"i want to share you - what are you doing to me?"
Awe-Stricken and Immobile: Body of Intima
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Introduction (very emotional)
I am fully equipped for the highly emotional experience. I disappear deeper and deeper into the whiteness of the landscape, with the sites opening in the subtle and repetitive rhythm of images, voices, and music. Everything is short, clean, just the basics. I travel through the emotional labyrinths that emerge from the intestines of linked networks. I share the rhythm of these parallel, flickering landscapes revealed in front of me, intriguing me, seducing me with their spaceless speech and imagery. No emotion, just a glimpse of it, no feeling, just the pain of it, no happiness, just the sound of it, no talk, just the word of it, no passion, just the climax of it. The intimate landscapes play with my illusions of mobility, possession and boundlessness, surprising me with their inner history and touching me with their surprising analogies. A network of liquid emotion, a fusion of the visible and the invisible. The bonds between the incongruities and spanned incommensurables may seem playful, but they are not innocent. Playfulness is just a mask for a very serious adventure taking place at the intimate landscapes. There is a clear threat of emotional attachment. Who provokes me and who gets provoked? Who fills me with lust and who is lustful? Who is mobile and who is frozen? Danger resides in the intimate link.
Throughout history, the main physical reaction of man encountering artificial creatures has been described in terms of a sudden immobility of his body: perceiving wonders, artificial creatures, monsters and other heterogeneous hybrids, the spectator becomes frozen, immobile, inactive, lifeless even. Petrifaction myths are one of the most famous and powerful disclosures of such danger; unnatural and demonic fusions of spirit and inert matter, some creatures possess the power to freeze man’s spirit and turn him into dead stone. Medusa's head as a strange combination of animal and human features, Agipa - the iron copy of the wife of the Spartan dictator Nabis (notorious for her deadly embrace of the stunned subjects), and Hephaestus, the iron man from The Iliad are just a few examples of such danger. Their terrible effects are usually in service of powerful rulers and dictators who, with the aid of their artificial aligns, not only fill their subjects with terror, but take possession of them in their immobile state, and metaphorically steal their spirit of life and freedom. Artificial creatures play an important part in the mythological structure of the world, symbolizing "transgression, a breakdown in hierarchy, a symbol of crisis and undifferentiation." Old myths and religious stories render this undifferentiation in a special way: the disclosure of a monster’s body turns the relationship between earth and heaven (man and god) upside down, opening a subversive perspective on the fundamental questions as regards the human relationship with the divine. This perspective becomes even more radical, however, in case of physical monsters made by man (and designed according to the architecture of his technical imagination and virtuosity). Physical creatures made by man conform to the old Aristotelian scheme of spirit, form and matter, the scheme which influenced the philosophical perception of the difference between life and non-life all the way to Descartes and the modern disclosure of the animal machine. It is, however, not the arrangement of its parts that makes the automaton rare, extraordinary and monstrous. "Rather it is the fact that matter formed by artificial means and moving of its own volition would seem to be endowed with spirit." Having set the boundaries (life and non-life , nature and artificiality, man and god, the microcosm and the macrocosm) throughout the history of a unified, macrocosmic world, the hierarchy 'spirit - matter - form', becomes threatened by these creatures, and this is precisely where their dangerous monstrosity appears. Their dangerous link with artificial demonic forces (spirit) could radically transform the unified world of similarities, e.g. between things and words (Foucault), or the human and the divine, turning it upside down, "as if there were any unhappier situation than that of a man under the domination of his own inventions."
