Monthly Archives: November 2015

McGehee Post 9: Practical Posthumanism

“Power is not a steady location operated by a single masterful owner” (188).

The Posthuman is one of my favorite readings in the course to date. I already knew much of the historical background Braidotti presents via feminist theories, and I felt very drawn to her honest statements and attention to Eurocentric policing in the humanities that continues today.

In a previous feminist theories course I took about a year ago, we discussed secularism adamantly and the lack of questioning by Western academics as to its position in relation to the rest of the world, industrialized or not. Braidotti reminds us that the roots of Western feminism question, yet participate in Eurocentric notions and binaries of humanity. Black feminism and post-colonial theory fall outside of Western feminism or thwart secularity. But what is left by the wayside in wake of a dominant Western feminism that works from an assumed unity? Women, still, but mainly people of color, the disabled, LGBTIQ, animals and anything resting outside of the majority. So then white women perhaps enact the same structure used to subjugate them.

“This is the paradoxical and violent global context where the posture of Western ‘exceptionalism’ has taken the form of self-aggrandizing praise of the Enlightenment Humanist legacy” (36).

Braidotti’s discussion of science as a product of the secular, I thought to be particularly relevant to the course and previous class discussions. “Systems of meaning” place science as the voice of reason and a resistance to what we think of as religious indoctrination, but she says that this is also a type of religious practice that reinforces the negative effects of secularism. My overall cultural perception of secularism is that, widely, it is not seen as something negative, when in reality it is used as an emotive, colonial, policing device. It positions itself in a place of inarguable reason and logic (universalism) while forcing academics to view the world through a particular lens and ostracising others.

“According to the tenants of classical Humanism, the humanities were defined by their capacity to humanize our social behavior, values and civic interaction. This implies an implicit moral mission and concern for the well-being of academics, students and citizens alike” (147).

Classical humanism has been used as justification for a “violent and belligerent relationship to the sexualized, racialized and naturalized ‘others’ that occupied the slot of devalued difference” (144). Whereas, Braidotti prescribes, “Posthuman subjectivity reshapes the identity of humanistic practices, by stressing heteronomy and multi-faceted relationality, instead of autonomy and self-referential disciplinary purity” (145). She encourages us to look beyond the self as a paradigm or binary of the human and to look at the relationships between human communities and the relationship between humanity and the earth or the technological as the most constructive method for dismantling systems of oppression.

“Life, simply by being life, expresses itself by actualizing flows of energies, through codes of vial information across complex somatic, cultural and technologically networked systems…the expressive intensity of a Life we share with multiple others, here and now” (190).

The Posthuman, in Braidotti’s view, becomes an opportunity—a canvas where we are free to decide the constructs of our own humanity. While I’m unsure of the realistic possibilities of her realization, I feel that The Posthuman leaves us with a positive plan and future potential of the human through the release of a Eurocentric humanist foundation. The construct of humanity has appeared as a solid object since its conception, grounded and rooted in hundreds of years of history.

Tanya Clement’s “An Information Science Question in DH Feminism” working within situated locations as Braidotti does, posits, “…both standpoint theory and postmodern theory hold that all knowledge is historically and geographically created by embodied participants. As such, they offer this insistent embodiment as “a rich tradition of critiquing hegemony without disempowering positivisms and relativisms and a way to get nuanced theories of mediation”  [Haraway 1988, 578]. Ultimately, standpoint theory suggests that understanding the influence of multiple, embodied perspectives rather than attempting a “metadisciplinary” roving eye is necessary to enhancing knowledge.”

Clement likewise uses feminist theory and scholarship to deconstruct inherent subject positioning in scientific research for a “located accountability.” She lists five attributes in which DH appears to excel, or five areas that are being addressed in the wake of cultural theories exclusion from the field:

  1. Recognizing the various forms of visible and invisible work that make up the production/use of technical systems, locating ourselves within that extended web of connections, and taking responsibility for our participation.
  2. Understanding technology use as the recontextualization of technologies designed at greater or lesser distances in some local site of practice.
  3. Acknowledging and accepting the limited power of any actors or artifacts to control technology production/use.
  4. Establishing new bases for technology integration, not in universal languages, but in partial translations.
  5. Valuing heterogeneity in technical systems, achieved through practices of artful integration, over homogeneity and domination.

Clement, especially in point five, engages and encourages the fostering of Braidotti’s Posthuman call to action and offers a material checklist to follow in DH, perhaps offering a positive Posthuman route when engaging the sciences in humanist research. I think this type of work and strategy is at the heart of The Posthuman and gives a practical, ethical set of rules to follow when conducting research.


Bibliography:

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

Clement, Tanya. “An Information Science Question in DH Feminism.” School of Information, University of Texas at Austin. 2015. Web.

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.

