So About This PostHumanism Thing Again, Research Time, 27/11/2014

When I first got word that my Ecophilosophy manuscript would be considered for a slot in a book series broadly about posthumanism, I started looking into works that explicitly engaged with the concept. This is where my series of posts about Rosi Braidotti’s work this April and May came from. 

When I first discovered The Venture Bros.,
I thought it was a sign that we as a culture
had finally gotten over our techno-futurist
dreams. I guess not.
As I said a couple of days ago, my thoughts about transhumanism are noteworthy mostly because I so rarely think about transhumanism. I always found the philosophy played better as science-fiction concepts, and most of the straight philosophy of transhumanism ends up stuck in techno-futurist dreams that I thought we had gotten over. The techno-futurist dreams of the 19th and 20th centuries all blew up in our faces when the totalitarian regimes of Europe and Asia nearly destroyed humanity’s moral sense, and this was followed by the global ecological crisis hitting us with pollution phenomena so enormous and strange that you have to be crazy just to understand them. 

The Pacific Trash Vortex is a thing that is real, and we made it. That’s just my personal favourite example of this terrifyingly surreal ecological crazy of our civilization. So the idea at the heart of transhumanism that a whole-hearted embrace of technology will save us from ourselves is kind of laughable to me.

Posthumanism is an amorphous collection of philosophical perspectives that basically acts as a variety of rejoinders to this freakish optimism of the transhumanist vision. And at the moment, I’m looking into an essay collection by Cary Wolfe called What Is Posthumanism?, a title and a jacket description that made me think it would be quite useful for the new introduction to the Ecophilosophy project that sets it in the posthumanist context.

Wolfe’s book doesn’t quite do that; I think Braidotti’s work is best suited to forming a ground to a new introduction. Wolfe is a little too much of a Derrida fan for that. I first came across his work in the initial research when I was composing the manuscript in 2011, in my doctoral program at McMaster. He wrote a very illuminating essay, called “Meaning as Event-Machine” that closed the multi-author collection Emergence and Embodiment, which was about philosophical explications and implications of systems theory.

Wolfe’s “Event-Machine” essay helped me see the core problem with mainstream systems theory, that it isolates perceiving bodies from each other and the world semantically, even while they do perceive the world’s affects. If meaning is idiosyncratic to the perceiver, then communication is impossible. So the fact of communication is either an illusion or a paradox, which Wolfe illuminates with a parallel to Jacques Derrida’s ideas.*

* Yes, you can illuminate an idea with a reference to Derrida. Now put away your snark and be nice or go back to work for philosophical Buzzfeed.

Basically, we affect each other, but all we manage to do is hopefully harmonize our mutual irritations. It really helped me understand perception and language as a field of affects. Yes, we basically just create fields that disrupt each other, but those fields can interact harmoniously, and the patterns in those affects actually constitute meaning, like the patterns of fluctuations in radio waves making the content of our transmissions. Semantics emerges from syntax. It’s only a mysterious paradox if you don’t think that’s possible. To you people I say, go learn how radio works.

But I’m not really a fan of Derrida precisely because he sticks with the pessimistic view. Because all we do is affect and irritate each other, he mourns the loss of the more profound communion that we all thought communication really was. So I was a bit disappointed to see what a devotee Wolfe is of Derrida’s fundamental frameworks. 

Even so, he does much more interesting things with Derrida than I expected to see. To be continued . . . 

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