Hallenbeck and Butler – Feminism and Post-humanist thought

The works of Butler and Hallenbeck present aspects of contemporary feminist philosophy that are strikingly similar to post-humanist thought. The struggle in the post-human world is defining what is human, because in such a world, humanity will likely have dominion over the human form itself. In Butler’s essay, she grapples with distinctions between male and female and sexual difference in general. “The regulation of sexuality at work in the articulation of the Forms suggest that sexual difference operates in the very formulation of matter. (Butler 24)” Following the reasoning of post-structuralism, she questions how much of sexual difference is based on matter and if these material distinctions are based on the matter itself or the intellectual discourse surrounding it. That is, are male and female as different as we think or have we simply grown into a sexually dimorphous discourse that no one thinks to question?
Similarly, Hallenbeck believes that “Feminist rhetoricians ought to turn their attention to rhetorical work that goes into creating and disturbing the gendered distinctions, social categories, and asymmetrical power relationships that women and men encounter in their daily lives (Hallenbeck 10)”

Both Hallenbeck and Butler question the validity of sexual difference in human thought. Their questions of material difference, in particular, strike me as applicable to the post-humanist conversation. A question that was briefly brought up in class this week intrigued me. If you have an android with the exact thought processes from a human, how do you differentiate them if reason has always been the defining characteristic of humanity? This question fascinates me because it seems to also call into the question material differences in the same way that Butler does. The distinction in this context is not between male and female but thinking human and thinking machine. Similar to Butler’s discussion of male and female, it may be that human and android are more similar than we realize and it is only our commonly held beliefs, discourses, and experiences that keep the two diametrically distinct.

Furthermore, in Oryx and Crake, the conversations between Jimmy and Crake offer a further examination of what is human. When discussing the mating habits of the children of Crake, Crake wanted to do away with any sort of “courtship behavior” and customize his children to simply reproduce with anyone they want when the participants are in heat. Crake’s willingness to modify the human form reveals a very fluid and non-concrete perception of the human. Jimmy, however, dislikes this assessment and argues that courtship behavior is integral to the formation of art. Jimmy’s reverence for art – the great accomplishments of man – is a distinctly humanist notion.

Overall, the discussions of feminist philosophy and the progression of Oryx and Crake deepen my understanding of post humanism through its connections to other schools thought such as post-structuralism.

In relation to the real world, I found the portrayal of the contrast between Martha Graham and Watson-Crick to be very poignant, considering Chapman just finished its new state-of-art science building making Wilkinson look even more impecunious by comparison. Speaking even more broadly, Oryx and Crake seems to take a current societal phenomenon and follow it to its extreme. Already we see in our current society a great emphasis placed on a STEM education and a devaluing of the humanities. This is Crake’s world, one that has only need and interest in humanity’s potential and future, not its past accomplishments. Watson-Crick is Atwood’s window into the world after humanism, the post-humanist world.

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