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3. Posthumanism

I regard posthumanism as a strong cultural movement occurring currently in enlightened Western countries. It is an outgrowth of postmodernism, because it seems to combine a variety of postmodern perspectivism with a type of naturalism or rather an affirmation of this-worldliness. It definitely includes the rejection of the special status of human beings in the sense that human beings are no longer regarded as being categorically different from other natural beings, but that we differ from them merely by degree. Humanism on the other hand affirms this special status of human beings. Ihab Hassan has recognized this development already in 1977 and described it with the term posthumanism:

"We need to understand that five hundred years of humanisn may be coming to an end, as humanisn transforms itself into something that we must helplessly call posthumanisn" (Hassan 1977, 843).

According to him, humanism, which he connects with the attribution of a special status to human beings, began during the Renaissance and has ended recently with the dissolution of that special status. A significant step towards the initialisation of this movement was Darwin's realisation that human beings like other natural beings are integrated in the natural process of evolution. When Freud discovered that our consciousness or our Ego is not the master within his own building but that we are significantly governed by our instincts and the Id, was another significant step towards posthumanism. Within the Christian tradition, consciousness has been identified mostly with higher and divine realms which are supposed to represent the real nature of human beings.

posthuman of posthumanism must not be identified with the posthuman of transhumanism, e.g. it does not refer to enhanced and further developed specimen of human beings in the process of evolution. The posthuman in posthumanism represents a new description of what human beings are. Posthumans are not categorically different from other natural beings, hence, the relevance of Darwin. (Sorgner 2010b)

Sloterdijk is another thinker who realised that humanism has been transcended and that we have entered the posthuman era which he has already made clear in his infamous speech concerning "Rules for the Human-Zoo". In contrast to Hassan, he holds that humanism has been dominant in Europe since Stoicism had dominated the Western cultures whereby he also connects humanism with the view that human beings have a special status. Yet, he stresses the link between the special status and reason and having language, too. (Sloterdijk 2001, 304).

However, posthumanism cannot be reduced to a change which has taken place concerning solely one element. Badmington correctly pointy out in his essay collection with the title "posthumanism": "What the contributors seem to recognise as they map posthumanism is that the crisis in humanism is happening everywhere" (Badmington 2000, 9) In particular there seem to be four realms in which seem to be of particular relevance concerning the current state of the development - however, I am also certain that many others fields could be referred to: 1. Relationship between Human Beings and animals; 2. Relationship between Human beings and other human beings; 3. The Integration of Human Beings in Nature in the contemporary arts; 4. The dissolution of the Relationship between nature and culture or hence between mind and body. In addition, one could further refer to the dissolution of the subject - object relationship or the integration of human beings in the natural world, as it is being done by thinkers like Thompson, Rosch or Varela who develop a concept of "The Embodied Mind" (Varela/Thompson/Rosch 1991) and attempt to give an explanation of how mental qualities can come into existence. Thereby, the relationship between both human beings and organic beings gets blurred, as I mentioned already, but also the relationship between human beings and inorganic things. This becomes particularly clear given the successful research which has been done concerning cyborgs. One example is the paralysed man who is able to use his computer, television set and a robot just by using his thoughts, as it was shown in 2006. (Hochberg 2006, 164-171). This person does not actually have to move his total body to fulfil these acts, but he employs his embodied mind and his capacity to think in order to move the cursor of his computer. Such examples provide reasons for holding that human beings are not substantially different from other beings, but merely differ in degree. Hence it is not an immaterial spirit which makes the body move so that one can turn off ones TV, but it is the embodied mind which can directly interact with the computer. Let me briefly summarise the other four categories which I enumerated:

The altered relationship of human beings and animals is of central relevance to posthumanism. The most famous living bioethicist Peter Singer clearly attacks the special status of human beings as I understand the concept which becomes clear given his concept of speciecism which he presents in his monograph on "Animal Liberation" (Singer 2002, 18). He attacks the attitude of human beings to discriminate against animals just because they do not belong to the human species whereby he analyses parallels with the behaviours of sexists and racists. As an alternative he presents a utilitarian ethics which is based upon a theory of preferences in his work "Practical Ethics" (Singer 2011), Given his criticism it becomes clear that he regards it as inappropriate, to evaluate human beings in a radically different way than other living beings, instead he holds that all living beings ought to be evaluated according the same criteria.

