24th Annual Conference, May 11-14, 2023

How can we imagine life at the threshold of humanity? What resources can we harness to generate and implement new images of the future? An answer to these questions might lie in the past: in the very moment the origins of what we now call posthumanism emerged from various disciplines.

Our questions concerning the future of humanity pertain to both the conditions under which humans can survive and the limits of what is human. The cataclysmic effects of climate change, both already palpable and projected, along with the advent of the Anthropocene, have led to countless research projects in the sciences, humanities, and arts. Agents of Artificial Intelligence that paint, write poems, and answer questions in human voices; conceptions such as the cyborg; or theoretical approaches foregrounding non-human actors demonstrate the fact that the human is bordering something else that might surpass it. The end of history might have already been proclaimed, but this definitely is the time of the (theoretical) end of the human.

Despite the prevalence of discourses and narratives around the environment and technology, none revisit the conditions under which those terms were developed. The conference will allow collaborations between scholars from various institutions and disciplines to discuss the conditions for the emergence and further development of timely concepts, such as environment (Johann Jakob von Uexküll, 1909), nature (Alfred North Whitehead, 1920), phenomenology (Edmund Husserl, 1900, 1913), anthropology (Max Scheler, 1926-28), physiology of senses (Ernst Mach, 1886), and plasticity (William Stern, 1918). All of these contribute to the investigation of anchoring and destabilization of the human in conceptions of the world. While cinema and the electrification and illumination of cities find their depiction and analysis in the philosophy and sociology of the time (Georg Simmel, 1903), it is mostly in literary imaginations that technology finds its strongest echoes. From early film (Werckmeister 1920; Lang 1927) to fiction (Döblin, 1924, 1928), questions of energy, urbanism, capitalism, and the First World War brought technology and the environment together in imaginations of present and future.

The goal of the conference is to gather the various strands that have created, roughly a century before its designation, the conditions for contemporary discourse on the posthuman; to investigate their narrative and imaginative potentials; and to reconceptualize our understanding of humans in the world on the basis of these findings. If our contemporary imaginations are bleak, the outlook on the future relies not only on recognition and implementation of scientific progress, but also an encompassing understanding of the human at the threshold of humanity.

Venue: Harvard University

Annual Topic 2022/23: Origins of Posthumanism Around 1900