The prefix “trans-” in transhumanism and transnationalism, along with other trans-actions such as translation, transculturation, and even transgression, signifies “on the other side of” or “to the other side of” or “across” or “beyond.” Homi K. Bhabha in the epigraph of
Bhabha duplicates the word “beyond” to refer to “the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion” (1). This “moment of transit” or in-between spaces or interstices of “beyond” creates spatial distance, and the crossing of the boundary in the act of going beyond is unknowable and unrepresentable without a return to the present via “the bridge which gathers as a passage that crosses” (5). The prefix “trans” in transnationalism and transhumanism refers to this “beyond” which can be reached via the bridge over the border between this and that or between hither and thither. By articulating the transnational project of intercultural hybridity in terms of stairwell or bridge, Bhabha perceives that the borderline work of culture “demands an encounter with newness that is not part of the continuum of past and present” and “creates a sense of the new as an insurgent act of cultural translation” “in a contingent in-between space that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present” (7). These “entertaining differential” in-between spaces of cultural hybridity will provide “a bridge, where “presencing” [or “essential unfolding”] begins because it captures something of the estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—that is the conditions of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations” (9).
Critics and theorists such as Etienne Balibar, James Clifford, Arjun Appadurai, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Jahan Ramazani, and many others have also grappled with the project of what Bhabha calls “cross-cultural initiations,” attempting to unknot a tangled array of the terms which span from global, diasporic, postnational, postcolonial, hemispheric, and last but not in the least, “transnational.” But the Bhabhaian/Heideggerian project of “cultural translation” or generic transculturation or subversive transgression still remains problematic.
To understand the nature of cultural trans-actions, one should take pains to search for the routes/roots to contextualize and historicize the issue under consideration. My objective in this paper is, first of all, to trace the genealogy of the transhumanism for the purpose of crossing over the borderline of the inside and the outside of the human subject, and further to elaborate how one confronts the “other” cultures in the moments of self-awareness and self-identity in the context of transnationalism.
Nietzsche says proleptically in the prologue of
This “will to procreate or impulse towards a goal, towards higher, more distant, more manifold” is “the will to power” which is a pluralilty of forces that propel everything in human culture. When Nietzsche says, “Only where life is, there is also will; not will to life, but—so I teach you—will to power” (138), this world is potentially the will to power, and human beings are this will to power. In fact, Nietzche’s concept of the “I,” the human subject, manifests and initiates the necessity of “overcoming” in terms of will to power, thereby providing the foreground for the future human transcendence.
Martin Heidegger’s concepts of time and space in terms of “Dasein” will contextualize the Nietzschean manifestation and necessity of “overcoming.” According to Heidegger in his
In contrast, the authentic time is “world-time” which belongs to the world as transcendent. In this authentic time, Dasein temporalizes time, makes and lets time be, thereby constituting the authentic human subject (trans-human), who has to be ahead of oneself on the basis of having found oneself as thrown and lost. When Dasein knows something about death from the death of others, it anticipates the end of itself which is also the extreme possibility of itself. Dasein is truly “ek-sistent” (“being ahead of itself”) when it keeps and maintains itself in this anticipation of this extreme possibility of itself, this authentic future. In this anticipation, Dasein comes back to its past and present. In this context, Dasein is time itself which is the authentic time, and Dasein can achieve the genuine and authentic human subject which anticipates the extreme possibility in a state of uncanniness, giving time, structuring the present, and letting the past repeat itself in the mode of its being-lived-again. In short, this Heideggerian Dasein is the reconstruction of the Nietzschean “I” “that which must always overcome itself,” thus providing the ontology of trans-human (human who overcomes himself/herself) and further posthuman (human after human).
Why, then, are we to reach beyond or overcome ourselves and our humanity? Why are we to seek to become transhuman or further posthuman? Why do we not accept our human limits and renounce transcendence? Humans passing the era of 21th-century try to ask these questions, and at the same time have attempted to answer them.
A genealogy of humanism will clarify the context of these questions. In the period around the 16th-century Renaissance, humans and everything in the universe from the simple flora and fauna to the angels and God were related to a massive organic, stratified system, called “the Great Chain of Being” which represents the ideology of the medieval social order. In this order, nature was understood as something alive and independent of humanity, and human subject was defined in terms of its relationship with land, family, and the lord within the organic Great Chain of Being.
