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  • Flights of the Human as Flights from the Human1
  • R. Radhakrishnan (bio)

I would like to begin this essay with a brief prolegomenon by way of clarifying a few terms and their potential meanings and valences: humanism, new-humanism, anti-humanism, post-humanism, non-humanist humanism. I would also like to mark significant differences among political humanism, ethical humanism, epistemological humanism, and ontological humanism.2 It is obvious that in all these different configurations, the unchanging substantive is “humanism,” along with a restless flurry of prefixes with each prefix insisting on a different line of flight from the home base “humanism.” Each of these flights, in its very attempt to open up a space autonomous of the jurisdiction of humanism, recuperates the necessity of humanism as the point of departure and in the process renders itself heteronomous. So, how serious or fundamental is the quarrel with humanism? To what extent is humanism redeemable and why? Can a clear and definitive distinction be made between a usable and an unconscionable humanism?3 Is humanism a [End Page 173] single coherent ideological formation that warrants either a tout court adherence or rejection; or is it possible to break it down into a field of heterogeneous and isolable practices? In other words, how tight or impenetrable is the imprimatur known as humanism; and does it have a systemic, metonymic, synecdochic stranglehold over all the actions and practices that constitute the humanist domain? Here I am making an important distinction between humanism as immanent self-evident praxis and humanism as an irrefragable “ism,” which is to say, as an axiology in whose name praxis is valorized and validated. My point is that practices that share common ground may indeed not be common at all if each of these practices seeks a different official seal of sanction. For example, a deep ecologist who loves and plants trees in the name of Being with a capital B and a nationalist-developmental policy expert who loves and plants trees in the name of the sustainability of nature are both united and divided by a common practice.4

Let us take quick look at each of the prefixes and their projective horizon for the future. When I say “new-humanism,” of course, I have in mind Frantz Fanon and his poignant double-conscious endeavor to co-think political revolution with ontological re-creation. His relentless battle with binary thinking, “The Negro is not. Any more than a White Man” (Fanon 1967), would seem to breathe life into the ugly binary machine but only with the intention of destroying the binary dispositif utterly, absolutely, and without any ontological or historical residue. Fanon is no under illusion that the apparatus will destroy itself. Fanon does not make the mistake of essentializing the binary apparatus as an ontological given: the binary is not general. It is very specifically speaking, the Colonizer-Colonized binary and the radical overthrow of this binary structure ought to be undertaken perspectivally, from the point of view of decolonization.5 In other words, the inauguration of a new humanism is unimaginable except from the perspective of the colonized: it cannot be disinterested. Fanon makes the acute diagnosis that political binaries such as Master-Slave, Colonizer-Colonized pervert, distort, and mis-recognize the ontology of the human condition. In his scheme of things, ontology and politics are reciprocally coordinated, i.e., politics is not trickle-down ontology, and ontology is not sublimated politics. So, what is new about new humanism: to be more precise, in the name of what new principle or idea is the old humanism baptized into a new identity? [End Page 174]

Fanon’s critical vigilance achieves a double vision: the human in its free ontological potential or possibility is one frame, the ideal-universal frame; and the other is the human in the political frame where the frame is both a form of thralldom as well as the actual precondition for the production of the free ontological-universal. The bad past of the humanism needs to be remembered, counter-mnemonically, to make sure that the emergence of a new, free, ontological humanism is not mis-recognized as a fait accompli, but rather, understood...


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