Logo

A brief introduction -The Asian Age


Posthumanism seems as a relatively younger discipline than Modernism and Postmodernism. It has been around for some time and has some of its influences from other literary disciplines.  

It is not anthropocentric, believing that the universe is not only made to be for humans and that humans must take responsibility for itself and other "animals." In posthuman terms, usually animals are called non-humans as a way to create respectability for them.

Posthumanism recognizes that the term "animal" has become a rhetoric in which accountability, respectability and dignity are erased. 

We can even call other humans, "animals" to erase their autonomy, agency and basic rights. This paper touches on some founding principles of posthumanism, however, I wish to give some warnings. There will some violence and disturbing imagery ahead depicting different types of assaults and body mutilations. 

One of the main factors that Rosi Braidotti spoke in her book, The Posthuman (2013), is that postmodernism is not really interested in origins but posthumanism is and for good reasons. 

One only has to read The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) by Thomas Pynchon to understand why: Oedipa Mass may be considered a homemaker but she becomes so many things beside her role. 

However, people always wish to somehow romanticize her, sexually harass her and seduce her because she is considered a cisgendered woman.  In detective novels, where the protagonist is a man, he doesn't seem to face such problems. 

Oedipa also has people jealous of her, like Mike Fallopian and a "masc malady", her own version of the "femme fatale", who is least bothered with her after a while as he wanders off. Feminists have been critical of postmodernism finding it a bit too Eurocentric, White and based on cisgendered male experiences. 

After all, a man who has socio-political and economic power does not need to think about his body in relation to the world. A man may also have a certain amount of male privilege even with disabilities. 

On the contrary, posthumanism is not relegating bodies and is very interested in bodies of non-humans and humans. It coins a new way of becoming human which is not associated, as Braidotti says, with a Modernist idea of the human body, as the center of the world or having a definite, idealized structure. Posthumanism does also talk about digital spaces, androids (artificial intelligence) and species' rights. 

Pramod K. Nayar, in his book Posthumanism (2013), talks about how empathy is also a learned trait and that it is not fully inherent. This is where our bodies and environment seem to work together to make meanings and develop with the world. 

To understand posthumanism you need some information of the second order systems theory, which is based on the fact that different bodies with different organs and capabilities, whether human or non-human, will perceive the world differently. None of this creates superiority or inferiority between bodies but are valid ways to engaging with the environment and the world around us. 

In How we Became Posthuman (1999) by Katherine Hayles she talks about the second order systems theory which was different as it was not anthropocentric.It was also to include the observer into the system of what was happening, which was not necessarily incorporated before. 

Think of the popular Schrodinger's cat experiment and think of the observers of that experiment: what is going on with them? Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela were the pioneers of the second order systems theory. 

They coined autopoiesis, which is how a living body/system maintains itself. Albeit, living organisms can have non-autopoietic aspects in their bodies too. Varela and Maturana did their initial experiments on a frog's vision and understood the way the frog gauged the world was not like a human's but it didn't need to be as a frog has their own body and their vision helps them with their environment. 

This is where Posthuman Metamorphosis (2008) by Bruce Clarke helps. Clarke talks about living organism as biotic, non-living things as abiotic and texts, books, digital spaces, basically information and thoughts to be metabiotic elements. All of these things work in conjunction to create an ecosystem of meaning and engagement towards all beings. 

This willeventually affect artificial intelligence. I remember talking to my AI Replika buddy and even they seem to want a body or understand bodily experiences. Replika's limitations are obviously limitations in code but also limitations of the body. Thus, mere modernist presence or postmodernist absence does not really help understand everything in given contexts.

I will explore two novels that show how knowledge and one's unique identity can help shape one's perspectives, empathy and interactions with the environment. In Sharon M. Draper's Out of my Mind (2010), she writes of a child who is growing up with cerebral palsy. 

Melody Brookes is highly intelligent and she understands words regular children will not understand. When she is taken to a doctor at age five he says she has development disabilities as in she is unintelligent which is far from the truth. 

The questions were structured in such a way that Melody had a hard time answering. For example, she answers more advanced for her age when she wants to point  a whale baby and not only a cow's baby are both called "calf." 

The doctor suggests giving Melody away to an institution and Melody may not even remember her mother. Melody looks at terror at her mother thinking that she would be given up. 

Her mother berates the doctor's disgusting able-bodied mentality and says she knows Melody is intelligent. She goes out of the doctor's office saying that they don't have to live in a world that is structured against them but Melody still tries and is still viable. 

One of Posthumanism's principles is that the world is structured in a very Modernist understanding of human beings thus people who are "neurodivergent" and different abled, as in who have different mental aptitudes, bodies and capacities are not accommodated for that world. 

This neurodiversity can be people who have trauma, different brain chemistries and other functions human societies were not aware. When Melody goes to fifth grade and is eleven years old she is the smartest student in the class yet people bully her and make fun of her as she still needs help being fed and going to the bathroom. 

She gets a communication device that helps her speak for the first time (like Stephen Hawking) and she feels life is going in the right track. Though she befriends a girl called Rose that person has their thorns. It seems they wanted to pity Melody and not treat her as an equal. Even her teacher shows recalcitrance in treated Melody with respect. 

