As Luigi Pellizzoni points out in a recent book, Heidegger is a difficult figure to situate within the ongoing discourse of critical posthumanism. I’ve always thought it was kind of curious that Heidegger is entirely absent from Karen Barad’s Meeting The Universe Halfway, despite the obvious thematic similarities between the two thinkers’ work. Lately I’ve been going back and reading some Heidegger to try and figure out why Barad doesn’t want to engage with him, and, maybe more to the point, how one might bridge the gap between their respective projects.
To start, let’s maybe think a bit about how human responsibility is figured for Heidegger. Here’s an interesting bit from his “Letter on Humanism”:
The human being is in thrownness. This means that the human being, as the ek-sisting counterthrow [Gegenwurf] of being, in more than the animal rationale precisely to the extent that he is less bound up with the human being conceived from subjectivity. The human being is not the lord of beings. The human being is the shepherd of being. Human beings lose nothing in this ‘less’; rather, they gain in that they attain the truth of being. They gain the essential poverty of the shepard, whose dignity consists in being called by being itself into the preservation of being’s truth” (260)
So, is this a good way of understanding Barad’s conception of human responsibility? Does what she terms our “ability to respond” figure us as a kind of “shepard” to the universe? This is obviously a tricky analogy, in that it sort of flattens out the rest of the beings that, in an agential realist account, iteratively co-constitute the universe alongside us humans as a flock of sheep, but it also captures something that I think is essential to Barad’s critique of the liberal humanist subject: Where liberal humanism more or less situates The Human as the ‘lord’ of the rest of nature (in so far as he is not so much “responsible” for it but rather a kind of arbiter of what is to be done with it), Barad’s agential realist account really emphasizes the degree to which our responsibility (literally, ability to respond) obligates us to participate in the world’s ongoing enactment in a manner that is sensitive and responsive to the others alongside whom we iteratively emerge. For both Heidegger and Barad, we can see this effort to eschew the liberal humanist justification for anthropocentric exceptionalism, while at the same time retaining a kind of unique position for “the human” on the basis of our capacity to respond or “be called”.