Re: "Post-humanism": The right term?

Brian Manning Delaney (
Sun, 08 Aug 1999 13:52:55 -0700 wrote:
> . . . .a very good little essay. Hope it gets
> noticed, with so many folks being here at
> EXTRO4 . . .

Thanks. Actually, it would have been fun to raise these issues at the conference. Perhaps next year, if I can find a couple of free days by then....

Hope the conference is going/has gone well!

Damien Broderick <> wrote:

> Brian Manning Delaney wrote:

>> I recently had another "What's the Hell's up
>> with this 'post-humanism' business?!" discussion
>> with some friends of mine who are academics in
>> the humanities. Many of them are technophobes,
>> or simply unimaginative when it comes to the
>> possibilities of human transformation. But their
>> objections to the term "post-humanism" I share.

> The usual term, from Foucault and his mates, is
> `antihumanism'/`antihumanist'.

Foucault's (and the others') term, unlike "post-humanism," is familiar to academics in the humanities. As the term is used where I've been, it seems, however, to denote something else entirely than what post-humanism denotes: an anti-subject-oriented philosophy; ultimately, an anti-Kantianism (and -Hegelianism). Thus, in part for the reasons you cite below, Foucault is, first and foremost, anti-human, in the sense of anti-subject, not anti-humanISM, in the sense of opposed to Erasmus, Petrarch, etc. (though he is also somewhat anti-humanism -- misguidedly so, I'd say).

>> (It's still not clear to me if the "post-"
>> governs "human," with the "-ism" tacked on to
>> make the substantive, or whether it governs "humanism."

> The latter, with suspicions among its critics of
> a lurking distaste for humans.

(See near end for comment on this.)

>> The operative notion of humanism in post-humanism
>> seems to me possibly historically blind; and the
>> notion of the human itself seems to me
>> impoverished and biologically essentialist.

> The case of the antihumanists is exactly that
> humanism as historically constructed is an
> essentialism that toadies to power. [...]

As humanism is constructed today, in many respects, yes, the anti-humanist position seems right. But it's not what humanism originally was. Originally, it was anti-essentialist, where the essentialism was not of the human, but of the divine (God -- actually, in many cases, the Catholic Church). The message was: we humans are capable of managing our own affairs, we are up to the challenge of sovereignty, _complete_ sovereignty. It was oriented towards the future (though inspired by the classics): We can transform ourselves completely.

So, then, post-humanism amounts to pre-contemporary-humanism, that is to say, it amounts to humanism.

Thus the question about the appropriateness of the term is simply one of emphasis. Does "humanism" sound wrong to the modern ear? Does it mean too many different things today? If so, "post-" is not the prefix to tack on, but, as I suggested, something like "ultra-" or "neo-" might do the job. If one word could be made out of it, "fearless humanism" would be nice.

"Technotranscendence" <> wrote:
> I tend to think I'd rather have a term that is
> accurate and shocks some people than a watered
> down term that is clunking and hard to pronounce
> -- merely to try to get some crypto-luddite
> professors signed on.

To be sure! But among the academics who have objections to the term, only some are Luddites.

And I remain of the belief that "post-humanism" is not accurate, not in the slightest. Its shock value is a difficult question. Given how many "post-" terms exist today (in academia as much as anywhere else), "post-humanism" is not very shocking. A different term, then, might be both more accurate and better able to shock.

> Funny you should bring this up. A few years ago
> in _KaspahRaster_ (,
> there was a debate along the same lines after my
> "What is posthumanism?" was published there.

I dug around for it, but couldn't find it. Is the essay on the Web somewhere else? I'd love to read it.

> The debate came down to John J. Funk stating
> that "posthumanism" is "posthuman--ism" NOT "post--humanism."
> Note the difference in stress.

Yes -- so the opposite of (part of) what Damien Broderick says on the parsing of the term. Hm....

Thanks to everyone for the thoughts.

(I'm currently on the digest version -- necessary because I'm travelling a lot now -- so pardon the delay in responding.)

Brian Manning Delaney
I still have to live, for I still have to think.
Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. -Nietzsche.
Help me .. tear down my reason. -Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails.