Media @ McGill

The Human after the Post-humanist Critique or, the Fantasy of Interspecies Ethics


Update: An audio recording of this event is now available. You can download the MP3 audio file for playback, or alternatively, retrieve it from our iTunes channel as a podcast

Media@McGill is pleased to welcome Dr. Joanna Zylinska as its Beaverbrook Visiting Scholar for winter 2011. During her two-week residency, Zylinska will present a keynote talk on Thursday, 13 January 2011, at 5:30 p.m. in Arts W215, 853 Sherbrooke West, Montreal. (map) This event is a collaboration between Media@McGill and the AHCS Speaker Series. The talk is free and open to the public.

Title: The Human after the Post-humanist Critique or, the Fantasy of Interspecies Ethics

This paper is an attempt to return to the human "after the cyborg." It is driven by a desire to find a way out of the posthumanist impasse of some strands of contemporary cultural theory, whereby the widespread acceptance of the notions of transhuman relationality, interspecies kinship, and machinic becoming seems to have diminished the need for a more rigorous interrogation of the singularity of trans-species and intra-species difference.

Obviously, there is also a possibility that this interrogation is just another exercise in narcissism, a desperate attempt to return to the self and hang on to the fantasy of human exceptionalism. In this context, Jacques Derrida's query, "Is there animal narcissism?," becomes something of an accusation, aimed perhaps at those of us who are still obsessed by Descartes' question: "But as for me, who am I?." Yet the focus in this paper is primarily ethical rather than ontological. Rather than aim at determining the identity of the human/non-human animal, it is predominantly concerned with discussing how the transformed understanding of the human that posthumanism has bestowed upon us can help us not only think better about ourselves and others who may or may not be like us, but also live better with others - with machines, humans and other animals. The emphasis in this exploration falls on the pragmatics of the "how" as much as on the nature of this "we."


Joanna Zylinska is Media@McGill's Beaverbrook Visiting Scholar in January 2011. She is a cultural theorist writing on new technologies and new media, ethics and art. She is a Reader in New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. The author of three books - Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009), The Ethics of Cultural Studies (Continuum, 2005) and On Spiders, Cyborgs and Being Scared: the Feminine and the Sublime (Manchester University Press, 2001) - she is also the editor of The Cyborg Experiments: the Extensions of the Body in the Media Age, a collection of essays on the work of performance artists Stelarc and Orlan (Continuum, 2002) and co-editor of Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2007). Zylinska is currently writing a new book on the idea of mediation, Life after New Media (with Sarah Kember) for the MIT Press, and working on a translation of Stanislaw Lem's major philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae, for the University of Minnesota's Electronic Mediations series. She is one of the Editors of Culture Machine, an international open-access journal of culture and theory. Zylinska combines her philosophical writings with photographic art practice.