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David Roden | Speculative and Unbounded Posthumanism

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

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Technological-Anti-Holism 18
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Critical philosophy of technology presents us with a double bind whereby technology is interpreted as thought and thought as a kind of spiritualizing technology. On the one hand, thought has been theorized as a discursive artifice dialectically coupled to a negativity or contingency that is never truly โ€˜outsideโ€™ thought. On the other, โ€˜substantivistโ€™ philosophies of technology and some contemporary rationalists and organologists conceive technology as a holistic system conceived as a quasi-subjective organizing principle.

The Outside is consequently idealized as fuel for the self-relation and development of thinking - implying the artificiality of all reasons and the practical freedom of the inhumanist subject.

In this paper I want to prise apart this double bind by considering the speculative implications of a position that I designate as โ€˜New Substantivismโ€™ (NS). Like substantivism NS accepts that technology presents life with highly disruptive influences and milieux. However, it denies that technology exerts a controlling influence on the world. The philosophical grounds of this argument will be elaborated with reference to โ€˜dark phenomenologyโ€™, concepts of hyperagency and โ€˜semantic apocalypse, and NS as an account of how functionally indeterminate technology eludes any instituted system of uses.

Technology, thus conceived, is not ours but an organon of the Outside, alien both to the discursive rationality of socially distributed โ€˜world-makingโ€™ and the tertiary temporality (epiphylogenesis) of the organologists. Its aesthetic modality is not worlding but the multiple vectors of unworlding: meaning the avant-garde aesthetics of the Encounter rather than the logic of subjective self-relation becomes paradigmatic for thoughtโ€™s relation to the real.

This predicament results in a posthumanist nihilism that disorients attempts to recuperate technology for posthumanity and, by the same token, complicates the philosophical project of thoughtโ€™s own self-understanding.

Posthuman Dialectics: the Antinomy of Embodiment and Abstraction

Summary: Posthumanism needs a body. Without a notion of embodiment, it is unclear how to explore the ethical salience of the 'posthuman predicament' the place of agency within a world of accelerating technical and ecological change. On the other hand, a rigorous posthumanist and inhumanist epistemology implies that we should abstract from empirical bodies. But this subtractive move threatens to leave us without a philosophical basis for thinking embodiment. Is this an irresolvable aporia, or is there a path beyond this antinomy that can foster a posthumanist ethics and politics?

Google Drive Folder link for the Readings:

โ€˜Speculative and Unbounded Posthumanism.โ€™

Part 1: Disconnection and Unbounded Posthumanismย ย 


Section one serves an introduction to the theoretical core of Speculative Posthumanism. Reading 1) develops an analytical, anti-essentialist account of the conditions for posthuman succession or โ€˜disconnectionโ€™. In what I term โ€˜Unbounded Posthumanismโ€™ the scope for disconnection is no longer bounded by a priori constraints on agency or subjectivity. The implications of this for thinking about action in time and performance are modelled through a philosophical reflection on improvisation in reading 2) and posthuman performance compared with a more rationalist and Hegelian model of the inhuman agent found in the work of Ray Brassier. Reading 3) develops this on the more abstract plane by thinking about the work of Robert Brandom, an extensive influence on the thinking of Brassier, Negarestani and other neorationlist thinkers. The bottom line of Spectral Machines is that Brandomโ€™s impressive theory of meaning and interpretation is fundamentally incomplete, requiring a supplementary subject (interpreter, reader or auditor) that it cannot account for. Thus, his abstract account of subjectivity or agency does not provide a secure set of constraints on posthuman possibility. Thus an unbounded posthumanism is to be preferred to the bounded posthumanism of Brassier et al.ย 

  1. Roden, David. "The disconnection thesis." In Singularity Hypotheses, pp. 281-298. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2012.

  2. Roden, David. "Promethean and Posthuman Freedom: Brassier on Improvisation and Time." Performance Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2019): 510-527.

  3. Roden, David. 2017. โ€˜On Reason and Spectral Machines: Robert Brandom and Bounded Posthumanismโ€™, in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn, London: Roman and Littlefield, pp. 99-119.

Part 2: From Unbounded Posthumanism to the Biomorph


The second session looks at the more experimental side of SP, including the theory-fiction that I have been developing since 2016. Reading 1 argues that aesthetic and literary (and other) experimentations pre-empts philosophical theories of the subject in unbounded posthumanism as a matter of conceptual necessity and consequently invites comparisons between the it and the non-philosophical work of Laruelle, Kolozova and others. Reading 2) develops a similar account of biomorphic posthumanism using Badiou rather than Laruelle as its point of comparison. Finally, Readings 3 and 4 consider how a posthuman subjectivity and its biomorphic self-understanding can be explored in a writing that skirts theory, science fiction, erotic horror and fetishism.

  1. Roden, David. โ€œPosthuman: Critical, Speculative, Biomorphicโ€, in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Posthumanism, edited by Mads Rosendhal Thomsen and Joseph Wamburg, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020, pp. 81-94

  2. Roden, David. "Subtractive-Catastrophic Xenophilia." Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender and Culture 16, no. 1-2 (2019): 40-46.

  3. Roden, David. "Letters from the Ocean Terminus." Dis Magazine (2016).

  4. Opening extract from a forthcoming long-form work Snuff Memory (SM_Extract. Pdf)

Google Drive Folder link for the Readings:

About the Author:

David Roden's published work has addressed the relationship between deconstruction and analytic philosophy, philosophical naturalism, the metaphysics of sound and posthumanism. He contributed the essay "The Disconnection Thesis" to the Springer Frontiers volume The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment. His book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Routledge 2014) considers the metaphysical, epistemological and ethical implications of the existence of posthumans: powerful nonhuman agents produced by human-instigated technological processes. Other representative publications include: โ€œRadical Quotation and Real Repetitionโ€ in Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy (2004); "Nature's Dark Domain: an argument for a naturalized phenomenology" in the Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, Phenomenology and Naturalism (2013); โ€œSonic Arts and the Nature of Sonic Eventsโ€, Review of Philosophy and Psychology (2010).

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