March 2010

I just saw this BBC article about sensors being used on the human skin as an input device; I felt it especially relevant given our recent reading of Hayles.

After having read McGann, Rice was illuminated for me in new ways because I read it last semester, but it means so much more to me now…. Nevertheless, Rice speaks of a kind of Deformance entitled Detournement. It is a French word that simple means reappropriating a previously used symbol for something new…. Wikipedias definition is better , so here it is……. In short, i would say that it is REMIXING something antagonistically… In Rice’s eyes, this is a component of the COOL…..APPROPRIATION…

Take a look at these icons that have been remixed, appropriated to the cool or “Detourmentized” (I know that is not a word, but bear with me…)

Can you make out the connections or implications that could be made about the reappropriation of the icons/symbols?… For example, why is Macintosh compared to McDonald’s? Perhaps because they are the king of the industry? Is NIKON Just Doing It? And is IBM becoming a major flop just like GM? What do you think?


I just wanted to get into this discussion about Hayles and Posthumanism because it is popping up all over the place… I loved all of your posts from the Repo Man to the interview with Hayles….

Hayles’ third element of Posthumanism is probably the most salient…..

” The posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis WE ALL LEARN to manipulate, so that extending or replacing the body with other prostheses becomes a CONTINUATION of a PROCESS that began before we were born.” (3)

Well, isn’t this very similar to the Cavemen learning how to use sticks to start a fire or the Native Americans using a variety of manmade tools to improve their living conditions or rituals? Over time mankind has continuously learned, has been learning, and obviously, as we see in Repo Man, will continue to embark on new ways to push against the confines and limitations that the body presents. the question that I think needs to be addressed and that Hayles begins to shed some light on in er interview and throughout the text is….. “As some men LEARN to manipulate, who will be left out or left behind (for lack of a better word)? As Hayles stated in the interview below, so many have fought and died for the right to simply be called a HUMAN…Now that is not enough; we want everyone to be Posthuman. Well, due to the constraints and continuous leaning process, I beleive that we are all Posthuman to some extent, just not in some of the ways that we might like or need to be with the ever-changing society. The problem with extreme levels of Posthumanism (Cyborgs and such..) is that it begins to act as a line of demarcation between an US and a Them as we see in Repo Man again. Technologies invented by man are supposed to either replace a human quality that was lost or modestly augment a quality needed to better society.

Hayles grapples with this thought in Chapter four whne she mentions the question that Gregory Bateson asked his graduate students……

“If (is) a blind man’s cane a part of the man?” (84)

I say, yes! It is helping to do what his eyes cannot. This is the same for glasses, etc…. Now, we could take it a step further and say, is it weird or right for the stick or the eye glasses to be permanently a part of the person surgically, making him or her somewhat of a cyborg? I say, yes again because it is improving a HUMAN quality or condition that was lost to some degree. Now, should someone put a man-made eye on his or her arm? Only if they are blind…….

After reading Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman, I wondered at the scope of her assertion. Are we really posthuman? Although she does say that she is discussing a small percentage of the population (Hayles 6). I wondered what percentage of the world population really accesses the internet. So, I googled it. This is what I found.

You can see the rest of the tables here.

While North America does not contain the largest number of internet users, it does have the largest percentage of total population 74.2 percent on the net. Following closely behind are Oceania/Australia at 60.4 percent and then Europe at 52 percent. I then wondered what percentage of the North American population would be considered elderly. I was mostly interested in the Greatest Generation (born from 1916 to 1925) and the Silent Generation (born from 1926 to 1938) which are considered the most resistant to technology. My research suggested 20.4 percent of North America is elderly. Thinking back to discussions that we (our class) have had I wondered will North Americans truly become posthuman when the last people who do not use the internet die? Or is that too simplistic a question? Perhaps the issue is even more complicated than that. I suspect so.

According to Hayles the main indicators or being posthuman are (1) viewing informational patterns as more important than material instantiation, to the point that embodiment “is seen as an accident of history rather than an inevitability of life,” (2) consciousness as a minor part of life, (3) the body as a prosthesis that can be replaced, (4) the human being as seamlessly connectable with intelligent machines with “[n]o essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation” (2-3).