Cousins Post 9: The Place of National Literatures in a Posthuman Multi-versity

Braidotti does a nice job of weaving various interconnected strands of posthuman effects into a cohesive whole…my post will do no such thing. This week’s reading takes on so many of the most urgent, relevant pieces of discourse re: the humanities and now my head is a buzzin!

I’ll work my way backwards – Braidotti’s exploration of a “Posthuman Humanities” in Chapter 4 includes a shifting of the humanities crisis into a posthuman opportunity that feels hyper-relevant to my own department’s situation. After losing the PhD track, conversations between my peers generally had two themes – Comp lit is dead, and what do we do now? While most of us aren’t going on to get doctorate degrees, those who are (or are considering) are steering far away from national literature departments. Instead, people are looking at degrees in American Culture studies, Media studies, degree names that include terms like “Inter”, “Multi” and maybe the word “and”. Most of us came to Comparative Literature because we wanted an interdisciplinary approach to literature that seemed less acceptable in national literature departments (whether or not this is still true of English, I’m not sure, and I’m sure it depends on the institution). Ideas about a new type of PhD program that allowed for interdisciplinarity across multiple mediums (visual art, literature, film, etc.) were discussed—the end of complit sparked re-visions of what a Humanities department or a literature department can look like. In reality, though, any changes or reimaginings of departments will take place long after my class has moved on in or out of academia. It was interesting to read Braidotti’s concept of a multiversity after having experienced the disheartening notion that multi-national / multi-perspective literature studies weren’t really valued. This isn’t to say at all that a comparative literature program is in line with Braidotti’s views on a posthuman humanities – but it does make me wonder what the place of departmental structuring around national literatures is in a multiversity. Are there aspects of imperial / Eurocentric / androcentric ideologies built into the national literature system? I think the answer has to be yes, and Braidotti’s shifting towards a posthuman humanities might point to ways to subvert those build-in marginalizing tendencies.

Braidotti’s articulation of the asymmetrical ideologies hidden within the humanist ideal exposes the Eurocentrism at work within our university system as well, as “a structural element of our cultural practice, which is also embedded in both theory and institutional and pedagogical practices” (15). Eurocentrism certainly seems like a building block for the departmental system of national literatures; even within those national literatures studies of the literature of marginalized nations or marginalized peoples within that nation are often “Othered” in a hierarchy that places the colonizing nation in the default position (French Lit vs. Francophone African or Caribbean literature, the classic American canon vs. literature of Diaspora or African-American literature, etc.) Even in this paragraph I just relegated very diverse areas of study into a single parenthetical based entirely on otherness. Ah!

Braidotti, however, seems optimistic about the power of interdisciplinary “studies” and their ability to act as counter-discourses to the problematic universal narrative of humanism within the university: “Over the last thirty years, new critical epistemologies have offered alternative definitions of the ‘human’ by inventing interdisciplinary areas which call themselves ‘studies’, like: gender, feminism, ethnicity, cultural studies, post-colonial, media and new media and Human rights studies (Bart et al., 2003)” (144). Citing James Chandler, Braidotti mentions the emergence of a ‘critical disciplinarity’ that challenges the “traditional organization of the university in departmental structures” (144). Interdisciplinarity seems essential to the subversive power of these “studies”, and I wonder to what extent a posthuman humanities should abandon the national literature model…I wouldn’t advocate a transcendence of location, of course, but a recognition of the multiplicity of different locations from which to speak / study literature. A relational subjectivity, I think, demands a relational (though not completely relativist) approach to the study of literature as well. As Braidotti states, “Posthuman subjectivity reshapes the identity of humanistic practices, by stressing heteronomy and multi-faceted relationality, instead of autonomy and self-referential disciplinary purity” (145). I’m not entirely sure that disciplinary purity exists or can exist anymore, especially within English departments…and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

It does make me wonder, though, why we still use national literatures as headings for work that seems to exceed those boundaries. Braidotti says that “We need an active effort to reinvent the academic field of the Humanities in a new global context and to develop an ethical framework worthy of our posthuman times. Affirmation, not nostalgia, is the road to pursue: not the idealization of philosophical meta-discourse, but the more pragmatic task of self-transformation through humble experimentation (150). Is there nostalgia in play within structuring based on national literatures? If so, where does it come from? Is it tied at all to nationalism? Is there a benefit to organizing based off of national literatures? Do we lose something if we stop calling it “English Lit” or “Spanish Lit” or “German Lit”? I suppose one could argue that nationalism can serve as a means by which marginalized populations can re-assert their own power…but in general, departments organized around marginalized populations don’t seem to be the norm, at least within the study of literature.

