What does it mean to inhabit a post-world? We are in a state where we have been told variously we are already
posthuman, have always been posthuman, should strive to become eternal
transhuman, where subjectivity is long gone yet still subjectification and stratification, where one is made a subject and placed within a hierarchical strata, continue to make the lives of individuals, even recognized ones, precarious, vulnerable or absent. We are in a world where the struggle between minoritarian subjects has become as volatile as that between minoritarians (not minorities but those who have less access to power, overwhelmingly the great majority) and majoritarian systems. Feminists, as the largest and most diverse group of those who struggle not only with being bestowed an agency-driven subjectivity but also the
desire for subjectivity at all, seem to be an obvious place to begin with the Charybdis that is the status of identity in contemporary political activism. Randomly and arbitrarily, our world has been generally bifurcated into two
genders in spite of there being plenty of opportunities for divisions to occur elsewhere or as proliferations rather than as a binary.
class and continuing minoritarianisms augment all subjectivities as they are increasingly
seen as being made up of minutiae of isomorphic choices of subjectificating binaries where there is a dominant term (usually white, usually male, usually straight and so forth) and the secondary term is ‘everything else’, which is coterminous with a perceived ‘failure’ to be dominant. Perception of failure has historically been marked as a failure to perceive at all, leading to various making-invisible of subjects that has produced in identity politics the various projects of representation of
difference in order to be counted as human – legally, ethically and scientifically. This chapter proposes the ahuman advocacy of no longer wanting to count as human. This claim is contentious precisely because many humans and all nonhumans still await their time of counting. Identity politics has long been critical of posthuman philosophy’s forsaking of identity for metamorphic becomings and transformative post-subjectivity, while posthuman philosophy’s many critiques of identity (with which I stand) still struggles with how to acknowledge dark histories of oppression without perpetuating the identities to which they were victims. I will attempt to explore and pre-empt the later chapters’ call to activism by addressing this seeming impasse, which I see as no impasse at all.
The main conflict between contemporary identity politics and post-structural politics is its own kind of beautiful contradiction. In the primarily USA-based groups which seek recognition, minorities and those disenfranchized demand a validation of underrepresented identities or an end to stereotypically and thus usually denigrative representations by those whose identity is not commensurable with that being represented. In what has been called the corporeal feminist school, the adaptation of post-structural philosophy has produced a more mobile form of identity, where becomings are
preferred to atrophied subjectification. This latter school should in no way be considered unaccountable for the continued oppression of minoritarians (which is where its seeming contradiction occurs), but it seeks a polyvocal collectivity. I myself am utterly complicit in this oppression. What I seek here is a way to navigate my own aversion to identity politics, which many other philosophers share, while accepting that this aversion can insinuate a refusal to attend to those identity politics that, due to the conditions of many lives in various circumstances, are undeniably in need of address. The question of whether address means recognition is unclear.
Linda Martin Alcoff and Satya P. Mohanty address the complexity at the heart of this seeming impasse: ‘Obviously identities can be recognized in pernicious ways in classrooms or in society in general, for the purposes of discrimination. But it is a false dilemma to suppose that we should either
accept pernicious uses of identity or
pretend they do not exist’ (2006: 7). Corporeal feminism generally sees identity as inherently utilized neither perniciously nor in a celebratory manner, nor even as non-existent or not useful. It does see a simultaneity that resists all either/or scenarios, and in this sense, configuring identities as becomings makes a palimpsest of both space and time. Spatially, we can experience, or even tactically configure, our existence as an immanent encounter with ourselves in connection with everything else as a series of relations which resist and refuse the subjectification we have been ascribed while being aware and attentive to the categories of ascription that we still occupy, because in this set of relations, the openness of others is questionable. We may be becoming but society still retains us in being. As
Gilles Deleuze and
Fèlix Guattari tell us: ‘You will be organized, you will be an organism,
you will articulate your body – otherwise you’re just depraved. You will be signifier and signified – otherwise you’re just a deviant. You will be a subject, nailed down as one, a subject of the enunciation recoiled into the subject of the statement – otherwise you’re just a tramp’ (1987: 159). Identity politics seeks not so much to change the signifying system – a project inherent to the ahuman manifesto – but to change the suffix signifiers and attempt to resignify the value and qualities of the signified, its organisation and collate the statement as one in order to produce collectives who can fight as one. As many before me have pointed out (from complex feminist critiques to white-knight male ‘saviours’), this celebration of disorganisation is easy for two white privileged French men, but identity politics does remain within the syntax of Western white patriarchy, so can changing the signifieds be enough? Can we do both, in that spatially we are becoming while society’s perception may be reminding us that we are depraved, deviant tramps, and so we simultaneously reclaim that by acknowledging the
affects of such naming on ourselves and others? I would argue yes, because launching mobile subjectivity does not launch us into an entirely different world without history, and here is the temporal aspect of the contradiction. Our becomings have a long history, both collective and individual; we don’t start from nowhere. So we can inhabit a line of flight without forgetting the trajectory from whence we came. Indeed, the very reason most minoritarians want to enter into becomings is because we do not wish the past to project a reiteration of our subjectivities and how they occupy the world in the future in the same way.