With the Descartes' analogy between man and machine, artificiality slowly but firmly transgresses from mythology into the very centre of developing scientific thought; machinery is no longer rendered as a secret, but as a basic mode of operation, functionality and rational understanding. It is very interesting, for example, to compare two popular books on the art of machinery from the 17th century. The famous work by Salomon de Caus, Forces mouvantes (1615), contains nothing mysterious in the illustrations of machines. Caus’ graphical representations differ greatly from those of Utrisque cosmi historiam (1617 - 1626) by Robert Fludd; the latter "seem to conceal (not without suggesting that revelation is to be had elsewhere) as much as they reveal." Fludd's book thus reflects the old mythological and medieval tradition according to which machinery is located in the cosmos only within a very complicated and secretive network of analogies that reveal the power game between the demonic and the divine, the weakness of man’s creations and their inner limitations. Of course, Salomon de Caus does not try to imply that mechanical philosophers have no trade secrets, but the ethics governing the disclosed machine is completely different: what is wished to be kept secret from the public now dwells behind the door of the construction room; the secret is becoming the privilege of scientific legitimacy, that of the purified connoisseur - the only person authorised to produce (dangerous) hybrids and disclose their secrets in the black box. The scientist becomes the only one who understands the functioning of the artificial creature, and the ways in which it can be manipulated. Furthermore, with the aid of the creature’s mechanism, he can also understand the operation of other mechanisms found in nature: every artificial and natural owes its form entirely to the intentions of its maker/researcher.
The machines in Caus' book come across as similar to the machine of the body defined in Descartes' Traité de l'homme. Just as Caus' artificial mechanism is disclosed to prove that the disposition of mechanical parts is entirely sufficient to produce movement (with no spirit inhabiting inert matter), the body in Descartes' philosophy is revealed as a disposition of organs 'which is by itself sufficient to produce in us all the movements that are not at all determined by our thought.' The understanding of the machine animale testifies to the fact that the question of life and non-life has become the privilege of the intervention of reason (rational soul) as the only factor capable of to clearly defining the relationship between animals and humans, demons and real bodies, reality and virtuality, god's work and that of man. The transparency of the body machine as disclosed in anatomy theatres and ritualised dissections, is that of a disclosed natural object, a demonstration of rational differentiation and enumeration (énumération), with the machine representing the basic biomechanic principle of explanation. The disclosed body is established as a field of knowledge, a front of dissected information which obtain their 'constitutional' legitimacy through the operation of reason and the perception of taste.
Very interesting examples of the new body/machine relationship can be found in 17th century curiosity museums, followed by anatomical museums of the Enlightenment. In these collections, the dangerous monstrousness (link) is present only as the product of an optical deceit, as a feint of art as well as of philosophy. In the 17th century, monsters no longer appeared as the site of horrible disruption, but in deforming mirrors, automatic theatres and caoptric machines, as for example in the Musaeum Kircherianum housed in the Society of Jesus College in Rome, established by Athanasius Kircher (1602 - 80). Even though Kircher was still dedicated to the allegorical unification of all world religions and philosophies (and his position differed from the encyclopaedic dissection and classification of exhibits in the late Enlightenment), it is very interesting to observe the rhetorical, metaphysical and social structure of the artificial creatures (automata) in his complex allegorical universe of a museum. A universe, of course, that is already flirting with the scientific disclosure of optical illusions as employed by Descartes and other rationalist philosophers. The artificial and monstrous exhibits were mainly located in the so-called "Class Nine" of the Museum, which was called "Instrumenta Mathematica". This kind of discoursive context clearly indicates a change in the understanding of the artificial and its role. From then on, artificiality was understood as a product of technical genius and philosophic mastery. By means of optical illusion, most of such machines (called machinemata or mechanical contraptions) served the purpose of turning spectators into monsters and animals (the prime automata of that time), deforming people’s bodies or combining them with other bodies, animals and objects. "I myself have this machine which has rapt everyone in great admiration when they see instead of their natural face, the face of a wolf or a dog or another animal." The machine is visible, and transparently articulated in a way that its form and faculties are not. Its occluding surface is removed to reveal the inside, with the key components enlarged or disassembled in an "exploded view" employed as early as by Leonardo. "The theatrum or theatre, whose etymology links it with beholding, wondering, and contemplation, is, as many titles of the period indicate, the natural place of the machine."
