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Ray Brassier

The Human: from Subversion to Compulsion


The Human: From Subversion to Compulsion: In the contemporary ‘critical’ humanities, the privileging of the human has become as suspect as every other sort of privilege. Far from being the uncircumventable horizon for emancipatory politics, humanism is denounced as integral to a logic of domination that proceeds from the subjugation of nature to the enslavement of all those deemed less than human. It is easy to retort that this indictment of humanism follows from conflating the restrictive specification of the human (as white, male, heterosexual, European etc.) with its generic de-specification – the human as what Alain Badiou calls ‘the voided animal’, an exception that includes the unspecified part of everything: neither white nor black, neither male nor female, neither heterosexual nor homosexual, etc. But the suggestion that universalization proceeds not by generalizing specific predicates but by subtracting them tends to fall on deaf ears in a theoretical context where the Nietzschean equation of universalization with domination continues to hold sway. Once the inference from exception to exclusion is made, an all-inclusive post-humanism supplants exclusionary humanism as the politically ‘progressive’ optic consonant with the liberal ideal of inclusiveness that has become the humanities’ critical lodestone. This ideal stipulates a formal equivalence of human and non-human that is the ontological ratification of capitalism’s personification of things and reification of people. But it is not enough to expose the conservative kernel underlying post-humanism’s radical veneer, or to abstractly oppose the generic de-specification of the human to its restrictive specification. What must be grasped rather is how both this specification and de-specification are conjoined in capitalism as a historically specific mode of social production. Doing so reveals that the human is neither a metaphysical subject nor an anthropological attribute. It is the name for a mutability that is sui generis but no longer synonymous with self-consciousness; a displacement compelled by the twin pulses of social reproduction and libidinal repetition.


Ray Brassier 'The Human' [unpublished text]

Rosi Braidotti, ‘A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities’ in Theory Culture & Society 2019 36(6): 31-61

Jacques Derrida 'The Ends of Man' in Margins of Philosophy, Translated by Alan Bass (Brighton: The Harvester Press Ltd., 1982), pp. 109-136

Link to Google drive folder with the readings:

Ray Brassier obtained his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Warwick in 2001. From 2002 to 2008 he was a Research Fellow at Middlesex University’s Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. Since 2008, he has been a member of the philosophy faculty at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He is the author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Palgrave Macmillan 2007). He is currently writing about Marx, freedom, and fate.

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