Mohd. Aslam Islahi, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Inaugural Session, Day 1: 9:30–10:45 am
Mohd. Aslam Islahi, Ph.D., is the Dean, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies (SLL&CS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), as well as Professor in the Center for Arabic and African Studies, JNU. His areas of specialization include modern Arabic language and current historical and socio-political developments in the Arab world. His doctoral research was on “Development of Drama in Modern Arabic Literature”. He has worked as a Lecturer in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and Kashmir University.
Makarand R. Paranjape, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Co-organizer | Concluding Session, Day 3: 4:30 pm
Makarand R. Paranjape, Ph.D., is Chairperson and Professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for English Studies, SLL&CS. He is a member of the Board of Studies, the Academic Council of JNU, and the Vision Committee of JNU; the Coordinator for UGC Special Assistance Programme, in the Centre for English Studies, JNU from 2003 to 2008; the Principal Investigator of the Project on Indian Perspectives on Science and Spirituality, from 2006 to 2009. Most recently, he served as the inaugural ICCR Chair in Indian Studies at the National University of Singapore.
He has published over 120 academic papers in various refereed journals and has over 30 authored and edited books in print. He is a journal columnist and poet and author of short stories, over 200 essays, book reviews, and occasional pieces in academic and popular periodicals. His new publications include: Making India: Colonialism, National Culture, and the Afterlife of Indian English Authority (2012), Altered Destinations: Self, Society and Nation in India (2010), Another Canon: Indian Texts and Traditions in English (2010), and Indian English and Vernacular India, co-edited with G.J.V. Prasad (2010).
Karan Singh, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
Inaugural Session, Day 1: 9:30–10:45 am
Karan Singh, Ph.D., is a member of India’s Upper House of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha. He is a senior member of the ruling Indian National Congress Party, and has served successively as Sadr-i-Riyasat and Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Singh is the son of the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir and Jammu, Maharaja Hari Singh. In a political career spanning half a century, Dr. Singh has held various positions, such as President of Jammu and Kashmir, Minister of Education and Culture, and Indian Ambassador to the United States.
He has a doctorate in Political Science and has held the position of Chancellor at Banaras Hindu University, Jammu and Kashmir University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and NIIT University. He has also been President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), India’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Chairman of the Auroville Foundation and of the Temple of Understanding, and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Cell of the Congress Party. He has authored several books, including Humanity at the Crossroads (1980), India and the World (1995), Essays on Hinduism (1987), and Mountain of Shiva (1994). Dr. Karan Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2005.
Debashish Banerji, University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles
Co-organizer | Concluding Session, Day 3: 4:30 pm
Debashish Banerji, Ph.D., is the Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles. He is an adjunct faculty member in Art History at the Pasadena City College and a Research Fellow in the Department of Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco. Banerji has served as President of the East West Cultural Center, Los Angeles and is presently the Executive Director of Nalanda International, Los Angeles. Banerji’s interests lie in the fields of psychological philosophy, identity politics, postmodernism and postcolonialism. He has curated a number of exhibitions in Indian and Japanese art and is the author of two books, “The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore” (Sage, 2010) and “Seven Quartets of Becoming: A Transformative Yoga Psychology Based on the Diaries of Sri Aurobindo” (DKPW and Nalanda International, 2012).
Richard Carlson, Non-Linear Systems, Port Angeles, WA
Co-organizer | Concluding Session, Day 3: 4:30 pm
Richard Carlson, M.A., is President of Non Linear Systems and the founding director of Pacific Weather Inc. a firm that has provided meteorological support to Air Traffic Control Operations at over one hundred major airports throughout the United States. In addition to his meteorological work and professional publications he is also a writer and musician whose efforts have appeared in Critical Digital Studies (a reader) published by University of Toronto Press. His latest original CD is entitled Blues Spake Zarathustra. He holds an M.A. from Antioch University and is also a private pilot. He currently resides with family on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
Sudha Pai, Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Inaugural Session, Day 1: 9:30–10:45 am
Sudha Pai, Ph.D., is the Rector of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, where she teaches courses and guides research in the field of Indian Politics and Comparative Politics. She has also taught at Gargi College for Women, Delhi University. Her research interests include Dalit Politics, State Politics in India, Agrarian Politics, Globalization and Legislative Governance.
Professor Pai is on the boards of several research institutes and has been member of many research projects including SIDA (Sweden) and the UNRISD. She was awarded the Faculty Research Fellowship from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, Canada in 1996 and was Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti, New Delhi. She has authored 5 books, 4 edited volumes and 20 chapters in books apart from articles in reputed national and international journals. She is also well known for her articles in leading national newspapers.
Pal Ahluwalia, Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences, University of South Australia
Keynote Address I, Day 1: 11:00–12 pm
Pal Ahluwalia, Ph.D., is Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice President, Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences, University of South Australia. Prior to this, he was Professor of Politics at Adelaide University, Visiting Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studues at the University of California, (?), Professor at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he was also Director of the Center for Postcolonial Studies, and Research SA Chair and Professor of Post-Colonial Studies in the Hawke Research Institute. ln 2008, Professor Ahluwalia was appointed a UNESCO Chair in Transnational Diasporas and Reconciliation Studies.His main research interests lie in the areas of African studies, social and cultural theory, in particular, postcolonial theory and the processes of diaspora, exile, and migration.
Michel Lantelme, Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, University of Oklahoma
Day 1, Session 1.1: 12–1:00 pm | “Human, Nothing but Human: From Neanderthal to Clones”
Michel Lantelme, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma, USA, where he is also Chair of the MLLL Scholarship Committee. His teaching specialties include 20th-century and Contemporary French Literature, Critical Theory, and 20th-century European Culture and Identity. He is Editor of Revue André Malraux Review, an international and bilingual academic journal devoted to French writer, Art historian, and Minister of Culture, André Malraux. He has received the Cecil W. Woods Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Foreign Modern Languages. His research interests include topics such as the relation between body and writing, the “imagined” community, the preservation of historical monuments, the idea of nation, the representation of prehistoric times in literature. He has authored and edited several books, such as Revue André Malraux Review (2006–2013), Lire Jean Rouaud (2009), and Le Roman contemporain. Janus postmoderne (2008).
Abstract: In Michel Houellebecq’s controversial Elementary Particles, the fictional End of mankind through cloning echoes a theory that was at the heart of the philosophical debate in the 1990s: the End of history (Fukuyama, Derrida, Baudrillard, Habermas, Muray). As thought provoking as it may appear, this ending comes actually directly out of a prehistoric scenario: the disappearance of Neanderthal. Clones will be to us what we, Homo Sapiens, were to the Neanderthal population, i.-e. the alleged cause of its disappearance. In the most amazing fashion, the Origins prefigure the End, Prehistory foreshadows Post-History.
But what is remarkable is that in both cases, the pre-human Neanderthal and the post-human clone are nothing else but “uncanny” mirrors to Man. From colonialism and nationalism to the death camps of WWII, up to the present day, the various pictorial representations of Neanderthal throughout the 20th and 21st centuries follow and reflect faithfully the political evolution of Europe. Likewise, the clones imagined by Houellebecq are made “in the image of Man”, thus obeying a very Christian paradigm.
Offering a comparative study of Neanderthal and human clones, as represented in painting and fiction, this paper will show that we tend to think of what came before us and what will come after us in an ethnocentric way. Our representation of beyond the Human is a reflection of our hopes, our anxieties, and speaks volumes about the very image we have of ourselves.
John Richard Tangney, Division of English, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University
Day 1, Session 1.1: 12–1:00 pm | “Platonism, Epicureanism and Transhumanism”
John Tangney, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Division of English, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang University, where he teaches Renaissance literature, classical literature and the history of literary theory. He is interested in the history of ideas, Platonism, allegory, esoteric philosophy, Renaissance literature, and early modern materialism. His recent publications include “Encountering the Soul in Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Black Prince’”, in Litteraria Pragensia, and articles on the influence of Platonism in the work of W.B. Yeats and Iris Murdoch.
Abstract: This paper will take up Immanuel Kant’s remark that all previous philosophy could be divided among Platonists and Epicureans. The transition from renaissance magic to modern science led to the eclipse of Platonism as a mainstream intellectual discourse, but Kant’s own ambiguous middle path helped to ensure that Platonism and Epicureanism would continue to set the parameters for modern thought such that in epicurean visions of transcendence or of the absolute, Platonist spirituality remains a spectral presence. Examples of such epicurean visions include the thermodynamic theories of Norbert Weiner, the transhumanism of Ray Kurzweill, the theories of the event of Zizek and Badiou, and the neoliberal apologetics of Francis Fukuyama . Platonism has also continued to exist in the sphere of popular culture where it provides a stock of imagery which filmmakers deploy in order to represent epicurean fantasies of power. In its premodern and non modern forms, however, Platonism is more accurately seen as a contemplative tradition in which individuals learn how to preserve their sovereignty against an overwhelming materialist consensus about the nature of reality. In this light I will examine the way some popular films use neoplatonic imagery to symbolise the efforts of their heroes to assert an autopoetic sovereignty against the forces that try to determine them. I will argue that while transhumanist discourses may have appropriated Platonist tropes, Platonism is not transhumanist because it has a much more capacious concept of the human to begin with than does the thinking that characterises Western liberal and neoliberal culture.
Allan Leslie Combs, Center for Condciousness Studies, California Institute of Integral Studies
Day 1, Session 1.2: 2:00–3:30 pm | “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On: Machines, Consciousness, and the Future”
Allan Leslie Combs, Ph.D. is Doshi Professor of Consciousness Studies, at the California Institute for Integral Studies. He is a consciousness researcher, neuropsychologist, and systems theorist, and the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies. Professor Combs is the founder of the Society for Consciousness Studies and co-founder of The Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and the Life Sciences, a member of The General Evolution Research Group, the Integral Institute, and the one-hundred member Club of Budapest. He is Co-Editor of the Journal of Conscious Evolution, Associate Editor of Dynamical Psychology, and serves on a variety of editorial boards. Allan is the author of over 200 articles and book chapters on consciousness and the brain. Books authored by him include Consciousness Explained Better: Towards an Integral Understanding of the Multifaceted Nature of Consciousness and The Radiance of Being: Understanding the Grand Integral Vision, and Living the Integral Life.
