Issue 20.1-2 cover by © Karolina Żyniewicz, photo: A. Bogdan (2021)
What does it mean to be human? The faces of the human in the twenty-first century
What does it mean to be human? This question has made a meteoric career for itself, becoming a focal point of almost every thread of the transhumanist debate. Significant as it is, the question eludes any definitive answer, since it directly engenders an array of related queries. This Special Issue questions our notions of the human being, human subjectivity, superiority and uniqueness, which tend to be underpinned by simplistic and simplifying dichotomies entrenched in western philosophy, science and art. Eclipsed by the hierarchical vision of the world and dualistic metaphysics, the concept of the nonhuman (regardless of its biological form or ontological status) has always been dependent on its paring element (the human) losing its own significance and independent status. By articulating the problems we face in understanding and defining the human and the nonhuman, this Special Issue offers an insight into the current transhumanist discourse. Crossing the boundaries of disciplines and definitions, the contributors propose an assemblage of methodological and conceptual scaffoldings to build on in this project. They seek new ways and analytical strategies to advance the notions of ‘being one and many’ and ‘being-with’, and in doing so, they envision a new world where forging relations and co-existence with nonhuman agents lie at the core of human experience. The editorial gives some insight into the studies and concepts of this issue.
** The editorial is available to the public for free via Ingentaconnect.
Being otherwise: On the possibility of a non-dualistic approach in feminist phenomenology
This article reflects on the current philosophical tendency to construct non-dualistic subjectivity models in response to the criticism of the traditional authoritarian human subject. Following thinkers such as Emmanuel Lévinas, Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida, the literature has largely identified traditional metaphysics based on dualistic hierarchies as the major source of violence. Perceiving phenomenology as a method that focuses on the concepts of the lived experience and situatedness, I combine this approach with the feminist calls for dismantling the hierarchical relationship of subjectivity to the world. I draw on the concepts of Sonia Kruks, Linda Martin Alcoff, Sara Heinämaa, Judith Butler, Bonnie Mann and Johanna Oksala to inquire how dualism-overcoming phenomenology can be applied to feminist thought. I focus in particular on the approach that Oksala outlines in her book, Feminist Experiences: Foucauldian and Phenomenological Investigations, where she proposes a transcendental view on feminist experience. Intriguingly, she understands transcendental as situated ‐ historically, culturally and politically. Consequently, my final question concerns the possibility of combining the two usually conflicted approaches: transcendental and historical regarding the fundamental phenomenological distinction between the empirical and the transcendental.
In favour of a hedonist post-pandemic culture: Embodying new technologies and old rituals
Social distancing has entered our bodies and changed our behaviour. The fight against COVID-19 leaves people with a different feeling of what it means to be together in the flesh. In this article, I will tackle the tension between virtualization of communication, social distancing and the basic human need for bodily contact. Sigmund Freud used the term ‘oceanic feeling’ to express human yearning for becoming one with others and the sense of fluidity of the self. This concept goes beyond basic intercorporeality. It represents experiences in meditation and cultural practices of immersion. Both the maximum intensity of intercorporeal behaviour and the dissolution of the bodily boundaries belong to this experience. The literature in the pandemic covers mainly new rituals and bodily practices of distance but there is not much reflection on what has gone missing and its relation to current and future cultural practices. In this article, I will discuss hedonist embodied rituals like dance, eating and celebrating in public as vital parts of human cultures. Being abolished as contagious sites of infection, their return to the social sphere is, now more than ever, viewed as problematic and potentially subversive in the face of an atmosphere of anxiety. My aim is to argue against cultural tendencies of social control and the emphasis of disembodied virtual forms of togetherness in favour of a posthuman hedonist culture incorporating new technologies and old rituals.
