exhibit more intelligence than the average human toddler. The settings, too, are often wildly different from those you might expect in an academic work: a manufactured cloud hovering over a lake in Switzerland, a tree park in Canada where landscape and architecture blend and redefine one another, recording studios, photographic laboratories, slaughterhouses, and (most of all) the putative minds of animals and the deconstructed minds of the very humans whose ontological existence it seeks to problematize.

But that is another exaggeration. Wolfes goal is not to undermine the existence or value of human beings. Rather, it is to call into question the universal ethics, assumed rationality, and species-specific self-determination of humanism. That is a mouthful.

Indeed, Wolfes book is a mouthful, and a headful. It is in fact a book by a specialist, for specialists. While Wolfe is an English professor (at Rice University) and identifies himself with literary and cultural studies (p. 100), this is first of all a work of philosophy. Its ideal audience is very small, consisting of English and Philosophy professors who came of age in the 70s, earned their Ph.D.s during the hey-day of Derridean Deconstruction, and have spent the intervening decades keeping up with trends in systems theory, cultural studies, science, bioethics, and information technology. It is rigorous and demanding, especially in its first five chapters, which lay the conceptual groundwork for the specific analyses of the second section.

In these first five chapters, Wolfe describes his perspective and purpose by interaction with many other great minds and influential texts, primarily those of Jacques Derrida. Here, the fundamental meaning and purpose of Posthumanism becomes clear. Wolfe wants his readers to rethink their relationship to animals (what he calls nonhuman animals). His goal is a new and more inclusive form of ethical pluralism (137). That sound innocuous enough, but he is not talking about racial, religious, or other human pluralisms. He is postulating a pluralism that transcends species. In other words, he is promoting the ethical treatment of animals based on a fundamental re-evaluation of what it means to be human, to be able to speak, and even to think. He does this by discussing studies that reveal the language capacities of animals (a dog apparently has about a 200-word vocabulary and can learn new words as quickly as a human three-year-old; pp. 32-33), by recounting the story of a woman whose Aspergers syndrome enables her to empathize with cows and sense the world the way they do (chapter five), and by pointing out the ways in which we value disabled people who do not possess the standard traits that (supposedly) make us human.

But Wolfe goes further than a simple suggestion that we should be nice to animals (and the unspoken plug for universal veganism). He is proposing a radical disruption of liberal humanism and a rigorous interrogation of what he sees as an arrogant complacency about our species. He respects any variety of philosophy that challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism (62)anthropocentrism, of course, means viewing the world as if homo sapiens is the center (or, more accurately, viewing the world from the position of occupying that center) and specisism is the term he uses to replace racism. We used to feel and enact prejudice against people of different ethnic backgrounds, he suggests, but we now know that is morally wrong. The time has come, then, to realize that we are feeling and enacting prejudice against people of different species.

Although Wolfe suggests many epistemological and empirical reasons for rethinking the personhood of animals, he comes to the conclusion that our relationship with them is based on our shared embodiment. Humans and animals have a shared finitude (139); we can both feel pain, suffer, and die. On the basis of our mutual mortality, then, we should have an emphasis on compassion (77). He is not out to denigrate his own species far from it. Indeed, he goes out of his way to spend time discussing infants (who have not yet developed rationality and language), people with disabilities (especially those that prevent them from participating in fully rational thought and/or communication), and the elderly (who may lose some of those rational capacities, especially if racked by such ailments as Alzheimers). Indeed, he claims: It is not by denying the special status of human being[s] but by intensifying it that we can come to think of nonhuman animalsasfellow creatures (77).

This joint focus on the special status of all human beings along with the other living creatures roaming (or swimming, flying, crawling, slithering) the globe has far-reaching consequences for public policy, especially bioethics. Wolfe says that, currently, bioethics is riddled with prejudices: Of these prejudices, none is more symptomatic of the current state of bioethics than prejudice based on species difference, and an incapacity to address the ethical issues raised by dramatic changes over the past thirty years in our knowledge about the lives, communication, emotions, and consciousnesses of a number of nonhuman species (56). One of the goals of his book, then, is to reiterate that knowledge and promote awareness of those issues that he sees as ethical.

If you read Wolfes book, or even parts of it, you will suddenly see posthumanism everywhere. You can trace its influence in the enormously fast-growing pet industry. From the blog Pawsible Marketing: As in recent and past years, there is no doubt that pets continue to become more and more a part of the family, even to the extent of becoming, in some cases, humanized.

You will see it in bring-your-pet-to-work or bring-your-pet-to-school days. You might think it is responsible for the recent introduction of a piece of legislation called H.R. 3501, The Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years, know as the HAPPY Act, which proposes a tax deduction for pet owners. You will find it in childrens books about talking animals. You will see it on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and a PBS series entitled Inside the Animal Mind. You will find it in films, such as the brand-new documentary The Cove, which records the brutal slaughter of dolphins for food. And you will see it in works of art.

