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Metaphors of cultural transfer: tree, wave, and virus
Talking about posthumanism seems to be the fashionable thing to do nowadays in order to give the impression that you are at the forefront of debates on contemporary philosophy, cultural theory, or twenty-first century issues. This phenomenon has reached a global scale, attracting a range of at times contrasting, at others isomorphic commentary that has gone beyond both the original sphere of interest and the primary academic focus. It is thus a paradigm that is emerging in a transnational context and is best formulated under the label of “global posthuman network.” Now, more than ever, in the age of late globalisation, the transfer of cultural capital between different literary or cultural (poly)systems is no longer as resistant as during previous centuries. The accelerated circulation of posthumanist theory seems to be standardising older dichotomies between East and West or between core and (semi-)periphery. Cultures such as American, Chinese, or Pakistani (Red Latinoamericana de Posthumanismo, Indian Posthumanism Network, Poshuman Chinese Forum, Australasian Posthumanities, Pakistan Critical Posthuman Studies Associations, etc.) have joined the posthuman network, creating semi-autonomous “discursive fields” and adapting concepts and theories to their own social, political, or anthropological realities.
The phenomenon has rapidly spread to the literary field, so that we may speak of a posthuman(ist) theme (climate change, the animal question, the ethical-communitarian attitude, the problem of dis/embodiment) or “stylistics” vaguely described by a discourse becoming more self-reflexive or impersonal (Herbrechter, “Posthuman/ist Literature?” 2). Eastern European cultures have not resisted this tendency to connect to the appealing discourse of posthumanism. It has fed and continues to feed literature in the continental East, whose coordinates have been reconstructed after the fall of the Iron Curtain, either at the level of the fictional imaginary or that of theoretical reorganisations after the postmodern moment. Focusing my attention on the case of Romania, I can therefore question what makes this theory of the posthuman interfere with the indigenous literary (poly)system, what cultural and mental context has facilitated this theoretical import, and what are the routes/pathways along which this transfer has taken place. Is this synchronisation of Romanian (and Eastern European) literature with contemporary philosophy a form of “self-colonialism” (Clinci 181-2), or is it a way of filling the identifiable “insufficiencies” or “crises” of the postcommunist context? In this paper, I will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the Romanian debate on posthumanism with the intent of offering some answers to the matter of how and why posthumanism would be assimilated into the Romanian literary (poly)system, with respect to the theories regarding the circulation of ideas in the world literature paradigm.
Research in the world literature paradigm focuses on the mechanisms through which inter-systemic transfers, negotiations, or imports are achieved. However, the perspective on cultural globalisation is not reducible to the old-school comparatism that detects only the spheres of influence of canonical texts over minor cultures, but rather emerges with an awareness of unequal/asymmetrical exchanges between cultures, in line with the free market mechanisms of Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis. Even if the interactions between cultures do not exactly correspond to economic laws (though world literature borrows some assumptions from world-system analysis, it does nonetheless revise and model it according to the object of study) (Casanova 11), this approach has the potential to explain the tensions that occur over time and space in world literature.
Perhaps one of the fundamental texts that implicitly claim to be based on Wallerstein’s methodology is Franco Moretti’s article, “Conjectures on World Literature”, which takes the view that literature is not only a reflection of a particular culture or nation, but part of a larger global system. He argues that literary works can be seen as part of a network of textual variations that cross national and linguistic boundaries. The article also discusses the two main cognitive metaphors used by historians when analysing culture on a large scale: the tree and the wave. The tree metaphor, derived from Darwin’s phylogenetic tree, has been used in comparative philology to analyse language families branching off from each other. The wave metaphor, on the other hand, has been used in the study of technological diffusion and the diffusion of agriculture. Both metaphors work in cultural history; still, the products of cultural history always being composite, it is impossible to determine which mechanism is dominant. Moretti suggests that the division of labour between national and world literature hinges on these two metaphors, the tree metaphor being attributable to the former and the wave to the latter. Pascale Casanova explains the dynamics within world literature via a language of warlike tensions between (hegemonic) centres and (semi-)peripheries, if not in terms of “competitions” or “cultural wars.” The author argues that
If literature is defined, then, as a unified international field (or a field in the process of being unified), the international transmission of major revolutions such as naturalism and romanticism can no longer be described using the language either of “influence” or of “reception.” (...) Only by analysing revolutions in terms of the specific geography of literature and its unique measure of aesthetic time, which is to say in terms of the balance of power and competition that organizes the literary field – the temporal geography that I have just attempted to describe – will it be possible to understand how foreign work is actually received and integrated (Casanova 103).