If humanism in its most limiting, androcentric and Eurocentric forms is built into the way we organize the humanities, is the solution then to reform the system or scrap it altogether? Do we even need to take action to destabilize that system (if we want to), or are the trends of new technologies and the “crisis” in humanities already taking care of that? Is the way forward, as Braidotti says, an affirmative one? If so, what sort of actions should be taken?

Chandler, in his 2004 article “Critical Disciplinarity” from Critical Inquiry, cited earlier by Braidotti, says:

We need to rearticulate the disciplinary system after three decades of “add on” fields and programs. We need to do this not in order to cut costs or to rebind ourselves to a new regime of disciplinarity but, at least in part, to create new possibilities for interdisciplinary connection and exploration. The structure of the research university needs serious rethinking. Because the professionalized and marketdriven practices of the national disciplines are so deeply entrenched, this effort must be largescale and it will not be easy…Chandler 359

I went searching for examples of this restructuring, or more tangible examples of what Braidotti’s multiversity would look like. In an interview with a “cross-media” project called nY, Braidotti expanded on the reshaping of universities, calling for a meta-disciplinarity that calls the humanities into question:

For me this professionalization exercise also implies that we start teaching the humanities instead of the disciplines. That meta-disciplinary move will take some time since the attachment to the disciplines is enormous but the centers for the humanities that are popping up right now are interesting exercises. Leiden is opening one, the Amsterdam University is opening one. Those centers pose the question “what are the humanities?” (qtd. in Posman 1).

At the same time that Braidotti calls for this meta-disciplinarity, she recognizes the difficulty some may feel in letting go of the disciplinary model:

For somebody like me, who has abandoned her discipline a long time ago, it’s not a big issue, but for people who have been raised in their discipline it’s a very painful exercise. It’s almost like leaving home. (qtd. in Posman 1).

I think I feel similarly to Braidotti – having already, in a way, been somewhat displaced departmentally and having already come from a position wherein my technical “discipline” didn’t have a single home, I have few qualms about letting go of traditional structures – but I recognize that others might not feel the same. One could argue, ironically, that lack of “departmental purity” is what made it easier for the Comp. Lit PhD to fall through infrastructural cracks and get boot, so I can also see dangers in shifting away from classic models.

One strategy that Braidotti brings up in the interview is the idea of “centers for the humanities”, which I think ties into our discussions about humanities labs and the kinds of possibilities for collaborative, interdisciplinary work that those labs open up. “Centers” like the ones Braidotti mentions can cut across disciplinary and departmental boundaries, creating opportunities for, I think, the kind of posthuman humanities projects that Braidotti envisions.

The University of Amsterdam that Braidotti mentions houses the OSL or The Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies, a “national network for literary theory, comparative literature, Dutch literature, and the literatures of the major modern languages in the Netherlands” (“About OSL”). Though based at the University of Amsterdam, the “school” is open to participants from other universities, including those abroad. Their mission statement recognizes, like Braidotti, the potential of new forms of “studies” to reinvigoriate the study of literature:

The rise of network theories and digital humanities, new materialism and affect studies, new sociologies of (world) literature and various forms of cognitivist and neuro-criticism currently reinvigorates and transforms the study of literature in ways that ask for curious participation and critical reflection. At the same time, new educational and funding policies, questions concerning the role of the humanities in society at large and the alleged disappearance of ‘art’ and ‘culture’ as (semi)autonomous spheres of critique and emancipation change the socio-political contexts in which literary scholars work and define their research interests and projects. OSL strives to be the intellectual and academic forum for the discussion, advancement and reflection of the state(s) of the art of literary studies…(“About OSL”).

The center seems to foster interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, cross-university projects that are aimed at rethinking the humanities. Odlie Bodde’s media studies project “Studies on torture: the politics and aesthetics of brutality in war-on-terror films” (Studies on torture), for example, is part of the NWO-funded interdisciplinary programme What can the humanities contribute to our practical self-understanding? that takes place at Utrecht University, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, while Anouk Zuurmond looks at “Transnational Literary Projects: Strategies and Effects in the Debate on a European Identity” (Zuurmond). Whether these types of projects align with Braidotti’s zoe-centered posthumanism, I’m not sure…but the structure in place certainly seems to open up space for thinking posthuman subjectivities and the way that they are reshaping the humanities. Can this type of work happen within traditional disciplinary structures as well, or are they too inundated with humanist ideology?

Also, I thought I was done, but this nY “cross-media” project from which I got the Braidotti interview is very cool and seems to align with Braidotti’s affirmative, generative ideas about creating alternatives:

nY came into being in 2009 as a result of the fusion of two Flemish literary journals—yang (founded in 1963) and freespace Nieuwzuid (founded in 1999). This fusion took place because the arrival of the Internet has definitively changed the way literary journals function. nY is no longer a literary-cultural journal, as we have known them for almost two centuries now, but a cross-media project, the core of which is the intersection of a paper journal and this website…

…Consequently, the new that is relevant to nY is that which does not concern itself with the consensus. For that reason, the nY project is often a critical one. But it also has a powerful, creative aspect—it generates alternatives that were never before considered possible. The categorical imperative to which nY adheres is this: show them that it can be done differently! This imperative is inherent in every creative act, and the heeding of this imperative calls up the same feelings—tension, uneasiness and sometimes even fear, but also, most of all, the pleasure of adventure and freedom regained.