Following this reasoning, section two of Wolfes book (chapters six through eleven) veers off from the strictly philosophical approach into the more traditional terrain of cultural studies: he examines specific works of art in light of the philosophical basis that is now firmly in place. Interestingly, he does not choose all works of art that depict animals, nor those that displace humans. He begins with works that depict animals (Sue Coes paintings of slaughterhouses) and that use animals (Eduardo Kacs creation of genetically engineered animals that glow in the dark), but then moves on to discuss film, architecture, poetry, and music. In each of these examinations, he works to destabilize traditional binaries such as nature/culture, landscape/architecture, viewer/viewed, presence/absence, organic/inorganic, natural/artificial, and, really, human/nonhuman. This second section, then, is a subtle application of the theory of posthumanism itself to the arts, [our] environment, and [our] identity.

What is perhaps most important about What is Posthumanism remains latent in the text. This is its current and (especially) future prevalence. By tracing the history of posthumanism back through systems theory into deconstruction, Wolfe implies a future trajectory, too. I would venture to suggest that he believes posthumanism is the worldview that will soon come to dominate Western thought. And this is important for academics specifically and thinkers in general to realize.

Whether you agree with Cary Wolfe or not, it would be wise to understand posthumanism. It appears that your only choice will be either to align yourself with this perspective or to fight against it. If you agree, you should know with what. If you fight, you should know against what.

What, then, is the central thesis of posthumanism? Wolfes entire project might be summed up in his bold claim that, thanks to his own work and that of the theorists and artists he discusses, the human occupies a new place in the universe, a universe now populated by what I am prepared to call nonhuman subjects (47)such subjects as talking rabbits, six-inch people, and mythical monsters?

Well, maybe not the mythical monsters.

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What is Posthumanism? | The Curator

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What is Posthumanism? | The Curator

Posted: June 15, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Perhaps you have had a nightmare in which you fell through the bottom of your known universe into a vortex of mutated children, talking animals, mental illness, freakish art, and clamoring gibberish. There, you were subjected to the gaze of creatures of indeterminate nature and questionable intelligence. Your position as the subject of your own dream was called into question while voices outside your sight commented upon your tenuous identity. When you woke, you were relieved to find that it was only a dream-version of the book you were reading when you fell asleep. Maybe that book was Alice in Wonderland; maybe it was What is Posthumanism?

Now, it is not quite fair to compare Cary Wolfes sober, thoughtful scholarship with either a nightmare or a work of (childrens?) fantasy. It is a profound, thoroughly researched study with far-reaching consequences for public policy, bioethics, education, and the arts. However, it does present a rather odd dramatis personae, including a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, a woman who feels most at ease in a cattle chute, an artist of Jewish descent who implants an ID-chip in his own leg, researchers who count the words in a dogs vocabulary, and horses who exhibit more intelligence than the average human toddler. The settings, too, are often wildly different from those you might expect in an academic work: a manufactured cloud hovering over a lake in Switzerland, a tree park in Canada where landscape and architecture blend and redefine one another, recording studios, photographic laboratories, slaughterhouses, and (most of all) the putative minds of animals and the deconstructed minds of the very humans whose ontological existence it seeks to problematize.

But that is another exaggeration. Wolfes goal is not to undermine the existence or value of human beings. Rather, it is to call into question the universal ethics, assumed rationality, and species-specific self-determination of humanism. That is a mouthful.

Indeed, Wolfes book is a mouthful, and a headful. It is in fact a book by a specialist, for specialists. While Wolfe is an English professor (at Rice University) and identifies himself with literary and cultural studies (p. 100), this is first of all a work of philosophy. Its ideal audience is very small, consisting of English and Philosophy professors who came of age in the 70s, earned their Ph.D.s during the hey-day of Derridean Deconstruction, and have spent the intervening decades keeping up with trends in systems theory, cultural studies, science, bioethics, and information technology. It is rigorous and demanding, especially in its first five chapters, which lay the conceptual groundwork for the specific analyses of the second section.

In these first five chapters, Wolfe describes his perspective and purpose by interaction with many other great minds and influential texts, primarily those of Jacques Derrida. Here, the fundamental meaning and purpose of Posthumanism becomes clear. Wolfe wants his readers to rethink their relationship to animals (what he calls nonhuman animals). His goal is a new and more inclusive form of ethical pluralism (137). That sound innocuous enough, but he is not talking about racial, religious, or other human pluralisms. He is postulating a pluralism that transcends species. In other words, he is promoting the ethical treatment of animals based on a fundamental re-evaluation of what it means to be human, to be able to speak, and even to think. He does this by discussing studies that reveal the language capacities of animals (a dog apparently has about a 200-word vocabulary and can learn new words as quickly as a human three-year-old; pp. 32-33), by recounting the story of a woman whose Aspergers syndrome enables her to empathize with cows and sense the world the way they do (chapter five), and by pointing out the ways in which we value disabled people who do not possess the standard traits that (supposedly) make us human.

