Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell, 1995. Film still

Disembodiment: The Future of Nature

2019. Talk at the symposium

There is an impetus in what we call today speculative philosophy: disembodiment. Disembodiment is an ancient ideal and, to understand it, in this talk I will discuss the relation between “nature” and “disembodiment,” and ask: Is real disembodiment (and not the imaginary religious and sci-fi versions of it) the final flight from Nature? Is disembodiment, and its neuroscientific achievement, the final project for immortality? If being disembodied is the ultimate flight from nature, does this mean the destruction of nature, and a future ecology without nature? Finally, is an ecology without nature the same as a nature without bodies, or bodies without nature?

In the face of a globalizing sense of catastrophism, we can diagnose a doing away with the politics of embodiment which swept the worlds of arts and theory since 1970s. But science can have relentlessly pessimistic implications for our understanding of reality and as such can define our politics and, today, our cosmopolitics. This tendency has produced the scientific onrush to save the very future of planet Earth in areas such as climate change studies and the environmental sciences which speak, at best, to a status quo of survivalism. The Anthropocene hypothesis has made survivalism a trope much more relevant than the old one of living. In the face of global survival and the persistent sense of a generalized anthropological loss, a politics of embodiment can hardly hold and count for anything. In times of crisis, matter and bodies tend to become obsolete.

Instead, a unified cosmopolitics of survival is on offer. One can literally see this on-screen, in the steampunk visual lexis of the contemporary dystopian imaginary. This intellectual and scopic climate of scientific apocalypticism resists the politics of the body and often ends up in the tradition of philosophical realism/pessimism. Today’s realism accommodates the climate of a snobbish, self-enclosed resentment with the future, where only those who “realistically” (and by extension pessimistically) diagnose today’s plight can rule the world of embodiment’s remaining days and its politics. Building on the old ideal of disembodiment and what I diagnose as the crisis of embodiment today, in this talk I will discuss the notion of embodiment in feminist theory and the problematic role of disembodiment, and how it relates to new/speculative realisms. I will then explain what I identify as the “idealization of disembodiment” by illustrating it with the work of Brassier (2007) and Lyotard (1994) and discuss why this idealization is a problem for a future “without” nature and bodies.


Stanimir Panayotov is a PhD candidate in Comparative Gender Studies at the Central European University, Budapest. He works at the intersections of continental and feminist philosophy, non-philosophy, and Neoplatonism.