The Posthuman – Rosi Braidotti
by Giorgia Mini
Rosi Braidotti was born in Latisana, Udine, Italy, on 28 September 1954. At the Liceo Classico in Udine she obtained her scientific high school diploma. In 1970 her family decided to emigrate to Australia, where Braidotti graduated from the University of Canberra in Literature (1976) and Philosophy (1977), obtaining two important awards: the University Medal in Philosophy and the University Tillyard Prize. The uprooting due to her move to Australia caused great pain in the then adolescent Braidotti, but it was the beginning of a promising career of “philosophy of nomadism”. She then moved to Paris with a scholarship for a PhD in Philosophy at the Sorbonne, which she obtained in 1981 with a thesis entitled Feminism and Philosophy: Foucault’s critique of power, in relation to feminist theory. These are the crucial years for her philosophical and existential formation, in fact here she meets Foucault, Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigary and Gilles Deleuze and clashes in feminism and psychoanalysis.
At only 34 years old, in 1988 she obtained the prestigious (and first in Europe) chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, and in 1995 she founded and directed (until 2005) the Netherland Research School of Women’s Studies. At the same university she founded and directed the Centre for Humanities and is professor in Humanities in a Globalised World. In addition, since 2007 she has been an Honorary Visiting Professor at the Birkbeck College Law School in London and on 17 May 2013 she received the Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Linköping, where she contributed to the establishment of the Gender Excellence Centre. Braidotti is considered one of the founders of gender studies in Europe and one of the most original and prolific thinkers of recent decades in the fields of feminist philosophy, epistemology, poststructuralism and psychoanalysis, she is the initiator of European networks such as ATHENA (Advanced Thematic Network in Activities in Women’s Studies in Europe) and NOISE (inter-European University exchange program), as well as one of the most significant theoretical feminists. Among her works, which have been translated into several languages, I mention: Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, Patterns of Dissonance, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming.
Braidotti is therefore an Italian and Australian citizen, but is based permanently in Holland, where on 8 March 1998 she married her life partner Anneke Smelik (professor of Visual Art at the University of Nijmegen), thanks to a new law of the Dutch government.
In my philosophical ignorance, before reading this text I had never really come across the term posthuman. Looking through The Posthuman Glossary, published by the philosopher together with Maria Hlavajova (London: Bloomsbury, 2018) on page 94 under the definition of Critical Posthumanism I read: “the figure of the ‘posthuman’ (and its present, past and projected avatars, like cyborgs, monsters, zombies, ghosts, angels, etc.)” and again “and ‘posthumanism’ as the contemporary social discourse (in the Foucauldian sense), which negotiates the pressing contemporary question of what it means to be human under the conditions of globalization, technoscience, late capitalism and climate change (often, very problematically, by deliberately blurring the distinctions between science fiction and science fact).”
In the text Braidotti uses a dense writing and interspersed with a myriad of examples. These contemporary examples help the reader a lot to facilitate the understanding of the text and to lighten the reading of these philosophical writings. In my opinion, it is a pleasant reading.
The examples are placed in the present and remain in the present and never leave aside neither from the body nor from experience, but always meet an external (a great topic of contemporary life). External facts that really happened (unfortunately), that do not touch us personally, but that absurdly in some way affect all closely, in terms of society, collectivity.
In the introduction of The Posthuman, the philosopher paints a picture of the radical transformations of the human being, of life and of knowledge. Braidotti suggests to assume an affirmative policy, but at the same time characterized by a high level of complexity, which branches out into two considerations, namely the rethinking of the subjectivities in the posthuman and the need to translate politics through a new public ethics.
It is therefore necessary and there is a desire to produce new affirmative policies within the posthuman condition, but it is also useful to understand the logic of the accumulation of capital in the capitalist system and how much it influences in the sense of the life and death of the human being. At this point there are two plausible paths to follow: a new public ethics in the becoming and metamorphosis of the posthuman condition (as already mentioned above and as the philosopher suggests) or subtraction, resistance, conflict to defend what remains of the human, in the sense of its irreducible materiality.
From my understanding of the multifaceted argument, I believe it is desirable to take both paths,
because the human exists, is and cannot be replaced in its entirety.
The writer therefore feels obliged to place the different declinations of the complexity generated by the posthuman condition and thanks to this intent Braidotti also meditates on the role of the human and social sciences, as well as on the role of universities. In the first pages of the introduction of the book Braidotti introduces the topic of the posthuman. This is followed by four Vignettes, four examples, with which Braidotti introduces the four parts (all linked together) in which the volume is composed: post-humanism in all its inclinations, post-anthropocentrism, inhumanity (or tanatopolitics) and posthuman sciences.
Braidotti suggests an approach based on the continuum of nature-culture, that is a non-dualist
theory of the interaction between nature (the given) and culture (the built). This method is the
philosopher’s starting point for analysing posthuman theory.
I am interested in this criterion of analysis of our society, even if I find it difficult to merge the two categories. I reflect in the field of architecture, where nature is the place and culture is the work built by man. I can imagine a reciprocal influence between the two conditions, but in the end I always come back to consider them distinctly.
The posthuman condition generates a simultaneous fascination and concern (worry), enthusiasm and at the same time anxiety. I believe that we must accept that scientific and technological developments have taken place compared to the past: we live in “globally connected and technologically mediated societies”. And in the current negative social climate, where the theory has lost its value, thanks to the reading of the introduction of The Posthuman, I too hope that the posthuman can act as a means to “actively engage in the present” and become a tool to analyse, clarify and rethink humanity and its interaction with other agents on the planet. Even if for me the human remains the center within which the rest orbits.
With regard to this theme, as seen, there are many complexities and contradictions, which is why the author is not only critical (in the sense of rewriting of the human and humanism – and not antihuman), but also needs to be affirmative. She is affirmative but critical.
For me, however, it remains an open theme, to be analysed with the evolution of time and technology, which does not possess an absolute truth. A page still to be written, to be completed in the history of humanity (or should I dare of postumanity).
Polity Press, London, 2013, pp. 1-12.