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Posthumanities

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Junkware

Thierry Bardini

Are we made of junk? Thierry Bardini believes we are. Examining an array of cybernetic structures from genetic codes to communication networks, he explores the idea that most of culture and nature, including humans, is composed primarily of useless, but always potentially recyclable, material otherwise known as "junk."
 
Bardini unravels the presence of junk at the interface between science fictions and fictions of science, showing that molecular biology and popular culture since the early 1960s belong to the same culture-cyberculture-which is essentially a culture of junk. He draws on a wide variety of sources, including the writings of Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs, interviews with scientists as well as "crackpots," and work in genetics, cybernetics, and physics to support his contention that junk DNA represents a blind spot in our understanding of life.

At the same time, Junkware examines the cultural history that led to the encoding and decoding of life itself and the contemporary turning of these codes into a commodity. But he also contends that, beyond good and evil, the essential "junkiness" of this new subject is both the symptom and the potential cure.

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Laruelle

Against the Digital

Alexander R. Galloway

Laruelle is one of the first books in English to undertake in an extended critical survey of the work of the idiosyncratic French thinker François Laruelle, the promulgator of non-standard philosophy. Laruelle, who was born in 1937, has recently gained widespread recognition, and Alexander R. Galloway suggests that readers may benefit from colliding Laruelle’s concept of the One with its binary counterpart, the Zero, to explore more fully the relationship between philosophy and the digital.

In Laruelle, Galloway argues that the digital is a philosophical concept and not simply a technical one, employing a detailed analysis of Laruelle to build this case while referencing other thinkers in the French and Continental traditions, including Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, Martin Heidegger, and Immanuel Kant. In order to explain clearly Laruelle’s concepts such as the philosophical decision and the principle of sufficient philosophy, Galloway lays a broad foundation with his discussions of “the One” as it has developed in continental philosophy, the standard model of philosophy, and how philosophers view “the digital.”

Digital machines dominate today’s world, while so-called digital thinking—that is, binary thinking such as presence and absence or self and world—is often synonymous with what it means to think at all. In examining Laruelle and digitality together, Galloway shows how Laruelle remains a profoundly non-digital thinker—perhaps the only non-digital thinker today—and engages in an extensive discussion on the interconnections between media, philosophy, and technology.

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Manifestly Haraway

Donna J. Haraway

Electrifying, provocative, and controversial when first published thirty years ago, Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” is even more relevant today, when the divisions that she so eloquently challenges—of human and machine but also of gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and location—are increasingly complex. The subsequent “Companion Species Manifesto,” which further questions the human–nonhuman disjunction, is no less urgently needed in our time of environmental crisis and profound polarization.

Manifestly Haraway brings together these momentous manifestos to expose the continuity and ramifying force of Haraway’s thought, whose significance emerges with engaging immediacy in a sustained conversation between the author and her long-term friend and colleague Cary Wolfe. Reading cyborgs and companion species through and with each other, Haraway and Wolfe join in a wide-ranging exchange on the history and meaning of the manifestos in the context of biopolitics, feminism, Marxism, human–nonhuman relationships, making kin, literary tropes, material semiotics, the negative way of knowing, secular Catholicism, and more.

The conversation ends by revealing the early stages of Haraway’s “Chthulucene Manifesto,” in tension with the teleologies of the doleful Anthropocene and the exterminationist Capitalocene. Deeply dedicated to a diverse and robust earthly flourishing, Manifestly Haraway promises to reignite needed discussion in and out of the academy about biologies, technologies, histories, and still possible futures.


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Matters of Care

Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds

MarĂ­a Puig de la Bellacasa

To care can feel good, or it can feel bad. It can do good, it can oppress. But what is care? A moral obligation? A burden? A joy? Is it only human? In Matters of Care, María Puig de la Bellacasa presents a powerful challenge to conventional notions of care, exploring its significance as an ethical and political obligation for thinking in the more than human worlds of technoscience and naturecultures. 