A biological comparison between apes and human beings also provides reasons that there is no categorical difference between these groups but just a minimal gradual difference. Concerning political decisions, the altered attitude concerning other creatures becomes clear given the recent alteration of the law in Switzerland wherein the concept of the dignity of all creatures gets significant recognition which was decided in a people's vote of 1992 (Baranzke 2002, 24). The rejection of the special status of human beings also becomes clear given the altered legal decisions in several western countries, e.g. concerning legal decisions regarding the question how to treat embryos. At the 5th of February 2007 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has agreed to allow the creation of human-animal-hybrids for research purposes. This organisation is responsible for legal decisions concerning medical regulations at the beginning of life in Great Britain. In addition, in May 2008 the British parliament allowed that embryos can get created using the genetic make-up of human beings, and the cells of animals. These embryos have to get destroyed, however, after two weeks. It is also forbidden to implant these embryos into a womb.

Concerning the altered relationship among human beings, the relevance of the transhumanist attitude has to be referred to, about which I will not be talking in any further detail now. The same applies to the dissolution of the distinction between the mind and the body or nature and culture which however becomes particularly clear given the recent discoveries in the field of epigenetics.

3.1 Posthumanism, Art and Nietzsche

The dissolution of the special status of human beings also becomes obvious in contemporary works of art. Wolfgang Welsch, a leading contemporary philosopher of art, also pointed this out. Even though I think that he is right concerning some basic principles, I think that his insight is of particular relevance concerning music.

According to Welsch, the transhuman perspective, which is his way of referring to the integration of human beings into nature, is a widespread phenomenon in contemporary works of art. The transhuman perspective has nothing to do with transhumanism or the concept of the transhuman in transhumanism. Yet, there is a strong link between Eastern thinking and this perspective, according to him, and he does not regard it as a coincidence that artists like Cage, Feldmann, Walter de Maria who present the transhuman perspective in their works, regard themselves as particularly related to Eastern thinking. In the Eastern tradition human beings are not seen in opposition to the world but as participants in this one world which possesses a bigger that human measurement. Hence, it is supposed to be more common for this tradition to have a transhuman perspective than it is for the Western tradition, according to Welsch. (Welsch 2004, 110). He also reveals the importance of the dissolution of the special status of human beings, as there could not be a close connection between human beings and nature, if human beings were radically separated from this world. In his article "Beyond Aesthetization", he reveals how the transhuman perspective can be perceived within their works of arts. When we listen to the music of John Cage and Morton Feldman, then he describes the experiences connected to this perspective as follows (my own translation): "We experience ourselves as drawn into this one world and regard ourselves as welcome in it, which is not being made according to the measure of human beings." (Welsch 2004, 108).

In this article he refers to further examples. His list however could get expanded further: One could include Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Peter Michael Hamel, but also Robert Musil due to his work "Men without Qualities".

It was Nietzsche who already described the possibility that human beings are not in opposition to this world but are regarded as participants in this one world within his early work "Birth of Tragedy" and connects this transhuman perspective, as Welsch calls it, to Dionysian art which gets created by Dionysian artists. In contrast to Welsch, he does not regard all the arts as equally able of expressing this perspective, but makes clear that it is music in particular which represents best the Dionysian perspective. I agree with Nietzsche in this respect.

