Consider the Dragonfly: Cary Wolfe’s Posthumanism


On the cover of Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism? (2010) is an image identified as “Untitled (dragonfly #1)” by Allison Hunter, on a grid of cross-hatched threads, with a streak of bluish-purple matching the color of the title. This “dragonfly” is not necessarily meant to answer—or pose—the question in Wolfe’s title. In fact, Wolfe does not consider dragonflies of any kind much at all in this otherwise erudite, wide-ranging, and impressive new book. But the cover art points toward the “two different senses of posthumanism” (xix) that are brought together here in relation to nonhuman animals and various forms of art: first, “the question of the animal,” deriving primarily from the late work of Jacques Derrida; and second, the significance of systems theory for contemporary literary and cultural studies, stemming mostly from Niklas Luhmann, in which both “dragonfly” and “art” would be best theorized as systems, rather than discrete entities representing “nature” and “culture.” Readers familiar with Wolfe’s work will recognize these two senses of posthumanism from his previous books: Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003); and Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside” (1998). What is Posthumanism? builds upon these earlier books and brings them together at the confluence of Derrida and Luhmann, in order to theorize a rigorous and systematic form of posthumanism that is used to attack the vestiges of humanism, wherever they might be found, from poststructuralist theory to animal rights philosophy, from painting and architecture to film, poetry, and digital media.

Read Article On Muse