Between 16th-century Renaissance period and the 18th-century Enlightenment period, human subjects were freed from the medieval constraints of the Great Chain of Being, and were relocated as the liberal humanist subject in a new context defined by technology, capitalism, and bureaucracy. Between 19th-century industrial revolution period and 20th-century modern period, the ascendancy of industrial capacity and technology had expanded enormously, thereby provoking the threat to the freedom of will attributed to liberal subject. Heather Menzies in her chapter, entitled “Homo Technologicus,” from
In this context, in an attempt to demonstrate in context of Nietzsche’s “overman” (Übermensch) and Heidegger’s “Being-in-the-World” (Dasein) the collective human efforts to overcome humanism in crisis, I will provide the ground for the poetics of overcoming, the ground which are based upon the double movements of transhumanism and transnationalism. For this purpose, I will turn to the theories of two distinctive poets who reveal and disreveal their truths about the subjecthood or the subjectivity in terms of overcoming: Christopher Dewdney for posthuman transhumanity and Dionisio D. Martinez for transnational cultural contamination
Christopher Dewdney has attempted to search for the opportunity for using science and technology as the foothold for transhumanism. Dewdney’s continuing books,
As Dewdney admits to Lola Lemire Tostevin in
In fact, Dewdney’s continuing books decode analytically both signs in natural history and signifiers in the unconscious, and reveal a heightened consciousness from which he perceives the world in a multifaceted, connotative network.
In Christpher Dewdney’s books, the boundary between the mind and the world collapses occasionally, allowing an interfusion of outside and inside. The breakdown in Dewdney is in fact a breakthrough from the confines of a narrowly defined mind to the transhuman perspective of overcoming human limitations of the mind by using terminology and technique from science and technology. Beneath the strata of natural history and the sober rationality of science, Dewdney’s books documents the solipsism of consciousness in the midst of the memory layers of the mind, and he does this with the metaphoric sedimentary layers of limestone. His use of science is a restylization of the mechanisms of the mind and the problems of perception in an scientific and technological mode.
Another example of Dewdney’s way of overcoming the human limitation can be demonstrated in his concept of the mind and perception. According to Dewdney, the mind reconstitutes the world in the act of perception. Dewdney argues in “Parasite Maintenance” that perceptual experience filters through the neurological circuitry of the brain. In fact, the perception is modified by the interpretive cortex and the speech cortex, and it is intertwined by interpretive and speech cortices to monitor and alter sensory data and to conform with their epistemological and ontological programs. Sensory data passes through the language cortex before reaching the mind. Therefore, the act of articulation transforms the world through language. To suggest this, Dewdney constructs in “Parasite Maintenance” the elaborate analogy between a parabolic antenna and the induction of information into the mind. The mind is hinged to the external world, and constructs a perceptual, linguistic, and hermeneutic reality when the external world appears in the consciousness. The mind, that is located at a liminal interface with the world of objects, interprets the world through language. The presence of a human consciousness always involves a point of view. Like internet network, the world might exist without human presence, but the world exists for us only as we select and construe it.
In the first paragraph, Dewdney remarks that “we are about to enter the transition period between the human and the posthuman eras—the transhuman age,” thereby defining the transhuman as the transition term between the human and the posthuman. He presents a list of the transhuman bodies in terms of articificial implants, and sets his goal of transhumanism as “to surpass our current biological limitations, be it our life span or the capabilities of our brain.”