But Wolfe goes further than a simple suggestion that we should be nice to animals (and the unspoken plug for universal veganism). He is proposing a radical disruption of liberal humanism and a rigorous interrogation of what he sees as an arrogant complacency about our species. He respects any variety of philosophy that challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism (62)anthropocentrism, of course, means viewing the world as if homo sapiens is the center (or, more accurately, viewing the world from the position of occupying that center) and specisism is the term he uses to replace racism. We used to feel and enact prejudice against people of different ethnic backgrounds, he suggests, but we now know that is morally wrong. The time has come, then, to realize that we are feeling and enacting prejudice against people of different species.

Although Wolfe suggests many epistemological and empirical reasons for rethinking the personhood of animals, he comes to the conclusion that our relationship with them is based on our shared embodiment. Humans and animals have a shared finitude (139); we can both feel pain, suffer, and die. On the basis of our mutual mortality, then, we should have an emphasis on compassion (77). He is not out to denigrate his own species far from it. Indeed, he goes out of his way to spend time discussing infants (who have not yet developed rationality and language), people with disabilities (especially those that prevent them from participating in fully rational thought and/or communication), and the elderly (who may lose some of those rational capacities, especially if racked by such ailments as Alzheimers). Indeed, he claims: It is not by denying the special status of human being[s] but by intensifying it that we can come to think of nonhuman animalsasfellow creatures (77).

This joint focus on the special status of all human beings along with the other living creatures roaming (or swimming, flying, crawling, slithering) the globe has far-reaching consequences for public policy, especially bioethics. Wolfe says that, currently, bioethics is riddled with prejudices: Of these prejudices, none is more symptomatic of the current state of bioethics than prejudice based on species difference, and an incapacity to address the ethical issues raised by dramatic changes over the past thirty years in our knowledge about the lives, communication, emotions, and consciousnesses of a number of nonhuman species (56). One of the goals of his book, then, is to reiterate that knowledge and promote awareness of those issues that he sees as ethical.

If you read Wolfes book, or even parts of it, you will suddenly see posthumanism everywhere. You can trace its influence in the enormously fast-growing pet industry. From the blog Pawsible Marketing: As in recent and past years, there is no doubt that pets continue to become more and more a part of the family, even to the extent of becoming, in some cases, humanized.

You will see it in bring-your-pet-to-work or bring-your-pet-to-school days. You might think it is responsible for the recent introduction of a piece of legislation called H.R. 3501, The Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years, know as the HAPPY Act, which proposes a tax deduction for pet owners. You will find it in childrens books about talking animals. You will see it on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and a PBS series entitled Inside the Animal Mind. You will find it in films, such as the brand-new documentary The Cove, which records the brutal slaughter of dolphins for food. And you will see it in works of art.

Following this reasoning, section two of Wolfes book (chapters six through eleven) veers off from the s
trictly philosophical approach into the more traditional terrain of cultural studies: he examines specific works of art in light of the philosophical basis that is now firmly in place. Interestingly, he does not choose all works of art that depict animals, nor those that displace humans. He begins with works that depict animals (Sue Coes paintings of slaughterhouses) and that use animals (Eduardo Kacs creation of genetically engineered animals that glow in the dark), but then moves on to discuss film, architecture, poetry, and music. In each of these examinations, he works to destabilize traditional binaries such as nature/culture, landscape/architecture, viewer/viewed, presence/absence, organic/inorganic, natural/artificial, and, really, human/nonhuman. This second section, then, is a subtle application of the theory of posthumanism itself to the arts, [our] environment, and [our] identity.

What is perhaps most important about What is Posthumanism remains latent in the text. This is its current and (especially) future prevalence. By tracing the history of posthumanism back through systems theory into deconstruction, Wolfe implies a future trajectory, too. I would venture to suggest that he believes posthumanism is the worldview that will soon come to dominate Western thought. And this is important for academics specifically and thinkers in general to realize.

Whether you agree with Cary Wolfe or not, it would be wise to understand posthumanism. It appears that your only choice will be either to align yourself with this perspective or to fight against it. If you agree, you should know with what. If you fight, you should know against what.

What, then, is the central thesis of posthumanism? Wolfes entire project might be summed up in his bold claim that, thanks to his own work and that of the theorists and artists he discusses, the human occupies a new place in the universe, a universe now populated by what I am prepared to call nonhuman subjects (47)such subjects as talking rabbits, six-inch people, and mythical monsters?

Well, maybe not the mythical monsters.

More here:

What is Posthumanism? | The Curator

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