Matters of Care contests the view that care is something only humans do, and argues for extending to non-humans the consideration of agencies and communities that make the living web of care by considering how care circulates in the natural world. The first of the book’s two parts, “Knowledge Politics,” defines the motivations for expanding the ethico-political meanings of care, focusing on discussions in science and technology that engage with sociotechnical assemblages and objects as lively, politically charged “things.” The second part, “Speculative Ethics in Antiecological Times,” considers everyday ecologies of sustaining and perpetuating life for their potential to transform our entrenched relations to natural worlds as “resources.” 

From the ethics and politics of care to experiential research on care to feminist science and technology studies, Matters of Care is a singular contribution to an emerging interdisciplinary debate that expands agency beyond the human to ask how our understandings of care must shift if we broaden the world.  

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Necromedia

Marcel O'Gorman

In Necromedia, media activist Marcel O’Gorman takes aim at “the collusion of death and technology,” drawing on a broad arsenal that ranges from posthumanist philosophy and social psychology to digital art and handmade “objects-to-think-with.” Throughout, O’Gorman mixes philosophical speculation with artistic creation, personal memoir, and existential dread. He is not so much arguing against technoculture as documenting a struggle to embrace the technical essence of human being without permitting technology worshippers to have the last word on what it means to be human.

Inspired in part by the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, O’Gorman begins by suggesting that technology provides human beings with a cultural hero system built on the denial of death and a false promise of immortality. This theory adds an existential zest to the book, allowing the author not only to devise a creative diagnosis of what Bernard Stiegler has called the malaise of contemporary technoculture but also to contribute a potential therapy—one that requires embracing human finitude, infusing care into the process of technological production, and recognizing the vulnerability of all things, human and nonhuman. With this goal in mind, Necromedia prescribes new research practices in the humanities that involve both written work and the creation of objects-to-think-with that are designed to infiltrate and shape the technoculture that surrounds us.


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Neocybernetics and Narrative

Bruce Clarke

Neocybernetics and Narrative opens a new chapter in Bruce Clarke’s project of rethinking narrative and media through systems theory. Reconceiving interrelations among subjects, media, significations, and the social, this study demonstrates second-order systems theory’s potential to provide fresh insights into the familiar topics of media studies and narrative theory.

A pioneer of systems narratology, Clarke offers readers a synthesis of the neocybernetic theories of cognition formulated by biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, incubated by cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster, and cultivated in Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory. From this foundation, he interrogates media theory and narrative theory through a critique of information theory in favor of autopoietic conceptions of cognition. Clarke’s purview includes examinations of novels (Mrs. Dalloway and Mind of My Mind), movies (Avatar, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and even Aramis, Bruno Latour’s idiosyncratic meditation on a failed plan for an automated subway.

Clarke declares the era of the cyborg to have ended, laid to rest as the ontology of technical objects is brought into differential coordination with operations of living, psychic, and social systems. The second-order discourse of cognition destabilizes the usual sense of cognition as conscious awareness, revealing the possibility of nonconscious and nonhuman forms of sentience.

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Neofinalism

Alyosha Ruyer

Although little known today, Raymond Ruyer was a post–World War II French philosopher whose works and ideas were significant influences on major thinkers, including Deleuze, Guattari, and Simondon. With the publication of this translation of Neofinalism, considered by many to be Ruyer’s magnum opus, English-language readers can see at last how this seminal mind allied philosophy with science.

Unfazed by the idea of philosophy ending where science began, Ruyer elaborated a singular, nearly unclassifiable metaphysics and reactivated philosophy’s capacity to reflect on its canonical questions: What exists? How are we to account for life? What is the status of subjectivity? And how is freedom possible? Ha

Neofinalism offers a systematic and lucidly argued treatise that deploys the innovative concepts of self-survey, form, and absolute surface to shape a theory of the virtual and the transspatial. It also makes a compelling plea for a renewed appreciation of the creative activity that organizes spatiotemporal structures and makes possible the emergence of real beings in a dynamic universe.


