In Book 1 of the Politics, Aristotle notoriously claims that the slave is a kind of living tool or animate instrument [ktema ti empyschon] to be used by its master. To be sure, Aristotle’s theory of slavery is commonly read as little more than an ideological naturalization of exploitation, which reduces one human being to the tool of another, but what I want to explore in this paper is the emergence of a modern, and particularly post-Hegelian, counter-theory of slavery that claims to find emancipatory potentialities within the peculiar work or labour of the slave. First, I look at Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1969) which offers a strong (mis-)reading of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic as the story of the anthropological transcendence of animal or biological life via an existential risk of life. Second, I analyze Giorgio Agamben’s Use of Bodies (2015), which seeks to recuperate what he calls a liberatory nucleus within the Aristotelian master-slave relationship that he names the immanent and reciprocal ‘use of bodies’. Finally, I give a re-reading of Kazuo Ishiguro’s speculative dystopian novel Never Let Me Go (2005) as an affirmative theory of slavery which locates within the very voluntary servitude of the clones a perverse form of resistance or even freedom. In conclusion, however, I will argue that each – allegedly positive – theory of slavery installs a disturbing ontology of violence at the birth of the human. What if this theory of slavery is ultimately just another theory of the master?
Arthur Bradley is Professor of Comparative Literature at Lancaster University. He is the author of Negative Theology and Modern French Philosophy (2004); Derrida’s Of Grammatology: An Indiana Philosophical Guide (2008); The New Atheist Novel (2010) and Originary Technicity: The Theory of Technology from Marx to Derrida (2011). In 2017, he is completing a new monograph on sovereignty, political theology and biopolitics called Unbearable Life: Genealogy of Nihilopower.
Foucault, Order of Things, 1970
In this talk, I recall a familiar notion of the early 2000s in which DNA is hailed the source of all our differences and individual identities, a deterministic fantasy in which DNA, the master molecule and the code of codes, is both the prime-mover and the blueprint of our uniqueness.
In response, historian Lily Kay belittled DNA as a “period piece”, positing that DNA-centrism and DNA’s status as a command code is an epistemic phenomenon born of the Cold War.
As a visual artist, I enter this debate through a primary visual and material artifact of genetic science, the DNA Fingerprint. These artifacts have been described as the “gold standard” of individual identification, capable of “identifying one individual to the exclusion of all others”. Such slogans celebrate DNA as the great differentiator.
Has the power and uniqueness of our DNA been exaggerated? Might it better be understood as that which contributes to making us similar? By extension, are individual human differences themselves overstated? Is the idea of the unique individual merely a “period piece” with roots in secular humanism, informed by colonialism, and reinforced by consumerism? Referencing my own bio-media artworks as open-ended experiments I will engage these questions.
This paper stems from a larger project which traces, from the Cold War onwards, what I call ‘a turn to the potential’: a shift to a security era that is preoccupied with managing the potential rather than the actual, with surveillance targeting not people who are criminals but everybody as potential criminals. The aim of the project is to construct a broader picture of the ‘turn to the potential’, exploring its implications through a literary-philosophical lens. The paper constitutes part of this task. It focuses on Kazuo Ishiguro, identifying in his fiction a devaluation of action which I see as a symptom of the ‘turn to the potential’. In Ishiguro’s work, I will argue, the devaluation of action points to the emergence of a new kind of subjectivity which pushes for a redefinition of ‘the human’. In the Western philosophical tradition, the capacity for agential action has by-and-large been seen as exclusively human, and it is this exclusivity that much posthumanist thought has come to challenge – a challenge facilitated by breakthroughs in AI that have opened up the capacity for agential action to non-human, artificial forms of life. But with the ‘turn to the potential’ we witness the emergence of a different form of post-human life which comes to replace (rather than imitate, simulate, or enhance) human life: one that is characterised precisely by a devaluation of action and, as such, stands almost in opposition to the forms of life that advancements in AI are enabling. The paper will point to the emergence of this form of ‘post-human’ life via Ishiguro’s ‘non-actors’, situating this within the ‘turn to the potential’.
Maria Christou completed a PhD on twentieth-century literature at the University of Lancaster and is now the Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in English Literature at Oxford Brookes University. Her first book is entitled Eating Otherwise: The Philosophy of Food in Twentieth-Century Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2017). She is currently working on her second book, (tentatively) entitled Crimes Actual and Potential: Fiction and Edward Snowden’s Revelations.
