What is Posthumanism?

Carey Wolfe Wolfe, Cary. 2010. What Is Posthumanism? Posthumanities 8. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

In this book, Wolfe uses systems theory, animal studies, disability studies and artworks to argue that posthumanism is a means of overturning Enlightenment humanism, which privileges a subject endowed with rights. The legal status of this subject, originally biased toward the able-bodied, male human has gradually been expanded to include women, people of color, disabled individuals, and more recently some have even suggested that animals should receive similar, or the same, rights. Wolfe acknowledges the pragmatic need to expand the legal definition of the subject through the law, though he portrays it as an ill-conceived process. Instead, he suggests that we should consider the ways in which embodiment "bring[s] forth a world" (xxv).  All creatures bring forth worlds through the capacities of their bodies, which Wolfe uses as an argument to combat the anthropocentrism (and sexism, racism, abled-body-isms) inherent to humanism. Ultimately, we share with animals an embodied finitude. Wolfe insists embodiment as a way to consider others, both human and nonhuman, as it elides arguments of human superiority to other animals on the basis of language or cognition. Embodiment is an attempt to understand the living, and leads Wolfe, following Jeremy Bentham, to argue that suffering is the key ethical question when relating to nonhuman animals. Suffering, and embodied reality, elides the legal distinction of a rights-holding subject, suggesting that relief from suffering is the ultimate right, and should be shared by all creatures.

Wolfe's book offers a strong vision of non anthropocentric philosophy through which one can consider nonhumans. In so doing, he touches on many subjects germane to my research area, including bioethics, shared experiences between species, and art. He analyzes several individual works of art, architecture, film and music in the last half of his book. Wolfe's work, however, is limited in the strange assertion that interdisciplinary studies are flawed. In his adherence to Luhmann's systems theory, he claims that it is only an outside observer who can recognize the flaws of a system. Therefore, we must be multidisciplinary, for it requires practitioners of one discipline to critique practitioners of another, and this cannot be done through synthesis. The emphasis here is too much on critique, and not on the powerful ways in which practices, when brought together, can create their own energies and potentials to be actualized in new ways.