The Posthumanism Realization
We must begin at the beginning, but according to Stiegler’s theory of epiphylogenesis, there is no origin for human and machine. Man and machine co-originate (Vaccari and Barnet). Can humanity even be defined without reference to its attached technologies? Eldredge created coronet lineages “to prove to the Creationists that intelligent design has its own dynamic, and this dynamic is radically different to what we find in nature” (Vaccari and Barnet). But coronets are not humans; they are human creations. If Edgerton’s assertion that old stuff has “a much larger impact in our lives than new stuff” (Vaccari and Barnet) then perhaps the “In the beginning” of the Bible can explain what a human is.
According to Genesis 1, God created man in his image and allowed him to dominate the earth (Genesis 1:26 KJV). Based on this account, humanity has an interiority of the divine and of authority. But this created order was corrupted when the first humans disobeyed the divine. According to Genesis 3:7, “The eyes of both of them [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves [clothes]” (KJV). What the first humans realized is the stuff of millennia of theology, but what we see in this story is that humans became aware of who they were. At this departure from the divine, the first humans created technology to hide their nakedness, a constructing of themselves to help them survive a new and complex reality (Kunzru) that included an awareness of “the anguish of this vulnerability” (qtd. in Wolfe 18), an interiority aware of mortality that introduced technology.
Philosophers repeatedly return to the question of human essence. Bennet references Augustine’s “moral agency to free will” for what it means to be a bodily human (28) in conflict with divine will (Bennet 28). Instead of referencing the conflict between the divine and the carnal, Descartes’ cogito ergo sum focuses solely on the human mind because “corporeal things [are] images…formed by thought” (paragraph 10). He means that our rational, thinking minds create the things we perceive (paragraphs 9, 16), not a divine indwelling. Human essence results from rational thought, the ability to perceive within the human mind alone.
Lacan modifies Descartes’ internal gaze as nonbodily essence to create a “fragmented body-image … [a] totality” (qtd. in “Class Notes … Gischler”). We see ourselves in reflection and become aware of our identity, our interiority, our Being. However we manipulate “the mask” of ourselves to help “us to see objects” (“Class Notes on Lacan…”). In doing so, we “describe a world covered over with our own projections” (Merleau-Ponty 136), and we are trapped in “a fundamental narcissism of all vision” (139). We view humanity’s ability to differentiate the appearance of a thing from the thing itself (Wolfe 4-5) as a human (and divinely given) privilege. We can be at “the site of mediation” (“Class Notes on Lacan…”), but because of masking to guard ourselves from vulnerability and because of our self-centeredness we may not be able to see Others as having Being, an interiority however different from our own. The difference with humans is, as Adam Nocek states, our ability to “abstract…from that [human] body” (Nocek and Broglio). We recognize and are able to communicate our analyses, our abstractions, our ideas to others. We consider this a higher mental function that other Beings are incapable of, and it may be that some of these other Beings are incapable of such. However, it does not mean that they do not have an “inside” life of memories.
For this reason, we need posthumanism, which does not change what it means to be human. Instead, posthumanism moves humanity away from the center of all relationships. We should not superimpose human essence on the world because humans are but one variant with a “paradox of Being, not a paradox of man” (Merleau-Ponty 136). The entanglement of mind and body (152) is but one Being, the human. We are not the sole Earth creatures. We are here with Others, equally wounded, equally vulnerable, and in need of recognizing this that “unsettles the very foundations of what we call “the human” (Wolfe 3). The difficulty comes with seeing and communicating with Otherss, and that occurs at the horizon, a site of mediation, the space where Beings touch, perhaps even overlap, but do not subsume.
