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This chapter argues for the importance of posthumanist thought to remaking subjectivity and agency in ways that can respond to the crisis of the real subsumption of life by capital. It takes up the figure of the immortal vessel in a new way. It considers texts that reorient the ideal of immorality to express a surplus of vitality rather than just the extension of life, rooted in life’s capacity to exceed how capital engineers and constrains life. Drawing on the posthumanist philosophy of Rosi Braidotti and Claire Colebrook, and especially on the materialist political theory of Samantha Frost, it shows how these texts demonstrate posthuman possibilities for renewal. Rather than lamenting the precarity of life in a context in which the dispositif of liberal humanism is no longer sufficient shield against capital, these works offer in its place another imaginary of life and of multispecies personhood. Anne Charnock’s A Calculated Life shows that even engineered, synthetic life has a vitality beyond what is designed. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy reorients how we understand massive ecological change, changing a tale of disastrous ending into one of emergent beginning.
Surrealist practice of the early twentieth century anticipates the biopolitics of contemporary animal philosophy. Modern surrealists welcomed Charles Darwin’s paradigm shift, moving beyond any bright line that distinguished humans as a species from the rest of the animal kingdom. Surrealism’s investment in evolutionary biology – promoted in journals such as Minotaure, Documents, and View – buttressed its political critique of humanist exceptionalism, sovereign individualism, and any ideal telos that defined the origins and destiny of humankind. Although surrealist animal representations frequently lapse into anthropocentric fantasy, surrealist manifestoes, art, poetry, fiction, and drama remain undeniably revolutionary in depicting human/animal hybridity and assailing the oppressive discursive linkages among classism, colonialism, and speciesism. In particular, the later careers of surrealists such as Leonora Carrington look ahead to recent ecofeminist and environmental debates concerning an “ethic of care,” defining kinship and companion networks in a decidedly posthuman community of human and nonhuman animals.
This chapter considers the idea of a posthuman city and its representation in American literature. Surveying posthumanism as a field of inquiry emerging from animal studies, which considers the blurring of species-based definitions of “human,” and cybernetics, which figures human agency as constituted by technological adjuncts, the chapter also traces the growing body of inquiry into urban life from these perspectives. Tracing the discourse of the smart city and earlier projects such as archologies and megastructures in experimental architecture, the chapter considers science fiction as a site for critiquing the social control nascent in smart cities by instead imagining intelligent cities. The chapter considers Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice (2013); Ancillary Sword (2014); Ancillary Mercy (2015)) as emblematic of this critique and as a model for imagining cities that embody emotional intelligence in addition to standard sensing practices more widely associated with smart cities. Leckie uses a truly posthuman city to challenge how human agency is figured in architecture and urban planning.
The contemporary pertinence of green utopianism in its myriad manifestations lies in its trenchant critiques of the ecological deficiencies of the present and its imaginative projections of more ethical modes of human–animal–nature relationality. The extant climate and ecological crisis demands a radical rethink of how we relate to the non-human world. Thus, drawing largely on green utopian and posthuman theory, this chapter features critical assessments of human–non-human relations as depicted in four canonical ecotopian literary texts: Aldous Huxley’s Island (2009), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge (1990) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (1985). The extent to which the works deconstruct traditional human/nature dualisms and hierarchies is explored and discussed in depth. The chapter concludes with ruminations on potentially ethical modes of relationship that move beyond hierarchical and antagonistic structurings of ‘otherness’ and incorporate reverence and respect for irreducible alterity.
Humans are the first species to be conscious of their own transforming of the Earth system. This has entailed a paradoxical doubling of the human into anthropos (humanity as a blind geological force) and homo (humans as self-conscious, rational actors). Anthropocene stories pivot on anagnorisis – moments of self-recognition in which homo and anthropos become identified with each other. In most Anthropocene stories, humans attempt to resolve this paradox either by wielding geological power consciously or by renouncing mastery and receding into earthly forces. This chapter examines how Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy seeks to keep the underlying paradox in suspension. Humans are confronted with an alien entity which embodies the geological force of anthropos, but they seek, nonetheless, to make sense of their fate. The novels thus reflect on a central task of literary writing in the Anthropocene: how to (re-)compose the human.
