A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

This Fragile Machine: Technology, Vulnerability, and the Rhetoric(s) of Addiction

Trevor Hoag, Christopher Newport University

In the taxonomic reframing of [the user] as addict, what changes are the
most basic terms about her. . . . [S]he is installed as the proper object of
compulsory institutional disciplines [that] . . . presume to know her
better than she can know herself . . .
                                 - Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Epidemics of the Will”

What if ‘drugs’ named a special mode of addiction, however, or the
structure that is philosophically and metaphysically
at the basis of our culture?
                     - Avital Ronell, Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania

Instead of thinking about addiction, it makes more sense to explore how
we are vulnerable to certain things that technology offers.
The path forward is to learn more
about our vulnerabilities and design around them.
                     - Sherry Turkle, “How to Teach in an Age of Distraction”

“The communication systems with the question concerning addiction are on,” writes Avital Ronell. “Each time they beam different signals, along edges of new interiorities” (Crack 33). And I can hear them, calling me from along the folds where my “inside” and “outside” converge. My hands tremble as I write this, thoughts scatter, though not from nervousness. The page pours over with multifold meaning, but I long for what will turn its hermeneutic maelstrom to eerie calm, still as a glassy-eyed stare. I admonish myself for such philosophically-suicidal desires, the ceaseless wish for pure forgetting, but I’ll likely just do the same thing tomorrow: march right down the shelving beach into a deepening sea. 1 Like Thomas De Quincey, such is my confession, one only a poet could properly articulate:

(Oh, ooh oh, ooh, oh, oh)
I think there’s a flaw in my code 2

According to Emmanuel Levinas—judger of intoxicants par excellence 3 —the toxic drive turns one into a killer, since “[t]he relaxation in intoxication is a semblance of distance and
irresponsibility. It is a suppression of fraternity, or a murder of the brother” (in Nealon). In other words, drugs/addiction sever one from others, and the other as other through magnified “self”-interiorization.

This is the other. This is the other on drugs. Any questions? 4

Given such assessments, Jacques Derrida’s observation becomes clearer: “What do we hold against the drug addict? … that he cuts himself off from the world, in exile from reality, far from objective reality and the real life of the city and the community; that he escapes into a world of simulacrum and fiction” (235-236). For many the addict is a coward, forsaking the polis in favor of a fantasy-world. Or more terrifying still, s/he seeks communion with the abyss, the world’s contingent significance peeled back. 5 S/he would rather will “nothingness” than not will.

But it gets worse. According to a score of physicians, psychologists, cultural critics, and self-help gurus, a drug has hit the streets in recent years to eclipse the reach and impact of nearly any previous substance. 6 Everybody’s doing it, and in the words of Nicolas Carr, it’s not only making people “shallow” thinkers by “emptying our minds of their riches” (192), its increasing prevalence “poses a threat to our integrity as human beings” (214). 7 As it leads citizens to “outsource” 8 or “offload” intelligence, memory, and attention, the drug “doesn’t just threaten the depth and distinctiveness of the self. It threatens the depth and distinctiveness of the culture we all share” (196). The culprit: (digital) technology and its myriad modes of delivery. If such claims seem paranoiac, ask psychiatrist Jerald Block, who, after observing the wide-spread presence of “compulsive-impulsive” symptoms, “excessive use,” “withdrawal,” “tolerance,” and “negative repercussions,” concludes “Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in the DSM-V [diagnostic guide]” (306). 9

Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?
Would you use your water bill to dry the stain like me? 10

The influence of such diagnoses is making itself increasingly felt—it’s now a commonplace (topos) to admonish the repeated/habitual use of technology as a form of drug addiction, with the concomitant injunction to “clean yourself up.” Only a total junkie-burnout, a real smear on society, would audaciously claim “no fundamental distance establishes itself between the technical, natural, human, or existential worlds, no purity or absolute exteriority of one of these to the other" (Ronell, Telephone 16). To contend technology is inseparable from life
is evidence you need to get one.

