Posthuman Studies and Posthuman Entities
The posthuman: exploring the present future of humans
The stance that ‘human nature’ is not simply natural, but dynamic and historical, was central to the antihumanism that emerged within the humanities and social sciences during the 1960s (Lippert-Rasmussen, Rosendahl Thomsen & Wamberg 2012: 7). The notion of a posthuman entity also invokes more recent strands of philosophical posthumanism, that seek to critically reflect on and subvert anthropocentric modernist ‘truths’ that assumed universally applicable ethics and unity in terms of what it means to be human (Bolter, 2016: 2). The idea that humans are unique creatures – human exceptionalism – and the idea that humans have the right to control the natural world – human instrumentalism – are both discarded (Nayar 2014: 19), and posthumanist theory posits that there is no single essence of human life. Another agenda is to map out the biological, mechanical and communicational processes that can remove the human being from its privileged position in relation to meaning, information and cognition established by anthropocentricity (Wolfe 2009: xii). Critical posthumanism thus challenges the traditional boundaries that are taken to separate the human, the animal and the technological (Bolter 2016: 1,7).
Whereas critical posthumanism’s deconstruction of Enlightenment humanism’s claim of universality and unity could be seen as a mainly conceptual endeavor, it aligns with a wider field of posthuman studies that operate by mixing both theory and practice. This undertaking is often aimed at raising questions of whether novel technologies and inventions might change the human species to a degree that it becomes differentiated from the human presently living (Lippert-Rasmussen, Rosendahl Thomsen & Wamberg 2012: 7). In such contexts, the figure of the posthuman generates scenarios that allow speculations on what core that can be seen as human and what is ethically feasible (Lippert-Rasmussen, Rosendahl Thomsen & Wamberg 2012: 9). Through addressing biological and technological reconceptualizations of life, this work complicates any sharp division between humans, animals, and machines and rejects human exceptionalism (Oppermann 2016: 25). The notion of the posthuman thus implies that human and nonhuman actors are networked with each other, and that the human cannot be defined in a separate ontological zone, but emerges as a hybrid being. Hence, the notion of a posthuman condition does not entail the end of humanity, but instead the end of a certain conception of the human being (Hayles 1999: 286).
The posthuman body
Enlightenment humanism was based on Cartesian dualism and its division between the immaterial mind and the material body. The argument behind this was that the essence of the human was based in the rational mind or soul, which was taken to exist distinct from the human body (Nayar 2014: 16). Posthumanism and the concept of the posthuman rejects this idea by reiterating that humans are first and foremost embodied entities (Bolter 2016: 1). This view is rooted in, inter alia, the observation that the human body is the result of more than thousand years of evolutionary history, which logically must affect human behavior at every level of thought and action (Hayles 1999: 284). Yet our seemingly fixed and stable bodies are not constant or predetermined. Instead, a body is continuously formed by its molecular connections and the environment in which it is embedded (Parikka 2010: xxiv). Bodily knowledge influences an individual’s cognition – the mind and the material body are tightly coupled.
Hence, existing literature on the posthuman condition remarks on how, at present, embodied awareness can be extended in local and material ways through novel technologies and their associated practices (Hayles 1999: 291). Technological and anthropogenic artifacts in turn alter existing notions of what constitutes the human and (human) reality. This raises the question of how subjectivity is inflected by technological mediations (Verbeek 2007). Although the posthuman might sound like an entity from a future scenario, discourses on the posthuman argue that human beings have thus already become or have always been posthuman.
Thus, humanity reflexively comes to be through specific historical technologies as human beings would not have been the same without going through a specific contingent technological realization (Verbeek 2008: 388). In contemporary Western societies, this entwinement is materially instantiated in for instance that we are “(...) inoculated at birth, continue throughout our lives to take highly engineered pills, wear clothes, sport spectacles, and chew our cooked, industrialized food with augmented and reinforced teeth” (Pettman 2011: 6-7). Hence, we see that, here as well as elsewhere, human life is always-already technological, which makes it impossible to speak of a ‘natural’ human being, if this means a human devoid of a reflexive technological molding.