Archive for cyborg

The Cyborg’s Implosion of Visual Space

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Scleral Shell, Prosthesis designed by Dr. Danz. Photo by Jonathan James

Scleral Shell, Prosthesis designed by Dr. Danz. Photo by Jonathan James

Recently San Francisco-based artist Tanya Vlach made several headlines with her Call for Engineers to develop her a prosthetic eye that would be able to take still photos and video, use 3X optical zoom, be Bluetooth enabled and hold space for a 4GB SD card. Just below the blog title she quotes Donna Haraway’s definition of the cyborg. Shortly after the news my blogger/designer friend Atherton Bartelby told me of a similar artist, Rob Spence of Eyeborg (graphic images, NOT for the squeamish). One thing is clear: both are obviously aware of their being cyborgs.

What is our relationship to spatiality and the visuals today? Jean Baudrillard has introduced us to the postmodern implosion of the signifier and the signified, where our semiotic sphere loses its grounding and spins around in confusion. But, I think, with the birth of the cyborg — itself a being born out of implosion — as well as surveillance technologies and the evolution of HCI, things get a bit more complex. Here, we are witnessing not only the Baudrillardian simulacra that confuses the signifier with the Thing-in-itself, but also the implosion of the trompe-l’œil with the object. The field of vision itself is objectivized

(This, of course, can only happen qua a posthuman subject, a subject of modular organs: in the past few years, the seeing subject has changed from a subject with eyes to a subject with a nervous system and a camera. It is no longer the eye that sees; it is the brain.)

What does it mean, today, to see? There is nothing natural about sight — the vantage point, the subjective point-of-view is not merely this illusion that locates the existence of the subject, but also at the same time that which radically cuts the subject from within — my gaze is effectively not fully my own. Is this not the reason, the primeval trauma behind all those fantasies of an out-of-body experience? (We can recall here the same formula by Lacan of the voice, and its equivalent ghostly experience of being possessed by a voice.)

It is worth recalling Bourdieu’s famous claim — although ultimately the reference to any “natural” state is a false one — that perspective drawings are not the natural way to see things, but the educated painter’s way to do so. Today, what we take as “natural” comprise of the zoom, the image and video capturing capabilities, the memory in the eye, and so on (suffice it to recall how advertisements of HDTV always feature natural objects). But if the perspective drawing was a way to draw, what we are now effectively dealing with is a way to see — we are now not manipulating how we represent reality, but reality itself, insofar as what we take as reality is nothing but our perception of it (post-structuralism, quantum physics, autopoietic cognitive science, etc.).

And a second point: does not the elevation of the gaze into a cyborg’s render perfectly the notion that our gaze is never our own? Once that trauma is revoked, once the fantasy is realized qua networks and data transfers, it is easy to imagine the paranoia such technology will cause: what if the visions I am seeing is not the way things really are, but are in fact footages and animation transmitted from somewhere else? More ideals, more paranoia. Eyehacking, anyone?

Cat Bags and Cyborg Significant Others

Posted in Companion Species with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Cat Bag

What is life today? Obviously I am not talking about another kind of New Age mysticism here, but nonetheless I think this question is crucial if we are to fully grasp the notion of significant otherness in interspecies relations. If Haraway talked about cyborgs and companion species, today, with ambient intelligence and wearable computing on one hand and increasing atomization of society in the other, we are entering more and more into a realm of cyborg companion trans-species — the land of ambient life in the glorious age of “hybrid wearables”.

I was intrigued by these photos the “Cat Bag”, pictured above. What is so interesting is that how this bag will breathe, purr, light up its eyes, radiate warmth, and even beat its heart. If the OncoMouse, the first species with a trademark register, is the prime example of the convergence of biotechnology, scientific research, and capitalist production, what is the Cat Bag if not the example par excellence of the convergence between the romantic realm of significant otherness and the realm of stupid, elementary practical usage?

How is this possible? What do we see in the potentials of technology today? From Mediamatic‘s review of the Hybrid Wearables Workshop, we can read:

I do not need my laptop to be merged with my overcoat. I do not want to receive email on a tiny screen mounted on my eyeglasses. I do not have enough attention to distribute to real and virtual life at once. Nevertheless, applications like these are some of the first which come to mind when one mentions wearable computing.

Instead, what if your shirt would hug you every now at then? What if your bag would warn you about forgetting your keys? What if your socks explained how to give a fantastic foot massage?

If you are familiar at all with Lacanian psychoanalysis, one thing is clear: not only that technology is driven to be made as a means to gain the object little a from other human subjects, but technology itself is seen as possessing the object little a, as the treasure box (or hard disk?) in which the agalma is hidden  — a posthuman cultural construct at its most elementary.

Animal domestication was among one of the crucial steps in the development of modern man, in par with tool use itself. The relationship between the human and the nonhuman has continued, of course, to be a crucial relationship. And it is evolving with technology, as we can see. In psychoanalysis, already with Freud, we have theories of the totem, animal spirits, and so on. But what about the evolution of the discourse of species itself? Here, I think, the cyborg subject is not so well theorized.

