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The Practice of Posthumanism: Five Paradigmatic Figures for Human Mutation

Rourke, Daniel. 2019. The Practice of Posthumanism: Five Paradigmatic Figures for Human Mutation. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Post-humanism is best understood as several overlapping and interrelated fields coming out of the traditions of anti-humanism, post-colonialism, and feminist discourse. But the term remains contested, both by those who wish to overturn, or even destroy, the ‘humanism’ after that decisive hyphen (post-humanists), and those engaged in the project of maximising their chance of merging with technologies, and reaching a supposed point of transition, when the current ‘human’ has been augmented, upgraded, and surpassed (transhumanists). For both those who wish to move beyond ‘humanism’, and those who wish to transcend ‘the human’, there remains a significant, shared, problem: the supposed originary separations, between information and matter, culture and nature, mankind and machine, singular and plural, that post-humanism seeks to problematise, and transhumanism often problematically ignores, lead to the delineation of ‘the human’ as a single, universalised figure. This universalism erases the pattern of difference, which post-humanists see as both the solution to, and the problem of, the human paradigm. This thesis recognises this problem as an ongoing one, and one which – for those who seek to establish posthumanism as a critical field of enquiry – can never be claimed to be finally overcome, lest the same problem of universalism rear its head again.

To tackle this problem, this thesis also enters into the complex liminal space where the terms ‘human’ and ‘humanism’ confuse and interrupt one another, but rather than delineate the same boundaries (as transhumanists have done), or lay claim over certain territories of the discourse (as post-humanists have done), this thesis implicates itself, myself, and yourself in the relational becoming posthuman of which we, and it, are co-constituted. My claim being, that critical posthumanism must be the action it infers onto the world of which it is not only part, but in mutual co-constitution with.

The Practice of Posthumanism claims that critical posthumanism must be enacted in practice, and stages itself as an example of that process, through a hybrid theoretical and practice-based becoming. It argues that posthumanism is necessarily a vibrant, lively process being undergone, and as such, that it cannot be narrativized or referred to discursively without collapsing that process back into a static, universalised delineation once again. It must remain in practice, and as such, this thesis enacts the process of which it itself is a principle paradigm.

After establishing the critical field termed ‘posthumanism’ through analyses of associated discourses such as humanism and transhumanism, each of the four written chapters and hybrid conclusion/portfolio of work is enacted through a ‘figure’ which speaks to certain monstrous dilemmas posed by thinkers of the posthuman. These five figures are: The Phantom Zone, Crusoe’s Island, The Thing, The Collapse of The Hoard, and The 3D Printer (#Additivism). Each figure – echoing Donna Haraway – ‘resets the stage for possible pasts and futures’ by calling into question the fictional/theoretical ground upon which it is predicated. Considered together, the dissertation and conclusion/portfolio of work, position critical posthumanism as a hybrid ‘other’, my claim being that only through representing the human as and through an ongoing process (ontogenesis rather than ontology) can posthumanism re-conceptualise the ‘norms’ deeply embedded within the fields it confronts.

The practice of critical posthumanism this thesis undertakes is inherently a political project, displacing and disrupting the power dynamics which are co-opted in the hierarchical structuring of individuals within ‘society’, of categories within ‘nature’, of differences which are universalised in the name of the ‘human’, as well as the ways in which theory delineates itself into rigid fields of study. By confounding articulations of the human in fiction, theory, science, media, and art, this practice in practice enacts its own ongoing, ontogenetic becoming; the continual changing of itself, necessary to avoid a collapse into new absolutes and universals.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00026601

Keywords:

Posthumanism, post-humanism, practice, art, additivism, humanism, transhumanism, practice-based, figures, figuration, feminism, Anthropocene, The Phantom Zone, Robinson Crusoe, The Thing, Hoarding, 3D Printer, 3D printing, manifesto

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Art

Date:

30 June 2019

Item ID:

26601

Date Deposited:

11 Jul 2019 11:45

Last Modified:

11 Jul 2019 13:16

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/26601

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