Review of Week 7 and Preview of Week 8
[by Taylor Dixon]
We began class on Tuesday by discussing Hayles Chapter Eight and several students thought this chapter would have been more helpful towards the beginning of the book. Dr.Seaman suggested that her critique seemed to be one of methodology rather than technique. Hayles seems to be laying out the definitions and differences between the body and embodiment. She discusses how the terms and discourse is used in defining embodiment and the body. We then moved on to talk about the specific definitions and descriptions for the body and embodiment as Hayles sees it. The body alludes to a kind of universalizing and what by implication gets defined as human. The body does not refer to a particular gender, race, etc. In comparison, embodiment is always about context and the positioning of a particular body. We then talked about how Hayles thinks we can map a culture’s ideology and this leads into her own critique of postmodern ideology. She talks about the aspects of post modern ideology, such as the body is seen as a linguistic concept instead of a biological entity. Post modernism insists that the body doesn’t actually exist in of itself, just the social construct that comprises how we think of the body. Dr.Seaman brought up the point that this is comparable to the way in which race and gender are socially constructed. Similar to post structuralism, race and gender are not biological, but rather constructed through culture and historical constructions. Hayles seems to be pointing to a critique of this that is wary of a complete disembodiment experience. The notion of the brain and genetic code sums up the definition of what it means to be humans, but this thinking this leaves out parts of your body, the brain is frequently disembodied into the mind. This idea of the brain and genetics making up humanity makes it very predictable, but it doesn’t take into account the cultural/social influences of a particular time period. We then looked at a passage that everyone agreed seems to be almost the thesis for her entire argument. She says, ““I believe they should be taken as evidence not that the body has disappeared, but that a certain kind of subjectivity has emerged.” She goes on to discuss thinking about embodiment with the aid of virtuality and the body as having new meaning through virtuality. We then started discussing Hayles’s criticism of Foucault’s Panopticon. We said the Panopticon is a metaphor and a diagram of the mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form. Her concern with the Panopticon is because there is no awareness of who is watching you, but you feel as if someone always is, also termed the “disembodied gaze”. It erases the contextual enactments embodiment always entails. We then talked about Elizabeth Grosz, who was a kind of hero for Hayles. Grosz says that philosophy depends upon a deconceptualization of concepts and ideas. She maintains that embodiment differs from the concept of the body in that the body is always normative relative to some set of criteria. In summary, it’s about concepts and ideas, not about social implications. We then talked about how Hayles supports her belief that it is important to put emphasis on embodiment, rather than the body. She says that the body can disappear into situations, but embodiment is about active involvement. She urges against claims towards universal models and understanding. She says emphasis on the body is a problem, but embodiment is so essentially important. She insists that the changes that happen actually affect embodiment so we can’t think universally because it continues to evolve. We ended our discussion of Hayles by talking about the five distinguishing characteristics of knowledge that have emerged from the discussion of incorporating practices. 1. Incorporated knowledge retains improvisational elements that make it contextual rather than abstract. 2. It is deeply sedimented into the body. 3. Incorporated knowledge is habitual. 4. It has the power to define the boundaries of consciousness. 5. Incorporating practices are often linked with new technologies.
We then discussed our highly entertaining imaginative text, Wall-E. We establish that Wall E is a materialist and he categorizes and collects things, which he seems to choose to be replacements for his body parts. The aspect of Wall-E we talked about most was the relationship and contrast between Wall-E and Eva. We see Wall-E learning the conventions of love just like humans learn the conventions of love. Wall-E spends his days attempting to make our junk less damaging, while Eva is out looking for organic life so that she can use a sort of photosynthesis process to get back to earth. Pretty much everyone in the movie works for Bye and Large and Eva is totally committed to its purpose and calls it her directive. We see her directive being transposed against Wall-E’s free will. He is not actually serving any particular purpose, but it makes him happy. Eva has a very specific purpose, but she eventually rejects it for a new one. She is then seen as more human. Wall-E’s autonomy, free will, and uniqueness make him seem human from the very beginning. We do not see any other models of him, whereas with Eva we do. Eva seems less human because she seems more controlled and mechanical. Only when Wall-E loses consciousness does he seem more robotic to us. The key sign that what is happening between Wall-E and Eva is comparable to human love is the holding of hands and we see Wall-E learning how to perform these constructs. Although neither of them are realistic looking or similar to humans like cylons, but their behavior is clearly humanlike.
“I believe they should be taken as evidence not that the body has disappeared but that a certain kind of subjectivity has emerged. This subjectivity is constituted by the crossing of the materiality of informatics with the immateriality of information.”
“the first polarity unfolds as an interplay between the body as a cultural construct and the experiences of embodiment that individual people within a culture feel and articulate.”
“they nevertheless play an important role in understanding the connections between an ideology of immateriality and the material conditions that produce the ideology.”
“it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system; it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.”
“Focusing on embodiment would help to clarify the mechanisms of change, for it links a changing technological landscape with the instantiated enactments that create feedback loops between materiality and discourse.”
“Embodiment differs from the concept of the body in that the body is always normative relative to some set of criteria.”
Preview of Week 8
[by Dr. Seaman]
On Tuesday, we will discuss the film Moon and Hayles, Chapter 9. Moon is a personal favorite of mine, and it returns us to the concern with human uniqueness explored via the clones in Never Let Me Go. We also find ourselves confronted by a problematic product of human technology. Hayles’ chapter, “Narratives of Artificial Life,” take us from AI to AL and push us, I think even more strongly than before, to see embodiment as vital to life. Pay special attention to the foundations/assumptions of her argument, as she’s pointing to the foundations/assumptions of those in the Artificial Life camp.
Due before class on Thursday, at 9 am in OAKS, is your response to a sample midterm question (which will replace a weekly blog post this week), the prompt for which will be posted by Wednesday morning at 9. Directions will accompany the prompt, and these will be the same as the directions for the questions on the midterm itself.
Class Thursday gives us the graphic novel The Surrogates and Hayles, Chapter 11. In The Surrogates you’ll find an extended discussion of some of the issues we encountered in the first part of Stone Gods in its depiction of a super-consumerist future. We also find a discussion of religion that adds to what we have seen in Stone Gods and Oryx & Crake, offering perhaps a wholly new take on that issue. I’m very curious to see what you all have to say about this graphic novel. Hayles’ Chapter 11–”Conclusion: What Does it Mean to be Posthuman?”– is her shortest chapter in the book, and it should prove a very helpful preparation for the midterm, explaining as she does there a range of ways we might respond to the posthuman future, and how it does not mean the end of humanity.
Your BSG review 6 (season 3, episode 7 [A Measure of Salvation]) is due Saturday at 6pm in OAKS. Do bear in mind that this is at the start of Spring Break so you may very well wish to submit this one early.