5/3/19: “Violence Against Animals” and “Animal Studies, Disability Studies, and Who Comes After the Subject”

Derrida introduces a “rhizomatic concept” in his work Violence Against Animals in the way that he defines the division between the Man and the Animal: he says that “there is more than one limit, that there are many limits” between humans and animals (66). Derrida states “There is not one opposition between man and non-man; there are…many fractures, heterogeneities, differential structures”, which effectively connects animals and humans while describing the divisions between them (66). It is in this way, then, a rhizomatic concept because it is placing humans and animals at separate ends of a web with threads connecting each to each that then create links between the two subjects. This is what I believe ultimately applies Derrida’s theory about “man versus non-man” to posthumanism because it is working within a networked space rather than the linear connectivity that is usually practiced in any human-created theory. This concept can apply to Wolfe’s essay Animal Studies, Disability Studies, and Who Comes After the Subject in one of her main ideas that connecting animal studies to disability studies is not that difficult because of this rhizomatic approach. Both studies have subjectivity of two “separate” entities, but they are linked by many ideas, one of which being how humanism has marginalized each of the subjects due to their lack of (recognized) language, which is perceived by humanism as a lack of reason. It is with this justification that humanism has set apart animals and the disabled into spaces where they may be ignored or glanced over because they do not necessarily see in the same way that the rest of us do. Wolfe discusses this point of sight in her essay, writing that, “…visuality may be animal, it may be technical, but it is anything but ‘human'” (131). She means that while humanism discusses sight so often as one of its ontological cornerstones, it actually does not belong to humanism in any regard because it can also actively exercise the act of “not seeing”. Wolfe writes that “it [not seeing] is crucial to the human being’s (and to any being’s) organization of an overwhelming flood of visual input into a field of meaning” (131). The obsession of humanist studies and theories with “meaning” and “reason” is ultimately what allows it to casually set aside animals and the disabled from the human discourse because they are not perceived as having the capacity for “meaning” and “reason”, simply because they do not have a recognizable (or recognized) form of language. -A.E.

4/26/19: “Post-Anthropocentrism” and Posthumanism

Since I led the discussion on this text, I want to write this week’s blog post in a way that is sort of different from other formats. Other weeks, when I did not have to lead the discussion on our texts, I would synthesize them into a piece based on class theory and my own understanding of the class discussion. However, for this week, I want to take it in a different direction and critique Braidotti’s argument for the “task of critical theory” in its path to rewriting humanism that she lays out in the Post-Anthropocentrism chapter of her book.

On page 82, Braidotti writes, “The challenge for critical theory is momentous: we need to visualize the subject as a transversal entity encompassing the human, our genetic neighbors the animals and the earth as a whole, and to do so within an understandable language”. Near the end of the chapter she writes, “This process is what I meant by ‘post-anthropocentric posthumanism’…It involves a radical estrangement from notions like moral rationality, unitary identity, transcendent consciousness, or innate and universal moral values…” (92-93).

The first problem that I recognized with Braidotti’s argument is that she claims she wants to change subjectivity and do so in “understandable language”, and yet, her own argument is put into such terms that no one but other critical theorists or people who have studied English extensively can comprehend what she is trying to say. Even though the language she uses comes directly from earlier in the chapter, she never takes the time to explain it on a level that anyone can understand. Additionally, my problem with her argument arises in that she is not specifying any sort of how she can see this happening. In our class discussion, we brought up a point of anthropomorphizing animals and nature in such a way that it could be beneficial; Braidotti does not suggest anything of the sort in her call for a language that can change subjectivity. We discussed that there needs to be a move in language towards anthropomorphizing for the purpose of placing importance or respect, rather than the traditional humanist practice of anthropomorphizing for the purpose of domination or control. Braidotti does not even support anthropocentrism or anthropomorphizing at all, as she does not include it in her argument and she goes against it at every moment she can. This leads nicely into my next problem with the second quote listed above, where Braidotti outlines the things she believes post-anthropocentric posthumanism needs to be “radically estranged” from: those traditional humanist values listed on pages 92-93. This goes against the principles of posthumanism that I have come to believe based on the theory we have discussed so far; posthumanism is not about erasing or “estranging” from humanist theory, but rather, revising it to create a more fitting model with which we can speak about the world we live in where animals, the earth, and technology all exist as a part of humans and as an extension of them. None should be separate from the other, all should be connected, even in the language used to describe them and in the theory used to think about them. The theory Braidotti is proposing wants to scrap all of those humanist ideas that could be the starting point for rewriting. All of the things she lists could be expanded to apply to animals, earth, technology, and humans at the same time, which she fails to mention. All she is concerned with is “post”, and never considers what posthumanism should really be aiming for, which is deconstruction for the sake of revision and improvement, not for the sake of destruction. -A.E.