In other words, the actors in the World Republic of Letters can be divided into a hegemonic centre (not necessarily economically or politically) and a (semi)periphery dependent on the centre and “competing” for visibility and canonical negotiation. But the model tends to become inoperative for the functioning laws of post-1960s literary systems, since the emergence of a digital infrastructure and the establishment of a “global screen” (Lipovetsky & Serroy 252) unified the information field. Literatures do not enter this free market of ideas simultaneously, however, for political or economic reasons. For example, the Romanian cultural field is late in entering the “competition,” firstly because of the isolationist policies in the last decades of Ceaușescu’s regime and, secondly, because of a slow transition to neoliberalism and internet democratisation. In relation to recent Romanian literature, Alex Goldiș notes that the hegemonic poles have been atomised as a result of the people’s newfound access, regardless of platform or language, to the free market of cultural, literary, or theoretical ideas (Goldiș 65). Teodora Coman refers to the same matter in writing about the “irreducible pluralism” of sources as an “obligatory” feature of literary systems (Coman 25). Cărtărescu formulated the same hypothesis two decades prior, when he described the literature of the 1990s as having entered post-history, without a coherent, nationally relevant meta-narrative, as was the case of the 1980s generation. The postmodernisation and the economic-political liberalisation of the world have led, argues Cărtărescu, to
a chaotic diversification and dissipation of texts, a hybridisation with the medias (film, television, the Internet), an increasingly pronounced virtualisation of “possible worlds” [that] will change literature to a punctual variant of a generalised mind game, a complex and synergistic hallucinatory art similar to original syncretism (Cărtărescu 461-2).
A metaphorical scheme that might explain how cultural transfers are achieved in a globalised era is the epidemiological scheme proposed by the editors of Theory in the “Post” Era (2021). Suggesting that theory and culture function like viruses through contagion, Andrei Terian, Christian Moraru, and Alexandru Matei propose the epidemiological trope as a new mode of understanding the exchange of ideas between cultural fields. In the globalised world, culture and theory are seen as transmissible and translatable, triggered by intellectual influence and equal in their multidirectional, life-giving impact, the ontology of separation being replaced by the flat ontology of contact, contagion, and infection (Terian, Moraru & Matei 15-6). The article argues that theory is achieved through cross-cultural or “haptic” contact (in Derrida’s terms) with other theoretical systems, which allows for germination and innovation. The authors do not deny the role that Wallerstein’s model plays in the world literature paradigm, careful not to overlook the inequalities between cultures, but argue that in the twenty-first century, there has been a notable trend towards the democratization of these hierarchies and a reduction in the influence of hegemonic pressures.
Since both the post-1990 Romanian literary system and the philosophy of posthumanism are phenomena of the world in which the reconfiguration of relations between human and non-human and attitudes towards otherness play an important role, the “influence” of posthumanist theory in recent Romanian literature is closely related to this theoretical framework. Literature’s opening to other cultural fields (cinema, photography, theatre, music, video games, etc.) arrives as a consequence of the impact of this newly digitised culture, but also as an undeniable reality when it comes to assessing the influences at work today. Still, the interference between philosophical and literary discourse is one of the oldest forms of dialogue between cultural subsystems, regardless of historical or geographical coordinates. Jeffrey R. Di Leo argues in the preface to Philosophy as World Literature that, historically, the most influential philosophies have been worlded through the forms of literature (Di Leo 1-20). This has implied an ongoing reflection on the concept of textuality and on the possibility of philosophy and literary theory joining forces to explore the multiple ways in which textuality impacts philosophical practice.
Therefore, in this paper, I aim to examine how posthumanism has been transposed in the Romanian cultural space and what are the key moments to the local debate surrounding the concept. In addition, I will map the negotiations between the theory and the possibilities of its metabolization in literary practices, the question of genre or why poetry has had more of a hold on posthumanism than prose, as well as the “regimes of relevance” (Tihanov 1-2) that have enabled the permeation between the two cultural phenomena. Finally, I will present the endogenous and exogenous grounds – intra-systemic and inter-systemic causality – for the existence of what is dubbed the posthuman imaginary of recent poetry (Iovănel 593, 616). My thesis is that posthumanism is creatively reconfigured within the categories of literature (prose and poetry alike), whereas it spurs very superficial debate in the academic field. My main argument is that, although key texts have been translated since the early 2000s, the posthumanist turn emerges within fiction (notably in poetry), where a growing sense of interconnectedness between humans and non-humans has more grip, forcing literary studies to theoretically and philosophically upgrade to explain cosmopolitan, ethical, or technophilic tendencies. Moreover, literary studies have been all too little influenced by the posthumanist paradigm, since there is only a weak or narrowly articulated “discursive field” of critical posthumanism in Romania. Furthermore, the gap between early translations and the emergence of the generation of poets associated with the “posthumanist dispersion” (Iovănel 616) can be explained by the phenomenon of delayed transition from the local (as a marker of the 2000s generation) to the glocal (literature written after Romania’s admission to the European Union and the democratisation of the Internet in the social body).
Genealogy of posthumanist ideas in the Romanian literary system
The earliest clarifications of the term “posthumanism” appear in Mircea Cărtărescu’s PhD dissertation, Postmodernismul românesc [Romanian Postmodernism] (1999). His main arguments, drawn upon his reading of postmodern theorists (Vattimo, Lyotard, Hassan), are closely related to the deconstruction of rationalist humanism and the rise of a pluralist paradigm. Like many others, he subordinates posthumanism to the postmodern condition, which he regards as the epistemic climate conducive to the birth of this ethos. Cărtărescu argues that the destruction of humanism is a consequence of the totalitarian systems of the 20th century. His axiological judgement (unqualified) extends into the field of literature, which he tacitly blames for having supported, in some of its movements, political doctrines such as Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc., making postmodernism more ethical from an ideological standpoint (Cărtărescu 22). However, the description he provides is not far from the real “history” of posthumanism as seen by scholars. Francesca Ferrando places the origin of posthumanist theory in the conceptual framework of postmodernism, considering Ihab Hassan’s text Prometheus as Performer: Toward a Posthumanist Culture? (1977), the origin of this new discipline (Ferrando 24-6). Other sources argue that posthumanist theory, despite its roots in postmodernism, diverges fundamentally from its anti-foundationalist and cynical views (Braidotti 245). Nonetheless, Cărtărescu’s text associates posthumanism with the “communicative fabric” of postindustrial societies rather than pluralism or identity politics (the ways in which racialized or sexualized communities have been subjected to the process of dehumanisation):
The global changes in the architecture of today’s world and in the mentality of modern man are also determinant for the artistic approach, which, today more than ever, participates in the social and communicational fabric of the world, shaping it and being at the same time an epiphenomenon of it. [...] This is why postmodernism could just as well be called Posthumanism or even post-Europeanism (Cărtărescu 58).
