Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Posthuman Era and Hawthorne's Insight

When thinking of the word "human," the first idea that comes to mind is us. We are human. Human is basically defined as a mammal. We are mammals. We are warm blooded, meat eating, mammals. We are the way of life on Earth. But this term "posthuman" just doesn't sit well with me. To me, this means that we, humans, no longer exist and there is some new life or being on Earth. But maybe I'm taking it to a much literal sense of the term. But what could there be after humankind? Technology is the answer! The only problem with that is that we are creating the technology. So to recap, we are slowly wiping ourselves out of existence. But is that really true or does "posthuman" mean something else?

I think maybe there is room for it to be interpreted as a lifestyle that will make us sit by the wayside and become an even lazier being. We could create such advanced technology that we can have whatever we want in a matter of seconds. But this is all theory, so none of this is true. This is not happening, at least not to my knowledge. But someday it could very well happen. We may or may not be here but someone in our family will be here to experience it. It can either help us as a civilization or potentially destroy us.

Now Lyotard has caused a hiccup in some people's logic and outlook on life. These people have come to think that "the idea that our current technological endeavors will lead to a sentient existence, which, while continuous with ours, can no longer properly be called "human."." This is what they call "the Posthuman." And they may be right or they could be fools making outrageous comments on something they really read into.

Now what does Hawthorne have to with any of this you might ask? Well allow me to answer that question now. If you look at Chapter 17 of Hawthorne, when Clifford is on the train and conversing with the older gentleman, he goes off on a tangent about the future.
He says that the “admirable invention of the railroad” will “do away with those stale ideas of home and fireside, and substitute something better.” The old man disagrees, and Clifford begins to rant and rave. He then talks about his belief that mankind moves in an “ascending spiral,” where previous ideas are revived and reformed. In this case, the arrival of the railroad will allow mankind to return to the nomadic culture of its primitive era, and will prevent people from becoming “prisoner[s] for life in brick, and stone, and old worm-eaten timber.”

But Clifford doesn't stop there. He goes on to talk about the telegraph as well. He thinks that the unifying nature of the telegraph, which he believes will serve to make the world smaller by allowing lovers to talk over long distances. He deplores, however, the ability of the telegraph to aid in hunting down criminals, because it prevents them from being able to escape their crimes and start over, robs them of their rights, and deprives them of a “city of refuge.” and yet look how far the telegraph has brought us. We now have phones that are portable and can do multiple tasks such as text messaging, internet access, listening to music, etc. And is it weakening us or does it make us stronger? Clifford believes that technology will help us, and that it will weaken us.

Hawthorne has not chosen a side for this matter. He is "playing the field" or "leaning on the fence" waiting for something to happen that will sway him. Or maybe he just is not sure what side is on. Maybe he does not want to chose. But he must chose because that's what it is to be human. Our lives depend on the choices we make. Not all of them necessarily work out in the end though.


Matt Carrick said...

First off, what is your argument? You don't ever put down in writing exactly what it is that you are trying to say in this post, nor do you come to a conclusion that adequately ties together what you discussed leading up to it.

Second, you admit that you are basing your judgments on an assumption of what the term "posthuman" means. Why then did you not look up what the term actually is referring to? The theories and ideas that Lyotard refers to are all well-established philosophical/technical concepts. It doesn't take more than about twenty minutes and a few wiki searches to gain some sort of grasp on them. Then, working on that basis, you can expound your own interpretations.

Also, "We could create such advanced technology that we can have whatever we want in a matter of seconds. But this is all theory, so none of this is true. This is not happening, at least not to my knowledge." What about cell phones, microwaves, email, the internet, On Demand programming? These are all examples of current technology that allows us to have in seconds what only 50 years ago would have taken days at the quickest.

And finally, you make a lot of claims, but you support very few of them. A reader will not believe you just because you tell them something. You have to prove it to them.

Max Black said...

I agree with most of the points Matt said so I'll just note the other things I noticed.

I think with your intro you really need to define human better since its ultimately whats being effected. What is it that sets us apart from other creatures? What do you mean by "We are the way of life on Earth"? And how are we "slowly wiping ourselves out of existence"?

I don't feel you really connected your example from Hawthorne to Lyotard's idea of the post-human world. I think the passage you chose was good you just need to expand on it. It seems from your last two paragraphs your thought is that Hawthorne doesn't have a "side" but I don't really feel that deals with the prompt. I think you just need to connect the two works more.

I just think your main problems are the need to choose an argument, like Matt said and expanding on the majority of your points. The direction of the paper is well it just needs some tweeks.

Adam Johns said...

Here's what I liked:

1) You nail down what posthuman means for Lyotard.

2) You go to one of the obvious places in Hawthorne to talk about it.

3) The paper flows/reads well.

Here are the problems. As your readers pointed out, your argument isn't terribly clear. You take far too long to explain what "posthuman" means to you, and then, while you do identify where it plays a role in Hawthorne, you claim that Hawthorne sits on a fence and, thus, you sit on a fence yourself - you don't *respond* to what either Hawthorne or Lyotard think.

I come away from this believing that you understand Lyotard and Hawthorne reasonably well, but also with the impression that you aren't inclined to really form your own views on these subjects through them. You have the raw materials for an essay here, but the strong argument is missing. What is the reader supposed to come away with?