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[ Naming ]

7. Object and Human

Humans have constructed a gap through creating a hierarchy between ourselves and others (nonhuman entities), across which we are unable to communicate. Anthropocentric humans legitimate their authority through the ownership of things. This leads humans to believe that they have the sole rights and power towards the Earth’s resources because only we can name the unknown. This also partly fuels the desire to know everything. Current human behavior is largely based on a unidirectional force that aims to tame and control its environment. In, The Vanishing Book of Life on Earth (2006) Eric R. Pianka, an American herpetologist and evolutionary ecologist who focuses on the factors that influence the evolution of biodiversity, states that;

The biggest enemy we face is anthropocentrism.
This is that common attitude that everything on this earth was put here for “human” use, to be used any way we want. An example of an anthropocentric human is a man with a chain saw cutting down a redwood tree that’s a thousand years old. That is audacity and that is anthropocentrism and that is wrong.[1]

Anthropocentric thinking supplements and defends the human use of our environment through constructing others and objects that rationalise our privilege and approach. The anthropocentric relationship with a thing is to dominate it; creating a name to recall it and then utilising it through its defined function.

After giving the thing a function, humans have crowned it with a name that promotes the use of the object. This is to say that when humans declare that a thing and a name fit through the creation of an object, they become chained together and the dominating system of the human-object relation begins. Throughout the Anthropocene (beginning with industrialisation) humans have persisted in trying to institutionalise a whole system; we categorise everything including ourselves. Industrialisation produced an illusion that enabled humans to believe that we are the creators of things, which confirms our human control over nature and the use of its materials to create products for humans.[2] At the start of the Anthropocentric era, humans continued to distinguish humans from other species found within nature and accelerated their mining of nature as a resource.[3] This helped to cultivate the belief that humans are located at the centre of the world. Humans are currently anxious to name things and to own things. When things have not been categorised by humans we think that we have a responsibility to explore the unknown and define all things. Humans tend to not be able to leave things alone without a name or to be able to exist alongside the unknown. Bill Brown in, Things (2004) states:

For A. S. Byatt protagonist, the quest for things may be a quest for a kind of certainty, but things is a word that tends, especially at its most banal to index a certain limit or liminality, to hover over the threshold between the nameable and unnameable, the figural and unfigurable,
the identifiable and unidentifiable: Dr Seuss’s Thing One and Thing Two.[4]

Humans aim to name all things in the cosmos, which allows humans to convince themselves that owning things through knowledge equates to owning everything in the universe. In contrast, Brown is concerned with not-knowing as a human as well. He raises up the unnameable, unfigurable and unidentifiable to an equal status with the nameable, figural and identifiable. This process proposes the possibility of re-looking at things. Humans tend to think that they can look through objects to find their essence but actually we usually only catch a glimpse of the object, which often ends up reflecting our own views. In response to this situation, Anti-humanism as a theory tries to problematise what is defined as human and non-human.[5] French philosopher Louis Althusser defined Anti-humanism as responding to the issue of Humanism, which was based on the universal figure of the white western heterosexual male and that relegated anyone outside of this universal to the realm of the sub-human. He states in Reading Capital (1970) that, ‘This investment of knowledge, conceived as a real part of the real object, in the real structure of the real object, is what constitutes the specific problematic of the empiricist conception of knowledge’.[6] Living under an anthropocentric society and education, we mistake our interpretation of the object with the actual object/thing itself and tend to not be able to separate the two. Althusser asserts that humans need to alter this universalist ideology, in favour of an absence of human nature. For Althusser, there is no such thing as human nature because humans do not have an essential or universal nature. Therefore, Althusser emphasises the importance of economic and social structures that forge human behaviours and this allowed him to frame Anti-humanism as a structure that does not aim to serve man, but society and its variations as a whole.

Humans are made by their society, as they do not exist in a void, and as a result their perceptual lens is cultivated by a society that is not natural or neutral. A person's view of themselves as a subject is not given at birth, as their beliefs are imposed on them and by them through society and its ideologies. Foucault’s ideas in relation to Anti-humanism can be found in his, The Order of Things (1966) in which he states that, ‘Man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge…As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.’[7] He asserts that humans are a relatively young species and only self-defined from 1650 until now. During this era of knowledge/power, humans aim to reinterpret themselves through psychoanalysis, anthropology and linguistics. Althusser also highlights that we are still in a relatively new period in which research and analysis is trying to explore what makes a human, human. Both Althusser and Foucault agree that we are yet in an early stage of raising our consciousness in relation to defining what a human is. Therefore, how can human beings be certain in the meaning applied to objects that humans have created? 