In the chapter, “Jumping Ship: Life in the Transhuman Era,” of
Dewdney gives a specific example for the possibility of this vision by envisioning the transference or “uploading” of the human consciousness into a computerized receptacle, thereby abandoning the physical human body:
This credible scientist is the robot scientist Hans Moravec, who wrote
Dewdney regards the brain as the obstacles to the speed and efficiency of the mind, and suggests a possibility to improve human beings by shedding the body and having “disembodied consciousness” which will liberate our mind:
Dewdney imagines posthuman economy in which money is obsolete, and information is the primary commodity. In this economical system, commodifying consciousness is possible by allowing corporations to buy and trade in the brain patterns of especially gifted people or geniuses, although the idea of commodifying consciousness might be offensive to some:
In short, Dewdney argues that the typically “humanist” terms in which we conceive of identity today will be severely challenged by transhumanism and, ultimately, posthumanism. Then, individual consciousness will be reduced to be a part of the collective posthuman consciousness or meta-consciousness, when our consciousnesses are uploaded to machines, and the body ultimately made obsolete:
The essence of transhumanism lies in the fact that we humans can, and should continue to develop ourselves in all possible directions, by overcoming our human limitations as we witness in the evolution of bodies and minds. Bodies and minds can be improved in a rational manner using science and technology, and many other parts of the “human condition” may be changed through new methods and visions.
1For further explication of Christopher Dewdney’s A Natural History of Southwestern Ontario, see my article “The Genealogy of the Poetics of the `Grid’ in the Twentieth-Century Poetry: Yeats, Plath, Merrill, Olson, Dewdney, Nichol, and Carson.” JELL(Journal of English Language and Literature of Korea) 52 (Winter 2006), 997-1016.
We have seen that when one crosses centripetally over the boundary between the mind and the world, one as the transhuman between the human and the posthuman is falling into the interfusion of outside and inside, transgressing the border between individual consciousness and the collective posthuman consciousness or meta-consciousness. What will happen between cultures when one crosses centrifugally over the border of the cultural space? Assimilation, acculturation, transculturation? It is more complex than one can imagine. When one reflects upon one’s confronting the “other” cultures in the moments of self-awareness and self-identity, one recalls the binary opposition between enriching authenticity and threatening hybridization. The items of such encounters will cover linguistic, racial, religious, social, and cultural intermixtures. Contamination has a synonym of “contagion,” and the definitions of the term is multiple: contact, transfer, infection, epidemics, transmission, diffusion, adulteration, infestation, poisoning, pollution, on the one hand in the negative, and intermixing, intermingling, interaction, and hybridization, on the hand in the positive. Since we are conventionally used to the negative side of the term under consideration, this paper will adhere to the positive side of the cultural concept, “contamination.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah in his
Based upon this rationale, Appiah takes as an example for this cultural contamination a former African slave named Publius Terentius Afer, known as Terence. Terence was an African slave born in Carthage and taken to Rome in the early second century B.C. He wrote witty, elegant plays that incorporated earlier Greek plays into early Roman comedy, and Terence’s modes of writing in his Roman comedies was known to Roman littérateurs as “contamination.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book further argues that “contamination” is a counter-ideal for an ideal of cultural purity which sustains the authentic culture (111). Quoting Salman Rushdie, Appiah presents a list of the ideal of contamination: hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, and songs, mongrelization, melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world (112). In fact, in his
In fact, if we turn and twist this ironical contamination, we will reify the Bhabhaian stairwell and bridge to go beyond the cultural untranslatability between the national cultures in the form of the passionate and entertaining transcultural cultural hybridity. In fact, the transcultural is the mirror image of the transnational which is inscribed in the form of the negative film. What is at stake in the distinction between transnationalism and transculturalism is the negative versus positive vectors in defining the “contamination,” although both concepts occur simultaneously in the minds of the poets when they describe and analyze their cross-cultural experience in their poems. One is tempted to apply this theory of contamination to the modern and contemporary poetry in English, since there are abundant cases of bridges which gather as a passage that crosses the transcultural/transnational boundaries from which something begins in its presencing. The bridges which represent the moment of transit or in-between spaces or interstices of “beyond” produce the complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. Dionisio D. Martinez’s poetry will demonstrate one of the many manifestations of transnational cultural contamination.
Dionisio D. Martinez was born on April 7, 1956, in Havana, Cuba. In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista government. When the Castro’s new government seized the Martinez family’s home and personal properties in 1965, they went into exile in northern Spain, and then they moved to Glendale, California. In 1972, the family moved to Tampa, Florida, which has been Dionisio Martinez’s home since. In short, Martinez is a Cuban exile who has lived in Spain and the US, thereby revealing intertstitial bridges through which Dionisio D. Martinez as the writing subject crosses the transcultural/transnational boundaries between Cuba and Spain in the same Spanish linguistic/cultural community, as well as between USA and Cuba in the hypernated Hispanic-American linguistic/cultural community. From and beyond these double or multiple boundaries, something begins in its presencing in the in-between spaces or interstices of “beyond” of the poetic mind and writing hand/body.