This is why the posthuman dimension of Romanian postmodernism fails to create “continuity.” Against the backdrop of an ideological controversy with the 1980s generation, the literature of the 2000s, concerned more with a tragic and abject reality, will reject these ideas of posthumanity.
The Romanian translation of Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (Viitorul nostru postuman: consecințele revoluției biotehnologice, Humanitas, 2004) is another key point in the history of the posthumanist theory transfer to the Romanian literary field, although Fukuyama became part of the collective consciousness with his thesis on the “end of history” as a descriptor of postmodernity (Matei, “Considerații” 29). In his book, he extends his theories set out in The End of History and argues that the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism marked the end of human ideological evolution, as these systems represent the final form of human government and economic organisation. However, the book has garnered particular attention worldwide for discussing the consequences of digital technologies entering health and social systems. Mads Rosendahl Thomsen and Jacob Wamberg stated that “paradoxically, made posthumanism more mainstream in academia.” (Thomsen & Wamberg 3) Fukuyama believes these technologies have the potential to fundamentally alter human nature and create new forms of inequality and social division. Fukuyama’s conservative view is nonetheless refuted by posthumanists, as the theorist makes an error in regarding posthumanism as the “immoral” desire to alter human biology through genetic modification (Miah 71-94; Herbrechter, Posthumanism vii-viii). Within the 2000s Generation, Fukuyama’s ideas are radically rejected in “The Fracturist Manifesto” (2001), in which Dumitru Crudu and Marius Ianuș, the authors of the manifesto, call Fukuyama a fascist who “advocates a world that destroys the values of humanity.” (Crudu & Ianuș 143) Almost without echo in critical response, too, is Lucia Dinescu’s book Corpul în imaginarul virtual (2007), where she analyses the impact of digital technologies on literature, cinema, ideology, science, religion, and the way subjectivity is redesigned in the twenty-first century. Then, as Ferrando says, the legacy of posthumanist discourse appears in some cultures under the guise of its technocentric “exoticism” (Ferrando 117-8). As I have pointed out elsewhere, the first poetic “experiments” of the first decade of the third millennium (spearheaded by the likes of Gabriella Eftimie, Andrei Peniuc, Vlad Moldovan, val chimic, V. Leac) deal with the posthuman precisely through digital signifiers, the new affect tormented by virtual existence or the alienation caused by living in late stage capitalism: “the acculturation of posthumanism was achieved in two waves: 1. a first wave, synchronous with 2000s poetic, which rather standardised the «exotic» items of the theory, as well as the post-apocalyptic themes, the cyborg figure, alienation, dehumanisation, electronic-cerebral sensibility” (Lupașcu, Postumanismul 46).
The two most important contributions to the reception of posthumanism in Romania remain the survey carried out at Vatra magazine in 2017 (gathered in the collective volume Posthumanism, coordinated by Alex Ciorogar) and Mihai Iovănel’s Ideologiile literaturii în postcomunismul românesc [Ideologies of Literature in Romanian Postcommunism] (2017). The volume edited by Ciorogar is a collection of essays on posthumanism, a concept which, until recently, was considered a theoretical niche in Romanian academia. The essays cover various aspects of posthumanism, including its ontology, ethics, and aesthetics. However, the anthology fails to provide a coherent perspective on the subject, as literary critic Mihnea Bâlici points out. The book is criticised for being inconsistent, repetitive, and lacking a clear argumentative structure. Despite this, the essays therein suggest that posthumanism represents a critical reassessment of traditional humanist values and a reconsideration of the relationship between humans and the material universe. While some authors propose a moderate posthumanism that should be more neutralised and humanised, others emphasise its ethical dimension.
In contrast, Iovănel’s text discusses literary ideologies as they appear in recent poetry. The author notes that postcommunist poets of the third wave write poetry that is least rooted in local tradition, different from the previous generations, spanning from the 1960s to the 2000s, which were eminently literature-centric. Although my personal assumption is that posthumanism functions either as an ideology or as a philosophical influence on contemporary poetry, Iovănel posits that it is strictly related to the form or techniques used by poets; “posthuman” poetry implies impersonalism, lack of affect, “hermeticism,” neological vocabulary, conceptual imagery, cerebral poetics. His position is partly true, because literature centred on the self can also be interesting for the posthuman(ist) phenomenon. The nexus between form and content is a reductive statement: thus, Iovănel dismisses those literary projects that launch themselves from a biographical or minimalist form as not representative of posthumanist ideology. The case of Andrei Doboș is illustrative: although he fits into the paradigm of posthumanism by means of the network of human and non-human actors, he is associated with biographical poetics alongside Sociu, Vlădăreanu, Ianuș, and others. As we will see later, posthumanist ideology goes beyond the sphere of a single literary genre. The fact that in Romanian culture posthumanism occurs predominantly in poetry, while science fiction is seen as its mainstream formula, indicates that ideology cannot be reduced to a single poetic idiom. Lastly, although accused of “self-colonialism” in some critical studies (Clinci 181-2), Iovăne’s book mapped a system of ideologies, themes, and formal influences for the post-1990 history of poetry.
