Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

CHAPTER 1: The Human, Consciousness and Its Temporality

Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

CHAPTER 1: The Human, Consciousness and Its Temporality

Article excerpt

As philosopher Bernard Stiegler argues in Technics and Time, the human arises and constitutes itself through its appropriation and transformation of "organized inorganic matter." If with paleontologist Leroi-Gourhan, upon whose work Stiegler bases much of his analysis, we view the emergence of human society progressively in accord with its increasingly sophisticated usage of technics, we easily see how each shapes the other while the Rousseauist "natural man" shorn from its reciprocal technical transformation of the world falls away as an illusion. This interdependent relationship between the human and the technical is what Stiegler calls "originary prostheticity." The fact that the human is defined precisely by its relation to the virtual and the prosthetic tends to blur the dividing lines between the "natural self" and the "technological self" to which some humanists have been opposed - especially in its currently fetishized forms.1 At the heart of this argument on the construction of the human is an image of the self as porous and dependent on reciprocal support that is internalized to such an extent that this reciprocity defines the self.

As we will see in our discussion of cognitive science and philosophy of mind's approach to the self as floating subject position in need of temporal, spatial and affective markers to situate itself, there can be no self without a working through of the movement between self and other (both nonhuman and human). But this is normally a transparent or invisible process, one which we are not aware of, such that when the other's radical change or absence makes the necessity of this rapport clear, the self attempts to replace, reconstruct, or somehow return to this changed or missing other. This sense of loss of the newly discovered other in the self, the other as self (and the "self as other" as Paul Ricæ ur convincingly argues in Oneself as Another) is what triggers the classic humanist move to recuperate a past state which appears as somehow more authentic than the present one.

Thus the view of the relationship between the human and what lies beyond it may be applied to the process by which the self's narrative relies on an other as "prosthetic"2 a crucial rapport by which the self is both invested by and invests the mental representation of a vital other. As Ángel Loureiro writes in the preface to his Levinassian study The Ethics of Autobiography "There is no self without an other who listens constantly, even in the midst of the deepest silence or the greatest solitude" (xvi). I explore this concept in greater detail in my discussion of the prosthetic other in Chapter 2. For now, I would like to emphasize that taking embodied consciousness as the motor of the sense of self has several consequences, especially when the self is viewed as fundamentally relational. This is apparent in the basic struggle present in much of contemporary literature and film between a desire to see the self as autonomous and the realization that it is relational.

I turn now to a brief discussion of some of the concepts that historically have helped define the notion of the human and the attendant ideology of humanism.

Humanism

There are many brands of humanism, a term which is notoriously difficult to define,3 but which, in its various incarnations, generally holds subjective human experience (and especially consciousness or the mind) as central, while conferring the greatest importance upon human dignity and potential. Some of the most influential forms that humanism has taken include Christian humanism (in which all humans derive their value from their origin as creatures of God, with Christ as the model of the "perfect man"), socialist humanism (which posits that by eliminating class divisions each person may benefit and be protected equally in society), liberal humanism (the free subject who owns herself and whose stable identity and agency are defined by a rational mind) and secular humanism (which defends the essential value of human life without reference to a divine origin). …

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