post-human and sympoesis

In response to my request for something on the post-human Steve P sent this:


Harraways new book is causing a rumpus in the world of the post human – needs to be read in the context of her 80s cyborg manifesto – I’m reading Foucault archeology of knowledge in a greasy spoon in peterbourgh he really was the proper genious of the bunch – he explains post structuralism so well in terms of the enunciation of the texts in the context of its materiality without ever mentioning the communication of meaning – then he rips his argument apart in the third person in the conclusion – the assemblage thing is so important as asssemblade in the English lacks the agency it is a fixer collection of rather than a collective moving towards – it I think explains some very reductive readings within the analytical school and makes me think that we just don’t get some of the building blocks of the continental approach x




Interesting – thanks. Looking briefly, of course, at Haraway she’s writing in the new book about “sym” [together/linked] “poesis” [making/doing].  Sym-poesis defined as “collectively producing systems [which] do not have self-defined spatial or temporal boundaries, information and control are distributed among components, the systems are evolutionary, and have the potential for surprising change. Since they cannot be identified by boundaries, sympoetic systems must be identified by the self organising factors involved in their ongoing and layered palimpsestic generations.”

Taken from this talk around 21.00:



This cross references well to assemblage/agencement from Phillips, 2015 that you sent through.  The notion of agencement, not the static archaeological sense of an assemblage, is sympoetic. It’s describing the way that components are in combination to produce something, “an event, a becoming, a compositional unity” (Phillips, 2015, p.109), “the priority of neither the state of affairs nor the statement but of their connection, which implies the production of a sense that exceeds them and of which, transformed, they now form parts” (p.108).


She seems to be making this statement out of a pragmatic terror at the state of an unavoidable environmental catastrophe and the search for a rationale of hope. She writes about our need to make kin not babies, something a lot of us have been doing up in Pitsmoor!


And also moves away from the term Anthropocene and Capitalocene.  I can quite recognise the discomfort with Anthropocene with its perpetual focus on the notion that we are creating this world rather than it being sympoetic, not in the sense exactly of actor network theory (that objects have an equivalent agency), but rather a dry recognition that as Phillips writes drawing on Deleuze:


“The unity, for instance, of a poison and the body poisoned can be regarded as a state of becoming and an event which is reducible to neither the body nor the poison. The body and the poison, rather, participate in the event (which is what they have in common).”

Philips, 2015, p.109.


It’s funny it took me years and years and years to even begin to get a grasp on why anyone even want to talk about the idea of “the event” or “an event”. It finally sunk into me over the past year of course through the mediation of my horrible friend Mr Zizek. I hold him responsible for so much good and bad in my thought (out) life.


Capitalocene – I’d not even heard of this term! A far more political science sense to it apparently. But Haraway opts for Chthulucene: from chthonic (“earthly powers and processes—human too, but much more than human”).


Anyway I agree that there are intensely reductive readings of the continental school from within our British analytical empiricist tradition. I think there’s quite simply also a desire not to engage at all. Something to do with the idea that, to echo Lenin’s appeal: What is to be done? In other words, the empiricist tradition suggests that there is some sort of pragmatic route which we can tread and the continental style meanders with no guarantee of an arrival point. That’s exactly where I situate myself with the work I’ve been doing over the past four years. I’ve been meandering with a very clear direction but one that keeps pointing back to itself. The pragmatic, social science inspired rationalism of council service providers doesn’t have the time for this or me.


I was looking in the Tate modern Gallery in St Ives yesterday with the kids. Happily Jack really wanted to go there. It carries very happy memories for him as does Cornwall in general. Anyway there were a few postcards think in the shop, postcards of French Impressionist and Post- Impressionist paintings probably. I was looking at them and wondering quite how the impression developed that there was something complex and romantic about French life when to all appearances there is also something horribly mundane about it. Sitting here now I’m wondering what the equivalent image of Britain might be? Certainly impressionist echoes in British art appear nothing other than derivative, a dressing up of something in somebody else’s clothes. And then my mind alighted on the idea of pragmatic social realism in some way. Pictures of factory workers? A brutal recognition of the injustices of the factory system, of rationalist approaches to town planning.


And then of course there is the other post human current I’m caught in: the transgender. You know the way that I understand, most pleasurably, with hope, the circumstances of my second child is that they are already in the strictest sense (ignoring the fact that we are always already) post human. I realise this isn’t what post human is supposed to refer to. This is something of trans-human, geneticly modificated whatevers.


But for me the situation of this transgender child is related to the symptom as discussed by uncle Zizek in the first things I read by him (1989 The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso.).  In my ladybird version of Zizek and what really drew me in was the simple inversion of the symptom. Rather than, for example, there being something (in my mind an illness) of which an eruption on the skin was a symptom, I read the symptom as being something that takes place well before the real event emerges. I think Zizek also considers art as a symptom.  I see the transgender positioning of children as a symptom. A symptom of something to come, that something to come being a post human in a more banal fashion.  Interestingly I think Zizek draws an analogy between the symptom (as a Freudian term) and the commodity (as a Marxian term).  While I’ve struggled to stay awake long enough to read through these sections and really understand them my ladybird mind also sees transgender positioning as commodification.


Right at the beginning of this experience of transgender, I, with my hope and pride, read it as a form of punk (the symptom and a commodity). Something properly revolutionary but unable to survive its own surgery. Now I don’t disagree with this or I still hold it dear but I see my transgender child as a sort of guinea pig I suppose. No more choosing who they are than I chose who I am. Built out of subtle messages and simple material and commercial practices. I can imagine a future where these children are seen as proto-somethings. It’s certainly not autopoesis, it’s definitely sympoetic.


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