Architecture readings and a 300-word commentDirty student
Post-Anthropocentrism: Life beyond the Species 81
anthropocentric humanism, which predicates the sovereignty of Sameness in a falsely universalistic mode, my sex fell on the side of ‘Otherness’, understood as pejorative difference, or as being-worth-less-than. The becoming-posthuman speaks to my feminist self, partly because my sex, historically speak- ing, never quite made it into full humanity, so my allegiance to that category is at best negotiable and never to be taken for granted.
The Posthuman as Becoming-earth
The displacement of anthropocentrism results in a drastic restructuring of humans’ relation to animals, but critical theory may be able to adjust itself to the challenge, mostly by building on the multiple imaginary and affective ties that have consolidated human–animal interaction. The post- anthropocentric shift towards a planetary, geo-centred per- spective, however, is a conceptual earthquake of an altogether different scale than the becoming-animal of Man. This event is sending seismic waves across the fi eld of the Humanities and critical theory. Claire Colebrook, with her customary wit, calls it a ‘critical climate change’.5
In the age of anthropocene, the phenomenon known as ‘geo-morphism’ is usually expressed in negative terms, as environmental crisis, climate change and ecological sustain- ability. Yet, there is also a more positive dimension to it in the sense of reconfi guring the relationship to our complex habitat, which we used to call ‘nature’. The earth or planetary dimension of the environmental issue is indeed not a concern like any other. It is rather the issue that is immanent to all others, in so far as the earth is our middle and common ground. This is the ‘milieu’ for all of us, human and non- human inhabitant of this particular planet, in this particular era. The planetary opens onto the cosmic in an immanent materialist dimension. My argument is that, again, this change of perspective is rich in alternatives for a renewal of subjectiv- ity. What would a geo-centred subject look like?
5 This is the title of the on-line book series that Colebrook edits for the Open Humanities Press.
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The starting point for me remains the nature–culture con- tinuum, but by now we need to insert into this framework the monistic insight that, as Lloyd put it, we are all ‘part of nature’ (1994). This statement, which she frames in a monis- tic ontology based on Spinoza’s philosophy, is sobering as well as inspiring. It is further complicated, for us citizens of the third millennium, by the fact that we actually inhabit a nature–culture continuum which is both technologically mediated and globally enforced. This means that we cannot assume a theory of subjectivity that takes for granted natu- ralistic foundationalism, nor can we rely on a social construc- tivist and hence dualistic theory of the subject which disavows the ecological dimension. Instead, critical theory needs to fulfi l potentially contradictory requirements.
The fi rst is to develop a dynamic and sustainable notion of vitalist, self-organizing materiality; the second is to enlarge the frame and scope of subjectivity along the transversal lines of post-anthropocentric relations I outlined in the previous section. The idea of subjectivity as an assemblage that includes non-human agents has a number of consequences. Firstly, it implies that subjectivity is not the exclusive prerogative of anthropos; secondly, that it is not linked to transcendental reason; thirdly, that it is unhinged from the dialectics of rec- ognition; and lastly, that it is based on the immanence of relations. The challenge for critical theory is momentous: we need to visualize the subject as a transversal entity encom- passing the human, our genetic neighbours the animals and the earth as a whole, and to do so within an understandable language.
Let us pause on the latter for a minute, as it raises the issue of representation, which is crucial for the Humanities and for critical theory. Finding an adequate language for post-anthropocentrism means that the resources of the imag- ination, as well as the tools of critical intelligence, need to be enlisted for this task. The collapse of the nature–culture divide requires that we need to devise a new vocabulary, with new fi gurations to refer to the elements of our posthuman embodied and embedded subjectivity. The limitations of the social constructivist method show up here and need to be compensated by more conceptual creativity. Most of us who were trained in social theory, however, have experienced at
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least some degree of discomfort at the thought that some elements of our subjectivity may not be totally socially con- structed. Part of the legacy of the Marxist Left consists, in fact, in a deeply rooted suspicion towards the natural order and green politics.
As if this mistrust of the natural were not enough, we also need to reconceptualize the relation to the technological arte- fact as something as intimate as close as nature used to be. The technological apparatus is our new ‘milieu’ and this intimacy is far more complex and generative than the pros- thetic, mechanical extension that modernity had made of it. Throughout this change of parameters, I also want to be ever mindful of the importance of the politics of locations and keep investigating who exactly is the ‘we’ who is positing all these queries in the fi rst place. This new scheme for rethinking posthuman subjectivity is as rich as it is complex, but it is grounded in real-life, world-historical conditions that are confronting us with pressing urgency.
