The Question Concerning Humanity: Obsolete Bodies and (Post)Digital Flesh

Bernd Herzogenrath

Enculturation, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall 2000

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In his tools man possesses power over external nature, even though in respect of his ends he is, on the contrary, subject to it.
——G.W.F. Hegel

. . . I enjoy being raped by the machine but at the same time I want to destroy the things that are invading me, the human being.
——Shinya Tsukamoto

The question concerning technology and its relation to 'the human' is more often than not posed in the simple, mostly vulgarized alternative "Does technology liberate or enslave us," do we convert to Luddism, or do we joyously accept and celebrate technology/the machinic/the nonhuman? In the early Nineties, N. Katherine Hayles stated that, far from being a SciFi concept, "cyborgs . . . already exist and are not particularly uncommon. About 10 percent of the U.S. population are cyborgs, including people who have electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, prosthetic limbs, and artificial skin" (Hayles 277). In this paper, however, I want to suggest a reading of the marriage between the human and the machinic that is not reduced to exploring machines as devices and extensions, in the sense of Freud's 'prosthetic God'—a strategy I still see prevailing in larger parts of the discussion. In contrast to this set of alternatives, I want to situate this question in a kind of middle-layer, occupying a philosophical and psycho-pathological space in which to speculatively test the relation human-technology in terms of their 'primordial synthesis.'

In this paper, I want to relate three instances of what I consider to be marvelous marriages between the human and the machinic [1] to a set of theoretical approaches that deal with this relation and:or employ a machinic metaphor when it comes to the question of the human subject. Thus, following the lead that the meaning of techne as both art and technics/technology provides, the bits, pieces and engineers of this machine/text in search of an 'originary machinicism' are: Martin Heidegger, Jacques Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, Stelarc, Mark Pauline, and Testsuo, the great 1991 movie by Shinya Tsukamoto.

The relation of the human to technology has mostly been reduced to a strategy opposing man and technics. In philosophy, Martin Heidegger occupies a prominent position, having scrupulously questioned this simplistic opposition underlying the Question Concerning Technology, and showing the difficulty of thinking man and technology together.

For Heidegger, the 'world' of the subject is a way of 'understanding being,' making possible the encounter of people and things. However, there are no things-as-such, waiting for the subject to simply 'realize' them as objects in the act of 'understanding.' Things can 'be' in a twofold way: as an object 'ready-to-hand' [Zuhanden], and as an object 'present-at-hand' [Vorhanden]. The object 'ready-to-hand' can be roughly equated with both tools and symbolic actions, machines and speech-acts. What is important is Heidegger's notion that these objects, contrary to 'traditional thought,' come before the objects that are 'present-at-hand.' To be 'present-at-hand' is an already codified method that has come to count as natural.

One important way of understanding is the 'technological understanding of being,' which implies an understanding of technology itself. At first, he saw technology basically as a threat because of man's will to control, mastering technology in the service of his own needs. Man-as-subject sees himself as the bottom/reason/foundation of all being, the Grund allen Seins. In his later work, however, Heidegger realized that the essence of technology was not a way of subjects using and controlling objects: "that man becomes the subject and the world the object, is a consequence of technology's nature establishing itself, and not the other way around" (Heidegger 1971: 112). Language and technology thus partake in the same subject/object grammar, 'enframing' the subject in the dangerous and misleading realm of instrumental reason. This notion of the instrumentality of technology was a concept he sought to dethrone in his essay 'The Question Concerning Technology.' First of all, Heidegger states that "the essence of technology is by no means anything technological."[4] It is exactly this notion that blocks our understanding what technology really is. In the following, Heidegger deconstructs the instrumental interpretation of technology's essence by referring to Aristotle's analysis of the causa, ultimately showing that what we see as causa efficiens, as the "standard for all causality" (Heidegger 1971: 291), has a completely different meaning in Aristotle. In Greek thought, the causa is nothing instrumental, but a "bringing-forth [that] brings out of concealment into unconcealment" (Heidegger 1971: 293), and thus has a cloth relation to the revealing of truth Truth. In contrast to the 'revealing' of physis (bringing-forth in itself) and poiesis (bringing-forth in another), modern technology, however, though still a mode of revealing [Entbergen] and bringing-forth, is "something completely different and therefore new" (Heidegger 1971: 288). 'Technology' comes to signify the efficient ordering of resources: "Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. Whatever is ordered about in this way has its own standing. We call it standing-reserve [Bestand]" (Heidegger 1971: 298). Technology erases the object as object ('Gegen-stand' in German literally means 'standing against,' i.e. 'having a standing of and for its own'). Man, according to Heidegger, is "challenged to exploit the energies of nature" (Heidegger 1971: 299). This being said, the question arises that "[i]f man is challenged, ordered, to do this, then does not man himself belong even more originally than nature within the standing-reserve" (Heidegger 1971: 299).

