Spinoza and the Thing: Disembodied Joy and Posthuman Pedagogies Amidst the Pandemic

Amy Sojot, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

From viral variants to faces on laptop screens in the current Zoomcene, what makes a body in the ongoing global pandemic? If we rethink the body, then we should revisit the body’s feelings. A neoliberal focus on well-being, including related expressions of joy and satisfaction, existed prior to the pandemic. For example, consumerist “treat yourself” self-care suggests that an individual can purchase fulfilment through products and self-help courses. However, I contend that the pandemic’s bodily disconnection shifted habits of well-being. Some began baking bread to feel the comforting joy of tactile sensations while others sought satisfaction and sense-making through the eerie contemporary parallels of dystopian movies. In this paper I explore two themes from the call (expression and its possible materiality; disconnection and fragmentation) by using the extraterrestrial creature from John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic film, The Thing, to contemplate joy. Inspired by posthuman theoretical approaches that view the monstrous as affirmative rather than pathological, I turn to an uncanny reading of Baruch Spinoza’s joy and Alfred North Whitehead’s satisfaction to consider the creature’s striving tenacity. By engaging with Spinoza and Whitehead, I seek to—in the spirit of The Thing—flesh out shifting discourses of disembodied joy and embodied satisfaction amidst the pandemic. Especially for posthuman pedagogies, reconsidering joy as mutable can resist the tendency to foreclose possibilities resulting from neoliberalism’s narrow definitions of bodily well-being.


  Bio: Amy Sojot is a PhD candidate in Educational Foundations at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her research engages interdisciplinary approaches to rework assumptions about sensation, experience, and pedagogy through aesthetics, politics, pop-cultural critique, and philosophical inquiry.

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