Jones Post: Digital Humanities and Posthumanism

Reading Braidotti’s The Posthuman was a fascinating look into the world of theory both past and present that revolved around or questioned “the idea of the ‘Human'” as “the basic unit of reference for the knowing subject” (143). Through Braidotti’s work, Braidotti  explored many of the issues that we’ve discussed this semester. The work of DH intersected again and again with Braidotti’s “crisis of Humanism”. This included questioning the “purity” of science, the human as the center, and the work of various movements to de-center or question normalized modes of producing knowledge. From Braidotti’s work, along with what we’ve covered with Harraway, it appears that both scholars recommend a localized and diverse analytic approach to culture, society, and science as path forward for scholars in the Humanities. This would appear to be an inclusive approach, one that tries to de-link itself from “a hierarchical scale of decreasing worth” where subjects are defined by their exclusion (143).

This de-linking, or localized focus, mirrors Samir Amin’s world systems theory that also mentions de-linking from dominant hierarchical forces. Much like Braidotti’s “Others”, periphery countries are marginalized by hegemonic forces of the self-aggrandizing Western humanist center. Both periphery countries and Braidotti’s “Others” are marginalized by the globalized, capitalist and Eurocentric system that normalizes and enforces ideologies in order to “dehumanize”  people for the “accumulation of wealth” (7). From both posthuman and world system theories, humans appear to be inextricably trapped in recapitulating and circular systems of commodification and violence by oppressive powers (7). Yet the idea of de-linking, or removing oneself from Humanist ideologies, seems to present itself as the possibility for future movement for various groups. Inclusion and diversification is presented a solution, but how does one become a part of this process?

In our class, we’ve discussed our own intimidation and marginalized in DH work. How do we, as students of the humanities include ourselves in discussions? Braidotti seems to suggest that we are in the middle of a process that has already started: “the crisis of Humanism means that the structural Others of the modern humanistic subject re-emerge with a vengeance in postmodernity” (37). However, we’ve read and seen dismissive theories that paint women and minorities into corners, or theories that don’t acknowledge the structural systems in place that would still exclude “alternative modes of subjectivity” (38). How do we localize the issues of fluency to ourselves so that we may access humanities computing or digital humanities work? Braidotti states that it is in the modern movements, or the “the women’s rights movement, the anti-racism, and de-colonization movements, the anti-nuclear, and pro-environment movements” that voices have been created and heard as the “structural Others of modernity” (37).  This seems to imply a need for proactive work, where the “Others” also work to pave various paths for diversity or inclusion and this seems to be focused on furthering or creating movements to address exclusion.

After last week’s demonstration and listening to the feedback of “anyone can do it”, I wondered to myself if perhaps the only way out would be by pushing through?  Again I returned to issues of “the master’s tools” and the dangers of working through exclusionary systems. How then, are localized or diverse spaces maintained or created? How can tools be created or manipulated to be intuitive or accessible? In my own final project, I’ve found the need to start researching the “how-to’s” of programming before even fathoming how to write  or propose a new language. I hope that by the end of the project I may have more answers than questions, but occasionally I feel like my own project may end up as a spectacular failure. Yet the process will be well worth it, as it will teach me more about processes that have been abstract, obscure, or difficult to access. Like Braidotti’s work, I see the importance to exploring, understanding and questioning how systems of exclusion or access pierce and intrude into avenues of life, from the humanities and sciences, up to globalization and systems of power. How do we de-link from exclusion? How do we turn back the tides of marginalization?

Works Cited:

Amin, Samir. Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World.  Zed Books, 1990. Print.

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. Print.

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One thought on “Jones Post: Digital Humanities and Posthumanism

  1. Hello RJONES2155,

    I enjoyed reading your post, as it brought me back to a reading from a course on “new materialism” that I took two years ago. In “Posthuman Performativity”, feminist quantum physicist Karen Barad provides what she terms an “agential realist” account, which stands in contrast to “representationalist” accounts of reality which divide the world into “words” and “things”. Representationalism is heavily invested in the divorcing of epistemology and ontology – that is, it presupposes that knowledge is formed through the interaction of discrete subjects and objects. Barad challenges this model by supplementing quantum physicist Niels Bohr’s epistemological interpretation of quantum phenomena by articulating its corresponding ontology. Bohr conceived of “representationalism” as a largely an epistemological problem, where “things” are not discrete entities and “words” have no inherent meaning. For Bohr, theoretical physics was not simply abstract, for certain concepts such as “position” and “momentum” can only be formed in relation to actual physical space. This usefully problematizes the representationalist notion that “measurements” (or language) perform a mediating function between the question of being and the question of knowing.

    The primary epistemological unit in Bohr’s understanding is therefore neither the subject nor the object, but the “phenomena” which allow them to constitute each other. Phenomena, Barad contends, “are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting ‘components.'” Thus, to the agential realist, “phenomena” are the “atoms” (the smallest indivisible unit) of what Barad terms “intra-action.” The neologism intra-action is meant to counteract the discreteness of components which is presupposed by the term interaction. Intra-action describes the mutual-constituency of components in determining one-anothers’ boundaries and properties, indicating that the “properties” of a component arise only through its relation to other components. Barad contends that the “Cartesian cut” (the boundary established between subject and object by French philosopher Renee DesCartes) presupposes the existence of subjects and objects. She introduces the concept of an “agential cut”—a separation between subject and object which is only determined through engagement with local phenomena.

    I suggest that this supplements both Braidotti’s and Harraway’s analyses, certainly resonating with them in terms of the specificity of locality. Barad’s agential cut calls for a local engagement with phenomena before determining or negotiating the agency of relative components. At any rate, I think that the merging of epistemology and ontology in the agential realist account has both a set of ethical and theoretical ramifications that relate to the emancipation of marginalized groups and how performative acts and transformative politics are mutually-constitutive. One might say that the Subject is formed through a million agential cuts, but this would obscure how the intimate linking of matter in discourse in Barad’s model leaves the Subject open to perpetual indistinction with other relata and phenomena which may or may not even exist. In sum, I think that when we try to reconcile the perceptual unity dissolution of the “human”, we can (selfishly) begin to see discourse’s necessary complicity in how “matter comes to matter”. In other words, one does know simple come to “know” or “exist” in the world through discourse, one must acknowledge that they are “of” the world–materially–as a complicit component of the apparatus in order to see how that is both marginalizing and liberating.

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