Since Heidegger explicitly links the words techne and episteme, both of which are "terms for knowing in the widest sense" (Heidegger 1971: 294), it is no big step to the insight that today it is information that ultimately makes objects cease as Gegen-Stand. Thus, Heidegger almost uses cybernetic vocabulary to comment on the essence of technology: "[u]nlocking, transforming, storing, distributing, and switching" (Heidegger 1971: 298) are technology's strategies of challenging-forth, a challenging-forth, however, that "never simply comes to an end" (Heidegger 1971: 298). For this obscene circularity of technology which is no longer grounded in any external reference, Heidegger uses the word Gestell. Despite his insistence that technology itself is nothing technological, Heidegger himself acknowledges that Gestell in its "ordinary [but also: technical] usage means some kind of apparatus" (Heidegger 1971: 301), e.g. 'frame,' 'mount,' 'support,' or 'shelf.' Also, it has the German verb stellen in it, which means placing. A Ge-stell places man and things, is a kind of exoskeleton, an en-framing that supportingly places. Technology somehow works and functions in and for itself, simultaneously producing man as subject (because of man's 'more originally belonging within the standing-reserve') and erasing the subject as an autonomous entity in control. It is exactly this 'paradigm word' I want to use in a more apparatus-oriented reading as a guiding image/metaphor throughout this article.

Heidegger's Gestell echoes Jacques Lacan's notion of the symbolic. According to Lacan, the subject is born into language in such a way that the subject is seen as an effect of the signifier. Thus, the human condition is characterized by the fact that "it is not only man who speaks, but in man and through man it speaks (a parle)"[5]--just like Heidegger's Gestell, language oscillates between being both a constituting and constituted factor with regard to the subject. Both Freud and Lacan (and even more strikingly Deleuze and Guattari) have based their theories of the subject on various 'machinic' models. Freud had conceived of the psyche in terms of optical and mechanical apparatuses. The Trieb was conceived in analogy to a 'constant force,' to energy, and "[e]nergy . . . is a notion which can only emerge once there are machines."[6] Lacan reads 'the machine' in terms of the structure of the symbolic. For the subject, that means that "in as much as he is committed to a play of symbols, to a symbolic world, . . . man is a decentred subject. Well, it is with this same play, this same world, that the machine is built. . . . The symbolic world is the world of the machine" (Seminar II 47). Thus, human desire paradoxically becomes machinic desire. The symbolic machine alienates the subject from his jouissance by channeling it through the self-referential system of signifiers: desire inevitably has to take its detour via the 'power supply' of language: desire is the "desire of the Other" (Ecrits 264), desire is an effect of discourse. As a consequence, reality, for the speaking subject, is anamorphotic and phantasmatic, since the objects re-constituted within the imaginary and symbolic registers and the real objects never completely coincide. However, language and the symbolic, although inducing lack and de-centering the subject in the first place, paradoxically becomes for the subject the (however illusory) promise to undo precisely this lack. "Reality is approached with the machines of desire [and] there is no machine but language." [7] Desire is a machine, en-framing both reality and the subject, a machinic strategy of jouissance in the cultural realm.

