Posthuman Being: Inceptive Sentience

Posthuman Being: Inceptive Sentience

John Christopher Woodcock (Lighthouse Down Under, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9065-1.ch001
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With the enormous chaotic changes taking place today, contemporary artists are showing us a vast and mystifying range of artworks that show glimpses of nascent worlds coming into being and just as quickly disappearing into oblivion. The author explores a world that seems to be gaining some traction—the world of the posthuman. Contemporary art is showing glimpses of this still-forming world in artworks produced from a collision between or interpenetration of virtual reality and empirical reality, giving rise to weird, horrific, and sometimes strangely beautiful forms. Then the author seeks to penetrate “behind” this posthuman art to the activity of the artist, in order to find the original “bringing forth” (Heidegger) of posthuman artworks. This move reveals the fundamental place of revelation and prophecy as the origin of any artwork and thus indicates the essential nature of the posthuman world.
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Painting is a thundering collision of different worlds, intended to create a new world in and from the struggle with one another, a new world which is the work of art. (W. Kandinsky)

In the literary world, particularly that of Science Fiction, posthumanism refers to a kind of being such as a cyborg which in some sense transcends humanity. Philosophical studies of posthumanism include deconstruction of humanism and its privileging human nature, that places humans above all other natures or forms of being. At this time technological exploration of posthuman reality includes a push towards the development of Artificial Intelligence, raising fresh questions about consciousness, ethics, and the Heideggarian existential structure of care (i.e., Can anything in the world show up as mattering to AI, as it clearly does with human beings?). In the world of Contemporary Art, many artists are interrogating the question of posthumanism in terms of the breakdown of boundaries between what we habitually think of as natural and what we understand as artificial or virtual.

As rich, diverse, and challenging as all these perspectives on the posthuman are, there is another, more fundamental definition of the posthuman that the author proposes—a perspective that addresses the essential meaning of the posthuman in terms of revelation and prophecy, i.e. the self-presentation of what the author calls living language “speaking” through the human mouthpiece. This language is inceptive, creative, and calls forth, in its very “speaking”, a new world with its new appearances, while at the same time bringing our formerly stable world to its final, catastrophic end.



Part One of this chapter describes how contemporary artists are articulating, through their artworks, an uncanny world known prosaically as posthuman. This world, according to contemporary art, involves a collision between an “alien” world and the familiar empirical world of stable appearances. The artistic results are often grotesque, weird, or an uncanny blend of horror and beauty. This “alien” world or way of being is often named as virtual reality and the author adopts that term in this chapter.

Part Two of this chapter explores the creative process that must occur logically prior to the artistic endeavour. This is the process of creativity, or prophecy itself—the inceptive or originating process that Heidegger calls the activity of the artist. He sought to approach the origin of art and indeed of all appearances through philosophical language, becoming more and more “poetic” (poesis) as he tried to show how to speak into being that which did not exist before. This is the realm of revelation, prophecy and living language, i.e. the clearing where language is a happening. The author explores this fundamental level of creation, and shows how the essential meaning of posthumanism, only hinted at or implied by contemporary art, is one of fresh language/world coming-to-be.

The chaos of our times reflects a collision, fusion, or marriage between inceptive, world-producing living language—future forming language with its writhing, fleeting appearances coming into being and falling back into oblivion—and achieved or pragmatic dead language, a mere tool of the empirical human being, with its stable, permanent appearances

The life of living language is the essential “alien” that contemporary art is implying in its posthuman artworks. Living language is alien to the stable world of pragmatic, achieved language and its corresponding appearances, cultural practices, etc. It has its own telos, catching receptive individuals up in its movements and “speaking” through them what must now be spoken into existence. Such individuals become mouthpieces to this “alien” prophetic speech.

Two modern pioneers who found their way to the “clearing” (Heidegger) where such encounters happen are Nietzsche and C. G. Jung. Nietzsche was a great pioneer of language who discovered this “alien”, self-presentational living language! He tells us explicitly, for example, of his experience of this inceptive, world-creating language with all its power and numinosity, when he wrote the dithyrambic Thus Spake Zarathustra:

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