Dark Posthumanism II – Dublin Abstract

A provisional abstract for my presentation at the Questioning Aesthetics Symposium in Dublin, 12-13 May,


Dark Posthumanism

Speculative Posthumanism (SP) claims that there could be posthumans: that is, powerful nonhuman agents arising through some technological process. In Posthuman Life, I buttress SP with a series of philosophical negations whose effect is to leave us in the dark about these historical successors (Roden 2014). In consequence, SP confounds us in moral and epistemic darkness. We lack rules specifying the nature of the posthuman or how to recognise it. We do not know what we are becoming; and lack any assurance that our moral conceptions can travel into the future(s) we are complicit in producing.

I argue that the void delineated by speculative posthumanism implies that aesthetics is the first philosophy of the value domain, for it forces us to judge itineraries in posthuman possibility space without criteria. Art practices that engage with technological change thus supply a political model for pursuing and organizing trajectories into the future: one distancing us from any current conception of the good or any normative appeal to universality. This estrangement or abstraction, I will claim, does not express a postmodern ethics of transgression or “transvaluation” but falls out of the ontological structure of planetary technical networks.




Roden, David. (2012), “The Disconnection Thesis”. In A. Eden, J. Søraker, J. Moor & E. Steinhart (eds), The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, London: Springer.

Roden, David (2013), “Nature’s Dark Domain: An Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology”. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 72: 169–88.

Roden, David (2014), Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.

Roden (forthcoming), ‘On Reason and Spectral Machines: an Anti-Normativist Response to Bounded Posthumanism’. To appear in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn.



8 thoughts on “Dark Posthumanism II – Dublin Abstract

  1. I like where you’re going, David, the implication is that no one can reterritorialize these becoming singulars within the mode of human thought, propositional or otherwise. Maybe outside the merger of human and machine, or the disconnection of machinic life from human, or the auto-machinic creation of intelligence unbounded by human thought will finally produce the one thing we’ve never attained: novelty – the new of which we were unable to conceive by conceptual design or construal, but rather by way accidental rhythms: like light-waves and particles parting through a screen only to come together in a new form on the other side of the Rubicon divide.

  2. Thanks, Craig. I’m trying to think of this approach, first of all, as a philosophical operation that encodes an ontological and historical condition. That is to say, given where we are (technoscience, modernity) what kind of filters do we need to apply to totalising or universalising claims? Or(as Ray Brassier put it) is how do we orient to the future?

    The disconnection thesis, the critique of normativity and phenomenology can be viewed as negations or suspensions. The work of philosophical speculation just provides adventitious material to motivate them. The real speculative work is happening in vivo, in the world, not in philosophy. This is a methodological opening that, I hope or think, leads to a conception of the aesthetic as the bleeding edge of ethics.

    Obviously, I can see potential relationships here between methodologies like deconstruction, phenomenological reduction and even (though I’m unqualified to speak of it) non-philosophy. It would also be interesting to explore Badiou’s conception of the universal here – again, I’m not currently well read enough to engage with that.

  3. “We lack rules specifying the nature of the posthuman or how to recognise it.”

    Would you say, then, that we lack a referent for the posthuman?

    I was reading an interesting take on the Churchlands’, and others’ thesis that desires and beliefs do not exist. The idea is that we only claim that there are desires and beliefs because we are under a cognitive illusion that these words refer to something. But in fact, no such referent exists, so the words are meaningless. The response to this that I was reading was saying that the Churchlands were making an argument from reference, by saying, effectively, “what you are referring to by beliefs and desires does not exist—your words refer to nothing.” And the author, whose name evades me, was replying to the Churchlands that in fact, one might mean something else by these words than what they mean. It seems, even, that what they mean by “beliefs and desires” is “words which mean nothing,” while another person may have totally different referents for these words.

    In the same vein, I’d ask about this language problem with posthumanism. Perhaps when you write that we lack rules specifying the nature of the posthuman, or how to recognize it, you could say that, for you, the word ‘posthuman’ does not refer to anything at all, and you have no way of making it refer to anything because you lack the criteria for what might constitute its referent.

    But, is this claim extending to *all* usages of the term “posthuman,” in the same way that the Churchlands claim that *all* usages of “desire” and “belief” are erroneous, because they refer to nothing that really exists? Or are you simply saying that, for you, the term “posthuman” does not have any criteria, any meaningful differences which we might use to distinguish it, and that, as such, it is basically a meaningless concept?