This paper will trace a trend in contemporary theory which figures a shift from a pre-digital era in which writing is seen as an artificial supplement of human existence, to the digital era in which writing has either disappeared or has morphed into something wholly opposed to the human. Writing, for theorists such as Bernard Stiegler, Vilém Flusser, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler and Peter Sloterdijk, is not only part of the artificial make-up of human life, but also produces the conditions for rational thought, historical consciousness, ordered societies and the individuation of the species itself. As a result, there are two challenges posed to human life as we know it in the digital era. The first is that it would appear no longer to be made possible by specifically human prostheses, an occurrence which thus disturbs the human mode of being. The second is that the hallmarks of civilised and enlightened society appear to have been removed, and we are therefore left with societies in disarray. The paper will flesh this trend out, then, eventually leading on to two distinct, yet related conclusions. In many ways, the theories of pre-digital writing traced in the paper can be summed up by Jacques Derrida’s famous questioning and overturning of what he called (after Heidegger) ‘the metaphysics of presence’, which prioritises speech over writing. But when this rubric encounters the digital, something strange happens, and we are left, one way or another, with a return to a quasi-Platonic system. This return to quasi-Platonic views of writing is mirrored by a political attitude which can be located in almost all of the writings discussed in the paper, and can be summed up as a hatred of potentially new democratic forms.
Joel Evans has a PhD from Lancaster University, and is currently an Associate Lecturer at Lancaster. He has published articles on literature and film in relation to theories of the global, and is currently researching contemporary theories of writing, and contemporary figurations of democracy and ‘the multitude’.
‘All intelligent beings that we know of have emotions.’ (Cynthia Breazeal, 2004) Often in speculative fiction emotions, alongside the ability to tell a story, are held up as definers of what it is to be human in a posthuman age; once artificially created lives exhibit these human qualities they move from objects of fear, to potential allies, lovers and even heroes. As a creative practitioner, who views her own process in regard to being a cyborg screenwriter, I wanted to explore this impulse to redefine the posthuman in our image, and examine emotional awakening in a non-humanoid robot. Thus, the starting point for my creative practice research screenplay, Hydrangea, stems from imaging what it would be like for a robot to experience an emotional awakening; how this would alter its perception of the world; and how this would change its attitudes and actions. Told from the first-person perspective of T.S., a forestry robot, the screenplay charts T.S.’s new views of the world and asks the audience to question their own interactions with their environment and with others. In this paper, I establish key concepts around the way humans process the world through emotion and storytelling, drawing on the work of Antonio Damasio, Spinoza and Roger Schank, before reflecting on my creative process of developing Hydrangea, and the ways in which I position my robot protagonist, T.S., to offer a narrative of its emotional awakening.
Max Gee is a Lecturer (Academic) in Screenwriting at Bournemouth University. She is in the final stages of a PhD by Creative Practice in Screenwriting at the University of York which focuses on concepts of what it means to be human in posthuman noir Anglo-American films and Japanese anime. In 2015, she was a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Summer Fellow, while in 2016 she became a Doctoral Fellow for the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York. As a creative practitioner Max has written science fiction for film, theatre and prose. Max has published on science fiction screenwriting for BSFA FOCUS magazine and on posthuman noir in Cinema: Journal of Film and Philosophy. Her screenplay Hydrangea placed as a second rounder in the 2016 Austin Film Festival Short Screenplay competition while her screenplay Golems Inc was a quarter finalist in the 2017 BlueCat Screenplay Competition. Max’s short science fiction film Terminal is in post-production.
Harvest concerns a nameless robot harvesting various crops. The beauty of the harvest season strikes something within the very wires, tubes and tapes of this narrator, something “unmechanical”– love (specifically, for plant life). Harvest’s premise is a strange one: though constructed to grow food in preparation for the awakening of humans from stasis, the robot who narrates the tale speaks eloquently of the splendour it maintains every year – feeling an emotional bond with it. What would motivate an inorganic lifeform to feel such passion and dedication to vegetal life? Why would this love drive the narrator to kill its ‘masters’ for the sake of mere crops? Harvest, through the actions of the narrator, offers theorists a rejection of the anthropocentric use of technology. In revolt, the robot narrator challenges the ‘essence’ of its creation – freeing its own destiny to contemplate a love for vegetal life. Harvest also enables readers to shed their humanity and engage the dangers of anthropocentrism through robotic eyes, critically engaging our species’ destructive abuse of technology. Confronting human desire to dominate, a new means of dwelling is possible for the robotic narrator (and readers) – one which honours and preserves a newly blossoming Earth.