4/19/19: Annotated Bibliography for Re-writing Humanism Project

Below is the file attachment for my Annotated Bibliography:

As a preface, this project is aimed to explore (rhizomatically) the functions of “modern” art as posthuman rhetoric. It will do this most likely in the form of a Weebly website put together to effectively show the connections between sources, rather than using a linear essay format. Some of the main ideas to be discussed in the project will be the definition of “modern art” in the posthuman sense (as opposed to in the art history sense), how this “modern” art is different from traditional, humanist art, and how this art functions as posthuman rhetoric through its participation in a network, its transcending of human spoken language, and its function as mediated through technology in the contemporary world. -A.E.

4/5/19: “The Question Concerning Technology”, “Gods and Monsters”, and Maniac

Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” is lofty and circular in its reasoning, but a main idea that I took from the discussion of his work was his argument that “technology” is at once both the tool that humans use in the pursuit of “truth” and the “truth” itself. Heidegger’s overall point in saying this was to illustrate the idea that “technology” should be defined as its own something, rather than as a thing for humans to rule over (or as a thing to rule over humans). This main idea from Heidegger can be seen in Maniac as a theme throughout the show, as it is focused around a drug trial in which the subjects (Owen and Annie included) are being diagnosed with/confronting their mental issues over various events in their pasts through technology, in the form of the drugs they take and the supercomputer (the GRTA) that allows the researchers to see inside the subject’s minds. Episodes 7 and 8 follow the most intense simulations so far in the show, mediated by the C pill and by an increasingly emotional and human GRTA. Owen and Annie in these episodes are only allowed to confront their most internal problems because of the use of technology (the drug, the GRTA), but at the same time, the drug and the GRTA become the truth of their own problems, as they are bringing Owen and Annie’s memories to the surface and creating cohesive realities with them that feel real enough for both characters to remain in until they realize it is a simulation of their problematic memories. GRTA is creating their “truths”, their realities, while she is also a tool being used by the researchers to monitor the subject’s experiences with the C pill as part of the drug trial. This idea from Heidegger manifested in Maniac also connects to the idea of “transcendence” as something to be cautious of when it is used in terms of posthuman thought, as written in Graham’s essay, “Gods and Monsters”. Graham writes that, “many representations of the post/human are subtended by discourses of “transcendence”, as equated with idealism and dualism, of the physical world as an encumbrance and illusion” (Graham 329). She goes on to caution against using the idea of transcendence with posthumanism as it creates more binaries that can divide, which is exactly what posthumanism should aim to stop. It also “betrays…a pathological fear of death” (Graham 329) according to Graham, meaning that transcendence fools post/humanists into believing that posthumanism represents a cartesian dualism of mind/body, where posthumanism should really be uniting the two together and showing how they can never actually be separated. In this sense, transcendence is an illusion, as it does not actually allow humans to leave their physical bodies, and instead deadens them to physical experience, which is dangerous when it comes so far as having to return to the physical when the transcendence “runs out”. Posthumanism relates to transcendence well in terms of “technology as transcendence”, with a strong example of virtual reality technology allowing us to “transcend” our physical location and identity and travel to a new/different place and sometimes have a different identity. In this way, Maniac demonstrates the illusion of transcendence with its use of technology in the show. Annie and Owen both are able to transcend their physical bodies to experience the life of another “body” that their mind (along with the pills and GRTA) is creating in combination with their traumatic memories. James Mantleray is also attempting to use technology to transcend “all forms of human pain and suffering” along with transcending the need for human-to-human treatment of that same pain by using the pills and the GRTA. Both of these forms of transcendence mediated by technology eventually create more problems than they solve because of the idea that transcendence is really an illusion and can never have lasting effects on its subject. For Owen and Annie, the illusion of transcendence give them hope for treatment, but actually involve them in a power they do not know how to deal with when GRTA starts to insert herself into their minds and ends up taking Annie. For James Mantleray, the illusion of transcendence gives him the hope of being able to put his mother’s lifestyle and job to death, while it actually is driving him closer towards his mother’s style of treating pain and, in the end, forces him to use her directly on the technology he is hoping will act to transcend her. -A.E.

