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What Is Posthumanism? (Posthumanities) Paperback – December 31, 2009

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Product Details

  • Series: Posthumanities (Book 8)
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (December 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816666156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816666157
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English at Rice University. He is the author of Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside” (Minnesota, 1998) and Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory, and the editor of Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota, 2003).

More About the Author

I went to college at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I was a dedicated poet and a Morehead Scholar. After finishing an M.A. at Chapel Hill in English, I completed a doctorate at Duke University, ten miles away, where I landed at just the right time to take advantage of a remarkable collection of faculty talent: Frank Lentricchia, Fredric Jameson, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Stanley Fish, just to name a few (visiting faculty in those days at Duke included folks like Terry Eagleton, Toril Moi, and Franco Moretti). In 1990, I moved to Indiana University in Bloomington, where I stayed for eight years as an Assistant and later Associate Professor in English, American Studies, and Cultural Studies, publishing my first book, The Limits of American Literary Ideology in Pound and Emerson with Cambridge in 1993, and co-editing with Bill Rasch a special double issue of Cultural Critique on "The Politics of Systems and Environments," which later appeared in modified form as Observing Complexity: Systems Theory and Postmodernity (Minnesota, 2000). In 1998 I left Indiana to become Associate Chair of the English Department at SUNY-Albany, where I stayed until 2003. While there, three books appeared: Critical Environments from Minnesota (1998), Animal Rites from Chicago (2003), and the edited collection Zoontologies, also from Minnesota (2003). In August 2003 I moved to Houston, where I now live and teach at Rice University, holding the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Chair in English and chairing the Department. I've recently published my fourth book, What Is Posthumanism?, which weaves together the concerns of my previous two volumes: animal studies, systems theory, pragmatism, poststructuralism. Over the past couple of years, I've also been involved in a couple of multi-author volumes: Philosophy and Animal Life, with Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, and Ian Hacking (Columbia, 2008), and The Death of the Animal: A Dialogue, with Paola Cavalieri, Matthew Calarco, Harlan Miller, and J.M. Coetzee (also Columbia, 2009). I have recently completed a co-edited collection with Branka Arsic at SUNY-Albany entitled The Other Emerson, which includes contributions by Eduardo Cadava, Stanley Cavell, Sharon Cameron, Don Pease, and several others, which appeared from Minnesota in 2010. Currently, I'm absorbed with completing a short book on biopolitics, biophilosophy, and species difference, and with editing the series Posthumanities that I founded at Minnesota, which will be publishing about six books a year--stayed tuned to my site (or theirs) for forthcoming titles. I continue to teach courses in US literature and culture, mainly in modernism (and especially modern poetry) but also selectively in the 19th century, and I spend a good deal of time working with graduate students in areas of theoretical training such as systems theory, pragmatism, animal studies, poststructuralism and non-literary culture. Over the past two decades, I've published widely on critical theory, American culture and literature, and the arts in venues such as Boundary 2, Diacritics, New Literary History, Cultural Critique, American Literature, PMLA, and New German Critique, among others. I've also enjoyed invitations to deliver numerous lectures, keynote addresses, plenary talks, roundtables, and seminars in both North America and Europe in venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University, the UCLA Humanities Consortium, The Forum for European Philosophy at the London School of Economics, the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and the annual Summer Academy in Frankfurt, Germany, among many others.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE on April 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Rule of Experts, Timothy Mitchell tracks a mosquito in post-colonial Egypt, from the desert battlefields of World War II to irrigated fields spread by artificial fertilizers and to malnourished human hosts providing fertile ground for malaria. If the mosquito could speak, it would have a different story to tell about the chain of events connecting war, disease, and agriculture.

Starting from a different methodological perspective, Michel Callon and Bruno Latour introduce the agency of nonhuman actors in social theory. Humans and nonhumans--their canonical example is the scallops, but nonhumans also include artefacts--are connected together by a web of relationships that undermine the classical distinctions between self and other, mind and body, society and nature, organic and technological. These material-semiotic networks come together to act as a whole, and they remove the human and Homo sapiens from any particularly privileged position in relation to matters of meaning, information, and cognition.

