From posthuman to transhuman: animality and the politics of nonhuman being

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Schillmoller, AL 2005, 'From posthuman to transhuman: animality and the politics of nonhuman being', paper presented to The politics of being: the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy Annual Conference, Sydney, NSW, 15-17 June.


The concerns of this paper have been precipitated by the chauvinistic humanism of the western philosophical tradition. In spite of its ostensible rejection of humanism and its rhetoric of hospitality towards the ‘other’, Continental philosophy seems to have been unable to escape this chauvinistic impulse. In the rare instances where it problematises the relationships between humans and non-human others, Continental philosophy adopts an oppositional discourse which reinforces the anthropocentrism and speciesism of humanist metaphysics. In doing so, it embraces the very distinction it has called into question elsewhere, failing to free itself from the epistemic prejudice of the discourse it has sought to displace. Perhaps, as Calarco and Atterton note, its real sin, is one of omission.

This paper seeks to problematise the bifurcation of humanity and animality which results in an affirmation of humanist hegemony according to a logic of opposition and objectification. With reference to the conceptual resources of continental philosophy, it will consider the possibilities for rethinking and transcending the objectifying sensibility of humanist thought. In doing so, it is mindful that what we might want to say about animality is constrained by philosophical discourse and that any attempt to communicate what Bataille refers to as the ‘immanence’ of animality, lies beyond discursive knowledge. With reference to Heidegger’s notion of poetic imagination and the phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, the paper will consider whether it is possible to envisage ‘being’ in other than humanist terms, and in doing so, to develop a transhuman and sensorial engagement with non-human others. Deleuze and Guattari’s performative text on animality, in which the ontological primacy of being is eschewed in favour of the notion of ‘becoming’ will be also be explored, with a view to developing a discourse of non-human being which overcomes the human/nature opposition and which transcends notions of identity, imitation and representation.