Machinic jouissance is certainly at stake in the work and theatrical performances of Mark Pauline and the Survival Research Laboratories (SRL),[2] founded in 1978, joined by two co-machinists Matthew Heckert and Eric Werner in 1982. Putting engineering skills in the service of bricolage, SRL's objective was to present mechanical spectacles, "operating as an organization of creative technicians dedicated to re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare . . . developing themes of socio-political satire." [3] SRL's spectacles, always engaging in ever increasing machinic violence--some staging employ flame-throwers and shock-wave cannons--are not so much a critique of technology, but show a delight in extremes: "We build machines of a fairly large size--they are very extreme. Basically they are constructed by a basic plan which is the basic cry of physicists everywhere: you want to release the most energy in the shortest period of time. SRL machines are pretty much modeled after that creed. Basically we make these devices very extreme--some of the machines are very large and weigh up to a couple of tons. . . . Running the V-1 in a closed building--that's pretty intense, like being in the middle of a storm or war zone."[10] However, machine parts are not the only material involved in Pauline's spectacles. in 1981 and 1982, Pauline joined the machines with dead animals (or animal parts), biological bodies in the purest sense. Rabot, for example, mechanically animated the body of a dead rabbit, harnessing and chucking the animal into a frame/mount/Gestell, causing it to walk. Other animal-machine hybrids were staged in A Cruel and Relentless Plot to Pervert the Flesh of Beasts to Unholy Uses, featuring "a machine incorporating the remains of a dog, mounted on an armature and anchored to a radio-controlled cart. Actuated, the dog-machine lunges forward, its head spinning in goulish imitation of cartoon violence" [11] (Dery 1996: 118). These spectacles, in which the body is controlled and animated by a machine, neatly parallels Pauline's own relation to the machine. They exemplify what Pauline sees to be "the mark of a true machine consciousness--when a mechanical system gets to a point where there's a disjunction between you and what's going on because what's going on is just too complicated or too intense. System are getting so complicated that they're out of control in a rational sense."[12] Note that in this quote, the term "machine consciousness" is quite open in respect to whom it applies: machine, machine-controller, or a fusion of both.

In this respect, Pauline's Rabot and his other 'organic robots' are a perfect illustration of both Heidegger's enframing of man and the Lacanian subject, staging the real body within and as animated by a machine/the symbolic, which Lacan, in his reading of Freud's fort/da game, saw ultimately based on an originary binarism, 1/0, thus relating it to cybernetics. Although the real (body), strictly speaking, is excluded from the representational registers, both has effects and is itself a belated effect of the symbolic: in a paradoxical logic, "[t]he first [speaking] body produces the second [biological] one, by incorporating itself in it," [13] producing it by en-framing it, 'housing' it. For Lacan, the subject "inhabit[s] the signifier" (Encore 81) and possesses a 'real' "body whose essence it is said is to dwell in language."[4] In language, in its en-framing Gestell, man-as-subject is supported. Thus for the subject, for whom culture is in fact its most 'natural habitat' (since the subject always enjoys a post-biological status as well, which makes it impossible to reduce it to a 'human animal'), the machinic proves to be a constituting factor. [5] However, if on the other hand the symbolic/machinic is seen solely in terms of a tool being at the subject's disposal, the house becomes a 'prison-house,' finally alienating the subject from its 'true' self. The question, then, accordingly, is if and how we can gain a free relation to the machinic.

Since it can be argued that desire is the subject's mode to participate in/constitute reality qua subject, qua being an effect of the signifier, that, in fact, "[i]t is meaningless to interrogate the relation of the human to the nonhuman if the nonhuman is only a construct of human culture," [16] a step further back may be useful.

