Brian Massumi on the posthuman

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“Spinoza asks: What can a body do?”1 For a little speculative fun, here’s a potential answer, courtesy of Brian Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual:

In the networked dimension… the serial probings, sensitizations, expressions, transductions, relays, and transmission of the body are coaxed into co-presence with each other. All of the operations are held in ready reserve as randomly accessible openings. The body as RAO (random-access opening) can connected in any number of ways to itself, its objects, and other bodies. It can open, split, and reconnect at any point, inside or out. It is no longer an objective volume but an extendability.. This dimension is actually fractal, between dimensions. Split and extend: the basic operation used to generate fractal figures. The fractalization of the body is no metaphor: the posthumanizing operation.

The operation of fractalization is posthumanizing because, featured prominently among its “and’s” is subject and object. In the Internet events, the body was acting instrumentally as a subject when it sent out meaningful information… But in the event, it was also on the receiving end. Information flowed back to it, not meaningfully, but felt, as a controlling force (“Ping Body”). This force of information impinged upon the body split open: the body as an operationally opened, sensitized body. The cybernetic network makes the body a subject and object simultaneously, and asymmetrically (since in its different capacities it effects different kinds of movement: voluntary and involuntary, for example)… The networked coincidence of subject-object is neither reflective nor self-mirroring but rather operational and relaying. The “self” of this self-referentiality is of a qualitatively different kind, one that operationally includes in its being for itself other individual human body-selves as well as computers and phone lines and electromagnetism and any number of heterogeneous elements, forces, objects, and organs. The body self has been plunged into an extended network. As fractal subject-object, the body is the network – a self-network.

It was asserted earlier that the body and its objects were prostheses of each other, and that matter itself was prosthetic. The fractal body brings this extensile mutality to full expression. It is precisely the full expression of this aspect of the human that makes it posthuman. The self-network expresses extendability to a degree beyond the human pale. But extensile mutality is also before the human pale: it is characteristic of every perceiving thing, to the extent that it is capable of change. The extension into the posthuman is thus a bringing to full expression a prehumanity of the human. It is the limit-expression of what the human shares with everything it is not: a bringing out of its inclusion in matter, its belonging in the same self-referential material world in which everything unfolds. The potential cyborg extensions of the human, once it has entered a hyper-mutably open state, are existentially unbounded. The self-network is a worlding of the human. The moon’s the limit. Or maybe not. Having counteracted the earth’s force of gravity, the post-human body is in its own orbit: the becoming-planetary of the human.

The speculative limit is not merely the envelope of the earth’s atmosphere. More than a spatial bound, the limit is a critical self-conversion point bearing on the mode of existence of the human. Modally, the limit is self-organization – the self-network extended to encompass all aspects of what is, by virtue of that extension, ex-human life.2

1Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pg. 256

2Brian Massumi Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, 2002, pgs. 126-128

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1 Response to Brian Massumi on the posthuman

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    Again another Italian from another direction:

    We are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.

    Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

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