Against the grain of many contemporary theoretical positions that indulge in delusions of safety and certainty, Being and Not Being argues that contingency is definitive of the structure of being itself. As a result, any predictions about the future founded upon present or habitual states of being are necessarily subject to possible error given the unpredictability that is the condition of all emergent forms of being. Rather than signal the absence of an ethical dimension, this prior inscription of potential, which gives rise to profoundly unforeseen forms of being, necessarily invokes an a priori ethical demand that is common to biological and technological systems alike. This ethical demand transforms the ‘rules’ of critical and ethical engagement not simply with other, ‘inhuman’ forms of being, but with the future itself. Indeed, this ethical demand requires us to pose serious questions about the legitimacy and usefulness of any decisions made today on the back of predicted futures that erroneously presume the absolute determinability of all beings lacking the alchemical privilege definitive of life. As the exemplary figure of unfounded privilege, it is with Hamlet that the question of life ultimately ends, replaced instead by the extremophile as the figure of unforeseen futures that simply cannot be imagined in the present. To be is the potential to be otherwise, that is to say, to not be that which a given being is.
Richard Iveson was awarded his doctorate from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and then took up a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland. Under the general rubric of posthumanism and the posthuman, his current research focuses on the intersection of Continental Philosophy, emergent technologies and the philosophy of science.
It is Richard Iveson’s great merit to require posthumanists not to neglect the most fundamental deconstructive task of postanthropocentric thinking, after the erosion of the human/machine, and human/animal boundary, namely to address the distinction between organic and inorganic on which the notions of life and matter are founded.
In this lucid and passionately argued book, Richard Iveson provides what is perhaps the most powerful and sustained attack to date on the stubbornly persistent vitalist dogmas in posthumanism, animal studies, and new materialism. His project is not merely a critical and destructive one, though. Rather by proposing and defending a generalized ontology of contingency that exceeds the boundaries of life, Iveson helps readers to appreciate anew the wide swath of ethical exigencies that circulate in the sphere of technology and in other registers of the non-living. This is a splendid work that deserves a wide readership.