The story of humanity and the challenge of posthumanity

History of the Human Sciences 32 (2) (2019)
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Today’s technological-scientific prospect of posthumanity simultaneously evokes and defies historical understanding. On the one hand, it implies a historical claim of an epochal transformation concerning posthumanity as a new era. On the other, by postulating the birth of a novel, better-than-human subject for this new era, it eliminates the human subject of modern Western historical understanding. In this article, I attempt to understand posthumanity as measured against the story of humanity as the story of history itself. I examine the fate of humanity as the central subject of history in three consecutive steps: first, by exploring how classical philosophies of history achieved the integrity of the greatest historical narrative of history itself through the very invention of humanity as its subject; second, by recounting how this central subject came under heavy criticism by postcolonial and gender studies in the last half-century, targeting the universalism of the story of humanity as the greatest historical narrative of history; and third, by conceptualizing the challenge of posthumanity against both the story of humanity and its criticism. Whereas criticism fragmented history but retained the possibility of smaller-scale narratives, posthumanity does not doubt the feasibility of the story of humanity. Instead, it necessarily invokes humanity, if only in order to be able to claim its supersession by a better-than-human subject. In that, it represents a fundamental challenge to the modern Western historical condition and the very possibility of historical narratives – small-scale or large-scale, fragmented or universal.

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Zoltán Boldizsár Simon
Bielefeld University


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