Never use the words higher or lower (Charles Darwin). When, over a decade ago, Stelarc flew naked over the roof of the Theatre Royal, Copenhagen, suspended from the arm of a giant crane, he looked for a moment like Superman. He came to ground again to talk of obsolete bodies and of a new order of post evolutionary being for a species whose fusion with its own technological productions was imminent. But Stelarc has also admitted to experiencing a certain anxiety up there, high over the city, as he heard his own skin creaking in the wind. Few people could watch or even contemplate this spectacle without a sense of vertiginous anxiety, but vertigo may be only one element in the complex of anxieties that may be associated with a critical experience of height.
As high technology raises the evolutionary stakes and gives us visions of the post-, trans- or superhuman species, we are haunted by the masterslave connotations which the machine-human relationship has acquired in our cultural history. This history has taught us that the high/low distinction is hierarchical , but also that hierarchies are violent, and violently reversible. This paper is concerned with the high/low distinction in the co-evolution
of human and machine, and with the thematics of struggle, domination and destiny which inevitably attach to this distinction in Western traditions. It speculates on the possibilities of
evading high anxieties through the evasion of hierarchical terminologies and their attendant thematics. Such evasions are being successfully negotiated in the work of certain artists, notably Australian performance artists Stelarc and Sue-ellen Kohler . These two artists, working respectively at the ‘high’ and ‘low’ ends of the technological spectrum, are rediscovering the spacescape of the body in ways which disrupt its vertical axis and raise fundamental questions about its status as ‘human’.
- Jane Goodall (The University of NewCastle/Department of Drama) teaches drama at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. She is the author of ‘Artaud and the Gnostic Drama’ (Oxford University Press, 1994) and is currently engaged in research on technology and cultural anxiety.