Abstract: Humans are physically formed by complex chemical compounds, as is the case with all animals, and yet the essence of what it is to be human seems always just beyond reach. Religions offer spiritual answers to this question such as the Christian notion of the soul and the Hindu idea of the atman. Throughout history, however, those who have leaned in the direction of rational explanations to questions about human nature have relied on current technologies for their understandings. At the beginning of the European Age of Enlightenment, for example, Rene Descartes postulated that fluid pressures animate the human body, an idea that came partly from the ancient medical theory of bodily humors (fluids), and from Descartes’ own observation hydraulically controlled moving statues in the Gardens of Versailles. The 17th and 18th centuries saw remarkable instances of mechanical automatons, such as Kempelen’s chess playing “Turk,” Jacques de Vaucanson’s “Digesting Duck,” and Tipu Sultan’s animated tiger, attacking the son of a British General. Such automatons suggest that the human being, as well as other animals, might in fact be noting more than mechanical animations, as the French philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie argued in his popular 1709 book, L’homme Machine (The Human Machine).
More recent renditions of these early ideas were seen in the 19th century emphasis on the electrical nature of organic life, especially the nervous system and even the psychological life of the individual. This emphasis was replaced in the 20th century by the discovery of “information” as basic to the operation of the brain, and subsequently has been suggested by more than a few theorists as the essence of consciousness itself. An argument expressed as early as 1714, in “Leibniz’s Mill,” contends against the possibility of consciousness in a purely mechanical system. Likewise, John Searle’s celebrated “Chinese Room” is equally effective in arguing that syntax is not equivalent to semantics, or in other words symbol manipulation itself (information) is not equivalent to consciousness. These arguments are compelling, and seem to speak against the possibility of artificial consciousness, though highly intelligent machines might become a reality in the future.
What is needed is a platform that can actually support human consciousness. So far, the only platform we are certain of is the biological human itself. Nevertheless, current research in bioengineering, genetics, the evolution of human-computer interfaces, and Artificial General Intelligence open large possibilities for future improvement of the human being. Several of these are presented and initially explored.
Peter Heehs, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, India
Day 1, Session 1.2: 2:00–3:30 pm | “Utopia, Dystopia, and Attainable Futures”
Peter Heehs is an American historian living at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, India who writes on modern Indian history, spirituality and religion. Much of his work focuses on the Indian freedom fighter and spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo. His publications include eleven books and more than fifty articles in journals and magazines. He has worked as a researcher and editor at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives since its founding, and has contributed to the editing of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library and The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
As a historian, Heehs has written on the swadeshi period of the Indian independence movement and on the early phase of the Indian revolutionary movement. Heehs has also written on problems of Indian historiography in History and Theory, Postcolonial Studies, and other journals. He has also contributed to popular magazines such as History Today and Art India. As a scholar of religion, Heehs has edited the textbook Indian Religions as well as other volumes dealing with new religious movements in India. His works include The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (2008), Writing the Self (2013), and Situating Sri Aurobindo: A Reader (2013).
Abstract: Posthumanism, in some of its forms, can be viewed as a continuation of the utopian project that has been a theme in Western literature and philosophy since the time of Plato. Utopian worlds are put forward by their creators as models of social existence that are superior to the conflict-ridden societies that modern humans inhabit. Yet most literary utopias are unworkable and unattractive in themselves, and inferior in many respects to the unideal worlds they claim to supersede. This paradox has been pointed up by novelists such as Wells, Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell, and by philosophers and historians of ideas such as Popper, Berlin and Arendt. The novelists depict imaginary worlds in which the supposed advantages of utopias – central organization, social order, technological prowess, psychological and biological mastery – become the basis of nightmarish societies in which humans are denied selfhood, dignity and freedom. The philosophers and historians argue that the utopian ideal is incoherent, and demonstrate that when people have tried to give it practical form, the result has been totalitarianism. It would therefore be good for theorists of the posthuman to reconsider the utopian aspects of their project, keeping in mind that the utopian ideal has often proved to be a helpful stimulus to the social and political imagination.
Andrei G. Zavaliy, American University of Kuwait
Day 1, Session 1.2: 2:00–3:30 pm | “The Quest for a Post-human Era in the Tradition of Russian Cosmism”
Andrei G. Zavaliy, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Kuwait. His areas of specialization include Moral Psychology, Applied Ethics, and Ethical Theory. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association, and has worked on projects such as Influences of the Secular and Christian Worldviews on Buddhist Academics (2010), funded by the American University of Kuwait. He has contributed chapters to four books, such as The Crisis of the Human Sciences: False Objectivity and the Decline of Creativity (2011) on topics such as science, religion, ethics, and Tolstoy. He has published articles in journals in areas such as philosophy in the 21st century, Heidegger, Kuhn, and morality. He has been an invited speaker and has presented papers at a number of international seminars on philosophy.
Abstract: The modern quest to transcend nature through technological advances had an earlier precursor in the 19th century movement of the Russian cosmists. Cosmism – a metaphysical and religious outlook presents a unique blend of futuristic speculations, materialistic science, religious mysticism and esoteric practices, and is associated with Russian philosopher and mystic Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903). The central themes of these movement include the active human role in human and cosmic development, the creation of new life forms, the gradual extension of human life with the ultimate goal of immortality, the physical resurrection of the dead ancestors, the belief in the unlimited possibilities of human intellectual capacities, and the speculations about the possible colonization of other planets. The idea of “active evolution” of human nature and the shifting of the perspective from an earth-centered to a cosmos-centered view are two distinctive marks of this philosophy.
The paper will outline the history of the Russian cosmism, both in its original form as developed by Fedorov and his immediate disciples, and in the version pursued by the modern offshoots of this movement. My primary goal is to compare the values and aspirations of cosmism with those of the contemporary transhumanist movement, to the degree that those movements are commensurable. It will be argued that the lack of a distinctive “spiritual dimension” is what sets transhumanism apart from all earlier historical attempts to overcome human limitations and transform human nature. The paper explains how the concern for the social consequences of the transhumanist project, expressed by such critics as Fukuyama, was already on the agenda of the early cosmist theorists, albeit in a different form, and explicates the solutions offered to these new challenges. It is a conviction of the author that our understanding of the modern technology-based quests to improve and transcend humanity can be enriched and better informed by considering its important historical antecedents.
M.K. Raghavendra, film critic
Day 1, Session 1.3: 3:45–4:45 pm | “Glitches in Mankind’s Imagined Future:The Russian SF Film and Narratives of the Nation”
M.K. Raghavendra is a film scholar and a founder-editor of Phalanx, a web journal dedicated to debate. He received the National Award (the Swarna Kamal) for best film critic in the year 1997. He was awarded a two-year Homi Bhabha Fellowship in 2000–01 to research into Indian popular film narrative as well as a Goethe Insitut Fellowship in 2000 to study post-war German cinema. He has authored two volumes of academic film scholarship – Seduced by the Familiar: Narration and Meaning in Indian Popular Cinema (2008) and Bipolar Identity: Region, Nation and the Kannada Language Film (2011) and two volumes of film criticism for the lay reader – 50 Indian Film Classics (2009) and Director’s Cut: 50 Major Filmmakers of the Modern Era (2013). His academic essays on cinema find a place in Indian and international anthologies.
Abstract: The science fiction film can be regarded as falling into three separate categories – disaster, horror and visionary SF. Disaster SF is perhaps best represented by the Alien Invasion genre (Independence Day, 1996) while the best known SF film from the horror category is Alien (1979). Both disaster SF and horror SF are preoccupied with the danger to mankind and the world from encounters imagined by science. The third category in the SF film is visionary – in that it tries to imagine a future for mankind – although this future may be obscure (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968). The implication in most of these films is that “humanity” is a passing phase and that science and technology will see it being transcended. Visionary science fiction has tended to see teleology in mankind’s evolution even if it was dystopian as in HG Wells’ The Time Machine. While SF usually comes from nations which are world powers (England in the late 19th Century, the US and Russia today), this paper is primarily concerned with why Russian SF not only views mankind’s scientific future pessimistically as against the US, which is optimistic but also denies that “humanity” is a phase in an imaginable teleology. By looking at two Russian films 4 (Ilya Khrzhanovsky, 2005) and The Target (Alexander Zeldovich, 2011), the paper tries to examine how the grand-narratives of national history influence the nation’s envisioning of “mankind’s future”.
Geetha Bakilapadavu, Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani
Day 1, Session 1.3: 3:45–4:45 pm | “What is Beyond Human?: Science Fictional Perspectives of Arthur C. Clarke”
Geetha Bakilapadavu, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS), Pilani. She has been teaching at BITS, Pilani since the year 1999. She has completed her doctoral degree from this institute in the year 2006. Her doctoral thesis is in the area of philosophically expansive themes in the science fictional works of Arthur C. Clarke. She teaches courses in the areas of Literature and Film Analysis, Short Film Making, and Humanities and Design. She has also taught courses in the areas of and Technical Communication, Technical Report Writing, Literary Criticism, Poetry, and English Language Skills. Her research interests include Comparative Literature, Modern Indian Theater, Film Aesthetics, Communication & Media, and Interface between Science Fiction & Philosophy. Interaction between Liberal Arts and Engineering is one of the areas she is exploring currently; she has started working in the area of Digital Humanities. She has guided more than fifty First Degree Projects, First Degree Theses and M.Phil theses in the above mentioned areas. She has guided one doctoral thesis in the area of Portrayal of Communal Violence in Literature and Films based in the Indian subcontinent.
