Review of Week 3 (Jan 24th, 26th)
(by Hayley Phillips and Julia McGovern)
Overview for Tuesday:
During class on Tuesday, January 24th, we began class by discussing Graham’s second chapter “The Gates of Difference.” With this second chapter, we began by speaking towards monstrosity, pushing our conceptions of what we typically associate it with. In the characters mentioned at the beginning of her chapter such as the chimera, or her previous allusion to Frankenstein, we sense that “monster” refers to a deviation from the normal. However, this chapter challenges us to, from a critical perspective, regard this figure of monstrosity as fulfilling the role of the post-human, long before the concept of androids or cylons had been developed. We then moved on to what the chapter was trying to get at in its core content. According to Graham we investigate the role of the monster in the past in order to understand how these legends and myths originated and explain them away through scientific rationale. The goal, as Dr. Seaman pointed out, was to ‘demystify.’ From there, we discussed the implications of demystification: whether this gave us some measure of reassurance as a culture, whether these explanations broadened or reduced the significance and symbolism of these creatures. We also discussed Graham’s focus (via Foucault) on two means of interpreting the construction of humanity: archeology and genealogy. How can we use these as tools for looking at the way the human identity is constructed? From Graham’s discussion in chapter two, we also moved from talking about how not only the concept of humanity, but the concept of the “self,” like a machine, is constructed.
After talking about Graham, we moved on to the second half and ending of Never Let Me Go, and how some of the concepts touched upon by Graham could add insight to our understanding of the novel. We began with general reactions to the ending, focusing on what the attitudes of the characters of Mrs. Emily, Madame and Mrs. Lucy reveal about the social and cultural atmosphere in which the clones are raised. We spent a large amount of time discussing why and how Kathy is the ideal student, ideal “carer,” that she has become, and determined that the conditioning used at Hailsham was acutely effective in developing the children’s personal relationships and sense of responsibility so that they had an essentially self-enforced psychological acceptance of their future. We also discussed the different ways in which Ruth and Tommy were not ideal as carers-how Ruth struggled with her fate by attempting to manipulate and control the small social sphere she had access to, and how Tommy’s sheer anger and emotional output violated the general terms of acceptable behavior for donors. We also discussed the vague broader world (or company/industry?) in which these operations were supposedly in effect. By intentionally excluding this sort of information, Ishiguro gives us a very personal and intimate-rather that political-novel, and perhaps this was, indeed, more effective in engaging our concern with the political implications. We realize that within the novel all that had shifted the public support away from institutions such as Hailsham was the realization that, just as society was currently struggling to disassociate with an “inferior” population, the clones, it could just as easily become the inferior population, with new genetic manipulation and scientific advancement on the horizon potentially introducing a superior race that would make average humans irrelevant. The ending of the book, while certainly nostalgic, did much to heighten our awareness that Kathy was indeed different from the typical human, that her conditioning was so thorough she tragically never perceived (or wanted to embrace) the possibility that she was not different, that she was an equal, that she could change her future or potentially escape.
Overview for Thursday:
We started class Thursday’s discussion with Hayle’s argument on Philip K. Dick in Chapter Seven of How We Became Post-Human. We began with a re-reading of Hayley’s blogpost which nicely summarized the article for us and drew us to make some crucial points such as ‘how does the essential quality of the human shift from the natural, what is Dick’s usage of schizoid mean and what is embodiment (physical or mental?)’ Although answers to these questions were scattered and appeared daunting, the class could agree that what is central to this chapter is the discussion of embodiment Hayles discusses throughout the chapter, that androids have no physical difference from humans, but their differences come in how they are portrayed to the audience or reader of the text. On page 164 of the reading, Dick uses what he defines as key characteristic of being human” that can set the human outside of the android.
We also touched on the critique of capitalism (which relates to our viewing of Minority Report) because no matter where a character is they are always immersed in an economic system, even if the relations aren’t distinct. We then pushed the idea that androids are a commodity or something that can be commercialized, reaching the ethical question of “Should androids be considered things or humans?” The goal was to challenge our thoughts and conceptions about what it truly means to be “not-human” or something other than human.
We then drifted into the Andy Miah essay, “A Critical History of Post-Humanism.” We started with simply stating the over-view of how the concept of post-humanism is talked about among communities and how they grow and obtain characteristics in different places. We then described the landscape of cultural-posthumanists, philosophical posthumanists and how the essay spends a great deal of time discussing the fact that post-humanists are in belief that humans are the superior species (pg.72). In Fukuyama’s words, “We have already accomplished everything.” Everything has been made from an original form, nothing is unique and most importantly he is in the post-modern belief that nothing is new. As Taylor said, “Post-humanists is in the absence of humanism.”
We briefly opened the discussion up to the class, when Ashley brought up factor X. “The concern is about the commercialization of biological technologies, too much will corrupt the essence of humanity which is factor X.” This can be analogous to the role capitalism plays in these post-human worlds, as mentioned previously in Hayles, Chapter Seven. If we are granted too much potential, “It’s not so much human dignity at stake but something other that takes a look in a different direction.” Our thirst for power may very well be our own destruction and a loss of humanity. Post-humanism however, gives us a comparison of how to define ourselves as being human. Fukuyama persists that particular organizations need to be installed before society can be capable of supporting these future technologies. Adam brought up a good point, though, because we are so unlike how we were say, five hundred years ago, if we asked ourselves in the past are we human? we would get the response, no, you’re not, you’re alien. The very presence of technology alters the way we view ourselves. The response, no you’re alien, you’re different, it really puts us and our time into perceptive of how we define ourselves.
