Archive for Donna Haraway

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?

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Cultured Meat and Totem Culture

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
In Vitro Meat (c) DC Spensley/H+ Magazine

In Vitro Meat (c) DC Spensley/H+ Magazine

Let us now go on to discuss further on the issue on how to deal with life (in accordance to this Cat Bag post). It is interesting today to see the debate surrounding cultured meat: meat grown in labs, without any animal being sacrificed. The idea is of course to care more for the animals (which is why PETA would give $1 million to anyone who first come up with a successful way to cultivate the meat), less energy consumption and less pollution by decreasing the number of butcher houses… Basically following the fashionable standard of environmentalist use of science.

It is incredibly hard to miss the Žižekian logic of decaffeinated culture at work here: is not the meat without sacrifice the example of decaffeinated consumption par excellence? But now let us take a moment and look further into the response of society surrounding this very topic: do a quick search for “cultured meat” on the internet, and you will see that most people reject the idea. Why is this? Are we not supposed to celebrate the progressive development of this decaf ideology with joy? In the case of cultured meat, however, even the famed transhumanist RU Sirius commented, “Yuck!”

The answer is not that hard to find: people still find it strange and uncanny to eat meat that was not taken from a live animal. Why? Here we can clearly see the symbolic ideological dimension of a purely biological everyday act of eating, one that Freud has explicated in his Totem and Taboo. In eating meat, are we not also eating the other species’ death? The death of the sacrificed animal is more of a symbolic necessity than an unavoidable fact. This is the reason we have all those kinds of sacrifice rituals and forbidden meals.

What is very interesting, of course, is how this primitive logic of totemic rituals still turn out to play a large role in an age where we are supposed to no longer believe anything anymore. What is the state of affairs of totem and interspecies relations in the world today? Clearly, we are stuck between two conditions: novel technologies enable us to have capacities of which only God himself would be able to do just a little over a hundred years ago — the “divinity of science” that goes with the rapid advancements of quantum physics, bioengineering, and neuroscience — and ancient symbolic necessities, the totem and taboos of our primitive ancestors.

In the end, perhaps Paul Virilio was right: we are caught between the contradicting dromologies: the ecstatic high speed of cyberspace and the slowness of human minds. Or perhaps, Hayles and Haraway was right, that this is not a deadlock after all, and what we need is a new formulation of subjectivity itself. Or, perhaps, all of them are correct in a way, and we need to see — to put it in Kierkegaard’s terms — the primitive totem-and-taboo subject as this new posthuman subjectivity in-becoming instead of its enemy.

What about you? Would you eat meat grown in labs? More ideologies at work you find? Feel free to comment away!

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.