With your face all made up, living on a screen
Low on self-esteem, so you run on gasoline 11

In contrast to those deeply disturbed by the rise of (digital) technology, there are others less panicked by the prospect and skeptical about describing media-delivery systems as akin to narcotics. Sherry Turkle, for example, argues “[t]he analogy between screens and drugs breaks  down. . . . There is only one thing you should do if you are on heroin: Get off it. Your life is at stake. But laptops and smartphones don’t need to be removed. They are part of our creative lives.” Following Turkle’s lead, in this piece I contend the analogy between drugs/addiction and technology “breaks down,” fractures, insofar as the rhetorical effects of such figurations are mostly problematic. By examining “addiction’s proximity to questions of figural language" (Redfield), it appears that branding people “tech-junkies” leads to damaging assumptions regarding identity and behavior, and that neoliberalism capitalizes on these essentialist assumptions. Moreover, I will discuss how deconstruction-based critiques of addiction are effective in transforming “drugs” from condemnable substance(s) into an existential “structure,” but such strategies may be unable to overcome the cultural “bad conscience” associated with rhetorics of addiction. In response to this conundrum, I explore how one might shift away from rhetorics of addiction/drugs in relation to technology—along with accompanying rhetorics of war—to those of vulnerability as/and rhetoricity. To pun on Thomas Rickert, the aim will have been to “attune rhetorical theory to withdrawal” (209) from rhetorics of addiction/drugs, (en-)framing and revealing the “situation” differently.

Forging Identities, Reinforcing Ideologies

The inaugural question: What consequences follow from deploying figures of drug addiction to trope the affects/effects of (digital) technology? This rhetorical practice is relatively new, of course, but has its roots in a time when, “[u]nder the taxonomic pressure of the newly ramified and pervasive medical-juridical authority of the late nineteenth century, and in the context of changing class and imperial relations, what had been a question of acts crystalized into a question of identities” (Sedgwick 130). Around the turn of the next-to-last century, that is, various institutions came to view “aberrant” behavior as issuing from a certain type of person. (For instance, same-sex practices were reframed as performed by “homosexuals,” and so on. 12) Due to the shift from acts to identities, if one is diagnosed as a technology addict, it seems one therefore becomes subject to—or is subjectivated by (assujettisement)—mechanisms of discipline and control based upon presumptions regarding the “self.”

As per specific assumptions regarding “the addict,” recall Derrida’s famous observation that s/he “escapes into a world of simulacrum and fiction[, where] pleasure [is] taken in an experience without truth” (236). Everyone knows the sick, sad addict can’t face reality and is hiding out online since s/he cannot handle “actual” relationships with others (perhaps because s/he is severed from his/her “true” analogue self). 13

Do people whisper ‘bout you on the train like me?
Saying that ‘you shouldn’t waste your pretty face’ like me?

Framing the user as addict not only reinforces norms regarding the authenticity of his/her social life, but reiterates untenable ontological divisions between virtuality and materiality—“the sham world” and “the real world.” 15 The rhetoric of drugs/addiction is bound to “a rhetoric of fantasy” such that one can assume the tech-junkie has a “taste for something like hallucinations” (Derrida 236). Considering the lengths to which some have gone to “protect identity from an ‘experience without truth’” (Redfield), this already is enough to warrant a rigorous hesitation before invoking the rhetoric(s) of addiction.

Another significant assumption regarding “the addict” is that s/he is suffering from a deficiency of will. Along these lines, Sedgwick observes:

[I]n the taxonomic reframing of [the user] as an addict, what changes are the most basic terms about her. From a situation of relative homeostatic stability and control, she is propelled into a narrative of inexorable decline and fatality, from which she cannot disimplicate herself except by leaping into that other, even more pathos-ridden narrative called kicking the habit. (131)

In the current case, figures of addiction suggest inevitable disintegration, destruction for the techno-phile, and imply salvation is attainable only through an emotively-resolute abstinence. Abstinence is necessary since “subscription to an anti-existential rhetoric of unchangeable identities” means just as “there are no ex-alcoholics, only recovering alcoholics” (134), there are no ex-tech junkies, only recovering ones.

The ubiquity of (digital) technology, however, deeply problematizes an “abstinence-only” approach. To repurpose an insight of Rickert’s, critics of technology: “assume that we can simply change our way of life because it is ultimately a matter of choosing alternative practices, a conception that maintains the implicit separation of subjective individual from material environment. That separation, however, is precisely the issue” (252). Indeed, if one’s ambient environs are replete with beings/objects to which one’s response is compelled and non-declinable, exposing the fiction of self-same identity, it makes little sense to chastise anyone for weak-willedness in favor of “heroic pure voluntarity” (Sedgwick 133-134). Regardless, it is becoming increasingly prevalent to see how, if technological abstinence is deemed impossible or unlikely, institutional authorities have been christened with the power to intervene, adopting whatever means necessary to (re-)establish normal productive behavior.