The Posthuman theorist Rosi Braidotti states that there is an alternative approach to the Anthropocene:

As a brand of vital materialism, post-human theory contests the arrogance of anthropocentrism and the ‘exceptionalism’ of the Human as a transcendental category. It strikes instead an alliance with the productive and immanent force of zoe (non-human), or life in its non-human aspects.[8]

Braidotti explains how anti-humanism began in response to the Twentieth Century World World Wars and that the universal human (white heterosexual western male) within Humanism enabled those who were not regarded as fitting this universal model to be mistreated as subhuman. Contemporary Post-humanist theory tries to transform this approach not only by overhauling the category of the human but also the realm of non-humans. They challenge the notion that non-humans should be defined as lesser than humans because of the anthropocentric thinking that constructs the default human subject as having more value than other entities on the planet. Posthumanism is not a unidirectional force but a complex subject-object relation, suggesting that humans and non-humans are entangled together. Maria de la Bellacasa claims in her book, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (2017), that in a human-soil relationship:

… soil is not just a habitat or medium for plants and organisms, nor is it just decomposed material, the organic and mineral end-product of organism activity. Organisms are soil. A lively soil can only exist with and through a multi species community of biota that makes it.[9]

The complex relationship that Bellacasa identifies in human-soil systems is also connected to Bruno Latour’s, Actor-Network-Theory (1996).[10] Latour argues that ‘Power is always the illusion people get when they are obeyed... people who are obeyed discover what their power is really made of when they start to lose it. They realise, but too late, that it was ‘made of’ the wills of all the others.’[11] Human, as an actor, absolutely needs other human and non-human (tool, thing or object) to work with in order to do ‘action’. Latour asserts that any entity (nonhuman or human) in Actor-Network-Theory is defined as an ‘actant’, which means that nonhumans are also active in the construction of our worlds. Therefore, human and non-human materials are both equally actors within our networked society. Latour argues that humans often identify non-humans (especially those that are inanimate or non-sentient) as being inferior to humans and assume that non-human elements are only materials and resources for supporting humans. Latour points out that humans should treat all actors as equal, whether they are a human, animal, architecture or a smart phone. Human and non-human are integrated through our contemporary technological society and each entity is an actor that is constantly networking with other actors. This also enables each actor/actant in the network to continually redefine themselves and the network itself. Graham Harman’s theory, Object-Oriented-Ontology, also highlights the nuances within and between things; ’Real objects are units, but not empty poles of unity, since this would make all things identical. Things also have qualities that belong to them while differing from them.’[12] The looseness that Harman describes as occurring within the internal organization of things allows us to see the awkwardness present in objects when restricted by human parameters. Harman advocates that human should see themselves as one object among many, instead of maintaining absolute faith in human experience and its domination in relation to the cosmos.

In, Gender Trouble (1990) Judith Butler highlights that even our bodies have been restricted through a process of naming and that our genders should be far more fluid:    

Are there ever humans who are not, as it were, always already gendered? The mark of gender appears to “qualify” bodies as human bodies; the moment in which an infant becomes humanised is when the question, “is it a boy or girl?” is answered. Those bodily figures who do not fit into either gender fall outside the human, indeed, constitute the domain of the dehumanised and the abject against which the human itself is constituted. If gender is always there, delimiting in advance what qualifies as the human, how can we speak of a human who becomes a gender, as if gender were a postscript or a cultural afterthought? [13]

Butler highlights that the Anthropocentric ordering of our environment also includes the classification of our human bodies. The assignations that we construct for bodies, such as boy and girl, limits what we can become. Therefore, this system of naming limits both the human and nonhuman ability to self-present. The traditional perspective of Humanist values is classified through the processes of identification, qualification and morality. In The Order of Things (1966), Foucault classifies the episteme through three stages, Renaissance Episteme,[14] Classical Episteme and Modern Episteme. Especially, in the first episteme, humans are characterised by resemblance and similitude. Particularly since the Renaissance, our human sense of purpose is produced through the search for fitting ourselves into a group, gender, company, society etc. We are in pursuit of a qualification to prove that we are normal or a sanctioned part of the universal Humanist subject. During the eighteenth century, instead of seeking religious or mythical idols beyond the scope of knowledge, humans started to self-identify the ‘I’ as the most powerful arbiter of knowledge. For Immanuel Kant, the principle end goal of God’s identification that humans are naturally moral beings was that the world was created according to our human moral needs. Art was first created for praising or representing the power of God or wealthy patrons. However, during the Enlightenment period, humans changed this to a celebration of self-identity and the human ability to morally judge and reason. The notion of Human was transformed and relied less on religious or mythical idols. Instead, humans believed in their own divinity or ‘genius’ to create or select and own art. For Kant critiquing is a never-ending activity inherent in reason, he explains that, ‘…it was the duty of philosophy to destroy the illusions which had their origin in misconceptions, whatever darling hopes and valued expectations may be ruined by its explanations’.[15] Kant also asserted that through critiquing and identifying the limits and opportunities within the creativity of human thought, it’s development and refinement would become the ultimate goal of human destiny. There is a Humanist and Anthropocentric drive that searches for identification, qualification and definition in the face of increasingly chaotic situations. In contrast, to this drive for human control over all things, the architect Louis Kahn states that even a brick wants to be something:

You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to brick, ‘Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’
And then you say: ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch’.[16]

In Kahn’s version, even a common brick wants to be something more than it is; it wants to be something better than a brick or just to be a brick that is part of something great. Kahn asks a brick what it wants to do and through this suggests that the brick has the capacity to think and speak. Therefore, Kahn projects onto the object a form of anthropomorphic agency. It appears as though Kahn is having a conversation with the brick; discussing and collaborating in order to make a decision. However, Kahn is most likely talking to himself or his reflection, so the brick acts as a critical device as opposed to an actor. To anthropomorphize an object, is to take human thought as the standard logical principle and then project this onto the object. In contrast, in Harman’s object-oriented-ontology, humans should not attempt to try to ask opinions from an object (brick) as its internal reality is very different to human understanding and consciousness.