Abstract: The idea of Man as a transitional being is a philosophical one and runs in various science fiction writings. The question of what is beyond human is a recurring one in the science fiction works of Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke connects this with the concept of evolution of intelligence. He explores the idea of a cosmic consciousness – a gigantic mind- that works to absolve Man into its fold. Connected theme is the human mind’s potential for such quantum leaps to unify with the cosmic consciousness.
Transcendence in Clarke is achieved through different ways. In Childhood’s End, if the intervention of the super aliens ‘Overminds’ enable man to transcend, in Odyssey Series novels it is done through its own interventions into space-time. Also we find the suggestion of transcendence through altered states of human consciousness in 2001: A Space Odyseey. With such developments the further growth of humanity stops to be linear and becomes a giant leap that strips off all ‘human’ limitations. This conception of a consciousness that enfolds and absorbs human consciousness in Clarke is in tandem with the idea of a unified whole that we see in Eastern traditions. It is strikingly similar to the concept of Supermind and Overmind that Indian mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo expounds while he speaks of man as a transitional being. Both Sri Aurobindo and Clarke speak of evolutionary ladder of consciousness; both perceive of Man as having a middle ranking and as something that is not a finished product but is destined to grow into a more complete being. With this understanding, the proposed essay aims to throw fresh insights into Clarke’s transcendental themes and sets to establish the significance of his science fictional perspective.
Aruna Bhat, Department of English, University of Jammu
Day 1, Session 1.3: 3:45–4:45 pm | “Beyond Bionic Beings: Cybernetics as an Extension of the Human – A Study of William Gibson’s Novel Neuromancer”
Aruna Bhat, M.A., is a research scholar, at the Department of English, University of Jammu. She is working on the exploration of cyberpunk, considered to be an offshoot of science fiction, as a counterculture in the novels of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. Her research includes tracing the evolution of cyberpunk from mainstream science fiction, and the influence of various social and cultural events that led to its development. She has presented a few research papers in national/international conferences. The research papers focussed on the relationship of literature to the development of technology, identity formation in digital world, apocalyptic visions of science fiction writers, and countercultural patterns in cyberpunk novels. Her interests include postmodern fiction, cultural studies, and feminist theories.
Abstract: Science fiction as a literary genre has come a long way from Verne’s search for the center of the earth and Wells’ travel through time in his time machine. Contemporary science fiction is more willing to challenge the limits of possibilities and more eager to push the boundaries of human imagination. More importantly, science fiction often acts as a precursor to scientific thought, and forebodes new research; projects such as Google Glass can be traced to similar ideas presented much earlier in print fiction and other media. Science fiction thus consists not only of flights of idle fancy, but is in fact an indication of human endeavor to investigate new ways to enhance and improve the quality and duration of human life. An example of this tendency towards an improvement over nature’s perfection can be seen in the concept of the digital superhuman, which is an extension of the human self into the digital world. Power dynamics have shifted, so that today the information superhighway has become the new dimension in which the battles of power and control are played out, and whoever controls this new realm of knowledge controls access to the means of production and consumption.
An exemplary depiction of this trend is portrayed by William Gibson in his Neuromancer, his multi-award winning novel, which set the tone for cyber dystopias and the elevation of the struggle between good and evil to the digital world. Gibson paves the way for the discussion of the cyber-cowboy, the new superhuman who acquires tremendous power because of his integration into cyberspace, to the extent that the boundary between man and machine is erased, and what emerges is a harmonious blend of man and technology, an advanced existence that transcends the limitations of the human condition, a being that is the outcome of natural evolution coupled with cybernetic progression. This paper will attempt to analyze Gibson’s concept of the cyber human, the fusion of the hacker with cyberspace, and the ethical and moral considerations that accompany such a transformation. It will also evaluate Gibson’s predictions for the shape that this progression might take, and will investigate the possibility of his dystopia coming to life, and whether this superhuman is indeed human in its conception, rather than the prisoner of the very technology he assumes to be the master of.
Federico Luisetti, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Day 2, Session 2.1: 9:45–10:45 am | “Technological Vitalism: Rethinking the State of Nature”
Federico Luisetti, Ph.D., is Professor of Italian Studies, Comparative Literature and Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also serves as the Chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He is the author of the volumes Una vita. Pensiero selvaggio e filosofia dell’intensità (2011), Estetica dell’immanenza (2008), Plus Ultra. Enciclopedismo barocco e modernità (2001), and the co-editor of two collections of essays on visual studies and a special issue of the journal “Annali d’Italianistica” (2009) on the Futurist Avant-Gardes. A co-edited volume on postcolonial politics of nature is forthcoming in 2014: Federico Luisetti, John Pickles and Wilson Kaiser, eds., The Anomie of the Earth. Autonomous Politics of Nature and Society (Duke University Press). He is currently completing a book manuscript on the state of nature and decolonial naturalisms and primitivisms.
Luisetti has published essays and book chapters on visual, political, and cultural theory, including “Dimenticare la realtà: spiritismo occidentale e sciamanesimo decoloniale” (2013); “Nonhuman Intervals: Marinetti’s Radio Syntheses” (2012); “The Savage Decolonialist: Notes on Critical Exoticism” (2012); “The Kantian Sleep. On the Limits of the ‘Foucault Effect’ (2012); “Nietzsche’s Orientalist Biopolitics” (2011); “Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben: from Biopolitics to Political Romanticism” (2011); “The Nature of the Common” (2010); and “Reflections on Duchamp. Bergson Readymade” (2008).
Abstract: In his notebooks, the Zibaldone, the Italian Romantic poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi observed that “mankind grows away from nature, and therefore from happiness, by means of every kind of experience he should not have, and which nature had not expected him to have” (December 22, 1820). Taking as a point of departure the naturalistic reformulation of biopolitics suggested by Roberto Esposito in The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy (Stanford University Press, 2012), my presentation maintains that Leopardi’s idiosyncratic primitivism is just one instance of a far-reaching and widespread questioning – on the background of a colonial world-order, human carnage and predation of natural resources that has shaped the forms of life of Western modernity – of the Western dispositif of the “state of nature” and its related vision of human nature. From Vico, Rousseau, and Nietzsche to Lévi-Strauss, Clastres and Deleuze- Guattari, within European thought various kinds of critical primitivisms and political orientalisms, the imagination of alternative states of nature beyond the boundaries of the social contract tradition, point to a reinvention of the thresholds separating the bios from the polis, the ecological, bodily and affective constitution of the anthropos from the economic, political and juridical machinery of humanitas. Beyond Foucault’s biopolitics, the task of contemporary thought may be to re-activate the struggle over the state of nature, seeking an alliance with those movements – such as postcolonial thought and political ecologies, cosmopolitical approaches and non-Western mobilizations of indigenous knowledges and practices – that are eradicating the taming of life devised by the political theologies of Western modernity. In my presentation I will focus in particular on the “technological vitalisms” of Henri Bergson, Gilbert Simondon and Gilles Deleuze, and argue that their non-humanistic theorizations of the human is grounded on a new understanding of the state of nature and on a transformative relation with Eastern thought.
Samrat Sengupta, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata
Day 2, Session 2.1: 9:45–10:45 am | “Autoimmunity, Animality and the Irony of Self-Definition”
Samrat Sengupta, M.A., Pg.Dip., is a doctoral scholar at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata and an Assistant Professor in English at Kharagpur College. He has been the recipient of the University Research Scholarship from University of Kalyani. He has worked as a Guest Editor at Chhaya Prakashani, a freelancer with The Statesman, and has been the Vice President of the Civilian Welfare Foundation, Kolkata. He has jointly edited Anxieties, Influences, and After: Critical Responses to Postcolonialism and Neo- colonialism, and several issues of Alochonachakra. He has a number of publications in journals on topics such as Shakespeare, Raja Rao, Bollywood, and Bengali literature.
Abstract: Derrida’s book Rogues starts with the famous story of La Fontaine which illustrates with the animal fable of the wolf and the lamb how the strongest always finds reason to inflict violence on the weak and the vulnerable. This book carefully demonstrates how behind any legal framework there is a founding violence. Law functions as law because there is force behind it which is justified through a particular form of reason. This force forces one to obey the law, though mostly, reason is used in retrospect to justify the act. But what happens when this legal structure itself is threatened? In its defense the sovereign executes its right to suspend law. In order to avoid descending into state of nature the sovereign initiates the very appearance of that state of nature – the animality that is primordial to the constitution of this legal framework – the animality of primitive force. This is autoimmunity of modern state which in order to provide security to its subject, to save them from going down to the state of nature unleashes violence within itself – it kills in order to protect. The principle of modern state is to produce killable entities – antibodies within. Donna Harraway in her essay “Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies” has shown how the postmodern conceptualization of “the body as a strategic system…a highly mobile field of strategic differences” is complicit with global imagination of political bodies. Therefore on one hand there is an acceptance of the existence of the animal/outsider/other within the human self but on the other there is an attempt to manage that animal/outsider/other by removal or quarantine – by execution or confinement. This paper would attempt to address the philosophical tension regarding if this animality can effectively be confined or killed or does it come back to haunt. If behind the power of the sovereign is the founding violence – the animal force which makes one obey then the traces of that originary moment continues to haunt the sovereign. Whoever violates the legal structure sanctioned by the sovereign parodies the formation of sovereign itself which conceals and denies the animality within. Animality is the principle for the formation of the Being of the sovereign in terms of its exclusion. To parody that animal within becomes then an act of re-enacting the sovereign which poses a threat to the existing sovereign. In the face of that threat the sovereign has to give up its self-justificatory juridico-politics and bring out its innermost animality and confront its own non-being. In the very next step he has to dramatize the killing of that animal. This initiates the production of bare life which is killable and therefore symbolically helps in purging the sovereign from its animality in a performance of “self” preservation. Act of suppressing revolutions is the act of saving the openness of “Being” of politics from sliding into undisclosable animal. Health of the political body is restored by performing the elimination of the animals/viruses/bad genes/rebels. However this paper would argue that one has to be responsible to the animality within to deal with the crisis of autoimmunity. I would argue here that thinking in terms of recognizing the animality within, which one escapes to become human, but which continues to haunt this very process of becoming human in form of a trace can reshape our understanding of politics
Rosi Braidotti, Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University
Keynote Address II, Day 2: 11:00–12:15 pm | [Video presentation] Critical Post-humanism
Rosi Braidotti, Ph.D., is Distinguished University Professor and founding Director of the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University. She was the founding professor of Gender Studies in the Humanities at Utrecht (1988-2005) and the first scientific director of the Netherlands Research School of Women’s Studies. She has held the Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship in the Law School of Birckbeck College, University of London and the Jean Monnet Visiting Chair at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European Institute in Florence. She was a fellow in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, a Senior Fulbright Scholar, has an Honorary Degree ‘Philosophiae Doctrix Honoris Causa’, from the University of Helsinki, 2007, and received the Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2005. Her books include Posthumanism (2014), Nomadic Theory (2011) Patterns of Dissonance (1991), Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (1994) and Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (2002).
