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Alien Phenomenology, Or, What It's Like to be a Thing?

Ian Bogost

In Alien Phenomenology: What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost provides a new approach for understanding the experience of things. He elaborates an object-oriented ontology, that puts things at the centre of being; a philosophy in which nothing exists any more or less than anything else; in which humans are elements, but not the sole or even primary elements of philosophical interest. Positioned as a critique of the limitations of the term ‘non- human’, he argues that most discourse focuses either too much on human survival or on life as a reference point.

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

Eduardo Kohn

Based on four years of fieldwork with the Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, Eduardo Kohn presents the book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond Human, where he challenges the very foundations of anthropology; questioning our central assumptions of what it means to be human, distinct and superior from all other life forms. Within his fieldwork, he explored how Amazonians interact with other creatures within the complex ecosystem, observing how this has broken down within wider society. He offers new ways that we can think about the world that we share with other kinds of beings, without losing sight of what it is to be fundamentally human.

Ventus and Lady of Mazes

Karl Schroeder

Thalience is a concept invented by Science-Fiction author Karl Schroeder to explore a realm of entities that are not quite subjects, but not entirely objects either. Within Lady of Mazes and Ventus he develops the the concept further, within Ventus, he consistently refers to 'thalience' as a state of being. Entities are considered 'thalient' if they succeed in developing their own categories for understanding the world. He muses whether non-human, living and feeling life forms truly are independent minds, or whether they act as ‘parrots’, giving the responses the human researchers that they would expect to hear.

The Savage Mind

Claude Lévi-Strauss

In the work The Savage Mind Claude Lévi-Strauss discusses what he refers to as ‘savage thought’. He makes it clear that he is not referring to a mind or the thinking of a particular type of human, but rather ‘untamed’ human thought. "In this book it is neither the mind of savages nor that of primitive or archaic humanity, but rather mind in its untamed state as distinct from mind cultivated or domesticated for the purpose of yielding a return." He declares that it is wrong to assume a division “between logical and prelogical mentality,” and that the “the savage mind is logical in the same sense and the same fashion as ours”. He explains that all cultures have common components, including myths and systems of classification, and the differences in the content of myths and classifications are primarily a result of variations in knowledge and technology.

AlphaGo vs Lee Sedol

Go is an abstract strategy board game for two players, where the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. The game was invented in China more than 2,500 years ago and is believed to be the oldest board game continuously played to the present day. Go was considered a daunting challenge for Artificial Intelligence, as the game involves multiple difficult decision-making tasks and prior to 2015, the best Go programmes only managed to reach amateur dan level. Google later developed AlphaGo, capable of beating human world-ranking competitors and in 2016 famously beating the world champion Lee Sedol. AlphaGo initially learned from thousands of games played by professional human players, can decide on the next move based on a probability to win associated with each of the possible moves and can improve through reinforcement learning.

Tabita Rezaire

Tabita Rezaire does not describe herself or her practice as Afrofuturist, but her work looks at similar themes, focusing on the role of the digital and especially the internet. Less than half of the world has access to the internet and usually at low speeds and high prices, 18% of the African population are active users. Tabita argues that, far from being an economic and social leveller, the internet reinforces further the hegemony of the West. “It’s electronic colonialism. It’s not the liberalising tool we’ve been sold. Instead it reproduces oppression and inequality; from racism, misogyny and homophobia to economic and racial exclusion. We are no longer colonial subjects, but we have become cyber slaves. Even the physical structure of the internet, the undersea fibre optic cables, is laid out onto colonial trade routes. The architecture of the internet is based on pain.”

Francois Knoetze

Core Dump is a series of 4 films, Kinshasa (2018), Shenzhen (2019), New York (2019) and Dakar (2018) by Francois Knoetze. You can watch excerpts here.The films are fragmented arrangements of found footage, performance documentation and recorded interviews, with each chapter forming links across different geographies and time. The project responds to the pan-African, Marxist utopias of early African cinema (specifically Ousmane Sembene’s films), and a range of writers and thinkers – from Donna Haraway, Sylvia Wynter and Louis Chude-Sokei to Gayatri Spivak, Franz Fanon, and Aimé Césaire.

Rice Child

Elaine Gan

In Elaine Gan’s work Rice Child, she maps the story of rice over its 2,000 year history. Beginning in the Mekong Delta, where the cultivation of champa rice enabled and supported the development of stable settlements. Taking the tracks- time of technology, matter, memory and the calendar year- Elaine weaves the story of specific varieties of rice and the role they had in socio-political formations and happenings, ending at the 2007-2008 food crisis. The work took the form of the long timeline, which could not be viewed in full from one position, viewers had to walk through time, tracing the narrative and discovering new connections.