The Dionysian artist, primarily the composer of musical tragedies, has access to and becomes one with the original unity and hence reality. Nietzsche identifies the one with the original will, which is a force responsible for the occurrence of all changes which also participates in the nature of all existing things. The artist becomes one with the original unity which is the dynamical, the not-being-one-with-itself, the self-contradictory, the leading driving force, and the self overcoming force. The original unity is the nature of all things which consists in one type of substance, namely the original will as the permanently effective reason for change. To become one with the original unity means to become one with ones own nature by limiting the external sensual experiences one has. Together with one's sense perceptions, our own self-understanding as a subject vanishes which is the reason for Nietzsche to describe the Dionysian state as a "breaking together of the individual and his becoming one with ones original being" (KSA, GT, 1, chap. 8).). The Dionysian artist uses this state to bring about Dionysian works of art and in particular he produces an image of the original unity as music (KSA, GT, 1, chap. 5.).

By being one with the original unity the composer of musical tragedies becomes more than full and overflows whereby he produces his works. There are many analogies between this process and the process of the creation of the world by means of emanation, according to Plotinus. Of course, in the case of Plotinus, the one is separate from the apparent world whereas in Nietzsche the original unity is part of all appearances. However, it seems as if Nietzsche turns Plotinus description of the acts of creation up side down or alters it from an other-worldly to a this-worldly description of the act of creation. What used to be done by the one or God, is now been done by philosophers and artists. Given this description of the act of creation, the distinction between a classical and a romantic work of art which is important in his later works becomes clearer. A classical work of art comes about by artists who are so overfull that they simply have to overflow, whereas a romantic work of art has its origin in the lack or deficiency concerning a trait within the artist who was responsible for the creation of the work.

What is important here, however, is the connection between this-worldliness, music, and the dissolution of the individual which Nietzsche stresses in the Birth of Tragedy. His position corresponds with the first order Empfindung of music, if it is interpreted from a posthumanist perspective.

4. Music, Ecstasy and the Dissolution of Individuality in Posthumanism

Let me clarify my understanding of Empfindungen a bit further. First order Empfindungen are related to type-experiences, but not to token-experiences which again are connected to second order experiences. In our case, the type in question is music. Music might not be the only artistic genre which can bring about this type of Empfindung, namely the dissolution of individuality.

Type-experiences are experiences you have whenever you get in contact with a specific type of an artistic discipline or genre which of course is always connected to an individual manifestation. Token-experiences are experiences you have solely whenever you get in contact with a specific individual work of any artistic discipline. Hence, any perception of an individual work of art includes both type- as well as token-experiences.

A building made out of marble like the Archaic temple of Hera in Paestum celebrates the unchanging reality of the Goddess Hera. On the one hand, you have the first order type Empfindung of Architecture as formed unchanging space which in this case gets further support, as the temple was build out of marble and has been standing there for about 2540 years. So the first order Empfindung would be that of being confronted with an enormous form of structured space which makes you feel small and insignificant. I tend to describe this Empfindung as one of the mathematical sublime. On the other hand, it also represents Hera the goddess of marriage and a secure home. Let us say, you hate marriage, as all the women you were involved with betrayed you, and you do not regard marriage as a worthwhile institution. Hence, your second order token Empfindung which you might only have after you have reflected upon the content of the temple might be one of disgust. In that case, you clearly would have mixed Empfindungen, you feel insignificant and small whereby the object you experience as sublime is also one you are disgusted by. Thereby your Empfindungen might even get altered and they might bring about the state of aggression concerning your being confronted with this temple.

Empfindungen are neither pure perceptions nor emotions. They are related to you perceiving the object which brings about a corresponding emotional state. However, the emotional state is hardly ever connected to one single emotion, but is usually mixed. The state you are in gets altered again by thinking about the object or by listening to the intuitions which come up in the process of getting confronted with the artistic object. An Empfindung is the result of an interplay of various means of getting access to, judging and reacting to an artistic object. Kant is right, in a way, that the aesthetic state is the result of the interplay between the various faculties. Even though I doubt that there is the faculty of reason which has a categorically separate ontological status. Consequently, I would put it slightly differently by stressing that the interplay of perceptions, intuitions, intellect, and feelings brings about a certain Empfindung. Yet, there is always an overlapping, and an interplay of various mixed Empfindungen which might even bring about other such states.

The contemplation of a work of art includes an interaction between ones own momentary state and that of the object, which always has an affect upon the recipient. First order Empfindungen are related to the reaction to a type of art. Second order Empfindungen depend solely upon the qualities of an individual work with which the recipient is confronted. Whenever a recipient contemplates a work of art, a process begins which also includes an interaction between first and second order Empfindungen.

In the historical section, I showed that according to Schopenhauer music can best bring about the dissolution of the subject or of individuality. I agree with this point of view, and I think that he has given an appropriate phenomenological description of the state which one can enter. However, his explanations of this state seem implausible. According to Schopenhauer, one can liberate oneself from the sensual world and enter the will in itself. I cannot make sense of this explanation. However, I can relate to many premises of posthumanism, e.g. that human beings are not categorically separate from the natural world but are part of it, and differ merely by degree from animals and other natural beings. From a posthumanist perspective the first order Empfindung of the dissolution of individuality does not lead us to another realm outside of time and space, but shows us that we are embedded in this world, and that we lead a this-worldly existence.

Before we listen to a specific piece of music we as posthumanists hold that human beings came about by means of natural processes and that the world is best described by a version of naturalism. When we actually listen to a piece of music, this attitude gets further support. The first order Empfindung of the dissolution of individuality is particular strong when we sit behind a conductor in a concert hall, and face a big orchestra. Once they start playing we are embedded in a wall of sound. The music makes our bodies shiver, and moves the various ends of our nerves. It is not the case that we perceive music solely by means of our ears. In particular in such a situation the reception of music is connected with an experience which involves all of our body, and we realise that we belong to this world, that we are closely connected to all things around us by means of the sounds of music. These are the phenomena which I am referring to when I talk about the Empfindung of the dissolution of individuality. By interpreting this phenomenon it supports my pre-understanding that I belong to this world, that there is only this one world and that I am embedded in it with all aspects of my existence.

Of course, this type of experience can be stronger or weaker depending on the individual work which gets performed, but music is probably the best type of art which can bring about this first order Empfindung. Maybe, dance can have a similar effect. On the other hand, it might also be the case that the necessity to perceive dance by means of our eyes and our ears weakens the impact of music.

Here, I merely wished to state some reasons in favour of the theory that music is the best (but definitely not the only) type of art which brings about the dissolution of individuality, and that this phenomenon which has already been described by philosopher's like Schopenhauer and Plotinus, from a posthumanist perspective would be understood as a realisation of the belonging to this world, and would enable the recipient of music to experience the embeddedness in this world. Nietzsche's interpretation of music actually bears many similarities to the reading I put forward here which I explained elsewhere in more detail (Sorgner 2006).

5. Conclusion

According to philosophers like Plotinus, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche music can best bring about the dissolution of the individual or ecstasy in recipients which I regard as a plausible estimation. What I tried to show was that their phenomenological descriptions are appropriate and correct. However, the explanations given by Plotinus and Schopenhauer refer to entities, e.g. the will itself or the one, whose existence seems rather implausible from my perspective which I classify as a posthumanist one. The experience of the dissolution of ecstasy, which is the first order Empfindung related to music, would get interpreted as the realisation of the intimate connection between human beings and the rest of the world, and the embeddedness of human beings in the world from a posthumanist perspective. Hence, I can also infer that given that this is an appropriate description of the state of contemplation, it represents a reason for holding that music can bring about more than pain and pleasure in the recipients. In this case it also manages to bring about the realisation in the recipient that he as a complete being belongs to this one world, and is not categorically distant from it. Nietzsche's philosophy of music in contrast to that of the other philosophers mentioned seems to me to affirm the same type of position.

All content copyright © Stefan Lorenz Sorgner - Nietzsche Circle. All Rights Reserved.

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