The most recent survey carried out by Vatra magazine gathers a series of answers from critics, poets and novelists regarding the influences and confluences that can be noticed in recent Romanian literature. As for posthumanism, there is a majority consensus on its influence, both ideologically and formally (Teodora Coman, Daniela Hendea, Cristina Ispas, Ștefania Mihalache, Ofelia Prodan, Cristina Stancu, Mihók Tamás, Marius Conkan, Teona Farmatu, Alex Goldiș, Marius Miheț, Răzvan Mitu, Simona Popescu). The authors regard technology and digital media as having transformed how literature is written and consumed, while agreeing that the new generation of writers is not interested in simply importing external models or trends into their local environment, but rather in competing with them on an international market.
Posthumanism between the national and transnational literary market
Before analyzing the possibilities of the emergence of a posthumanism in the Romanian literature system, it is necessary to outline a theoretical framework, showing the ambiguity of the term and its use in different meanings, before formulating the operational definition of posthumanism that I understand as a philosophical background for post-2010 literature. First of all, it should be mentioned that the term posthumanism should not be confused with posthuman (Wolfe, “Posthumanism” 356; Guesse 23). The latter, Francesca Ferrando suggests, “is often evoked in a generic and all-inclusive way to indicate any of these different perspectives, creating methodological and theoretical confusion between experts and non-experts alike” (Ferrando 1). If the figure of the posthuman (cyborgs, monsters, angels, ghosts) can be invested with several forms of ideology (progressive, transhumanist, reactionary, posthumanist), posthumanism is “the contemporary social discourse (in the Foucauldian sense), which negotiates the pressing contemporary question of what it means to be human under the conditions of globalization, technoscience, late capitalism and climate change” (Herbrechter, “Critical Posthumanism” 94). In another article, with an application to Romanian interwar science fiction literature, I showed how posthuman figures (aliens, robots) are re-ideologized in a conservative (technophobic, preservation of the “natural” state of man) ethos or even instrumented by deep anti-feminist visions (Lupașcu, “Postumanul” 41). The perspective on the posthuman – also labelled as “more-than-human” (Stępień 6) – is easier to establish representational and conceptually than the idea of posthumanism itself. I believe that Simone Micali’s view of what she calls “non-human” is, in fact, the most pertinent definition for the concept of “posthuman:” “As in the Freudian negation, «non-human» points at humanness through its negative, expressing and denying at the same time, and therefore highlights the fundamental contradictions which characterize all these figures” (Micali 15). In other words, the posthuman is structured according to the logic of the Kantian indefinite judgement. In How to Read Lacan, Slavoj Žižek approaches from this perspective the problem of the zombie in Stephen King's writings: “«he is not human» is not the same as «he is inhuman.» «He is not human» means simply that he is external to humanity, animal, or divine, while «he is inhuman» means something thoroughly different, namely the fact that he is neither human nor inhuman, but marked by a terrifying excess which, although it negates what we understand as humanity, is inherent to being human” (Žižek 47).
While there is a shared view on what the posthuman is (often found in science fiction literature and cinema), posthumanism does not have a singular definition, and the academic literature has not agreed on a single perspective; as Badmington explains, this is as a result of the lack of consensus on the definition or understandings of humanism (Badmington, Posthumanism 2). Erika Cudworth and Stephen Hobden also point to at least three meanings of the term posthumanism: “The term posthumanism has been used in three principal ways: in the sense of a world after humanity; as forms of body modification and transhumanist «uplift»; and, our own usage, in the sense of a world comprised of the more-than-human” (Cudworth and Hobden 5). The first sense is attributed to post-apocalyptic literature and the state of humanity after humanity has been exterminated or has been damaged by planetary disasters. The second understanding of posthumanism is related to technological intervention in the human body (depictions like Blade Runner (1982) or bioethical issues like genetic modification to achieve advanced forms of the human) or more generally about the role of digital culture. For example, Peter Sloterdijk’s view of posthumanism is more akin to definitions of the postmodern: it is based on a technologized information architecture in the form of telecommunication (Harvey 232, 240). Although posthumanism originates in the question of the postmodern (Ferrando 24), it also vehemently criticizes it for anti-foundationalism and cynicism (Braidotti 245). Peter Sloterdijk sets telecommunications as the basis for surpassing a humanist culture built on “writing on paper.” The technological revolution, however, has replaced the printing press with the screen, the truth with the “post-truth,” and has dissolved concepts such as national identity, universal essences, the transcendent, etc. In his words,
Because of the formation of mass culture through the media – radio in the First World War and television after 1945, and even more through the contemporary web revolution – the coexistence of people in the present societies has been established on new foundations. These are, as it can uncontrovertibly be shown, clearly post-literary, postepistolary, and thus posthumanistic (Sloterdijk 14).
