Dominique Babin, PH1. Manuel d'usage et d'entretien du post-humain. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. Pp. 252. ISBN 2082102793, €18.00.

Reviewed by Stefan Herbrechter, University of Leeds.

PH1 – or Posthuman.1 – comes with a bright pink wrapper claiming: 'everything you will experience over the next few years unless you should have the rather ludicrous idea to die beforehand.'

This User's Guide and Service Manual of the Posthuman, as the subtitle explains, is part of a growing number of books published in France that explore the borderline between philosophy (or 'theory'), anthropology (or 'cultural studies'), 'popular' science and science fiction (other recent examples include Jean-Michel Truong, Totalement inhumaine – essai, 2001; Yves Michaud, Humain, inhumain, trop humain – réflexions philosophiques sur les biotechnologies, la vie et la conservation de soi à partir de l'oeuvre de Peter Sloterdijk, 2002; and Dominique Lecourt, Humain, posthumain – la technique et la vie, 2003).

The central premise and justification for a mixed approach that liberally fuses science fiction, film, popular culture, lived experience, social theory and speculative thought, is the idea of a paradigm shift in terms of the effects recent technological developments will have had on the individual and the idea of humanity as we know it (i.e. 'liberal humanism'). In a little section called 'Vous, cyborg [You, Cyborg]', Babin writes: 'Downloading consciousness onto computers, assembling bodies out of a variety of parts (human, pig, robot), neurological implants and personality-changing medicines… The meaning of what we refer to as 'I' is set to change radically in posthumanity' (137-138).

What PH1 provides is a fairly complete and thoroughly entertaining account of a great variety of events, developments and changes in many areas that may have catapulted us into 'posthumanity'. In five chapters and one epilogue Babin groups these phenomena under the prefix 'post': Post-Death, Post-Body, Post-Ego, Post-Relation and Post-Réalité (interestingly all in English in the original except for the last one). 'Post-Death' provides a context for the crucial stage of current technological endeavours to overcome our 'outrageous human condition', our mortality and their effects on evolution. All the generations of currently living humans have to do is to 'hang in there' long enough to benefit from processes like cryogenics and nano-medical surgery. The strength of Babin's cultural anthropological approach is that it presents and integrates biological evolutionary aspects, psychological, culturalist and technological explanations of human development. Death, from an evolutionary point of view, has been beneficial to the survival and progression of the human species, a fact which, in modernity, has been entirely obliterated by increasing individualisation and the 'denaturalisation of death' (19). But not only the finality of death but also that of the ageing process is now being challenged by technology which allows us to understand ageing as an 'illness' (hence the slogan 'age kills – kill age'). However, all is not rosy in the future geriatric paradise of the 'geriborgs' because huge social problems await a society and a world in which overpopulation and increasing longevity are contributing to environmental destruction, where resources are unequally distributed and access to technological development remains controlled by capital.

One of the major impediments on our way to posthumanity is the body which, consequently, becomes the main battleground for technophiles and technophobes. The chapter on 'Post-Body' describes on the one hand the increasing 'cyborgisation' of humanity – a fact, however, that may be as old as humanity itself – with its new medical questions about where to draw the line between reparative prostheticisation and artificial 'augmentation'. A specific example Babin discusses at some length is the present and future of doping in high-performance sports and everyday fitness practices. The idea of 'transgenic athletes' in the future is also linked to questions of eugenics of course. If the gene-technology is available why not 'pre-order your own copy' of the next world record holder in 100m? Certain genetic modifications involving the mixture of animal genes could help develop additional qualities that may extend human sportive or physical performance and could also create what Babin calls a kind of 'Body Shop of Art' (59) with further expansions of bioart and biotech gadgets like genetically modified, hypoallergenic cats for example. Science fiction cinema (like Alien Resurrection, or Gattaca) increasingly provides a 'forum for discourses on the impact of biotechnologies on society and nature' (71). Again the possibilities are not without problems: there will be winners and losers in a 'geneticist' environment in which 'genetic capital' may become as important or even more so than cultural, social and economic capital. Social competition will embrace 'genetic consumerism' as merely another phase of 'hyper-capitalism'. Not only is the boundary between human and machine becoming increasingly blurred but an extension of the ethical and political problematic (cf. for example Chris Hables Gray's manifesto for a 'Cyborg Bill of Rights', at http://www.ugf.edu/CompSci/CGray/CYBILL.htm) regarding the boundaries at the other end of the spectrum – i.e. human-animal – is equally to be expected, which may in fact create 'human subspecies'. 'Humanised' apes might for example be used as surrogate mothers for human babies, which, according to Babin, poses all sorts of ethical problems for a 'post-ape' society.