Niyathi R. Krishna, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Sangeeth S. Pillai, Department of Architecture and Planning, IIT Roorkee
Day 2, Session 2.2: 12:15–1:15 pm | “Internalizing Superhuman and Becoming SubhumanWhere Lies the Human?”
Niyathi. R. Krishna, M.A., is a doctoral student at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Roorkee. She has worked as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Gender studies, IUCSSRE, MG University, researching on “Annotated Bibliography of women and gender related publications in Kerala”. She has publications in journals on topics such as ecofeminism, female domestic labourers, and sexuality and spirituality.
Sangeeth. S. Pillai, B.Arch., is an M.Arch student at the Department of Architecture and Planning, IIT Roorkee, Roorkee. She has presented papers and taken part in competitions at a number of national seminars and conferences on architecture and design.
Abstract: From cartoons to video games and story books to animation movies, our children are continuously exposed to super human characters and their characteristics. Created to invite children’s curiosity and interest, these characters and their furious fights with sophisticated weapons induce rush of adrenalin as well as the morals like ‘might and fight are the ways to success’ in them, so as to create serious impacts in their developing thought process and behaviour. In the course of internalizing and inculcating the super human characters as role models, aren’t they losing their humane concerns and perspectives? Aren’t the values like love, concern, virtue, patience, forgiveness, sharing and sympathy replaced by hatred, contempt, revenge, violence, domination and destruction?
This paper focusses on the sub-human mental realm being created in children who crave for becoming super human due to the impact of multi-media. The paper also finds out and critically analyses the bye-products of this hero worship, like alienation from peer group, aggressiveness, gender insensitivity, development of ‘demanding and dominating’ body language, stubborn attitudes and criminal tendencies from a psychological and sociological perspective. It further questions the ideal measures set by the consumerist market that decides what our children want and what not, along with proposing the qualities needed for an ideal children entertainer.
For that, we are taking popular mainstream cartoons, video games and animated movies as samples and observation as the method. With the light of our inferences, we would like to propose an alternative trend in child entertainment, by modifying the biases and errors in the existing value system and closely studying child psychology and socialization, for creating a better human generation connected with love and concern for each other.
Anirudh Sridhar, Center for Internet and Society, Bangalore
Day 2, Session 2.2: 12:15–1:15 pm | “Digital Humanities and the University: The Conflict of Koenigsberg”
Anirudh Sridhar, M.S., is a graduate of the State University of New York, where he studied Environmental Policy and Law and Writing. He has been working in the field of environmental activism and has attended many United Nations social and climate conferences as a youth delegate. He has been published in ECO and helped write “Environmental Policy and Law in India-II” by Senior Advocate Shyam Divan (not yet published). He is presently an expert consultant in Digital Humanities at the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore. Here he has published many blogs on an alternative history of disciplines and the digital humanities. He has also completed a textbook on “Internet and Society” which will be shortly published as well as co-authored a chapter on “The History and Philosophy of Intellectual Property Law”.
Abstract: Immanuel Kant’s “Conflict of the Faculties”, written in Konigsberg was a daring publication under the censorious watch of the Prussian totalitarian state. In it, he argues for open argument and mutual respect among the state endorsed and free reigning faculties in the University. This blog will explore a modern day conflict among the faculties under the clutches of a different kind of regime. Although the organization has radically shifted, the conflict has escalated to a battle (much like the one that tore Konigsberg apart during World War II) and the regime overseeing it may be more insidious than before. We will explore the history of Enlightenment and post Enlightenment thought that informs the present organization and conflict of the faculties and the place of the Digital Humanities in the turmoil.
Anirban Das, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata
Day 2, Session 2.3: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Many Ways of Thinking the ‘Non-Human’”
Anirban Das, Ph.D., is a Faculty in Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. He also teaches, as visiting faculty, in the Women’s Studies Programs at the Jadavpur University and the University of Calcutta. He has been a research associate at the Indian National Science Academy and a visiting faculty at the School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and at the Department of Political Science, Delhi University. His academic monograph Toward a Politics of the (Im)Possible: The Body in Third World Feminisms (2010) has been published by the Anthem Press, UK. He has earlier edited the first comprehensive book on deconstruction in Bangla, Banglay Binirman/Abinirman (2007). He has published articles in English and Bangla on science studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, justice and law, and deconstruction.
Abstract: The act of thinking beyond the human has been operative in many ways in recent humanities and social sciences. Two of the most important strands, each of which affects the other in constitutive ways, come respectively from ‘science studies’ and from ‘theory’ in a general sense. This paper tries to trace the differences in the dynamic of thinking associated with these two vantage points. It closely reads two essays, one by Donna Haraway and the other by Jacques Derrida, to bring out the differences in the dynamic of the two positions. In the process, it also deals with the large body of literature in science studies produced in the wake of Haraway’s intervention.
As a reading of Haraway’s celebrated piece (“A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, 1991) shows, science studies has to refer to empirical ways in which nature, (wo)man and machine act as co-constitutive entities in a specific historical conjuncture. As a result, the work of retaining a sustained focus on the general processes at work in thinking the implications of the human with non-human entities – both in the sense of external and internal differentiations of the many ‘others’ of the ‘human’ – is rendered uncertain. Such work, which Derrida’s essay (“Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2)”, 2002) tends to do through slow and unrelenting argumentation, is a necessary complement to contemporary science studies, the paper contends. Only such work can lead to a rethinking of ethics and politics in their relationships to the ontology of the ‘non-human’, the paper further tends to show.
This makes it possible to address a central dilemma in the thinking of a ‘beyond’ to the human. The dilemma relates to the historicity of thinking beyond the human. Do the many-fold relations to the non-human recur in the history of the epistemic economy of the human? Are they productions of only a certain ‘post’ condition beyond modernity? Are both these questions to be answered in the affirmative? If this latter is the case, how is the epistemic economy of negotiating the non-human take a certain specific form in the said ‘post’ condition? What are the implications of the emergence of this form? My paper is a tentative theoretical response to these queries.
Ritu Sen Chaudhuri, West Bengal State University
Day 2, Session 2.3: 2:15–3:45 pm | “Reading Ajantrik: Talking Technicity”
Ritu Sen Chaudhuri, Ph.D., teaches Sociology at the West Bengal State University. She also works as a visiting lecturer for the M.Phil. programmes in Women’s Studies at The Women’s Studies Research Centre, University of Calcutta and the School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. After completing Masters in Sociology from University of Calcutta, she joined The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta as a PhD Research Fellow. Her areas of interest include feminist theories, sociological theories, post modern thought, gender and sexuality and the interfaces of sociology and literature. She has delivered many lectures at a number of universities and research institutes and presented papers in national and international seminars and conferences. She has published both in Bangla and English on various issues including women’s writing, women’s movement, feminist theory, and Tagorian novels in academic journals and edited books. Currently, she is supervising five PhD dissertations and working on two book projects.
Abstract: This paper is animated by the idea of a “collective, constitutive human exposure to something tentatively called originary technicity” (Adrian Mackenzie, 2002 Transduction: Bodies and Machines at Speed). In a deconstructive gesture it refers to the logical continuity of the non-technical to its technical supplement. I read this to question the hint of historicism implicit in our reflections on the man-machine relationship. Till our ‘mythic time’ – which made the difference between man and man-made ‘thoroughly ambiguous’ – the machine was only a caricature of the masculine telos of reproduction. By the late twentieth century, as Donna Haraway states (in her renowned piece “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, 1991), “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; … we are cyborgs”. I think of cyborg as a discursive construct of post-modernism, challenging the authoritative ‘wholeness’ of the ‘natural’ human body/humanity, not to be reduced to post-modernity or post-modern times.
I think this as I read Ajantrik (The Pathetic Fallacy, 1958)71, a Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976) film. It is about the empathetic association between a man and his car extended to an im/possibility of human – machine continuum. The apparatus of the film produces this link through suggestive monologues/dialogues, visual images and sound track. The structure of the text on the other hand tends to question the inherent historicism of the man-machine relationship. Though remaining receptive of its historical context Ajantrik can never be reduced to it. While referring to the modern times the film insinuates an ‘originary technicity’ implicit in the man-machine continuity. It hints at the need of the non-technical man for its technical supplement to become what he is. The machine is thus in the very ontology of ‘his’ human being. Relationship with a man and an as-if-human machine could have taken at least two im/possible spins: humanization of machine or mechanization of human. Following none of these possibilities the text takes its turn to flesh out the specificity of this relationship. The human can never fully be machinic while machine can never fully be human, yet Ajantrik talks about what really happens between the man and the machine! Traversing beyond time the text incites one to ask: when the epistemic economy of the earlier and later machines is not much different where then does the difference lie?