In “Temporary Losses,” Martinez recalls his traumatic experience of “dislocation” in 1965, when his family’s home was seized by the newly formed Fidel Castro’s government.
In fact, this poem reveals the multi-level cross-national interstitial migrancy 1) from the home country (Cuba) to the host country (Spain), 2) from home to homeless state within Spain, and 3) the possible journey to elsewhere (eventually USA). The speaker’s family is forced to move out of their house, and he does not want to move because he knows the nature of homelessness as he knows “where circus children go when they run away.” Homelessness will accompany literally the disjunctive and dislocated life away from home, and its linguistic representation in terms of the metaphor of the amputated invisible man with a phantom limb articulate a verbal space of interstitiality of transnational identity. By recognizing literally “the language of / the invisible man who argues with the doctors long / after the amputation, tells them / that he still walks with a phantom limb,” the writing subject of transnational identity is situated in the “moment of transit” or in-between spaces or interstices of “beyond.”
The speaker has established the linguistic insider’s traumatic experience in a foreign country (Spain) as a Cuba-born migrant, and he feels displaced and dislocated in his own Spanish-speaking community. As we have seen in the above, according to Appiah, contamination is a counterideal for an ideal of cultural purity which sustains the authentic culture. In fact, the speaker in this poem, “Temporary Losses,” becomes doubly exiled and doubly homeless away from his native homeland and his home of native language. He identifies himself no more with the authenticity of the Spanish language and culture. Rather, he even unconsciously resists against the authentic culture of his linguistic homeland. In fact, the speaker anticipates a new identity as a transnational subject to cross the bridge beyond cultural authenticity and to enter into Appiah’s list of the ideal of contamination: hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, and songs, mongrelization, melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.
This complex migrant transnational subject of potential mobility (Edward Saidean “exiles, émigrés, refugees”) returns to the present via the bridge of the revolving metaphor which gathers as a passage that crosses hither and thither. The metaphoric condensation of the change(s) is displaced into metonymic poetic catalogue of the tangible coins, and constructs the bridge toward the stretched imagined place for travel, “no matter where I go”: “the changes in my pocket,” Thoreau’s 27 cents, “a penny rubbed since 1944 by fingers not unlike my own,” and coins laid on the train route, and finally “my [redemptive] life savings in this hand.” The migrant subject of transnational mobility in this poem carries this “foreign currency” from which presencing of the estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—begins in the “entertaining differential” in-between spaces of cultural hybridity, thereby providing the conditions of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations. In fact, the foreign currency which winds up the circulation of surreal or avant-garde fragmentary presentation of the coins in the poem anticipates the rapid global movement of capital. In short, Dionisio Martinez’s poem presents a case of transcultural initiation with its literal dislocation of a Latino immigrant family.
In his poem, “Hysteria,” Martinez traces points of transnational/transcultural contact among surrealistic avant-garde images: a map of Chicago, the lines on Carl Sandberg’s face, a plastic surgeon on TV, an American newspaper(s), the All-Star game, the White Sox of 1919, signs in Chinese Tiananmen Square, a rookie in mid-swing, and what not.
These transcultural/transnational images which have been juxtaposed abruptly cross the bridge of the borderline work of culture. By provoking “the gaps and absences” and “the distances, the gulfs,” which the poet demonstrates in another poem, “Moto Perpetuo,” of the collection of
In fact, when we return to Appiah’s argument that change of living cultures is “more a gradual transformation from one mixture to a new mixture,” what is at stake in cultural contamination is the exchange of perspectives, rather than persuasion or rationalizations of what we have decided intuitively to do, therefore of what we are used to.
