Monkey Trouble: The Scandal of Posthumanism

Monkey Trouble: The Scandal of Posthumanism

Monkey Trouble: The Scandal of Posthumanism

Monkey Trouble: The Scandal of Posthumanism


According to scholars of the nonhuman turn, the scandal of theory lies in its failure to decenter the human. The real scandal, however, is that we keep trying. The human has become a conspicuous blind spot for many theorists seeking to extend hospitality to animals, plants, and even insentient things. The displacement of the human is essential and urgent, yet given the humanist presumption that animals lack a number of allegedly unique human capacities, such as language, reason, and awareness of mortality, we ought to remain cautious about laying claim to any power to eradicate anthropocentrism altogether. Such a power risks becoming yet another self-accredited capacity thanks to which the human reaffirms its sovereignty through its supposed erasure. Monkey Trouble argues that the turn toward immanence in contemporary posthumanism promotes a cosmocracy that absolves one from engaging in those discriminatory decisions that condition hospitality as such. Engaging with recent theoretical developments in speculative realism and object-oriented ontology, as well as ape and parrot language studies, the book offers close readings of literary works by J.M. Coetzee, Charles Chesnutt, and Walt Whitman and films by Alfonso Cuarón and Lars von Trier. Anthropocentrism, Peterson argues, cannot be displaced through a logic of reversal that elevates immanence above transcendence, horizontality over verticality. This decentering must cultivate instead a human/nonhuman relationality that affirms the immanent transcendency spawned by our phantasmatic humanness.


No, it was not freedom I wanted. Just a way out; to the right,
to the left, wherever; I made no other demands; even if the way out
should only be a delusion; my demand was small, the delusion
would not be greater. To move, to move on!

—FRANZ kafka, “A Report to an Academy”

The human is a source of trouble for posthumanism. Committed to disturbing the opposition between human and nonhuman, posthumanist theory has tended to sideline the human from the scene of its theoretical engagements with otherness. the human has become akin to the “Invisible Gorilla” made famous by psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. Seeking to establish the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, Chabris and Simons instructed participants in a psychological study to watch a video of people passing around a basketball. Many participants failed to notice a chest-pounding, ape-suited human walking through the middle of the scene. For those keen to demonstrate their fidelity to nonhumans, the human has likewise become a conspicuous blind spot.

To be sure, the nonhuman turn has yielded a wealth of critical interventions that have profitably altered the landscape of the humanities. Fostered by loosely federated areas of inquiry such as animal studies, systems theory, actor-network theory, object-oriented ontology, and speculative realism, this turn does not so much name a singular doctrine or movement as it does a broad theoretical reorientation that aims to shift our attention toward a concern for nonhuman alterity. Thanks largely to the insights of . . .

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