Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s “Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement ‘Beyond the Human’”

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s essay “Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement ‘Beyond the Human’” makes a critical intervention into the discourse of post-humanism, positing the question, “What and crucially whose conception of humanity are we moving beyond?” (215). Jackson’s thesis is that post-humanist calls to go “beyond the human” risk reinforcing the “Eurocentric transcendentalism” that post-humanism ostensibly rejects because these calls often do not take an appropriately critical stance toward the very concept of “beyond” (215). Appeals to moving beyond humanity fail to produce any real movement—philosophical, political, or otherwise—when they do not recognize the ways that race (and blackness in particular) have historically determined both the boundaries of "the human" and the discursive boundaries of Western metaphysics. Furthermore, Jackson calls attention to a long history of scholarship by black writers and theorists articulating the concepts of animality and objecthood, specifically in relation to blackness, and points out the problematic absence of these works in post-humanist scholarship.

According to Jackson, arguments invoking the language of “post” and “beyond” have “ignore[d] praxes of humanity and critiques produced by black people,” especially critiques that fall outside of “normative” boundaries and are thus deemed “illegible” in the terms of the “logic of Man”—the dominant narrative by which all other stories and practices are deemed legible, visible, and effectual. At first glance, appeals to post-humanity would seem to “invite challenges to normative human identity” (216). However, Jackson points out that “challenges pertaining to animality, objecthood, and thingliness” have a well-established history in critical thought specially related to “the existential predicament of modern racial blackness,” and this history is quite often overlooked in post-humanist literature (216). Jackson cites a list of works on these very topics, all by black theorists and writers—from Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon to contemporary scholars Hortense Spillers and Fred Moten. That “post-humanist, object-oriented, and new materialist literatures” remain largely silent regarding the existence of these critiques and the subject of race more generally is highly problematic, for as Jackson notes, “blackness conditions and constitutes the very nonhuman disruption and/or displacement they invite” (216).

Jackson explains that the very definition of Man in Western metaphysics in dependent upon racialization, and therefore we cannot approach metaphysics without simultaneously considering race. Because metaphysics is racialized—that is, built on a foundation of “slavery, conquest, [and] colonialism”—we must ask, “‘Under whose terms will the nature of time, knowledge, space, objecthood, being, cause, and effect come to be defined?’” (216). Blackness is central to “race’s status-organizing principle” upon which the Western definition of humanity (Man) and the validity of Man’s world-ordering pronouncements depend. Whether acknowledged or not, “movement toward the nonhuman is simultaneously movement toward blackness” (217). Thus, says Jackson, this “question of the ‘beyond’ not only returns us to the racialized metaphysical terrain of orders of being, temporality, spatiality, and knowledge—it reveals that we have never left” (217). With posthumanism, we are in fact returning to, rather than transcending, the very foundations of metaphysics, and therefore occupy a position from which it is possible to challenge not only the anthropocentric limitations of Western philosophy but also the racist assumptions that delineate the realm of the human in the first place. But to call for a movement beyond the human without first unpacking both the historical dehumanization of non-Euro, non-male subjects and the racialized logocentrism of Western metaphysics means reinscribing “Eurocentric transcendentalism” (217). In order to constitute a true movement "away" from "the human," as it has been problematically defined and deployed in Western philosophy, any post-humanist "movement" must recognize the historical position upon which it rests:

Movement beyond the human’ may very well entail a shift of view away from ‘the human’s’ direction; however, accomplishing this effort will require an anamorphic view of humanity, a queering of perspective and stance that mutates the racialized terms of Man’s praxis of humanism, if it is to be a movement at all. (217)

Jackson concludes with a call for an “alternative movement” that, instead of attempting to speak from a perspective above the fray of “viewpoint and judgment,” would instead envision perspective “as position or the entanglement of judgment and viewpoint” (218, 217). This move decenters not just the boundaries of humanity presupposed by Western metaphysics but also “the underlying structure of Man’s being/knowing/feeling ‘human’… such that we no longer make any reference to the transcendentalist conception that many are eager to move beyond” (218).

Photo credit: GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

Work Cited

Jackson, Zakiyyah Iman. “Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement ‘Beyond the

Human’.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21.2-3 (2015): 215-218.

-Jaime Brunton

#humanitiesontheedge #subjectivity #zakiyyahimanjackson #jameslowellbrunton

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