Braidotti, Rosi

Assigned: Braidotti, Rosi. From The Posthuman, from “Introduction” and from Chapter 1. “Post-Humanism: Life beyond the Self” (2329-52). Also read the editors’ introduction (2325-28).

From The Posthuman (2013)

From Introduction

1. On 2329 (“Not all of us can say…”), how does Rosi Braidotti characterize the pressures placed upon humanist doctrines and assumptions in recent decades? What has been the effect of such pressures? How does she also address the proliferation of “posthuman” theories? Why is the introduction of “the post-human condition” something more than the addition of yet one more “post-” that theorists need to talk about? What anxieties does this special discourse provoke both generally and in academic circles, the humanities in particular?

2. On 2330-31 (“In my view, the common…”), what does Braidotti suggest is “the common denominator for the posthuman condition” (2330)? How, that is, does this condition lead us to reorganize our thinking away from the nature-culture binary opposition that has been so dominant in social constructivism? What benefits does Braidotti hope will come from a new emphasis on what she calls “posthuman theory”—how might it serve the needs of “the historical moment [i.e., the anthropocene] when the Human has become a geological force capable of affecting all life on this planet” (2331)?

From Chapter 1. Post-Humanism: Life beyond the Self

3. On 2331-32 (“At the start of it all there…”), how does Braidotti describe the central animating ideals of European humanism from ancient times onward? Why is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” (2331) sketch emblematic of this humanism and its ideals? How did Hegel’s philosophy of history help transform European humanism into “a hegemonic cultural model” (2331), and in what way does the philosopher Edmund Husserl support this Hegelian view of Enlightenment culture? (2331) According to Braidotti, what offenses against humanity may be laid at the doorstep of humanist assertions about universal reason, and yet what accounts for the continued influence of such assertions? (2332)


4. On 2332-34 (“Let me put my cards on the…”), what attitude does Braidotti herself hold towards humanism, and what personal, historical, and intellectual background does she provide as a way of explaining how she came by this attitude? (2332-33) How does she characterize the humanism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and, in particular, the humanist feminism inaugurated by de Beauvoir and further developed through the 1970s? (2333-34)

5. On 2334-35 (“Within the mainstream Left…”), in continuation of an intellectual history of the age that shaped her own ideas, Braidotti discusses what she calls the “new forms of philosophical radicalism developed in France and throughout Europe in the late 1960s” (2334). How did the philosophers associated with this radicalism, according to Braidotti, take aim at Marxist institutions and dogma in Europe as well as at classical humanism, or what Braidotti calls “The Vitruvian ideal of Man” (2334-35)? What did they object to in these respective forms of humanism, and what did they call for to replace them?

6. On 2335-37 (“Feminists like Luce Irigaray pointed…”), Braidotti discusses both post-structuralist feminism and anti-colonialist thought in the 1960s and onward. What critique did radical feminist authors such as Luce Irigaray make of the Vitruvian ideal, and what position did anticolonial thinkers such as Frantz Fanon take regarding this classical humanism? (2335-36) On the whole, what stance did the post-structuralist philosophers whom Braidotti has been discussing adopt as a counterforce to the traditional humanism that their predecessors more or less upheld?

The Death of Man, the Deconstruction of Woman

7. On 2337-38 (“As indicated in the genealogical…”), according to Braidotti, what is the function of the concept “human” in classical humanism? What is the basis of her rejection of this “unitary subject of Humanism,” and with what more “complex and relational” (2337) concept of subjectivity does she seek to replace it? What insight from Foucault regarding the nature of power supplements Braidotti’s theoretical framework, and, in her view, offers a better “starting point to elaborate new forms of resistance suited to the polycentric and dynamic structure of contemporary power” (2337-38)? In sum, how can the antihumanism of an author such as Foucault turn out not to be cynical and passive with regard to social and political change?

8. On 2339-40 (“Having practically grown up with…”), while Braidotti certainly adopts an anti-humanist approach to theory, she recognizes the contradictions that beset any such approach. How does she explain the difficulties inherent in anti-humanist thinking in relation to the humanist framework it seeks to reject and leave behind? Why, in particular, does Braidotti think it would be inadvisable simply to reject everything about humanist thought and practice? What does she suggest are some of the positive things that humanism has brought into the world?

The Postsecular Turn

9. On 2340-42 (“As a progressive political creed…”), how does Braidotti link the major premises of humanism with those of traditional Christian doctrine? (2340) Secularity has long been a hallmark of progressive movements as well as of science, but how does Braidotti assess the current relationship between religion and such movements? What led European feminism to develop along secular lines? (2341) What alternative spiritual traditions have also flourished in progressivism, and to what extent is traditional religion still a going concern in this area of thought? (2341-42)

10. On 2342-43 (“Let me approach the limits of…”), how does Braidotti, following her “monistic philosophy of becomings” (2342), redefine the concept of subjectivity in a manner that she believes can deal productively with what she has identified as “a post-secular turn” in feminist theory? Even so, how has the recent and continuing struggle between humanism and anti-humanism complicated matters, especially given that “Humanism has once again become enlisted in a civilizational crusade” (2343), with the West touting its alleged superiority over other cultures? What does Braidotti suggest must be the next step for those who want to escape the “lethal binaries” (2343) of humanism and anti-humanism?