As such, posthumanist culture is juxtaposed with digital culture, i.e., the cultural fields that have proliferated with the technological revolutions, and the proliferation of public spheres and means of literary production; or, in Lionel Riffel’s terms, “literature-brouhaha” (heterogeneous and multiple) (Riffel 173-5).
But this narrow perspective has often been criticized as exotic because it fetishizes technology (Ferrando 117-118). The latter approach is closely related to Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network theory, i.e., the perspective on the co-dependent co-existence of the human with the non-human. From this common belief, diverse and divergent academic disciplines develop, which divide knowledge production into different disciplinary fields: “Scholars of posthumanities have academic trajectories in a diversity of disciplines, as well as interdisciplines or «studies» such as for example feminist studies, postcolonial studies, queer studies, critical dis/ability studies, science and technology studies, environmental studies, cultural studies, animal studies, etc.” (Lykke 333). There is also a pronouncedly humanist direction to posthumanism (Badmington, “Theorizing Posthumanism” 10-27; Wolfe 124-125, Butterfield 11): within Romanian culture, a book often seen as part of the posthumanist project, although it remains tributary to humanism, is Radu Vancu’s Elegie pentru uman: o critică a modernității poetice de la Pound la Cărtărescu. The main argument of his book is that, after the both literary and political purity of ideologies, there is a need for recovering the human that has been gradually eliminated from modernity (Vancu, Elegie 13). It takes as its starting point Rosi Braidotti’s idea of “posthuman humanities” (Braidotti 162-163), as well as Adorno’s idea of post-Auschwitz poetry, which must preserve precisely the fragments of humanity left over from an inhuman disaster (such as the Holocaust) (Adorno 362). Elsewhere, Vancu argues that “the paradox of the posthuman is that it is more human-friendly than modernity with the concrete man whom, at least nominally, it gives the impression of having surpassed” (Vancu, “The Posthuman” 67).
Finally, there is a much more widespread grasp on posthumanism, which I claim as the totality of discourses and practices that deconstruct and undermine the uniqueness and exceptionality of Universal Man, that is “implicitly assumed to be masculine, white, urbanized, speaking a standard language, heterosexually inscribed in a reproductive unit and a full citizen of a recognized polity” (Braidotti 65). The philosophical/ideological extent of posthumanism I draw from Francesca Ferrando, describing it as posthumanism, post-anthropocentrism and post-dualism (Ferrando 22). Briefly, it is characterised by a broadly comprehensive ethical attitude towards (possible) modes of existence, aware of the fluid identity of humans, materially and culturally rooted:
Philosophical Posthumanism can be defined as a post-humanism, as a post-anthropocentrism, and as a post-dualism: these three aspects should be addressed in conjunction, which means an account based on a philosophical posthumanist approach shall have a posthumanist sensitivity as well as a post-anthropocentric and a post-dualistic one. Let’s clarify each term. Post-humanism implies the understanding of the plurality of the human experience; the human is not recognized as one but as many, that is, human(s) – thus undermining the humanist tradition based on a generalized and universalized approach to the human. Post-anthropocentrism refers to decentering the human in relation to the nonhuman; it is based on the realization that the human species has been placed in a hierarchical scale and has been granted an ontological privilege in the large majority of the historical accounts on the human. Post-dualism relies on the awareness that dualism has been employed as a rigid way to define identity, based on a closed notion of the self and actualized in symbolic dichotomies, such as “us”/“them,” “friend”/“foe,” “civilized”/“barbarian” and so on (Ferrando 54).
The relationship between posthumanist theory and literature has been discussed on various topics. Perspectives are quite divided in this respect: while scholars like Herbrechter argue that humans cannot act as agents of a posthumanist literature (and therefore the concept of “posthumanist literature” itself is a theoretical dead-end), Carole Guesse advances the argument against Herbrechter that authors of literature are contaminated by posthumanist theories:
Just as a reader can be posthumanist as long as they are familiar with posthumanist theories, an author can self-consciously write a posthumanist work. One could argue that some contemporary writers have been influenced by the omnipresence of posthumanism in recent theory and might have developed their narratives in order to make a posthumanist statement or even contribute to this theoretical trend, although this assumption is often hard to prove when the authors have not declared so themselves (Guesse 30).
Thus, posthumanism as a philosophy influences literature not only thematically, but through an overall ethical perspective. When I refer to the “posthuman(ist) turn” within the Romanian literary system I mean at least two things: 1) on the one hand, it is a questioning of human nature within the broader framework of late capitalism and digital technologies (i.e. texts that thematize the digital dimension of our existence, existence on the internet, virtuality) or the Anthropocene (ecological thinking in poetry, eco-queer poetry, posthumanist feminism) and 2) on the other hand, I mean an “ethical turn” within the literary system, concentrating a greater focus on marginalized (racialized or sexualized) communities.