Neoliberal capitalism’s ethic of hyper-production isn’t wholly opposed to rhetorics of addiction, though; on the contrary. Akin to how the grotesquely failed “War on Drugs” worked and still works to justify the draconian, racist overreach of state power—the state needs drugs—certain rhetorics of (technology) addiction appear to be stealthily aligned with capitalist forces. As Sedgwick remarks, “under the searching rays of this new addiction attribution are the very [activities] that late capitalism presents as the ultimate emblems of control, personal discretion, freedom itself” (132-133). For instance, capitalist ideology identifies and frames the  “shopaholic” as exercising liberty and choice, with no call for intervention required; thus, a classic “contradiction” in political economy is revealed as compulsive consumer identities are produced and permitted to exist alongside “the propaganda of free will” (Sedgwick 133-134). Or, as Marc Redfield puts the point, “identities and desires get produced within a consumer economy that represents subjectivity both as inalienably natural and as compulsively iterative and artificial.”

Bought a hundred dollar bottle of champagne like me?
Just to pour that motherfucker down the drain like me? 16

If one is hooked on the latest devices, gadgets, and apps, is it surprising that neoliberal forces would develop and encourage an essential identity connected to this “addictive” behavior? Sherry Turkle notes how “discussing the power of technology in [terms of addiction] makes people feel powerless. It is as though they are facing something that is by definition more powerful than they could ever be. Resistance seems futile. But many do resist.” Yet, of course, that is precisely neoliberalism’s aim: to make people feel powerless regarding consumption, to render non-resistance and non-renunciation a way of life; as Ronell reminds her readers, “[t]he addict is a non-renouncer par excellence” (Crack 9). 17 Hence a parting question for this section inspired by Catherine Malabou: What should we do so that figurations of the brain’s functions do not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism? 18

The Structure(s) of Addiction

Along with critiquing the concepts of drugs/addiction with regard to essentialized identities and their relation to capitalism, another strategy has been to deconstruct the opposition between addictive/non-addictive behaviors and to (re-)figure “drugs” as an existential structure. Following this line of thought, Derrida contends “the concept of drugs is a non-scientific concept, . . . instituted on the basis of moral or political evaluations” (229); hence one might contend that drugs/addiction do not indicate a domain invincibly demarcated and defined by empirical research.19 In fact, according to Bennett Foddy and Julian Savulescu, “[c]urrent neurological evidence gives us no reason to think that addictive desires are formed in a different way to regular desires . . . all pleasure-oriented behaviors change our brains, through the same mechanisms” (3). Foddy and Savulescu therefore contend the brain can be “highjacked” by so-called normal behavior and that normal and addictive behaviors differ only in degree but not kind. In short, it would seem scientific findings support deconstructing the addictive/non-addictive binary, since “[t]he bright line we so often draw between drug addiction and habitual behavior is imaginary. . . . All that is required is a high dose of any rewarding behavior, be it eating, sex, or anything else the subject finds attractive” (6).20 The tech-addict, exercise-addict, and alcoholic, for example, find one another in surprisingly close company.

Are you deranged like me? Are you strange like me?

Lighting matches just to swallow up the flame like me?21

Since one cannot sharply demarcate between addictive and non-addictive behavior, this not only reveals how drugs/addiction are rhetorical and/or figurative in “nature,” it raises the question as to what would happen were one to attribute addictiveness to all behavior.22 Hence, in Crack Wars Avital Ronell risks the following observation:

Our ‘drugs’ uncover an implicit structure that was thought to be one technological extension among others . . . [but] [w]hat if ‘drugs’ named a special mode of addiction, however, or the structure that is philosophically and metaphysically at the basis of our culture? (13)

Here “drugs” are transformed, (re-)figured from one type of technology into anything a singular being or community finds itself in proximity to or that is prosthetically constitutive thereof. In Ronell’s view, being a technology addict would be redundant, since every-body exists, becomes who/what they are, through compulsive, non-declinable connections to a whole range of “substances”—food, water, people, plant-life, books, television, whatever. As Kendall Gerdes neatly summarizes, “drugs” are indicative of “the subject’s nonability to defend or even clearly define [itself] against [affection from the] outside” (339).

Are you high enough without the Mary Jane like me?

Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me?23

Addiction/drugs are thereby rendered “non-contingent,” since they figure not some condemnable failure of the will or neurochemical disease24 but rather what Gerdes calls an “uncontrollable relationality” whereby an existent is inescapably moved by the other, under its influence (350). The structure Ronell terms “Being-on-drugs” “implies that there is no such thing as the ‘sobriety’ of not being under any influence at all: that kind of hermetic isolation from affection would imply not being at all” (Gerdes 353-353). Here, then, through the tropes/figures in question, arises an avant-garde way of exposing something un-figurable, namely, what Diane Davis describes as “an originary (or preoriginary) rhetoricity—an affectability or persuadeability—that is the condition for symbolic action” (Inessential 2). As a structure, “Being-on-drugs” exposes singular life as influence-able to the core, an automated/machinic response system.

Provided the above theoretical strategies, it seems deconstruction undercuts efforts to deploy figures of addiction for the purposes of production and control. However, Derrida avers, “[a]s soon as one utters the word ‘drugs,’ even before any ‘addiction’[,] a prescriptive or normative ‘diction’ is already at work, performatively, whether one likes it or not” (229). No matter how much one deconstructs or transforms the concepts of addiction/drugs, they are thoroughly saturated, contaminated, parasited, by normativity and prohibitivity. This perhaps explains why “a certain type of ‘Being-on-drugs’ [has] everything to do with the bad conscience of our era” (Ronell, Crack 3), since neoliberal ideology contends everyone is a sovereign agent despite the fact singular existence is dependent upon, compelled towards, various “substances."25 In other words, people are wracked with guilt due to innumerable (inter-)dependencies they are supposed to be able to resist.

Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?

Pointing fingers ‘cause you’ll never take the blame like me?26

(Digital) technology is of course one such “substance,” and accordingly, people feel guilty or ashamed about their inability to abstain from it. Hence, a concluding question for this section: Is it possible to rhetorically figure drugs/addiction—especially in relation to technology—such that it ceases to feed the bad conscience of our era?

Susceptibility, Mourning, Futures

Following the insights of Sedgwick and other theorists, one can see how rhetorics of addiction/drugs can be deployed as mechanisms of normativity and control while at the same time advancing neoliberal capitalist ideology. One might respond to the problematic effects of such figures by deconstructing them, (para-)conceptually generalizing the tropes in question to the point they name an existential structure, but this may not be enough to overcome the “guiltiness” attributed to singularities for being unable to remain sovereign and wholly in-affectable. Permit me a return, then, to the epigraph from Turkle, who argues “[i]nstead of thinking about addiction, it makes more sense to explore how we are vulnerable to certain things that technology offers. The path forward is to learn more about our vulnerabilities and design around them.” If Turkle is justified in advocating a rhetorical shift away from rhetoric(s) of addiction, what more might one say about (digital) technology in relation to the vulnerability of finite beings?27

In Precarious Life, Judith Butler develops a theory of ethics connected not to the will of a sovereign agent, but the impressionable, woundable body. She avers, “at the most primary level we are acted upon by others in ways over which we have no say, and . . . this passivity, susceptibility, and condition of being impinged upon inaugurate who we are” (90). In other words, prior to so-called conscious awareness, beings of all types continually affect and move the exposed singular body, not just other human beings, but everything from little blue-eyed cats to digital dating sites. Such beings or forces give one to be, make one become who one is (each time). In Gerdes’ terms, “[this] is the essence of humility: in the midst of no clarity, no assurance of your adequacy, you respond” (354); and indeed, vulnerability is humbling. By contrast, without humility before one’s existential condition, a stubborn clinging to notions of self-sufficiency and transparency, one not only remains mired in ego-mania but often becomes a threat in order to “prove oneself.” Hence Butler observes how “[vulnerability] is a condition, a condition of being laid bare from the start and with which we cannot argue. . . . [W]e can argue with it, but we are perhaps foolish, if not dangerous, when we do” (Precarious 31). For instance, an already-prior vulnerability to (digital) technology cannot be warred against; it cannot be willed away, and attempts to do so may be more deleterious than had one done nothing. One can “Just say no!” through means like device-free dinners, but not to radical openness to technological affection. For as Ronell notes, when it comes to technology’s rhetorically moving call, “[i]t is a question of [non-declinable] answerability” (Telephone 2).

