“Theory without Technology” – Chris Julien
Academic publishing, from a posthumanities perspective, opens up a large field of possible entanglements, as the practice-based research of Janneke Adema thoughtfully demonstrates. Such a posthuman take on publishing opens up a large field of questions and practices, which Adema raises, and perhaps even more pertinently, experiments with in her work. Stressing the processual and performative aspects of publishing as a core feature of academic knowledge assemblages, she highlights material qualities of research that merit increased attention in academia. Deployed under the rubric of post-publishing, such qualities might expand indefinitely, recalling that ecstatic moment in Borges’ story where an empire’s map comes to rivals it in size (Borges 1999), and which might, with a wink to Baudrillard, illustrate the ‘criminal intent’ of any humanities (Baudrillard 2008). Criminal or not, Adema highlights the generative capacities of any heuristic to encompass, or more precisely relate to that which it encounters.
what is the post in posthumanities?
Taking a posthumanities perspective rooted in their post-publishing practice, Adema, with Gary Hall rightly criticize the posthuman credentials of those publishing under conventional copyright, often in “big, mansplaining books, containing original ideas and ontologies attributed to them as individual named human authors” (Adema and Hall 2016, 2). Drawing on Haraway, they claim that rather than “actually transgressing the boundary that separates the human from the nonhuman,” such an approach to knowledge production “foreclos[es] an understanding of the “entangled,” “relational,” “processual” nature of identity: of the human’s co-constitutive psychological, social, and biological relation to a multitude of nonhumans, objects and non-anthropomorphic elements and energies” (Adema and Hall 2016, 3). These co-constitutive relations lay bare the multitudinous environment of posthumanities, blurring boundaries of human with technology, animal, environment, etc. Yet as with any ‘post-‘, what one takes along and leaves behind is a matter of concern (Latour 2004), which Yusoff defines in A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None as “scenes of agency and accountability” (2018). Therefore, when Adema discusses the possibility of posthumanities, “it matters which ones get made and unmade,” in a follow-up from A Cyborg Manifesto (Haraway 1986). In other words, Adema’s theoretical and experimental practice allows us to consider the question ‘what is the ‘post-‘ in posthumanities?’
can we theorise without technology?
In response to this question, I would like to propose an initial provocation. Taking publishing in its post-sense of Adema’s work—as an ongoing, relational practice of research that potentially includes the world—I want to suggest for the posthumanities the possibility of theory without technology. In their discussion of copyrighted authors, Adema and Hall suggest a range of post-humanisms, noting “the importance of extending our understanding of media to take in nonhuman communication processes such as those associated with dolphins, drones, fossils, clouds, sunlight;” (Adema and Hall 2016). The odd one out on their list, this drone roaming the world freely among the clouds and the dolphins, brings forward the conceptual conundrum that we face when taking technology out of the equation—what to do with these damn drones?
In a sense, ‘the problem of the drones’ illustrates the fallacy of the concept of technology in a posthuman context: technology is taken as a given (a priori), instead of a consequence of human practices. As an experimental approach, post-publishing provides a more practice-based and processual avenue for exploring theory without technology. In the potentially endless relational entanglements of post-publishing that Adema talks about in her TIM lecture of April ’20, technology seems to be—at least potentially—effaced among the myriad concrete practices of knowledge production, defined by less grandiose but all the more granular and lively terms. These illustrate the inevitably artificial boundaries that must be drawn between any humanities practice and the category of technology; is language a technology, or the university, specifically publishing, or perhaps merely the formats that – physically or digitally – carry the published? In the spirit of Adema and Hall’s “affirmative disruption” (idem.), allowing technology to disappear in the natural-cultural entanglements that remain in theory without technology, we must return, recursively, to the questions of how incisions and interactions come to matter, allowing us to be attendant to the power-relations of the present; no book without its publisher(s), as no drone without human hands to plot its course.
- Adema, Janneke. Hall, Gary. 2016. “Posthumanities: The Dark Side of “The Dark Side of the Digital”” Journal of Electronic Publishing. Volume 19, Issue 2: Disrupting the Humanities: Towards Posthumanities, Fall 2016. 1-13
- Baudrillard, Jean. 2008. The Perfect Crime. London & New York: Verso.
- Borges, Jorge Luis. 1999. “On Exactitude in Science.” Collected Fictions. London: Penguin Classics.
- Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books.
- Latour, Bruno. 2004. “Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004). 225-248.
- Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Antrhopocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.