Braidotti’s The Posthuman is the bees knees; I absolutely loved it! She interrogates multiple forms of posthuman subjectivity, with her four chapters examining ‘life beyond the self,’ ‘life beyond the species,’ ‘life beyond death,’ and ‘life beyond theory.’ The impetus behind her book is her conviction that the capitalistic tendencies of our global and technologically-mediated society are wholly unsustainable. I’m particularly impressed by her use of the posthuman as an affirmative political tool; she not only analyzes different elements of the posthuman, but offers a way forward for humanity at large. Braidotti is careful to point out that the posthuman doesn’t mean disconnecting from humanity, and intriguingly admits that some humanist ideals fit into her notion of a productive posthuman subjectivity.
I want to connect her discussion and methodology to theoretical material from Deleuze and Guattari. Braidotti explicitly attributes her take on the posthuman to Deleuzian and Spinozian influences, and the former’s impact is evidenced through her continued look to the future of humanity, the ‘becoming’ of something other. A fierce anti-humanist, Braidotti wants to forgo the inherent self-centeredness of humanism’s Vitruvian man in order to celebrate rather than denigrate all forms of otherness. She discusses different theories of ‘becoming-other,’ ‘becoming-animal,’ ‘becoming-earth,’ ‘becoming-machine,’ and ‘becoming-imperceptible;’ all of these are opportunities for ‘becoming-posthuman’ in an affirmative and multifarious manner.
This is reminiscent of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, a text in which they celebrate the idea of the schizophrenic (in anti-institutional rather than clinical terms) as a revolutionary figure that embraces a politics of desire to restore humanity from its current belief systems. The ideal schizophrenic is detailed as “a body without organs” that dissolves the dichotomous distinctions between production and consumption, and man and nature (6). This is the process of ‘becoming-machine’ that Braidotti focuses on in her second chapter. Deleuze and Guattari assert that everything in the world is a machine, and the schizophrenic is able to connect into each and every one in a type of transcendental self-consciousness. This totality of connections is brought about by the continuity of flowing connections and the simultaneous fragmentation of objects. Deleuze and Guattari label the schizophrenic as “Homo natura,” the natural mind that is freed from social hierarchies through pure desiring-production (5). On an even larger scale, they also define the schizophrenic as “Homo historia,” a nebulous being without a body that is forever de-centered and identifies with the entirety of all past and present things (21). This connective type of synthesis and subjectivity seems a process that matches Braidotti’s encouragement of zoe, an all-inclusive world view whereby life embraces the human and non-human; Pickering’s ‘mangle’ is hereby championed as not only integral to knowledge construction, but the nature of being itself. For Braidotti, Deleuze, and Guattari, human subjectivity becomes a privileged form of connection with others.
I was also struck throughout The Posthuman by Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the rhizome, a metaphor based on the root networks of rhizomatous organisms such as the aspen tree, water lilies, and even the humble potato (compared to the hierarchal growth of a ‘standard’ tree).
Deleuze and Guattari describe this deterritorialized structure in their book A Thousand Plateaus: “a rhizome has not beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (25). They undermine traditional dichotomies of subject and object, and signifier and signified, suggesting that “the rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing […] The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions […] Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (7, 12, 15). Again, the mapping of the productive connections of the rhizome reminds me of the zoe; this is the world that the Braidotti, Deleuze and Guattari’s posthuman schizophrenic might connect into. Similarly, Braidotti’s approach to the posthuman as a concept can be described as rhizomatous; she weaves together a myriad of critical material from countless theorists, and more importantly she offers multiple channels of accessing and embracing the posthuman on differing epistemological and ontological levels. Her text becomes an assemblage of interconnected visions whereby she makes a call to arms for social change. Both the schizophrenic and the rhizome are therefore anti-institutional concepts that suggest new codes of signification founded on decentralization and interconnection. I’m going to briefly bring up these ideas tomorrow in Laurel and I’s presentation, and I’d be interested in hearing whether they are helpful tools in understanding Braidotti’s approach to and vision of the posthuman.
This week looking for lab spaces that are explicitly dealing with themes of the posthuman proved a little unfruitful, but University College London’s Interactive Architecture Lab undertook a project that fits the bill. The Lab “is a multi-disciplinary studio interested in the Behaviour and Interaction of Things, Environments and their Inhabitants. We design, build and experiment with Responsive Environments, Robotics and Kinetic Structures, Multi-Sensory Interfaces, Wearable Computing and Prosthetics, the Internet of Things, Performance and Choreography” (http://www.interactivearchitecture.org/aboutus). Their Polymelia Project looks at enhancing the human body through extreme forms of prosthesis (http://www.interactivearchitecture.org/lab-projects/polymelia-the-body-as-an-evolutionary-machine). The project
considers the human body as an assemblage; a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction. We think of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate, so that any replacement or extension becomes part of a continuing process of upgrading the human entity. The Polymelia Suit (PolyEyes, PolyLimbs, Exoskeleton, Sensing Suit) suggests a new communication language for the future of prosthesis and of humanity.
This is the type of posthuman technological advancement that Braidotti doesn’t really take a stand on. She acknowledges that society tends to villainize or worship technological advancements, but for her, it is all about the positive uses we can harness from the manifold of technologies constantly in development. The only stand she makes on this issue is her loathing of contemporary death technologies. And although the Polymelia Suit looks something like a futuristic version of Halo assault armor, its function is to communicate stimuli and aid those with disabilities, rather than weaponize. Phew.
Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1st French edition, 1972). Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.