As already noted, beyond the representational realms of the Symbolic and the Imaginary, the subject participates in what Lacan calls "the impossible real": the body of the drives, that cannot be reduced/tamed/represented in those two registers that constitute the (however illusory notion of) reality. However, even this body of the drives, natural as it may seem, is characterized by Lacan in machinic terms in an at least two-fold way. With regard to the "finality of sexuality,"[17] something comes "into play . . . what, in the body, deserves to be designated by the term apparatus--if you understand by this that with which the body . . . may fit itself up" (Lacan 1991: 177). In the realm of sexuality--a symbolic realm, after all, since man is a sexed being qua signifier--the body of the drives is en-framed with regard to a teleological totality. But what about the drive as such?

Lacan describes the drive first of all as a kind of feedback circuit: since "the drive may be satisfied without attaining what, from the point of view of a biological totalization of function, would be the satisfaction of its end of reproduction, . . . its aim is simply this return into circuit" (Lacan 1991: 179). This circuit is then described in terms of a kind of input/output loop that Lacan captures in the somewhat paradoxical formula "se faire . . ." (Lacan 1991: 195), "to make oneself . . ." eat, shit . . . even walk: see in this respect Pauline's and Stelarc's various Walking Machines. [6]

Even more drastically, Lacan distinguishes the drive from any biological instinct. Whereas an instinct basically is a correlated set of 'rational' reactions, human drive is something completely different. In order to capture this fundamental difference, Lacan describes the drive in terms of a surrealist collage, again taking recourse to a machinic metaphor: the drive works like "a dynamo connected up to a gas-tap, a peacock's feather emerges, and tickles the belly of a pretty woman, who is just lying there looking beautiful" (Lacan 1991: 169). Instead of the coherence of instinct, we have an incoherent machine good for nothing (like the objects of Jean Tanguily). Underneath the regulated drift of desire that ties the human subject to the phallic machine, there is thus the rhythmic pulsation of the drives, another machine, removed from the 'typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.'

Terry Harpold, in an unpublished manuscript, has connected a refusal of the "fetish model of prosthesis" [7] based on the scenario of castration and lack of the sexuated subject, with a reading of Shinya Tsukamoto's movie Tetsuo which is based on Lacan's myth of the lamella. In this myth, Lacan highlights the "immortal . . . irrepressible life" (Lacan 1991: 198) of the drive energy. The lamella is the human being as pre-sexual, pre-subject substance, that something in the human subject that is not reducible to the pure digitality of the symbolic. Lacan even calls it the organ of the libido, the paradoxical organ of a "life that has no need of no organ" (Lacan 1991: 198).

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is more a montage of nonstop surrealistic images than your average movie. A montage sped up by its extensive use of stop-motion photography which emphasizes the overall feverish atmosphere. Tetsuo begins in an abandoned factory with a man slashing his thigh open and trying to insert a metal rod into his leg. This man, credited as "the metal fetishist," is then hit by a car driven by an anonymous businessman, accompanied by his girlfriend. Rather than report it, the businessman dumps the injured but not dead victim in the woods and escapes.

Waking up the next morning, the businessman finds a metal hair growing out of his cheek. Soon, his body seems to burst open, revealing metal and machinic parts inside. To make things even worse, the businessman starts having sexual fantasies even more bizarre than his reality, and they start coming true: when his penis turns into an rotating drill, he impales his girlfriend. It all turns out to be the metal fetishist's work: not killed in the accident, there seems to be a telepathic bond between them. In a final battle, both fetishist and businessman merge into a gigantic engine, ready to go for the world.

Commenting on Slavoj Zizek's interpretation of the lamella in the work of David Lynch, Harpold rightly sees Zizek's restriction to figures of "the flayed, skinned body, the palpitation of raw, skinless red flesh"[20] as too limiting, because "too biological" (Harpold). Harpold observes that later in his seminar, Lacan shortly returns to his notion of the lamella, giving as some of the most ancient examples of the incarnation of the lamella in the body the practices of "tattooing, scarification" (Lacan 1991: 206). Presuming that Lacan would include other forms of bodily modifications in this list as well, Harpold then goes on "to extend this lamella-function to other artificial interventions on the body" (Harpold), interventions that play a predominant role in Tetsuo.

