Gilmer Post 9: Hark, A Cultural Critic Sings!

Braidotti’s The Posthuman (2013) serves the post-humanism dish in a way that miraculously makes it appetizing. Perhaps that’s because she uses humanism as a seasoning in appropriate places, arguing that “a focus on subjectivity is necessary because this notion enables us to string together issues […] scattered across a number of domains” (42). I found her critiques of the humanistic hierarchy both moderate and compelling, if a bit Yoda-esque: “individualism breeds egotism and self-centeredness; self-determination can turn to arrogance and domination; and science is not free from its own dogmatic tendencies” (30).

Humanism, as an intellectual paradigm, functions as a double-edged sword, exercising a “fatal attraction” to the Vitruvian ideal. This is where the humanities, and digital humanities in particular, get ugly. Citing Irigaray, Braidotti asserts that the “symbol of classical Humanity is very much a male of the species; it is a he. Moreover, he is white, European, handsome, and able-bodied” (24). I think we can all agree that the humanist realm continues to be dominated by the idealized white male figure, a trend that was indicated in both Matt Jockers’ and Brian Kane’s presentations. While each speaker engaged with digital cultures, artistic creation, and machinic data, they also glossed over significant aspects of cultural criticism, including the invisibility of graduate work, the gendered tech bubble, and the machine’s complicity with postcolonialsim. As digital scholars struggle to find a balance between humanist and post-humanist paradigms, crucial voices are inadvertently silenced. Therefore, it was extraordinarily satisfying to see Braidotti identify the ethical gap in digital media scholarship, arguing that “the reduction to sub-human status of non-Western others is a constitutitve source of ignorance, falsity, and bad consciousness for the dominant subject who is responsible for their epistemically as well as social de-humanization” (28). Hurrah! Alan Liu’s call for cultural perspectives in digital humanities is finally being answered!

But where Braidotti’s eye pays careful attention to ethics and infrastructure, she neglects the machine object and its past. Her call for a nuanced understanding of knowledge production in the sciences is contradicted when she “emphasize[s] the normatively neutral structure of contemporary technologies: they are not endowed with intrinsic humanistic agency” (45). I’m a fan of neutral spaces, but I’m still fairly certain I haven’t encountered one. How can the computer, or my iPad, or even my air conditioning unit, exist outside of human influence? How do these technologies and their interfaces constitute “neutral spaces” given a human sourcecode, human creator, and human user? I also took problem with her quick dismissal of retroactive analysis, eloquently summarized when she declares that “this is no time for nostalgic longings!” (45). I see what she’s getting at, I think–we shouldn’t get hung up on old-white-guy criticism–but her view seems to occlude subdisciplines like media archaeology. Maybe if Braidotti toured the MAL, she wouldn’t be so hasty to sweep the past and weak “nostalgia” underneath the rug.

That said, I really was in love with this week’s readings. I’ve had my fist in the air pumping out victory for a solid two days (shoulder getting sore). To carry on with the trend of postcolonial-savvy digital work, I’d like to share a project currently under work at the University of Maryland: MITH’s “Transforming the Afro-Carribbean World” (TAW). This is a work-in-progress, which makes the site valuable for its clear layout of the team’s efforts and hurdles as they assemble the final project. I love the portion about anticipated problems, technological equipment, and data processing. And the project itself promises to be incredibly wide-ranging, documenting the migratory movements of Afro-Carribbean laborers in the early 20th-century. I can’t wait to see this evolving piece in its final form. http://mith.us/taw_workshop/ 

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One thought on “Gilmer Post 9: Hark, A Cultural Critic Sings!

  1. ebcousins says:

    I was also surprised at Braidotti’s notion of contemporary technologies as “neutral” in structure and “not endowed with intrinsic humanistic agency” – she seems to perhaps be implying that those technologies can be used in non-neutral ways (the agency being not intrinsic but perhaps applied) – which makes it seem odd to me that the humanistic agency that could have gone into their creation / conception isn’t taken into account. This seems especially interesting considering the side of the posthuman that “levels out” humans and other agents in turning them into commodities / defining them as equally monetary resources / disposable within the capitalist system…Tech is a big part of that, and tech is design with goals in mind. Seemed like an odd contradiction; made me wonder if I’d missed something in my reading. Perhaps class will shed some light!

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