post-Anthropocentrism

Finding an adequate language for post-anthropocentrism means that the resources of the imagination, as well as the tools of critical intelligence, need to be enlisted for this task. The collapse of the nature–culture divide requires that we need to devise a new vocabulary, with new figurations to refer to the elements of our posthuman embodied and embedded subjectivity. The limitations of the social constructivist method show up here and need to be compensated by more conceptual creativity. Most of us who were trained in social theory, however, have experienced at least some degree of discomfort at the thought that some elements of our subjectivity may not be totally socially constructed. Part of the legacy of the Marxist Left consists, in fact, in a deeply rooted suspicion towards the natural order and green politics.

As if this mistrust of the natural were not enough, we also need to reconceptualize the relation to the technological artefact as something as intimate as close as nature used to be. The technological apparatus is our new ‘milieu’ and this intimacy is far more complex and generative than the prosthetic, mechanical extension that modernity had made of it. Throughout this change of parameters, I also want to be ever mindful of the importance of the politics of locations and keep investigating who exactly is the ‘we’ who is positing all these queries in the first place. This new scheme for rethinking posthuman subjectivity is as rich as it is complex, but it is grounded in real-life, world-historical conditions that are confronting us with pressing urgency.

Dipesh Chakrabarty (2009) addresses some of these concerns by investigating the consequences of the climate change debate for the practice of history. He argues that the scholarship on climate change causes both spatial and temporal difficulties. It brings about a change of scale in our thinking, which now needs to encompass a planetary or geo-centred dimension, acknowledging that humans are larger than a biological entity and now wield a geological force. It also shifts the temporal parameters away from the expectation of continuity which sustains the discipline of history, to contemplate the idea of extinction, that is to say, a future without ‘us’. Furthermore, these shifts in the basic parameters also affect the content of historical research, by ‘destroying the artificial but time honoured distinction between natural and human histories’ (Chakrabarty, 2009: 206). Although Chakrabarty does not take the post-anthropocentric path, he comes to the same conclusion and community.

The geo-centred turn also has other serious political implications. The first concerns the limitations of classical Humanism in the Enlightenment model. Relying on post-colonial theory, Chakrabarty points out that the ‘philosophers of freedom were mainly, and understandably, concerned with how humans would escape the injustice, oppression, inequality or even uniformity foisted on them by other humans or human-made systems’ (2009: 208). Their anthropocentrism, coupled with a culture-specific notion of Humanism, limits their relevance today. The climate change issue and the spectre of human extinction also affect ‘the analytic strategies that postcolonial and postimperial historians have deployed in the last two decades in response to the postwar scenario of decolonization and globalization’ (Chakrabarty, 2009: 198). I would add that the social constructivist approach of Marxist, feminist and post-colonial analyses does not completely equip them to deal with the change of spatial and temporal scale engendered by the post-anthropocentric or geo-centred shift. This insight is the core of the radical post-anthropocentric position I want to defend, which I see as a way of updating critical theory for the third millennium.

The Posthuman by Rosi Braidotti

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