Ananta Kumar Giri, Madras Institute of Development Studies
Day 2, Session 2.3: 2:15–3:45 pm | “Spiritual Pragmatics: New Pathways of Transformation for the Posthuman”
Ananta Kumar Giri, Ph.D., is currently on the faculty of Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India and has worked and taught in many universities in India and abroad including Free University, Amsterdam, University of Kentucky, Aalborg University, Denmark and Albert Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg, Germany where he was a Humboldt Fellow (2006–2007). He has an abiding interest in social movements and cultural change, criticism, creativity and contemporary dialectics of transformations, theories of self, culture and society, and ethics in management and development. Dr Giri has written more than a dozen books in Oriya and English. Among his previous books are: Global Transformations: Postmodernity and Beyond (1998), Sameekhya o Purodrusti [Criticism and the Vision of the Future, 1999], Conversations and Transformations: Toward a New Ethics of Self and Society (2002); and Building in the Margins of Shacks: The Vision and Projects of Habitat for Humanity (2002).
Abstract: Pragmatism has been an important philosophical and socio-cultural movement in the US which has influenced our view of language, social reality and human condition. American pragmatism as cultivated by C.S. Pierce and John Dewey has influenced post-war continental philosophy in the works of seekers such as Kar Otto-Apel and Jurgen Habermas. But this has not been merely a one-way influence. In the works of Apel and Habermas we see a mutual dialogue between American pragmatism and streams in continental philosophy namely Kant leading to what is called Kantian pragmatism. Kantian pragmatism has influenced critical theory. Kantian pragmatism has opened up pragmatism to new realities and possibilities as a result of dialogue between American pragmatism and continental philosophy.
But this dialogue now needs to be broadened and needs to be part of what can be called planetary conversations. There is a need for dialogue between varieties of pragmatism and also for exploring spiritual horizons of pragmatism. For example, Confucianism does have an important emphasis upon practice and pragmatism. John Dewey did visit China and did got to know the Confucian streams of theory and practice. Pragmatism does also have a spiritual horizon and base as, for example, in many streams of Indian traditions there is a focus on transformative practice. In this context Sri Aurobindo in his Life Divine talks about a nobler pragmatism “guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge.” In his Human Cycles Sri Aurobindo also talks about spiritual vitalism. Sri Aurobindo also urges us to look at language as mantra and cultivate the mantra dimension of language. This urges us to go beyond a simplistic view of language as reflection of society. This resonates with Martin Heidegger’s conception of language as way making movement.i In Sri Aurobindo and Heidegger we find streams of spiritual pragmatism in their meditations on language, self, being and reality which can also inspire us to explore the spiritual struggle in Wittgenstein’s conception of form of life.
With these many sided dialogues, we can cultivate spiritual pragmatism as a mult-dimensional vision and path of self and social transformation. We can cultivate paths of spiritual pragmatism as a new way of looking at self, society, language and reality. In spiritual pragmatism new languages and practices are born of multidimensional sadhana, strivings and struggles touching both the social and spiritual bases of life and society. Spiritual pragmatism involves interpenetration of spiritual and material, immanent and transcendence, capability and transcendence. Spiritual pragmatics involves a transformation of anthropocentrism and a creative mutual interpenetration of human, nature and divine. In my paper, I discuss spiritual pragmatics as a possible pathway of embodiment and realization for the posthuman including presenting a new ethics and aesthetics of self-development, inclusion of the other and planetary realizations (cf. Giri 2013). For example, vitalism is an important aspect of posthuman meditations as it comes in the work of Bruno Latour who builds on Nietzche. Here I would like to carry out a dialogue with vitalist streams in Posthumanist meditations and Sri Aurobindo. Posthuman strives to go beyond the dualism of man and non-human and in my paper I argue how spiritual pragmatics can help us in overcoming these boundaries. The conventional representation of the posthuman mainly takes a technogolical turn and it does not explore the challenge of divinization of the human. In my paper, I explore all the dimensions of the posthuman including humanization of the divine and divinization of the human. I explore the challenges posed by the conjunction of neo-liberal economic revolution, biotechnological revolution and communication revolution which leads towards a technological and commercial fixation of the human. I explore how spiritual pragmatics can suggest alternative pathways of humanization beyond technological and commercial determination (cf. Vandenberg 2014).
Mun-Cho Kim, Nam-Og Kim, and Andrew Ho Kim, Korea University
Day 2, Session 2.4: 4:00–5:00 pm | “Changing Conception of Body in a High-Tech Society”
Mun-Cho Kim, Ph.D., is a Professor at the Department of Sociology, Korea University. He has brought out publications in leading journals of sociology in areas such as New Media, Social Networking, and Information Technology. These include “Social Unrest in Korea: Uncertain Societ, Anxious People”, Episteme 7 (2012), “Haptic Technology Knowledge Map I”, Visual Culture 19 (2012), and “Forecasting Challenges and Responses in a Convergent Society”, Society and Theory 20 (2012).
Nam-Og Kim, Ph.D., is a Research Professor at the Institute of Social Research, Korea University. She has published a number of journal articles on sociology in the information age. These include “Research Trends and New Challenges of Sociology of Body”, Society and Theory 21(2012), and “Literary Representation of the Historical Experience of ‘386 Cohort’ of Korea”, Society and Theory 16 (2010).
Andrew Ho Kim is as Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Korea University. He has worked as a research and administrative assistant at Korea University. His publications include: “Persisting Educational Inequality in South Korea: Changes in the Meaning of College Education and Differentiated Educational Field”, Episteme 10 (2013).
Abstract: This study seeks to propose that human body is being reduced to the stock of information. The development of IT, BT, NT and the new technological paradigm led by the convergence of aforementioned technologies are responsible for said reduction. As a result, body is now considered to be something that can be decomposed, mixed, assembled, transformed and newly produced, rather than to be understood as fixed, natural and integrated organisms as before. Newly restructured post-body shows itself both in the implosion of machine and organism, and the fusion, duplication and customization of heterogeneous organisms. Post-body, the hybrid where artificial and natural is being imploded and converged, is becoming the very condition of existence of our times.
Such phenomenon is a direct result of our body being reduced to mere information. Organism, once a part of the universe and then reduced to machines, is now regarded as an existence based on information generation. Human body being reduced to information, not only absorb and store information but also flexibly transform itself according to the given information. Therefore, body should be analyzed based on the perspective of an information processing system.
The information processing system consists of various advanced technologies that bring major changes. Owing to their shared function of ‘information procession’, they tend to form the system on a massive scale. Particularly, digitalized message of zeros and ones duplicates information and mixes what was once heterogeneous, thus creating a brand-new species.
With abundance of high-tech interventions improving and controlling life processes by transforming and manipulating our body, we are now witnessing the emergence of ‘techno-biopower’, the new form of biopower. If the state, with the help of knowledge, has served as an executer in the age of biopower, the capital joining forces with technoscience will be the executer in the coming age of techno-biopower, which may lead to the neoliberal globalization.
Continuous valorization of body leads to capital giving impetus to the commercialization of human body. In short, body can be seen as ‘the repository of raw materials’, not the life itself, merely waiting to be commercialized. Body is now becoming a warehouse of information where it can be extracted, exchanged and sold. This view of post-body guides us to recognize “overshoot modernity” as the mastermind behind current high-tech society, and to deliberate on the risk of living with high technologies.
Prayag Ray, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 2, Session 2.4: 4:00–5:00 pm | “‘Synthetik Love Lasts Forever’: Sex Dolls and the (Post?)Human Condition”
Prayag Ray, M.Phil, is a doctoral scholar and Research Assistant at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). He has completed a B.A. and an M.A. in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. His research interests include fantasy and science fiction, mythology, postcolonialism, globalization, popular science, and popular culture. He has taught a Tool Course at JNU, and has presented papers at a number of national seminars on topics such as roleplaying videogames, anthropomorphism in high fantasy, and allegory in fantastic literature. He has also worked as a freelance copyeditor, and holds a PGCert degree in Editing and Publishing from the School of Cultural Texts and Records at Jadavpur University.
Abstract: Perhaps no phenomenon in the modern world raises more questions about love, sexuality, and what it means to be human in a technologized world than the increasing popularity of realistic, anatomically-correct sex dolls. This paper will examine sex-doll usage, as well as digital fetishism, discussing their psychological, social, and philosophical implications, and placing them within discourses on love, sexuality, and commodity fetishism within late capitalism.
Idealized sex objects have an ancient history: the story of the mythical king Pygmalion’s passion for Galateashaped from a slab of ivoryis well-known. Pandora, shaped from clay by Hephasteus, is another early example, and her story shows that there is an enduring history of the indictment of women through the inscription of the feminine onto the mechanical. With European modernism came the repeated association of female sexuality with technology. As Andreas Huyssen writes, “As soon as the machine came to be perceived as a demonic, inexplicable threat and as harbinger of chaos and destruction … writers began to imagine the Maschinenmensch as woman” (After the Great Divide, 70).
Dwelling briefly on this history of objectification, the paper shall move on to its principal object of study“technosexuals” like Davecat; users of highly realistic sex dolls who claim to have developed meaningful relationships, over and above mere sexual gratification, with what are essentially masturbatory aids. It seems that a great deal of fear and anxiety underlie their obsessive desire for a permanent “partner” in a lifeless effigy; the fear of women’s sexuality, fear of intimacy, fear of rejection, fear of change and loss, even the fear of death. It is arguable that underlying this extreme objectification is a deep misogyny that manifests itself as an insidious urge to control, possess and dominate the female body, and female sexuality. A connection between sex doll usage and rape as well as necrophiliain each case the male exercises domination over a helpless female bodycan therefore be made (Anthony Ferguson, The Sex Doll).