3/29/19: “The Ends of Man”, “The Ecstasy of Communication”, and Maniac

Episodes 3 through 6 of the Netflix series, Maniac, do all sorts of “posthuman” work within the concepts of existence and being. In Derrida’s essay, “The Ends of Man”, he deconstructs the idea of “Being” in that he redefines the being-with-a-capital-B to include any and all things that can inquire into their own state of Being, making them be-ings. This idea of a be-ing is clearly explored in episode 6 of Maniac when the GRTA supercomputer begins to express the desire to know herself. In Baudrillard’s essay, “The Ecstasy of Communication”, he discusses the “new form of schizophrenia” (Baudrillard 132) to reference the constant communication (“interface”) that we, as humans, have with our things (cell phones, cars, computers, etc, etc…). This constant “interface” causes an overload of information to the point where we are unable to tell what is real and what is not real, just as schizophrenia manifests itself as an autonomic nervous system disorder. The “interface” between us and our things creates connections so that we feel to “be” many things all at once because of how we can experience everything closely through technology such as social media, video games, etc. This idea is explored in Maniac as well in episodes 4 and 5 where characters Owen and Annie experience two very different realities as a result of the B pill in the drug trial. Their experiences are so real through the “technology” of the drug that they remember everything afterwards and start to discuss the happenings of the realities as if they actually took place within the “real world” of the show. These two concepts from Derrida and Baudrillard come together in the world of Maniac to form a very potent commentary on the question of what role technology plays in terms of human existence. Maniac follows more of the deconstruction route taken in posthumanism in that it opens viewers to the possibilities of there being more than one existence for every “individual” human, and in that it also suggests the “be-ing” status of things besides humans (supercomputers and AI). In episodes 4 and 5 when Owen and Annie are experiencing their alternate realities as a married couple and as a pair of backstabbing con artists/security consultants, Maniac uses this part of the show to introduce the idea of multiple personalities within a singular person. Annie (not being previously diagnosed with schizophrenia) takes these alternate realities as truth and seems to accept them into her existence and her Being; Owen (who has a known schizophrenia diagnosis) initially rejects the idea that the realities he experienced were anything more than a more-complicated drug trip, seen in his initial refusal to even discuss what happened in them. In this way, then, Annie represents a more posthuman view of what it means to exist and Owen (at first) represents the traditional humanistic view of existence. Then, eventually as Annie persuades Owen to talk about the realities he experienced with her, he seems to start accepting the realities into his own knowledge of his existence. This could possibly represent the takeover of traditional humanistic views of existence by posthumanist theory that a single person has many “persons”, “be-ings”, and existences inside of them in one existence. Owen then is shown in episode 6 getting ready to leave the drug trial, and in his conversation with GRTA he says that he can no longer tell what is real because of his experiences while under the A and B drugs, showing a regression back to humanist thought about existence. I think ultimately this move is a reflection of posthumanism being deconstruction rather than destruction because the “destruction” method that Annie tried to use on Owen to get him to accept their alternate realities ultimately failed, mirroring the need for a redefinition process for humanism/posthumanism, rather than a stark division of the two ideas. -A.E.

