Is the Body Obsolete? (On the Body, Woman & Nature)

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The following is connected to my previous post Wither the Eye of the Flesh?, moving from the issue of disembodiment in metaphysics into the technological transhumanism and machine-culture, grafting each upon the other to explore nihilism’s apparent dispossession and displacement of the body. Specifically, in the case of the present post, it is the body of woman that has become the target.

The following excerpt is by Eric Steinhart, from “Technological Disembodiments” originally published in CTheory (Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory), Volume 14, Number1-3 (1990).

“The summer 1989 issue of the Whole Earth Review, “Is the Body Obsolete?” reveals, with stark and disturbing clarity, the relations between gender, technology and power….The articles in the issue are divided along gender lines, with the women in favor of the body and most of the men against it. The women love and admire the body…With a few notable exceptions, the men regard the body as flawed. What doe the men love? Machines. The women are wisely suspicious of the notion that the body is obsolete, regarding it as an expression of male hatred that directs itself against women, life and the earth…

…Three theories of abandonment permeate the articles of the men who claim that the body is obsolete: the body will be abandoned in favor of machines, the earth will be abandoned in favor of outer space, and women will be abandoned in favor of asexual reproduction.”

Steinhart’s work is worth revisiting in light of my own work in painting and sculpture, including the ideas and perspectives of theory it may entertain. At the center of a material, ecstatic fleshiness of art, founded upon geologic scaffolding, I find the question of embodiment and disembodiment. I find the immediate urgency of the matter – the flesh of the body, of nature, the flesh of art, and the flesh of the artist.

Steinhart raises a pertinent point about the nihilism of disembodiment, inquiring as to whether at bottom it harbors the fantasies of misogynistic political and cultural conditions. It would be the perverse male fantasy of the obsolescence of the body and the implanting of the human mind into the machine. This is the dream of the technocratic as they entertain the science-fiction fantasy of ‘living forever’ inside the machine. Motivated, perhaps, even by womb-envy and the psychosis of narcissism, this fantasy is one of we men are giving birth to ourselves; that is, without having to involve women at all. This is what Steinhart says when he discusses

“downloading human consciousness into a robot,” which, “doesn’t just render the body obsolete; by rendering sexual reproduction and pregnancy obsolete, it specifically makes the bodies of women obsolete.”

Steinhart mentions the movie The Terminator, and his analysis is surprising because it strikes one with an ‘of course’ moment,

One of the significant aspects of The Terminator is that the robot’s mission is to kill a woman, and he is to kill her because she will bear a child who will lead the human race in its fight against the machines. The hatred of the machines is directed specifically against the female body in its capacity to bring new life into the world, it is directed specifically against pregnancy.”

Is the body obsolete? – The question of the final solution for the body. This is inherently based on the fear of death. That is, speaking of the body, here is Burroughs, We have the technology to recreate a flawed artifact.” And it is this fear of death, or of death itself (extinction), which harbors the argument against the body: it is death that makes it a flawed artifact. Since the body dies and therefore ends the accumulation of narcissism that we crave, we’ve developed a hatred for the flesh that sits at bottom to the imagination of a condition of disembodiment. And one could extend this and see why this hatred would subsequently attempt to displace the body of woman, being that her body is the body that gives a life, but which cannot be lived without death.

In the manner of this particular light shone upon the primal fear, it is precisely the reason why death is prevalent in my art: death is the periphery in which the center moves, of which the body knows intimately, as intimate as it is to lay with the woman. The love of nature is a love of the body, an acceptance of death just as it is the joy of life, and the sensual revelation of the body of “the Goddess” – matter, the material realm, or the deposited, sedimental and erosional sense. When She appears She is the flesh of the world. But this Goddess worship is exactly what the technological dictatorship goes against, having recourse in its more inner fantasies to destroy the life-giving force of sex.

A Kroker,

“When power loses the necessity for the ‘truth’ of sex, then it is also free to decouple corporeality from an obvious imprisonment.”

This imprisonment being the flawed artifact of the body. And women, in the instance of the theme, being the body of the facticity of life that must be made obsolete by power, in order to push forward the simulacrum in the name of polymorphous symbolism. I am obviously not against the polymorphous sexuality of the other (politically, I am a classical liberal were it counts); however, I have noticed at the level of explicit comments, but also of implicit insinuations, a growth of despising against pregnant women: those goddamn “breeders,” as they say. What I would simply point out is that this is not a coincidence  when related to the technical charisma of the will to power. After all, the reality of sex as procreation must be dislodged from the site of the body in order that the possessive “I” may fulfill its fantasy and live inside the machine.

This metaphysics is a condition of disembodiment as “otherworldly,” tied to religious impulses whose notion is an other world, and while science has put an end to this other world, the  metaphysics has flowed into the cult of technology. Nietzsche already summed this up: nihilism. As Steinhart says,When the soul is released from its body, it enters a machine instead of a transcendental heaven.” Therefore against this nihilism, I try to situate the making of art in counter-distinction and reversal to the patriarchal metaphysics. In this sense, my apparent luddism of technology is an simultaneously an affirmation of the sex of woman, as a celebration of the feminine source of life against the constitutive process of fascist power.

 

The hatred of the flesh is a hatred for the material, earthly world: that is the crime of metaphysics in a nutshell. It stems ultimately from an embodiment that is fearful, and therefore turns against itself. Plato, explicitly regarding women as a degenerate form of men, and also Gnosticism, which would want to rid the body, rid the earth: these of the enemies of the artist who works intimately with material.

One can sketch out an equalizing chain in order to better understand the approach to the aesthetics and art of Fieldwork Studios: matter = nature = the feminine = ecstasy.

Steinhart mentions, in this context of replacing humans with artificially intelligent machines, Nina Hartley’s quote, To seriously entertain the thought of supplanting human life with artificial intelligence is the epitome of cynicism. It is this kind of ‘techno-thought’ that makes me fear that western civilization has gone mad.” I agree with Hartley on this, it certainly appears maddening, since the technological fantasies reveal that at bottom metaphysics as a condition of disembodiment, and in the end, a condition of destruction.

Consider that the history of optics within the history of western aesthetic culture refined itself more and more towards the floating-eye, at disjuncture from the corporeal sensation, so that Art History lends itself to an accumulation of nihilism through representation machinery (one is tempted to steal Paul Virillio’s phrase, vision-machines) – of the representative staging of will to power. And it is perhaps this distance, as a distancing from the body, which created also “nature.”

Body/Woman/Nature, then, were made representations by the metaphysics of power. And upon this backdrop, to confront such questions, a direct confrontation must occur with the facticity of the body. This means confronting not only the regions of the body, or of its carnality subject to death, but to link it, intimately, with its own death that is found in the truth of sex.

If a question could be generated about the artist’s ability to traverse nihilism, then it would unfold as follows: may we find a style of our carnality? Existing as bodies, may we courageously respond to the face of death as part of our embodiment, and may we affirm therefore the flesh, the feminine and the earth?

 

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