The effects of posthumanity on our understanding of identity may be even more profound at a psychological level. In 'Post-Ego', Babin explains, personality and consciousness, 'far from being a personal property… [are] a cultural and social saga, a collective fiction, a constantly changing construction that can be easily influenced and is hyper-receptive to technological advancements and fashions' (106). Theory has of course contributed to the deconstruction of the Cartesian ego but might now have been overtaken by technological developments and also psycho-spatial changes due to (cultural, media and economic) globalisation. What is curious in this context is that depersonalisation and individualism are in fact not opposed, which makes Foucault's notion of self-governing' rather difficult to sustain. How to face the ever-increasing hedonistic needs of a protean and plastic ego which finds itself constantly threatened by postmodern 'multiphrenia', in a societal structure that is more and more weakened by individualistic ideologies? The 'tiredness of being oneself' (Ehrenberg) however poses fundamental existential questions that are reinforced by a huge 'disenchantment' that the bankruptcy of our old humanist beliefs has produced. The demythologising of intelligence, emotion and the 'self' as such, now all more or less explicable, analysable and hence manipulatable by a combination of neuroscience, biochemistry and nano-medicine leads to the question whether 'man' is not only not that different from other animals but may also be understood in quite machinic and mechanical terms. When the mystery of humanity and human 'genius' disappear the survival of the species may also be in danger. This leads to the question of 'our successor', 'Emergent Intelligences' and robotics.

The psychological changes to identity at an individual level as a result of technological development have to be seen in conjunction with changes affecting the social domain and hence our relation to others. In 'Post-Relation', Babin evaluates the effects of mobility, urbanisation, virtualisation and mediatisation which all lead to a decrease in importance of social exchange with a concrete other: 'the urban dweller who does no longer envisage participation as a necessity loses the experiecne of a common destiny. The other is no longer intimately similar to oneself. Our capacity for empathy, to feel that what happens to the other as if it happened to us diminishes considerably. The other becomes an abstraction' (150). It is the combination of neoliberal marketisation with its ideology of 'flexibility' and 'fluidity' which makes friendship, solidarity and stability appear obsolete. Posthuman relations are based on the narcissistic values of networks, social appeal and 'formated' friendships (like e.g. self-help and dating groups, interactive robots, chatrooms, electronic toys, etc.) and an increased dematerialisation of exchange.

All the previous points contribute to a fundamental change of the perception we have of our environment and ourselves, our 'reality'. In 'Post-Réalité', Babin finally tackles the growing influence of the media and technologies of virtualisation. Cinema again plays a prominent role, namely in an in-depth analysis of The Truman Show. Babin accepts Baudrillard's diagnosis of the increasing disappearance of the real behind the precession of simulacra but, as cultural anthropologist she obviously claims that these simulations, these forms, are not without content and therefore have to be taken seriously and analysed rather than thrown into the dustbin of general nostalgic, nihilistic disengagement. Babin reopens the old but increasingly fascinating Marxian question whether 'cultural control can lead to social control' or whether 'controlling the cultural imaginary' leads to material and behavioural changes; and looks at some trends in 'hyper-contemporary' American society from Bush's presidential election to new ideal communitarian privatopias, the general expansion of the theme park model, retailtainment, urbantainment, lifies and the general sensationalisation of the self, the world and the cinema, new forms of pathologies like Attention Deficit Disorder, all of which contribute to what she calls, 'existential zapping' (213). Infotainment, militainment and politainment are all signs of the increasing power of the thoroughly market-driven media combined with an ideology or 'imperative' of amusement. One effect of this development is the advent of the 'Governator', Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as governor of California as a reaction against a 'hijacking of politics by pressure groups'. It was the 'silent majority' that recognized itself in Schwarzie's 'I'll be back'. Incidentally, it is part of the delicious irony of this book that Babin should have dedicated it to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ph1 is a fascinating synthesis of trends and questions that have been analysed in more details by the pioneers in posthumanist thinking – Donna Haraway, Katherine N. Hayles, Chris Hables Gray… However it impresses by its accessibility, the sheer amount of information and its sometimes disengenious, sometimes slightly cynical but rather friendly tone. It is an excellent 'user's manual' as long as one is not looking for ready-made instructions. But in order to make sense of what bears all the signs of a paradigm shift as big as the transition from antiquity to modernity it is a trustworthy critical companion. It does not side with either the 'catastrophists or techno-prophets' as Babin explains in an interview (http://www.chronicart.com/mag/mag_article.php3?id=1215). Above all it does justice to the fact that in the muddy waters of posthumanity the imaginary boundary between fiction and reality is all but dissolved. In this respect the little 'semi-fictional' scenarios in between the 'factual' accounts are not only amusing epigraphs but an entire parallel discourse which talks about Dracula resuscitated by cloning and the creation of a huge vampire themepark in Transylvania; the recreational link-up between human and animal consciousness (and how a man in search for this kind of 'posthuman' experience 'becomes' an eagle and electrocutes his brains by flying into an electricity pylon); or the distress of a couple of parents at their son's decision to marry an ape (which they put down to the fact that he had a primate as his surrogate mother). But the whole extent of posthuman 'upheaval' may become tangible in this little episode:

Do you know what she did? She had an embryo implanted which was her own father's clone! Can you imagine! She says that he at least won't disappoint her! She divorces, says good-bye, and goes on to have her own father implanted, just like that! Five years of psycho-therapy that were so expensive they ate up half of our money and then she goes and has her father implanted into her!

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