Now we must continue to remind ourselves that humans exist with technology and other Beings and that humans are not the privileged center. We must continue to consider the interiority and vulnerability of ourselves and of other Beings in our world (e.g. humans, technology, animals, objects). Diamond quotes Simone Weil regarding this vulnerability, “To be aware of this [the possibility of not Being] in the depth of one’s soul is to experience non-being” (75), and Cary Wolfe quotes the fictional Elizabeth Costello, “What I know is what a corpse cannot know: that it is extinct, that it knows nothing and will never know anything more” (32) because she now knows “the anguish of this vulnerability” (qtd. in Wolfe 18). To understand these concepts we have masked from ourselves, we must use literature rather than philosophy (Diamond 53) to avoid the deflection of philosophical skepticism (57). We must avoid White Noise’s Babette’s “reducing [problems] to their simplest parts” (DeLillo 182) to evade exposure to moral complexity (Wolfe 13) and to lessen awareness of living bodies (8). This act causes us to forget that we are not the center and that the Other possesses Being and interiority.
With Blade Runner (1982) we question (again) what human identity is and how that identity connects to other Beings. The replicant Leon has pictures of the experiences he his lifetime experiences, and he valued those pictures. Roy, too, has memories of the amazing worlds he had seen that others, such as Deckard, could never imagine, and those memories would be gone when he reached his lifespan. These replicants who return to Earth have realized their fragments body image, see their brokenness mirrored back to them by humans (SOURCE), and for Roy in particular, are able to differentiate the idea of a thing from the thing itself. Replicants seek affirmation from humans, from those outside themselves. Lack of affirmation results in murderous rage (e.g. Leon, Pris, and Roy all kill when they fail to be validated), but being affirmed results in connection and a chance for humans to live (e.g., Roy saving Deckard, Deckard and Rachael’s relationship). These are human conceptions; they represent an interiority that may not have initially been part of the replicants but has developed as part of their lived experiences, as “embodied beings . . . alive to the world” (Wolfe 8) who are able to acknowledge their shared “bodily sense of vulnerability to death” (Wolfe 8). The replicants’ own homicidal rage as agency to remain alive is similar to Jack Gladney’s in White Noise. But Leon and Roy are not human, despite their appearances and their interiorities, as they were made by humans. Notice how at death Zhora, Pris, and Leon resume a stiff, mannequin form, and it is only Roy who sees the horizon, the entanglement of relations of Being, a site of mediation, when he saves Deckard from falling to his death. But he, too, resumes a machine form at death. None of the replicants are human; they are Being.
Wolfe’s “embodied beings” (8) are not just humans and robots with interiority; it is things as well. There is a “complicated web of dissonant connections between bodies (4). Assemblages, such as Dylar (DeLillo 178-9), Babette, the human brain, Vernon Dickey’s gun, “the long walk” (268), Winnie Richards, Willie Mink, Germantown and Iron City, and the motel room affect Jack Gladney in White Noise in a forceful way. These systems, or assemblages of things and humans, have “agentic capacity” (Bennet 9) to create a spell of things. Jack, despite fearing death, does not actually face death until he shoots Willie Mink. He had never neared a homicidal rage (DeLillo 279) until he finally had the assemblage, the system, that could exert agental force upon him. Once that assemblage is complete, he feels the “vulnerability, passivity, and mortality” (Wolfe 21) of a “semiotic system” (Wolfe 27) and finally, truly feels the “wound” (Wolfe 2) of his vulnerability to death. By shooting Willie Mink, Jack realizes “who [he] was in the network of meanings” (297). He sees on a “higher plane of energy” (298). He thinks he has discovered his true Being, but Mink shoots Jack (298) and destroys Jack’s attempt to “advance the art of human consciousness” (278), restoring “the normal order of matter and sensation” and causing Jack to “see for the first time as a person” (299). The spell of things is no longer upon him; his narcissistic view is broken. Jack now sees the horizon, the entanglement of relations of Being and realizes that he is not alone in Being. Willie Mink, reduced to nonhuman with a brain addled by Dylar, forces Jack to “see… [Mink] for the first time as a person” (299). But Mink is not person in the sense of human essences as defined above. He is Being, one capable of agency and interiority, human but addled by trying a medical prosthetic to forget his woundedness, an Other with shared vulnerability (Wolfe 11) of the finitude of life (16).