(Oh, ooh oh, ooh oh, oh)

These voices won’t leave me alone28

Vulnerability not only (re-)figures one’s being rhetorically compelled towards technology; it provides an emotionally-elucidating lens through which to appreciate the fears and concerns of those critical of technology and its supposedly “narcotizing” powers. In The Telephone Book, Ronell couches Martin Heidegger’s attitude towards technology in relation to mourning (or the incapacity to mourn) (16),29 and viewing critics of technology as “mourners” vulnerable to loss strikes me as significantly more hospitable than accusations of Luddism.30 Consider the following statement of Carr’s: “The price we pay to assume technology’s power is alienation. The toll can be particularly high with our intellectual technologies. The tools of the mind amplify and in turn numb the intimate, the most human, of our natural capacities—those for reason, perception, memory, emotion” (211). One can certainly contend Carr is mourning unnecessarily here,31 but by deploying figures of mourning one not only shifts towards rhetoric(s) of vulnerability and humility, one also denies critics like him the tropes required to indict those who aren’t mourning as drugs addicts—like when he bemoans how his “synapses howled for their Net fix” (199). In contrast to Carr’s loaded language, one could say the perceived loss or diminishment of certain cognitive functions evinces a kind of “wounding,” and “the wound testifies to the fact that I am impressionable, given over to the other in ways that I cannot fully predict or control” (Butler, Giving 84). One thereby guides the technology critic and others towards the rhetoric of vulnerability, and hopefully in turn, a shift in attitude.

Furthermore, by moving towards figures of vulnerability and rhetoricity/humility, one comes much closer to the theoretical heart of the matter, namely, the exposition of humanism and the sovereign subject “Man” as illusory. If singularities are vulnerable to affection and “wounding” through technological or other means, if they are thereby inescapably, rhetorically moved, this shatters the image of human existence as endowed by Nature32/God with the power to control action in an un-impinged manner, free to determine and manifest destiny without outside influence. As Katherine Hayles points out, though, humanism and/or “Man” offers only an historically-contingent idealization, “a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power, and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice” (286-287).33 In short, humanism depicts “Man” as in-vulnerable—to material conditions like race, class, gender, species—such that he can heroically confront forces like technology and morally fail, foregoing his freedom in the grasp of “addiction” and dependency.

And all the people say:

“You can’t wake up, this is not a dream

You’re part of the machine, you are not a human being”34

By contrast, what post-humanism entails, more importantly than conceptualizing singular existence as iterated by technology, is “recogniz[ing] and celebrat[ing] finitude as a condition of human being” (Hayles 5 emphasis mine). Posthumanism affirms “humility"35 as openness to affection by, and vulnerability to, the other; it is a vision of “the human” as non-declinably interrelated with a multiplicity of beings such that there are no borders to guard,36 no wars to wage,37 against (digital) technology or any other threat to inalienable human essence. Hence, permit me to recontextualize an observation of Butler’s: “If we are interested in arresting cycles of violence to produce less violent outcomes, it is no doubt important to ask what . . . might be made of grief besides a cry for war” (Precarious xii). To this end, might “making peace” with technology, “[living] with [it] in greater harmony” (Turkle), entail shifting away from rhetorics that figurally align it with drugs/addiction and the maddening and misguided Reaganite campaigns against them? Might “making peace” mean including technology among those quizzical entities to which one can instead ethico-politically respond?38 As Davis avers, there can indeed be “peace [with the other] despite profound nonunderstanding” (Inessential 84), and it would seem the nonunderstanding at issue is not comprehending precisely what vulnerability to technology can/will bring about, what it will have or already has transformed regarding the human.

