Philosophy 224 Braidotti’s Posthuman Pt. 1 An End As we’ve seen, the treatments of human nature from the 19th and 20th centuries have shared a suspicion about the tradition of philosophical anthropology. Braidotti shares that suspicion, observing that, from the perspective of that tradition, “Not all of us can say, with any degree of certainty, that we have always been human, or that we are only that. Some of us are not even considered fully human now…” (1). ◦ Who is the ‘we’ that she is thinking about? What is the ideal that excludes ‘us’? The ‘Post’ Era As Braidotti sees is, characteristic of our current intellectual situation is a collapse of the narrative, justifying structures that had their fullest expression in the modern era (the ‘Enlightenment’). We are left with the challenge of thinking in the wake of this collapse, thinking which is often labeled as “Post-”: postmodern, post-colonial, post-industrial, post-race (?), post-feminist (?), posthuman. This last post is the explicit focus of her book. In it, she articulates what she thinks is the most promising way to think the posthuman. Thinking the Posthuman If we are to negotiate what we’ve already recognized as a fraught and frightening situation, there are 4 questions we need answers to: 1. What is the posthuman (where does it come from, historically and intellectually)? 2. Where does it leave us, we sometimes humans? What is posthuman subjectivity? 3. How if it all is the posthuman distinct from and resistant to the inhumane, the dark reflection of all versions of humanism? 4. Can and how can the posthuman be a resource for the intellectual practices that have traditionally invoked the human? Chapter 1: Intellectual Genealogy In order to answer the first of her questions, Braidotti begins with a characterization of the ‘classical’, enlightenment conception of the human. Linking the disparate elements of the West’s account of the human, from Protagoras’ assertion that it is “the measure of all things”, to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, is the assumption of a set of “mental, discursive and spiritual values” (13). ◦ On this picture, humans (and, let’s be honest, this has meant primarily white, heterosexual men) are understood as essentially rational and moral, capable of discerning their own possibilities and organizing themselves towards their highest ends. A Humanist Ideology This set becomes, in the colonial era, a humanist ideology that dominated the West. It justified a cultural model that allowed Westerners to view themselves as an unequalled force on the planet, entitled to use its resources as they saw fit. ◦ We cannot underestimate the force of this model. It, “…makes Eurocentrism into more than just a contingent matter of attitude: it is a structural element of our cultural practice, which is also embedded in both theory and institutional and pedagogical practices” (15). It also justified the imperialist policies of the colonial powers. They saw themselves as the eminently rational and moral, justifying their elevation above the non-European nations. Essentially, this ideology creates a binary ontology: human and other, where ‘other’ is defined solely, and negatively, by reference to the ideology. This is why, for Braidotti, “Humanism’s restricted notion of what counts as the human is one of the keys to understand how we got to a post-human turn at all” (16). A Turning Point Braidotti identifies the radical movements of the 20th century as a turning point in this history. Two key elements were the rise ideologies like fascism and communism. Both of these ideologies represent a significant break from European Humanism: fascism promoted a “ruthless” departure from the Enlightenment-era reverence for human reason, while communism advocated a “communitarian notion of humanist solidarity” (17). Braidotti points out that one of the main reasons for communism’s popularity in post-war Europe was the role it played in defeating the intellectually- and culturally-destructive forces of fascism, suggesting that “for all ends and purposes [communism] came out of the Second World War as the winner” (18), as Communist parties became emblematic of the defeat of fascism across Europe. Even in the U.S., anti-humanism began to take hold of intellectual circles in response to the Vietnam War. Braidotti quotes Edward Said, who opines that America’s revulsion at the war was in part “the emergence of a resistance movement to racism, imperialism generally and the dry-as-dust academic humanities that had for years represented an apolitical, unworldly and oblivious…attitude to the present” (18–19). The anti-humanist Left that emerged in the U.S. in the ’60s and ’70s represented an opposition “not only to the Liberal majority, but also to the Marxist Humanism of the traditional left”(19). Philosophically Radical? Though we see the seeds of the posthuman in these political movements, consideration of the philosophies of