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What Is Posthumanism?

2009
Author:

Cary Wolfe

What Is Posthumanism?

Beyond humanism and anthropocentrism

Can a new kind of humanities—posthumanities—respond to the redefinition of humanity's place in the world by both the technological and the biological or "green" continuum in which the "human" is but one life form among many? Exploring this radical repositioning, Cary Wolfe ranges across bioethics, cognitive science, animal ethics, gender, and disability to develop a theoretical and philosophical approach responsive to our changing understanding of ourselves and our world.

What Is Posthumanism? is an original, thoroughly argued, fundamental redefinition and refocusing of posthumanism. Firmly distinguishing posthumanism from discourses of the ‘posthuman’ or ‘transhumanism,’ this book will be at the center of discussion for a long time to come.

Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet

What does it mean to think beyond humanism? Is it possible to craft a mode of philosophy, ethics, and interpretation that rejects the classic humanist divisions of self and other, mind and body, society and nature, human and animal, organic and technological? Can a new kind of humanities—posthumanities—respond to the redefinition of humanity’s place in the world by both the technological and the biological or “green” continuum in which the “human” is but one life form among many?

Exploring how both critical thought along with cultural practice have reacted to this radical repositioning, Cary Wolfe—one of the founding figures in the field of animal studies and posthumanist theory—ranges across bioethics, cognitive science, animal ethics, gender, and disability to develop a theoretical and philosophical approach responsive to our changing understanding of ourselves and our world. Then, in performing posthumanist readings of such diverse works as Temple Grandin’s writings, Wallace Stevens’s poetry, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, the architecture of Diller+Scofidio, and David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, he shows how this philosophical sensibility can transform art and culture.

For Wolfe, a vibrant, rigorous posthumanism is vital for addressing questions of ethics and justice, language and trans-species communication, social systems and their inclusions and exclusions, and the intellectual aspirations of interdisciplinarity. In What Is Posthumanism? he carefully distinguishes posthumanism from transhumanism (the biotechnological enhancement of human beings) and narrow definitions of the posthuman as the hoped-for transcendence of materiality. In doing so, Wolfe reveals that it is humanism, not the human in all its embodied and prosthetic complexity, that is left behind in posthumanist thought.

What Is Posthumanism?

Cary Wolfe holds the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Chair in English at Rice University. His previous books include Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside,” Observing Complexity: Systems Theory and Postmodernity, and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal, all published by the University of Minnesota Press.

What Is Posthumanism?

What Is Posthumanism? is an original, thoroughly argued, fundamental redefinition and refocusing of posthumanism. Firmly distinguishing posthumanism from discourses of the ‘posthuman’ or ‘transhumanism,’ this book will be at the center of discussion for a long time to come.

Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet

Wolfe offers a smart, provocative account of ‘posthumanism’ as an idea and as a way of thinking that has consequences extending from the way universities are organized to decisions regarding public policy bioethics. Although his writing is complex and demanding, the ethical and ecological urgency with which he frames his readings combines with the wide, diversified scope of his scholarship to make this a work to be reckoned with.

Choice

Wolfe’s book, without a doubt, supplies important insights.

Future Anterior

Wolfe has created an incredibly useful primer on posthumanist theory. For anyone attempting to engage in academic work relating to these theories, this book is a highly recommended starting point.

Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley

It is one of those books that sucks you in almost immediately.

ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

Readers . . . will find Wolfe’s analysis of both visual and audio culture to be thought-provoking.

Science Fiction Film and Television

It is a profound, thoroughly researched study with far-reaching consequences for public policy, bioethics, education, and the arts.

Science, Culture, Integrated Yoga

What Is Posthumanism? is an intelligent, extensively argued and challenging work.

Ethical Perspectives

Wolfe’s work shifts the tired terms of the debate in new and needed directions, offering strength and strategies to all those for whom simplistic, technophilic accounts of ‘the posthuman condition’ are a smooth road to nowhere different.

Electronic Book Review

Tremendous intellectual, scholarly, and artistic breadth.

The Goose

As a blueprint for where a posthumanist approach could take cultural theory, his book is conceptually invaluable.

Media Tropes

Wolfe’s posthumanism is brilliant in the way it allows us to realize that each of these species might have different forms of perception, different ways of being in the world, and that those differences are actually analogous with otherness among human beings.

SubStance

Wolfe deserves credit for a rich set of discussions that, taken together, bring out the interest of the intellectual trend that he calls posthumanism.

Hypatia

What Is Posthumanism?

UMP blog: Discovering the HUMAN

3/24/2010
Part of the unfortunate fallout of the conceptual apparatus of humanism is that it gives us an overly simple picture—a fantasy, really—of what the human is. Consider, for example, the rise of what is often called “transhumanism,” often taken to be a defining discourse of posthumanism (as in Ray Kurzweil’s work on “the singularity”—the historical moment at which engineering developments such as nanotechnology enable us to transcend our physical and biological limitations as embodied beings, ushering in a new phase of evolution). As many of its proponents freely admit, the philosophical ideals of transhumanism are quite identifiably humanist—not only in their dream of transcending the life of the body and our “animal” origins but also in their investment in the ideals of human perfectibility, rationality, autonomy, and agency.
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