- Human Remains
At a recent conference on the role of the humanities, the human, and posthumanism, a professor of literary theory shared her exasperation at yet another “post” announced that promises a premature shift in the problematic field of the human.1 Are we done talking about the human so we can now move onto the next chapter, in the hope that the new vistas it promises will deliver us from the unresolvable debates about “history, the human and the world between” (Radhakrishnan 2008)? Or is it possible, we ask with this issue, that the post in posthumanism is not another fad or a gesture skirting difficult questions about humans and their histories but rather a rupture within their field of representations? Does posthumanism as a wide range of interdisciplinary critical discourses signify a future anterior that enables the rise of new frames of representation of the human and humanity, perceiving the uneven temporalities of different humans, their interspecies collectivities, and complex sets of relations and materialities rather than a humanity at large?
Without pretending to have overcome the tensions between humanism and anti-humanism, posthumanisms are informed by an event that indeed is, in Derrida’s language, l’avenir (yet-to-come). This future anterior enables a continuous flow of new narratives about humans and their collectivities as they survive and develop through disasters threatening them with extinction; as new ontological and political ways of being human beyond the humanist representation of Man that restrained and contorted the Enlightenment promise2 are engendered by anticolonial and transmodern thinkers such as Enrique Dussel, Leela Gandhi and Walter Mignolo;3 as new intersectional and interdisciplinary narratives take shape around figures like the animal or the cyborg, requiring an account of being outside the realm of thought that draws on a certain idea of the human in a certain environment; and as critical [End Page 9] analyses of the transnational formations of biopolitics regulating contemporary forms of economic and political dispossession.
As William V. Spanos underscores in The End of Education (1993) and further develops in his contribution to this issue, the “post” is not an attempt to forget the human but rather a “gesture of repetition” that attends to what remains as constitutive of the problematic wherein the human lies. The essays collected here attend to the figure of the human as remaining, persevering, always already in excess of its fictions, always already in temporality, relationality and complexity. The “post” in the posthumanist discourses signifies ambivalence and doubt about the certainty of an idea of the human and humanity as generic concepts irreducible to locality, temporality and relationality. Instead this “post” gestures to the indissoluble relation between the human and her temporality as the time of the now (Benjamin’s Jetzzeit), the time that remains to speak the human from below and within rather than above temporality. This time gestures “post” the idea of Man as the central being, and Man as the origin of being, and post the exceptionalist discourses that have founded a sovereign self against her/his other seen as the rogue, the beast and the non-self. In this light, posthumanisms attend to the knowledge that arises from the bios politikos of lives that are seen as bare, subaltern, illegal in order to engage re-presentations of the “experience of the other” often understood “through a ‘negative interpretation’” (Mbembe 2001, 1) as affirmative forms of livity.
What posthumanisms promise, in other words, is the discovery of new frames of re-presentation in which the qualities of identity and difference, belonging and dispossession, individual and collective struggle and resistance will be reconceptualized in contexts and localities that are determined by concurrent, oppositional systems of sociogenic codes, and are not limited to a set of universals that speak only to certain humans and their collectivities.
Posthumanisms recognize that humanity develops not at large and not evenly but from within the crevices of being that overlap with the interstices of the history of disaster and survival of different collectivities of being and intersect with various and delinked languages and discourses arising from discrepant social and cultural materialities (which are nevertheless always linked). While...