The materializations of the lamella that Lacan has described have "the function . . . of situating the subject . . . , marking his place in the field of the group's relations. . . . And, at the same time, it obviously has an erotic function" (Lacan 1991: 206). Whereas the 'situating function' doubles the logic of the Gestell, the 'erotic function' "inscribe[s] the substantiality of the body on its substance" (Harpold), and it is exactly that which combines these practices with the libido-organ, the lamella.

How does Tetsuo fit in with all this? Following Terry Harpold, Tetsuo can be read as displaying--in its obsessiveness with bodily modification, in its conjunction of flesh, machinery, and pornography--a maybe more up-to-date version of the lamella:

what is revealed in the movie when surfaces are peeled back, or when they burst open from within, is: a tangle of cables and conduits, steaming solder and blossoming rust. The stuff of the real body in Tetsuo is metal . . . ; what might be otherwise understood as electromechanical extensions of human flesh are revealed to be its essence. (Harpold)

Instead of Lacan's peacock and gas-tap, in Tetsuo the logic of the drive visualized and manifested in wires, scrap and power-drills. Thus, the machinic body has to be situated at:as the interface between the body of the drives and the body of desire, it is the "polymorphously perverse" body:machine that finally aims at "spreading" the truth, a truth that the mysterious, manically laughing TV in the movie knew all the time: that the machine is the essence of the body. In the final scene of Tetsuo, the ambivalence of Tsukamoto's epilogue to this paper becomes apparent in its full force: the final sentence of the movie, "We can mutate the whole world!" can be either read as a menace, realizing the worst nightmares of the technophobic, or as a liberating, utopian promise to create a libido-machinic society, the process of which has been shown to be a very painful one for the individual. . . .

Like in Pauline's machines, in Tetsuo the ultimate aim of the drive is thus not satisfaction, but insatiability, not function, but jouissance: pleasure and:or pain. Both the difference between and close intimacy of pleasure and utility are illustrated by Lacan in his seminar Encore. Enjoyment is defined as exactly "that which does not serve anything" (Lacan 1975: 10). Use, in contrast, is closely related to the law, since it is the essence of the law to regulate enjoyment, to set constraints upon its open-endedness.

Even if Lacan is more concerned with the subject--whereas for Deleuze and Guattari this is quite an obsolete idea, they are more concerned with lines of force and, ultimately, politics--I think that on a structural level a cautious and tentative analogy can be drawn between the Lacanian differentiation between pre-oedipal drive and post-oedipal desire and the 'pure/molecular machine' (desire machine) and the 'operational/molar machine' (social machine). Whereas Lacan goes from the assumption of a fundamental lack, Deleuze and Guattari deny that very lack. Only where such a fundamental lack is presupposed, the hope for an illusory fullness of the subject can be ideologically exploited. However, from a 'structural' point of view, this distinction does not alter much of the concept of the machinic as such.

The non-productive dissemination of desire finds its limits in the productive transformation of the law. The relation between desire and law finds its equivalence in Deleuze and Guattari's analysis of desire machines and social machines. Desire machines, according to Deleuze/Guattari, "are of a molecular order . . . : formative machines, whose very misfirings are functional." [21] (Deleuze 1992: 286). Like the Lacanian drive, desire machines are "engaged in their own assembly (montage), . . . machines in the strict sense, because they proceed by breaks and flows, associated waves and particles, associative flows and partial objects" (Deleuze 1992: 286-7). Again, what is at stake is not a matter of oppositions pure and simple. "There is no such thing as the social production of reality on the one hand, and a desiring-production that is mere fantasy on the other" (Deleuze 1992: 28). Since the subject's reality is its psychic reality, fantasy and reality share the same structure, are one and the same thing judged from different perspectives. The difference is thus not between fantasy and reality, desire and utility, but a difference of register, a difference of conditions: "social production is purely and simply desiring-production itself under determinate" (Deleuze 1992:, emphasis in the original). Thus, the molar "society machine" are molecular machines under "determinate conditions" (Deleuze 1992: 287), ultimately two states of one and the same machine. Beyond function, beyond culture, the polymorphous drive reacts against repressive, phallic desire, a 'Rage against the machine' not from the (however illusory) position of an non-machinic other,[8] but a 'Rage of the (pure) machine against the (oedipal) machine,' a "rage against the Symbolic."[23] The common-sense opposition between machine and human being thus has to be re-written as the opposition between the signifier-machine and the signified-machine. Since there is no escaping the machine, there is only the machine-that-acknowledges-being-a-machine and the machine-that-claims-to-be-natural.