Dipesh Chakrabarty (2009) addresses some of these con- cerns by investigating the consequences of the climate change debate for the practice of history. He argues that the scholar- ship on climate change causes both spatial and temporal diffi culties. It brings about a change of scale in our thinking, which now needs to encompass a planetary or geo-centred dimension, acknowledging that humans are larger than a biological entity and now wield a geological force. It also shifts the temporal parameters away from the expectation of continuity which sustains the discipline of history, to contem- plate the idea of extinction, that is to say, a future without ‘us’. Furthermore, these shifts in the basic parameters also affect the content of historical research, by ‘destroying the artifi cial but time honoured distinction between natural and human histories’ (Chakrabarty, 2009: 206). Although Chakrabarty does not take the post-anthropocentric path, he comes to the same conclusion as I do: the issue of geo-centred perspectives and the change of location of humans from mere biological to geological agents calls for recompositions of both subjectivity and community.
The geo-centred turn also has other serious political impli- cations. The fi rst concerns the limitations of classical Human- ism in the Enlightenment model. Relying on post-colonial
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theory, Chakrabarty points out that the ‘philosophers of freedom were mainly, and understandably, concerned with how humans would escape the injustice, oppression, inequal- ity or even uniformity foisted on them by other humans or human-made systems’ (2009: 208). Their anthropocentrism, coupled with a culture-specifi c notion of Humanism, limits their relevance today. The climate change issue and the spectre of human extinction also affect ‘the analytic strategies that postcolonial and postimperial historians have deployed in the last two decades in response to the postwar scenario of decol- onization and globalization’ (Chakrabarty, 2009: 198). I would add that the social constructivist approach of Marxist, feminist and post-colonial analyses does not completely equip them to deal with the change of spatial and temporal scale engendered by the post-anthropocentric or geo-centred shift. This insight is the core of the radical post-anthropocentric position I want to defend, which I see as a way of updating critical theory for the third millennium.
Many scholars are coming to the same conclusion, through different routes. For instance, post-anthropocentric neo- humanist traditions of socialist or of standpoint feminist theories (Harding, 1986) and of post-colonial theory (Shiva, 1997) have approached the issues of environmentalism in a post-anthropocentric, or at least non-androcentric, or non- male-dominated, manner, as we saw in the previous chapter. This critique of anthropocentrism is expressed in the name of ecological awareness, with strong emphasis on the experi- ence of social minorities like women and of non-Western peoples. The recognition of multicultural perspectives and the critique of imperialism and ethnocentrism add a crucial aspect to the discussion on the becoming-earth, but nowadays they also fall in their own internal contradictions.
Let us take, for instance, the case of ‘deep ecology’. Arne Naess (1977a, 1977b) and James Lovelock’s ‘Gaia’ hypoth- esis (1979) are geo-centred theories that propose a return to holism and to the notion of the whole earth as a single, sacred organism. This holistic approach is rich in perspectives, but also quite problematic for a vitalist, materialist posthuman thinker. What is problematic about it is less the holistic part than the fact that it is based on a social constructivist dualistic method. This means that it opposes the earth to industrializa-
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tion, nature to culture, the environment to society and comes down fi rmly on the side of the natural order. This results in a relevant political agenda that is critical of consumerism and possessive individualism, including a strong indictment of technocratic reason and technological culture. But this approach has two drawbacks. Firstly, its technophobic aspect is not particularly helpful in itself, considering the world we are living in. Secondly, it paradoxically reinstates the very categorical divide between the natural and the manufactured which it is attempting to overcome.
Why do I not agree with this position? Because of two interrelated ideas: fi rstly, because of the nature–culture con- tinuum and the subsequent rejection of the dualistic method- ology of social constructivism – the post-anthropocentric neo-humanists end up reinstating this distinction, albeit with the best of intentions in relation to the natural order; sec- ondly, because I am suspicious of the negative kind of bonding going on in the age of anthropocene between humans and non-humans. The trans-species embrace is based on the awareness of the impending catastrophe: the environmental crisis and the global warm/ning issue, not to speak of the militarization of space, reduce all species to a comparable degree of vulnerability. The problem with this position is that, in fl agrant contradiction with its explicitly stated aims, it promotes full-scale humanization of the environment. This strikes me as a regressive move, reminiscent of the sentimen- tality of the Romantic phases of European culture. I concur therefore with Val Plumwood’s (1993, 2003) assessment that deep ecology misreads the earth–cosmos nexus and merely expands the structures of possessive egoism and self-interests to include non-human agents.