A similar collection can be found in Manfredo Settala's museum, one of the most famous museums of the period. It is interesting that the optical monsters and caoptric automata of Settala's museum not only entailed the monstrous but the ethnical (which was almost a synonym at the time). Scarabelli, the author of the catalogue of Settala's Museum, invites people to turn away from the "Theatre of Marvels" (i.e. Africa) and visit his own museo where all fascinating objects, also those especially difficult to come across, can be admired. The museo thus makes visible what would otherwise remain inaccessible to everyday vision. This is an example how the new museum "organizes and condenses into one small container, available to the panoptic view of the spectator, the unattainable, unassimilable, and overwhelming diversity furnished by the real world of nature." Constructed in those collections was not only man’s relationship to the artificial, but also his general link (relationship) to the Other Body: hybrids, Africans, women, monsters by birth, walking statues. In Settala's Museum, for example, there was a special mirror on display: "when one looks at oneself in it, even if you are of a very white complexion, you see reflected one's own image blackened in the guise of an Ethiopian." With the aid of these collections, we can study the beginning of early modern "production" of Other Bodies, the way everything dangerous, forbidden, threatening was disclosed and subordinated to the technical, philosophic and rationalist mastery of purification, with the finest differentiation inherent in the modern schism into body and soul, life and non-life, the human and the artificial.
The revelation of bodily and artificial secrets as well as the regulation of differences seem to promise autonomous subjectivity – separation and self-sufficiency as to one’s own reflexivity (representability), and a final liberation from one’s dark, irrational, unclassifiable, unhierarchical limits and determinations. The body of modernity can only be seen through the procedure of the “evacuation of consciousness from the world”, with the consciousness occupying the position over and above nature - also above the nature of the body - parading as “the prerequisite for founding any knowledge.” Thus, relevant knowledge was only accessible after the real body has been expelled. Such way of knowledge production can be observed throughout the history of modernity, especially through the development of modern medicine. The more secrets of the body we uncover, the more empty and artificial it becomes – succumbing to systematisation, generalisation, control and universal anticipation. What seems to be so alluring in the contemporary technological and scientific reality is the illusive possibility to transgress the most troublesome and traumatic limitation that has always pursued and threatened the rationalist argumentation of modern subjectivity: to reach this "Other", located beyond the fact that man has always been but part of unpredictable nature, and has thus inevitably been defined as a “transient structure with limited capacity for adaptation and achievement.” The disappearance and replacement of the body in all-embracing technological reality can also be understood as a direct consequence of one of the two poles constituting the notion of modernity as defined by Bruno Latour – that of purification, which constantly differentiates between “two distinctive ontological zones, i.e. the human on the one side and the non-human on the other." To put it differently: purification is another name for the radical boundary thinking "which always leaves out the body to develop the mind." The main characteristic of the body viewed through the prism of boundary thinking is that, undergoing the anatomic, scientific, aesthetic and technological procedures imposed by purification, the body is gradually becoming a place of non-life, a plain object of scientific interest and that of representation, a pure sign and a discoursive, binary, digital net of flickering signifiers.
Even for the modern cartesian and rationalist perspectives that introduced a body without secrets by employing anatomical and rationalist procedures or the mechanism itself, the issue of hybrids remains a problematic one. I am disclosing you, it is I who produced you in the first place, I want to understand you, I want to share you, and what are you doing to me?
In his description of a "most beautiful statue of bronze" walking across a garden, Pietro Scarabelli states that "because of the stupor that such a motion occasions, whoever begins to observe it is rendered immobile." The encounter of man and machine makes it hard to differentiate between the petrified human and the animated statue, between the observer and the object observed. According to Emanuelle Tesauro, the observer himself becomes similar to the artificial creature; he is turned into a double of the object admired, and vice versa: there is "so much stupor on the part of the onlookers that they appear to be statues & statues appear to be onlookers."