    I also see that you’re engaging with the notion of universality. This, too, gets to the problem of language—the Churchlands seem to be espousing “bad universality” when they say that the words “belief” and “desire” should be abolished because they refer to nothing, but are merely folk illusions of our primitive brains. They are espousing “bad universality” because they believe that their definitions, their referents for these terms, are universal. When they say “belief” and “desire” they mean “words that are meaningless,” and yet, they advocate that everyone abolish these words, because the words are meaningless, failing to see that this is merely their interpretation, their referent for these words. Others can and do have other referents.

    So, what would a “good universality” look like, if “bad universality” is imagining that what a word refers to *for you* is what a word *really* refers to (for everyone), and anyone who uses that word to refer to something else is mistaken? Perhaps the good universality would be to acknowledge that we all, universally, use words to refer to things, and sometimes we use the same words as each other while referring to different things… I’m reminded of Zizek’s quip that the first move in philosophy must be to refuse to argue over whether a word really means this or that. Any argument over what a word “really” refers to is unphilosophical (and not in a Laruellian, “non philosophy” way—it is simply muddled thought). Arguing over whether this or that situation “really is” this or that word is what prevents philosophy from happening, and the bare minimum condition for philosophy to occur is to refuse to argue over what a word really means, and instead offer more words to help explain how one individually interprets that word.

    Instead of, “is this really posthuman,” we should ask, “what do you mean by posthuman?” Then, as Deleuze puts it in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY, we will not be using an abstraction to explain things, for abstractions themselves must be explained!

  4. The indeterminacy of the posthuman is in part a consequence of my characterisation of it, and in part a consequence of our non-ideal situation for knowing about posthumans (i.e. posthumans there are none). So the disconnection thesis (DT) says:

    A Wide Human descendent is a posthuman if and only if:
    I. It has ceased to belong to WH (the Wide Human) as a result of
    technical alteration.
    II. Or is a wide descendant of such a being (outside WH)

    Where an entity is a Wide Human descendant if it is the result of a technically
    mediated process:
    A) Caused by a part of WH – where the ancestral part may be wholly
    biological, wholly technological or some combination of the two.
    B) Caused by a wide human descendant

    The point being that this double recursive characterisation is mechanism independent. It doesn’t specify the relevant processes, so it is maximally uninformative about the posthuman – a good thing given our non-ideal situation.

    The other indeterminacies arise from the difficulty of predicting future technological change and the rejection of a priori constraints on posthuman possibility.

  5. Really like your last line. Makes me think about the usefulness of taking cosmological-like viewpoints that oscillate from the micro to the macro. I propose that seeing multiple perspectives simultaneously maybe a useful 21st century capability that we humans need to develop. This would, I suggest, super ignite ‘trans’ possibilities across many domains, possibly revealing glimpses of what a posthuman future might look like. One posthuman future is, of course…nothing. A result of the death throes of the Sun and our inability to organise early departures from Earth, even an exodus, to potentially habitable exoplanets orbiting the ‘Goldilocks ‘zone of distant stars. [Not so sure what would happen to downloaded minds set free on light beams?] So, when the Earth disintegrates, it and all of humanity [as a result of being long dead or newly dead] returns to stardust. This may be not so bad! I am an artist and I have been thinking about the posthuman. However, I am not an artist who uses electronic or digital technology, interventions to the body etc. I am a painter with a contrary enjoyment in exploring the posthuman with what may seem to be an anachronistic medium. You can see my work here http://www.kathrynbrimblecombeart.blogspot.com My most recent paintings appear first. I have combined binary code with the tree-of-life to create seemingly cosmic ‘landscapes’. I am very interested in the aesthetic too. Cheers, Kathryn

  6. Hi Kathryn, Sorry for the belated response. I’ve been travelling and negotiating various crises, so the blog has been sidelined a bit. But thanks for your comment and for linking to your art.

    I rather warm to your use of anachronism here. It’s salutary, at least insofar as the kind of thinking we are engaged in here is all about our own anachronism. Have you seen Isabel Nolan’s work? She operates in multiple media, some quite traditional, but is also interested in eliciting cosmological speculation.

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