Thinkers who saw technological innovation as the way forward now had to accept that there could be no static utopia in the future: society would be in a continual state of change. There was an increased emphasis on thinking about the future rather than the past, since it was less clear that history offered a model by which future developments could be predicted. The hope of creating a planned society was replaced by the notion of the 'technological fix' that dealt with the often unanticipated by-products of innovations pioneered as beneficial. Futurology emerged as a discipline aimed at anticipating developments, although its efforts were often wide of the mark. Enthusiasts predicted a range of possible futures based on different technologies, some involving the move to a completely transhuman phase of life. Science fiction emerged as a genre providing commentary on these scenarios, often recognizing the potential disadvantages.
With the increasing environmental degradation in spaces most affected by climate change such as the Arctic, and the extension of anthropogenic environmental problems even into the Earth’s orbit, international law is confronted with some unprecedented challenges. Much of the legal dialogue surrounding this question is taking place in the abstract, such that there are no exact proposals for methodological and practical applications in lawmaking. In this Article, I argue that current governance relevant to the Arctic and outer space precedes an understanding of these spaces. Critical posthumanism, and other approaches, point out the continuation of strict boundaries that have been set up between the human body and the environment. International law’s formalist doctrinal deductions exacerbate these boundaries. I propose an approach to lawmaking under a broad term: the cosmolegal. The cosmolegal proposal challenges distinctions between human-made and non-human “laws”—scientific and social laws—and questions the foundational determination of both. The framework I suggest in this Article, therefore, requires a new approximation to accuracy in lawmaking, which could be achieved by greater interdisciplinarity and acceptance of ontological pluralism. This Article is divided into two broader sections. The first section focuses on two environmental problems: A) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Arctic and B) orbital debris. The second section argues for a different ontology of law and human self-understanding in the context of the unknown. It proposes “cosmolegality” in an attempt to approximate the inclusion and representation of ‘everything considered to be non-human.
In recent years, the word 'virus' has lost its biological perimeter of reference to acquire a much broader – could say 'paradigmatic' – meaning. The term 'virus' can be seen as a key word or an explanatory model also for processes that go beyond the infectious sphere. Every event appears to have a viral character: from the way information is transmitted to the processes of cultural globalization, from the impact of human beings on the planet to the subversion of ecosystems, from pandemic risks to the demographic increase on the planet. This seems to be indeed the Age of the Virus. Its model can be applied to most of the phenomena that characterize the twenty-first. Its profile – its looming and invisible nature, its ability to use other people's resources to spread and to transform into a dangerous doppelganger – is perfect to represent the fears of the contemporary age.
What remains in life’s wake? Postapocalyptic literature long has imagined the end as a kind of beginning; someone or something always survives Armageddon, if only for a time. This is the postapocalyptic condition of possibility, enabling the genre’s cathected tropes of loss and redemption, regression and advance. Even when the survivors are not recognizably human—are androids, aliens, or nonhuman animals—“life” goes on. Engaging with a range of American fiction and nonfiction (from Ray Bradbury to Octavia Butler to Ray Kurzweil), this essay argues that what unites the posthuman and the postapocalyptic is, first, a shared, vitalistic investment in what might be called “life after death” and, second, a refusal or inability to narrate a final, lasting extinction. In H. P. Lovecraft’s radical take on Darwinian evolution, however, we can see the prospect of a posthuman sublime that never reconstitutes the autonomous subject. The chapter concludes with a brief meditation on the implications—metaphysical, biopolitical, and critical—of this self-alienation.
“The Essential Ecosystem” considers how environmentalist appeals to self-dissolution have influenced and undermined a number of identity movements and academic paradigms in the 1970s and after. Specifically, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing (1972) dramatizes and ultimately compromises the ideals of contemporary “nature feminists,” those who viewed reproductive capacity not only as the cornerstone of essential womanhood, but also as a privileged means of ecological awareness. The narrator’s own attempted identification with her biology broadens her idea of reproduction to include all material functions, from nutrient consumption to decomposition. This fixation on network disorients gender rather than shores it up. However, far from undermining identity, it also illuminates the extent to which social thought has at times rendered whole systems as a matter of essentialism. Reading Surfacing alongside Atwood’s later work illuminates lines of rhetorical continuity between the essentialist “all women” position in nature feminism and a potential “all matter” position in contemporary new-materialist writing.