Despite the modern "scientific" and "anatomic" disclosure of the artificial, the excess of immobility remains. More even, it could paradoxically be read as one of the main bodily symptoms in the distopian history of modernity, having reached one of its peaks in the romantic descriptions of the terrifying (unheimliche) encounter of the human and the artificial. The intervention of the artificial Other becomes dangerous, e.g. for the mesmerised Maria in Hoffmann's Der Magnetiseur or the poet Nathanael in Der Sandmann, the story about the artificial woman named Olimpia: "In her walk and posture there was some rigidness and stiffness which by many invoked unpleasant attention." An encounter with the artificial woman usually results in immobility, paralysis, mortification, castration, repetition, silence, and lack of lust on the part of her admirer (lover). One of the most beautiful examples of this mortifying castration can be found in the dialogue between Edison (inventor of an artificial woman) and lord Ewald in Villiers de L'Isle Adam's novel L'Eve future. After Edison's disclosure of the mechanism of the artificial Eve (Ms. Alicia Hadaly), lord Ewald is curious how one will be able to speak (connect) with her. "With the Alicia of the future, the true Alicia, the Alicia of your soul, you will no longer have to put up with these sterile discomforts … She will definitely answer with the expected word, the beauty of which will depend on your own suggestion! Her »consciousness« will no longer be a negation of your own, but will become the kindred of a soul more appealing to your melancholy. In her, you will be able to evoke the joyous presence of your only love, this time without the fear that she might take in your dreams! Her words will never be a disappointment to your hopes. They will always be so sublime … that you will be able to awake them with your spirit. Here, you will never have to fear not being understood, as would be the case with the live one: you will only have to learn to pay attention to the time pressed between her words.” It is precisely the excess of immobility, however, that makes the image of the encounter with the artificial Eve so terrifying for the man. In a dialog with a real live woman, there is always some dissonance at work: one never achieves perfect harmony but "some other word dictated by her nature, one that will make your heart sink" A link with the artificial woman produces no discontinuity, no misunderstanding, and more even: "You won't even have to articulate any words yourself! Hers will be a response to your thoughts, your silence!" The passages reflect the old fear of the real encounter with her kind. The possession of an artificial woman has radical consequences: one becomes silenced (inactive) in her “harmonious” presence. Who is it that speaks and who is silent? Who is “artificial” and who “real”? Who is it that behaves like a machine? The uncertainty might have given rise to the art of the surrealist Hans Bellmer and to his famous obsession with the artificial doll, "a plastic anagram, ... like the sentence that invites us to rearrange it." Seeing Max Reinhardt's production of Les contes d'Hoffmann in 1932, Bellmer soon began constructing his own female doll which he obsessively photographed for the rest of the decade. He wrenched it out of shape, ravaged its internal secrets, and installed a museum of kitschy feminine trinkets in its stomach; one could see the latter through the doll’s navel - after pressing its nipple and switching on the torch the doll had in its throat. I want to share your inside but what are you doing to me? You uncover my sexual agonies, and sex and death are no longer enemies. With yourself opened to me, I'm a machine to you; immobile, castrated and invalid, inflicting wounds upon myself to be with you, and the differences between us are no longer clear. The excess of immobility has a paralysing, freezing effect upon a sexual entity. Sexuality becomes quiet and lifeless, surgical dissection, a means of research, a lesson in anatomy; immobile, castrated and invalid. The excess of immobility not only pertains to physical movements or senses but also to the body’s erotic energy and passion, its ability to communicate, to be unpredictable and fluid. This phenomenon is also reflected in Paul Virilio’s contemporary invalid body. It is indeed equipped with a whole array of sensorial gadgets and instruments to be able to move at incredible speed or experience infinite sexual, sensorial and intellectual adventures. In its (meat) reality, however, it is gradually turning into a body of an invalid; it is becoming reduced to its basic functions, and incapable of functioning without the aforementioned prosthetics. But the excess of immobility should not be viewed as a result of the incapacity or the obsoleteness of the body (Stelarc), but as a consequence of the radical ambiguity arising from the encounter of the human and the artificial. This is, however, no longer the ambiguity of the old mythological question "Am I alive or not?”, but that of the puzzle that emerged as early as with Descartes: “Am I a man or a machine?" , with the modern subject wanting to clearly differentiate between the two. The ambiguity came into actuality with the enormous contemporary production of hybrids that are becoming our everyday partners in complex technological reality. So why are you so ambiguous to me?
