- Twilight of the Humanities:Rethinking (Post)Humanism with J.M. Coetzee
Twilight, I contend, is the trope that defines the history of the present with discussion on crisis in education in general and in the Humanities and in Literary Studies in particular. Thus Michael Hardt, for example, argues for curricular change so as to provide the emerging “biopolitical economy” with “mass intelligence—even and especially linguistic, conceptual, and social capacities” to enable necessary “economic innovation.” In a different vain, William V. Spanos, based on his reading of the deconstructionists Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida together with influential pedagogue Paulo Freire, takes to task the disciplinary meta-physical paradigm that undergirds the power structures of “disinterested” humanistic discourse surreptitiously at work in liberal arts curricula. Concern for education reform might be a symptom of crisis but this crisis is also the very vector spawning the radical shift in our understanding of the “(hu)man” and its mutation in theoretical Posthumanism as suggested, for instance, in the work of Cary Wolfe and exemplified by Nathan Snaza (in this Issue) on the one hand. On the other, novelist J.M. Coetzee in a conceptionally adjacent fictional text, “The Humanities in Africa,”1 exposes and deconstructs the Menschenwissenschaft, the “human sciences,” including the human’s hypothetical quality “humane” before the horizon of an emergent technology that, supported by neo-liberal-ist economic rationality, he considers irreversible.
Twilight, an instant occurring at both dawn and dusk, blurring the sharp contrast between day and night, names a zone of indistinction (Agamben) and différance (Derrida), where limits become fluid, boundaries are crossed, and catachresis takes hold. Twilight can mark the end of an epoch like that of Nietzsche’s “last man,” the supremely contented yet shallow nihilist [End Page 57] bourgeois, but it can herald also the coming of the new “immoralists” who emerge from “philosophizing with a hammer” as Nietzsche demonstrates in his 1888 Twilight of the Idols. Following on a path of “reevaluation” Kurt Pinthus’ canonical, Zarathustra-Nietzsche inspired anthology of German Expressionist poetry Menschheitsdämmerung (Twilight of Mankind) of 1919 for instance, revels in a critique of bourgeois hypocrisy embodied by the “last man” while also celebrating a new dawn of creativity, articulating like so much art (non-representational Abstract Expressionism), literature (Musil, The Man without Qualities), and philosophy (Heidegger, Being and Time) in the Germany of the first third of the 20th century a break with the previous epoch.
In short, what the twilight-trope signals is the manner in which to sequester literary critical epochs and especially “discursive formations” (Foucault) as either complete ruptures with previous ones or as transformations over a longer time period begging a verdict on what would be at stake in respect of an approaching posthumanist turn. Hence the question: are such late 20th century movements prefixed by “post”—as in Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, Postcolonialism and, finally, Posthumanism a mere temporal (hyphened) “after” or do they constitute a clear break on an epistemological plane as a Foucauldian type archeological approach as advocated by Wolfe (2010, xvi) would suggest? On the one hand, Posthumanism can arguably be said to constitute such a break because of its focus on the hitherto occluded question of the (hu)man, homo, anthropos, l’homme, Mensch as a species being “naked, unshod, unbedded, unarmed,” that, already according to the Prometheus myth told in Plato’s Protagoras,2 is the one mortal creature without quality, who despite (or because) of this void nevertheless found himself at the center of the studia humanitatis (“studies of humanity”). Moreover, a shift away from the Humanities towards multidisciplinary studies corroborates a waning of the Humanities that once were at the heart of the “University of Culture” (Readings 1996). However, it is particularly in the arena of those animal studies that go beyond (anthropocentric) thematics and fundamentally challenge [End Page 58] modern schemas of the knowing subject that distinctive levels of disciplinary breaks appear, as evidenced in this connection in Julietta Singh’s reading of Coetzee’s “The Lives of Animals” that links—by the “tail”/tale—the animal with postcolonial concerns. Yet Posthumanism, on the other hand, can be said to exemplify no more than...