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Manuela Kölke

Berlin, Germany
Superposing Ends – in Sight of Posthumanities
Monday, 11th September | 15:45 – 17:15

In superposing the field of inquiry about the ends of the humanities in the one sense, that is focusing on their function and orientation, with that of the ends of the humanities in the other sense, namely with respect their looming abolition, I will attempt to show that a shift of the former might not lead to preventing, but perhaps to an overcoming of the latter due to an alteration of the horizons of knowledge by posthumanism.

The development of digital technologies gave rise to various theories about how those technologies affect our everyday lives and our understanding of how those technologies reposition the human amongst other non-human entities. Asking about the tasks of the humanities has been a part of a rather long-standing discourse in the humanities disciplines, among others, tightly connected to notions of autonomy and heteronomy of human and non-human entities along the lines Critical Theory and ‘French’ theory throughout the last century. Going beyond the concept of assemblages and milieus, poststructuralist inquiries into ‘What comes after the subject?’ have paved the way for what is now called posthumanism in its many variations.

Given the continuity of the discourse on technology, the relatively recent uncoupling of the digital humanities from the traditional humanities as a discipline of its own stands very much in contrast to most STEM fields in which new technology is continuously incorporated and applied. Whereas the focus of the digital humanities on the ‘digital’ as an object and as a technique of study and means for scholarly communication, is often highlighted as an innovation, this separation between traditional and digital humanities provides grounds for contestation and should be considered critical in both aspects, as a separation based on the technique of study and a separation based on the object of study.

First, the kind and degree of technological deployment in the research, seems to perpetuate a crucial dichotomy in the relation between the emergence of concepts and methods, and the technology applied, a perspective that dissolves as digital technologies seep into every aspect of life and research. And second, a focus on the impact of digital technologies on human life in separation from traditional inquiries into human life seems to leave out the ongoing discourse on technology throughout history even before the rise of digital technologies. Moreover, it does not consider technology, human and non-human practices as an interwoven and increasingly posthuman assemblage, which in turn renders the term “humanities”, focusing on humanity and human practices solely as a separate subject of study, as too limited. Thus, a rearrangement of the traditional Humanities and Digital Humanities into a Posthumanities discipline seems to be more appropriate, as it takes human and non-human actors as well as all forms of technologies into account. Yet such a shift requires a reevaluation of the conditions of how knowledge is produced under the prefix of a subject that drifts away from being considered as an autonomous entity to a heteronomous, altered, enhanced, hybrid or even abolished posthuman subject. This presentation aims to examine, with an emphasis on radical posthumanism (Sharon 2014), how any posthuman production of knowledge can be understood in terms of its processes of determination, and what the consequences of such a revision would imply for teaching, research and ethics under a Posthumanities.