In At the Mountains of Madness narrator William Dyer realizes the squid-like vegetable aliens who face destruction by their own creations have interiority and Being.“They were men,” Dyer says (Lovecraft). This recognition of the Elder race as having the rationality Descartes says is the sole essence of humanity allows that aliens life forms may also share the same interiority of humans. But it is the narrator’s recognition of the Elder race’s shared vulnerability of Being in the finitude of life, their shared possibility of death by the Elders’ created slaves that opens a wound that allows us to move “closer to things in their actual state” (DeLillo 291) by not grasping at them but by using “imaginative and literary projection” (Wolfe 23) to allow moments of communication within the system (27). Literature can limit our manipulation of ourselves and free us from our narcissism. We realize that we mean “nothing to them [the system], nothing. [We can] feel it” (Coetzee 158); we realize that just as we have not recognized others as having interiority, others have failed to recognize our own interiority. We can now understand woundedness, nonBeing, mortality, our own vulnerability to death and that man, alien, and assemblage feel that same vulnerability.
Millennia of theology recognizes that humans are somehow divinely created but replicants and other technologies, however humanoid, are created by humans. The reason Eldredge’s coronets have a different dynamic from humans, a different form of evolution, is because they were created by that which is not divine. They were created by the carnal human, a creator once removed, an intelligent designer but not the Intelligent Designer, and as such must have a different evolutionary formula. The “techno-genetic ‘memory’” exists within humans and outside humans because human agency cannot be easily separated from technological life (Vaccari and Barnet). In the “origin of order,” technics must be thought of and created by humans first (Vaccari and Barnet, emphasis added). Synthetic human invention creates technical essence that remains stable throughout the evolution of a technical lineage despite changes in form and function (Vaccari and Barnet). The nonhuman essence and agency of these tools is itself an interiority, a Being.
We see this interiority in Metropolis (1927). Workers are enslaved to the system (a machine), and the wealthy men are enthralled to a robot whose interiority, much like Frankenstein’s monster, demands destruction of all within her reach. Metropolis’ scenes of exhausted workers moving lock step to and from work and Freder’s own exhausting working of the machine (or machine working him) visually demonstrate that human technology may not actually help us because it works faster than we can. Our shift from task orientation to time sense (Thompson 358) shifts not the essence of humanity but its purpose to one in which time is “not passed but spent” (359). As a result, we develop work “monotony, alienation from pleasure in labour, and antagonism of interests” in the factory system (360). Now humans’ interiority is disrupted because its sense of time is changed from seasonal irregularity (378) to “synchronisation of labour” to meet the needs, not of humans, but of the industrial capitalist system (368). Watches placed human interiority at conflict with human enterprise. Our human essence has not changed, but the world in which we live has, and with information developing at an exponential rate and clocks that do not understand the natural rhythms of human nature, there is no way humans should even try to keep up.
Babette’s staring blankly out windows (DeLillo 177) and forgetting things is not the result of a fear of death (DeLillo 186). The Dylar doesn’t work, she says (DeLillo 192). Babette expected to forget instead of having a medical prosthetic to help her deal with her vulnerability. The real issue is not death and our vulnerability to it. The real issue is humanity’s inability to maintain clock time. The Industrial Revolution was a shock to an entire human culture that required a habituation to the kind of labor and industriousness that made time the same as money (Thompson 359) and righteousness equated to a lack of free time (Thompson 384). While improved mechanization allows for a continuance of accepted human Being by allowing those previously unable to work within the industrial system, e.g. blind Nietzsche being able to write again because of the typewriter (Kittler 202-3), the assemblage in the modern Western world has not allowed humanity enough evolutionary time to adapt to our awareness of increasingly frequent major shifts in technology (Stiegler). We have continued to develop prosthetics (e.g. smart phones, anti-anxiety pills, the microwave, heart medicine) that help us cope with the technological systems at play in our world, but as Bennet discusses the assemblage that created the 2003 North American power blackout, systems are not “governed by a central head” (24). Again, humans are not the center. Our world’s systems’ “agentic capacity [belongs] to the vitality of the materialities that constitute [them]” (34), and humans as only one variant in the complex technical and organic systems of this world are not able and should not try to keep up. The creation of clothing at The Fall means that humans upon awareness of their mortality were never the hierarchal head of any system. We were posthuman before we even tried to define human.
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