Posthumanist theory stems from the disciplinary fragmentation of the 1990s, after French Theory (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Deleuze & Guattari - in their metabolised form in American culture), which in its turn was influenced by the Nietzschean ethos (Herbrechter, Posthumanism 32), Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism (Ferrando 2), and “philosophically minded literary critics and cultural theorists” (Deretić & Lorenz Sorgner 14) such as Donna J. Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles, Peter Sloterdijk. The polycentrism and disciplinary division of this theory (Lykke 333) are symptomatic of the “neutering” hegemonic divisions, highlighting dialogical relations between cultures that in the twentieth century were in continuous “contest.” However, the production poles of the theory are part of the central cultures that nourished the Romanian space, starting with the 1980s generation, which imported postmodernism (without postmodernity). Whereas the “jeans generation” adopted Beat poetry, discarding its anti-capitalist and New Age ideological content (Dumitru 271-88), 2000s poetry recovers the militant, deeply political ethos of American poets. In the “traumatic” context of Romania's transition from socialism to capitalism (Bâlici 5), Fracturist poets were forced to discard (polemically) former postmodernist notions, which treated reality cynically, avoiding its visceral core and falling into an escapist intertextuality.
Only after the 2000s generation had exhausted its symbolic capital, after it had exhausted its “points of resistance” focused on sexuality (Olaru 46), precarious social conditions, transience, biographism, etc., did posthumanism appear in the literary and cultural arena. Firstly, because, as I have already argued, the mutation in literature is from the local to the glocal. In contemporary arts, the emergence of the Anthropocene, the climate crisis, economic inequality, and minority issues has generated both a thematic expansion and a continuous experimentation with the form. It was only after Romania become part of the EU and Romanian literature was granted access to the international cultural market that posthumanism became widespread in Romania. This happened, as Bogdan Vișan explains (Vișan 45), due to a shift from local to “glocal” interests (i.e., to global issues such as the climate crisis, economic and social inequalities, the reemergence of right-wing politics, etc.). The volume coordinated by V. Leac, Ongoing Disruptions, is symptomatic of the social-poetic dialectic, being devoted entirely to ecological thought performative within poetry, speculative essays, dystopian narratives, experimental photographs, or drawings made by automatic dictation. If the literature of the 2000s was mainly about individual issues as a mirror image of a diseased social body (with authors blaming communism for the “evils” of the transition to capitalism), post-2010 literature has seen an expansion from the individual to the collective, from the personal to the communal. As a consequence, the interface between postcommunist literature and society, and how the latter interprets artistic phenomena, is described by Doris Mironescu in the article “Regimuri de relevanță, puncte de rezistență: literatura română în postcomunism” [“Regimes of relevance, points of resistance: Romanian literature in postcommunism”], wherein he combines Tihanov’s concept of “regime of relevance” and that of “points of resistance” in Iovănel’s History of Romanian Contemporary Literature: 1990-2020 (2021). Among five postcommunist literary regimes, from an ideological point of view, (poetic) posthumanism coincides with a post-aesthetic phase of literature and justifies an “ethical regime of relevance” (against discrimination of any kind) and a political one (of anti-capitalist extraction):
Within the ethical regime of relevance, literature is endowed with a critical consciousness that attacks the very idea of beauty and thus turns against the self-centeredness of literature in the previous century; the text is a warning signal, sometimes even a symptom of the crisis to which it draws attention, including by defying the “ordinary” ways of writing. The writings characteristic of the ethical regime of relevance are concerned with the ontology of the virtual, the problematics of the eco and the politics of identity, they only partially intersect the points of resistance centred on ecologies or new epistemologies (Mironescu 111).
The 2000s and post-2000s generations thoroughly tackle the purely aesthetic criteria of constructing/judging literature, waging a kind of cultural war with the generations that became conservative (the 1960s and 1980s). For the latter, critical and/or cultural theories (gender studies, feminist, postcolonial, Marxist, multicultural, posthumanist, etc. become the most important means of creating a cultural war) are an affront to literature as an autonomous system, which does not intersect with political, ideological, or social systems. In their view, literature belongs to immutable truths, transhistorical or transcendental values. We can conclude that the homology between humanism/aesthetic autonomism and the canonical age, then between posthumanism/post-aestheticism and the post-canonical age, is almost structural; humanism is based on a canon of texts of intrinsic moral and aesthetic value, which is passed as one generation’s legacy to the next, while posthumanism, synonymous with multimedia and digital culture (as it appears in Sloterdijk’s view), is suspicious of any form of purism (aesthetic, philosophical, ontological, social), opting instead for a pluralist perspective. As Mihai Iovănel said, it was only with the post-2010 generation that literature turned to sources of inspiration other than books. In our country, postmodernism and the 2000s Generation were exclusively built on a literary tradition, while post-2000s poetry has multiplied its references from non-literary fields (cinema, video games, pop music, photography, memes): “The posthuman moment in poetry corresponds, therefore, to an inevitable dispersion of the references that had composed the canon until now, to an opening towards more marginal and even extra-literary sources” (Iovănel 618). Thus, as Mironescu notes, the dominant regime of relevance for poems concerned with the posthumanist network of ideas is the ethical one, which manifests its field of influence over the political, personal, and sociographic.
