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About this book

What is posthumanism and why does it matter? This reader offers an introduction to the ways in which humanism's belief in the natural supremacy of the Family of Man has been called into question at different moments and from different theoretical positions. What is the relationship between posthumanism and technology? Can posthumanism have a politics - post-colonial or feminist? Are postmodernism and poststructuralism posthumanist? What happens when critical theory meets Hollywood cinema? What links posthumanism to science fiction? Posthumanism addresses these and other questions in an attempt to come to terms with one of the most pressing issues facing contemporary society.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Approaching Posthumanism

He is young, reliable, quiet, clean and intelligent. He is good with numbers and will teach or entertain the children without a word of complaint. He is, according to Time magazine’s tradition, Man of the Year, 1982.
Neil Badmington

2. The Great Family of Man

A big exhibition of photographs has been held in Paris, the aim of which was to show the universality of human actions in the daily life of all the countries of the world: birth, death, work, knowledge, play, always impose the same types of behaviour; there is a family of Man.
Roland Barthes

3. The Instinct

For every form of sexual arrangement approved by this society, there’s an explanation in terms of natural instincts. Women tend to look after children, so there’s evidence of a maternal instinct. Heterosexuality is the dominant form of sexual behaviour; that’s the natural bond because animals mate. The nuclear family is the approved social unit, and the pairing and parental bond between animals proves that’s natural. Instinct is the knee-jerk reflex with which this society responds to any discussion of sexual arrangements. Instinct explains why we do what we do. Instinct also explains why we shouldn’t do what some people do — an elastic concept.
Rosalind Coward

4. The Wretched of the Earth

Come, then, comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent and resolute.
Frantz Fanon

5. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

In our day, and once again Nietzsche indicated the turning-point from a long way off, it is not so much the absence or the death of God that is affirmed as the end of man (that narrow, imperceptible displacement, that recession in the form of identity, which are the reason why man’s finitude has become his end); it becomes apparent, then, that the death of God and the last man are engaged in a contest with more than one round: is it not the last man who announces that he has killed God, thus situating his language, his thought, his laughter in the space of that already dead God, yet positing himself also as he who has killed God and whose existence includes the freedom and the decision of that murder? Thus, the last man is at the same time older and yet younger than the death of God; since he has killed God, it is he himself who must answer for his own finitude; but since it is in the death of God that he speaks, thinks, and exists, his murder itself is doomed to die; new gods, the same gods, are already swelling the future Ocean; man will disappear. Rather than the death of God — or, rather, in the wake of that death and in a profound correlation with it — what Nietzsche’s thought heralds is the end of his murderer; it is the explosion of man’s face in laughter, and the return of masks; it is the scattering of the pro-found stream of time by which he felt himself carried along and whose pressure he suspected in the very being of things; it is the identity of the Return of the Same with the absolute dispersion of man.
Michel Foucault

6. Marxism and Humanism

In 1845, Marx broke radically with every theory that based history and politics on an essence of man. This unique rupture contained three indissociable elements.
Louis Althusser

7. Prophylaxis and Virulence

The growing cerebrality of machines must logically be expected to occasion a technological purification of bodies. Inasmuch as bodies are less and less able to count on their own antibodies, they are more and more in need of protection from outside. An artificial sterilisation of all environments must compensate for faltering internal immunological defences. And if these are indeed faltering, it is because the irreversible process often referred to as progress tends to strip the human body and mind of their systems of initiative and defence, reassigning these functions to technical artifacts. Once dispossessed of their defences, human beings become eminently vulnerable to science and technology; dispossessed of their passions, they likewise become eminently vulnerable to psychology and its attendant therapies; similarly, too, once relieved of emotions and illnesses, they become eminently vulnerable to medicine.
Jean Baudrillard

8. Soft Fictions and Intimate Documents: Can Feminism Be Posthuman?

Paula Rabinowitz

9. Skinflick: Posthuman Gender in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs

The monster, as we know it, died in 1963 when Hannah Arendt published her ‘Report on the Banality of Evil’ entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem. Adolf Eichmann, as the representative of a system of unspeakable horror, stood trial for ‘Crimes Committed Against Humanity’. Arendt refused, in her report, to grant the power of horror to the ordinary looking man who stood trial. While the press commented on the monster who hides behind the banal appearance, Arendt turned the equation around and recognised the banality of a monstrosity that functions as a bureaucracy.
Judith Halberstam

10. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century

This essay1 is an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism. Perhaps more faithful as blasphemy is faithful, than as reverent worship and identification. Blasphemy has always seemed to require taking things very seriously. I know no better stance to adopt from within the secular-religious, evangelical traditions of United States politics, including the politics of socialist feminism. Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within, while still insisting on the need for community. Blasphemy is not apostasy. Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humour and serious play. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a political method, one I would like to see more honoured within socialist-feminism. At the centre of my ironic faith, my blasphemy, is the image of the cyborg.
Donna J. Haraway

11. Posthumanist (Com)Promises: Diffracting Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Through Marge Piercy’s Body of Glass

In the mid-1970s, a sign at the entrance to a castle near my hometown in the Welsh borderlands asked parents to caution their children about the dangers of jumping from the battlements. This was perfectly understandable. More unusual, perhaps, was the suggestion that the young be reminded that they were not bionic. I had just started school at the time and clearly remember the immense popularity of The Six Million Dollar Man (being the televisual adventures of an American test-pilot who had been reconstructed as a cyborg following a horrific accident). Many of ‘us’ — girls too, for The Bionic Woman followed soon after, providing a suitably ‘feminised’ counterpart to imitate — did not merely own the merchandise relating to the series. ‘Our’ devotion went deeper. ‘We’ wanted to be cyborgs, to leap, run, see, and hear with superhuman prowess. ‘We’ would run bionically around the school yard, singing the theme music, re-enacting favourite scenes from recent episodes.
Neil Badmington

12. Postcards from the Posthuman Solar System

The subject ‘is [the] body and [the] body is the potentiality of a certain world’, according to Maurice Merleau-Ponty (p. 106). At the intersection of cybernetics and phenomenology, the body already operates as an interface between mind and experience, but in contemporary SF and horror, the body is also narrated as a site of exploration and transfiguration, through which an interface with an electronically-based postmodern experience is inscribed. The body is no longer simply the repository of the soul; it has become a cyborg body, one element in an endless interface of bio-technologies. The SF text stages the superimposition of technology upon the human in all its effects: the computer alone has been figured as a prosthetic extension of the human, as an addictive substance, as a space to enter, as a technological intrusion into human genetic structures, and, finally, as a replacement for the human in a posthuman world. The obsessive restaging of the refiguration of the body posits a constant redefinition of the subject through the multiple superimposition of bio-technological apparatuses. In this epoch of human obsolescence, however, a remarkably consistent imaging/imagining of both body and subject ultimately emerges.
Scott Bukatman

13. Pagans, Perverts or Primitives? Experimental Justice in the Empire of Capital

In characterising Lyotard’s work as providing ‘a rationale for lying back and enjoying late capitalism’, Alex Callinicos speaks for a number of critical sociologists and Marxist cultural analysts.1 Horrified by the prospect of a paganism that leaves him nothing to believe in and everything yet to be done, Callinicos concludes that the benefit one draws as a reader of Lyotard is the indulgence of perversions; simply that one ‘may now sample the benefits of commodity fetishism without a twinge of guilt’.2 Paganism, it seems, is the old spectre of fin de siècle perversion and decadence. I want to argue that Lyotard’s rethinking of philosophy as a process of experimental or pagan judgement allows the question of justice to be kept alive in late capitalism. Just as paganism is not merely decadent perversion, it is not the return to primitive mysticism that Habermas claims.3 Lyotard’s insistence on the radical heterogeneity of language games provides a series of hints as to the stakes in the complete ‘overhaul’ of ‘the meaning of the word “politician”’ for which he calls in Just Gaming.4
Bill Readings

14. Can Thought Go On Without a Body?

You philosophers ask questions without answers, questions that have to remain unanswered to deserve being called philosophical. According to you answered questions are only technical matters. That’s what they were to begin with. They were mistaken for philosophical questions. You turn to other questions that seem completely impossible to answer: which by definition resist every attempt at conquest by the understanding. Or what amounts to the same thing: you declare if the first questions were answered, that’s because they were badly formulated. And you grant yourselves the privilege of continuing to regard as unresolved, that is as well formulated, questions that technical science believes it answered but in truth only inadequately dealt with. For you solutions are just illusions, failures to maintain the integrity due to being — or some such thing. Long live patience. You’ll hold out forever with your incredulity. But don’t be surprised if all the same, through your irresolution, you end up wearing out your reader.
Jean-François Lyotard
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