It’s quite relevant, then, that Butler suggests “[p]erhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance” (Precarious 21). For whether one mourns the advent of technology/digitization or not, there is a vast transformation or transmutation under way, the outcome of which is uncertain. In the words of Clay Shirky, “[t]he change we are in the middle of isn’t minor and it isn’t optional, but nor are the contours set in stone.” And since the stones are not yet set, let’s craft their shapes and positions in such a way that it reveals technology’s potentially “saving power,"39 inventing “lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with . . . machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (Haraway 295).40 This does not mean accepting life and thought as now suddenly dependent upon technology; “networks” of technological inscription reside at the heart of thought/life itself, whereas the rhetoric of humanism and its ways of seeing are thoroughly contingent. It is a question of affirming that machinic qualities—interrelatedness, interdependency, being driven from “outside”—are endemic to one’s existence, and like any finite existent, one will eventually cease to function. But before I break, I write to you through the wire(s), dear reader, reaching out across the signal-waves, knowing that these words do not belong to me and the impact of which is impossible to foresee.41 Yet standing humbled before an opaque future, exhilarated and chilled by its promise, this fragile machine is propelled forward by the enigmatic phrase:
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold …42
  • 1. See Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1).
  • 2. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRHNi3QfFlE)
    Just as Martin Heidegger evokes the poet Friedrich Hölderlin throughout his essay on technology, I find it
    fruitful to inject my analysis with lyrics from a “poet” as well. In doing so, I attempt to offer up a kind of “reading,”
    one where hermeneutic interpretation is mostly absent and the affective force of the song is what matters most.
  • 3. To Emmanuel Levinas I offer the following Deleuzian rejoinder: “Herein, perhaps, lies the secret: to bring into existence and not to judge. If it is so disgusting to judge, it is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary because what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment” (Deleuze, Essays 135).
  • 4. Jeffrey Nealon begins his essay on Levinas/Burroughs and drugs by exclaiming: “‘Just say no!’ Odd advice indeed. Say no to what or to whom? Say no to a threat, to something that will draw you too far outside yourself. Say no because you want to say yes.” I would add: “Just say no!” Odd advice because even though you’re always already receptive, saying Yes, rhetorically responding to others prior to so-called conscious awareness, drugs/addiction are supposed to somehow tune down finitude’s in-finite obligatedness.
  • 5. Nealon notes how, for Levinas, “intoxication is a wallowing in the terrifying materiality of the il y a’s ‘impersonal being,’ a state where the call or face of the other counts for nothing.” In other words, getting faded, tripped out, and so on, strips the world of hermeneutic significance and in turn (paradoxically) negates ethical responsibility. Nealon then proceeds to cleverly contend that drugs might expose “an other that is other even to the enigmatic alterity that one encounters in the face to face.”
  • 6. To get a sense for the pervasive concern regarding technology addiction in today’s popular culture, I invite the reader to visit medical sites like WebMD and addiction.com, but also the Huffingtonpost, BBC News, and theworldunplugged.wordpress. A number of books have been written on the subject as well, for instance, Larry Rosen’s iDisorder: Understanding our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us.
  • 7. Although Avital Ronell is discussing Heidegger’s views on technology when she makes the following observation, it seems for critics like Nicolas Carr, “[t]echnology … is viewed as potentially covering an authentic relation to Being. It is from this point onward that claims are made for a relation to Being more original than the technically assumed one” (Telephone 19).
  • 8. Carr avers: “When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity” (195).
  • 9. Gerald Block notes that “[a]s of June 2007, South Korea has trained 1,043 counselors in the treatment of Internet addiction and enlisted over 190 hospitals and treatment centers” (306). Although I certainly have no qualms with helping people to lead healthier lives, I question (concerning technology) the way in which such efforts are troped.
  • 10. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 11. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 12. See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol. 1.
  • 13. The quest to recover one’s “true” analogue self is often bound to recovering one’s seemingly “natural” self, which ironically, typically exercises linear, print-based forms of cognition. Carr, for example, avers: “Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better” (10). Although it’s clear wide-spread changes in cognition like these are taking place, I find it troubling—and strange given the genealogy of writing technologies he carefully explicates—Carr often conflates “literary” cognitive patterns with supposedly “natural” ones.
  • 14. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 15. See Davis, Breaking up [at] Totality (122-135).
  • 16. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 17. Following Alex Reid, it’s tempting to suggest rhetorics of addiction may function to “adjust[t] the body to meet the demands of virtual technology, just as the discourses of biopower adjusted the nineteenth-century body to the demands of industrialization” (188).
  • 18. Catherine Malabou asks: “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism” (12)?
