Monday, 28 September 2015

Donna Haraway and the End of the Human

Postwar intellectual culture in Europe and America has been marked by several 'end' movements or trends or themes.   Writers such as Robbe-Grillet and Beckett seemed to announce the end of the novel.  Sociologists such as Daniel Bell, one of the 'New York intellectuals', wrote about the 'end of ideology' - the culmination of the 'modernisation' process (much beloved of Irish sociologists, political scientists, historians and the 'Labour' Party even as recently as the 1980s) would be the replacement of fundamental socio-political struggle by bureaucratic adjustment.  Thinkers such as Derrida, Lyotard and Deleuze promulgated a kind of late-Nietzschean anti-philosophy, or 'end of philosophy', under the influence of Heidegger.   Foucault declared, in a brilliant and chilling passage at the end of Les mots et les choses, the 'end of man': it is possible, he suggested, that 'man is in the process of perishing as the being of language continues to shine ever brighter upon our horizon', and man may simply be 'erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea'.  In 1990, Francis Fukuyama updated Kojeve's Hegelianism (which had underpinned much French intellectual radicalism in the postwar period) to announce - under the banner of the 'end of history' - the triumph of liberal democratic capitalism, if only because of lack of viable systemic competitors.

A particularly interesting and perhaps prophetic inflection of this lineage of thought emerged in the 1980s in the work of the gifted and innovative American historian of science and feminist theorist Donna Haraway.   Working within the eclectic and fertile History of Consciousness programme at the University of California at Santa Cruz (to which I made application for a PhD place, only to lose out due to lack of funding), which also offered a home to such crucial American scholars as Fredric Jameson, Hayden White and Teresa de Lauretis, Haraway mulled over the complex intersection of biology, zoology, feminism and technology.  She wrote a kind of anthropology of human relations with other primates, and her 'Cyborg Manifesto' is one of the most brilliant documents of postmodernism.   In our era where 'the humanities' are being eroded by neoliberal rationality, where the 'internet of things' will soon inhabit our clothes, cars, and household utensils, and where humans readily agree to their own subjectification by way of wholesale investment in the surveillance technosphere offered by computers, phones, credit cards, chipped pets and criminals, Haraway's work makes for enlightening reading.  Here is McKenzie Wark - historian and legatee of the Situationist International - on Haraway - a tremendous and illuminating combination:

Blog-Post for Cyborgs—McKenzie Wark on Donna Haraway's 'Manifesto for Cyborgs' 30 years later



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