By Aster Hoving
On the first day of the “Posthuman Ethics, Pain and Endurance” summer school, professor Rosi Braidotti gave me and the other participants soothing advice to the ears of any bibliophile (read: this one): “read and read, and if in doubt, read some more.” However, according to Braidotti, during the summer school we should know when to ignore this advice and leave our reading aside to connect with our fellow participants.
Though this second remark perhaps felt somewhat less soothing for someone most comfortable around books, it was indeed an extraordinary experience to find myself in the middle of a vibrant community of dedicated scholars, artists and activists – an experience worth enjoying fully. Spending time getting to know at least a few of the overwhelming number of participants in the summer school was at times confrontational, at others a great laugh, but mostly a great inspiration. Both me and the tutoring group I was part of, for example, were faced with the fact that we knew incredibly little about (protests against) current abortion legislation in Poland, about which someone shared a moving story. On the other hand, as a former long-time resident of the city, I was amused when discovering that Utrecht in fact does have a croquetteria, despite my repeated denial of the existence of such a thing to the group of brilliant Italian PhD students that took me there.
In her lectures, Braidotti introduced participants to the posthuman convergence, which comprises of 1. post-humanism, the critique of universal Man, and 2. post-anthropocentrism, the critique of the human. At a planetary moment in which climate change is a threat to all and much more to some than to others, but in which atmospheric and/or terrestrial changes are a part of capital accumulation, Braidotti’s posthuman convergence urges us to ask a fundamental question: who is the “we” implied in the Anthropocene? Personally, being interested in contributing to a feminist response to the Anthropocene, this posthuman convergence has provided a productive tool for maintaining a feminist perspective when engaging with the discourse of the Anthropocene.
Moreover, Braidotti’s emphasis on Spinozist immanence urges her participants to consider how they themselves are implicated in the double bind of the Anthropocene. Immanence compels those responsible for the production of knowledge to consider themselves as not isolated critics of contemporary geopolitical realities, but as part of them, and as creators of alternatives to that which they oppose. To those who find themselves in the academic world, this means that they have to ask themselves: if climate change is a threat and an opportunity to some, then what is the role of academic knowledge production in navigating this historical moment?
Braidotti’s answer would be that one part of this role is to resist academic re-segregation, the conservative answer to the trans-disciplinary practices of the posthumanities. But why is this trans-disciplinarity or transversality so essential? Well, specialisms, or disciplines, following Braidotti, are a mode of what Deleuze calls “reterritorialization” – they are a mechanism of capture, part of an acceleration in academic knowledge production, and part of the further commodification of academia. The summer school itself might therefore even be an urgent occasion, to anyone dedicated to fostering trans-disciplinary practices, for making connections across disciplines, practices, institutes and nations.
The attendees of the program were, however, of course not all academics – the word trans-disciplinarity does not only deterritorialize practices within, but also those conventionally considered as outside the university. Much of the program was therefore dedicated to the arts: artist talks by Lucas van der Velden, Raviv Ganchrow and Nina Lykke all in their respective manners explored how art can reconfigure our thinking and doing.
I have saved a multitude of quotes from Braidotti’s lectures, but my favorite might be “we-are-in-this-together-but-we-are-not-one-and-the-same.” This is of course another way to ask the question of the “we” in the Anthropocene, but for me it also provided the occasion for questioning the “we” of a summer school. Besides incredible social and intellectual stimulation, the week was marked by what I will remember as three “ruptures” events that caused a fissure in the expected course of a lecture or talk: a group of participants expressing the need for (increased) attention to activism in the program; an overwhelming roaring sound; and a poignant chemical smell which drove everyone out of the lecture hall.
As I said, the transversal capacities and aspirations of Braidotti’s strand of posthuman theory makes that the “we” of the summer school was comprised of both activists, artists and academics. However, thanks to the group speaking up, the importance of continuous questioning of that “we” was once again confirmed: we are in this together, but we are not one and the same. The disturbance they caused sparked lively discussion among participants about whether or to what extent these activists were part of the “we” of the program, and what to do to foster activist practices.
The sound that silenced a lecture turned out to be lawn-mowing work at the beautiful patio of the Utrecht University building. The smell was a result of a paint job on the roof of the building. The posthuman convergence urged me to ask what these disturbances mean regarding who are not part of the “we” of a summer school – lawn mowers, painters and the sounds and chemicals to which they work in proximity. Could the posthuman convergence, however, also support me, as aspiring academic, in navigating this situation? I can’t wait to go back next summer and discuss this and other questions with the stimulating community I have been lucky to be introduced to at the Posthuman summer school.