Perhaps the most interesting question raised by these “relationships” is, what does it mean to be human? We observe within their dynamics, the curious, even paradoxical co-existence of the desire to humanize and dehumanize the “partner”. While on the one hand what these users often like best is the fact that these “women” conform perfectly to what Naomi Wolf calls the “Beauty Myth”, ie., popular perceptions of female beauty in commoditized culture, and that they do not argue, and cannot cheatin other words, that they are not very humanon the other hand they also want to humanize their “partners” by giving them names, projecting personalities onto them, and engaging in activities one normally engages with in a human relationship. These questions shall be discussed with reference to the discourse of critical posthumanism.
A later section of the paper will look at the broader condition of life within late capitalism, to see if this phenomenon can be traced to a larger commodity fetishism operative in our technologized age. In popular culture, and particularly in advertising, women are continually equated with commodities and objectified (John Burger, Ways of Seeing), and ideals of convenience and disposability have entered the realm of sexuality and human relationships (Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love). It is important here to recall that when Baudrillard describes simulacra, he insists that the original is lost or fades away. If we consider sex dolls as simulacra, does it imply the disappearance of the human in the realm of relationships? Since the sex doll is a mute object, what is implied when the likes of Davecat insist on deriving “meaningful emotional connection” from the relationship? Are we increasingly living in a world where the only meaningful or stable relationship one can have is with oneself?
Michel Bauwens, University of Amsterdam
Day 2, Session 2.4: 4:00–5:00 pm | [Video presentation] “Digital Economies and Networks of Cooperation”
Michel Bauwens, M.A., is the founder of the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives, which researchers peer production/governance/property and the open/free, participatory, and commons-oriented modes of human cooperation. He is the author of a number of on-line essays, including a seminal thesis Peer to Peer and Human Evolution and The Political Economy of Peer Production (CTheory).
He has taught courses on the anthropology of digital society to postgraduate students at ICHEC/St. Louis in Brussels, Belgium and now lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he has taught related courses at Payap University and Chiang Mai University. He is a Research Fellow with the Primavera project at the University of Amsterdam and outside expert with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (2008). He is member of advisory boards such as the Union of International Associations, Shareable magazine, and The Hub. He is also assisting Richard David Hames with the development of the Asian Foresight Institute.
Bauwens has worked as information analyst and reference librarian for the United States Information Agency, information manager for British Petroleum (where he created one of the first virtual information centers and is credited for coining the concept of cybrarian), and is former editor-in-chief of the first European digital convergence magazine, the Dutch language Wave. He created two internet start-ups, the intranet/extranet company E-Com (sold to Alcatel) and the interactive marketing company Kyberco (sold to Tagora holding). He was European Mgr. of Thought Leadership for MarchFIRST, and ebusiness strategy director for Belgacom, Belgium’s leading telco (1999-2002).
With Frank Theys, Bauwens is the co-creator of a 3 hour documentary TechnoCalyps, an examination of the ‘metaphysics of technology’. He taught and edited two anthologies on the Anthropology of Digital Society, together with Salvino Salvaggio.
Amrita Pande, University of Cape Town
Keynote Address III, Day 3: 9:45–10:45 am | “Beyond the Mother-machine: Surrogacy and Neo-eugenics in India”
Amrita Pande, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology at the University of Cape Town. Her research primarily focuses on globalization, gendered bodies and gendered work spaces, new reproductive technologies and new forms of social movements. She is currently writing a monograph titled, Caution! Brown Wombs at Work: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India. Her other ongoing projects include research and advocacy work on the sponsorship (kafala) system of migration and its effects on the lived experiences of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. She is also involved as a performer and educator in a theatre production, Made in India, based on her research work on commercial surrogacy in India (produced and directed by Global Stories Production, Denmark).
Abstract: In this paper I use Shellee Colen’s (1995) notion of “stratified reproduction” and Dorothy Robert’s (1997) conceptualization of the race-based reproductive hierarchy, to argue that surrogacy in India is an explicit manifestation of “neo-eugenics”. This is the new, subtle form of eugenics whereby the neo-liberal notion of consumer choice justifies promotion of assisted reproductive services for the rich and, at the same time, by portraying poor people (often in the global south) as strains on the world’s economy and environment justifies aggressive anti-natal policies. Moreover, as the surrogates in India align their own reproduction, through decisions about fertility, sterilization, abortion, in order to (re)produce children of higher classes and privileged nations, they ultimately conform to this neo-liberal global imperative of reducing the fertility of lower class women in the global south.
Monirul Islam, University of Kalyani
Day 3, Session 3.1: 11:00 am–12:00 pm | “Posthumanism: Through the Postcolonial Lens”
Md. Monirul Islam, M.A., is working as an Assistant Professor of English, Asannagr M.M.T. College, West Bengal and is a research fellow in the University of Kalyani, Department of English. His primary interest is in the area of postcolonial theories. He has published on East-West encounter and its literary representations. Some of the articles recently published are “The East/West Binary in Tagore’s Red Oleander”’, “Modern Short Story and the Oriental Tales” “Derozio: His Indianness and Identity Crisis” and “Swami Vivekananda: East and West”. A related field of interest is the subaltern studies with particular interest in the post-colonial subaltern population(s) in the Indian subcontinent.
Abstract: As a consequence of the rapid growth of technological innovations the world has seen the emergence of discursive fields like transhumanism and/or posthumanism. The origin of these discursive practices can be traced back to the Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment project envisioning a teleological progress of human civilization, though it is customary to regard these developments as a point of separation from the Enlightenment or Renaissance humanism, particularly due to its inclusion of the non-human animals and the extra-human futuristic technological beings. However, its basic objective remains to be the realisation of the human potential through the extension of the field of science and technology. As it happens to be the case with many other postmodern discourses the discourse of posthumanism seems to be a corollary of neo-colonialism. Once colonised, now third world subaltern subject becomes the strategic object of the discourse, since the posthuman man will require its ‘other’ and the otherness will be realised in the pre-posthuman subaltern agency. The subaltern subject with its lack of accessibility to the newest innovations and because of its inability to participate in the discursive practices is fated to become the ‘techno-slaves’ in the hands of the ‘techno-masters’. Even with partial access to technology this is bound to happen since the colonised subject will have little control over them.
The objective of this paper will be an exploration of the hidden colonial agenda in the discourse of posthumanism. Attempt will be made at an explication of the available instances of the process of working of the posthumanist colonial practices
Sucharita Sarkar, University of Mumbai
Day 3, Session 3.1: 11:00 am–12:00 pm | “Durga, Supermom, and the Posthuman Mother India”
Sucharita Sarkar, M.A., is Assistant Professor of English at D.T.S.S College of Commerce, Mumbai. Prior to this she was a Lecturer of English at St. Paul’s C.M. College, Kolkata. She has done a Minor Research Project with UGC assistance on Communication through Blogging in India. At present, she is pursuing her doctoral studies on motherhood narratives in India (focusing on momblogs and momoirs between 2000 to 2013) from the University of Mumbai. She has presented papers at national and international seminars in India and Austria on topics including Agatha Christie’s crime fiction, identity studies through food-writing, and blogging in the Indian Diaspora. She has also published papers in books and peer-reviewed journals in India. Her interests, besides motherhood studies, include new media, popular fiction (especially crime fiction, children’s fiction and chick lit), gender studies, diaspora studies and culture studies. She has also moonlighted as a translator of books from Bengali to English, a copywriting consultant as well as a very infrequent blogger.
Abstract: As a phobic response, patriarchal discourse often images the mother as monstrous, especially any deviance from the culturally-prescribed norms of motherhood. Advocating birth control as mother right, Margaret Sanger characterized the maternal body as a ‘breeding machine’. Technology and reproduction has always had an ambivalent and conflicted relationship. While radical feminists have seen technology-assisted reproduction as a liberating solution from the bondage of motherhood, Rosi Braidotti, in “Mothers, Monsters and Machines”, critiques the erasure of mothers by the ‘high tech affair’ of the New Reproductive Technologies.
In India, these technologies are often less about female choice than about male control, especially when manipulated to ensure male heirs. Then again, there is the ‘yummy mummy’, who uses any intervention, from surgery to surrogacy, to mutate her body to technologically perfected dimensions. Is she a prototype of the post-human mother, and what are the feminist responses to this phenomenon?
Shifting from the “experience” to “image” of mothering, the Indian mass and social media has widely circulated the image of the “supermom”a mutated, mythic, multiple-armed, multi-tasking being who is effortlessly capable, with a little help from an assemblage of machine-servants, of negotiating parallel universes of home, self and work. How is this Domestic Goddess related to the cyber-feminism of Donna Haraway, who declared she would rather be a cyborg than a goddess? How do ‘real’ mothers respond: with hope, conformity, mimicry, anxiety or resistance? Can she choose to be a supermom, or is the futuristic image coercive?
It may be debated whether technological progressreproductive and communicativehas liberated or further oppressed the already-subjugated Indian mother. The paper would attempt to map the progression/regression of the possible post-human motherfrom the perspectives of experience and imagewithin the gendered politics of maternity, machine and monstrosity.
Arthur Kroker, Marylouise Kroker, University of Victoria
Jackson 2Bears, Independent Visual Artist
Day 3, Session 3.2: 12:00–1:15 pm | [Video presentation] “When Drones Come to Town”
Arthur Kroker, Ph.D., is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture (PACTAC) at the University of Victoria. His recent publications include The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Marx (University of Toronto Press) and Born Again Ideology: Religion, Technology and Terrorism. In addition to the recent Japanese translation of The Will to Technology, eleven of Dr. Kroker’s books have been published in translation including German, Italian, Japanese and Croatian. Dr. Kroker’s current research focuses on the new area of critical digital studies and the politics of the body in contemporary techno-culture.