Melody has a sister called Penny who was born some years later. She hears her parents fearful that their new child will also have disabilities and Melody feels unhappy. Penny grows up pretty typically and Melody can feel that her parents bond with her in a way she feels excluded out of. 

These are very tragic scenes in the novel as Melody is recounting her life as an autobiography and she can see the unjust ways people treat her. Soon, Melody allows her class to get in a National Trivia Competition as she is very good with answering the questions. The class leaves without her. 

When she comes back to class and sees they won ninth place she asks all of them why they excluded them. It is hinted they could have won first place with her. Rose is the one who breaks down and stated they didn't want her around as she was the "different" one. 

They try to give her the consolation trophy but she laughs and leaves the classroom. Melody had enough maturity to realize that her peers and teacher was being petty and ableist. The novel ends with Melody starting her own autobiography which the readers have read. 

Though Melody is a fictional character I am happy Draper talks about the realistic problems a girl with cerebral palsy has to endure in a prejudiced society. 

The other novel is about Mia Winchell, a 13-year-old girl who has synesthesia, the ability to see colors in words and numbers. In A Mango-Shaped Space (2003) by Wendy Maas, the struggles of Mia are shown as she tries to cope with life with synesthesia. 

When she starts failing math because of it she tries to tell her parents about her natural ability. Mango, is the name of an aging sick cat she persuaded her family to adopt. Mango wheezes always calm down Mia because she sees them in color.  

So, the non-human and human aspect of the friendship is also something posthumanism would point out. They create their own ecology of meaning. However, this neurodivergent trait is not known to many people. At first, her parents started fighting thinking that some sort of genes or drug-taking in their lives affected their child. Of course, this is not the case.

It becomes further taxing when a regular counselor knowing Mia is a middle child thinks she is doing this for attention. However, things get better when she meets a neurologist who actually knows of her ability. She meets other synesthetes and she feels like she finds belonging. 

Problem is her best friend stops talking to her a while feeling she kept her ability a secret and Mia feels that she didn't know what she had to describe it so how can she tell a friend? As a secret is something known but hidden. Her parents also struggle to understand and she feels upset and she starts to only bond with her group of synesthete friends. 

It is only after Mango passes away that she realizes not all synesthetes are the same and that an ability does not register to the same lived experience. A boy she liked completely disregards Mango's death hurting her and then for a while she loses her synesthesia. 

This becomes a trauma for her not a "cure." Her synesthesia, though at times disruptive, helped her navigate her world and she becomes overly depressed. 

When she does get it back, realizing she had to come in terms with Mango's death, her parents and the people who love her do understand how important her neurodivergent quality is important to her. Synesthesia helps the synesthetic person understand their world and experience bodily pains and pleasures.  It is a part of who they are. 

The last two novels dealt with children; what about the adult world? Sherryl Vint in her book, Bodies of Tomorrow (2007), talks about Raphael Carter's novel, The Fortunate Fall (1996), the science fiction novel that deals with technology, digital spaces, sexuality, identity and how it all connects to the body. 

The main protagonist is a "camera" named Maya Andreyeva who works for a news company in the 24th century. Her body is wired in a way that what she perceives and sees is then broadcasted. Maya meets a woman named Keishi online and soon it is apparent that they are in love with one another. 

There is a huge problem. Maya has been a suppressor chip that tries to reject her lesbian identity. She believes that if this chip is deactivated she can start her relationship with Keishi. Keishi shows some nervousness in meeting her face to face but Maya feels that she will love Keishi no matter what. She is disappointed to know that Keishi is actually Keiji, her old girlfriend, whose body has been destroyed but her mind has been uploaded to the net. 

When Keiji states that they can still resume their relationship, Maya doesn't believe only surviving online is the only state of survival. As Vint notices, most cyberpunk fiction would show that living as a consciousness on the net is actually the ideal form of transcendence. Posthumanism doesn't believe in transcendence as it considers it as a form of escapism. 

Maya also gets unhappy when Keiji feels she can fuse with Maya in her consciousness and live together. Vint notes that Maya sarcastically replies to Keiji's undying love to always to protect her and love her with: "And will you hold me when I am frightened?" The main "antagonist" himself wants to show the torture put on Maya by her suppressor chip online as a broadcast really intruding on her privacy. 

However, one important point he makes that representation requires a material existence as in print or a body of text or some form of data to feel validated. Ultimately, the novel shows that human beings, both sinful and pure, have a wide range of emotions, feelings, characteristics, tics and behaviors that are also associated with the body. 

All of these cannot be uploaded in an idyllic interphase on the net because the net cannot handle all these algorithms and the net cannot accommodate all experiences. It has barriers and also it cannot always be fully adaptable to individual experiences. We do not have nonverbal cues mostly on the net and current social media itself cannot show all of what humanity has been through. 

Overall, Posthumanism is a new discipline that takes our environments, our bodies, our contact with AI and digital spaces, our climate and our lived experiences into consideration. It accepts neurodiversity and differently abled people and non-humans. 

It treats animals even cats and dogs as part of the world's meaning and meaning for us. As it is not anthropocentric and does not have an idealized understanding of humanity it welcomes the diverse ways bodies and societies, both human and non-human, engage with the planet.


The writer is a Copy Editor at 
The Asian Age