Abhuman is a term used to distinguish a disjunction, separation, departure from normal human existence.
In many ways the notion of “posthuman” seems so intertwined with various conflicting ideologies, philosophies, and conceptualities that it has become almost useless. Whereas with use of the “ab-” prefix etymological notion we seem to have a more specific appellation:
word-forming element meaning “away, from, from off, down,” denoting disjunction, separation, departure; from Latin ab (prep.) “off, away from” in reference to space or distance, also of time, from PIE root *apo- “off, away” (also the source of Greek apo “off, away from, from,” Sanskrit apa “away from,” Gothic af, English of, off; see apo-).
The Latin word also denoted “agency by; source, origin; relation to, in consequence of.”
Kelly Hurley writes that the “abhuman subject is a not-quite-human subject, characterized by its morphic variability, continually in danger of becoming not-itself, becoming other.”1 As he says,
Within this genre one may witness the relentless destruction of “the human” and the unfolding in its stead of what I will call, to borrow an evocative term from supernaturalist author William Hope Hodgson, the “abhuman.” The abhuman subject is a not-quite-human subject, characterized by its morphic variability, continually in danger of becoming not-itself, becoming other. The prefix “ab-” signals a movement away from a site or condition, and thus a loss. But a movement away from is also a movement towards – towards a site or condition as yet unspecified – and thus entails both a threat and a promise. (16).
Antecedents of Abhumanism:
Camille Bryen is best known as an abstract painter from the post-World World War II “École de Paris.” At the end of the 1940s and throughout the 1950s, his works were claimed by the various branches of lyrical abstraction dominating the Parisian artworld. It is less known that Bryen together with playwright Jacques Audiberti invented a new philosophical concept, “abhumanism,” which he himself considered as the most appropriate term for his art. Casting into question the humanistic values, both authors claimed a return to vitalistic materiality against the fallacious spiritual aims underlying humanism: “I want to write like the bull mooes,” Audiberti wrote. The books dealing with abhumanism (the founding Ouvre-boîte. Colloque abhumaniste in 1952 and later L’Abhumanisme) designated painting (and that of Bryen in particular) as the abhumanist activity, because of its intrinsic material and earth-bound anti-spirituality. “Abhumanising” Bryen sets his artistic production in the wake of Dada and Surrealism, to which he was affiliated, who clearly accused the Western humanistic civilization of enacting World War I; it also sets him apart from the restricted lyrical and ahistorical argumentation related to post-World War II Parisian abstraction.
Prof. Slavkova is actually working on a second book on artworld in Paris after World War II, focussing on the largely downplayed concept of abhumanism, and artists such as Jacques Audiberti, Camille Bryen and Wols. (https://www.aup.edu/profile/islavkova)
Not sure if I’d want to mix it with “vitalism” though…
The Concept of the Abhuman
To understand the abhuman, one must first define the abject.
The abject is defined by Julia Kristeva to be the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other. Examples may include phlegm, body fluids and hair — these, lacking the context of their human host, bring up feelings of disgust and unease, evident in a later case study by Yobunoshi Araki.
It is argued, however, by Richard Barnett that “images made from (the dissection of the impoverished) portray not the abject but the abhuman, a term coined by W. H. Hodgson in his works of Edwardian weird fiction and recently revived but the gothic scholars Kelly Hurley and David Punter. In literary studies of Gothic fiction, “Abhuman” refers to a “Gothic body” or something that is only vestigially human and possibly in the process of becoming something monstrous. Kelly Hurley writes that the “abhuman subject is a not-quite-human subject, characterized by its morphic variability, continually in danger of becoming not-itself, becoming other.”
In my process towards the understanding of the grotesque, I looked toward a comparison of the European grotesque and the Japanese concept of guro and found that guro more specific links to the concept and movement of ero-guro-nansensu itself rather than the same abhuman, chimera-like grotesquerie that European art deemed grotesque. I have mentioned, previously, the grotesque in Nero’s Domus Aurea as a flashpoint towards the aesthetic development of the term. Remi Astruc argues that the three main tropes of the grotesque are doubleness, hybridity and metamorphosis , fitting in with ideas of the abhuman. (EELS, HONEY (THE FYP MASTERPOST) by beverly goh) (https://beverlygoh.wordpress.com/…/eels-honey-the-fyp…/)
Abhuman, distinguished from inhuman, is a term used by William Hope Hodgson in his novel The Night Land and his Carnacki stories:
The evil must surely have begun in the Days of the Darkening (which I might liken to a story which was believed doubtfully, much as we of this day believe the Story of the Creaton). A dim record there was of those olden sciences (that are yet far off in our future) which, disturbing the unmeasurable Outward Powers, had allowed to pass the Barrier of this Life some of those Monsters and Ab-human creatures, which are so wondrously cushioned from us at this normal present. And thus there had materialized, and in other cases developed, grotesque and horrible Creatures, which now beset the humans of this world. And where there was no power to take on material form, there had been allowed to certain dreadful Forces to have power to affect the life of the human spirit. And this growing very dreadful, and the world full of lawlessness and degeneracy; there had banded together the sound millions, and built the Last Redoubt; there in the twilight of the world (so it seems to us, and yet to them bred at last to the peace of usage) as it were the Beginning; and this I can make no clearer; and none hath right to expect it; for my task is very great, and beyond the power of human skill.2
- Kelly Hurley, The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge University Press, 2004), This quotation also appears in Robert Eaglestone, Reading The Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien’s Classic page 55 (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006)
- Hodgson, William Hope. Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson Delphi Classics. (THE RESCUED FRAGMENTS OF “THE DREAM OF X”)