Orgasms Without Organs

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Exiting the Orgasmatron from the 1973 movie Sleeper

Exiting the Orgasmatron (from Sleeper)

Today we are more and more familiar with the idea that someday we will have fully efficient and working orgasm pills and buttons. The common idea is that by knowing how long the pill’s effect would take to kick in, we can predict our actions before hand, make it synchronous with our activities, we will not have to fake it, etc. And of course there is the idea of the orgasmatron with which we can reach orgasm any time we want — by electronically stimulating parts of the lower spinal column, etc. — the idea being that we can easily get out from our daily boredom and use it in the office while nobody’s looking, and so on. Pleasure has never been entirely mechanized.

Is it just another mode of masturbation, simply another step after we have all those increasingly intelligent fucking machines and interactive teledildonics? There is a crucial difference we must not miss: in masturbation, fucking machines, and teledildonics, our focus is still very much the traditional notion of sex as the “carnal” pleasure. We need sensual touches. One may even say that the entire point of this kind of “roboeroticism” is not orgasm in itself, but the entire fantastic experience with all the thrills of fucking with machine others.

In the instant orgasm technologies, the perception is rather different. Sex is no longer taken as the carnal-sensual pleasure, but reduced to merely this “objective” electro-chemical neurophysiological process. Is it not the same drive that brought us the human genome project? The pervasive idea is that we can always map everything into informational patterns. Is not the fully mapped human genome of myself, one that successfully maps my every little trait, my “objective” Self without Body nor Organs? It is not the Freudian organs, for, strictly speaking, it is not our body but its data. And, obviously, it in itself lacks the Deleuzian Body, for those data in the computer are real, objective, self-contained. But objectively, it is nonetheless my self, in so far as I am conceived to be an informational biological data pattern for the android Other — the self as data-organs.

This (mis)conception of the self as fully integratable in the Symbolic with current posthuman technologies has given rise to a new discourse of sexuality — a fetishistic sexual kernel based on objective, exact scientific mappings and definitions of pleasure itself.

The Lacanian definition of sex is obviously its exact opposite — it is not a discursive construct (as Foucault would put it), but it is the domain where discursive constructs fail, and as such, gives rise to the metonymic chain of desire. Is data-organs a better discourse for sexuality? The posthuman construct of orgasm without organs, orgasm as a series of mappable electro-chemical informational patterns, orgasm in the domain of data-organs, may be merely a new fetishistic obsession of our posthuman sexuality. But with all its new mode of signification and experience, let us not underestimate its potentials to proliferate new desires of the cyborg subject.

And let us not forget its obscene unfortunate superegotistical consequences — it is now effortless, so there is no longer any reason for you not to enjoy it!

The Censorship of Love

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Another Žižek-inspired post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. I could not agree more when, in many occasions, he mentioned that in this age of so-called non-censorship, where everything is practically visible, we become more and more afraid of showing love. Basically, all kinds of sex is OK, as long as it remains detached and emotionless — which is why we have all those stupid narratives which is necessary to every feature porn movie and those strict non-narrative aspect of gonzo. Ever notice how saying “I love you” to a loved one has to be said more and more with a distance as years go by? Either we tend to say it in metaphors, foreign languages, text messages, under the pretext of special occasions… Practically, it’s not only the use of pleasure that’s controlling the society, but also the use of compassion. Obviously, the society of control takes into account how we internalize social hierarchies into our personal emotions, but at certain points it just gets blatant and ironic when critically viewed upon, with taboos surrounding our very personal, microlevel emotions.

Another thing I find interesting: notice how much sex and porn just gets harder to separate as years pass by? I am of course talking about teledildonics and all the discourse and technology surrounding it. So at the same time, we get sex more and more separated from love, and more and more integrated with porn, and at the same time porn gets more and more pervasive and becomes another leisure ideology, casual and daily. On the other hand, marriage becomes more and more of a horrific thing as bad sex leads to bad love. Now here is an irony: sexual revolution was a thing of the sixties with all the “free love” agenda. Sadly, we only took one aspect of the legacy and forgot the rest. We took the practices alone yet enjoyed ideological dominance all the same, if not even more.

Perhaps that is why we tend to find animals, monsters, and robots sexier and sexier by the day. I am seriously suspicious that at least one of the reasons is that they cannot love (yes, I know people who marry those non-human others, but I won’t develop a discussion on that now). They are purely sexual, non-emotional others — cyborg others, if we are to take the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics as any indication of how the cyborg came to be, as Katherine Hayles noted. Cybernetic organisms cannot love. They can only enjoy. As the society of discipline represses sexuality as an animal-like excess of the human, the society of control represses love as a human-like excess of the cyborg.

Let’s admit it, there’s always a weird exhibitionist dimension in social network profile pictures flaunting love that is different from and exceeds those of online porn. It is because our non-loving avatars have become us. The geek typing in front of the monitor is his avatar.