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The Centre for Humanities Innovation

New Concepts and Terms

This glossary is intended to broaden the scope and vocabulary of humanistic thinking and to draw it closer to controversial issues and futuristic visions. The glossary is open for contributions in all disciplines and interdisciplinary areas, with each entry (up to 500 words) defining a term/concept that is relatively new to the humanities or is coined by the authors themselves. Every week we will be adding a new 'concept'.

This week's new concept is:

Transhumanities, Transformative Humanities - the future-oriented humanities that do not limit themselves to scholarship, but rather seek to create their own ways of changing what they study and transforming the human world.

We know that technology serves as the practical extension ("application") of the natural sciences, and politics as the extension of the social sciences: both technology and politics are designed to transform what their respective disciplines study objectively: nature and society. Is there any activity in the humanities that would correspond to this transformative status of technology and politics?

Nature

natural sciences

technology

transformation of nature

Society

social sciences

politics

transformation of society

Culture

the humanities

the transhumanities

transformation of culture

The transformative humanities encompass all humanistic technologies and all practical applications of cultural theories. When offering a certain theory, we need to ask ourselves if it can inaugurate a new cultural practice, a new artistic movement, a new disciplinary field, a new institution, a new life-style, or a new intellectual community.

For example, the main insights of literary theory, as we study its innovative ideas and peak achievements, are found not in scholarly monographs or articles, but in varios genres of the transhumanities, in particular, literary manifestos, which are products of theoretical imagination, rather than of empirical study and scholarly scrutiny. The manifestos of Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Naturalism, Symbolism, Futurism, or Surrealism proclaim new literary movements and cultural epochs, and they trigger these movements by the very act of their proclamation. Manifestos are performative rather than descriptive speech acts; they implement what they pronounce. Those who found new literary movements typically are not scholars, but a separate breed of creators of ideas and theories. They are transformative thinkers and humanistic inventors.

Manifestos are neither factual nor fictional—they are formative. The proper place of manifestos is precisely in the as yet unmarked domain of theoretical inventions, or the transhumanities. The transhumanities embrace both modes of cognitive advancement recognized by the sciences: the discovery of some existing principles and facts, and the invention of those tools and ideas that can transform a given area of study. Inventorship, as a mode of creativity, is as indispensable a companion to scholarship in the humanities as technology is to science. The transhumanities can be defined in Mikhail Bakhtin’s words as “the co-creativity of those who understand [culture]”, as the constructive and transformative potential of cultural theories.

Our academic institutions, however, currently have no place for such avenues of conceptual creativity. There are departments of literary theory and scholarship (“comparative literature”); departments or programs of fiction and creative writing; but there are no departments of constructive writing in “practical theory”, no transhumanities departments.

Is there any institution in contemporary academia in which such literary inventors and builders as Friedrich Schlegel, Vissarion Belinsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, André Breton, or Walter Benjamin, could flourish as professionals? Imagine Friedrich Nietzsche applying for the position of assistant professor in a department of philosophy and bringing his book Thus Spake Zarathustra as confirmation of his credentials—a book without a single reference, with no list of sources, devoid of scholarly apparatus, and full of pompous metaphysical declarations voiced by an arrogant author in the guise of an ancient Persian prophet. Most likely Nietzsche would be denied even the position of an instructor, while, following his death, dozens of distinguished professors of philosophy have made their careers studying Nietzsche’s oeuvre. The contemporary academy dismisses humanistic inventorship, while retrospectively holding it in such high esteem. The academy’s failure to recognize the cognitive status of the transhumanities raises the question of whether various intellectual capacities are adequately represented at our universities. According to Alfred North Whitehead, “the task of a University is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue.” Humanistic inventorship, even more directly than humanistic scholarship, shapes our future. For the humanities to survive and to enhance their intellectual impact on society, their transformative branches need to be recognized and institutionalized in contemporary universities by establishing programs in creative thinking and humanistic inventions. The academy needs creative minds in these fields no less than they need the academy.

Mikhail Epstein
(26 November 2013)
Source: Mikhail Epstein. The Transformative Humanities: A Manifesto. London, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2012

protologism (Gr protos, first, original + Gr logos, word; cf. prototype, protoplasm) - a freshly minted and not yet widely accepted word. It is a prototype, a pilot lexical unit which may eventually be adopted for a public service or remain a whim of linguo-poetic imagination.

Protologisms and neologisms are different age groups of verbal population. Along with the decrepit, obsolescent archaisms facing death, and strong, thriving middle-aged words that make up the bulk of the vocabulary, we should recognize neologisms (youngsters vigorously making their way into public spaces) and protologisms (newborns still in their cradles and nurtured by their parents). Once a protologism has found its way into media, it becomes a neologism. Every newly coined word, even if deliberately promoted for general or commercial use, has initially been a protologism; none can skip that infancy phase. As it achieves public recognition, it gets upgraded to neologism; once firmly established in public domain, it becomes “just a word.”

Neologisms are hard to tell from protologisms based on numbers alone. How many leaves it takes to get a “heap”? Ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand? It is a matter of convention. I would suggest considering any word used independently by at least ten authors and found on at least a thousand webpages a neologism.

A protologism, however, doesn’t have to strive ambitiously to become a neologism; childhood has its own charm and value. Kids are blessed with imagination and creativity that often fade as people mature. Sometimes a poetic word – a “one-word poem” – may be deemed unfit for practical purposes precisely because of its poetic nature. It may be a good poem or a bad poem, but it has to be judged in aesthetic rather than functional terms. "Lexicopoeia" as the minimal genre of verbal art judges the words based on such essential criteria as wit, power of imagination, expressive and inventive energy, conceptual courage rather than potential for general circulation and routine usage.

Mikhail Epstein
(17th November 2013)

ambiutopia (the prefix "ambi-" from Greek "amphi-", "from both sides", cf. "ambivalent") - a combination of utopianism and anti-utopianism, their dramatic interchangeability.

For previous generations, utopia and anti-utopia, the aspiration for the ideal future and the fear of such compulsive ideals, were clearly opposed. The generation of the early twentieth century was utopian, whereas by the second half of the century anti-utopian moods became predominant. The generation of the early twenty-first century is utopian and anti-utopian at the same time, we are both attracted to, and repelled by, the future. Having experienced both the periods of fiery utopianism and ardent anti-utopianism, we can now appreciate the thinness of their divide. The most frightening aspect of utopias, according to Nikolai Berdiaev’s bon mot, is that they have the propensity to come true. We dread the same things that we impatiently await: the arrival of the technotronic and psychotronic civilization and the age of the intelligent machines that could transform us into their tools and servants. We anticipate the fulfillment of all our desires, and, at the same time, fear that this ultimate techno-revolution will erase the thin line between the psychic and the real, between the internal and the external, and between thought and being. Unlike the decadents of the late nineteenth century, we do not long for the destructive, but we are aware of the possible destructiveness of our longings.

Armed with our knowledge of the dangers of utopia, we are left with some hope of avoiding them since we share neither the enthusiasm of our grandfathers, nor the skepticism of our fathers. With the acceleration of progress, the role of the brakes becomes more important. People are afraid of the advent of clones, genetic engineering, and a new race of robots, because all these advances may lead us to a dystopian ending. If we continue to press the gas pedal of technological advances with one foot, we also must keep the other foot on the eschatological brakes. Only by using both pedals, as in ambiutopianism, can we proceed safely through the rough terrain of the future. An early example of an ambiutopia that both glorifies and denounces the communist future is Andrei Platonov's novel Chevengur (1926 - 1928).

Mikhail Epstein
(7th November 2013)

Alphabetical Glossary of New Concepts and Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z