Signifi cantly, while the holistic approach also makes refer- ence to Spinoza’s monism, it steers clear of contemporary re-readings of Spinoza by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, or other radical branches of Continental philoso- phy. Spinoza’s idea of the unity of mind and soul is applied in support of the belief that all that lives is holy and the greatest respect is due to it. This idolatry of the natural order is linked to Spinoza’s vision of God and the unity between man and nature. It stresses the harmony between the human and the ecological habitat in order to propose a sort of syn-
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thesis of the two. Deep ecology is therefore spiritually charged in an essentialist way. Because there are no boundaries and everything is interrelated, to hurt nature is ultimately to hurt ourselves. Thus, the earth environment as a whole deserves the same ethical and political consideration as humans. This position is helpful but it strikes me as a way of humanizing the environment, that is to say, as a well-meaning form of residual anthropomorphic normativity, applied to non-human planetary agents. Compensatory Humanism is a two-faced position.
In contrast with this position, but also building on some of its premises, I would like to propose an updated brand of Spinozism (Citton and Lordon, 2008). I see Spinozist monism, and the radical immanent forms of critique that rest upon it, as a democratic move that promotes a kind of ontological pacifi sm. Species equality in a post-anthropocentric world does urge us to question the violence and the hierarchical thinking that result from human arrogance and the assump- tion of transcendental human exceptionalism. In my view, monistic relationality stresses instead the more compassion- ate aspect of subjectivity. A Spinozist approach, re-read with Deleuze and Guattari, allows us to by-pass the pitfalls of binary thinking and to address the environmental question in its full complexity. Contemporary monism implies a notion of vital and self-organizing matter, as we saw in the previous chapter, as well as a non-human defi nition of Life as zoe, or a dynamic and generative force. It is about ‘the embodiment of the mind and the embrainment of the body’ (Marks, 1998).
Deleuze also refers to this vital energy as the great animal, the cosmic ‘machine’, not in any mechanistic or utilitarian way, but in order to avoid any reference to biological deter- minism on the one hand and overinfl ated, psychologized indi- vidualism on the other. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) also use the term ‘Chaos’ to refer to that ‘roar’ of cosmic energy which most of us would rather ignore. They are careful to point out, however, that Chaos is not chaotic, but it rather contains the infi nite expanse of all virtual forces. These potentialities are real in so far as they call for actualization through pragmatic and sustainable practices. To mark this close connection between the virtual and the real, they turn to literature and borrow from James Joyce the neologism ‘chaosmos’. This is
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a condensation of ‘chaos’ and ‘cosmos’ that expresses the source of eternal energy.
Again, the issue of language and representation comes up in this seemingly abstruse choice of terms. What I fi nd praise- worthy on the part of my critical theory teachers is the extent to which they are willing to take the risk of ridicule by experi- menting with language that shocks established habits and deliberately provokes imaginative and emotional reactions. The point of critical theory is to upset common opinion (doxa), not to confi rm it. Although this approach has met with hostile reception in academia (as we shall see in chapter 4), I see it as a gesture of generous and deliberate risk-taking and hence as a statement in favour of academic freedom.
I consequently experiment with my own alternative fi gura- tions, ranging from the nomadic subject to other conceptual personae that help me navigate across the stormy waters of the post-anthropocentric predicament. Rigorously material- ist, my own nomadic thought defends a post-individualistic notion of the subject, which is marked by a monistic, rela- tional structure. Yet, it is not undifferentiated in terms of the social coordinates of class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race. Nomadic subjectivity is the social branch of complexity theory.
Where does this leave our becoming-earth? Actually, we are in the middle of it. Let us resume the argument from the idea of the posthuman subject. You may remember that the recomposition of a negatively indexed new idea of ‘the human’ as an endangered species, alongside other non-human categories, is currently celebrated by post-anthropocentric neo-humanists of all sorts, from animal rights activists to eco-feminists. They take the environmental crisis as evidence of the need to reinstate universal humanist values. I have no real quarrels with the moral aspiration that drives this process and share the same ethical longing. I am, however, seriously worried about the limitations of an uncritical reassertion of Humanism as the binding factor of this reactively assumed notion of a pan-human bond. I want to stress that the aware- ness of a new (negatively indexed) reconstruction of some- thing we call ‘humanity’ must not be allowed to fl atten out or dismiss all the power differentials that are still enacted and operationalized through the axes of sexualization/racializa-
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tion/naturalization, just as they are being reshuffl ed by the spinning machine of advanced, bio-genetic capitalism. Criti- cal theory needs to think simultaneously the blurring of cat- egorical differences and their reassertion as new forms of bio-political, bio-mediated political economy, with familiar patterns of exclusion and domination. For instance, in his analysis of the double limitations of both classical Humanism and Marxist oriented and post-colonial theory, Dipesh Chakrabarty raises a very pertinent question: if you consider the difference in carbon print between richer and poorer nations, is it really fair to speak of the climate change crisis as a common ‘human’ concern? I would push this further and ask: is it not risky to accept the construction of a negative formation of humanity as a category that stretches to all human beings, all other differences notwithstanding? Those differences do exist and continue to matter, so what are we to make of them? The process of becoming-earth points to a qualitatively different planetary relation.
