THE FUTURE OF THE HUMANITIES? I HOPE NOT: READING ROSI BRAIDOTTI’S THE POSTHUMAN (2013)

Readers: you’re in for a rough ride today, as I’ll be dealing with an essay on philosophy by Rosi Braidotti. No, I don’t usually read philosophy but I simply had to read her volume The Posthuman, given my own interest in how posthumanism functions in science fiction (see “Posthumanismo y diplomacia: La serie de John Scalzi La vieja guardia” (2015), https://www.revistahelice.com/revista/Helice_5_vol_II.pdf). Braidotti’s posthuman is not, nonetheless, my posthuman, so I’ll start by clarifying the differences.

In her words: “I see three major strands in contemporary posthuman thought: the first comes from moral philosophy and develops a reactive form of the posthuman; the second, from science and technology studies, enforces an analytic form of the posthuman; and the third, from my own tradition of anti-humanist philosophies of subjectivity, proposes a critical post-humanism” (38). Translated into plain English this means that, very confusingly, posthuman refers both to the current state of Humanism and of the human species. Braidotti is mainly interested in how to overcome traditional Humanism (currents 1 and 3), whereas I’m more interested in how and when science and technology will bring the human species into a post-human state (current 2). She never mentions science-fiction (a glaring oversight if you ask me) and holds the strange opinion that the data-mining that Facebook is carrying out is “banal” (61) in comparison to the “data banks of bio-genetic, neural and mediatic information about individuals” which “are the true capital today” (61). Yet, our interests intersect as regards the fate of Humanities. So here we go…

Yes, you read well: she calls herself a critical post-humanist (I’m not sure when and where the hyphen should be used), rooted in an anti-humanist tradition. I got truly dizzy trying to navigate all the different concepts in which the prefix post- appears in Braidotti’s volume but I think I have got it: sounding a bit hippy, Braidotti is calling for a post-anthropocentric future in which we, humans, very humbly see ourselves not as ‘Man the measure of all things’ (= traditional Humanism) but as one among a myriad animal many species linked by what she calls Zoe (=Life). Readers of SF are 100% familiar with this concept… I have already discussed here the beautiful Memoirs of a Space Woman (1962) by Scots writer Naomi Mitchison, a masterpiece. You may also have come across this idea in the writings by Donna Haraway. She wanted initially everyone to become a cyborg in a constructive anti-patriarchal way but has now ended up praising the same Zoe-dominated view of interspecies relations. Can both views be combined? Um, no… the more cyborgian humans become, the less natural, therefore fewer chances for Zoe to dominate techno-science. As for animals, one thing is respecting their rights and another believing in a natural harmony which often sounds frankly patronizing and forgets how recent our, em, post-predator days are.

Back to the Humanities and to Braidotti’s posthumanism (dizzy yet?). Posthumanism, she explains “is the historical moment that marks the end of the opposition between Humanism and anti-humanism and traces a different discursive framework, looking more affirmatively towards new alternatives” (37). Nothing to do, then, with choosing to apply to your body “the four horsemen of the posthuman apocalypse: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science” (59), which is exactly what keeps us on our toes in Science Fiction Studies (we’re trying to see how this will destroy or enhance the human in us). Waxing hippy again, Braidotti enthuses that “Posthuman subjectivity expresses an embodied and embedded and hence partial form of accountability, based on a strong sense of collectivity, relationality and hence community building” (49). In contrast, old-fashioned Humanism is selfish, based on total individualism and subjectivity, and placed above all types of accountability. Also male/white/class-privileged in the worst possible sense.

