Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Posthuman in the Anthropocene: A Look through the Aesthetic Field

  • Jacob Wamberg (a1) and Mads Rosendahl Thomsen (a1)


The posthuman summons up a complex of both tangible challenges for humanity and a potential shift to a larger, more comprehensive historical perspective on humankind. In this article we will first examine the posthuman in relation to the macro-historical framework of the Anthropocene. Adopting key notions from complexity theory, we argue that the earlier counter-figures of environmental catastrophe (Anthropocene entropy) and corporeal enhancement (transhuman negentropy) should be juxtaposed and blended. Furthermore, we argue for the relevance of a comprehensive aesthetical perspective in a discussion of posthuman challenges. Whereas popular visual culture and many novels illustrate posthuman dilemmas (e.g. the superhero’s oscillation between superhuman and human) in a respect for humanist naturalist norms, avant-garde art performs a posthuman alienation of the earlier negentropic centres of art, a problematization of the human body and mind, that is structurally equivalent to the environmental modification of negentropic rise taking place in the Anthropocene. In a spatial sprawl from immaterial information to material immersion, the autonomous human body and mind, the double apex of organic negentropy, are thus undermined through a dialectics of entropy and order, from abstraction’s indeterminacy to Surrealism’s fragmentation of the body and its interlacing with inorganic things.



Hide All
1. Herbrechter, S. (2013 [2009]) Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis (London: Bloomsbury), pp. 3336.
2. Shelley, M. (1994) Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
3. Butler, S. (1872) Erewhon, or Over the Range (London: Trübner).
4. Wells, H.G. (2005) The Time Machine (London: Penguin).
5.Steve Jones suggests that it is decreasing differences in survival and reproduction rates that eventually stopped ’the Darwin machine’. See his lecture ‘Is Human Evolution Over?’,
6. Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Steffen, W. and Crutzen, P. (2010) The new world of the Anthropocene. Environmental Science and Technology, 44, 22282231; K. Gibson, D.B. Rose and R. Fincher (2015) Preface. In: K. Gibson, D.B. Rose and R. Fincher (Eds), Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene (Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books), p. v.
7. More, M. (2003) Principles of Extropy (Version 3.11): an evolving framework of values and standards for continuously improving the human condition. Extropy Institute, on
8. Haraway, D. (2015) Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationecene, chthulucene: making kin. Environmental Humanities, 6, 159165.
9. McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York, Toronto and London: McGraw-Hill).
10. Lovelock, J. (2000 [1979]) Gaia: A New Look at Life at Earth (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).
11. Pagels, H.R. (1988) The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity (New York: Bantam Books), pp. 5470; S. Lloyd and H. Pagels (1988) Complexity as thermodynamic depth. Annals of Physics, 88, 185–213; E. Jaynes (1990) Maxwell’s Demon, H.S. Leff and A.F. Rex (Eds), (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 17.
12. Lyotard, J.-F. (1991 [1987]) Can thought go on without a body? The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans. G. Bennington and R. Bowlby (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), pp. 8–23.
13. Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1988 [1980]) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi (London: Athlone Press), p. 166.
14.Notions derived from R. Hughes (1991 [1981]) The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change (New York: Knopf) and D. Edgerton (2007) The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
15. Roden, D. (2015) Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 2123.
16. Bostrom, N. (2009) The future of humanity. In: Kyrre-Berg et al. (Eds), New Waves in Philosophy and Technology (London: Palgrave-Macmillan), p. 204.
17. Mehlman, M.J. (2012) How close are we to being able to achieve the transhumanist vision? In: K. Lippert-Rasmussen, M.R. Thomsen and J. Wamberg, (Eds), The Posthuman Condition: Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics of Biotechnological Challenges (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press), p. 46.
18. Fukuyama, F. (2012) Agency of inevitability: will human beings control their technological future? In K. Lippert-Rasmussen, M.R. Thomsen and J. Wamberg (Eds), The Posthuman Condition: Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics of Biotechnological Challenges (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press), p. 159.
20. Sloterdijk, P. (2009 [1999]) Rules for the human zoo: a response to the Letter of Humanism . Trans. M.V. Rorty. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, pp. 1228.
21. More, M. (2003) Principles of Extropy (Version 3.11): an evolving framework of values and standards for continuously improving the human condition. Extropy Institute, on See also the Extropist Manifesto (2006)
22. Ishiguro, K. (2005) Never Let Me Go (New York: Knopf).
23. Houellebecq, M. (2000) The Elementary Particles (New York: Knopf).
24. Mitchell, D. (2004) Cloud Atlas (New York: Random House).
25. Rosendahl Thomsen, M. (2013) The New Human in Literature: Posthuman Visions of Changes in Body, Mind and Society after 1900 (London: Bloomsbury), pp. 181200.
26. Huxley, A. (1932) Brave New World (Garden City: Doubleday).
27. Orwell, G. (1961) Nineteen Eighty-Four (New York: Signet Classic), p. 269.
28. Eco, U. (1989 [1962]) The open work in the visual arts. In: The Open Work. Trans. A. Cancogni (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), pp. 84104.
29.For the earliest example of this trend, see J. Deitch (1992) Post Human (Lausanne: FAE Musée d’Art Contemporain).
30. Herbrechter, S. (2013 [2009]) Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis (London: Bloomsbury), pp. 176177; Stelarc and Orlan: J. Zylinska (Ed.), (2002) The Cyborg Experiments: The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age (London and New York: Continuum); Kac: C. Wolfe (2010) What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press), pp. 158–167.
31. Biro, M. (2009) The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press).
32. Danto, A.C. (1986) The end of art. In The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 111.
33. Sedlmayr, H. (1985 [1948]) Verlust der Mitte: Die bildende Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts als Symptom und Symbol der Zeit (Frankfurt a.M.: Ullstein).
34. Burnham, J. (1987 [1967]) Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of this Century (New York: George Braziller).
35. Arnheim, R. (1971) Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (Berkeley: University of California Press), pp. 4445.
36. Wamberg, J. (2009 [2005]) Landscape as World Picture: Tracing Cultural Evolution in Images (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press), vol. 2, pp. 8489.
37. Burke, E. (1759 [1757]) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (London: R. and J. Dodsley).
38.For this genealogy, without a philosophical framing, cf. R. Rosenblum (1975) Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko (London: Thames and Hudson).
39.J. Ortega y Gasset, José (1948 [1925]) The Dehumanization of Art, and Notes on the Novel. Trans. H. Weyl (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
40. Smithson, R. (1979 [1967]) Entropy and the new monuments. In: N. Holt, (Ed.), The Writings of Robert Smithson (New York: New University Press), pp. 918.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed