Humanities after Humans

WITH MAN GONE, WILL THERE BE HOPE FOR THE GORILLA?

Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

Deconstructing Anthropocentrism: Humanities after Humans

In our times of accelerated technological development and growing environmental awareness, we are constantly made to reassess the precedence of humanity and human affairs in our understanding of the world. With notions of ‘transhumanism’ and ‘posthumanism’ now making their way into public awareness, it looks as if the critical reappraisal of the tenets of liberal humanism has become rooted in the collective psyche, providing the basis for renewed, non-anthrocentric forms of thinking. Such an epistemic turn is of particular relevance to the realm of humanities and human sciences: these disciplines have played a crucial role in the critique of anthropocentrism since the middle of the 20th century. Yet their specific interest in the workings of societies and cultures binds their very existence to the definition and status of what ‘human’ might be. As the category finds itself pushed from a central to a marginal position, as the boundaries that separate it from its technological or natural counterparts become porous, the fields of study previously mapped onto that category must be reconfigured. In the age of the ‘anthropocene’, when one concept both acknowledges the major influence of humanity on its surroundings and identifies this influence as the main source of existential risk for our species, what can be the use for academic disciplines devoted to all things human?

This project proposes to answer such questions by facilitating conversations across the humanities and between human and exact and natural sciences. Three different avenues will be envisaged for their role in the deconstruction of anthropocentrism. For each angle of approach, a one-day conference will take place at one of the academic institutions involved in the project:

Day 1. ‘Our Technologies, Ourselves’. University of Lorraine, Metz, November 2020.

We will kick off by investigating changes in the definition of our human condition as our bodies become ever more entwined with the machines we build. That first day will explore the historical trajectory of our companionship with technology, and examine futuristic understandings of a condition ‘beyond’ our embodied existence as humans. It will also open up a dialogue with engineers, designers and scientists who assert the continued relevance of human values in our technological world, and call for renewed research on ‘how to be human in the age of the machine’ (Fry). This event will be supported by IDEA, the research team investigating Interdisciplinarity in Anglophone Studies at the University of Lorraine, as well as the Faculty of Arts and Humanities (UFR ALL) in Metz, and the Ecole doctorale Humanités Nouvelles/Fernand Braudel.

Day 2. ‘Anthrodecentrism: Footnotes in Time and Space’, Institut Catholique de Paris, November 2020.

This study day will consider changes in understanding of space and time that challenge traditional ways of situating ourselves as humans at the centre of our own world. Scientific explorations imply for us to envisage scales of space and time that do not cohere with our own embodied experience. Our inability to conceive of conditions of existence so remote from our own phenomenological makeup calls for creative strategies, to reposition ourselves in a world we cannot intellectually encompass.

Day 3. ‘Materiality and Politics’, INHA, December 2020.

In the wake of what in the 1990s came to be known as the “the material turn,” scholars have increasingly attended to physicality as a locus of theorization. Such studies of materiality—of objects, unbounded matter, paint, and so on—seem to herald the decentering of the human being. Yet the same movement toward matter that dethrones the human is too-often seen as a movement away from political questions. This one-day conference draws on the recent tendency of material studies, such as feminist materialism and what art historian Jennifer Roberts has called “the ecological horizon” of material studies, to retheorize the politics of matter. It will explore how material studies can hold together the question of materiality with  renewed attention to the questions of post-enlightenment human subjectivity. This conference will open its questions out of the field of art history in the aim of creating a relevant forum for scholars theorizing the question of matter in adjacent disciplines.

‘Deconstructing anthropocentrism: Humanities After Humans?’ is a project in collaboration between Dr. Sarah Gould (INHA, EA 4100 – HiCSA – histoire culturelle et sociale de l’art), Dr. Diane Leblond (Université de Lorraine, EA 2338 – IDEA) and Dr. Estelle Murail (ICP, EA 7403 – UR “Religion, Culture et Société”).

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