On the edges of consciousnesses: Messaging between species
Consciousness is often defined as an experience of the world, but its definitions vary and stir up controversy. It is described through the vocabulary of philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and spirituality, to name but a few fields. Other-than-human consciousness has long been considered non-existent, a notion that has only recently changed as other-than-humans have been found to possess consciousness and a capacity for intentional behaviour (Low 2012: 2). This article presents perspectives on interspecies communication to propose that various species have consciousness and that communication between human and other-than-human consciousnesses is possible. My research aims to investigate the concept of consciousness and intuitive interspecies communication by experimenting methods within artistic practice that can foster a more profound understanding of human and other-than-human relations. I use art projects as artistic case studies to substantiate my hypothesis of consciousness being an essential connection for intuitive interspecies communication.
In this article, I argue for an essentialist account of cyborgs. This means that one condition for being a cyborg is to possess phenomenal consciousness, ‘what it feels like’ to undergo an experience. In this context, I make two related claims: (1) the metaphysical claim that it is essential to cyborgs to have phenomenal consciousness due to their being augmented human beings, and (2) the related claim that this metaphysical constraint need not apply to cyborg-like entities, which may or may not be augmented humans and so might not possess phenomenal consciousness. In support of these claims, I argue that cyborgs without phenomenal consciousness would lose information-processing abilities essential to the human condition and would be better understood as androids with biological body parts. First, I briefly characterize phenomenal consciousness in the context of the Mind‐Body Problem. Then I introduce the Mind‐Technology Problem and claim that it is better suited to frame the relevant discussion. In a second step, I argue that phenomenal consciousness is a vital feature of the human mind as it is fundamental for practices that relate what it feels to have an experience to other minds capable of such experiences, as in the arts. Briefly, thus, I argue that, without phenomenal consciousness, there is no art, and that art involves information-processing abilities essential to the human condition. Then I describe two different kinds of entity that might be considered cyborgs in the context of enhancement, distinguishing between cyborgs and cyborg-like entities. Finally, I argue that entities that do not possess phenomenal consciousness cannot be classified as cyborgs, since without it, an essential capacity of human experience, to be affected by the expressive arts, is absent.
Lévinas’s débâcle: Looking for the face(s) of the human in the twenty-first century
We are living in an age when ‘everything is coming apart at the seams’, as the poet and painter Erna Rosenstein put it. Given this, I analyse the concept of the débâcle formulated and used by the French phenomenologist François-David Sebbah to explore the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas. The débâcle connotes catastrophe, fracture, failure, collapse and disintegration, but its semantic range also encompasses the breaking up of ice, escape and ruin. As Sebbah dissects this concept in the context of the philosophy of Lévinas, it comes to tie in with ‘the anonymous rustling of the there is (il y a)’, the abyss of being. Besides discussing the débâcle in the context of Lévinas’s philosophy, I will explore how this concept is relevant to the description of the present, in particular to artistic practices interpretable as revealing the unsteady rhythm of phenomena from which a fragile and unstable structure of meaning emerges. I will also ponder whether thus-conceived the débâcle is perhaps a paradigmatic figure of the present day.
The human being as an engineering problem: Post-biological evolution, transhumanism and philosophical anthropology
DAVID O BRIEN
The issue of human nature is a perennial question ‐ as obstinate as it is old. Human reflection on the human condition is a defining feature of the experience of being human. In our time, the idea of post-biological evolution, the design paradigm of NBIC-convergence and transhumanism ‐ as a philosophy and a cultural movement ‐ all confront and confound our traditional notions of human nature. Unlike previous challenges to established images of the human being, this re-assessment of human nature has a practical aspect ‐ for technology now seems poised to finally achieve the age-old aspiration of human control over human nature. At its core, the idea of post-biological evolution assumes the human condition as the object of engineering. The problem of the human being thus becomes an engineering problem, approached from an engineering perspective, which ‐ in an essential way ‐ is design orientated. Hence, the idea of the human being that underlies the apprehension of ourselves as such an object of engineering, is of vital significance. As such, this paper argues for the relevance of philosophical anthropology within the post-biological discourse.
