- Becoming More (than) Human:Affective Posthumanisms, Past and Future
The human long presumed by traditional Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment humanism is a subject (generally assumed male) who is at the center of his world (that is, the world); is defined by his supreme, utterly rational intelligence; does not depend (unlike his predecessor) upon a divine authority to make his way through the world but instead manipulates it in accord with his own wishes; and is a historically independent agent whose thought and action produce history.1 It is this human—who is, as Tony Davies notes, "always singular, always in the present tense, . . . inhabit[ing] not a time or a place but a condition, timeless and unlocalised" (32)—that is the subject of traditional liberal humanism. His power and superiority inhere in his human essence. Yet in a posthumanist world, this human is an endangered species.
Such a statement is hardly news.2 Foucault, in 1966 in The Order of Things, and Levi-Strauss, in 1962 in The Savage Mind, both revealed that "the human" had been invented by the Enlightenment when it "discovered" this supposedly sovereign subject. The ensuing denaturalization of this subject has challenged the ontological foundations on which traditional humanism, and thus much of Western society, has been based. The recognition that human subjectivity has been constructed by those who have claimed it as their exclusive feature has made room for alternative posthumanist philosophies.3 Posthumanism observes that there has never [End Page 246] been one unified, cohesive "human," a title that was granted by and to those with the material and cultural luxury to bestow upon themselves the faculties of "reason," autonomous agency, and the privileges of "being human" (Davies 19; Hayles 286). As a result, not everyone whose biology would identify them as homo sapiens have "counted" as human (Fuss 2). Ideologically shaped distinctions have determined inclusion and exclusion, so that features with cultural significance, such as race and gender, have been misinterpreted as biologically significant and used as markers of supposed superiority or inferiority within the "species." Posthumanism rejects the assumed universalism and exceptional being of Enlightenment humanism and in its place substitutes mutation, variation, and becoming.
The posthuman subject involves a critical deconstruction of the universal, liberal humanist subject, with the thought of Freud, Marx, Lacan, Althusser, Foucault, and Derrida, among others, as central influences in this deconstruction (Badmington 4-10). Yet, outside of theoretical circles, the posthuman subject is often described as a physical counterpart (and successor) to the universal human. This alternative, or extended, human appears in popular culture as a corporeal being whose existence is the hypothetical result of certain developments in techno-science. It is a deliberately engineered form, the imagined product of breakthroughs, both fictional and real, in genetic manipulation, reproductive technologies, and virtual reality, and it reveals certain cultural anxieties about embodiment—perhaps most especially when that embodiment is rejected or overcome in the attempt to release a supposedly "pure" cognition. Embodiment always troubles the human "person," and is a highly slippery entity despite its apparently concrete givenness. Caroline Walker Bynum writes,
Sometimes body, my body, or embodiedness seems to refer to limit or placement, whether biological or social. That is, it refers to natural, physical structures (such as organ systems or chromosomes), to environment or locatedness, boundary or definition, or to role (such as gender, race, class) as constraint. Sometimes—on the other hand—it seems to refer precisely to lack of limits, that is, to desire, potentiality, fertility, or sensuality/sexuality . . . or to person or identity as malleable representation or construct(1995b, 5). [End Page 247]
The second view—with the human "person" a "malleable representation or construct" and embodiment as unconstrained—has many affinities with theoretical posthumanism. The inherent pliability of the culturally produced body is celebrated by cultural theorists such as Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston, who describe posthuman bodies as "the causes and effects of postmodern relations of power and pleasure, virtuality and reality, sex and its consequences. The posthuman body is a technology, a screen, a projected image. . . . The human itself is no longer part of 'the family of man' but a zoo of posthumanities" (3). Theoretical...