Bio: Leana Rutt is a sophomore at NYU studying Linguistics, Psychology, and Philosophy. She is interested in the ways language is used to shape meaning and the evolution of language as it intersects with consciousness.
The concept of the human is complex and evolving, and so too are the bonds between and among humans. It is upon considerations of these connections that questions arise as to the physiological and onto-existential elements of our being that unite us. One such element is the universality of our embodiment, in that all human beings are situated in the material substance of the human body. The conditions of the human body itself have been contested and perverted over centuries, as humans have mutilated and marginalized other bodies that did not fall into the arbitrary boundaries of what is deemed “human.” These perversions of the body stem from the dualism of embodiment that causes an inherent differentiation between oneself and other beings. Bodily situatedness, therefore, both unites and divides humans, as we acknowledge our coexistence as the same kind of organism, yet forcefully alienate those who do not conform to specific qualities of that organism.
The human being is situated in the body, much the same way that humans are situated on the planet. There is symbiosis in this ecological situatedness, as described by Francesca Ferrando in her book, Philosophical Posthumanism: “humans are adapting to the environment and the environment is adapting to humans” (Ferrando p. 105). The Anthropocene illuminates the massive geological impact that humans have had on the planet. Industrialization, globalization, and the proliferation of technology have facilitated the use of the earth as if it exists purely for human consumption. This self-examination--grappling with our situatedness on the planet— occurs too within the notion of physical embodiment. In both scenarios--i.e. the being situated in the body and the body situated on the planet--violent division results in the abuse of the body and the environment, respectively.
The situatedness of mind-in-body, man-in-environment, thing-in-mileu, as termed by Arne Naess in "The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement," illuminates the Cartesian dualisms that have driven much perception of the self and the other. The dualisms play out in terms of the contested notion of the human itself, and the anthropocentric manifestation of the human in relation to other beings. In her book, ¡Presente! The Politics of Presence, Diana Taylor writes that “the isolated, individuated subject came into being as a product of his own self-recognition, turning all else into an object of knowledge to be mastered and controlled…It facilitates the extermination and enslavement of those others, the ‘not I’” (Taylor p. 23). In other words, the more clearly delineated the categories are that sort and identify humans, the more room there is for people to fall out of categories and thus into subjugated positions.
Stemming from this construct comes the notion that certain bodies exist in the “liminal zone of the human” (Ferrando, p. 216-17). Perverse pageantry of the body emerges from the disunity of the “I” and the “not I.” Jeremy O’Harris explores the perverse sexual erotics of racial power in his “antebellum fever-dream,” “Slave Play.” Genital mutilation in some areas of Africa and of the Middle East, the violence of the Nazi regime, the persistent appeal of freak shows, and other such perversions of bodies demonstrate the ways that humans engage in a violence borne from essentialist dualisms. This “discourse of perversion” is, as Ferrando writes in The Body, “a recurring paradigm of human abjection” (Ferrando p. 217).
The situatedness which drives humans into this abject state exists within the same paradigm on a macro level. In terms of ecology, the man-in-environment dualism forces a deep, violent wedge between humans and nature. As the current geological period, the Anthropocene, is defined by human impact, it’s troubling that “this species-driven emphasis on the human as an autonomous entity stands on the psychotic speciesist perception, and on the related individual disconnect, of the human body as absolutely separated from planet Earth” (Ferrando, p. 105).
An approach of deep ecology and post-anthropocentrism must be taken to counteract the damage to planet earth and reconnect humans to nature and to each other. Ferrando builds on Donna Haraway’s assertion of the Gaia Hypothesis, stating that “the environmental turn, more than evoking an essentialization of the Earth, liquefies the relation between the Earth and the human; symbolically and materially, the Earth may turn into Gaia, the ancestral mother of all life; the human may acknowledge themselves as compost” (Ferrando, p. 107). In the same vein, advocacy for the Rights of Nature has led to legislation that recognizes that nature is not something to be controlled for human purposes. This reconciles Western, colonialist notions of subjugation with the holistic, indigenous views of populations like the Maori tribe in New Zealand (The Rights of Nature: A Global Movement). Buddhism and Taoism provide for more environmentalist perspectives as well, encouraging the awakening to unity on the spiritual path. Efforts to bridge the gap separating humans from nature and each other is pertinent to the long term sustenance of the planet and its beings.
The disunity of the notion of the human is perhaps what has led to interpersonal and ecological violence. Embodiment fuels a need for definitions; for understanding one’s identity and environment and distinguishing oneself from it. The categorization inserts divisiveness and hierarchy around and between these definitions, thus allowing violence and perversions to seep into the body and the planet. The Gaia theory and such movements as deep ecology reject the dualism of situatedness and bridge the gaps between I/not I, mind/body, and human/planet by encouraging an ecosophy of ecological harmony (Naess p. 99).
Ferrando, Francesca. Philosophical Posthumanism, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/nyulibrary-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5790558.
Ferrando, Francesca. The Body. Peter Lang Publisher, 2014.
Taylor, Diana. ¡Presente! The Politics of Presence. Duke University Press, 2020. Project MUSE. muse.jhu.edu/book/77192.