Thinking the Non-Human

Thinking the Non-Human

A curious concept. The “inhuman” designates an apparent contradiction: a human that is not human. If one speaks of the inhumane, one designates an activity that is less than human, that lacks the distinction of that which supposedly elevates human activity, and serves to differentiate it from the non-human. Only the human can be inhumane, since such activity is defined by the loss of the form of what would distinguish it. Yet, it is precisely the value of this form, the sense assigned to humanity, that the thought of the inhuman puts into question. As the word “inhuman” itself suggests, it designates a thing in the human that nonetheless is not of the human. It is this “in” which is not “of” the human that will be the subject of our collective concern and study in this seminar.

The inhuman names an orientation to thought that can be termed “anti-humanist.” This critical tradition takes its point of departure from Nietzsche’s proposition that “God is dead,” and the ramifications that this death has for man’s identity (qua human) and the values (e.g., human rights) founded on his existence. It is this condition that Foucault alludes to when he famously maintains: “It is no longer possible to think in our day other than in the void left by man’s disappearance.” In this course, we will consider a series of approaches—philosophical, literary, and artistic— to thinking this void: the inhuman place where the human is not identical with the form of its determination, the form of humanity. And we will consider its social, political, and aesthetic implications, having occasion to consider closely texts by some of the following figures: Giorgio Agamben, George Batailles, Gilles Deleuze, Roberto Esposito, Saidiya V. Hartman, Pierre Klossowski, Friedrich Nietzsche.