To understand the complexity of the excessive immobility of the human body, we have to venture further and explore the modern production of man’s 'second nature' (artificial, hybrid, inorganic) - a growing "recompense for the lost support in the 'first nature'" - the human animal has to reaccustom itself to the most elementary bodily rhythm of sleep, feeding, movement." Why is it that the encounter (co-existence) with the artificial becomes "the point of inversion, at which the very moment of 'spontaneous' natural power turns into an artificial prosthetic element"?
The answer to this question does not lie in the interpretation of excessive immobility as presented in the first part of the essay - in the continuity of the archaic fear of the demonic nature of man’s own creations, or as a sign of the bordeline nature and the problematic history of the machine. The fact that modernity always reflects the body within the dialectics between the utopian and the distopian, the fact that throughout the history of modernity, the desire for a replaced, re-modulated, disciplined, non-living body has been clearly accompanied by the fear of revived machinery, does not result from some unpredictable character of hybrid mutations. It is more a sign of our own borderline nature and our own problematic modern history, which have resulted in a special attitude towards hybridity and things in general. At this point, the stand of Bruno Latour can be helpful: the notion of modernity can not be imagined without its counterpole which Latour defines as »traduction« (translation) - "the mixing of genres present as something entirely novel, a hybrid between nature and culture," – that inevitably accompanies the purification between life and non-life on the representative, constitutional side of modernity. Says Latour, "so long as we consider these two practices of translation and purification separately, we are truly modern - that is, we willingly subscribe to the critical project, even though that project is developed only through the proliferation of hybrids down below. As soon as we direct our attention simultaneously to the work of purification and the work of hybridization, we immediately stop being wholly modern, and our future begins to change."
Latour discloses the complex nature of the relationship between the two main modern practices (hybridization/purification) to argue for his own position towards the representational status of current scientific practices and technology. However, his argumentation can also be of great use in the attempt to get to the essence of the excess of immobility in the body / machine relationship. The most interesting fact in the interaction of the two modern practices is that Latour’s hybridity can be viewed as a pure symptom governed by a simple psychoanalytical (automatic) response: "the more forbidden it is to think of hybrids, the more realizable they become." This problem reaches deep into the question of connections between man and machine (artificiality). Although welcomed and allowed on the one representation front (in the black box of the scientific laboratory, or in artistic imagination), these connections are left out on another - social, political, representative, constitutional, as well as in the field of aesthetic perception. There is a clear paradox present: the link with the (linked) hybridity always gets interrupted in the process. Modernity allows its hybrids to an extent only: "it renders the work of mediation that assembles hybrids invisible, unthinkable, unrepresentable." In other words, it is only unthinkable mixtures that are permitted: "the moderns allowed the practice of mediation to recombine all possible monsters without letting them have any effect on the social fabric, or even any contact with it."
The present day, however, is characterised by eager contemplation upon and recombination of diverse aspects of the human being (imagination, artificiality, biology, nature, passion, society, mother, child, father, machine, animal, sex, food, plant, corn, body, city, etc.). They are deeply inscribed in the general tendency towards connection, rendering this modern situation as one of immense tension. If we agree that being disconnected constitutes the supreme threat (of economic, social, intimate, sexual, private, public nature), then the biggest problem is how to legally become (connected with) the Other. To put it differently, how, with all these connections penetrating our contemporary life, the non-human object should be legitimised and given representation. As Latour states it, the problem is how to slow down, reorient "and regulate the proliferation of monsters by representing their existence officially. Will a different democracy become necessary? A democracy extended to things?" A glimpse of this kind of connectionism can also be caught in the postmodern idea of cyber, which does not exist as a coherent technologically created spatial arena but as a discursive site of e.g. ideological, representative struggles to define the relationship between technology and subjectivity, between technology and the body. Michele Kendrick defines this discursive site as a "cultural conjunction of fictions, projections and also anxieties." Identities, both human and non-human, are simultaneously served on the tables of the palimpsest and multilayer cuisine, perceived through distraction and surprise, dislocatedness, humour, cynicism, irony, timelessness and spacelessness, through the improvisation of playful surroundings and networks, as well as through conclusions that are never reached. Contradictions, conflicts, disproportional bodies, discrepant identities are the main characteristic of our "cosy" connections; but what is their legal position towards man? When I flirt with someone else’s body through various networks, does this really affect how the Other lives with me? Am I no longer connected to but one point: no danger but endless play, spicy but not too much, opposition but no position, body but no meat, freedom but no constitutional rights, perversity but fear of intimacy?
