University of Minnesota Press

Posthumanities

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Posthumanities

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Against Ecological Sovereignty

Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World

Mick Smith

Against Ecological Sovereignty is a passionate defense of radical ecology that speaks directly to current debates concerning the nature, and dangers, of sovereign power. Engaging the work of Bataille, Arendt, Levinas, Nancy, and Agamben, among others, Mick Smith reconnects the political critique of sovereign power with ecological considerations, arguing that ethical and political responsibilities for the consequences of our actions do not end with those defined as human.

Against Ecological Sovereignty is the first book to turn Agamben’s analysis of sovereignty and biopolitics toward an investigation of ecological concerns. In doing so it exposes limits to that thought, maintaining that the increasingly widespread biopolitical management of human populations has an unrecognized ecological analogue—reducing nature to a “resource” for human projects. Smith contends that a radical ecological politics must resist both the depoliticizing exercise of sovereign power and the pervasive spread of biopolitics in order to reveal new possibilities for creating healthy human and nonhuman communities.

Presenting a stinging critique of human claims to sovereignty over the natural world, Smith proposes an alternative way to conceive of posthumanist ecological communities—one that recognizes the utter singularity of the beings in them.

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Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing

Ian Bogost

Humanity has sat at the center of philosophical thinking for too long. The recent advent of environmental philosophy and posthuman studies has widened our scope of inquiry to include ecosystems, animals, and artificial intelligence. Yet the vast majority of the stuff in our universe, and even in our lives, remains beyond serious philosophical concern.

In Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost develops an object-oriented ontology that puts things at the center of being—a philosophy in which nothing exists any more or less than anything else, in which humans are elements but not the sole or even primary elements of philosophical interest. And unlike experimental phenomenology or the philosophy of technology, Bogost’s alien phenomenology takes for granted that all beings interact with and perceive one another. This experience, however, withdraws from human comprehension and becomes accessible only through a speculative philosophy based on metaphor.

Providing a new approach for understanding the experience of things as things, Bogost also calls on philosophers to rethink their craft. Drawing on his own background as a videogame designer, Bogost encourages professional thinkers to become makers as well, engineers who construct things as much as they think and write about them.

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All Thoughts Are Equal

Laruelle and Nonhuman Philosophy

John Ó Maoilearca

All Thoughts Are Equal is both an introduction to the work of French philosopher François Laruelle and an exercise in nonhuman thinking. For Laruelle, standard forms of philosophy continue to dominate our models of what counts as exemplary thought and knowledge. By contrast, what Laruelle calls his “non-standard” approach attempts to bring democracy into thought, because all forms of thinking—including the nonhuman—are equal.

John Ó Maoilearca examines how philosophy might appear when viewed with non-philosophical and nonhuman eyes. He does so by refusing to explain Laruelle through orthodox philosophy, opting instead to follow the structure of a film (Lars von Trier’s documentary The Five Obstructions) as an example of the non-standard method. Von Trier’s film is a meditation on the creative limits set by film, both technologically and aesthetically, and how these limits can push our experience of film—and of ourselves—beyond what is normally deemed “the perfect human.”

All Thoughts Are Equal adopts film’s constraints in its own experiment by showing how Laruelle’s radically new style of philosophy is best presented through our most nonhuman form of thought—that found in cinema.


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Animal Capital

Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times

Nicole Shukin

The juxtaposition of biopolitical critique and animal studies—two subjects seldom theorized together—signals the double-edged intervention of Animal Capital. Nicole Shukin pursues a resolutely materialist engagement with the “question of the animal,” challenging the philosophical idealism that has dogged the question by tracing how the politics of capital and of animal life impinge on one another in market cultures of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Shukin argues that an analysis of capital’s incarnations in animal figures and flesh is pivotal to extending the examination of biopower beyond its effects on humans. “Rendering” refers simultaneously to cultural technologies and economies of mimesis and to the carnal business of boiling down and recycling animal remains. Rendering’s accommodation of these discrepant logics, she contends, suggests a rubric for the critical task of tracking the biopolitical conditions and contradictions of animal capital across the spaces of culture and economy.