Marilouise Kroker is Senior Research Scholar at the University of Victoria.
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker are writers and lecturers in the areas of technology and contemporary culture. Together they edit the peer-reviewed journal CTheory and Critical Digital Studies: A Reader (University of Toronto Press).
Jackson 2bears is a Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) multimedia artist currently based in Victoria B.C. Canada. 2bears has exhibited his multimedia works in solo and group exhibitions across Canada, most recently at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (Victoria B.C), ImagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival (Toronto O.N.), Video In Video Out (Vancouver B.C.), and at the Visual Eyez Festival (Edmonton A.B.) He has also been exhibited internationally in media arts festivals and group exhibitions, most recently at Digital Art Weeks (Zurich, Switzerland).
Heba Ahmed, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Day 3, Session 3.2: 12:00–1:15 pm | “Beyond Belligerence? Towards Posthuman War”
Heba Ahmed is an M.A., student of Political Science at Jadavpur University, with a specialization in International Relations. She completed her BA in Political Science from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata in 2012. The winner of the all-India “After Dickens Writing Competition’, 2012, organized by the British Council, she is also an active debater. She presented a paper on “All that Jazz: Culture and Diversity in the United States” at the 42nd Annual Conference of the Indian Association for American Studies, held at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, 2013.
Abstract: This paper attempts an inquiry into the ontological future of war in a posthuman dimension. War has fundamentally been a driver of human history, but cybernetic reflexivity has the potential to alter the very nature of war itself. Whereas the atomic age may have stalemated war into a zero-sum game, the biotechnological revolution promises a quantum leap of the ‘enchantment’ of war, inasmuch as the existential warrior can be technologically re-engineered to enhance his biological abilities. Thus, as the boundaries between nature, man and machines are increasingly effaced, the traditional ‘memes’ of war will be likely replaced by genes. Will the futuristic trajectory of war help humanity overcome the animus belligerandi of preceding centuries? In other words, as the very notions of ‘humanity’ and ‘humanism’ are broken down, will the predilection to war get transcended? Or will the ‘posthuman’ evolve more terrifying ways to conduct his conflicts, which alter the meanings of ‘combatants’ and ‘civilians’? These are the questions which this paper seeks to answer.
Section I of the paper takes a glimpse at the notion of the ‘posthuman’. As Katherine Hayles succinctly puts it, from an evolutionary biologist’s point of view, modern humans, for all their technological prowess, represent an eye blink in the history of life, a species far too recent to have significant evolutionary impact on human biological behaviors and structures. Scientists like Nick Bostrom claim that it would be good for most human beings to become posthuman, while the perils of the posthuman have been documented by novelists like Aldous Huxley and James Blinn. Evolution by natural selection might as well become an anachronism, as Frederick Taylor’s ‘New Man’- a miracle of efficiency and productivity- takes over. Sections II and III explicate the Posthuman ramifications of war and their vista of consequences, as conjectured by futurists like Hans Moravec, Lewis Mumford, Gregory Stock and Lee Silver. Wedding technology to war may have an altruistic side in making destruction optimal instead of maximal; yet, dystopic visions of totalitarianism as anticipated by Hannah Arendt still arise. By emphasizing the biological realm of war over the cultural, posthuman war may imply a renunciation of the erstwhile normative notions of war. In this scenario, Fukuyama would advocate the state control of biotechnology. That too may be an illusion however, if cybernetics, informatics and biotechnology potentially alter international relations as well.
Bedatri Datta Choudhury, Public Service Broadcasting Trust, and Promona Sengupta, Department of Performance Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU
Day 3, Session 3.2: 12:00–1:15 pm | “The Case of Exploding Humans: The Human Bomb as a Questioning of the Human Condition”
Promona Sengupta, M.A., studied history at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi and then completed her Master’s degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Arts and Aesthetics, specializing in Performance Studies. She is now a research scholar under the Department of Performance Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU.
Bedatri Datta Choudhury, M.A., studied Literature in English at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. She then went on to complete her Master’s degree under the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is now an independent scholar who works for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, an organization that commissions documentary films for the Ministries of Information and Broadcasting, and External Affairs.
Their combined interests include feminist theories, post-colonial theories, post-modern theories, performance studies and popular culture studies. In addition to their individual papers on the aforementioned subjects, they have co-authored a paper on the form of the Indian graphic novel, titled, “Fragmenting Episteme: The Realisation of the Indian Graphic Novel”.
Abstract: At a historical juncture when machines have pervaded the innermost recesses of our corporeality, from microbial cameras floating inside our bodies to detect hidden diseases to the Google glass, humanness faces a terrible identity crisis. If our corporeality fails to distinguish between flesh and steel, the man and the machine, is humanness then simply an experience of the mind, which holds on to simply an idea of a Pure Human, distinguishable from other organisms, a sovereign, autonomous Whole? Or has humanness always been a construct?
The Human conquest of the evolutionary pyramid has always been justified by a paradigm that celebrates scientific prowess and its consequent “progress” along with the rubric of a special moral interiority and conscience. It is within this context of scientific enlightenment, that the Bomb posits a problematic situation by being, on one hand, a symbol of Man’s cerebral achievement and by being an icon of moral depravity on the other. So where does this humanness stand when the human himself/ herself becomes the Bomb- when the destructive machinery is not external to the corporeality or is the corporeality itself? What really happens when the Bomb is the Body?
Looking at a survey of literature about the human bomb and the cultural discourse around it, one comes to realise that the seamless amalgamation of the flesh and steel can only result in an explosion, a break from the human condition into a phenomenon which is so much of an aberration that it is beyond comprehension. Existence of such a cyborgic entity is beyond the purview of “normal” human understanding and can only be imagined (that too within conflict) in dystopic and utopic science fiction and futuristic speculative fiction.
The debate about the human bomb hinges therefore on the idea of the “humane”, with most views focusing on the human contexts of the human bomb, or trying to humanize her/ him in public debates that get reflected in literature and film. It is remarkable how the society tries to reappropriate the errant human-machine into its folds by remembering her/his humanness through a moral debate, the only register that human society possesses to understand the enigma of the human bomb. So then, is humanness and the human condition, within the context of the human bomb, simply a moral question that fails the test of corporeal experience? The A-Bomb, for example, that took more lives than any human bomb can possibly take is, in itself, never lent a human subjectivity whereas the act of a human bomb is forever negotiated within a human moral universe which systemically invisibilises the cyborgic body of the human bomb. The very title of the “human bomb” itself presupposes that the subjectivity of that entity belongs to the human part and not the bomb. It is not, therefore a Bomb human.
The paper will look at a survey of literature and films including Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se, Santosh Sivan’s The Terrorist, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and media discourse around human bombs specifically the cult around Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
C.S. Bhagya, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 3, Session 3.3: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Final Frontier: The Solipsistic Self in Andrei Tarkovsky’s (and Stanislaw Lem’s) Solaris”
C.S. Bhagya, M.A., is pursuing an M.Phil in English at the Centre for English Studies, JNU. Her poetry, articles, and academic papers have appeared online and in print at Eclectica, The Four Quarters Magazine, Coldnoon Travel Poetics, DNA, Times of India and Tehelka, among others. Her academic interests include gender and sexuality, SFF and Indian English poetry.
Abstract: My paper intends to explore the figure of the alien as is envisioned in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s science-fiction novel Solaris. If, popularly, science-fiction texts have imagined alternative presents/ pasts/ futures, they’ve done so by introducing not simply spatio-temporal departures from a status quo but also by introducing a problematic of the self vis-à-vis collisions with monsters, machines and aliens. Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris is of peculiar interest in this regard for it ruptures commonsensical understandings of the figure of the alien as conceptualised in popular science-fiction texts – monstrous surfaces which, when encountered, inspire fear, disgust, curiosity and a desire to conquer. In my paper, I will be studying Tarkovsky’s and, in extension, Lem’s Solaris as texts whose constructions of the self interrogate binaries of the human/ posthuman, human/ alien, mind/ body and self/ other to posit pertinent questions: What exactly are aliens? Are they in alignment with the Derridean monstrous – unknown quantities, figures, “which cannot be announced… without immediately turning [them] into pets”, or, in a sense, the Other anthropomorphised? I will be studying the constitution of the alien figure in Solaris with reference to – and with a particular focus on the role of memory, dreams, loss and desire in – the configurations of the self.
Suryansu Guha, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 3, Session 3.3: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Imperialist Post-human: Alien Invaders, the Syndicate and the Politics of Colonisation in the X-Files”
Suryansu Guha, B.A., is presently pursuing his Masters in English and Cultural Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University. He completed his graduation from Calcutta University in 2012 before moving to Delhi. His areas of interest include popular culture and science fiction. He has presented papers at a number of student seminars on these, and related topics.
Abstract: The paper will discuss identity politics in relation to Post-Humanism and Transhumanism (trying not to conflate the two distinctive terms) through a reading of the popular American cult television series X Files. The paper discusses an alternative mode of Posthumanism in light of the Panspermia theory as propounded in X Files, that of evolution through a biological uplift as opposed to a more participant evolution. However it critiques both positions simultaneously as it rules out both taking into view Francis Fukuyama’s Neo-Conservative doctrines in Our Post-Human Future. The position in critical theory that holds the Posthuman as agglomeration of identities is critiqued, and it defines the Post-Human rather as a being which transcends identity.
Kanak Yadav, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 3, Session 3.3: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Politics of the Im(possible): What underlies the Posthuman?”
Kanak Yadav, M.A., is currently pursuing an M.Phil in English Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She completed her BA Honours in English from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University and her Masters in English Literature from JNU. Her areas of research interest are the Indian English novel and Translation Studies.