We can now pose several questions. What is the trajectory of posthuman theory from source cultures? What is its reach, and how does it change in relation to the goal system? The links between science fiction and posthumanist ideology are almost congenital. Right from the early posthumanist studies, science fiction literature has served as analytical support for theories of human-technology hybridisation, extra-anthropocentric and extra-human life-forms, the quest for evolution, the human-God hypostasis that creates posthuman “monsters” like Frankenstein, and others. Not only the imaginary, but also the idealist claims of this subgenre can be included in post-anthropocentric narratives or critiques of nuclear or climate disasters. Sherryl Vint discusses the intersection of posthumanist thought and science fiction literature. The author identifies two significant figures, Donna J. Haraway and N. Katherine Hayles, whose works contributed to the development of posthumanist theory through their engagement with science fiction. Haraway introduced the concept of the cyborg as a figure of resistance to the binaries of modernity and helped establish the relationship between science fiction and posthumanism. Hayles, in his book How We Became Posthuman, examines the integration of humans and machines and the history of how we have come to see information as disembodied. Vint concludes that science fiction continues to respond to new scientific discoveries and understandings, particularly in relation to ecological and animal studies (Vint 230). Despite science fiction’s privileged status, posthumanism also functions as a legitimising concept for post-2010 Romanian poetry, to distance it from the older generation of Fracturism and biographist minimalism and their ideological convenience in relating to pro-capitalist transformations. I believe there are at least two reasons why the transfers of posthumanist theory to the local cultural field come with a shift in the literary genre. On the one hand, there is a resistance that science fiction literature encounters within the canon of Romanian literature, considered a “vulgar” subgenre (“paraliterature,” as Iovănel considers it) that cannot permeate the mainstream. For this reason, science fiction circulates in restricted literary circles, even though it presents the most predictive formulas and imagery for a posthumanist analysis and has all the tools at its disposal to thematize, question, and criticise the digital and technological transformations of our contemporary world. On the other hand, posthumanism is also a strategy of poetics itself, which re-negotiates its status within contemporary systems of canonisation. In a series of papers on the demarcation between 2000s and post-2000s Generations (Procesul douămiismului, by Mafia Sonetelor), various authors of volumes of poetry use the concept of posthumanism as a legitimizing label. For example, Teona Galgoțiu considers the debates surrounding posthumanism to be extremely relevant to recent poetry, in the same way that the sociopolitical context of the turn of the millennium catalyzed the fracturist direction:
Apart from this, let’s call it, sensitive revolution, what I also find striking in my generation is the growing clash of styles. Just as the socio-political context at the end of the last century was fertile for the fracturist manifesto, for example, and that of the last few years fertile for the increasingly heated discussion about the definition of posthumanism, I think that this movement of young artists “in-between,” bringing all kinds of practices together (and I don’t just mean poetry), is provoked by the so contradictory relationship to the present.
Similarly, Cătălina Stanislav and Elena Boldor state that forms of “posthuman poetry” can be likened to a dialogue between local poets and what is written internationally. For Mihók Tamás, the debates on posthumanism and metamodernism are fertile not only as a background for literature writing today, but also for literary criticism that can use them as tools for exploring poetic depths. For centuries, poetry was the most elevated product of a culture. However, since the post-war era, along with the emergence of cinema, television, comics, graphic novels, and then the Internet – in short, pop culture – “poetry gradually diminishes in importance within the total literary landscape. More and more, it becomes the province of a small, probably inevitably elite, readership, certainly in Western Europe, less so in Eastern Europe, at least until recently” (D’haen 1512). By focusing on the tension between formal entertaining capacities (importing the language of gaming, incorporating images, soundtracks, etc.) and themes of human subjectivity in a virtualized age, poetry shows its desire to reassert its relevance on the new media or social media stage. Or, as Teona Galgoțiu also states, we are witnessing a “repopularization of poetry (through interdisciplinary projects, video poem platforms, and the introduction of poetry in performative performances, workshops for teenagers and students, more and more online publications dedicated to poetry).” Therefore, the marginalisation of science fiction in the Romanian literary field, as well as the resistance to the marginalisation of poetry in current times, results in genre shapeshifts along the transfer from critical posthumanism to the devices of recent literature. Although poetry “dominates” the posthumanist imaginary and ideology, there are also isolated cases in which the novel has aligned itself with these tendencies, even belatedly.
Translations have been crucial in world literature, allowing texts to be disseminated and appreciated in different cultures and languages. According to David Damrosch, any work or author can be included in the world literature system, if it “gains in translation” (Damrosch 281). The criterion of mobility via translation becomes an essential parameter for re-discussing the status of literary texts and the 'universal' canon, from a perspective that shifts the focus from the axiological, value-based vertical to the horizontal one of concrete (immanent) spheres of influence. But the perspective on the role of translation should not be exclusive. Recently, a study by Alex Goldiș demonstrates that the interwar debates on Proustianism in the cluster of subjectivist novels occurred in the absence of a real translation of Proust’s work into Romanian culture. This means that translations are a circumstantial (ergo, not categorical) condition for a text to belong to the realm of world literature, especially in the case of (semi)peripheral cultures such as the Romanian one, eternally connected to a (quasi)hegemonic centre through secondary languages. This is exacerbated with the English language becoming lingua franca and the “instant” interconnectivity of the digital environment. For cultural interference studies, globalisation means, first and foremost, a complex scheme of transfer mechanisms, which can only be addressed tangentially, not systematically or exhaustively. In Alan Kirby’s terms, digital infrastructure has changed not only the way in which we receive and conceptualise textuality, but also the way in which it can be transferred interactively, non-linearly, non-hierarchically, in a context of dispersion and decentralisation of the poles of production of a culture: “All I know for sure (I think) is that computerization has changed and will change the text violently and forever, altering its production, consumption, form, content, economics, and value” (Kirby 246).