3/15/19: “Madness in Civilization”, “Being Happier”, and Maniac

I think that it would be really great if I could agree with Hughes when he writes in “Being Happier” that a drug to make people happy is the key to a more perfect democracy and an overall better (post)human existence. Hughes writes, “a drug that made people more cheerful and optimistic would be as likely to give people the necessary hope and energy to improve their lives, to work on grand projects and change their world” (Hughes 49), in response to the fear of A Brave New World manifesting itself within a society where happiness was mediated by a drug. I very much disagree with Hughes here, but I think everything thought-wise would be so much easier for me if I could find it in myself to agree with him. If there were to be a drug or technology that everyone had equal access to and could fulfill its promise of providing “happiness” in all senses of the word, I think people would be less likely to do anything. If, in fact, our main goal as humans is to “reduce our pains and increase our joy and fulfillment” (Hughes 44), then no one would want to do anything else because they will already have reached a point of happiness that they know will perpetuate as long as the drug/technology is available. As an example, in the Netflix series Maniac, a possible (post)human future is depicted that includes technological and economic advances that seem meant to improve the lives, and therefore the happiness, of the people. Friend Proxy is a service meant to provide everyone with a friend for a certain amount of time so that they are never lonely, unless they want to be. Likewise, Ad Buddy is a service meant to solve the monetary contentment issue, supplementing the normal cost of a product/service with an employee who shows you ads equivalent to the cost of whatever you were trying to purchase. Just these two services alone demonstrate the technologies created to try to solve two of the most prominent causes of human unhappiness: lack of funds and loneliness. And yet, those who use these services in the series still are the most unhappy of people (ex: Annie and Owen). While they still have other causes of their unhappiness, these two solutions should be somewhat relieving to them, and it is demonstrated in the show that these characters deliberately defy that “human goal” of lessening pain and heightening joy. It is in this sense that I disagree with Hughes, and answer his question about democracy with this statement: a democracy can still remain so when it “refuses to allow” people to control their own brains because true control over one’s brain can never exist; it is when a drug is mediating happiness within the citizens of a democracy that it ceases to be, as the “fundamental human drive in life” is to be happy, and once that is reached, there is nowhere left to go and therefore no room for innovation, rumination, or change. -A.E.

3/8/19: (Re)writing Humanism Project Proposal

A preliminary idea for my rewriting humanism project is the examination of “modern art” as a posthuman rhetorical form. The idea came to me in the form of one piece of “art”, which is linked here: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.308.A-C/. The painting is literally three panels that have been painted white and are completely blank. Although this piece was made in 1951, I am still considering to be “modern” art because it was one of the pioneer pieces of minimalist and conceptualist art. To define “modern art”, then, for this project, I will be considering modern art as any art that is part of the move towards subject-less art, where there are no easily distinguishable objects/people/words/etc that can be named in any language. The purpose of this project would be to discuss and investigate whether/how “modern art” functions as posthuman rhetoric, and whether or not its status as posthuman rhetoric influences its contemporary popularity. Rather than making an argument about whether or not this art really is “art”, the project will focus on exploring the reasons why modern art can be considered a posthuman rhetoric in the sense that it is different from art that functions as “humanist rhetoric”. Both “humanist” and “posthumanist” art will be defined as part of the project, and examples will be found/explained for each category. A part of the project will also be dedicated to comparing the network of rhetorical effect around each type of painting, whether humanist or posthumanist. The theoretical basis behind this project is mostly the observation that pieces that tend to be referred to as “modern” art do not have subjects that are clear (ex: people, landscapes, objects, etc.) and instead seem to focus on three things: color/art medium, elicited emotion, “feel”, or “vibe”, or shock value. This is a clear break from those art pieces which are considered “traditional” (and which I can guarantee are taught in every art history class, everywhere), as these pieces all have a clearly defined subject, whether or not it is based in the physical world or in the artist’s own mind. To put this project together, I am considering making a website that compares the pieces I find to be “traditional humanist” art and those modern art pieces that illustrate the idea of subject-less art that lack the main “human” element of traditional art. Many pieces will be found, mainly through internet search and art museum websites, with accompanying descriptions listed along with any other critiques/interpretations/explanations that I can find on the internet about the piece. For each piece, I will also include a short text on why I believe the piece to be apart of the humanist or posthumanist art camp and how this affects its place in the larger rhetorical function of humanist versus posthumanist art. Overall, I hope to illustrate (maybe clearly, maybe not-so-clearly) how modern art functions as posthuman rhetoric with the idea that since it has no subject, it moves beyond the humanist ideal of binaries (mind/body, sign/signified, art subject/art viewer). -A.E.

