Impressions on the 5th International Conference on the Posthuman – Rome 2013

Impressions on the 5th International Conference on the Posthuman – Rome 2013

Magda Vicini -  Professor Dr. in Communication and Semiotics at the Universidade Oeste de Santa Catarina – UNOESC from Xanxerê (SC). She teaches in the Visual Arts and Design Courses.

Event organizers:  Francesca Brezzi, Roma Tre University - Francesca Ferrando, Roma Tre University - Donal O’Mathuna, Dublin City University - Evi Sampanikou, Aegean University - Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, Erlangen-Nuernberg University

During the four days of our event at the University of Rome, from September 11 to 14, we were gathered listening to presentation of over 90 papers about concepts, projects, performances and photo exhibits about the Posthuman philosophy. It was as if we had built a world map considering geography, ethnography and philosophy of so many researchers, professors and artists in attendance. In addition to the fundamental lectures of Kewin Warick, a scientist from Reading University, and the philosopher and member of parliament, Gianni Vattimo (who, though he could not attend, he sent his paper to the conference organizers), I had the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of the posthuman philosophy from people who reflect and live the comprehension and respect for the transformations of this world.
      I noticed that in most of the research presented during the Conference, the concept of post humanity has been reflected based on the relation between human beings and machines (technologies) and the former in relation to the environment, animals, philosophy, art, science, medicine, in other words, the universe in which we live, and in this world, the presence of cybernetic technology in people’s lives seems unquestionable.

Investigating these relations, researchers intend to reflect on post humanity, from what I understood to be an improvement to the quality of human life, that is, post human, like the singularities of behavior existing between technological prostheses implanted in human beings, and the human body. An example was the case presented by Vincent Billard, a Canadian philosopher (author of iPhilophie, 2011), in which he conducted research about his teenage daughter’s cochlear implant and the transformation in her life, from the moment she started to hear the world around her: listening to stories, her mother’s voice, her family’s voice, that is, the sounds of life and the world.

Some of the work sounded truly fascinating, mainly those referencing human and technological identity to an almost perfect integration. For example, Dr. Warwick explained the brain implant surgery in which chips are implanted into a human being’s brain and arms. Dr. Warwick underwent that type of surgery himself. To Dr. Warwick, chip implants in his arms, as well as pacemakers, cochlears, which are already commonly implanted into human beings, do not cause complicated infections in human organs, which means, perfect adaptation between technology and the human body.

On the other hand, Philosopher and Professor Pieter Lemmens, from the Radboud University, in Nijmegen, Holland, considers that there are aspects to be taken into account in the relation between human and technology, based on Heidegger (1889-1976) and Stigler (1952). To Lemmens, according to Stiegler: “In the final analysis, technical interiorization puts us face to face with – not only theoretical, but in his opinion, very real – possibility which he refers to as a state of total automation, in which human autonomy would be completely absorbed by technical heteronomy – the good functioning of technical automatons – and (rendering) a human being’s doubts and questioning would become virtually impossible. This possibility of a state of total automation seems, in many ways, analogous to what Heidegger described as the supreme danger of technology, in which man would risk losing his ontological freedom – that is, his own freedom to be – and become set (festgestellt) in his current essence as an animal laborans (laboring man) by being so fitted (Gestell). The so-called posthuman condition would then be, in a certain way, the materialization (unrecognized) of the danger inherent to technology.”

In addition to my proposal, representing Unoesc de Xanxerê (SC), there was also the presence of Barbara Duarte, from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (MG). She has been living in France for 6 years and she presented the paper “Hacking the Body: towards a new understanding of humanity” about European groups which implant metal objects in their bodies, with the connotation of body-machines, as a new esthetical form for their bodies, without the use of anesthesia or medical supervision. Duarte also presented some of the contemporary artistic proposals which these groups have currently been creating.

To conclude this brief report on the 5th Conference on the PostHuman, I would like to mention to a PhD researcher, Francesca Ferrando and her research: “From the Recurrence to the Multiverse: Towards a Posthuman Ontology.” In her text, departing from Nietzsche’s “eternal return” and from quantum physics, Ferrando proposed an inspiration for the possible cosmo ontology to the post human. Francesca wonders “Can we unravel time?” and departing from this question with a theoretical foundation and from the perception of the human existence patterns, she concludes her presentation: “A posthuman approach will be of help. Posthumanism invites to think inclusively, comprehensively and relationally, radically stretching the boundaries of human comprehension, in the genealogical relocation of humanity within multiversality (“posthumanism” as a criticism of humanism, universe-centrism and anthropocentrism), and alterity within the self (“Posthumanism” as a recognition of those which aspects are constitutively human, and still, beyond human comprehension)”.

      Many things came to my mind: I had understood that the posthumanity proposal would be an improvement to human beings, both in the sense of coexistence among human beings and the endless technological possibility for us humans (health, inclusion, solidarity, sharing, education, etc.); as well as improvement of the comprehension of sensitivity and care of human beings among human beings and to themselves. Concepts of humanity, human, and humanism have not allowed us to learn to be humanitarian “with ourselves” and “with others”, in what could be called “posthuman-human” attitudes. We cannot help but remember the relation between man and the universe, where we include the earth, animals, plants, water, the air, the planets, the stars, which, together, make up the life organ which pulsates inside us all.

          When I presented my research about Joseph Beuys, I raised questions which are relevant to the “human”, if compared to the general concepts exposed during the conference. My proposal in the field of art and philosophy was to present a doctoral thesis about the translation of the concept of Social Sculpture into our lived context. In addition, my thesis proposes a rethinking of the human “being” in current posthumanity. In my research, I translate this concept, which to Joseph Beuys, meant to propose art in order to reflect: “how we think, speak and shape the world we live in” (Kuoni, 1993), when the artist himself entered into a dialogue with the public in his conferences during the exposition of this concept. But we also find this concept in his drawings, watercolors, multiples, performances, facilities (Bunge, 1998). In my translation, Social Sculpture as an art, I propose the Other’s Speech (Hegel, 2008), contrary to what Joseph Beuys realized, as in his dialogues, the artist’s own ideas were exposed. As a researcher and an artist, I propose Social Sculpture, in which what matters is the Other’s speech in social vulnerability and its intrinsic relation with culture, taking into account that Brazil has a population which has a great deal of social and human needs. Due to the Brazilian social framework, I propose a reflection on our relationship with the posthuman. Can this concept be inserted into all social structures?

Joseph Beuys’ proposal to spend 7 days in an art gallery with an American coyote, in his work Coyote (1974), makes us think of the social, political and cultural diversity, which still exists in the universe where we live and which can now be called posthuman. How can we think, shape, talk, and act in this world we live in, and where there is social vulnerability, that is, where there are many people whose human and social rights are not respected? Is that also posthuman? Social Sculpture: art is the kaleidoscope of posthuman subjectivity (I believe subjectivity is indispensable even in this posthuman moment).
To me, who, for the first time, was at a conference on the posthuman, so-called posthuman, it is a privilege that we can live, as we can not only suggest alternatives of improvement to human life using concepts and actions, but we are already obtaining scientifically tested results, such as in medicine (genome, exams, surgeries, prostheses, medication, etc.), as well as in the arts, and in the human and social sciences. Finally, we are living the millennium in which we can act and reflect not only empirically or scientifically, but also holistically convergent with actions and reflections among sciences: exact (where technology steps in), biological, engineering, health, agrarian, social, human, linguistic, literature and arts.