The criticism of fluidity, mobility and becomings in what is now called post-identity politics suggests what
Paddy McQueen claims is
The proliferation of claims such as the above highlights three key issues with identity politics that may be uncomfortable for minoritarians to negotiate but which nonetheless retain minoritarians within the realm of the ‘signified from without’ even while we attempt to resignify values and qualities. The first is a certain (and I attempt to say this with tact and sensitivity which may ultimately be impossible) self-absorption whereby techniques of self – self-awareness, self-validation, self as part of a community of like selves – overwhelm any sense of the organism’s connectivity to all relations within the world, both those with diminished capacity for expression (the less agential) and the oppressors. This reflects the very foundation of anthropocentric hubris, albeit majoritarians rarely show any self reflexivity, preferring to masquerade their self-interest as neutral universality.
The second difficulty with identity politics in this context is that attempts to make subjects visible and valid fails to account for the
mobile state of
capitalism and its signifying regimes which adapt and reshape the way society trains subjectivity to consume as representation, to self-realize based on patterns of purchase (of ideologies and objects) that put the subject in a state of perpetual loss and that actively fosters disengagement and disempowerment by making only power attractive and engagement only possible through aspiring to majoritarian manipulations of signification. This is why the ‘add on’ nature of minoritarian politics will continue, because capitalism will always find ways to oppress in ever more novel and ever more refined ways. The third issue with the pitting of fluid identity against identity politics is the most important for this manifesto and harks back to a divergence between
posthumanism and the
ahuman. In order for collective assemblages and relations to be ethical, we must cease privileging our own situation before and above all others, which can sometimes seem to be the very essence of identity politics – my
identity. The ahuman does
seek dehumanization because at its heart it seeks to dismantle human exceptionalism and make
activism for the other – without necessarily seeking to know or apprehend or even be in proximity with the other – its primary technique in coalition with a general politics of differentiation rather than an endless taxonomy of
difference. Here is why the work of Adams is so crucial. Her critique of those who argue ‘humans first, then everything else’ elucidates the perhaps understandable but inherently narcissistic nature of identity politics which joins it with all other forms of anthropocentric politics, including the most restrictive and eugenic kind. I am not suggesting that identity politics excludes as its major project. Many post-structural criticisms of any kind of subjectification, no matter how radical or transgressive, emphasize what is excluded when something is recognized if they hold on to issues of identity.
