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Reviewed by:
  • Coloniality, Ontology, and the Question of the Posthuman ed. by Mark Jackson
  • Sarah Juliet Lauro
Jackson, Mark, ed. Coloniality, Ontology, and the Question of the Posthuman. London: Routledge, 2018. Pp. 250. $145 US hardcover, $54.95 US ebook.

At an academic conference in 2018, I heard a speaker claim that a transatlantic slave ship full of human cargo can be understood as a cyborg. From my perch in the back row, I gasped, and said under my breath (but, I fear, audibly), "Nooooooo," the "o" drawn out for several seconds, like a moan issuing deep from within. Perhaps I become a cyborg when I merge with my GPS app, and in a trance-like state, follow its directions, trusting Waze to navigate me around Tampa traffic, but a densely packed wooden ship full of the tears and blood and sweat of a kidnapped human workforce reduced to objects? I object. My fundamental disagreement with this thesis is that the cyborg, after Donna Haraway, is in part, a liberatory model freeing us from the epistemological binarism instantiated in the Enlightenment; it is one of the potential complications of Haraway's passing reference to the seamstress in the home sweatshop (170)-which may have mistakenly inspired the comparison to the slave ship-and it is the reason we should not, in my opinion, apply the cyborg model to any mechanism that relegates human beings to subhuman status, as the transatlantic slave trade reduced people to freight, and then to machines and beasts of burden. (Maybe if the slave ship were the Amistad, but even then, I think not.) This way of thinking about the cyborg may be best articulated in Angela Last's essay in this collection: "Cyborgs are intersectional beings that not only have a potential for multiple oppression but multiple solidarities" (70; emphasis mine). Nonetheless, this [End Page 514] example provides an important starting point. First, it shows the interest that many, the conference presenter and myself included, have in pulling into alignment the two parallax perspectives held in view in this book, which I will shorthand here with the terms "anticolonial" and "posthuman," though these fields encompass so much more, the postcolonial, decolonial, the ecological, new materialism, new vitalism, and so forth. It also encapsulates the resistance many have to a potential merger of these discourses: how can we ensure that a perspectival shift that draws together both the political and the posthuman remains liberatory, without reducing the anticolonial project to a neat thought experiment, or flattening all ontology to reduce the human to one object among many? The anxiety that a posthuman reconsideration of ontology provokes within anticolonial discourse is the fear that raising up all kinds of being to the same level makes a Nazi lampshade as banal as a lampshade made from goat-hide, or makes a chair thrown through a glass window during a riot into an act of violence akin to the breaking of bones. Recognizing the thorniness of this tension, but also the potential for reconciliation between these two camps of thought, Mark Jackson has assembled a book collection that addresses this very problem and seeks to bridge the divide between these two theoretical modes.

In ten chapters and an introduction, this book highlights diverse problems that might find a solution in the embrace of another way of thinking, in reaching for nonhuman solidarities; elsewhere, it provides case studies that illustrate how this type of theoretical work is already being done but overlooked, as in the various chapters that illustrate how ecological attentions already exist productively within an anticolonial and specifically non-Western ethos. All of the essays gathered here propose something like an "ethics of care" (13) that embraces the plurality of posthuman models rather than the structuring principle of difference that undergirds colonial projects by hierarchizing, separating, dividing. This collection could be summarized as a project that forges-and, more importantly, reveals-the solidarity between these modes of thought. Particularly wonderful is the work this book does to raise up non-Western cosmologies as alternatives to Enlightenment rationalism, which reminds me also of Leela Ghandi's work on anticolonial metaphysics, and various historians' address of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-9659
Print ISSN
0319-051X
Pages
pp. 514-519
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-24
Open Access
No
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