23 July 2010

Post toast and jibberjabber

I confess that 'It's (for) you; or, the tele-t/r/opical post-human' by Julian Yates in 1 postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies (2010) 223–234 leaves me cold.

Yates explains that -
This essay asks what kind of trope or rhetorical operation is activated by the call of the 'post-human'? What modes of inscription does the term deploy? I argue that the 'post-ing' of the human proceeds by refiguring of the 'human' as telephone or screen, as a surface that registers the action or presencing of the inhuman via an overwhelming apostrophe or prosopopeia. Allied to this call is a refiguring of the 'post-humanities' as an inquiry into how the modeling of non-human entities inflects the constitution of a common world, leading us to embark on a quest for less lethal or more friendly modes of inscription or writing. The philosophical movement known as 'speculative metaphysics' provides a rubric for this quest and so for a speculative literary history that would refigure our contacts with the textual traces named 'past' as a contact zone with alternate ways of being.
After that you can read treats such as -
Obviously there are difficulties, not least of which, as Katherine Hayles remarks, is that 'post, with its dual connotation of superseding the human and coming after it, hints that the days of the "human" may be numbered' (Hayles, 1999, 283) and that the term might sponsor fantasies of escaping embodiment in some transcendent upload or translation. Indeed, no matter how many brilliant, vital, anti-teleological protestations there are to the contrary – that 'we have never been modern' (Latour, 1993); that 'we have never been human' but have always been 'embodied' (Hayles, 1999); that we have always been 'natural-born cyborgs' (Clark, 2004); or that 'humanism' not the 'human' is what finally resides in the ‘post-human’ (Wolfe, 2010) – the pull to mere chronology in the preposition 'post' threatens to posit the 'post-human' merely as what comes next, nominalizing the term, and so sloughing it off as a category, a type of being, an ontology, even an anthropology, and so a valid reference.

Against this pull to linearization, the 'post-human' stages an ontological slide that up-ends the stability of categories (animal, plant, person, machine, fungus and so on) and their enabling narratives to focus instead on the ligatures, connections, or vinculae between differently animated entities that constitute ways of being (Serres, 1995, 4). The term deterritorializes being, making visible what Jacques Derrida once called the arche, 'general' or 'generative text,' the set of programs or infrastructure that writes/constitutes the world. It is worth recalling here that Derrida's staging of 'the history of life ... [or] differance' as the 'history of the gramm̬' aims to make visible modes of cognition, historical consciousness and forms of personhood that do not respect the ratio of the line or the linearization of the world that occurs in a phonetic writing system. The story, as you remember, begins with the observation lethal to any metaphysics of presence that 'life' begins with the writing event of 'genetic inscription' and 'short programmatic chains regulating the behavior of the amoeba or the annelid up to the passage beyond alphabetic writing to the orders of the logos and of a certain homo sapiens' (Derrida, 1974, 84). The project of metaphysics has been to construct a shelter from the technologizing of being as writing and being written by boxing up this program or inscription as an untranslatable origin Рcall it Nature Рand so holding at bay the insight that there exists a history of technology, of the machine and the animal, that is simultaneously, necessarily a history of human life. ...

But this passage 'beyond' or 'after' obeys no linear chronology so much as it seeks to stage the 'human' now as a site of exposure, effecting a pause, and so figuring a hiatus or fitting of the 'human' as a category. Rhetorically, the 'post-human' accomplishes this task by placing a potentially deadly, overwhelming call to the putatively human dasein, a call that cannot be refused, that comes in on all frequencies, and that simply overwhelms or overwrites existing codes.

The solipsistic human dasein is forced to idle and to listen or try to listen to the figurative chatter, songs or screams of the countless non-human actors whose manufactured declensions fund the networks that wrote the 'human' as self-identical being. If the 'human' is judged now to be the product or precipitate of a catastrophic way of modeling the relations between differently animated beings whose mode of existence, once upon a time, posed no ethical or political questions of use, then, the 'post-human' fractures forever that certainty. It brings the figure of the outside or the exterior inside the oikos or collective, remarking that the figure of the outside, that is of all the beings confined there and not granted citizenship, is a structural fault in the collective and its concept.

The Collect Call

By making lively, by making present, 'things' that once were silent, the 'post-human' functions as a powerful tele-t/r/opical operator – activating calls that resonate within the 'human' but whose exteriority precludes their ready processing. It deploys an overwhelming, potentially cacophonous prosopopeia, the trope that means to give voice or face to some thing, the trope of apostrophe, which, as Paul de Man notes, 'implies that the original face can be missing or non-existent', that it exists only because of its being figured or by the program of figuration itself (De Man, 1986, 44). But the call doesn’t quite go through. There's a fault on the line. And so the prosopopeia folds back on to itself to become a personification of the call itself: a figure of the figure, a call of the call or the potentiality that there is a call, coming through, but going unanswered. By connecting calls that the ‘human’ once simply blocked, the 'post-human' floods the switchboard, threatening paralysis, extinction or terminal overload. It raises the ethical and political ante that inheres to the 'human' to breaking point.
Fans can turn to Amar Dhall's 'Neo-Naturalism: A Fresh Paradigm in International Law' in 66(5) World Futures(2010) 363-380, a journal for fans of the Akashic Field - aka quantum flavoured parapsychology - and the amazing (in my opinion appalling) Ervin Laszlo.

The 'A Field', as noted in past posts of this blog, offers a theory of "past, present and future universes" as an "evolving" "collective consciousness" that unites the living and dead - yes indeed, the full kit n caboodle of reincarnation and parapsychology. It apparently provides an "empirical" "scientific" basis for human rights law.

