humanism, Keti Chukhrov

narrator Keti Chukhrov
term humanism
published 3 July 2014, Moscow, Russia, Europe
affiliated institution Russian State University

If we were to enlist the rebukes for humanism starting with Nietzsche up to now, this would take us too far. However, there is a certain map of in-humanist or posthumanist standpoints worth mentioning in terms of defining the motivations to decline the humanist project as something passé. Among the few of the kind are: Althusser’s critique of early Marx for his “humanist” lyricism, Jilbert Simondon in his overturned genealogy of labor and technique, where it is the technical merit rather than a human subject that generates labor and hence culture, Bruno Latour with his criticism of anthropocentrism and his demand for equal grounds for any agency whatsoever, Donna Haraway disputing the claim for the generic on the part of a human being as an authoritarian position of ‘a man’. Acсellerationist manifesto by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, which calls for “unleashing productive forces” of science and technology without constraints of ethics in order to acquire the over and post-human skills appropriate for the socio-technical evolution. [1]


One of the most fierce criticism of the human condition comes from Speculative Realism. Its attack on humanism is not social or cultural but is first and foremost grounded on the meta-philosophical sublation of philosophy’s critical edifice. In this case, the human condition is disputed as the finiteness that philosophy claimed to overcome in the long run of its history. However, all such attempts in the history of philosophy are regarded by Speculative Realism as part and parcel of a human condition. One of the reasons for this was that idealist philosophy made an attempt to transcend the human cognition, or to question the limits of human existence, but exactly such move had often been the core of asserting what the human mind might be. And this relates to a history of philosophy in general – starting with Descartes, Kant and up to Marx. That is the reason why such philosophically biased in-human humanism is considered to be nothing but the appropriation of the Universal and the Absolute by the finite human mind. As Quentin Meillasoux puts it [2], the effort of the finite human mind to exceed its finitude via thought brings nowhere, but back into the limits of human consciousness, which can not in the end exceed its own idealist illusions about the absolute, can not but install the correlationist pretension of grasping the inhuman by the human mind. This is the reason why speculative realism claims – as Yoel Regev put it – the necessity to go beyond this illusionary beyond of philosophic mythologies. In order to end up with the correlationist 'beyond', the speculative knowledge has to dispense itself of this beyond, as well as of including the ethical or metaphysical projections into the utter autonomy of knowledge and rationality. Only then without the screen of human subjectivity can the absoluteness of reality be at all addressed.


But what the fear of correlationism in speculative realism does not take into account is the following: it locates the problem of correlation between the solitary human subject and the multiple, objective and contingent reality. But it neglects and ignores that if this human subject is itself collective and multiple, then the relation with the world and the reality might as well be constructed not between the subject of knowledge and the worldly matter, but also between those subjects themselves and in an interaction between them. They do not relate to the world as to their object of contemplation. But they, these subjects themselves might as well be the reality, they are themselves the extension of matter and of the world’s ungraspable realness, – not just its observers. Since the human being might assert oneself not only as the one that reflects, studies the world or correlates oneself to the world as to the reality but also as the one that takes for that very reality first and foremost another human being. This would be a strongly disputable assertion since in many sociological theories societies are constructed out of any agents – be them objects, animals, machines, languages, etc. There is no need of any specific generic relation between the humans.


One of the pioneers in defining the human via the generic (inter-human) dimension was Marx. In his ‘Economic Manuscripts’ the human, the generic and the communist go together. The question is why to enable the dimension of the generic, why to determine de-alienation Marx claims it on behalf of humans precisely and not any contingent connection of anything with whatever? Because it is due to this bond between the humans that all other modes of alienation in nature, or material world are able to de-alienate. Marx answers as follows: if an animal forms the matter in accord with the need of the species being, a man can produce for the need of other species-beings as well. I.e., the generic mode is in producing not for oneself and implementing this voluntarily.


One of the ways to terminate alienation for Marx is to prevent the sense of private property to supersede other senses. Private property forecloses the potentiality of the generic (universal) dimension. The “human” thus is not the substantiation of some attributes, but rather a virtue of aspiring for the general, which in its own turn means – made by a man not for himself but for others: other men or creatures.


De facto, it is exactly in the figure of a proletarian that evacuation of private property is accomplished. The proletarian undergoes the “impoverishment” of the humanness to the utmost, but that’s exactly the point to claim that very humaneness to the utmost. As Frank Ruda puts it, “it is impoverishment [Entwesung]” of man that builds the condition for the fact that the proletariat as soon as it emerges at its material site implies an immediate dimension of universality which is addressed to anyone, because it is for anyone.” [3]


That’s because dispossession brings forward the de facto freed room for the non-self being, being not as only the self, but also as non-self, because many conditions constructing the self – property, personal comfort, life standards, individual pleasures, fears and traumas, cognitive or creative achievements, recognition, etc. – are not implementable. This potentiality of the non-self is given to a proletarian de facto, but it becomes the opportunity to be exercised in actu. In other words, the absence of possession paradoxically becomes a starting point to question the potentiality of a non-self being and of de-alienation in the conditions of the utmost alienation.


The potentiality of the non-self is not possible in nature, it is unnatural. It is something that might be exercised in actu. The human thus is general, but general - not in the sense that every individual gets the share out of something to be distributed among the many. It means a demolition of the limits between the self and the non-self, between personal needs and the needs that are not my own. Some kind of self-amnesia or another term used by Michail Lifshitz – “humane resignation”, the transmission of which becomes the principal issue for art as its chief communist trait.


According to M. Lifshitz ‘humane resignation’ is the principal issue of art in as much as it presupposes the capacity of an artist to achieve the metanoic resignation of the self. In fact, the dimension of the ‘classical’ preserves its importance exactly in this sense too.


When Lacan was analyzing the structure of the “I”, he was constructing both the “I” inscribed into a real life and the real life itself as the realm of the “Imaginary”. Such an “I” is nevertheless automatically becoming the “Other”. Because what I envisage as “me” is always the other, imaginary “I”, since I might want to imagine myself as alien, quite in the vein of constructing self-image out of phantasmatic desires. Hence Lacan’s formula “I is the Other”. But in this case ‘the other’ is nothing but the imaginary deviation from the “I”, understood as the gap of reality. Consequently the concrete “Other” – another person which is not me – is only someone to be internalized by the “I” and in the “I”. Thereby this formula of Lacan is inevitably stuck in the narcissistic framework.


In a case of “humane resignation,” the “I” is consciously put aside in favor of the non “I”. Such resignation of “the self” has nothing to do with the phantasm of the “other” mimicked by “me” when the narcissistic place of the “I” is preserved. The self-amnesia is a radical turnover of the anthropological order of society. This is not at all the case of supersession of the self by the super-ego or the Big Other of any kind – which is a classical case of rejection of self in the name of the sublime issues, duty, God, responsibility, death: in other words everything that exceeds the pleasure principle on behalf of the super-ego’s control.


In a case of self-resignation “the other” can only appear after a recession of the self. This recession is not sacrificial, but is metanoic; metanoia is caused by involvement into reality, which can only unravel via such self-recession. The reality is not the world seen by the “I” or me, but it comes forth exactly when this unsurpassable division between the “I” and not ‘I” is surpassed, destroying the natural psychics and anthropology of the interrelation between the subjective and intersubjective, the individual and the collective.


[2] Quentin Meillassoux. After Finitude. Continuum, 2009.

[3] Frank Ruda. Who Thinks Reductively. Capitalism’s Animals.


associative terms


associative narrator

draft version

humanism, Keti Chukhrov, May 2014