Dr. Seaman then poised a thought to keep in mind: “In a post-human future how the options of choice and perfectibility come into play.” We then wrapped up our conversation with two viewings of scenes pulled from the movie, Minority Report. We briefly discussed the society presented in the film and how the system has somehow modified human behavior, but not their inherent desires. The movie had a very literal representation of the virtual world, like in the scenes that shows people living out their fantasies whether sexual or spiteful. The movie focuses on such places that bare the mind-numbing aspects of American culture like the mall, the gap and judgments of identity based only on the exterior model of the self. This made the humans appear more robotic in their behavior, and like mentioned in Hayles’ essay, the humans are more like the pre-cogs than the pre-cogs themselves. However, the movie does keep some concrete human qualities alive, “If there’s a flaw, it’s human. It always is.”
We mentioned debate of the system and how the characters are one hundred percent invested in the system because they have never known a life outside of it. It would appear our class came to the conclusion, that “technology is not the answer, it’s how we use it.” As seen in Minority Report and Iron Man, the presence of technology is not the source of evil, but how humans manipulate it. To a certain point, humans can have control over technology; however, humans must accept that one day technology will have the capability to over rule their control and exist on their own, as a separate identity (much like the raising of children: one day parents must accept their children will leave the nest). What has influenced the technology, is the presence of human sin (usually in the form of greed). If it is not the user, we can be sure it is then the instituter. Jill brought up a bigger question, “If a post-human society had a human quality like greed, then how are these aspects surviving in the community?” In earnest to survive, these humans have regressed into a more primal attitude.
Which drew us to a concluded thought, what is the general critique of the film? We agreed that, “The hierarchy of power and not understanding the truth of the problem. Crime is like a source of pain, and in answer to that problem the hierarchy removed the pain of the crime.”
We were also asked to keep in mind this sense of a non-human deity or a spiritual other that will present itself further in our reading and movie viewing.
Quotes from the reading:
“Even in supposedly rational, secular times, they retain the power to disturb and fascinate by virtue of their liminal and ambivalent status; indeed they may be said to perform an important function within their respective cultural imaginations and political discourses.” (Graham 39)
Applicable to Never Let Me Go or Battlestar Galactica
“‘Discipline’ serves not only to punish but to define, and Foucault’s studies of panoptic institutions and the pervasive discourse of therapeutic secologies argue that the most effective disciplines are in fact those where self-restraint is internalized, thus obviating the exercise of overt cohesion.” (Graham 42)
“It is easy to see how fear and repugnance at the moral circumstances of monstrous ontogenesis might be turned into malevolence towards those designated as different, and how the ascription of monstrosity might shift from being a warning against transgression to a demonization of the very creatures themselves.” (Graham 53)
“Knowledge delineating what it means to be human is rather a ‘regulative ideal’ by which human societies are governed.” (Graham 41)
“Foucault’s rejection of the totalizing narrative of history therefore has its equivalent in a desire to avoid a universalizing account of ‘human nature,’ by seeking to contextualize and ground understandings of what it means to be human in the interplay of specific, concrete and empirical practices…” (Graham 59)
Axiomatic: Taken as a universal truth or given
Archeology: An excavation of the concealed and forgotten terms on which axiomatic categories are constructed, unearthing the artifice of classification and ordering. (Graham 44)
Genealogy: Attempts to trace the dynamics of power/knowledge which gives regimes their rationale. (Graham 44)
Ontogenesis: biological development of an organism, or the study of
Empirical: gaining knowledge by means or direct or indirect experience or observation
Schizoid: having a personality type characterized by emotional aloofness and solitary habits
Recombinant: of, relating to or denoting an organism, cell or genetic material formed by recombination
Tropism: The turning of all or part of an organism in a particular direction in response to an external stimulus
Schizophrenic delusion: Persistent Suspicion that all things floating around us are fake.
Temporal Progressive Complex: Improving humans over time as transcendental beings (positive).
Philosophical Posthumans: Thinkers who question how can society accommodate these technological advances.
Preview of Week 4 (Jan 31, Feb 2)
(by Dr. Seaman)
We will spend this week with Jeanette Winterson’s novel Stone Gods and Chapter 2 of Hayles (“Virtual Bodies and the Flickering Signifier”), as well as the first chapter (“Stepping into the Light,” in PDF form) of Antonio Damasio’s book The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Another BSG review will be due Friday at 11pm, this one from later in Season 2, so be sure to read some summaries of the intervening episodes to keep you on track.
Winterson’s short novel is post-apocalyptic (a space we’ll occupy a few more times this semester), though its three-part structure presents a bit of a challenge for us as we discuss only the first portion of it on Tuesday. Thursday, we will have much from that section to reconsider through what we encounter in the final portion. When preparing for Tuesday, keep track of the thematic investments you see Winterson as making and preparing us for in the final section.
Damasio’s book clearly, based on its subtitle alone, has affinities with Hayles’ orientation toward embodiment. With Damasio, we can consider consciousness, specifically, as an embodied characteristic. We turned with Hayles’ chapter on Phillip K. Dick beyond questions of physical distinctions between the human and posthuman to questions of differences in consciousness, an issue raised with Greg Egan’s story “Learning to Be Me” at the start of the semester and engaged by all of the texts we’ve encountered since then. Consider, as you read, what Damasio’s approach might offer to assist us in that conversation.
In this chapter, Hayles focuses quite narrowly on narrative (though later considering larger implications as well) in relation to our sense, as she has ‘diagnosed’ it, of information as now disembodied, as immaterial. Pay special attention to how she analyzes “pattern” and “presence” through these narratives an consider, for yourself, how this might play out (or not) in other arenas, today.
You will be bearing in mind that you need to have your first meeting with me before the Tuesday of Week 7. At the end of Week 7, your short mid-term paper will be due. I will give you that assignment early in Week 4. You are likely to want to connect your meeting with me to your thoughts about your paper, but do bear in mind that this doesn’t have to be the case.