Therefore, the translations of Fukuyama and Sloterdijk, then the series initiated by the Post/h/um. Jurnal de studii (post)umaniste, are not the main and fundamental causes for posthumanism’s entrenchment in Romanian culture. Prioritising translations in the field of world literature transfers is part of a logic of cultural transfer specific to modernity. First, contamination cannot (always) be factually verified (Guesse 30), except through an identification of “elective affinities” between fictional texts and the nodes of a vast and complex theory. Examples of explicit claims are not only easy, but also isolated – the use of philosophical neologisms (in Mihók Tamás’s texts), paratextual clarifications about the “sources”' of the volume (in Nóra Ugron's poems), or cases where translators from posthumanist theory write volumes of related verse (Vasile Mihalache’s volume Mort după om, 2016). Otherwise, influences are recognizable within communities (Lupașcu, Postumanismul 45) and publishing groups: in the last decade, the publishing houses coalescing around posthumanism were OMG Publishing, whose editor, Alex Ciorogar, is responsible for disseminating the concept in relation to the post-2000s generation, and frACTalia, a left-wing, anti-capitalist publishing house that has produced translations of Michel Serres, Timothy Morton, and Paul B. Preciado, as well as collections of experimental, speculative, politically engaged literature, reclaiming a sought-after or elusive posthumanist sensibility (Mihók Tamás, Nóra Ugron, Vlad Moldovan, Sașa Zare, Maia Șerbănescu, the anthology Perturbări în desfășurare, coordinated by V. Leac). Therefore, I believe that the electron cloud model from quantum theory complements the epidemiological metaphor, as it describes both the unpredictability and nebulousness that prevent any nomothetic conclusion regarding transfer routes in recent literature, and the advantage of the local approach in the study of interference. Moreover, the metaphor also refers to the methodological limits of a world literature analysis in the era of accelerated globalisation because a distinction must be made between the utopian project of a discipline (to propose a pan-explanatory theory of how cultures communicate with each other) and the complex reality of interactions between cultural systems.
Alongside the cultural platforms and communities in which they function emanating from or through “elective affinity,” “minority” literatures work as a link between different literary systems (Terian 116-7). In this case, the Romanian-Hungarian inter-systemic interdependence is also relevant, thereby relativising the centre-(semi-)periphery dynamic. The borders between the two Eastern European literary systems have always been porous (historically justified), thanks to groups of Romanian-born writers who speak Hungarian and vice-versa. The phenomenon was also discussed during the 1970s and 1980s, especially around Echinox magazine, where Hungarian and German authors (Péter Egyed, Dezsö Palotăs, William Totok, Rolf Bossert, Horst Samson, etc.) created informal cultural environments, recontextualising Western values and brands in Eastern Europe. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the logic of increased globalisation, what Imre József Balázs calls “bilingvism” or “ambilingvism” emerged in Romanian culture. The author argues that minority authors writing in Hungarian and Romanian are a relatively new option in the Romanian cultural field, and that bilingualism can be a strategy for pluralising aesthetic possibilities and staging locality, which receives a reset by “connecting to several cultural domains at the same time [...], in the case of multilingual environments” (Balázs 83-5). This is also the case of translations/anthologies of contemporary Hungarian poetry through which literary systems enter “haptic” interaction and inscrutable contamination: Către Saturn, înot: tineri poeți din Ungaria (translated by Mihók Tamás, 2021), De mâine pe azi /Holnapról mára (translated by Mihók Tamás, 2017) sau liniște, pace, perversiuni, heppiend: tineri poeți maghiari din Transilvania (translated by Andrei Dósa, 2016).
In conclusion, against the backdrop of late globalisation and the digital means of instantaneous interconnection that have reshaped the way in which we understand literature, the diffusion of posthumanist theory in recent Romanian literature is a complex and difficult process to record using old comparative methodologies. Despite the “free” circulation in the “World Republic of Letters,” the import of posthumanism satisfies local conditions and mutations, determined by a combination of factors closely linked to the “regimes of relevance” of the postcommunist literary field, as well as to the history of literary forms or that of the canon (the mutation from science fiction to poetry). Although translations have played a role in disseminating posthumanist ideas in Romanian culture, they are not the primary cause of the topic's popularity. Rather, the interest in posthumanism has been driven by the need for contemporary writers to engage with global issues and to distance themselves from the conservative aesthetics of previous generations. The interdependence between the Romanian and the Hungarian literary systems has also been relevant in the dissemination of posthumanist ideas, with bilingualism serving as a strategy for pluralising aesthetic possibilities and staging locality. In other words, cultural globalisation (or glocalization) raises questions about concepts such as “instantaneity,” “synchronisation,” or “asymmetry.” Although there have been obvious improvements since previous centuries, core-periphery inequalities have not been fully dissolved. The digital revolution and the rapid spread of information across linguistic and national boundaries have created a paradox of asynchronous instantaneity (a symptomatic oxymoron resulting from the belated import of posthumanism, more than 20 years after its inception) and asymmetry (with divergent, often hijacked meanings, such as the fetishization of technology and alienation in the World Wide Web, among others).
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