The question of differences leads us back to power and to the politics of locations and the necessity of an ethical-polit- ical theory of subjectivity, namely, who exactly is the ‘we’ of this pan-humanity bonded in fear of a common threat? Chakrabarty puts it lucidly: ‘Species may indeed be the name of a pace-holder for an emergent, new universal history of humans that fl ashes up the moment of the danger that is climate change’ (2009: 222). As a result, I would argue that critical theorists need to strike a rigorous and coherent note of resistance against the neutralization of difference that is induced by the perverse materiality and the tendentious mobility of advanced capitalism.
A more egalitarian road, in a zoe-centred way, requires a modicum of goodwill on the part of the dominant party, in this case anthropos himself, towards his non-human others. I am aware, of course, that this is asking a lot. The post- anthropocentric shift away from the hierarchical relations that had privileged ‘Man’ requires a form of estrangement and a radical repositioning on the part of the subject. The best method to accomplish this is through the strategy of de- familiarization or critical distance from the dominant vision of the subject. Dis-identifi cation involves the loss of familiar habits of thought and representation in order to pave the way
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for creative alternatives. Deleuze would call it an active ‘deterritorialization’. Race and post-colonial theories have also made important contributions to the methodology and the political strategy of de-familiarization (Gilroy, 2005). I have defended this method as a dis-identifi cation from famil- iar and hence normative values, such as the dominant institu- tions and representations of femininity and masculinity, so as to move sexual difference towards the process of becoming- minoritarian (Braidotti, 1994, 2011a). In a similar vein, Spi- nozist feminist thinkers like Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd (1999) argue that socially embedded and historically grounded changes require a qualitative shift of our ‘collective imaginings’, or a shared desire for transformations. The con- ceptual frame of reference I have adopted for the method of de-familiarization is monism. It implies the open-ended, inter- relational, multi-sexed and trans-species fl ows of becoming through interaction with multiple others. A posthuman subject thus constituted exceeds the boundaries of both anthropocentrism and of compensatory humanism, to acquire a planetary dimension.
The Posthuman as Becoming-machine
The issue of technology is central to the post-anthropocentric predicament and it has already come out several times in the previous sections. The relationship between the human and the technological other has shifted in the contemporary context, to reach unprecedented degrees of intimacy and intrusion. The posthuman predicament is such as to force a displacement of the lines of demarcation between structural differences, or ontological categories, for instance between the organic and the inorganic, the born and the manufac- tured, fl esh and metal, electronic circuits and organic nervous systems.
As in the case of human–animal relations, the move is beyond metaphorization. The metaphorical or analogue func- tion that machinery fulfi lled in modernity, as an anthropo- centric device that imitated embodied human capacities, is replaced today by a more complex political economy that connects bodies to machines more intimately, through simu-
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lation and mutual modifi cation. As Andreas Huyssen (1986) has argued, in the electronic era, wires and circuitry exercise another kind of seduction than the pistons and grinding engines of industrial machinery. Electronic machines are, from this angle, quite immaterial: plastic boxes and metal wires that convey information. They do not ‘represent’ any- thing, but rather carry clear instructions and can reproduce clear information patterns. The main thrust of micro-elec- tronic seduction is actually neural, in that it foregrounds the fusion of human consciousness with the general electronic network. Contemporary information and communication technologies exteriorize and duplicate electronically the human nervous system. This has prompted a shift in our fi eld of perception: the visual modes of representation have been replaced by sensorial-neuronal modes of simulation. As Patri- cia Clough puts it, we have become ‘biomediated’ bodies (2008: 3).
We can therefore safely start from the assumption that the cyborgs are the dominant social and cultural formations that are active throughout the social fabric, with many economic and political implications. The Vitruvian Man has gone cybernetic (see fi gure 2.4). Let me qualify this statement by adding that all technologies can be said to have a strong bio- political effect upon the embodied subject they intersect with. Thus, cyborgs include not only the glamorous bodies of high- tech, jet-fi ghter pilots, athletes or fi lm stars, but also the anonymous masses of the underpaid, digital proletariat who fuel the technology-driven global economy without ever accessing it themselves (Braidotti, 2006). I shall return to this cruel political economy in the next chapter.
What I want to argue next is that technological mediation is central to a new vision of posthuman subjectivity and that it provides the grounding for new ethical claims. A posthu- man notion of the enfl eshed and extended, relational self keeps the techno-hype in check by a sustainable ethics of transformations. This sober position pleads for resistance to both the fatal attraction of nostalgia and the fantasy of trans- humanist and other techno-utopias. It also juxtaposes the rhetoric of ‘the desire to be wired’, to a more radical sense of the materialism of ‘proud to be fl esh’ (Sobchack, 2004). The emphasis on immanence allows us to respect the bond of mutual dependence between bodies and technological
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others, while avoiding the contempt for the fl esh and the trans-humanist fantasy of escape from the fi nite materiality of the enfl eshed self. As we shall see in the next chapter, the issue of death and mortality will be raised by necessity.
I want to argue for a vitalist view of the technologically bio-mediated other. This machinic vitality is not so much about determinism, inbuilt purpose or fi nality, but rather about becoming and transformation. This introduces a process that Deleuze and Guattari call ‘becoming-machine’, inspired by the Surrealists’ ‘bachelor machines’, meaning a playful and pleasure-prone relationship to technology that is not based on functionalism. For Deleuze this is linked to the project of releasing human embodiment from its indexation
Figure 2.4 Victor Habbick (Maninblack), Robot in the style of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man Source: Clivia – Pixmac
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on socialized productivity to become ‘bodies without organs’, that is to say without organized effi ciency. This is no hippy- like insurrection of the senses, but rather a carefully thought- through programme that pursues two aims. Firstly, it attempts to rethink our bodies as part of a nature–culture continuum in their in-depth structures. Secondly, it adds a political dimension by setting the framework of recomposition of bodily materiality in directions diametrically opposed to the spurious effi ciency and ruthless opportunism of advanced capitalism. Contemporary machines are no metaphors, but they are engines or devices that both capture and process forces and energies, facilitating interrelations, multiple con- nections and assemblages. They stand for radical relationality and delight as well as productivity.
The ‘becoming-machine’ understood in this specifi c sense indicates and actualizes the relational powers of a subject that is no longer cast in a dualistic frame, but bears a privileged bond with multiple others and merges with one’s technologi- cally mediated planetary environment. The merger of the human with the technological results in a new transversal compound, a new kind of eco-sophical unity, not unlike the symbiotic relationship between the animal and its planetary habitat. This is not the holistic fusion that Hegel accused Spinoza of, but rather radical transversal relations that gener- ate new modes of subjectivity, held in check by an ethology of forces. They sustain a vitalist ethics of mutual trans-species interdependence. It is a generalized ecology, also known as eco-sophy, which aims at crossing transversally the multiple layers of the subject, from interiority to exteriority and every- thing in between.
This process is what I mean by ‘post-anthropocentric posthumanism’, which I defend throughout this book. It involves a radical estrangement from notions like moral ratio- nality, unitary identity, transcendent consciousness or innate and universal moral values. The focus is entirely on the nor- matively neutral relational structures of both subject forma- tion and of possible ethical relations. The elaboration of new normative frameworks for the posthuman subject is the focus of collectively enacted, non-profi t-oriented experimentations with intensity, that is to say with what we are actually capable of becoming. They are a praxis (a grounded shared project),
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not a doxa (common sense belief). My own concept of nomadic subject embodies this approach, which combines non-unitary subjectivity with ethical accountability by fore- grounding the ontological role played by relationality.
According to Felix Guattari, the posthuman predicament calls for a new virtual social ecology, which includes social, political, ethical and aesthetic dimensions, and transversal links between them. To clarify this vision, Guattari proposes three fundamental ecologies: that of the environment, of the social nexus, and of the psyche. More importantly, he empha- sizes the need to create transversal lines through all three of them. This clarifi cation is important and I would connect it to the theoretical reminder I issued earlier, namely that we need to practise de-familiarization as a crucial method in posthuman critical theory and learn to think differently.
It is crucial, for instance, to see the interconnections among the greenhouse effect, the status of women, racism and xeno- phobia and frantic consumerism. We must not stop at any fragmented portions of these realities, but rather trace trans- versal interconnections among them. The subject is ontologi- cally polyvocal. It rests on a plane of …