Editorial

The Editorial Board in collaboration with Beatrice Michaelis and Martin Zierold

The conceptual footing of On_Culture, reflected in the pilot issue on “Emergence/Emergency,” is kept up in the second issue with its focus on “The Nonhuman.” There could not have been a better turnout for this issue, and the Editorial Board is particularly proud to present a collection of eight double-blind peer reviewed academic _Articles and two _Perspectives, all of which investigate, problematize, and develop key concepts and methods in the field.

Contemporary scholars draw our attention to matter, networks, affect, objects, and media in order to show how other entities act and shape our world. They argue that making these nonhuman entities visible helps us better engage with the contemporary moment and address twenty-first-century challenges such as global climate change, the collapse of financial markets, and nonhuman internet traffic.

The Non-Human as Such

On Men, Animals, and Barbers

Abstract

The article investigates a dialectic that, through the work of negation, paradoxically brings the non-human as ‘anything but human’ back to the human. It shows how and why, throughout the criticism of all forms of anthropocentrism, the human being still occupies a central place in the very discourse that negates him. His principal position only changed its value from а positive to а negative one. If there is something in common among all possible non-human things in the world, it is their negative determination with regards to the human. While being actively denied, ‘human’ thus remains a main constitutive element of their identity, a kind of general equivalent, whose ontological status is highly problematic and therefore particularly interesting.

Siren Songs and Echo’s Response

Towards a Media Theory of the Voice in the Light of Speech Synthesis

Abstract

In contrast to phonographical recording, storage, and reproduction of the voice, most media theories, especially prominent media theories of the human voice, neglected the aspect of synthesizing human-like voices by non-human means. This paper takes this lacuna as a starting point for an inquiry into the media theory of (non)human voices under the premise that the epistemological difference between techn(olog)ical voice production and its mere re-production is illuminated by the mythological motifs of the Sirens and Echo, respectively. Interestingly, the interconnection between terror and tempting nonhuman voices, which is implemented in the cultural imaginary through the Sirens’ song, can be identified in the media history of speech synthesis, which challenges the idea(l) of the human voice as an anthropological constant. The main concerns here are to re-read the critique of Derrida’s Of Grammatology and other theories of the human voice in the light of speech synthesis and show how the oft-used term ‘disembodied voice’ is inadequate when it comes to describing phonographical, radiophonic, and telephonic hearing situations.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth?

Digital Animals, Simulation, and the Return of ‘Real Nature’ in the Jurassic Park Movies

Abstract

This essay argues that the digital reanimation of dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park series not only epitomizes mankind’s tortured relationship with other animal species on this planet, but also demonstrates how technology transforms animals into spectral post-animal beings. Both in its diegesis and in its production, the Jurassic Park movie franchise emblematizes humanity’s compulsive desire to control the rest of the planet. This desire has culminated in the most recent addition to the series, in which animatronics were practically completely replaced by digital dinosaurs the filmmakers could control more easily. Yet despite the tangibility, the material reality of the animatronics, throughout the movie series, the spectral dinosaur bodies animated by digital technologies not only seem much more ‘alive’ than their mechanical counterparts, but shape viewers’ conceptions of what dinosaurs are and what they looked like, lending the digital animals a hyperreal quality that stands in stark contrast to their symbolic equation with material nature. In the latest movie, the mosasaurus, I will argue, imagines the return of ‘real’ nature in the face of the artificial nature represented by the Indominus rex. However, the mosasaurus, like all other prehistoric animals roaming Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, respectively, is a genetic hybrid, like the Indominus rex. In this way, the Jurassic Park movie franchise presents a telling example of the conflicted and paradoxical interrelations between technology and spectral animal bodies (and, thus, nature) in the digital age.

“Che tempo, che tempo”

Geology and Environment in Max Frisch’s Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän

Abstract

Critical readings of Frisch’s Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän [Man in the Holocene] have tended to read its heterogeneous and inter-medial form as a code for the mental disintegration of its protagonist. This paper argues instead that this feature can be seen as a poetological engagement with geological and climatic timescales. Due to its hybrid form, the incorporation of a multiplicity of textual fragments and pictorial representations, the text undermines both conventional definitions of narrative and representations of nature. Holozän’s non-linear structure establishes an aesthetic of slowness that ushers in an awareness of the utterly different time schemes of geological and climatic processes. Furthermore, the importance of the material features, such as an interplay between text and image and the disconnected, paratactical arrangement of sentences mirrors the novel’s focus on natural phenomena. Frisch’s narrative establishes a poetics that tries to reach beyond the confinements of an anthropocentric perspective and thereby subverts the borders between culture and environment.

