Schultheis Post 9: Language’s Materiality and Braidotti’s “Posthuman”

Beginning The Posthuman, Rosi Braidotti describes her genealogy of Humanism to post-humanism—a mammoth task for chapter one—with an analysis of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (1492). From here she describes the contemporary, nostalgic view of Humanism and its various shortcomings and, often violent, consequences that are caused by the following problem: Humanism does not extend humanity to all humans. Capital “H” humanism embraces the transcendental ego and bolsters “the binary logic of identity and otherness . . . of ‘difference’ as pejoration” (15). Anti-humanism’s disruption of Humanism then becomes the focus of much of the rest of the chapter before Braidotti’s anticipation of the turn to post-humanism that comes in her subsequent chapters. She explains that anti-humanism “rejects the dialectical scheme of thought, where difference or otherness played a constitutive role, marking off the sexualized other (woman), the racialized other (the native) and the naturalized other (animals, the environment or earth)” (27). Beautifully said, and I would imagine a motive underpinning many people’s turn to feminist and post-colonial work.

However, what I find confusing (and quite troubling) is Braidotti’s argument that her post-human “is not linguistically framed” but is “rather materialist and vitalist, embodied and embedded, firmly located somewhere” (51 my emphasis). Perhaps this is a minor detail for her overall argument—which I find incredibly compelling and optimistic—but I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that language is not material. Am I to believe that language has no center and no materiality because post-structuralists have deemed it so? This seems absurd. Language was profoundly material in Braidotti’s first vignette, which describes a YouTube video of a young man with the caption “Humanity is overrated” before he murdered eight classmates. The tremendously flawed and atrocious narratives and ideals to which this person adhered (no doubt meant to juxtapose Braidotti’s description of anti-humanism) were deeply embodied.

Much of my research revolves around tracing oral knowledge of the 16th and 17th centuries, which, of course, ironically requires a physical text or item. It’s not that I believe oral knowledge can necessarily be reconstructed, but I believe it is embodied somewhere. Whether written or uttered, language is physical and reverberates through time. I am sure that dialectics are important for Braidotti’s post-human, and although I have doubts that a subject can exist without being linguistically framed, I’m willing to be persuaded. However, what I know I cannot envision is a language that’s immaterial.

[Full disclosure: I haven’t made it to chapter four yet, and I’ve been told that it may clear some of this up for me.]

Work Cited

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Malden, MA, USA: Polity, 2013. Print.


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