In the Anthropocentric approach, humans have the opportunity to ‘decide’ what to see and what to use because they have positioned themselves above other objects. Baudrillard asserts in Cool Memories (1987) that, ‘… we are condemned to social coma, political coma, historical coma.’[17] In this statement, Baudrillard positions all humans as controlled through social, political, economic and historical systems, including language (hence the emphasis of the word ‘coma’).

Baudrillard defined hyperreal in Simulacra and Simulation (1981) as, ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality’.[18] He states that because human contemporary time exists in these systems, it is impossible to see the real ‘real’ and the hyperreal has replaced the real.[19] Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly mixed together so that there is no clear distinction between real and fiction. Humans no longer believe in an original or pure realm of the real, if they ever could, because the mediated information that we receive is more reliable than any unknown things that we might encounter. In the Post-truth era, humans have lost our faith in concrete or original truths and instead we are relying on the satisfaction of selecting from a ‘choice’ of mediated options (what can be seen and what can be used). Foucault claims that in the modern episteme humans are at the beginning of uncovering themselves. After being used to receiving and accepting all information from a third-person, Foucault asserts that we are beginning to question the act of receiving identification, qualification and definition from others. Simultaneously, this process reflects that humans are also seeking self-qualification and questioning their own identify. For example, the process of naming provided humans with an ownership over things and anthropomorphizing objects allowed humans to look at themselves reflected in an object. Foucault suggests that this will be different when the superiority of humans is erased, like a footprint drawn in sand that disappears in the waves of time. Humanity’s print is present on things, but as time goes on, it will be erased.

Naming as a key human process still persists but it does increasingly appear (even if subconsciously) to contemporary society to be an old, unstable, fragile forging passage that attempts to bridge the gulf between things and humans via the identified and named object. However, perhaps we have not yet made it into the era of uncovering and repurposing human relations to the future world that Foucault predicted. Naming is still a prevalent and generic process that aims to simplify the complex interconnectivity of things. Therefore, I propose the following questions towards my research and practice: what will happen if all names are flexible and easy to displace? What will the art viewer see if the thing’s name is left blank or put into a network with words that do not attempt to classify its purpose/intent? Will the viewer have a different relationship to what they are looking at? 

[1] Eric R. Pianka, The Vanishing Book of Life on Earth <> (accessed 22. October. 2019)

[2] Industrialisation - A process that based on the manufacturing of goods. Individual manual labor is often replaced by mechanised mass production, and craftsmen are replaced by assembly lines.

[3] Nature - A term that be used to describe creation that made from the nature, have not been reproduce by human. For example: sea, wild animals, snow.

[4] Bill Brown, Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 4.

[5] Anti-humanism - Louis Althusser argued that there is no such thing as intrinsic humanity, hymens are all the product of external forces. Apart from the necessity of human beings to engage in productive relations with other human beings and with their environment in order to produce their means of subsistence, there is no human nature or essence.

[6] Louis Althusser, Reading Capital (1970) <> (accessed 19. January.2020)

[7] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (Routledge: London and New York, 1966), 421.

[8] Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Polity Press: Cambridge, UK), 66.

[9] Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Making time for soil: Technoscientific futurity and the pace of care <> (accessed 25. October.2019)

[10] Actor-Network Theory - a framework and systematic way to consider the infrastructure surrounding technological achievements. Assigns agency to both human and non-human actors.

[11] Latour, Bruno. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press: New Jersey,1986. Quoted in Cressman, Darryl. ‘A Brief Overview of Actor-Network Theory: Punctualization, Heterogeneous Engineering & Translation’. Canada: Simon Fraser University, 2009, 5.

[12] Graham Harman, Bell and Whistles-More Speculative Realism (Zero books: Winchester, 2013), 62.

[13] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Rutledge, 1990), 111.

[14] Don Quixote - A negative of the Renaissance world; writing has ceased to be the prose of the world; resemblances and signs have dissolved their former alliance; similitudes have become deceptive and verge upon the visionary or madness; things still remain stubbornly within their ironic identity: they are no longer anything but what they are; words wander off on their own, without content, without resemblance to fill their emptiness; they are no longer the marks of things; they lie sleeping between the pages of books and covered in dust.’(Foucault, 1966)

[15] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. J. M. D. Meiklejohn (University of Adelaide: South Australia), p.6<> (accessed 11. May.2020)

[16] Nathaniel Kahn, My Architect: Louis Kahn: Himself (New York: New Yorker Films, 2003)

[17] Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories:1980-1985, translated by Chris Turner (London: Verso, 1987), 5.

[18] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, translated by Sheila Glaser (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), 1.

[19] Hyperreal - Jean Baudrillard defined as the generation by models of a real without origin or reality; a representation, a sign, without an original referent.


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