Thinking of Braidotti’s impeccable feminist credentials and her insistence that her anti-humanism springs from her realization that for traditional Humanism women are not full human beings–for Man/man is the measure of everything–I must protest sternly against her not mentioning the obvious: Humanism has been so far the liberal intellectual branch of patriarchy. In this sense, we women and any anti-patriarchal man are right to call for a new post-humanism (with a hyphen) to replace traditional Humanism. However, I hate the labels chosen: I am a woman, I am a human being, therefore I can never be anti-humanist. I am willing to participate in the rebuilding of Humanism from a feminist position, as I think I have been doing for two decades and a half, but I refuse to call it posthumanism and myself posthumanist. If you want a label, then I’ll call myself neo-Humanist. There. We really need to get urgently rid of this post- nomenclature (or nonsense): post-structuralist, post-modern, post-patriarchal, post-gender, post-feminist, post-human, post-humanist, post-anthropocentric… it is simply ridiculous. Our inability to find labels is truly pathetic… Even neo-Humanist sounds silly, I know… (but, well, ‘neo’ at least reminds me of Keanu Reeves in Matrix, what can I do?).

Second point: the Humanities (fancy a whole area of research re-named Post-Humanities…). Braidotti narrates the frontal attack carried out against us by the scientists in the 1990s; they, basically, accused us of having no universally valid research method. Braidotti protests against this, for, obviously, we need to take into account the “multi-lingual structure of research and thinking in the Humanities” and how “research practice differs considerably in terms of not only geo-graphical but also temporal locations across Europe and beyond”. She asks, then, “Is it then fair to ask this rich and internally differentiated field to conform to a different research paradigm?” (157). The obvious answer is no: we are not and we’ll never be scientists in the sense of producing research following just one model (though the pressure of Anglo-American academia on us is almost succeeding in making us abandon any attempt to keep local traditions afloat). Braidotti worries, naturally, that “Considered more of a personal hobby than a professional research field, I believe that the Humanities are in serious danger of disappearing from the twenty-first-century European university curriculum” (10). And in other places–remember the Japanese Government’s attempt to do away with local Humanists? That would have made Japan the first truly posthuman/post-Humanist nation on Earth…

Now you’ll see why I am so annoyed with Braidotti, as it must be obvious by now. Here’s her solution to save our chosen field of research: “In a new outpour of intellectual creativity, posthuman Humanities in the global multiversity will include: Humanistic Informatics, or Digital Humanities; Cognitive or Neural humanities; Environmental or Sustainable Humanities; Bio-genetic and Global Humanities” (184). I am simply furious. To begin with, what kind of concept is ‘posthuman Humanities’?? No wonder the scientists despise us. Imagine them doing ‘postscience Sciences’.

If Braidotti means that we need to bring the Humanities closer to science and technology, I cannot agree more: this is why I am shouting to the four winds that we need to read SF. Now, closer does NOT mean subordinated. And I plainly refuse to abandon my post-Romantic (damn!) subjectivity. I don’t want, thank you very much, cognitive science telling me that when I read Pride and Prejudice Austen’s words activate my amygdala, if this is what they do. Yes, I want to wallow in my ignorance of that kind of applied science. This is no obstacle at all for telling everyone who can hear that if you’re not aware of the current state of research in robotics, then you have no idea about the kind of world you live in. Up to you.

Also, Prof. Braidotti, I’m willing to teach any of this crazy combined subjects only if my scientific peers reciprocate. I am currently writing an essay on SF in the Spanish university and I can tell you that this genre is widely used by scientists to illustrate their teachings–but just as that, as an illustration and usually with the purpose of criticising its mistakes. I’ll be very, very happy to teach Literature and Cultural Studies in a science school, which is not the same as abandoning the Humanities to make room for science. And, yes, by all means, let’s have the scientists come and visit. They might understand better that if what we do is a personal hobby then what they do is only became an institutional pursuit in the late 19th century–previously it used to be in the hands of idle gentlemen with odd hobbies. And, well literary and cultural criticism kills no one, at least directly, whereas not all science is about finding a cure for cancer. I dare any scientist working on building genetically modified foodstuff and weapons of mass destruction to tell me that the Humanities are useless. Wouldn’t it be convenient for them that we disappeared taking all our nagging cultural critique with us?…

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll suggest that we start a contest to find new labels for our time. Urgently. I have this feeling that if you start doubting what to call the Humanities, this is when we become not posthuman but posthumous…

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