From the animal capital of abattoirs and automobiles, films and mobile phones, to pandemic fear of species-leaping diseases such as avian influenza and mad cow, Shukin makes startling linkages between visceral and virtual currencies in animal life, illuminating entanglements of species, race, and labor in the conditions of capitalism. In reckoning with the violent histories and intensifying contradictions of animal rendering, Animal Capital raises provocative and pressing questions about the cultural politics of nature.

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Animal Stories

Narrating across Species Lines

Susan McHugh

Beginning with a historical account of why animal stories pose endemic critical challenges to literary and cultural theory, Animal Stories argues that key creative developments in narrative form became inseparable from shifts in animal politics and science in the past century. Susan McHugh traces representational patterns specific to modern and contemporary fictions of cross-species companionship through a variety of media—including novels, films, fine art, television shows, and digital games—to show how nothing less than the futures of all species life is at stake in narrative forms.

McHugh’s investigations into fictions of people relying on animals in civic and professional life—most obviously those of service animal users and female professional horse riders—showcase distinctly modern and human–animal forms of intersubjectivity. But increasingly graphic violence directed at these figures indicates their ambivalent significance to changing configurations of species.

Reading these developments with narrative adaptations of traditional companion species relations during this period— queer pet memoirs and farm animal fictions—McHugh clarifies the intercorporeal intimacies—the perforations of species boundaries now proliferating in genetic and genomic science—and embeds the representation of animals within biopolitical frameworks.

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Bioaesthetics

Making Sense of Life in Science and the Arts

Carsten Strathausen

In recent years, bioaesthetics has used the latest discoveries in evolutionary studies and neuroscience to provide new ways of looking at art and aesthetics. Carsten Strathausen’s remarkable exploration of this emerging field is the first comprehensive account of its ideas, as well as a timely critique of its limitations. 

Strathausen familiarizes readers with the basics of bioaesthetics, grounding them in its philosophical underpinnings while articulating its key components. Importantly, he delves into the longstanding problem of the “two cultures” that separate the arts and the sciences. Seeking to make bioaesthetics a more robust way of thinking, Strathausen then critiques it for failing to account for science’s historical and cultural assumptions. At its worst, he says, biologism reduces artworks to mere automatons that rubber-stamp pre-established scientific truths. 

Written with a sensitive understanding of science’s strengths, and willing to refute its best arguments, Bioaesthetics helps readers separate the sensible from the specious. At a time when humanities departments are shrinking—and when STEM education is on the rise—Bioaesthetics makes vital points about the limitations of science, while lodging a robust defense of the importance of the humanities.

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Body Drift

Butler, Hayles, Haraway

Arthur Kroker

As exemplary representatives of a form of critical feminism, the writings of Judith Butler, Katherine Hayles, and Donna Haraway offer entry into the great crises of contemporary society, politics, and culture. Butler leads readers to rethink the boundaries of the human in a time of perpetual war. Hayles turns herself into a “writing machine” in order to find a dwelling place for the digital humanities within the austere landscape of the culture of the code. Haraway is the one contemporary thinker to have begun the necessary ethical project of creating a new language of potential reconciliation among previously warring species.

According to Arthur Kroker, the postmodernism of Judith Butler, the posthumanism of Katherine Hayles, and the companionism of Donna Haraway are possible pathways to the posthuman future that is captured by the specter of body drift. Body drift refers to the fact that individuals no longer inhabit a body, in any meaningful sense of the term, but rather occupy a multiplicity of bodies: gendered, sexualized, laboring, disciplined, imagined, and technologically augmented.

Body drift is constituted by the blast of information culture envisioned by artists, communicated by social networking, and signified by its signs. It is lived daily by remixing, resplicing, and redesigning the codes: codes of gender, sexuality, class, ideology, and identity. The writings of Butler, Hayles, and Haraway, Kroker reveals, provide the critical vocabulary and political context for understanding the deep complexities of body drift and challenging the current emphasis on the material body.