Abstract: Most of the cultural texts showcasing transition to the Posthuman world are marked with degree of alienation, discontent, loneliness and dystopian imageries. Such a representation not only reveals how posthuman worldview is conceptualized in an apocalyptic framework, bearing critique of rampant technological advancements and its ill effects; but also takes pleasure in showcasing technophile world’s constant need for theological abstractions, as the posthuman subjectivities seek comfort in realms from the previous order such as, religion and faith. For example, ‘Mercerism’, becomes a kind of religion in Philip K. Dick’s cult novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In my paper, I want to analyze Philip K. Dick’s above mentioned novel and its cinematic representation in Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner, and explore the question of how, critique of modernity and man’s adherence to it, operates on a parallel plane. Such that the only solution for ‘managing’ modernity lies in either appropriating its products, i.e. androids as ‘slaves’ in the off colonies, or ‘retiring’ them if they choose to rebel. Hence the ‘self’ and ‘other’ binary gets redefined, in this case between the Western subject and the ‘replicant’ as its other. Such a crisis of modernity being chiefly located in the ‘West’, not only reflects how the western world is foreseen as the first to encounter the dangers of transhuman subjectivities, thereby providing a subtle critique of western obsession with modernity. But also raises crucial questions, about the non-Western identities that get subsumed in the over-arching corpus of mankind, which gets chiefly depicted by European identities. Hence, when the line between human and the android is itself blurred, it is not simply ‘androids’ but also other marginal entities such as disabled identities like J.F. Sebastian from Blade Runner, non-westerners, who have to together pay the price for the wrongs committed by the European world. As in the transhumanistic environment, western man attempts to save his ‘sanity’ by controlling the so called ‘others’, namely androids. Thus the questions worth engaging are, how are the subaltern identities placed within the purview of post-human degeneration? If they bear the plight of the wrongs committed by the Western subject then doesn’t this also imply the decay of the ‘self’ as well? The subaltern might not live, as implied from the oft quoted line from Blade Runner (mentioned in the title) but then the question which follows is, ‘…who does?’ Modernity and its failed attempts to rectify its failures also reveal the ultimate vision of perpetual doom, which would eventually subsume everyone or may be not quite everyone.
Saronik Bosu, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 3, Session 3.4: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Death of the Machine and its Mystical Journey Beyond the Human”
Saronik Bosu, M.A., is an MPhil student and a Junior Research Fellow at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. His principal areas of research interest are religion and religious literature, with a specific focus on the intersections between religious and literary movements in India. However he is also interested in fantasy and science fiction as literary genres and the history of the book. He is an amateur actor and has participated in several theatrical productions in and outside his university.
Abstract: In a short story by Satyajit Ray, the smartest computer built by man self-destructs with the last words: “I know what comes after death”. In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer HAL’s dying words are apparently incoherent and then at the very end, there is a sudden burst into song. In William Gibson’s Neuromancer however, the eponymous computer succeeds in transcending destruction (at human hands) by uniting its two complementary faculties which is in a somewhat deliberate contradistinction to the human processes of degeneration and death. Though apparently different in many ways, these moments when an intelligent machine encounters death are somewhat mystical in nature. Given the ambiguity unavoidable in the term ‘mystical’, I use the term firstly to suggest that the realm these machines happen upon lies outside the knowledge-field under their purview; and secondly that this happening-upon is a cognitive process unlike their usual rational methodologies and more analogous to what is understood to be a mystical religious experience. These three instances may represent certain experiential polarities as far as machine death is concerned, but they all present a certain apprehension of the ineffable. If it is essentially human to be limited by the frames of reference life imposes, to transcend those frames through cognizance of what lies outside (even if the moment of that knowledge is sometimes coterminous with the cessation of life itself) is to go beyond the human. This paper would investigate into these and other similar instances and try to show that through science-fictional (and mystical) wish fulfilment, the machine supersedes the human by dying or on occasion by reprogramming death.
Huzaifa Omair Siddiqi, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 3, Session 3.4: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Postponement of the Post-human: Analysing Post-human Conflict in Science Fiction”
Huzaifa Omair Siddiqi, B.A., is currently pursuing his Masters at the Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature, and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His research interests come under postmodern and post-cultural studies of cultural phenomenon and texts, and also philosophy of language and literature, though he is quite interested as well in science and technological progress and the issues they raise for philosophy and theology.
Abstract: Many science fiction films deal with the conflict between the human creators and their post-human creations, films like Frankenstein, Bicentennial Man, Terminator series, and Planet of the Apes. All these movies have at their core an inherent conflict between the human and the post-human, whether it is AI, robot, super-intelligent computer or genetically designed monsters. In my paper I shall try to look at this conflict not as a sign of human fear and insecurity at the arrival of the post-human, but rather as the necessary conflict due to the human, and post-human creatures’ inability to accept post-humanity itself. For the human creators, scientific endeavour of which the post-human project is necessarily a part of, deals with the Kantian ‘regulative idea’ as elaborated in The Critique of Pure Reason. The regulative idea is a “schema for which no object, not even a hypothetical one, is directly given.” The post-human project as a regulative idea can therefore be connected with Derrida’s l’avenir which is the messianic future to come, a future which brings salvation but is always forever deferred. Thus the post-human endeavour becomes a regulative idea which can be aspired to but never realised as it is forever deferred. Humanity remains forever unable to accept the post-human creation as a product, it can only look upon it as a process. On the other hand, the post-human creatures exist like Haraway’s cyborg, in a world without dualities, the prime of which is life/death. Since they are deathless and therefore timeless, these creatures would be unable to accept the appellation of post-human conferred upon them as it situates them in the binaries of human existence. Their rebellion against their creators is hence not an effort to turn the tables of creator/creature but to resolve the binaries which for a cyborg can necessarily have no meaning. Thus the conflict between human and post-human creatures is one posited on the inability of either to accept post-humanity itself, and therefore indicative of a desire to claim that the post-human does not actually arrive.
Isha Singh, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Day 3, Session 3.4: 2:15–3:45 pm | “The Superhero as the New Age Shaman: What Is It That We Want to Become?”
Isha Singh, B.A., is currently in her second year of M.A. in English, at the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at JNU. Her interests include mythology, psychology and psychedelia among others. She has earlier read a paper on “The Indian Superhero: a study of Mr. India and Endhiran”, at Miranda House, Delhi University, when she was a student there.
Abstract: If humankind is indeed standing at the brink of an uncertain future, which might just be governed by Artificial Intelligence, the question that we have to ask is-what is it that we want to become? It is a new question that is facing humankind, which was till now concerned with coming to terms with ‘who are we?’ In a post human scenario, the philosophical perception of human beings has changed. One does not even know how to fit theology in this framework, and how to redefine ‘God’ in the absence of the human subject. A cultural framework has developed around post humanism and this has seen representation in popular fiction as well. The post human subject has been depicted with paranoia, as alien infestation, or in apocalyptic scenarios or as threatening cyborgs. But in the comic book genre, the superhero was produced as a post human body, a different sort of visualization from singularity post humanism.
This paper will trace how the post human body is popularly represented through the figure of the superhero, whose body is always marked by a morphological change. This vision of the post human subject is so in contrast with that imagined by Katherine Hayles, who thought of ‘…a version of the Posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality.
The paper will also describe the seventy plus year development of the figure of the superhero in comic books and try to understand how it developed along with posthuman and transhumant thought. A Transhuman understanding has been present in human society since its inception. The shamanic figures in various cultures tried to channel this alternative state of consciousness as well, which the counterculture tried to achieve through psychedelics. An avid blogger called nthmind, who terms himself ‘a post human subject’ has blogged about the silver age super hero of Marvel being a psychedelic shaman, a detail I will elucidate further in the paper. The paper will largely try to understand this representation of the post human body, being produced and consumed with rapidity, in a world filled with both bio-luddites as well as advocates for transhumanism. What sort of a scenario are we to imagine for the future? Science fiction has tried to come up with many imaginative models; perhaps a society like ‘The Culture’ (Iain M. Banks) would exist in the future. We can see comic books as another fictive space where similar questions about superhumanism are being played out.
Ashis Nandy, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
Concluding Session, Day 3: 4:15 pm
Ashis Nandy, Ph.D., is an Indian political psychologist, a social theorist, and a contemporary cultural and political critic. A trained sociologist and clinical psychologist, his body of work covers a variety of topics, including public conscience, mass violence, and dialogues of civilizations. He was Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for several years. Today, he is a Senior Honorary Fellow at the institute apart from being the Chairperson of the Committee for Cultural Choices and Global Futures, also in New Delhi.
Nandy has coauthored a number of human rights reports and is active in movements for peace, alternative sciences and technologies, and cultural survival. He is a member of the Executive Councils of the World Futures Studies Federation, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the International Network for Cultural Alternatives to Development, and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Nandy has been a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., a Charles Wallace Fellow at the University of Hull, and a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities, University of Edinburgh. He held the first UNESCO Chair at the Center for European Studies, University of Trier, in 1994. In 2006 he became the National Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research.
Professor Nandy is an intellectual who identifies and explores numerous and diverse problems. He has written and published extensively in last two decades. His seminal 1983 book, titled ‘The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism’, talked about the psychological problems posed at a personal level by colonialism, for both colonizer and colonized. His edited series ‘Science, Hegemony and Violence: A Requiem for Modernity’ laid the ground for the critique of science in the third world; and his psychoanalytic cultural critique of nationalism in ‘The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self’ has become required reading for nationalist studies. He continues to be active as a writer, some of his more recent books being ‘Time Warps – The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts’ (2002), ‘TIME TREKS: The Uncertain Future of Old and New Despotisms’ (2007) and ‘A Very Popular Exile’ (2007).