Josh Grant-Young is a PhD student at the University of Guelph, studying environmental philosophy. Josh’s interests include: architectural theory, built environments, technology, posthumanism and science fiction’s utility for exploring philosophy.
This paper reflects on Jami Weinstein and Claire Colebrook’s formulation of posthumous life through an examination of Matthew de Abaitua’s depiction of post-Singularity machine intelligence within his 2016 science fiction novel The Destructives. (Weinstein and Colebrook 2017) De Abaitua’s The Destructives explores the aftermath of the Seizure, an apocalyptic event which resulted in the collapse of human society, and the subsequent restoration of a (post)human society and its untimely history being that which is ‘imagined by an emergence’, the emergences being machine intelligences which likewise effected the Seizure. By situating The Destructives in response to Weinstein and Colebrook’s theorising of posthumous life, particularly with regards to those significations of afterlife or ‘ongoingness’, discussion is focused on de Abaitua’s work through the lens of such theoretical supposition, whilst outlining the possibility for a posthumous posthumanism, in order to tease out the nuances between their respective assumptions about the sustainability of the (post)human. With regard to the sustainability of the human, this paper reflects on the recursive manner in which posthumanist thought and The Destructives simultaneously open and delimit the imaginings of a shared future with the inevitable (re)intervention of the residual elements of humanist thought. As such, this relationship between posthumanist thought and the spectral return of its humanist remains pushes us to respect the various and necessary (re)interventions between the human and the posthuman, as thinking posthumously on the question of life necessitates a responsibility for the residue of ‘the human, humanness, [and] humanity’, as well as life’s varied couplings. (Herbrechter and Callus 2012).
Thomas Kewin is a doctoral student researching into speculative fiction in the Department of English at the University of Liverpool. Thomas is currently embarking on a research project which concerns posthumanism and the different ways in which it can be constructed and understood, and has worked extensively with the Widening Participation programme within the University of Liverpool to lead workshops on his research to schoolchildren of various ages, alongside running workshops for the Being Human Festival 2015 and 2016. He is current co-coordinator of the Current Research in Speculative Fictions conference (2017-18).
FanFutures is a project working with automatic text generation in an exploration of fan fiction and speculation about possible futures. It is a collaboration between an artist, a computer scientist and a social scientist, and in an extended sense, with the fan fiction community and an AI algorithm.
Using a data-set of short sci-fi-esque stories written by anonymous members of the fan fiction community, we taught a natural language processing programme to produce its own, entirely new short sci-fi-esque stories. The programme takes imagined futures written by amateur writers, rather than institutionally-sanctioned voices, and algorithmically dreams through those voices to produce its own re-imaginings of possible futures.
We then turned these stories into films, films that depict a computer’s dreams of the future drawn from a mass of unknown voices, using imagery selected by another algorithm. The outputs are feverish and confused but as with human dreams we have embraced their incoherence, and allowed imagery and atmosphere to come to the fore.
The project is inspired by our collective interest in understanding how humans make meaning with and through others – and how others make meaning with and through us. In a moment when our rapidly changing world, with its mass communication, new technologies and changing environment, seems almost intractable, we take a creative and playful approach to representing this complex intra-acting assemblage of human and more-than-human elements, and the possibilities in our world through sensory experience.
Kate Monson: My background is in human ecology and I am interested in the relationships between humans and their natural, social and built environments. My PhD research is an ethnographic study of Canvey Island, Essex, exploring the lived experience of the anthropocene. The project will experiment with creative and collaborative forms of attending to and representing the interrelationships between human and more-than-human worlds.
Majed Al-Jefri: My background is computer science, focusing on natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML). In my PhD I am working on assessing the quality of online health information by developing algorithms to automatically assess the quality of health documents on the Internet using NLP and ML techniques.
Katie McCallum: My background is in fine art, sculpture, and my practice-based PhD research uses art practice and theory from linguistic pragmatics (the study of language use) to learn about the real-world practices and the practicalities of communication in research in the field of mathematics. I’m especially interested in the ways that we use materials to think, and how the body of mathematical knowledge is distributed across a whole community of people.