The idea of ‘arts of vulnerability’ (AoV) reclaims the fact of being inherently open (never sealed) and becomes a tool to navigate such a lack of closure. It is art because it comes from art practice, and it is of vulnerability because it comes from materials that are vulnerable and defy control. The idea is rooted in bioart practice understood as artistic research and read through feminist and queer studies about embodiment and ecology. This article traces how the artwork series Wombs contributed to the development of the idea. AoV is a way of understanding art practice, yet it becomes an ethical and intellectual tool that pays attention (and tribute) to more-than-human ethics and aesthetics. It may thus contribute to a critical discussion of today’s surging ecological complexity.
‘Welcome to the Neganthropocene’:1 Artistic practices of healing the Anthropocene in Matterlurgy’s Air Morphologies
This article explores the implications of Bernard Stiegler’s concept of the Neganthropocene, coined to reconfigure the entropic and apocalyptic conditions of the Anthropocene, for the artistic project Air Morphologies. Created by a London-based duo, Matterlurgy, the interactive Virtual Reality research project investigates the materiality and composition of air pollution particles, their causes, effects and morphological agency. Matterlurgy’s project, which locates viewers in the Virtual Reality environment and engages them in participatory activities, becomes a techno-ethical practice of nurturing ways to think and care for the more-than-human world essentially transformed and dominated by the anthropogenic factors. The artistic practice indicates that we need to think collectively, not about but with nature, technology, history, objects and theories. As the article shows, with such strategies, we will be able to acknowledge more-than-human interconnections, human-nature-technics connections and rework the conventional patterns of knowledge production to heal the adverse outcomes of the Anthropocene.
On gods, pixies and humans: Biohacking and the genetic imaginary
The focal point of my article is the work of biohackers: mainly Josiah Zayner, whose activism as a biohacker, as an artist and a public figure offers an interesting lens through which one can explore the contemporary genetic imaginary and our changing and varied approach to genetic engineering. The framework for this description is set by an analysis of cultural representations of contemporary science and technology, both in documentaries and in works of fiction. In the article, I trace and analyse the ways in which biohackers’ activity is involved with the earlier ideas of cyberculture, most notably with the notion of biological life as information (possible to edit or ‘hack’) and to the image of a ‘hacker’. I recall the popular phrase of ‘playing god’, often quoted in relation to genetic imaginary, mainly as a warning against excessive interventions within nature. The phrase and the warning itself seem to have become insofar more important, as the scale of possible interventions had been raised by the advancement of genetic engineering. Finally, I discuss the relation of art and science in Zayner’s activity, within a broader context of relevant images of artists and scientists and their role within the changing realities of contemporary life. The article does not pretend to fully analyse or even describe the modalities and implication of biohackers’ activity. Its main goal is to shed more light on the current changes in collective imagination related to the rapid development of biotechnology and its cultural understanding. The public presence of biohackers, and especially Zayner’s activity, provides new visions of human agency in nature and of relation between art, science and social practice.
Contamination as collaboration: Being-with in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic
The global pandemic outbreak in 2020 was a disturbing experience for most people worldwide. The primary way of protecting human life was social distancing and lockdown, often forcing people to stay at home. The confinement made the fear and uncertainty grow bigger and bigger. Fortunately, the online connection was still as possible and essential as never before. The text is inspired by a series of remote meetings under the working title Viral Culture: Bio Art and Society, initiated by academic curator Claire Nettleton to put together people working in art&science area. Recordings of the Zoom gatherings complemented by notes and chat transcriptions served as intriguing storage of topics and ideas. This article focuses on the three threads: being-with (other humans, the virus and other non-human actors), caring without touch and the pandemic interpreted as a vast bio art project. All the archived materials, including the present article, will potentially function as historical documents in the future, showing how a specific group of transdisciplinary culture producers dealt with the global crisis in its first phase.
||| Founding Editor: Roy Ascott Issue 20.1-2 Guest Editor: Monika Michałowska Editorial Organism: Tom Ascott, John Bardakos, Dalila Honorato, Hu Yong, Claudia Jacques, Claudia Westermann Production Manager: Faith Newcombe
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