This is the posthumanism I was expecting to find in Cary Wolfe's book, as the book cover--an insect perched on a net--seemed to me a silent invitation to "follow the mosquito". In this respect, What Is Posthumanism was a huge disappointment. To be sure, Cary Wolfe warns his readers that they won't find references to the cyborgs and genetically enhanced human creatures that are introduced in the science-fiction literature as our post-human horizon. This is a book of theory, not fiction. But the theory he offers is a hodgepodge of abstruse academic fads, loosely connected under the heading of "cultural studies" or, to borrow from the title of a journal in which one chapter was published, "theoretical humanities".

I was well predisposed towards this book.
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19 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. LaRue on March 31, 2010
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This probably should not be someone's introduction to posthuman theory.

In short, Wolfe's Posthumanism seems to be a little more humanist than he leads the reader to believe. The language is dense and new (obscure) theories are never introduced (though he, at times, acknowledges that they are little known, even amongst academics). His density is not the problem, however. What becomes problematic is that after unpacking the language, the reader is left without much at which to grab. Where theorists such as Bhabha, Spivak and Heidegger (to name a few) are equally dense, their works present valuable, tangible, insights, upon unpacking. Between Wolfe's adherence to the idea that humanism is a necessary element of posthumanism and his ardent unwillingness to admit the humanist base of his method of argument--instead pushing for a deconstructionist approach--Wolfe leaves the reader trying to figure out just what humanism is through and argument of what it is not. Just as deconstruction seeks to avoid definitive answers, Wolfe avoids ever tying himself to one central argument for a posthumanist model.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By KB on May 28, 2010
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Unlike the previous reviewers, I found Cary Wolfe's recent book What is Posthumanism? to be quite rewarding, if a bit inconsistent at times.

What is Posthumanism? is divided into two parts. The first, Theories, Disciplines, Ethics, is a manifesto for the role of critical animal studies/posthumanism in the posthumanities. Wolfe starts the book by explaining what posthumanism is not: it is not an exploration of the posthuman (eg Hayles) or the transhuman, but an embodied critique of philosophical, ethical, and/or metaphysical versions of humanism. Wolfe's ability to apply and think through Derrida's complex later workThe Animal That Therefore I Am (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) along with the systems theories of Luhmann and others is refreshing for this reviewer. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies and nuances of systems theory, Wolfe's earlier chapter "In the Shadow of Wittgenstein's Lion" (which appeared in the edited volume Zoontologies: The Question Of The Animal as well as Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory) provides an excellent overview. Chapters 1-5, all largely theory focused, provide extremely exciting developments for the posthumanities.

The second half of the book, Media, Culture, Practices, is a collection of essays which apply many of the theories to particular traces - art, architecture, literature, and music.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Bruni on September 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
Cary Wolfe's book is an exciting introduction to a posthumanist thinking that takes its commitment to the "animal question" seriously. Wolfe points out that to answer this question requires a renewed emphasis on the humanities, for those in the field have for a long time been rightly skeptical about the Cartesian mind/body split, which those in disciplines such as cognitive science tend to reproduce in their arguments about the ethical standing of non-human animals. For example, the belief that non-human animals do not "experience" suffering in the same way as we do depends on the idea of the "human" seen as an abstracted representation of subjectivity.

As Wolfe leads us through his argument, he discloses how the fantasy of the humanist subject is sustained by a supposedly complete human field of vision. Here, art and literature challenge what we think we can see by showing how observation is staged, reminding us about what we can't see, and why. And at this point systems theory enters the picture with its rigorous study of second-order observations (the observing of observers). In successive chapters, Wolfe shows us how the idea of artistic form--redefined as the carrying out of observations--sheds light on the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Wallace Stevens. In his insightful readings of Emerson and Stevens, Wolfe invites us to reconsider the images of seeing and not-seeing prevalent in these writers' essays and poetry.

Those less interested in the animal question should read the last chapter first, which is a groundbreaking study of the early analog sampling technique in David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Wolfe argues that the totalizing force of globalization depends on us seeing the living present as not being discontinuous.
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