Posthumanism

Chapter Two

Boundary and structure-free, striated, interwoven organic matter; emergent and constantly evolving – this is the posthuman.

We, humans, do not develop in isolation. We are the product of our lifetime, shaped by experience, connection with others and our environment. We are part of a bigger ecosystem – in itself, equally emergent with imprecise boundaries – a complex mutually dependent system of interwoven relationships between elements: animals, plants, water, carbon, etc. Each element equally vital for the sustainability of the system as a whole. Each element equal.

None of us works alone.
Being ourselves is a huge collaborative effort.

Angus et al. – A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy? (2001)

This notion of equality is central to the philosophy of the posthuman.

The post-human subject is an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction.

Hayles – Towards embodied virtuality (1999)

Seaman (2007) notes a long tradition of presumption since the Enlightenment that the human “is at the centre of his world” and, as a result of man’s supreme intelligence, can manipulate the world around him “in accord with his own wishes” (p. 246). This hierarchical status, paired with the notion of no higher/divine authority, is the central philosophy of humanism – man is of central importance and all other entities are inferior or at least at the mercy of his wishes.

However, if it is believed true that humans and non-humans alike are intimately linked and shaped by exposure to and experience of a rich interdependent system of multiple entities, then it seems perverse to impose hierarchical arrangements upon an act of such complex balance.

It also begs the question who or what made ‘human’ most important?
Answer: human did.

Physiology of the posthuman is no different to that of the human – they are in this respect one of the same (Wolfe, 2008). Yet it is the bipolar philosophies of relative-importance which underpin their divide – the way in which each perceives their inhabited environment and relative position within the system differs, even when viewing the same environment.

The concept posthumanism does not only refer to yet another form of chronological progression or historical moment (i.e. the ‘ end of humanism’ , or what comes ‘ after humanism’ ), but addresses fundamental ontological and epistemological questions relating to the problematic project of defining an essential ‘ human nature’.

Wolfe – Posthumanities (2008)

We need first to understand that the human form – including human desire and all its external representations – may be changing, and thus must be re-visioned. We need to understand that five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something we must helplessly call the post-human.

Hassan – Prometheus as Performer: Towards a Posthumanist Culture (1977)

This altered state of perception occurs precisely at the point of transgressed boundaries (Haraway, 2007) and as a result difficult to define in terms of traditional, static categorisation; rather the posthuman instead requires appreciation and application of post-structural emergence and fuzzy boundaries to be fully understood.

However, it is important to recognise that for the posthuman it is not the case that one can only see ones own likeness, as could be argued for the human-centred philosophy of the Enlightenment. Hayles (1999) notes that the “construction of the posthuman does not require the subject to be a literal cyborg” – this is an important distinction to draw, highlighting that although one may adopt a posthuman lens, this does not presuppose that all humans are now posthuman, i.e. that the human species has now evolved universally into the augmented posthuman. For Haraway, the human itself is made through a process of ongoing evolution, encompassing both technological and anthropological developments (Wolfe, 2008) which is in turn reflected in her depictions of the posthuman as a composite of ether (Haraway, 2007; 37) again re-emphasising the fundamental similarities in surface physicality.

Knowledge building through a posthuman lens can be viewed much like felt – independent layers of matter are built on each other, weaved together, and manipulated/agitated to create a single composite. Each composite is unique and the product of its individiual experience. And felt can be bonded to and incorporated within other felts – a constant process of building, striated spaces with transgressed boundaries.

The learning process is emergent and organic; a reflection of the posthuman themselves. However, education in its wider sense may not be as obviously linked to the human-decentralised posthuman ideal.

According to Pederson (2010), Western pedagogy is deeply rooted in ‘humanist’ tradition, whereby the human is “considered both the instrument and the end product” of the educational process (pp. 241). This analysis supports the observation of McKay (2005) who proposes such rooting is the result of preoccupation with ‘compulsory humanity’ whereby “it is compulsory that we ‘become’ human” further noting that this process is “a function of our renunciation of the animal” (pp. 218). These two complementary theories suggest current education systems are by their very nature humanist, thus rendering them human-focused.

Yet adopting the opposite view, it could as easily be said that the meta-physical humanist pedagogy could be just as readily viewed through the lens of the posthuman – if both are compositionally identical, surely it is then the lens applied which classifies the system ‘posthuman’… isn’t it?

… the human being is not a “finished product” but a being that is – or can become – engaged in processes of further future development

Dahlin – Our posthuman futures and education: Homo Zappiens, Cyborgs, and the New Adam (2012)

References

Angus, T., Cook, I., Evans, J. et al (2001). A Manifesto for Cyborg Pedagogy? International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, vol 10 (2) pp. 195-201.

Dahlin, B. (2012). Our posthuman futures and education: Homo Zappiens, Cyborgs, and the New Adam. Futures, vol. 44, pp. 55-63.

Haraway, D. (2007). “A cyborg manifesto” from Bell, David; Kennedy, Barbara M (eds), The cybercultures reader. pp. 34-65, London: Routledge.

Hassan, I. (1977) Prometheus as Performer: Towards a Posthumanist Culture. The Georgia Review, vol. 31 (4) pp. 830-850.

Hayles, N. K. (1999). “Towards embodied virtuality” from we became posthuman : virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. pp. 1-24, Chicago. Ill.: University of Chicago Press. Excerpt available online: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Hayles-Posthuman-excerpts.pdf

McKay, R. (2005). ‘Identifying with the animals’: Language, subjectivity, and the animal politics of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing. In M.S. Pollock & C. Rainwater (Eds.), Figuring animals: Essays on animal images in art, literature, philosophy and popular culture. pp. 207-227, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pedersen, H. (2010). Animals in schools: Processes and strategies in human-animal education. West Lafayette. IN: Purdue University Press.

Seaman, J. (2007). Becoming More (than) Human: Affective Posthumanisms, Past and Future. Journal of Narrative Theory, vol. 37 (2) pp. 246-75. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jnt/summary/v037/37.2seaman.html

Wolfe, C. (2008). Posthumanities. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from http://www.carywolfe.com/post_about.html

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