In line with this, nY resolves to be a discursive machine, in other words a machine which brings unconventional concepts and ideas into circulation. At the root of this practice is the conviction that reality (the social, the historical) is a set of constructions founded in influential discourses. Engaging in these discourse results in the reinvention of our reality. And that, in addition to being a critical pursuit, is also an extremely pleasurable one.
(About nY)

Affirmative, cross-platform – a “discursive machine”!

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.

Archibald Post 9: The Posthuman Schizophrenic

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).

citiestreesandrhizomeskevinmurray2013-cropped3

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.

pol4-670x407

Polymelia suit design

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Polymelia suit prototype

Works Cited:

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.

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/ 

Carlson Post 9: Existential Crisis?

Going into this week’s reading, I had no idea what to expect. Before cracking open Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman, the concept of posthumanism for me brought about images of robots, Google Glass, Siri, and of course that horrifying idea of downloading your brain and abandoning your body. Braidotti has very little time for these futuristic trifles in her book, and instead focuses on something much larger and more pressing – the current state of humanism and how it is essentially “behind on the times.” Little did I know, Braidotti would shake the bedrock of my life with her arguments for anti-humanism.

I’ve considered myself a humanist for as long as I remember knowing what humanism was. As an English major, I’ve consistently embraced and defended the humanities, maintaining a sense of pride for my position as a humanist. Maybe I’m naïve or just not well-read, but Braidotti is the first person to show me the dark side of humanism. She argues that humanism is in opposition to many of the theoretical frameworks that I am passionate about, such as feminist theory, queer theory, and post-colonial theory. By setting ‘Man’ as the ideological ideal, humanism actually creates and perpetuates the notion of the “other.” Braidotti writes:

“Humanism is neither an idea nor an objective statistical average or middle ground. It rather spells out a systematized standard of recognizability – of Sameness – by which all others can be assessed . . . This standard is posited as categorically and qualitatively distinct from the sexualized, racialized, naturalized others and also in opposition to the technological artifact.” (26)

While I’m wary of completely hopping on the Braidotti train after simply reading her book, this argument makes total sense to me. But I have to admit that I’m still a little stuck on humanism; I’m not ready to abandon it completely. Can I still be a humanist and just pick-and-choose the things I like about humanism and leave the negatives behind? Braidotti also makes several compelling points about post-secularism, but I still consider myself to be a secular thinker.

But enough about me. What impact does this have on the digital humanities? We’ve focused so much on the shift from the traditional humanities to digital humanities. Should we instead be discussing the digital posthumanities? I was surprised to see only one or two mentions of DH in The Posthuman, and both mentions were done in passing towards the end of the book. This suggests to me that the schools of thought surrounding the posthuman and the digital humanities are very separate, which is a bit surprising (kind of like when we found out that media archaeologists and DH-ers want nothing to do with each other).

To bring an aspect of “doing DH” into my post today, I took a look at the Mediated Matter section of projects on the MIT Media Lab website, since this seemed to mesh well with Braidotti’s idea of human relation with self-organizing matter. One of these projects, called Living Mushtari, seems to have the same mission:

“How can we design relationships between the most primitive and sophisticated life forms? Can we design wearables embedded with synthetic microorganisms that can enhance and augment biological functionality, and generate consumable energy when exposed to the sun? We explored these questions through the creation of Mushtari, and 3D-printed wearable with 58 meters of internal fluid channels. Designed to function as a microbial factory, Mushtari uses synthetic microorganisms to convert sunlight into useful products for the wearer, engineering a symbiotic relationship between two bacteria.”

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While the connection between DH and the posthuman may not be explicit, it’s clear that both schools of thought are exploring similar concepts. I think Braidotti would absolutely be supportive of this joining up of the human and a more primitive life form such as bacteria. Recognizing that there can be a symbiotic relationship between human and bacteria goes against the basic tenets of humanism. Sorry humans, but you are not unique snowflakes.


Works Cited:

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

M.I.T. Media Lab. “Research Groups and Projects.” https://www.media.mit.edu/research/groups-projects. Accessed 6 November 2015.

A note from Laurel and Georgie on our presentation

Georgie and I will be mostly focusing on chapters 1 and 4 for our presentation on The Posthuman, so if you find yourself short on time, these will be the most important chapters for next Monday’s class.

Happy reading!