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Of Sheep, Oranges, and Yeast

A Multispecies Impression

Julian Yates

In what senses do animals, plants, and minerals “write”? How does their “writing” mark our livesour past, present, and future? Addressing such questions with an exhilarating blend of creative flair and theoretical depth, Of Sheep, Oranges, and Yeast traces how the lives of, yes, sheep, oranges, gold, and yeast mark the stories of those animals we call “human.”

Bringing together often separate conversations in animal studies, plant studies, ecotheory, and biopolitics, Of Sheep, Oranges, and Yeast crafts scripts for literary and historical study that embrace the fact that we come into being through our relations to other animal, plant, fungal, microbial, viral, mineral, and chemical actors. The book opens and closes in the company of a Shakespearean character talking through his painful encounter with the skin of a lamb (in the form of parchment). This encounter stages a visceral awareness of what Julian Yates names a “multispecies impression,” the way all acts of writing are saturated with the “writing” of other beings. Yates then develops a multimodal reading strategy that traces a series of anthropo-zoo-genetic figures that derive from our comaking with sheep (keyed to the story of biopolitics), oranges (keyed to economy), and yeast (keyed to the notion of foundation or infrastructure). 

Working with an array of materials (published and archival), across disciplines and historical periods (Classical to postmodern), the book allows sheep, oranges, and yeast to dictate their own chronologies and plot their own stories. What emerges is a methodology that fundamentally alters what it means to read in the twenty-first century. 

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The Poetics of DNA

Judith Roof

How has DNA come to be seen as a cosmic truth, representative of all life, potential for all cures, repository for all identity, and end to all stories? In The Poetics of DNA, Judith Roof examines the rise of this powerful symbol and the implications of its ascendancy for the ways we think—about ourselves, about one another, and about the universe.

 

Descriptions of DNA, Roof argues, have distorted ideas and transformed nucleic acid into the answer to all questions of life. This hyperbolized notion of DNA, inevitably confused or conflated with the “gene,” has become a vector through which older ways of thinking can merge with the new, advancing long-discredited and insidious ideas about such things as eugenics and racial selection and influencing contemporary debates, particularly the popular press obsession with the “gay gene.” Through metaphors of DNA, she contends, racist and homophobic ideology is masked as progressive science.

 

Grappling with twentieth-century intellectual movements as well as contemporary societal anxieties, The Poetics of DNA reveals how descriptions of DNA and genes typify a larger set of epistemological battles that play out not only through the assumptions associated with DNA but also through less evident methods of magical thinking, reductionism, and pseudoscience.

 

For the first time, Roof exposes the ideology and cultural consequences of DNA and gene metaphors to uncover how, ultimately, they are paradigms used to recreate prejudices.

 

Judith Roof is professor of English and film studies at Michigan State University. She is the author of several books, including All about Thelma and Eve: Sidekicks and Third Wheels.

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Political Affect

Connecting the Social and the Somatic

John Protevi

For many philosophers, the rational cognitive (Cartesian) subject defines the human, or at least defines what humans should be. Yet some recent cognitive science, as well as the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, has called into question such individuality and rationality and emphasized social and emotional subjectivity. Understanding such embodied and embedded subjectivity, John Protevi argues, demands the notion of bodies politic.

In Political Affect, Protevi investigates the relationship between the social and the somatic: how our bodies, minds, and social settings are intricately and intimately linked. Bringing together concepts from science, philosophy, and politics, he develops a perspective he calls political physiology to indicate that subjectivity is socially conditioned and sometimes bypassed in favor of a direct connection of the social and the somatic, as with the politically triggered basic emotions of rage and panic. Protevi's treatment of affective cognition in social context breaks new theoretical ground, insisting that subjectivity be studied both in its embodied expression and in terms of the distribution of affective cognitive responses in a population.

Moving beyond the theoretical, Protevi applies his concept of political affect to show how unconscious emotional valuing shaped three recent, emotionally charged events: the cold rage of the Columbine High School slayings, the racialized panic that delayed rescue efforts in Hurricane Katrina, and the twists and turns of empathy occasioned by the Terry Schiavo case. These powerful individual and collective political events require new philosophical understanding.

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