  • 19. “The most popular view among neuroscientists is that an addict’s drug-seeking behavior is the direct result of some physiological change in their brain, caused by chronic use of the drug” (Foddy and Savulescu 1).
  • 20. Eve Sedgwick adds to Foddy and Savulescu’s application of neuroscience, though in a critical manner, contending “[t]he brain-chemical markers invoked by scientists to ‘explain’ addiction, of course, never had more than a tautologically explanatory or diagnostic force” (132).
  • 21. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 22. Regarding addiction as an all-pervasive existential structure, it’s worth recalling Davis’ early observations on the Foucauldian conception of power, namely, that “when a phenomenon takes on the illusion of omnipresence, it is very likely in a state of crisis, in the process of redoubling, of implosion into an undifferentiated flux of simulacra” (Breaking 132).
  • 23. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 24. According to Foddy and Savulescu, “[r]esearch from the biological and social sciences has tended to characterize addictive behaviors in two different ways: As the symptoms of a disease and as a failure of self-control” (1). To this I add Thomas De Quincey’s explanation: “What was it that did in reality make me an opium-eater? That affection which finally drove me into the habitual use of opium, what was it? Pain was it? No, but misery. Causal overcasting of sunshine was it? No, but blank desolation. Gloom was it that might have departed? No, but settled and abiding darkness” (10-11).
  • 25. In order to overcome bad conscience, it seems Ronell’s strategy is to deconstruct the concepts of guilt/obligation. She writes of “find[ing] yourself incontrovertibly obligated,” since “something occurs prior to owing, and more fundamental still than that of which any trace of empirical guilt can give an account” (Crack 57). As with addiction, here guilt/obligation are transmuted into a non-declinable existential structure; however, it’s unclear whether this move makes the rhetoric of drugs any less toxic. (See: Levinas, Otherwise than Being 112).
  • 26. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 27. In Kendall Gerdes’ illuminating essay “Habit-Forming,” it appears that she too closes in on the thought of vulnerability, in particular, via the rhetoric of humility. She posits: “Humility, I argue, constitutes a deferral of addiction’s totalizing force, and in that deferral constitutes an opening onto the rhetoricity of the addict” (350).
  • 28. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 29. Regarding Heidegger’s mourning of/for technologization, especially in “The Question Concerning Technology,” Ronell points out "there is something which he resists in technology, hoping it can be surmounted like the grief or pain one feels in the human realm of loss. We shall have to put a search on this unmarked grief through which Heidegger mourns the figure of technology. Or even more to the point, Heidegger wants to mourn technology, but it proves to be unmournable as yet, that is, undead and very possibly encrypted" (Telephone 16).
  • 30. Heidegger (in)famously contends that technological “[e]nframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve” (20). Even from my initial reading of this essay, however, I have never taken Heidegger to be a total Luddite, but rather deeply concerned with technology’s capacity to “frame” the world in highly calculative and consumptive (capitalist?) ways as opposed to thoughtful “meditative” ones.
  • 31. “Virtually all of our neural circuits,” notes Carr, “whether they’re involved in feeling, seeing, hearing, moving, thinking, learning, perceiving, or remembering—are subject to change” (26). It strikes me that such observations deployed as arguments “against” (digital) technology are ironic, since neurological plasticity implies vulnerability and vulnerability undercuts the form of humanism motivating the critique.
  • 32. Though reestablishing this point is somewhat outside the scope of the current analysis (though not unnecessary), it’s worth re-citing Derrida’s observation that “[t]here is no natural, originary body: technology has not simply added itself, from the outside or after the fact, as a foreign body. … It is indeed at the heart of the heart” (245).
  • 33. In order to clarify her views and quiet fears regarding posthumanism, Katherine Hayles explains that “[w]hat is lethal [to neoliberal conceptions of “the human”] is not the posthuman as such but the grafting of the posthuman onto a liberal humanist view of the self” (287).
  • 34. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
  • 35. Gerdes avers that “by inhabiting humility, [one] exploits addiction’s structure of exposure toward something otherwise than addiction” (354). Such is precisely my aim throughout this piece—to highlight humility and/as vulnerability, the exposition of exposedness, moving towards something “otherwise than addiction.”
  • 36. In her beautifully-crafted “Cyborg Manifesto,” Donna Haraway explicitly mentions how “the relation between organism and machine has been a border war” (292).
  • 37. Carr, to his credit, speaks not of “war” but instead the potential formation of “countercultural movements” critical of technology (228).
  • 38. As Nealon presciently explains in this critique of Levinas, “insistence on the ‘human’ as sole category of ethical response further protects and extends the imperialism of western subjectivity.”
  • 39. Heidegger, via his reading of Hölderlin, attributes to technology a potentially “saving power“ (28-35). It has always surprised me how little scholars discuss this contention.
  • 40. Akin to Haraway, Davis avers “[i]t may also be possible, from here, to imagine a community that would not be based on the humanist nightmare, to imagine a subjectless community of disidentified cyborgs who re-cognize that the very basis for community is our finitude” (Breaking 134).
  • 41. “In the unfolding, topological process of becoming, we never become what we are” (Reid 191).
  • 42. See Halsey, “Gasoline” (Badlands).
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