the era highlight the continuing strength of the humanist tradition. Even Sartre, who connected the “triumph of reason with the might of dominant powers” (20), advocated a universalist view of human rationality and attempted to resolve these contradictions through a dialectical model. It wasn’t until the publication of Foucault’s The Order of Things that intellectuals began to seriously consider what exactly was meant by “the human”. In this way, radical intellectuals post-1968 rejected both classical and socialist Humanism, and the Vitruvian ideal was “literally pulled down from his pedestal and deconstructed” (23). What was learned from the deprivileging of the human was, crucially, that “[i]ndividualism is not an intrinsic part of ‘human nature’…but rather a historically and culturally discursive formation” (24). That is to say, the individualistic greed that characterized much of Post-Enlightenment Europe’s foreign and domestic policy was demystified to reveal that it was not the manifestation of Man’s Destiny, but rather a sort of psychosomatic cultural malady. A Way Out? Having sketched the genealogy of the anti-humanism that informs her view of the posthuman, Braidotti goes on to examine the tricky nature of actually enacting antihumanist ideals, “it is one thing to loudly announce an anti-humanist stance, quite another to act accordingly, with a modicum of consistency” (29). She points out that while humanism is in many ways problematic, its individualist nature also makes it a valuable pragmatic mechanism for progressive social change (i.e., individualism is what drives oppressed groups to realize that they are oppressed). Braidotti admits that this is something of a bind: “For me it is impossible, both intellectually and ethically, to disengage the positive elements of Humanism from their problematic counterparts” (30). There is a similar bind inherent in the very act of declaring the end of humanism, in that such an act ironically seems to help itself to a humanist conception of agency. In this way, Braidotti demonstrates what she characterizes as “The Posthuman Challenge”, suggesting that rather than further enforcing the binaric differences between humanism and antihumanism, “Posthumanism is the historical moment that…traces a different discursive framework, looking more affirmatively towards new alternatives” (37). That is to say, Posthumanism can still base itself on the assumption of decline of traditional humanism while productively avoiding the rhetorical paradoxes embedded in the crisis of Man, instead focusing on new ways of understanding the human subject. Varieties of the Posthuman Braidotti ends the first chapter by outlining what she sees as the three “major strands” of posthuman thought. The first is reactionary posthumanism, which essentially denies the decline of humanism entirely, arguing rather that humanist ideals provide the only workable model for adaptation to the globalized economy. ◦ What is so problematic about reactionary posthumanism, argues Braidotti, is that it depends on a universalist understanding of the individual, ignoring the insights of the anti-humanist movement, and therefore is constricted to traditional humanistic norms. As Braidotti observes: “There is no room for experimenting with new models of the self” (39). The second strand she identifies is analytic posthumanism, which comes from science and technology studies. This approach provides productive insights into “crucial ethical and conceptual questions about the status of the human” (39), but is reluctant to approach the development of a theory of subjectivity. ◦ Analytic posthumanism is proving to provide a lot of practical insight into advances in technology and science while ignoring the question of subjectivity, which creates a “highly problematic division of labour on the question of subjectivity.” Braidotti suggests that this segregation of thought should be examined such that we can work toward a “reintegrated posthuman theory that includes both scientific and technological complexity and its implications for political subjectivity, political economy and forms of governance” (42). Critical Posthumanism The third strand of posthuman thought is Braidotti’s: critical posthumanism. It’s goal is to “move beyond analytic posthumanism and develop affirmative perspectives on the posthuman subject” (45). Critical posthumanism is rooted in critical schools like the poststructuralists, anti-universalist feminists, and postcolonialists, in that each of these groups is concerned with an understanding of the individual subject, as well as each subject’s place within the structure of humanity as a whole. The primary goal of critical posthumanism, then, can be understood as an effort to reject individualism and turn not to nihilism or defeatism, but rather, forge a wholly new understanding of a non-unitary subject, who is inherently embedded within a planetary (or, even universal) whole.