Rather than promoting a death wish for the digital humanities, this chapter questions what comes after the labor of a single, reluctant digital humanist -- one who is coming to terms with his own privilege as a white, Western, male academic. In a seven-part requiem, I reckon with the scholarly methods I have championed over the span of a career and recommend a conceptual turn that encourages digital humanists to build things off-screen. To supplant the Promethean conception of “building” as the apotheosis of a tool-making animal, I put forth both a theory and method of “inclination,” based on the work of Adriana Cavarero. A motto such as “Real Humanists Make Tools” expresses the bravado of Homo Erectus, but I want to speculate about a new proto-human(ist) figure: Homo Inclinus. This figure follows its inclinations, embraces its finitude, pays attention haptically, and bends toward the other in acts that can be at once empathetic, generous, playful, erotic, and philosophical.
The fraught histories of both animal studies and posthumanism as intellectual formations help to explain why ongoing, creative syntheses are proving especially necessary for the wellbeing of humanities scholarship. Maintaining a laser focus on the machine-human hybrid arguably has aided the development of postanthropocentric at the expense of anti-speciesist impulses in posthumanism. At the same time, while a distinct field of study has coalesced around concerns pertaining to nonhuman animate life, debates about what to call it—animal studies, human-animal studies, critical animal studies, etc.— often turn on what role posthumanist theory plays in its genealogy. With an eye toward new developments in and across these discussions, this chapter explores how various posthumanist perspectives on humans, animals, and human-animal relationships themselves foster productive ambivalences, though not without controversy, and points to some promising cross-fertilizations taking shape in fiction (especially sf), plant studies, and what some are calling postanimalism.
What brings speculative realism and posthumanism together is a mutual understanding that, while the non-human world might be unexpected or unknowable, it is nevertheless real. Strategies for confronting this reality are the focus of this chapter. Although there are different strands of speculative realism, all are based on the argument that while there is a divide between human and non-human worlds, this divide can be crossed, either directly or indirectly. Thus although we can never really know the other because it is outside of human experience, this does not mean there is an unbreachable gap, because art is created by the tension between humanity and the world-beyond-humanity, exceeding even the concepts of art’s creators. Work by Kazuo Ishiguro, Solmaz Sharif, Christian Bök, Denis Villeneuve, and Juliana Spahr is used to develop this thesis.
Machines, AIs, cyborgs, and systems arise as images of the posthuman within the discourses of posthumanism and transhumanism. From the side of technoscience, advances in cybernetics and systems theory have been the prime movers of the posthuman imaginary. AI and its elaboration in the cultural imaginary is particularly instructive with regard to transhumanist visions of transcendence. Where cybernetics spread across organic bodies, computational devices, and the social dynamics of communication, AI bypassed multiple cybernetic couplings to concentrate on the design, construction, and study of computational agencies. AI discourse ran alongside the development of SETI—the scientific program dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Both AI and SETI foreground how scientific modernity has entangled the matter of intelligence with the mediation of technology. The 2015 novel Aurora overcomes the AI imaginary as previously constituted by bringing ecological realism to the relations to machines, AIs, cyborgs, and systems.
This chapter begins from the premise that the Anthropocene calls for an evaluation of human life from the perspective of posthumanism. In order to explore how this might be done, I take a closer look at the term the Anthropocene and two additional terms that have emerged from the social sciences and humanities as potential alternatives, the Capitalocene and Chthululene. Taking up threads from Donna Haraway’s concept of Chthululene, I draw on the diverse/community economies literature to explore an example of how we might think and live differently in-nature. The chapter concludes by briefly commenting on the politics of this scholarship and what is at stake in the term one adopts for this period.