The Posthuman Challenge

11. On 2343-44 (“Posthumanism is the historical…”), how does Braidotti define posthumanism? In what way does it move beyond the struggle between humanism and anti-humanism? From what does it take its origin? (2344) What analysis does she offer of the role of humanism’s “others” (women, colonized people, etc.) in the coming-on of the post-human condition? (2344) To what extent is Braidotti’s “posthumanist position,” in her own view, indebted to what she calls “the anti-humanist legacy” (2344) of recent decades, and how does she differentiate her own position from the tendencies of that legacy?

12. On 2344-45 (“I see three major strands in…”), Braidotti identifies “three major strands in contemporary posthuman thought” (2344): reactive, analytic, and critical. How does she describe the first of these, the reactive approach? In what ways does the work of Martha Nussbaum (Leitch 2136-50), as Braidotti describes it, exemplify the “reactive humanist approach to the posthuman” (2345)? On what basis does Braidotti especially object to Nussbaum’s supposed favoring of “universalism” (2345) with regard to subjectivity?

13. On 2345-46 (“A second significant posthuman…”), Braidotti discusses the second significant strand in posthuman thought, the analytic approach, which, as she explains, “comes from science and technology studies” (2345) and is much indebted to the work of Bruno Latour (Leitch 2111-26). How does this approach lead to what Braidotti calls “parallel and non-communicating lines of posthuman enquiry” (2345 bottom)? How does she describe the scientific and biotech community’s “panhumanity”-based focus with regard to the posthuman as opposed to that of academics working in the humanities? What problems does she identify with the latter in spite of its seeming promise? (2346)

14. On 2346-47 (“Another significant case for…”), Braidotti discusses another instance of the analytic approach to the posthuman, that of Peter-Paul Verbeek, who concentrates on the inextricable relationship between “human subjects and technological artefacts” (2346). In what way does Verbeek defend a certain strain of humanism, a “posthuman brand of Humanism” (2347) for the current century? While Braidotti apparently respects Verbeek’s work, what problems or omissions does she find in it? Why does she consider the issue of subjectivity more vital than those who follow an analytic approach to the posthuman?

15. On 2347-49 (“There is another fundamental…”), what additional problem does Braidotti identify with the analytical approach to the posthuman followed by theorists in science and technology? In what sense do they ignore the current state of so-called “smart technologies” (2347 bottom)? What kinds of ethical challenges confront human beings in the face of the increasing predominance of “autonomous machines”? What attitude does Braidotti adopt towards this kind of technology? What praise does she offer for the “posthuman” observations on how to deal with autonomous technologies detailed in a 2012 article in The Economist? (2348-49)

Critical Posthumanism                                

16. On 2349-51 (“The third strand of posthuman…”), Braidotti introduces the third variety of posthuman theory, her own “critical posthumanism.” To what predecessors and sources in postcolonial and race theory does she look to in formulating this variety? In particular, what insights does she find most valuable in works by Edward Said (Leitch 1780-1821) and Paul Gilroy (Leitch 2389-2409)?

17. On 2351-52 (“An altogether different and powerful…”), in formulating her own “critical” variety of posthumanist theory, Braidotti also draws significantly from ecology and environmental theory. What insights does she derive and adapt from these areas of thought? What does she suggest “ecological posthumanists” (2351) have in common with poststructuralist authors on certain issues, even though the former would not be eager to acknowledge any relationship or affinity with poststructuralism? What model of subjectivity—a concept of primary concern to Braidotti—emerges as she unfolds her notion of critical posthumanism, and how does it differ from a more traditional humanist model of subjectivity?

18. General question: In our selections from The Posthuman, Rosi Braidotti argues that posthumanism moves beyond the binary struggle between humanism and anti-humanism and that it is a more constructive direction for social and political activists to go. Key thinkers in the Western tradition such as Nietzsche (Leitch 737-62), Horkheimer and Adorno (Leitch 1030-50), and Foucault (Leitch 1388-1450) have preceded her in offering powerful critiques of classical, Renaissance, and Enlightenment humanism. All the same, to what extent do you think sophisticated theories of Braidotti’s sort can bring about change in today’s troubled material world? The Victorian culture critic and poet Matthew Arnold wrote in his 1864 essay “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time” (Leitch 684-703) that the world would always “repose” on “very inadequate ideas” (695 bottom). Do you share Arnold’s pessimistic appraisal of intellectuals’ attempts to bring about near-term political or social change, or do you see things in a more positive light with regard to the value of theory and philosophy? Explain.

19. General question: In our selections from The Posthuman, Rosi Braidotti mentions the Western concept of individualism disapprovingly a number of times, for example in the final selection entitled “Critical Posthumanism” (2349-52). Most people in the West almost certainly think of “individualism” as for the most part a valuable and even indispensable concept—it has from the outset of the American republic been inextricable from our ideas about politics and society. How, then, should Braidotti’s disapproval of individualism be construed? What does she apparently mean by that term? What negative and even destructive qualities does she find in the Western humanist notion of individualism? What is your own understanding of this concept, and to what extent do you agree with Braidotti’s critique of individualism? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake