What New Humanism Today?

Jean-Hugues Barthélémy
Barthélémy, Jean-Hugues. 2010. “What New Humanism Today?” Cultural Politics 6 (2) (July 1): 237–252. doi:10.2752/175174310X12672016548441.

Barthélémy argues for a new form of humanism based on the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon. He calls for an encyclopedic humanism open to the development by science, technology and culture. He calls this a "difficult humanism" inspired by Simondon's critique of "facile humanism," which does not see technology as part of culture. It is a humanism borne out of Simondon's relational ontology. Barthélémy argues that The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects must be read in relation to  L'indviduation psychique et collective, where Simondon argues that human reality is psycho-social. The psycho-social is the actualization, or "individuation," of potential within living beings "without there being any alleged “anthropological break” between human beings and other" (241). Combined with Simondon's insistence on a technical mentality (see Simondon, Technical Mentality), Simondon's philosophy is "capable, on the one hand, of deriving man from living matter and, on the other, of integrating technology into culture" (244). Barthélémy argues that viewing Simondon's major works cohesively allows us to see Simondon's project as an update to humanism. "A humanism, then, that would involve neither the “anthropological break” between man and animal, nor the – equally anthropological – reduction of technology to a mere set of means for humanity’s use" (244). This destabilizes a series of oppositions: culture vs. technology, culture vs. nature, and ultimately nature vs. technology. In short, Barthélémy describes a Simondonian philosophy that aligns with what we currently call posthumanism.

Barthélémy pulls together a number of arguments from Simondon's major works to highlight a dynamic humanism that focuses on a constant relationship between nature, technology and culture. However he avoids some of the more human-centric arguments within Simondon that other authors note. Furthermore, some claims Simondon makes regarding artificiality and aesthetics in The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects problematize Barthélémy's claim of a humanism entirely inclusive of nonhumans, living or not, as well as certain universalizing claims that undercut the dynamic and plastic views Barthélémy discusses. For my research, this essay is a linchpin in my argument that there is a connection between Simondon's philosophy and current posthumanism. It helps make the case that a relational ontology is at the heart of posthumanism and will help form the central theory of my art praxis.