“This is the end of the Darwinian evolution as we know it”. _Stelarc on his Stomach Sculpture project, 1994.
“… we can understand this mobile road warrior as the citizen of a new kind of utopia – in so far as utopia has always been about total control”. _Marc Tuters on locative media, 2004.
In new media art and related theory one can detect a repeating pattern: when new technologies are introduced, both utopian and dystopian views proliferate. In this paper I will examine the trope of the posthuman, which curiously lends itself to both disembodied virtuality, as well as to critique of ‘the western humanist subject’. In particular I am interested in (post)human geographies: how the subject is positioned in relation to earth, and if not, what the escape mechanisms or metaphoric machinations of departure may have been, and how they are performed.
While not wanting to be cynical about utopias or euphorically resist dystopias, the reason for writing this paper is to try to understand something that could be called ‘posthuman desire’. Video clips of Stelarc, Jaron Lanier and Timothy Leary from the 1990s discussing VR and cyborg futures may be extremes of post-human desire, yet they were once accepted as credible discourse within art and research. Can one, playfully speaking, construct a ‘post-human desire alarm’? What is it today that may ride the surf of the ‘new’ and soon recede into archives of the obscure?
If VR discourse pushed the subject into the matrix, more recent ‘biological turn’ as Tiziana Terranova puts it, positions the posthuman at the interstices of networks and biotechnology. What is common to both is a technological worldview based on structuralist systems thinking. Whether a dystopian vision of control, or the utopian view of empowerment however, system subjectivity is inescapably human. In fact, it positions a hedonistic subject always to the ultimate centre, even if dynamically (like in social networks).
The posthuman desire is ultimately about a sense of power; either its thrill, its lack, or its fear. This sensation of power favours virtuality over embodied perception, metaphor over practice, and speculation over experience. The main problem with such metaphysics is perhaps its non-human scale, a negation of human power that removes a response-able agency. In Companion Species, Donna Haraway discusses response-ability in the relationship between humans and non-humans.
Response-ability has to do with a reciprocal relationship (say between a dog and its ‘owner’), recognizing inequality of power, yet enabling responsibility and some level of response, both directions. Haraway’s remark in this context of our bodies being hosts of organs and organisms helps to destabilize a body as a separate entity. On these lines, I find the posthuman as in posthumanism offering important departures from centuries of neglect of the non-human. Fiction does not need to be responseable, but critical theory and practice do, provided they are and continue to be produced on earth.
- Tapio Mäkelä (FI) AHRC Research Fellow, University of Salford, UK