Finally, let us again return to Descartes and one of the most beautiful analyses of the excess of immobility – that in his Les Passions de l'Âme. It can be found in his description of the passion of wonder (l'admiration), the first of all the passions. "And one may say in particular about admiration that is useful because it makes us learn and retain in our memory things of which we were previously ignorant. For we only admire what appears to us as rare and extraordinary: and nothing can appear in this light unless we were ignorant of it, or even because it is different from the things we already knew: for it is this difference that causes us to call it extraordinary." However, like the other passions analysed in Descartes’ Passions de L'Âme, the 'first of all the passions' has its limits. The moment one goes too far, a serious threat to reason is posed, and one falls into the reign of l'etonnement (astonishment). Astonishment is "an excess of admiration that can never be anything but bad." The surprise provoked by astonishment is so violent that the animal spirits in the brain get so occupied in maintaining the impression made by the object admired that they no longer flow into the body’s muscles, "which makes the whole body remain immobile like a statue, and one can only perceive the first side of the object that is presented, nor is one able to subsequently acquire a more detailed knowledge of it." Not only does the excess of wonder result in blocking the possibility of further perception: "this could entirely remove or pervert the use of reason." It is not surprising that one behaves like a machine, a statue, and ultimately a beast; man without reason IS nothing more than a machine, a statue, a beast, and an empty epidermal sack. He becomes precisely like the rare and the extraordinary Other he confronts.
The interesting part of Descartes' description of excessive admiration resulting in the excess of immobility, is the fact that the rare and extraordinary thing breaks the connection with reason, and accordingly, the functional unity of the body and soul. In the initial excess of the passion of wonder, one is deprived of reason, recognition and the capability of understanding. The Other has an effect upon me, but such that the link is entirely broken. Why does modern production of hybrids (which are basically produced through connection and mediation), always entail a fear of disconnection, of the possible breaking of the link? The regulation, geography and locations of modern hybrids reveal the way we play the vain game of switching off, replace the 'first nature' with the 'second' and vice versa, and flirt with transparency and dislocatedness - but only to an extent. To let the other have an effect on you is not legitimate. The legitimacy does not stand for cosy political correctness, but for the fusion of the counterpoles, with the entities understood as a correlation and assemblage of parts – as entities but with the need to communicate, touch, feel, be different, speak, argue, repeat, or be perverse. It is but a constant being at risk, the "opposition robbed of all its innocence." (D. Haraway). This is the real encounter: Too spicy. Too liquid. Painful sometimes. Your reason is gone when you let the Other affect you. Our machines make us freeze, just like the gaze of our passionate lovers.
Today when hybrids are becoming less and less 'rare and extraordinary', when we all on one way or another fuse with multiple networks, equip our bodies with various prostheses, develop ways of perceptual and intellectual stimulation, and produce hybrids with a recombination of biological surroundings, the old ambiguity of nature / artificiality, body / machine still remains. But this ambiguity is more like a tricky political position, putting the real problem of the "immobility" behind. Man is becoming part of a distributed system, with his power lying precisely in his dependence. “Teleology is replaced by emergence, objectivism by reflexive epistemology, autonomous will by distributed behaviour, the body as the supporting system of reason by embodiment, and the liberal humanist manifest of control over nature by the dynamic partnership between nature and intelligent machinery.” We have to discuss how to officially represent the existence of our hybrids and how to reach the opposition in the omnipresence of ambiguity. More importantly, we have to understand that this is no longer a utopian story, but one of (possibly very dirty) interdependence and a very demanding "companion relationship." There is still danger lurking from behind, reflected in the excess of immobility. Danger resides in the intimate link. What happens if the Other loves us too much?