Now, humanism whose principles are based upon autonomy, reason, free will, and consciousness, has come under attack from many perspectives: 1) anti-humanist positions such as poststructuralism and postmodernism, which see human subject as the manifestation of the Other in the symbolic order of language; 2) political positions such as feminism and ecological environmentalism, which decenter/recenter human subject in terms of gender and nature; 3) posthumanism which sees technology as the cornerstone for human transcendence; and 4) transnationalism which is represented by cultural contamination. What appears to be a crisis becomes an opportunity when one sees from a different perspective. The anti-humanist attack from the first poststructuralist/ postmodernist position provides such a perspective, and transhumanism and transnationalism are such opportunities, whereas the other positions have their shares in overcoming the crises as well.
Poststruturalist perspective will be exemplified by Roland Barthes’s and Michel Foucault’s essays on the death of the author, which mark the rhetorical watershed of the critical issue of The Other in terms of writing subject. Jacques Lacan goes beyond the rhetorical conceptions of Barthes and Foucault, shows the ontological and epistemological way to the Other. In fact, the author as writing subject disappears, and becomes the locus for the potential field of “overcoming.” From the perspective of this impersonal writing subject of aphanisis, the author is no longer the place for the “author-ity” of author’s intentionality.
Since Decartes, human freedom of consciousness has been undermined by the product of the Freudian unconscious and of the linguistic activity, and then, the Other, the entity which is other than the cognitive subject in the course of linguistic activity, becomes problematic. From this point of view, human subject becomes split, thus falling into the process of becoming the Other, the process which is a double movement of centripetal structuralism when thought from outside in, and centrifugal phenomenology when thought from inside out. After structuralism and phenomenology, the boundary of inside/outside becomes ruptured, and the human subject becomes fragmented, duplicated, alienated, and mutiplied, thereby reaching the postmodern “Other” which is characterized by death, extinction, end, and disappearance. The issue of the Other comes to gain its momentum in the postmodern era in terms of Nietzschean “overcoming.”2
This way to “Otherness” has been reached via language per se as the medium for the representation of the human subject. This “linguistic turn” towards the Other in terms of overcoming has been manifested in many ways, including transhumanism and transnationalism. Transhumanism represented by Christopher Dewdney manifests an interfusion of outside and inside, thereby collapsing the boundary between the mind and the world, and provides a breakthrough from the limitedly defined mind to the transhuman perspective of overcoming by using terminalogy and techniques from science and technology. The mind in tranhumanism, which is located at a liminal interface with the world of objects, interprets the world through language, and constructs a perceptual, linguistic, and hermeneutic reality when the external world appears in the consciousness. The emerging transhumanism reflects the growing interdependence between humans and bio technologies, and suggests a potential improvement of human beings. The main argument of transhumanism is that we humans can and should continue to develop in all possible directions, by overcoming our human limitations by shedding the body and having the disembodied consciousness which will liberate our mind.
Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “cultural contamination” is another form of overcoming as well as a way to otherness, a counter-ideal of cultural purity which sustains authentic culture, reversing the traditional binary opposition between enriching authenticity and threatening hybridization. What is more complex is the distinction between transnationalism and transculturalism, the distinction which will imply the negative versus positive vectors in defining the cultural contamination. However, Dionisio Martinez’s poetry will sublimate the negative side of Appiah’s concept of contamination, by redeeming the value of the Appiah’s list of the ideal of contamination such as hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. When a poetic subject is doubly exiled and doubly homeless away from his/her native homeland and home of native language, one has no more identification with the authentic culture of both home and away, but rather anticipates a new identity as a transnational subject to cross the bridge beyond cultural authenticity and to enter into the field of cultural contamination.
2A number of philosophers and theorists touched on the issue of the Other: Kant’s conception of the human subject as divided between the world in which we are determined and the world in which we are free; Hegel’s dialectical phenomenology of human subject; Rousseau’s conception of the human subject as The Other; Husserl’s intentionality; Heidegger’s phenomenological human subject as Dasein or Being-in-the-world; structural human subject as represented by Levi-Strauss and Saussure; poststructuralist human subject as represented by Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida; postmodernist human subject; and now postcolonial/postnationalist human subject, including diasporic and transnational subjects. For further discussion of the issue of the Other, see my article, “The Ethics of the Othering in the Era of Transnationalism.” Journal of English Language and Literature of Korea 55 (Winter 2009), 1013-34.