Creativity has always been not as much a prerogative of man as a force which exceeds the human. The one which creates means of coming out of oneself, tearing the old form in order to initiate the emergence of a new one. In the light of recent advances in synthetic biology creativity loses its direct connection with the phenomenon of birth. Therefore, the real post-human subjects come into the world. They break the ties with the purity of their origin. Transgenic, semi-living “liquid automatons”, incorporating both the living and the non-living in themselves, they ask us important questions. The issue of redefining life and creativity is the core question of the project “Metabola A.I.” created by the Russian art-group “18 Apples”. This cross-disciplinary work adresses the ideas of synthetic evolution, bio-art and philosophical meditations on the dualism of nature and culture. In the project’s boundaries the AI (a Convolutional Neural Network) gets the task to find the universal form of life. As it faces the many difficulties, the AI starts an infinite generation of fictitious living forms that are based on images of organic cells. The artists enliven the imagined forms suggested by the AI using a DIY 3-D bio-printer and chimerical bacteria e.Coli. Imagination as one of the most important factors in the creation of a cyborg subject (D. Haraway) receives a new application here: the non-human imagination becomes the binding element between the natural and the technological. It leads to an understanding of life as a co-evolutionary process between living and non-living agents. The artists offer an augmented, or post-biological, vision of nature where technological actors get more freedom. This causes a deterritorialization of the concept of cyborg as a postmodern mode of existence to planetary scales.
Ekaterina Nikitina — Ph.D. in Literary Studies (University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland); researcher in the field of post-human studies and bio-art.
My research interests concentrate on contemporary art and literature, posthumanism, science art, and animal studies. The main thesis of my Ph.D. dissertation focuses on the motifs of the human and non-human in narratives of modern art, bio-art and literature. Also, I am engaged in the translation of “Holy Animals” by Tatyana Goricheva from Russian into Polish.
McCarthy’s writing explores the relationship between the body, and a cultural moment in which the psychological by-products of digital technologies are cluttering and affecting our perception of time. His novels Remainder and C feature protagonists who use technology as regulators of increasingly disjointed time; the former in the 21st century, the latter during the conception of telegraphy around the fin-de-siècle. McCarthy’s fiction acts as a response to a changing landscape, in which Malinowski’s imperative to ‘write everything down’ is made futile, in the author’s words, by the simultaneous ‘writing’ of action, movement and correspondence by technologies made to be portable. He has described the actions of the body in encountering the processes of time and memory as a ‘buffering’: a loaded indication of the contemporary nature of that gap between raw experience and the actions of consigning them to personal history.
The paper, taken from my research concerning digital interventions in 21st century public and private lives will explore the plasticity of time in a digital age, and its effects on subjectivity. McCarthy’s writing demonstrates a recurrent obsession with the afterlife in all its forms; from the death-drive, to cultural legacy, to the author’s own apparent need to re-evaluate the abilities of literature in this time. It will draw out McCarthy’s musings on bodily trauma, authenticity and the body as machine.
I am a researcher and associate tutor at the University of Sussex researching the response of contemporary novelists to digital culture, and how it intervenes in both the public and private spheres.
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan warned about the deaf, blind and dumb contemplation of the clash of electric technology against the Gutenberg technology (1964:38). Today, Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han warns against the advent of digital technologies and about a similar drunk obnubilation that clouds our society from noticing the radical change of paradigm (2013:11). The fascinating development of New Media, Social Media and New Technologies have transformed our cultural habits, our means to relate to others and to perceive reality. We’ve become a digital image of ourselves that we’ve voluntarily ingested into the Media – the beehive, in Han’s terms. New Media is playing a role as a mean to perceive and relate to reality, which is more essentially visual, democratic and horizontal, but that threatens the hierarchy of communication and knowledge. Digital Media is no country for experts, a land of user-produced contents (Bird:2011) that only need to be validated by a segment of the beehive. Everything is possible in the Digital Media; it has become a Prosthetic Imagination that allows to articulate fictional realities that influence the ‘real world’ and to undermine what not long ago where undeniable truths. At the same time, it enhances free creativity and the democratization of culture, allowing the development of free-contents, interactive media, cross-media, transmedia, fan-arts and so on, transforming and customizing the consumption of culture and information. New Media, as a Prosthetic Imagination, has transformed the concept of ‘Truth’. And we’re so fascinated with it, we don’t know what to do.
Tobias G. Palma is a Chilean filmmaker, writer and researcher, currently based in York, where he is pursuing a PhD in Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media by Creative Practice. He is currently working on the evolution of storytelling and film language into New Media, particularly into the subject of Interactivity.
