Negative Anthropology. History and Potential of a Discursive Formation
Nothing is more contested in the contemporary humanities than the status of the human. On the one hand, the post-structuralist leitmotif of anti-essentialism has spawned the research paradigm of posthumanism. On the other, scholarship on the anthropocene, the geological era substantially defined by human intervention, has given new significance to the question of what the »anthropos« actually is. Together, these two currents shape a central paradox within the humanities: defining the human is at once prohibited and obligatory.
The German tradition of cultural philosophy has been aware of this ambivalence since Nietzsche. It has constantly struggled with its own anthropocentrism and often strived to minimize its implications. This self-reflexivity produced a stance in the early to mid twentieth century that I call negative anthropology. At its formal core, it eschews any definition of an »essence of man,« but still insists on making the human the main focus of its attention.
This research project aims at a normative reconstruction of negative anthropology as a discursive formation in German thought of the twentieth century. It traces the entanglement of the often conflicting traditions of Philosophical Anthropology, Critical Theory, and Existentialism, and formally reconstructs negative anthropology’s systematic argumentative core. It promises to yield results that can be applied to a variety of fields, like political theory and literary studies, and that are able to negotiate the contradicting claims of posthumanism and theories of the anthropocene.
Ill. above: »Non vitruvian man«. Collage by Hannes Bajohr/Timo Schröder based on Leonardo da Vinci: L'Uomo Vitruviano, Source: Wikimedia