deeply critical of this in his ‘Preface to Transgression’ (1998), because by speaking what is left out, the apex of the pyramid of signification remains the goal. The question becomes who will occupy the very limited space at the top because anthropocentrism stratifies just as it signifies, so even if there were such a phenomenon of a non-isomorphic binary or multiples, the struggle for supremacy would become the legitimizing drive rather than any openness to what is yet to be included, and all this before the acknowledgement that these categories are in constant flux, whether we want to accept it or not. Is making a minority manifest in a more accurate or
truthful manner inclusive or exclusive? It will always be both and temporary. In this sense, perhaps we need an identity politics of discomfort rather than seeking the comfort of our identity becoming manifest. For an ethics of discomfort, Foucault states,
Minoritarians are the scaffold upon which power is built and which upholds what is seen as deservedly visible as the Vitruvian human, the white male (yes, who I am so frustratingly perpetually quoting I am aware). Ahumanism reclaims our darknesses; the dark continent of the realisation that we can see in the dark and are not your Eurydice so ‘fuck you
Sigmund Freud and we don’t care to respond to your question of want
Jacques Lacan’; Oswald de Andrade’s magnificent
Cannibalist Manifesto of ‘we will eat you colonialism’; the
queerness of ‘we will extinguish the species’ heteronormativity; and the very darkest of the dark within which the most oppressed absolutely exist in the worst possible conditions so choke on your ‘happy’ meat and milk. Is illumination
equality or resolution? Is a making visible of the most oppressed identities going to do enough, or is a making visible and transforming the conditions of living by connecting uncomfortably and without a template as to ‘how’ a more ethical technique? Becomings are the verbing of the world. They act and ask how; they do not define and ask what. I am utterly against the continued fetishization of minoritarian intensities which perpetuate so many post-structural becomings, especially those where the lived experience of the academic bears no resemblance beyond the page or the canvas or the screen to the lived experience of the other. And fighting for the other is an absolute luxury for many in a position of privilege, myself included. However, it is precisely when the dominant and
the oppressed human other, in their infinite and specific manifestations (although the dominants manifestations seem somewhat consistent), aspire to the anthropocentric pinnacle of signification through wealth or power or even self-identification over all other practices of liberty at the expense of the nonhuman other
that this manifesto says enough.
And enough is enough.
The nonhuman and human hypocrisy
animal rights movement has the misfortune of a modernist claim just as postmodernism displaces and absorbs modernist
thinking … the autonomous, unitary human fades in the presence of postmodernism except
at a meal’ (Adams 2009
: 61, 70). This powerful observable phenomenon strikes me reflectively as much as when I first read Adams’s The Sexual Politics of Meat
), where she is astonished that a pet rescue shelter supporter serves ham sandwiches and a feminist conference serves all manner of meat, dairy and eggs. At this time, the word ‘intersectional’ had only just been coined, yet most feminists would be familiar with that particular mode of learning and experiencing
sexuality, ability, class and other minoritarian considerations were inextricable from being a feminist. I need not rehearse the arguments that feminists have at their best always fought for the rights of other identities, identities which both intersect with female identity, such as women of colour, sexual minorities and trans rights, and identities which do not (e.g. the work done for AIDS victims by lesbians in the USA in the 1980s). Feminism has often found itself in situations where privilege is questioned, such as the struggle by women of colour to be heard among white and often racially blind feminism, and currently the tensions between so-called TERFS and trans women (much of which is valid, much of which is media-fuelled, and all of which seems to ignore the common oppressor of patriarchy) are often raised. These are complex issues for which I have not done justice and to which I shall return in passing, but they are all identity-based issues which remain within anthropocentric recognition discourse (which is, of course, also a discourse on safety, vulnerability, agency and rights but nonetheless via an anthropocentric
social contract) because, ultimately, they all put humans first even when attending to human–nonhuman animal relations. There remains one absent referent which
poignantly is exactly the name Adams in Neither Man nor Beast
gives to the nonhuman when under the phallologocentric gaze. This absent referent is the nonhuman and our relations with them. Accessing philosophy primarily through feminism as a young academic, sitting down to a meal with respected feminists sometimes struck me like a family dinner where some member would suddenly launch on a racist rant or when you discover one of your friends is surprisingly a voracious homophobe. Harsh though this sounds, it is absolutely as Adams describes, a simple, observable exception that, while I am no logocentric, makes no sense to me in the simplest way. Except for one and only one likely hypocrisy of human exceptionalism that spans both identity politics and post-structural fluid identities (and here perhaps is where they do conform): as long as it does not
affect me or my species (including its discourses), it does not matter. There are any variety of arguments and ophidian rhetorical configurations (otherwise known as excuses) which underpin the reasons why any and all minoritarians remain in the realm of what is known as the malzoan (those who mistreat animals by not being
abolitionist vegans: mal
=animal life). The most common one is that which Adams cites as the ‘humans first’ argument, which holds true across philosophy and...