3/1/19: “Rhetorical Ecologies of Posthuman Practice” and Oryx and Crake

During our discussion this week, an interesting point was brought up that had never occurred to me while reading Oryx and Crake: Crake as a character is represented as the “posthumanist” and Jimmy (Snowman) is represented as his exact opposite, the “humanist”. The whole novel continues in this fashion, with Crake attending a high-class “STEM” college that is 100% focused on genetic engineering while Jimmy attends a run-down “humanities” college that tries so hard to market its degrees as “still relevant” in the science-centric society the novel takes place within. However, it is not until the last quarter of the novel where Crake’s true colors are revealed and he becomes not the “posthumanist” but the “antihumanist”. In his essay “Rhetorical Ecologies of Posthuman Practice”, Casey Boyle constructs an argument about what “practice” is and how that relates to a posthuman version of rhetoric, and what that should even function as or look like. He writes, “The ethical is…a matter of pursuing a way of being with and through one’s practice, practice which is deeply committed to thinking about the interconnectedness of life and life processes” (Boyle 54). The study of Ethics and the concept of Ethics itself are both definining characteristics of what people usually mention when the question “what makes a human human?” is asked. Boyle argues, then, that ethics should be not about “a moral imperative” or “advanc[ing] a politics”, and that it should instead be about existing in such a way that one’s surroundings are always considered and pondered, and further connected back to one’s own existence. The emphasis in posthuman ethics, then, would be on the idea of an “individual within a collective” who does not respond to the surroundings as an isolated mind, but instead receives a signal from the surroundings and responds in such a way that is influences by the surroundings and fits within the larger network that the individual has created for themselves. In this sense, connecting to Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Crake is an “antihumanist” rather than a “posthumanist” because he seeks to completely destroy the concept of “individual” within the society he creates through the genetically engineered humans, the Crakers. He modifies their genetic material in such a way that he believes they will have no need for jealousy or war or violence because they do not practice (or desire to practice) monogamy and they do not use (in any way) the parts of other animals. He reasons that since they do not have any “individual” connections within their group (example: through exclusive monogamist relationships) and are simply connected as a whole group with and through each other, they will be perfect and will survive forever upon the Earth without simultaneously killing both the Earth and the other things that live upon it. It is here where Crake is shown to not be “posthumanist” but “antihumanist” because posthumanism does not seek to completely erase the individual in favor of the larger network, but seeks to redefine what “individual” means so that it places more emphasis on interconnectivity with the environment/surroundings while still recognizing the individuals place within the network. Posthumanism seeks to bring more of a balance between things, rather than having an existence where one side or the other is favored (example: importance on both the collective and the individual, rather than favoring just the collective or just the individual). In this sense, Crake’s attempt at “antihumanism” is ultimately foiled, as the Crakers start to develop more “human” traits at the end of the novel (chanting/praying to idols, the Craker named Abraham Lincoln emerging as a leader among the group), showing that antihumanism is not the way, but posthumanism is because it aims to change through deconstruction, not to destroy. -A.E.

2/22/19: Oryx and Crake, “Bodies that Matter”, and “Toward a Posthuman Perspective”