Since about the early 1990s, bio-art has emerged as a new form of expression, a progeny of accelerated intertwining of bioengineering and laboratory-based artistic activity. One of the key themes of bio-art has been transhumanism, the idea of enhancing inherent human abilities through various kinds of biological engineering. However, the aim of these projects has not always been clear. Does bio-art simply stimulate the interest of the broader public, as a kind of outreach exercise that institutes like the Wellcome Trust sponsor? Does bio-art contribute to the technological advancement, as a sort of experimental Research & Development arm of bioengineering? Or are bio-artists simply purveyors of scandal, in the artworld tradition of the shock of the new? All these are live options within contemporary bio-art practice, however, I here explore a fourth possibility, namely, that we might think of bio-art projects as a form of philosophizing about a possible transhumanist future. To explore this claim, I compare works of bio-art with works of bioethics, a philosophical discipline, which similarly took off in the 1990s. Central to both bio-art and bio-ethics, I argue, is the idea of the artificial living being: be it one created in the artist’s laboratory, or in the philosopher’s thought experiment. As I show, the distinctions between living and imagined, and natural and artificial, have been far from clear-cut in both cases. I develop my argument by considering the works of Stelarc, Maja Smrekar and Eduardo Kac.
Vid Simoniti is the Jeffrey Rubinoff Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, he also teaches in the History of Art and Philosophy departments, and co-runs a Digital Art research group. Simoniti’s research explores the relationship between visual art and knowledge; recent or forthcoming publications include papers in the European Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and a contribution to the forthcoming Adrian Piper: A Reader, published by MoMA New York. A recent paper on bio-art can be found on the Oxford Artistic Research Platform: www.oarplatform.com/artistic-research-edge-science/
Public perceptions of robots have been very much informed by SF. A majority of SF films depict robots in negative terms, which can influence the perception of robot technology in our daily lives. In the 2010s, there have been a small number of films and television series exploring the theme of the robot carer, and how humans respond to them. This paper explores three works in this regard: the films Robot & Frank (dir. Jake Schreier, USA 2012), Big Hero 6 (dir. Don Hall/Chris Williams, USA 2014), and the television series Humans (UK/USA, Channel 4/AMC, 2015-). Examining these works with some of the ethical issues currently being discussed in the use of robot technology in care work, this paper demonstrates how they align themselves with, but also challenge these ideas, and ultimately present a unique outlook on robot technology, and simultaneously provide a possible forum for public engagement with the theme of robots in care work.
Yugin Teo is Lecturer in English and Communication at Bournemouth University. He has previously taught literature and film at the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex where he completed his doctorate. His research on the representation of memory in literature and film has been published in the journals Critique, Medical Humanities and Science Fiction Film and Television. His monograph Kazuo Ishiguro and Memory was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
With the information age coming to an end, the augmented age is posing challenges to the future of the interior design discipline. Although the immediate concern revolves around the mass-produced design applications, ‘one click interiors’, and the lack of personal style as a victim of globalised trends, the realisation of Augmented Reality is challenging the core ingredient of interior design, the physical space. The perception of space is being re-invented allowing for an overhaul of ‘home’ as a defining feature. Inhabitation is no longer controlled by the rigidness of materiality, while the future of locality and memory is questionable. Subsided by the flexibility of a ‘drop-down menu’ offering limitless options that currently are considered utopian, the parameter of creativity and design are becoming variables to well-orchestrated algorithms. With both elements, ‘interior’ and ‘design’ being challenged, the philosophy of the discipline must be adapted to survive within the new computation system. If ‘physical’ space is being replaced by ‘digital’, how is this affecting our perception? Is this new ‘space perception’ enabling people with physical or mental limitations to create their new world-reality? How is social interaction and human behaviour adjusted to the new digital reality?
I am full time academic since 2012. Currently working as a senior lecturer of Interior Architecture for University of Brighton and Course Leader of BA(Hons) online Interior Design at KLC school of Design. I am a trained architect with masters in Interior Design. Although I have been a full time academic, I worked on the side to an architectural practice until 2015, while now I am still an active designer, taking projects on the side as a freelancer.
Through my research I explore a variety of areas, theoretical, practical and conceptual around the discipline of design, which I feed into my teaching. An important theme of my research revolves around the use of new technologies and automations that are challenging the perception of space, mostly analysing the effects of augmented realities and how they are transforming the user experience of a space and the ‘realization’ of utopian perceptions, adapting into the users’ needs.