This brought up a new question for me. Does being posthuman then truly lie within having an avatar—a computer simulated alternate self?

Surprisingly 63 percent of the US population is a gamer. (For the full article) This would suggest that a large percentage of North Americans has experienced playing in some sort of avatar form, but this is a smaller number than the 74 percent of internet users.

It isn’t yet accurate to claim that all humans have become posthuman. But judging by the rates of internet usage growth, this claim might soon be possible.

Discusses Electronic Literature and How We Became Posthuman.  Some comments on Second Life as well.

Hayles’ describes her project in How We Became Posthuman as an intervention.  “I view the present moment,” she explains in the first chapter, “as a critical juncture when interventions might be made to keep disembodiment from being rewritten, once again, into prevailing concepts of subjectivity.” (5)  Later on at the close of chapter two she writes, “I believe that our best hope to intervene constructively in this development is to put an interpretative spin on it – one that opens up the possibilities of seeing pattern and presence as complementary rather than antagonistic.” (48-49)  Writing in the late 1990’s, she clearly believes the shape and form of posthumanism to be as of yet undetermined.  No doubt she would acknowledge a multiplicity of possible and complex paths along which posthumanism might evolve, but she tends to speak in binaries.  Dream or nightmare, terror or pleasure – these are the options.  (4, 5, 47, 284-285)

As the first quotation above suggests, the preservation of embodiment is among Hayles’ chief objectives.  She notes that one prominent way of rendering posthumanism – the nightmare scenario in which bodies are regarded as “fashion accessories rather than the ground of being” – is not so much a posthumanism as it is a hyperhumanism, an extension and intensification of the modern, humanist notion of possessing a body rather than being a body.  (4-5)  This dualism has deep roots in the Western tradition; we may call it the Platonic temptation, or the Gnostic temptation, or the Manichaean temptation, etc.  Viewed within this genealogy, the cybernetic construction of the posthuman shares core assumptions not only with Renaissance and Enlightenment humanism, but it betrays a pedigree reaching much further back still into antiquity.

Against this long standing tendency and building upon the work of George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Pierre Bourdieu among others, Halyes masterfully argues for the significance of embodiment, for the formation of thought and knowledge.  The body that “exists in space and time … defines the parameters within which the cogitating mind can arrive at ‘certainties.’”  (203)  Citing Johnson, she reminds the reader that body writes discourse as much as discourse writes the body.  Briefly stated, embodied experience generates the deep and pervasive networks of metaphors and analogies by which we elaborate our understanding of the world.  Hayles goes on to add that “when people begin using their bodies in significantly different ways, either because of technological innovations or other cultural shifts, changing experiences of embodiment bubble up into language, affecting the metaphoric networks at play within culture.”  (206-207)  In this light, Electronic Literature can be understood as part of an ongoing attempt to direct posthumanism toward embodiment.   Hayles theorized electronic literature as a category of the literary that performs the sorts of ruptures in code (introduction of noise?) which make us conscious of our embodiment and embodied knowledge nudging us away from the disembodied nightmare scenario.

I’m cheering for Hayles’ version of the posthuman to win the day (if the outcome is still undetermined), but I am less than hopeful.  Not that I believe the Moravec scenario will in fact materialize, but that it will remain deeply appealing, more so than Hayles’ vision, and continue to shape our imaginings of the future.  For one thing, the dream of disembodiment and its concomitant fantasies of “unlimited power and disembodied immortality” have a long history and considerable momentum as was noted above.  For another, this dream has roots not only in Gnostic suspicion of the body and Cartesian dualism, but also in the modern apotheosis of the will which also has a long and distinguished history.  Embodiment in this context is the last obstacle to the unfettered will.  Hayles’ dream scenario includes the recognition and celebration of “finitude as a condition of human being,” but the entanglement of technological development with current economic and cultural structures and assumptions hardly suggests that we are in the habit of recognizing, much less celebrating, our limits.  “Mastery through the exercise of autonomous will” may “merely be the story consciousness tells itself,” but consciousness is a powerful story teller and it weaves compelling narratives.  (288)  These narratives are all the more seductive when they are reinforced by cultural liturgies of autopoietic consumption and the interests that advance them.

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