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  • A Modest Proposal for the Inhuman
  • Julian Murphet (bio)

Inhumanism Now

After the so-called “end of Theory,” the intellectual fortunes of anti-humanism dipped disastrously, overwhelmed by a wretched tide of new moralism, ethics, humanitarianism, and aesthetics. The hard-won poststructuralist consensus regarding the inadmissibility of any essentialist, transhistorical concept of “Man,” while it may not have been simply rejected, was assailed by a concerted attack from the hard sciences and the Realpolitik of a worldwide neoliberal hegemony. What if the fragile little animal “man,” this pathetic cluster of genetic codes, anthropological givens, and precarious affects, were after all the only entity worth defending in the teeth of a pitiless assault from above? Poststructuralism’s muted Nietzschean affirmation of a post-human exit velocity looks risibly utopian in our militarized age of camps and homo sacer; nor could the radical historicization of all human qualities survive the onslaught of a revived and extremely aggressive biological determinism backed by corporate R&D and compliant state apparatuses. Today’s humanism shelters merely “the being who is capable of recognizing himself as a victim,” as Alain Badiou puts it; “the status of victim, of suffering beast, of emaciated, dying body, equates man with his animal substructure,” and, in this sense, neo-humanism and biopolitics are aspects of the same historical sequence.1 This dismal return of a concept, really a cynical collage of conceptual topoi half a millennium old, represents a total depletion of the ludic political energies that had sustained the anti-humanist provocations of a previous generation.

A late twist in the tail of humanism’s tenacious persistence through senile modernity has assumed some salience in the new [End Page 651] millennium, particularly in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). A species of so-called inhumanism, forgetting its conceptual origins in the poetics of Robinson Jeffers, has known a remarkably swift consolidation of intellectual fortunes (if not yet academic or institutional ones) over the last five years, with any number of symposia, blog sites, happenings, and interventions, not to mention dedicated publishers (Zero Books, Urbanomics, and Univocal) and a pantheon of readymade sages at its service. Before turning to consider it in more detail, however, it is worth pointing out one link in the broken chain that might be said to relate anti- and inhumanism in the final instance, and that is the offshoot of post-humanism, which, having taken some impetus from the likes of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard, assumed a well-nigh canonical intellectual formation in the opuses of Friedrich Kittler and Niklas Luhmann in Germany and Bruno Latour in France, and whose American variants include the writings of Donna Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles, Cary Wolfe, and some few others. Along with a number of truly aberrant intellectual trajectories either recovered at or concurrent with the turn of the millennium, including those of Michel Serres, Vilém Flusser, and the early Nick Land, this post-humanist current is the strongest connective tissue articulating the lost anti-humanist moment of Theory and today’s turn to inhumanism as a last-ditch critical effort against the resilience of liberal humanism.

As for contemporary inhumanism itself, comprising a noisy confluence of currents, there is as yet no real consensus about its ultimate project. Beginning polemically with a return to Kant as humanism’s most elastic philosophical benefactor (as witness the proliferation of any number of neo-Kantianisms today), this new inhumanism subjects the author of the three critiques to a particularly vituperative attack—specifically, for having enshrined the ineffable “correlation” between mental phenomena and reality as the guarantee, and limit, of all human knowledge.2 That is to say, contemporary inhumanism’s primordial animus is epistemological, not ontological, although ontology is the banner under which it is most often found marching.3 Its intemperate return to Kant (and otherwise inexplicable neglect of Hegel and Marx, or the dialectic—what Jordana Rosenberg rightly calls its “occlusion of the dynamics of social mediation”) is assayed on the basis that the hegemonic form of knowledge today is “correlationist” through and through, suturing the philosophical claims of all modernity to the humble acknowledgements of finitude to...