This perspective does not claim nature and the machinic as oppositions: once within the symbolic (culture), the machinic is our most natural condition. With regard to Heidegger, this comes close to saying that once within the Gestell, the subject can only think of an illusory realm before the Gestell as a belated effect of always already having been within the Gestell. The body can thus not be seen as determined by biological parameters alone anymore. In Félix Guattari's re-definition of the Lacanian object a as a "object machine petit 'a'" the subject is constituted in "a pure signifying space where the machine would represent the subject for another machine" (Guattari 1984: 117-8). Whereas the Lacanian object a is still a fragment of the real (body), here the body as a whole is--not replaced--but affected by the machinic: the whole body is an "objet-machine petit 'a.'" For Deleuze and Guattari, "[d]esire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is repression" (Deleuze 1992: 26). If, according to Lacan, the object a is the "'stuff'" (Ecrits 315) of the subject, then, in that 'pure signifying space,' where the subject as subject is missing, it is in fact the objet-machine petit 'a' that is the stuff of the 'subject:' body and machine become one, the body is part of what Deleuze and Guattari call the machinic phylum. This machinic phylum is first of all a "flow of matter:" it is "materiality, natural or artificial, and both simultaneously; it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation, matter as a conveyor of singularities and traits of expression" (Deleuze 1993: 409). In Tetsuo, this machinic phylum, which, strictly speaking, "is not a life-force, since the phylum is older than life," is metallic: it traverses the ancestry of both the organic and the nonorganic, the human and the robot, etc. It is thus only fitting that for Deleuze and Guattari, the machinic phylum is "essentially metallic or metallurgical" (Deleuze 1993: 410), since metal "is neither a thing nor an organism, but a body without organs" (Deleuze 1993: 411, emphasis in the original). With regard to this notion of the body without organs, the schizzo-body escaping the organ-ization of the symbolic machine, one can see how Tetsuo markedly differs from, let's say, Terminator 2: the raw 'bricolage spirit' of the montage of Tetsuo, I argue, relates more to the notion of the machinic phylum than the elegant morphing in Terminator. Whereas Terminator 2 relentlessly shows off the skills and power of the 'digital machine,' Tetsuo revels in a 'machino-authentic' Old Skool Lo-Fi . . . the "real stuff" . . .

Because of the machinic phylum, both human and robot bodies would ultimately be related to a common phylogenetic line" (De Landa 7). Following Spinoza, Deleuze already earlier had read the body in machinic, computational terms:

on the one hand, a body . . . always consists of an infinite number of particles: a body, the individuality of a body, is defined by relations of rest and movement, of speed and slowness among particles. On the other hand, a body affects other bodies, or is affected by other bodies: it is the power of affecting and being affected which also defines a body in its individuality. (Deleuze 1993: 165)

A body is thus not simply a form, a container, but a "complex relation between differential speeds, between a slowing and an acceleration of particles" (Deleuze 1993: 165) affecting and being affected by other such complex relations: desiring-machines connected to and coupled with other desiring-machines. Since this definition of bodies does without any 'substance' whatsoever, it can be applied to any 'body,' and it can be known and assessed only with respect to changes happening to, in, or between bodies. Bodies thus only ever are in states of 'becoming,' entering relations with their milieu which in turn is always already a part of a larger body of particles, et ad infinitum. The body thus becomes-what-it-is by forming assemblages with other such bodies (human or nonhuman). Following Manuel De Landa, Deleuze and Guattari's example of the wasp and the orchid (an example of 'unnatural coupling') can thus be extended, seeing "the role of humans . . . as little more than that of industrious insects pollinating an independent species of machine-flower" (De Landa 3). However, as Deleuze's reading of Spinoza suggests, since the machinic phylum crosses any transversal becoming, the relation described in De Landa's example should not be read one-way: machine affects human and vice versa, they are not separate entities but connected in a mutual phase of 'becoming.'

