Having studied posthumanism and BioArt for my thesis for about a year now, I went in search for a conference CFP that would allow me to adapt some of ideas to aim at a particular target. I found this: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/47315, "Body and Technology: The Instruments of Somaesthetics."
Richard Shusterman, who coined the term "somaesthetics," argues in his "disciplinary proposal" that for too long philosophy has neglected the aesthetics of the body as a practical discipline. Although this is true for the history of philosophy, as a pragmatist philosopher, Shusterman is primarily speaking to this camp. Somaesthetics is a theoretical, pragmatic, and practical philosophy of self-fashioning, a kind of material/fleshy version of Stanley Cavell.
Shusterman defines Somaesthetics provisionally as "the critical, meliorative study of the experience and use of one's body as a locus of sensory-aesthetic appreciation (aisthesis) and creative self-fashioning. It is therefore also devoted to the knowledge, discourses, practices, and bodily disciplines that structure such somatic care or improve it" (Shusterman 1999). Thus, aesthetics here is not limited to the fine arts, but rather many practices of every day life, including breathing and movement.
Shusterman goes on to create distinctions among the various components and modes of Somaesthetics. For my purposes, the distinction he makes between representational and experiential somaesthetics will be the most relevant. Representational SA deal with external appearances and experiential, the "inner." Of course, Shusterman recognizes that many "inner" somaesthetics are facilitated by external practices and movements (i.e. yoga, tai chi, martial arts) and that external somaesthetics may be an attempt to represent to the outside world and inner state. Nor is this an attempt to reinscribe a Cartesian mind/body split. The body is not treated as an object for study, as when we speak of musico-aesthetics, but rather "a crucial sensory medium for enhancing our dealings with all other aesthetic objects and also with matters not standardly aesthetic."
Certain Bioartists stand at the threshold of bodily aesthetic practices and what one might call "the fine arts." Bioart is art that uses life as its medium, whether that life is tissue culture, other non-human animals, or the artist's own body. Both Bioart and somaesthetics focus on creative self-fashioning. Furthermore, Bioart is a theoretical practice -- that is -- its theory must be put into practice so that it be undergone and experienced rather than theorized about as an object. Thus, Bioart may be considered to be what Shusterman calls a "performative somaesthetic," which may not be easily reduced to either a representational or experiential somaesthetic, since it is the bioartists job to create an affective experience for the audience (sometimes inviting participation) while at the same time using the power of representative or performative art -- the experience of bioart is transformative for both the artist, the audience, and potentially the artwork (even if it is not the artist).
While somaesthetics in Shusterman's text seems to focus on self-fashioning, discipline, and control, Bioartists, as much as they strive to control their projects, focus on the contingent external forces of life and the materials used to sustain it. As a theoretical-practice-art that questions easy distinctions between the living and the nonliving and the human and the nonhuman, Bioart asks questions about not only the aesthetic of the human body, but the aesthetics and affects of a plurality of bodies. In other words, Bioart may lead us to consider what a posthuman somaesthetics might look like.
Of course, as is usually the case, someone has already investigated the question of posthuman somaesthetics. In his essay "Pragmatism, Artificial Intelligence, and Posthuman Bioethics: Shusterman, Rorty, Foucault," J.J. Abrams argues that the posthuman could be considered the radical extreme of creative self-fashioning.
However, Abrams' understanding of the posthuman is primarily drawn from extropian and transhumanist sources such as Francis Fukuyama, Hans Moravec, and Ray Kurzweil. Abrams understands the posthuman as simply the next step in human evolution, taking for granted that Kurzweil's predictions will come true. Abrams looks to science fiction as a guide for studying "how the body may be refashioned here on earth and in the vicinity" (Abrams 2004). But the science fiction visions that Abrams draws upon are the predictions of Kurweil and Co., a particular strand of posthumanism that would never claim. along with N. Katherine Hayles, that perhaps we have "always already been posthuman. (Hayles 1999). Indeed, Abrams does not take into account the critical posthumanism that was beginning to develop through the work of Hayles, Cary Wolfe, Neil Badmington, etc. Abrams does take Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" into account, but misses her point by reading her through his transhumanist and popular posthumanist (Fukuyama) sources, claiming that, "Haraway's own vision is to live out one's time on earth--which may, in fact, be unlimited [?] -- as actual living cyborgs. This would certainly involve transformations of the mind, as articulated in Kurzweil's nano-technological brain engineering" (Abrams 2004).
Basically, I propose to put Shusterman's Somaesthetics into conversation with critical posthumanist thought via a consideration of three Bioartists (although, potentially, I will only discuss Stelarc). I hope to point toward a critical posthumanist Somaesthetics while also taking into account some of the limits of somaesthetics scope through attempting to understand Bioart through that lens.