Affective Bodies

Nonhuman and Human Agencies in Djuna Barnes's Fiction

Abstract

Djuna Barnes’s work is an intriguing example of the ways fiction makes its readers face the nonhuman as having potential for agency, and shows the entanglements between human and nonhuman. In the stories, objects tend to steal the attention from the main characters and become agents in their own right. At the same time, a lot of Barnes’s human characters remain “unreadable,” and thing-like or animal-like; as such, nonhuman themselves.

This article asks why readers become engaged with such texts and how we make sense of them. Drawing on new materialist and posthumanist conceptions of distributed agency and affect, I explore the entangled human and nonhuman agencies that contribute to the action of the narratives and, arguably, to their affective appeal, the two being closely intertwined. To discuss the reading processes the texts invite, I employ embodied cognitive approaches to the process of reading fiction. Based on the analysis of Barnes’s novel Nightwood and her less researched short fiction, I propose that reading these texts is largely a process of affective, embodied sense-making that pertains equally to human and nonhuman fictional agents, revealing their mutual dependence and their equal capacity to affect.

Scenes of Trash

Aesthetic Order and Political Effects of Garbage in the Home

Abstract

The article discusses the role that non-humans and simple everyday objects play in political matters. It relates ideas of political theory to recent work in discard studies by asking how certain narratives and cultural appropriations of waste shape the way that political ideas are articulated. The paper employs Jacques Rancière’s understanding of politics as a distribution of the sensible with respect to acts of disposing of waste in the home. At issue are politically relevant distinctions such as those between private matters and public concerns, visible and invisible spheres of participation, clean and dirty work. The article explores how, on the one hand, visions of modernity and the future are expressed through the meaning of waste and how trash, on the other hand, is articulated in political terms. The approach is interdisciplinary, ranging from political philosophy and feminist thought to cultural theory, with a specific interest in phenomena that address politically relevant issues through the language and aesthetics of waste.

Pot and Power

The Role of the Nonhuman in a Very Human Business

Abstract

The daily care and nursing of people of various ages with disabilities or illnesses constitutes historical and contemporary socio-cultural contexts which are said to be ‘human-centered.’ The formation of practices, politics, and the distribution of knowledge within care and nursing has always been deeply intertwined with the very formation of culture and cultures. This is apparent when focusing upon issues of cleanliness in nursing and care, which are considered to be civilized and ‘cultured,’ and includes the way we handle excrement. Notwithstanding, there is a profound lack of understanding of the significance and impact that ‘non-humans,’ such as material objects, had and have in nursing interactions. Based on empirical research on historical and contemporary institutional settings of the ‘dirty work’ of nursing (derived from material culture studies, object-centered historical analyses, and multi-sited ethnography), we analyze the complex intermingling of humans and artifacts in the ‘delicate’ endeavor of supported excretion. As we will show, material objects do play a significant role in supporting those that are unable to undertake their (delicate) business autonomously. However, they also help to transform the dirty work of supported excretion into an object-controlled mode of action.

Embodied, Relational Practices of Human and Non-Human in a Material, Social, and Cultural Nexus of Organizations

Abstract

This article explores the significance of materiality and non- or other-human, especially the role of body and embodiment in relation to intra- and inter-practices in organizations and their culture from a phenomenological perspective and cross-disciplinary approach. Following a Merleau-Pontyian approach, the non-human is discussed in relation to cultural practices in organizational life-worlds. Based on a critique of physicalist empiricism and idealistic rationalism, impasses and limitations of naturalist and constructionist approaches towards culture are problematized. Showing the co-constitutive role of the in(ter)-between and inter-corporeality allows interpreting the corporeal nexus of material, social, and cultural phenomena of inter-practices within a continuum of the human and non-human, thus as an entangled ‘non-+-human’ web. Finally, the paper discusses some implications and perspectives on the ‘non-+-human’ in the study and practice of culture by particularly outlining an ethos of ‘engaged releasement’ (‘Gelassenheit’). This orientation will be presented as a letting be-come in relation to things and thinking for mediating a living sustainable ‘bodiment’ of human and more-than-human dimensions.