The unkinder critics - readers should of course make their own judgments rather than relying on my opinion - would suggest that the A Field is the sort of mumbo jumbo deconstructed by Sokal in the famous 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity' article and Sokal & Bricmont's Intellectual Impostures (London: Profile Books 1998). Laszlo has explained that the A Field provides 'everything from single celled organisms to the cosmos with information to assist in the development and evolution of their systems. Once these systems have run their course the information is then sent back to the A-field to once again assist in the development and evolution of other organisms and masses.' Intelligent design sans the divine clockmaker, Madame Blavatsky's hocus pocus (or that of L Ron Hubbard) dressed up as science rather than spiritualism?

Dhall explains that -
Neo-Naturalism is a discrete paradigm of analysis emerging in the several sciences such as unified field theories in quantum mechanics and transpersonal psychology (Grof, 2000); looking at quanta in an entangled state or in superposition, and from remarkable evidence of observations of coherence in the fields of cellar biology, cosmology, and consciousness research (Laszlo, 2003, 2007).
An ungenerous reader exploring Grof, Laszlo and other authorities might raise an eyebrow at their enthusiasm - questioned elsewhere in this blog - for astrology, precognition, remote healing, reincarnation, communication with the dead, dowsing and so forth.

One reader's "remarkable evidence" is another's 'utterly ridiculous' or - given the third-party debunking of claims by Targ, Puthoff, Radin, Hagelin and other quantum holism fans regarding Uri Geller or levitation - simply repugnant.

Dhall indicates that -
when using quantum holism as the ontological foundation of Neo-Naturalism in this paper and as the hard basis to human rights in Dhall (2010), the following concern becomes manifest: Intrinsically, a holist duality posits a singularity from which not only human beings, but also all other animate and inanimate objects emerge. This poses a logical paradox in which a human rights regime based solely upon supervening quantum holism possibly attaches to other entities, such as animals and ordinary objects. Whilst this creates a doctrinal imperative to distinguish 'humans' as a discrete category of being to which human rights attach, this has not been the subject of either of the aforementioned papers. However, it does seem prima facie possible to argue human beings as a species can be distinguished from other entities that emerge from the supervening level of quantum holism as a species that have conscious recognition of the holist duality, as described by both many mystical traditions and epistemologically valid knowledge.
Prima facie, of course, some "mystical traditions" do not distinguish human beings from "other entities that emerge from the supervening level of quantum holism". Let's not parse the problematical nature of phrasing about "doctrinal imperative" and "singularity" or cavill too much at the fact that Dhall in referring to "either of the aforementioned papers" seems to be referring to a sole paper under his name (noted earlier in this blog).

As for "epistemologically valid knowledge" of parapsychology 'phenomena' ... I am simply lost for words and underwhelmed by a litany of citations to authorities whom most Australian lawyers would arguably regard as exponents of a mumbo jumbo that might be respected as an expression of faith but would not be admissible in an Australian court. Astrology? Reincarnation? The brain as a 'quantum field transceiver' or use of valve radios for messages from the undead? Not, in my opinion, hard science and not - again in my opinion - a more persuasive basis for a universal human rights jurisprudence.

Dhall states that -
In developing a human rights regime derived from holism, an appeal is made to legal pragmatists that seek "the liberation of thinking about law from superstition and dogma so that laws [can] be based on objective, ascertainable, scientific facts" (Triggs, 2006). As stated prior, holism is an epistemologically justifiable ontological construct that legitimizes recognition of human rights, and further creates an imperative for their recognition.

The ontology of quantum holism employed in Dhall (2010) is distinguishable from the claims of weak epistemology assailing the foundational claims currently employed to substantiate human rights doctrines because it is the product of diligent scientific research. This is arguably the most significant aspect of research into theories of holism employing structural realism. Recognizing holism as epistemologically valid mandates a paradigm shift in international law.
What if we do not recognise parapsychology as epistemologically more valid than other belief systems? We might be wary about claims that the "ontology of quantum holism" is superior merely on the basis of "diligent scientific research", particularly as that research - for example claims regarding astrology, reincarnation, precognition, remote healing etc - remains contentious, dismissed by some scientists as methodologically flawed and conceptually mistaken. Devotees of scientology, astrology or other belief systems may well be "diligent" but enthusiasm does not equal truth.

Dhall continues -
acknowledging quantum holism as an epistemologically valid description of physical reality shows a deeper and more nuanced connection between human kind and the natural world. This in turn creates a deontological imperative to reconsider many aspects of memes that define how humankind relates with the 'outside' world, not just other human beings. It is logical that such categories of meme include environmental policies such as animal rights and environmental protection. In point of fact, using holist theories as a place from which to engage in a meaningful dialogue on moral rights and responsibilities provides a platform from which to reframe many doctrinal aspects. Evidencing the drive to integrate holism into such areas of ethical consideration is Steiner's article Cosmic Holism, and Obligations toward Animals (2007).
I remain of the opinion that it is fine to repackage traditional natural law using Harry Potter, Twilight, Batman, the X-Men or other fad du jour. That repackaging should not, however, appropriate scientific language and claim that it has the authority of hard science.

A theory of law that encompasses reincarnation, messages from the dead and other treats is not necessarily objectionable. It is however problematical if it claims scientific authority and should instead stand on its own feet, alongside the 'witches n spookies' jurisprudence of King James I or L Ron Hubbard.

Reliance on magic and on pernicious notions such as 'cosmic ordering' (aka victim blaming) denies rationality and denies human agency. That is of fundamental concern in addressing human rights abuses.