Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Nonhuman Turn/Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Nonhuman Turn/Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large

Article excerpt

The Nonhuman Turn/Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large

Richard Grusin, ed., The Nonhuman Turn (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

Vicki Kirby, Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

Human Exceptionalism and Decentering the Human

Certain areas of contemporary philosophy exhibit an increasing willingness to attribute the characteristics that have previously been exclusively reserved for humans to things in the world that are not human. In superseding philosophical legacies that portray nonhuman animals as mechanistic automatons, and non-animals as less agentive than that, The Nonhuman Turn (2015) is one such edited volume interested in reconfiguring how we see animals, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality and technologies. Whilst this is intended to represent a progression of thought, the nonhuman philosophies comprising this collection actually caution readers about subscribing to the notion of humans superseding anything. Even though an acknowledgement of the ontological productivity of nonhumans is something posthuman studies also entails, editor Richard Grusin makes clear that "the nonhuman turn does not make a claim about teleology or progress in which we begin with the human and see a transformation from the human to the posthuman" (ix). Instead, what seems be common to each of the authors in this collection is their challenge to human exceptionalism (x). As Grusin demands, the importance of the nonhuman turn is its contestation to theories that install "human/nonhuman and subject/object" oppositions, with "their insistent privileging of the human" (xi).

This contestation of The Nonhuman Turn can be appreciated by comparing it to an earlier text also concerned with human exceptionalist suppositions: Vicki Kirby's Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large (2011). For Kirby, the social and cultural sciences, seeking to emulate the "objective facticity" of the physical sciences, assume a split is required between an observing subject and the object being observed. Kirby wants to interrogate what such sciences classically assume-chronologically anterior, mute material objects whose truths "literate" humans "uncover" and represent. Rather than prioritizing a human observer and documenter of nature-as-objects, Kirby considers whether Nature is its own interrogator, asking "what do we forfeit if we concede that Nature reads and writes, calculates and copulates with itself in the most perverse, creative, and also destructive ways?"(95). As this question emerges repeatedly (xii, 48, 83,95), Kirby joins her readers in fascinating over the dynamism of the material, object world.

Object-oriented ontology's comparable concern with the object world informs much of the material found in The Nonhuman Turn. Timothy Morton's chapter "They Are Here," sets a standard for this theme, declaring the intention to "change the sense of what is meant by the term object" (Grusin, 167). Whilst challenges to racist and sexist ideologies are typically concerned with de-objectifying conceptions of those subjects marginalized according to race or sex, nonhuman studies wish conversely to encourage object-characterizations of subjectivity. In dismantling the opposition between human-subject and nonhuman-object, all boundaries separating otherness become more vulnerable, Morton states, whereby "the lineage that brought us slavery and racism is also the lineage that brought us the anthropocentric boundary between human and nonhuman" (167). What must be considered though is whether this issue of anthropocentrism marks a crucial difference between Kirby's sense of human/nonhuman division and that of The Nonhuman Turn.

Objects and Interpretations of Objects

Wanting to problematize the conceptual linearity of a world of natural objects that human, cultural representations then distort, Kirby laments that something like deconstruction is interpreted as constructing a linguistic image of an object's reality from which it is ontologically distanced (Kirby, 2). …

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