The introductory session on Identity and Difference covered posthuman humanities, online identities, cyborgs and the digital self. We looked at posthumanism through different lenses: digitally, socially and culturally.
In order to understand the concept of posthumanism, Braidotti (2013) goes back to the first ideal man, the measure of all things – the Vitruvian Man as later recreated by Leonardo da Vinci. This optimal figure represented the ‘human’ in humanity i.e. a sound mind in a sound body. For centuries it was known as the “emblem of Humanism as a doctrine that combines the biological, discursive and moral expansion of human capabilities into an idea of teleologically ordained, rational progress” (Braidotti 2013). But in today’s world how true is this definition anymore? We may need to realise that this image of humanism may not be relevant anymore (including the ever-so-obvious sexism associated with it).
As Ibid Hassan (1977) said “We need first to understand that the human form – including human desire and all its external representations – may be changing radically, and thus must be re-visioned. We need to understand that five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something that we must helplessly call posthumanism”.
So what exactly is posthumanism? When I first heard the term posthuman and/ or cyborg I immediately thought about The Terminator and The Matrix. But in reality the definition is a lot more common to our worlds than we realise. By using our mobile phones and checking the time we are already cyborgs. It’s not necessary to have a physical merger between the skin and machine (read: Terminator) but instead the pervasive connection of our mind being used with non-biological processes like checking the time etc. Tools and technologies become extensions of our brains through ubiquitous feedback between the two (Archimorph 2011). Nichols (1988) defines posthuman as “speculative being that represents or seeks to enact a rewriting of what is generally conceived of as human, where human nature becomes a universal state from which the human being emerges, human nature is autonomous, rational, capable of free will, and unified in itself as the apex of existence. The post-human, for critical theorists of the subject, has an emergent ontology rather than a stable one, in order words, the post-human is not a singular, defined individual, but rather who can ‘become’ or embody different identities and understand the world from multiple, heterogeneous perspectives”.
The whole concept of cyborgs states that we are no different from machines, but rather the connection between the entities – man and machine. Humanism on the other hand merely saw our bodies as a shell for the mind i.e. two different systems (Archimorph 2011). Based on my understanding of posthuman bodies, I believe that we as humans are no longer an individual unique body; instead we are a part of a much larger interconnected network. In a way our online identities are also just cyborgs. A great example is video games. We tend to form a bond with our online identities; in a way that we begin to embody the digital self where we feel the emotions – happiness when reaching a level, anger, frustration and so on.
In A Cyborg Manifesto, Haraway (1983) explains the concept of cyborgs as a form of breaking boundaries between man and machine i.e. that there is no longer a distinction between the two. She further goes on to criticize the notion of feminism and encouraged feminists to move beyond the traditional-set limitations of gender and politics. Her work has not only been appreciated for its feminist critique, but also stood as a strong base for the development of the posthuman concept.
- Archimorph (2011) Posthumanism, Cyborgs and Interconnected Bodies [online] available from <http://archimorph.com/2011/04/05/posthumanism-cyborgs-interconnected-bodies/ > [1 March 2016]
- Braidotti, R. (2013) The Posthuman. London: Cambridge
- Haraway, D. (1983) A Cyborg Manifesto as cited in Hayles, N.K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
- Nichols, S. (1988) Manifesto of the Posthuman Movement as cited in Kortesi, M. (2012) Post and Transhumanism in Speculative Fiction [online] available from <http://posthumanscifi.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/review-of-post-human-manifesto.html > [1 March 2016]