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Lyotard and the Inhuman (Postmodern Encounters) Paperback – 5 Mar 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (5 Mar. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1840462353
  • ISBN-13: 978-1840462357
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 0.7 x 17.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 812,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Death of the Universe

We live in a universe with an expiry date: between 4.5 billion and 6 billion years from now (estimates vary, but 6 billion appears to be the upper limit) the sun will have suffered a ‘heat death’ and life on earth will be over. Dramatic (and even melodramatic) though this may sound on first hearing, in the early twenty-first century few of us are likely to lose too much sleep over such a projected scenario, given a time-span which is all but unimaginable to us as individuals surviving for only a few decades each. There seems little sense of urgency about such a prospect from where we now stand, and, for the time being at any rate, life goes on as normal.

One recent exception to such apathy about the ultimate fate of the universe, however, was the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, who towards the end of his life (he died in 1998) became somewhat obsessed with the topic, speculating in ‘The Inhuman’ (1988) as to what the projected death of the sun might mean for the condition of humankind now. ‘The human race is already in the grip of the necessity of having to evacuate the solar system in 4.5 billion years’, he informed us, attempting to inject a note of urgency into the debate. Lyotard is best-known for the positive message of ‘The Postmodern Condition’ (1979), an enquiry into the status of knowledge in late twentieth-century culture, which announced the decline of oppressive ‘grand narratives’ – in effect, ideologies – and the rise of a new cultural paradigm based on scepticism towards universal explanatory theories in general. According to Lyotard, humanity now had the opportunity to pursue a myriad of ‘little narratives’ i! nstead, returning political power to the individual and threatening the power base of the authoritarian state (and states in general are authoritarian to the postmodernist thinker). The postmodern era he pictured promised to be one of liberation from ideological servitude. In ‘The Inhuman’, however, less than a decade later, a much darker tone prevails, that suggests humanity has acquired a new set of enemies to replace the grand narratives of yesteryear.

We shall consider Lyotard’s argument in ‘The Inhuman’ in more detail at a later point; suffice it to say for the present that he expresses the fear that computers eventually will be programmed to take over from human beings, with the goal of prolonging ‘life’ past the point of the heat death of the sun. It will not, however, be human life that survives, and Lyotard is deeply opposed to any shift towards such an ‘inhuman’ solution, which, he claims, has the backing of the forces of ‘techno-science’ (technology plus science plus advanced capitalism, the multinationals, etc.). Lyotard’s response is to call for a campaign against techno-science and all its works: ‘What else remains as “politics” except resistance to the inhuman?’, as he puts it, inviting us to join him in opposition against the planned eclipse of the human by advanced technology. His task as a writer and philosopher, as he sees it, is to ensure that we ‘bear witness’ to such a process, so that techno-science does ! not succeed in imposing its programme on us by stealth – an outcome which, given the power and prestige enjoyed by techno-science in our society, is only too likely. The feminist theorist Donna Haraway’s remark that science is ‘the real game in town, the one we must play’, captures the general perception well.

Lyotard’s reflections have a wider significance than the particular problem he is addressing, however, and these do merit closer attention. Whether we are aware of it or not, the inhuman has infiltrated our daily existence to a quite remarkable degree – in the sense of the supersession of the human by the technological. For the remainder of this study we shall be considering a range of arguments on the topic of the inhuman, running from critics such as Lyotard to enthusiasts such as the feminist theorists Donna Haraway and Sadie Plant; taking in excursions into medical technology, computer technology, computer viruses, Artificial Intelligence and Artifical Life, humanism, and finally science-fictional narrative (William Gibson) along the way. The infiltration of the inhuman into our everyday concerns demands such a wide range of reference. After engaging with the arguments we may decide it is more appropriate to fear, resist, welcome, actively encourage, or perhaps just simply tolerate the inhuman; but one thing is certain – we cannot avoid it.

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This small but extremely well written book combines ideas from Lyotard's 'The inhuman' and two contemporary feminist writers. The book compares Lyotard's concerns that the Technocracy we live in is isolating us against all other knowledge forms (religious, philosophical, literary) and that this opposing of difference (in knowledge forms) constitutes a revolt against the human. Donna Harraway's comments are contrasted to this, stating that technology can be put to the use of eradictaing the difference in physical stature (through the use of cyborgs) between men and women, and hence technologically endowed 'developement' (Lyotard's term for late capitalism) can be part of the ongoing feminist movement.
The book is highly successful at explaining these complex ideas in a straightforward manner that is very reader friendly. The book contains an index of the central ideas and terms (such as Cyberspace, a word coined by William Gibson) as well as a comprehensive bibliography for further reading. Stuart Sim gets to grips with Lyotard and the other writers with ease and efficiency and in true postmodern style leaves the reader questionning everything they have just read. A short book, but one that is supremely relevant to people today, whether your interests be philosophy, film, science or politics.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x86303fd8) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x85915f9c) out of 5 stars Great small book 13 April 2005
By Bob Swain - Published on
This is a great small book that packs a lot into 80 pages. For those who find Lyotard daunting and his arguments inaccessible Sims' summation of Lyotard's book The Inhuman will be invaluable. Like capital cyberspace attempts at universal control. Lyotard argues for difference rather than uniformity. This includes gender difference. Against the cyborg revolution of Donna Haraway Lyotard is in favor of the ineradicable differend between the genders as they currently exist and not for the sexless gender-free robot universe of the near future as outlined by Haraway. It only took me about 40 minutes to read and it was clear as a lightning bolt illuminating Lyotard's continuous Augustinian humanism against the bleak backdrop of the Sadean left.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x860b4114) out of 5 stars Well-written, researched, and argued little book 13 Sept. 2007
By Matthew Snope - Published on
I agree with Bob Swain's review that this is a great book, but not with his assertion that it's great because it somehow sides with Lyotard. The beauty of this book is that it manages to very dispassionately weigh Lyotard's anti-inhumanism against feminist pro-cyborg, post-humanist thought. Sim remains a lucid but fair interpreter of postmodern feminism AND Lyotard's own brand of postmodernism. I found both Lyotard and Haraway to have equally compelling points. Swain's review was oddly one-sided and by being so shows he perhaps read the book too fast (40 minutes) and didn't quite get it. Sim is *not* siding with Lyotard, but showing all facets of humanism, inhumanism, post-humanism, etc. Some of the books in the Postmodern Encounters series hit the mark more than others, but this one is a model for what the series strives for. Pertinent, well-written, fair, and evocative, it touches on deep, essential questions for our times. However, I disagree with a statement made in the book that inhumanism/posthumanism/humanism is the greatest debate-challenge of the 21st century: I believe that peak oil, energy depletion, resource wars, and potential global economic collapse from running out of energy to be the biggest challenge facing humanity. For without electricity and power, all of the technology discussed in Sim's "little" book -- Internet, cyborgs, cyberspace, Artifical Intelligence, Artificial Life, techno-science, etc -- is nothing. The debate in Sim's book is meaningless outside of an oil-powered, highly technological, developed society/world. Strangely, Sim, Lyotard, Haraway, and all the thinkers involved miss this point, that techno-science, cyborgism, post-humanism, etc, all depend on energy and power, which the world is running out of at an alarming rate. In this sense, Sim's book is great for the here-and-now of the EARLY 21st century -- but what threatens life on earth (humanity especially) more than the sun's eventual heat death is peak oil, global warming, resource wars, overpopulation, and energy depletion. Peak oil/peak coal/peak natural gas/etc should be the topic of a Postmodern Encounters book!
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