Images from Stelarc's Exoskeleton webpage

This, I argue, is at stake in the art and strategy of the Australian performance artist Stelarc. [9] Whereas Mark Pauline is working with machine parts and body parts of dead animals, Stelarc has turned to his own body as his 'experiment ground.' Employing robotic and medical devices, Stelarc's work probes and extends the capabilities of the human body. In performances that make extensive use of cyborg and post-human metaphors, Stelarc questions the issue of 'biological evolution' and comments on the human body's (mal)adaptation to an environment that has become increasingly technological: "A BODY IS DESIGNED TO INTERFACE WITH ITS ENVIRONMENT - its sensors are open-to-the-world (compared to its inadequate internal surveillance system)." Because of this poor adaption of the human to it environment, Stelarc's objective is to "redesign[.] the body," and by this redesigning to "redefin[e] what is human" (Stelarc).

Having started with a series of suspension-performances, probing the limitations of the human body, his later work concentrates on enhancing this very body. Later performances include a 'Third Hand,' a five-finger robotic hand activated by his abdominal and leg muscles; a 'Stomach Sculpture' to be inserted into the artist's 'internal space,' etc. More recently, Stelarc has been creating amplified and 'virtual' body performances, using prosthetic technologies that 'affect' his body with remote and direct muscle stimulation (his muscles in fact affect the system and vice versa): These 'machinic dances' stage a choreography of machinic movements and involuntary gestures and body motions ultimately uncontrollable by the artist.

According to Stelarc, "[t]he information explosion is indicative of an evolutionary dead end. . . . In our decadent biological phase, we indulge in information as if this compensates for our genetic inadequacies" (Stelarc). Comparable to Heidegger's Gestell, "INFORMATION IS THE PROSTHESIS THAT PROPS UP THE BODY" (Stelarc), supporting and placing it. Because of the human body's "outmoded Pleistocene programme" (Stelarc, emphasis in the original), we have to get rid of the body.

However, I think Stelarc's comments on his own work have to be read as a manifesto more that to be taken at face-value. His stressing of the human being's post-evolutionary status makes sense only as long as we read 'evolution' only referring to a 'natural law' being applied to nature only. As soon as we take the notion of a machinic phylum into account, an evolution encompassing both man and machine, the phrase 'post-evolutionary' becomes redundant. Also, a statement like "THE BODY IS OBSOLETE" (Stelarc) is maybe too catchy and simplistic in the long run, since what is obsolete is the body as a container of the soul, the body taken as autonomous subject, the body 'as we know it.' But what comes to the fore, what resurfaces, even resurrects, is exactly the body as machinic, the body as a site of affection. Thus, what I see Stelarc aiming at is not so much his desire to 'become a machine' - he is not a willing victim of the human being's domestication through technology[10]--but to stage the endless project of becoming, of becoming-machine, and, ultimately, becoming-what-one-is.

Thus, the machinic phylum enjoys a curious relation to both the body of the drives and Heidegger's Gestell (here, Stelarc's proper name bears a relationship to that "paradigm word" of science, the Stel of stele is present in both). The body of the drive, itself machinic, is placed within "the determinate conditions" (Deleuze and Guattari) of the Gestell. As a subject, it has to be added, it always already is. Thus, the Gestell somehow un-covers [entbergen] what is ultimately already inherent in the machinic phylum/body of the drives, but places it in the service of control and mastery, a mastery that itself has to be mastered (or condemned) by its own creation. Stelarc stages this conflict in his work, and in drastically showing the becoming of what the subject always already is. But, given his credo that THE BODY IS OBSOLETE: why does Stelarc's body still look like 'a body'? In this respect, design - after all, Stelarc's proclaimed objective is the "re-designing of the body"--is memory, nostalgia, which again shows that in the end, it is not the 'fashionable' transformation into a cyborg which is at stake. In order to show what we, as subjects, always already are, MEAT MATTERS.

