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Locating the Posthumanities

Lecturer: Elese Dowden

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

What is the ‘posthumanities’?

The posthumanities is an emerging academic field that spans the arts and humanities, with roots in continental philosophy, posthumanism, critical theory and literary studies. This field tends to emphasize collaborative, creative, and inter / anti-disciplinary practice, and as such, the course employs slightly unconventional readings and learning methodologies.

The course will cover some of the major thinkers orbiting this space, drawing on examples in art, literature, film, and music both to illustrate and disrupt traditional ways of doing philosophy. Optional course assessment will include a final piece of creative work across mediums. This course also has a local element, with a focus on contemporary Australasian thinkers, complemented by examples from popular culture.

Course Content & Readings

The title for each weekly session is taken from core readings, which are listed first under each weekly heading. In addition to academic texts, this course employs audio-visual material to increase your engagement. All readings are accessible via the blue hyperlinks in the references, though you will find most written readings in the dedicated Box folder.

Preface: Ground Provisions

Harney, S. and T. Sealy Thompson (2018). "Ground Provisions." Afterall: A Journal of Art Context and Enquiry 45: 120-125.

Week 1: One World in Relation

Diawara, M. (2010). Édouard Glissant: One World in Relation. United States: 50 Minutes.

We begin locating the posthumanities with Martinique thinker Édouard Glissant, considering his poetics of relation via Manthia Diawara’s 2010 film, ‘One World in Relation.’ Glissant’s work provides an excellent entry point to rhizomatic thinking, offering a wider lens through which to understand conceptions of the ‘posthumanities’. While this course does not necessarily locate the posthumanities within the field of posthumanism, this is a common reading of the term. As such, we will also outline the works of three major thinkers in this space: Francesca Ferrando, Donna Haraway, and Rosi Braidotti.

Recommended Reading

The Australasian Posthumanities (2021). S2E3: Francesca Ferrando: Posthumanism and the Everyday. The Australasian Posthumanities. Melbourne, Spotify.

Guignion, D. (2019). Rosi Braidotti's "The Posthuman". Theory & Philosophy. D. Guignion, Spotify.

Haraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto. Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Simians. New York, Routledge: 149-181.

Week 2: In Search of Humanity

Mukandi, B. (2018). "South-South Dialogues: Global Approaches to Decolonial Pedagogies." The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 47: 73-81.

Just as ‘post-modernism’ acknowledges its debt to modernism, the ‘post’ of the posthumanities acknowledges both its inextricability with and gravitation away from the traditional western humanities and enlightenment humanism. Mukandi, Césaire and Maldonado-Torres offer critiques of the Cartesian privileging of the mind over the body, demonstrating that the division has only served to legitimize colonial violences. In this session, we begin to dismantle these concepts in order to demonstrate the limitations of both humanism and the humanities more broadly.

Recommended Reading

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). "On the Coloniality of Being." Cultural Studies 21(2): 240-270.

Césaire, A. (1972). Discourse on Colonialism. New York, Monthly Review Press. 

Week 3: Poetry is Not a Luxury

Lorde, A. (2007). Poetry is Not a Luxury. Sister, Outsider. C. Clarke. Berkeley, Crossing Press: 36-39.

Creative practice plays an important role in posthumanities methodologies, and in this session, we consider the role of poetic thinking in conceptualizing new worlds and ways of being. Starting with Lorde’s ‘Poetry is Not a Luxury’, this session builds on previous critiques of enlightenment humanism to demonstrate that the arts are not merely supplementary to academic work or activism. Instead, as Lorde and Zambrano show, poetry and creativity play an integral part in challenging the various oppressions which shape our experiences. In this class we will also reflect on western cultural conceptions of gender, race, sexuality and power with reference to Australasian poetry.

Recommended Reading

Daly Sadgrove, F. (2019). "Turducken." Retrieved 28/05, 2021, from https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/15-11-2019/the-friday-poem-turducken-by-freya-daly-sadgrove/.

Lorde, A. (2007). Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. Sister, Outsider. C. Clarke. Berkeley, Crossing Press: 53-59.

Zambrano, b. M. (2008). "Philosophy and Poetry." Retrieved 28/05, 2021, from http://webshells.com/spantrans/Zambrano.htm.

Week 4: The White Possessive

Moreton-Robinson, A. (2015). Aileen Moreton-Robinson, “The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty”. New Books in Critical Theory. A. Epstein.

Beginning with Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s ‘The White Possessive’, we will continue to problematize the underpinnings of the humanities via the western conception of property ownership. This notion again finds basis in the privileging of mind over body, as well as false binaries between human and non-human. Drawing on examples of Australian nationalism, carceral systems, and animal activism, we will also think through Stephen Muecke’s 7 posthumanities methodological principles to investigate the consequences of western humanist logic.

Recommended Reading

Moore, D. (2020). "Behrouz Boochani and the Penal Archipelago." Retrieved 28/05, 2021, from https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-239/review-behrouz-boochani-and-the-penal-archipelago/.

Muecke, S. (2020). S1E5: Stephen Muecke: 7 Posthumanities Methodological Principles. The Australasian Posthumanities. E. Dowden. Melbourne, The Australasian Posthumanities.

Week 5: The End of Man

Zylinska, J. (2017). Exit Man. UK, Vimeo: 6'36".

The central themes of our final class revolve around disruptive forms of contemporary art and music. Creative practice in the posthumanities regularly blurs lines between subject and object, constructing new imaginaries where plants, machines, animals and people form ambiguous autonomies in relation to one another. We will think about how the death of the author lends itself to the production of rich and complex art forms, and students will be invited to begin plotting their own creative responses to the material covered in this course.

Further Reading

Neimanis, A. (2013). "Feminist Subjectivity, Watered." Feminist Review 103: 23-41.

Kanaan, F., et al. (2021). CTM 2021: »Apotome Live«. Germany, CTM.

Museum of Modern Art (2019). Arthur Jafa: APEX. Artist Stories. Museum of Modern Art. New York, Museum of Modern Art,.

Recap: Locating the Posthumanities

This is an optional and informal sixth session 2 weeks after the final class where students are invited to gather on Zoom over a cup of tea (or preferred beverage) to share final creative pieces, or just reflect on the learnings from the course. There are no expectations for you to bring your final piece of coursework. Students are also welcome to bring external texts that have inspired or informed their thinking throughout the course to share and discuss with the group. Please note that this is a private and unrecorded Zoom session facilitated outside of the formal structure of the MSCP.