23. Jahrestagung, 28. September bis 1. Oktober 2022

Around 1900, a number of theoretical and narrative strands come together that yield many of the thoughts that later form the current conceptions of the posthuman. On the one side of the spectrum, one could name Jakob Johann von Uexküll, who, in his 1909 Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere, criticized Darwin for his anthropocentrism and went on to posit an interdependence or even mutual actualization of animal and environment. Other scientific conceptions, like field theories and systems and control theory form in the course of the 19th century, but focalize around 1900—to then result in the foundation of cybernetics. These developments bear an urge for a new approach to these concepts as well as their anchoring in reality—which leads to the rise of Franz Brentano’s and Ernst Mach’s Sinnesphysiologie (which also inherits the experiments in the Salpêtrière) and later culminates in phenomenology. All in all, concepts of relativity as well as trans-individual approaches to life and the human seem to govern the scientific, artistic, and literary imagination.

On the other side of the spectrum, one could name the Second Industrial Revolution and later the First World War, which yield a number of technological, but also philosophical consequences, up to Futurism with its utter disregard of human life and the celebration of technology in its place. The metropolis and its electrified life brings everything that finds its literary echo in Rilke’s Malte, Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, but also in Simmel’s theory, and countless other narratives and theories in the early 20th century. Similarly, visual art had begun, most strikingly in Expressionism, to disentangle perception from reality and, at the latest with Cubism, foregrounded not just sensation, but the abstract. This trend is also visible in literary works such as Musil’s Vereinigungen or Einstein’s Bebuquin, as well as the latter’s theoretical writings, especially on art. Another development around 1900 is the revival of hybrid forms, such as the centaur, as David Wellbery recently developed for the reading of one text in Kafka’s Betrachtung. Most relevant in this regard is Döblin’s Berge Meere und Giganten, which not only offers a plethora of hybrid beings, but also shifts agency from the human to all kinds of actors, such as animals, plants, or even minerals. The core of this topical orientation would be to search for more such examples for the diversification of agents, such as can be found today in Emanuele Coccia’s plant theory, for instance.

Despite past research into the origin of posthumanism around 1800 (Edgar Landgraf, Gabriel Trop, Leif Weatherby (Eds.), Posthumanism in the Age of Humanism), a new probe into posthumanism not in the age of humanism, but in the age of technology and environment seems vital for an understanding of the direction of our current philosophical climate.

Programm (PDF)

Ort: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Dey Hall 314 / Toy Lounge

Jahresthema 2022/23: Origins of Posthumanism Around 1900

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