Both the cultural/speaking body AND the body of the drives are always already machinic, post-biological. The liberating move might lie in the acceptance of that fact. If we still see ourselves as autonomous egos, either mastering 'the machine' or condemning technology as alienating us from 'nature' and 'human values,' we fail to 'become-ourselves.' Neither 'the world' nor 'the subject' is an organic, biological, or even autonomous entity. A 'pragmatic solution' for the subject to face its existence cannot lie in insisting upon this illusion, but only in an attempt to 'reconcile' both subject and world by accepting and aligning the split that runs through both of them, the split that is an effect of the post-biological status of both world and subject. A final comment on the dangers of technology should bring us back to Heidegger again. Heidegger, although trying to think technology in ways different from any binary alternatives, nevertheless resorted to seeing technology as a menacing danger (a danger showing the way to salvation, however). 'Nature,' for him, still posed 'a way out,' a notion that made it easier to embrace/fuse with the Nazi ideology. Heidegger's concept of 'at-homeness' had some resonances with the Nazi's stress on rootedness and the close intimacy of blood and history. In his far-reaching attempt to see how we might enjoy a free relation to technology, to see if and how technology itself might be liberating, he did not go far enough and ultimately opted for "Blut und Boden." Klaus Theweleit should have the final word here. Commenting on the implicit ideologies of Darwinism, questioning the concept of 'biological evolution' as such, he states: "Instead of technical practices, we inherited the master-race as our God-function. As good children of the master-race elders, 'we' believe (green as we are) that we can protect ourselves against fascism with 'nature' (instead of realising that only technics can abolish fascism."


1. In this paper, I willfully conflate the terms "technologic," "machinic," and later, "symbolic," in order to free the referent of these terms from any fixed concept related solely to anything "mechanical" or "object-like." (back)

2. for more info on SRL, see their official website at (back)

3. see the official SRL statement at (back)

4. This notion ultimately refers to Heidegger. He essentially elaborates this idea in his essay "Building, Dwelling, Thinking." Heidegger puts forward the idea of the close relationship between being, dwelling, and language, as well as man's disturbed relationship with language, acting "as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man." Martin Heidegger. Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper and Row, 1977, 347-363, 348, emphasis in the original. See also Heidegger's 'Letter on Humanism,' where he states that "language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells," in its en-framing Gestell, man-as-subject is supported. In: W. Barrett and H.D. Aiken (eds.). Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: An Anthology. (back)

5. see in this respect the work of Bernard Stiegle, which proposes a philosophical analysis of an originary technicity. (back)

6. see e.g. Stelarc's performance 'Exoskeleton: Event for Extended Body and Walking Machine' at (back)

7. Terry Harpold. "Negative Prosthesis: Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man." I am indebted to Terry Harpold for kindly emailing me a copy of his unpublished paper. (back)

8. see a similar discussion in my article on Techno, "Stop Making Sense: Fuck 'em and Their Law (. . . it's only 1 and 0 but I like it . . .)." in Postmodern Culture 10:2 (January 2000). (back)

9. for more info on Stelarc, interviews, videoclips, manifestos etc., see his website at (back)

10. See Paul Virilio's comments in The Art of the Motor. (back)

Works Cited

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Theweleit, Klaus. "Circles, Lines and Bits." Incorporations. Eds. J. Crary and S. Kwinter. New York: Zone, 1992.

Virilio, Paul. The Art of the Motor. University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Zizek, Slavoj. "The Lamella of David Lynch." Reading Seminar XI: Lacan's Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Eds. R. Feldstein, B. Fink, M. Jaanus. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 1995.

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