Posthumanist scholarship has challenged and critiqued some of the conventional understandings of Foucauldian biopolitics. The question of the posthuman goes beyond the focus on anti-humanism and is posed within the reconfiguration of life itself: how can life be governed when the boundaries of life are shifting, when inanimate, nonhuman, and posthuman forms and their novel ontologies have entered the specter of qualified life? This question is heightened in the age of the Anthropocene, where the destruction of the natural world is evidenced by the burden humans have put on natural resources, land, soil, waters, air, and nonhuman life, including plants and microbes. In this essay, I distinguish four different scholarly engagements with the posthuman and the biopolitical—capital, law, relational-material, environmental—that push the analytics of a Foucauldian biopolitics to its boundaries, and that lay bare the limits and tensions of biopolitics arising within these areas of study.
This chapter analyzes the relation between postmodernism and posthumanism. While postmodernism, as an aesthetic and philosophical practice, has lost some of its relevance in the academy, several of its underlying gestures, the primary being the interrogation of the humanist model of subjectivity, live on in various versions of posthumanism. The central concern here, first, will be to examine Derrida’s concept of the trace (in his essay “Differance”); the chapter then moves on to suggest that Derrida’s quintessentially postmodern reading of the subject— differentiated, displaced, and other to itself—finds new expression in various canonical versions of posthumanism (in Hayles, Haraway, and Braidotti). Ultimately, the chapter examines how Derrida’s model of the subject persists as a kind of haunting in posthumanist thought, how postmodernism operates as a prefiguring trace of posthumanism.
If digital technology requires us to completely rethink the fundamental axes of our human existence: time, space and causality, we have to ask the following questions: How are we to conceive of these three axes today when studying and teaching languages as a human activity? How can learning another language help us better understand the symbolic complexity of the human condition? And how can it enable us to engage with symbolic power and respond to symbolic violence? I discuss six scholars that have responded to these questions in recent decades: Judith Butler and her reflections on the time-bound political promise of the performative; Michel de Certeau and his thoughts on the space of strategies and tactics in everyday life; Mikhail Bakhtin on the time/space chronotope and the carnivalesque; Pierre Bourdieu and his Pascalian meditations on causality and the habitus; Alastair Pennycook and Bruno Latour on post-humanist thinking.
This chapter maps the emerging conceptual terrain of posthumanism and its relevance for discourse studies, with a particular focus on sociolinguistics and applied linguistics work. Posthumanism is a label applied to a range of theoretical and methodological approaches across the humanities and social sciences that are calling into question dominant assumptions generated by Western Enlightenment thinking about the human by giving greater consideration to the role of material objects, animals and the environment in understanding the social world. Posthumanism thus considers the implications of the central role of materialism in our understandings of human agency, language, cognition and society. For discourse studies, a turn to posthumanism requires us to examine the role of discourse in how humans become entangled with the material world through their everyday embodied interactions with objects, artifacts, technologies, plants, animals, and the built and natural environment. Through embracing an activity-oriented perspective toward these human–nonhuman entanglements, the implications are that we must rethink modernist categorical boundaries between subject/object, human/nonhuman and society/nature, both within metadiscourses about these dichotomies and through a more microanalytic lens in the analysis of text and talk.
This chapter traces a history of British Decadent sexualities as elemental, pre-normative attractions and fulfilments, considering how early sexological discourse encouraged conceptions of Decadent sexuality to arise and then likewise feed into more recent, posthumanist notions of eco-sexuality. But recognizing a non-binary Decadence of dissemination, proliferation and contagion requires one to imagine attractions and repulsions that do not merely decentre the human, but operate with a conceptual core that itself is not built in response to human identity, culture or politics in the first place. One possibility lies in Heinrich Kaan’s theory, articulated in his study Psycopathia Sexualis (1844), that a natural excess of imagination fosters realms of ‘chaos’ in plant and animal (including human) sexualities. Early sexological works such as Kaan’s encourage one to understand non-normative sexuality not as one of various deviations characterizing the Decadent movement, in fact not as a deviation at all, but as a natural phenomenon that preceded and gave shape to the cultural paradigms that Victorians and those who followed came to see as Decadent.