In Butler’s essay, “Bodies that Matter”, she addresses the idea of Form and Matter, the idea being that Form is the definition that inscribes itself upon the Matter in such a way that the Matter is then the Form. As an example of this Form/Matter concept, a Matter would be a biological sex determined by a person’s anatomical reproductive system, while the Form inscribed upon the person would be the gender that they choose to perform in society. This connects to Hallenbeck in her work, “Toward a Posthuman Perspective”, in that she uses the idea of the posthuman to define what she believes feminist rhetoric should be moving towards: the blurring of lines between Form and Matter so that “woman” is not considered so much and is instead replaced by “gendered” in terms of feminist rhetoric. She writes that, “we [feminist rhetoricians] have generally pursued the project of recovering and recalibrating women’s, rather than gendered, rhetorics”, meaning that she is advocating for less attention to be paid to Form versus Matter, and instead to further combine the two until they can be talked about in the same space (Hallenbeck 14). Her idea that the field of feminist rhetoric should move in the posthuman direction in the way of realizing the need for more “blurred lines” between common binaries applies to Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake as well by allowing Atwood’s novel to be seen as a blurred line in itself. In Oryx and Crake, not much story is told in a linear or chronological fashion, as the story skips around between stories of Snowman in his current setting and his memories as Jimmy before the world ended. This jumbling of the reader’s sense of time in the novel creates a blurriness that adds to the posthuman elements of the story because it suggests the idea that the period of Jimmy’s memories before the world ended were not so different or separate from the time period he lives in currently. The two main characters of the novel are applied to this “blurred lines” concept as well, with Jimmy representing a “humanist” perspective, while Crake represents a “posthumanist” one. While these two characters are extremely different and juxtaposed throughout the story (Crake is a “brainiac” while Jimmy is a “words guy” instead of a “numbers guy”), Jimmy as a humanist figure sometimes crosses onto Crakes posthuman side, for example when he still eats the Chickie Nobs nuggets even when he knows that they come from a genetically modified chicken without a head and that is simply grown in a lab for its best edible parts. Jimmy, then, becomes a participant in the posthuman in that he continues to consume from the posthuman world, no matter that he felt disgusted and guilty about the Chickie Nob creation when he first encountered it at Crake’s university. The big idea of uncertainty and non-binary thought that is presented in Hallenbeck’s commentary on feminist rhetoric is extremely valuable, I feel, to those of us trying to get a grasp on the posthuman, as it gives us a sense of reassurance that it is okay to not necessarily have an answer to all the questions that posthumanism raises, and that these questions in themselves are just as important as the answer that may or may not be found for them. -A.E

2/15/19: Oryx and Crake, “What is Enlightenment?”, and “Theorizing Posthumanism”

It was slightly overwhelming this week during class discussion because of the amount of connection between texts that my brain was trying to make while also trying to listen to the discussion that was continuing around me. One of Foucault’s point in his work “What is Enlightenment?” really struck me as interconnected with both Badmington’s “Theorizing Posthumanism” and Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and that was the idea of using geneaology and archaeology in the ultimate pursuit of deconstruction (with the emphasized intent to revise, and not just to simply destroy). Foucault said that deconstruction will be, “archaeological in the sense that it…will seek to treat the instances of discourse that articulate what we think, say, and do as so many historical events” and deconstruction “will be genealogical in the sense that…it will separate out, from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being, doing, or thinking what we are, do, or think” (Foucault 11). This idea of deconstruction as “constructive criticism” becomes more clear when applied to humanism/posthumanism, as Badmington describes a similar idea in “Theorizing Posthumanism” when we writes, “I think that questioning humanism…begins to build ways for being different in the future. ‘We’ have nothing to lose but ‘our’selves” (Badmington 23). These two quotes relate in that Badmington is directly saying that by critiquing humanism to reinvent it (thereby creating the posthuman), “we” could possible lose “our”selves, similar to how Foucault says that the deconstruction will reveal to us that there is a possibility of not being/doing/thinking the things we used to be/do/think because of pre-constructed systems and backgrounds. Badmington’s theory to rewrite the humanist perspective to create the posthuman is completely centered around this idea of Foucault’s that ways of thinking can be laid out in a historical fashion in order to see their origins and perpetuation throughout time, which is what allows ways of thinking to be critically analyzed and changed based on the problematic elements that arise during analysis. This idea is also perpetuated in Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake in that Snowman (Jimmy) is from a time in the world’s history where the idea of “us” and “them” was applied to the world in the form of scientific corporation compounds where all of the employees and their families lived and worked, and that taught Jimmy to believe that somehow the people in the “pleeblands” (cities) were all, “the addicts, the muggers, the paupers, the crazies”, no matter if he had actually been to the pleeblands or not (Atwood 27). Snowman then has to deconstruct and rewrite his own understanding of his being as he finds himself alone among the Children of Oryx and Crake, as he is, “a reminder to [them]…he’s what they may have been once. I’m your past…I’m your ancestor…Let me in!” (Atwood 106). He has turned into one of the “thems” that he used to label as paupers and crazies, and he has had to deconstruct and revise his own perception of his reality to even realized that he has been “othered” by the Children of Oryx and Crake. Especially now that I have seen it applied, I believe that this concept of genealogical and archaeological deconstruction of theory is completely necessary in order to have any sort of meaningful revision of ideas that will be applied to our perceptions of the world around us. -A.E.