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CIFERAE

A Bestiary in Five Fingers

Tom Tyler

The Greek philosopher Protagoras, in the opening words of his lost book Truth, famously asserted, “Man is the measure of all things.” This contention—that humanity cannot know the world except by means of human aptitudes and abilities—has endured through the centuries in the work of diverse writers. In this bold and creative new investigation into the philosophical and intellectual parameters of the question of the animal, Tom Tyler explores a curious fact: in arguing or assuming that knowledge is characteristically human, thinkers have time and again employed animals as examples, metaphors, and fables. From Heidegger’s lizard and Popper’s bees to Saussure’s ox and Freud’s wolves, Tyler points out, “we find a multitude of brutes and beasts crowding into the texts to which they are supposedly unwelcome.”

Inspired by the medieval bestiaries, Tyler’s book features an assortment of “wild animals” (ferae)—both real and imaginary—who appear in the works of philosophy as mere ciferae, or ciphers; each is there deployed as a placeholder, of no importance or worth in their own right. Examining the work of such figures as Bataille, Moore, Nietzsche, Kant, Whorf, Darwin, and Derrida, among others, Tyler identifies four ways in which these animals have been used and abused: as interchangeable ciphers; as instances of generalized animality; as anthropomorphic caricatures; and as repetitive stereotypes. Looking closer, however, he finds that these unruly beasts persistently and mischievously question the humanist assumptions of their would-be employers.

Tyler ultimately challenges claims of human distinctiveness and superiority, which are so often represented by the supposedly unique and perfect human hand. Contrary to these claims, he contends that the hand is, in fact, a primitive organ, and one shared by many different creatures, thereby undercutting one of the foundations of anthropocentricism and opening up the possibility of nonhuman, or more-than-human, knowledge.

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Cinders

Jacques Derrida

“More than fifteen years ago,” Jacques Derrida writes in the prologue to this remarkable and uniquely revealing book, “a phrase came to me, as though in spite of me. . . . It imposed itself upon me with the authority, so discreet and simple it was, of a judgment: ‘cinders there are’ (il y a là cendre). . . . I had to explain myself to it, respond to it—or for it.”

In Cinders Derrida ranges across his work from the previous twenty years and discerns a recurrent cluster of arguments and images, all involving in one way or another ashes and cinders. For Derrida, cinders or ashes—at once fragile and resilient—are “the better paradigm for what I call the trace—something that erases itself totally, radically, while presenting itself.”

In a style that is both highly condensed and elliptical, Cinders offers probing reflections on the relation of language to truth, writing, the voice, and the complex connections between the living and the dead. It also contains some of his most essential elaborations of his thinking on the feminine and on the legacy of the Holocaust (both a word—from the Greek hólos, “whole,” and kaustós, “burnt”—and a historical event that invokes ashes) in contemporary poetry and philosophy. In turning from the texts of other philosophers to his own, Cinders enables readers to follow the trajectory from Derrida’s early work on the trace, the gramma, and the voice to his later writings on life, death, time, and the spectral.

Among the most accessible of this renowned philosopher’s many writings, Cinders is an evocative and haunting work of poetic self-analysis that deepens our understanding of Derrida’s critical and philosophical vision.

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Creaturely Love

How Desire Makes Us More and Less Than Human

Dominic Pettman

To our modern ears the word “creature” has wild, musky, even monstrous, connotations. And yet the terms “creaturely” and “love,” taken together, have traditionally been associated with theological debates around the enigmatic affection between God and His key creation, Man. In Creaturely Love, Dominic Pettman explores the ways in which desire makes us both more, and less, human. 

In an eminently approachable work of wide cultural reach and meticulous scholarship, Pettman undertakes an unprecedented examination of how animals shape the understanding and expression of love between people. Focusing on key figures in modern philosophy, art, and literature (Nietzsche, Salomé, Rilke, Balthus, Musil, Proust), premodern texts and fairy tales (Fourier, Fournival, Ovid), and contemporary films and online phenomena (Wendy and Lucy, Her, memes), Pettman demonstrates that from pet names to spirit animals, and allegories to analogies, animals have constantly appeared in our writings and thoughts about passionate desire.

By following certain charismatic animals during their passage through the love letters of philosophers, the romances of novelists, the conceits of fables, the epiphanies of poets, the paradoxes of contemporary films, and the digital menageries of the Internet, Creaturely Love ultimately argues that in our utilization of the animal in our amorous expression, we are acknowledging that what we adore in our beloveds is not (only) their humanity, but their creatureliness.

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