The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 4/5

(Written 2008)

The Body – A Private Satisfaction Machine

Sally Hacker in her 1989 paper The Eye of the Beholder: An Essay on Technology and Eroticism suggests the term ‘pornotechnics’ as a reference to perverse power relations in the artefactual body, as Donna Haraway notes in her The Promise of Monsters (fn. 2), at “the heart of pornotechnics is the military as an institution, with deep roots and wide reach into science, technology, and erotica.” A product of militarism, the cyborg, as Haraway points out, has an oppositional root and is imbued with the drive to deviate from its ontological foundations. As it is suggested in the cyborg manifesto the cyborg “is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries”, that is to say there is a satisfaction to be gained by de-ontologicizing. And is this not the very foundations of jouissance; the satisfaction or drive to enter out of the vicious realm decreed by the pleasure principle, or rather by phallocratic reality. To be sure the cyborg is founded on a level of erotica.

The notion of the struggle to define a cyborg amounting to a border war here needs its full ontological weight. At an elementary level we may understand this to mean the fragmentation of where organism ends and machine begins. But further to this, on advent of the cyborg, our ontology’s are not limited to our bodily capacities; our ontology’s can be driven further, qualifying Lacan’s own admission Encore!

To further my point I will use a filmic example; Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher: Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert is a piano teacher who becomes rather obsessed with a student of hers Walter (Benoît Magimel). Aside from her very astute professional manner, Erika participates in a whole manner of sexual plights which include sadomasochism, micturition, and the use of pornography booths. She goes to some lengths to keep her Mother innocent from her various exploits. A relationship is forged between her and Walter, during which a written document is produced by Erika detailing her innermost desires. Walter finds himself unable to satisfy Erika’s wildest fantasies that only serves to alienate Erika herself. At the end of the film this estrangement reaches such a stage that Erika stabs herself in the shoulder out of frustration. The importance of the character Erika is that it portrays the possibility of there being at the surface of every person – even one as conformist, middle-class, and stiff, one who appears to take heed of societal expectations of a “lady” – a deep longing for the underbelly of sexual activity, the need to get off, so to speak. Furthermore, Erika finds sexual activity with Walter ineffective, he cannot make her lose herself, or de-ontologicize, that is to say, experience jouissance. Erika realises enjoyment of this kind as self-enclosed, as those things that deviate from the “normal” phallocentric heterosexual union, in acts such as genital slicing (perceived perhaps as actually manipulating her own visual signification), orgasmic urination at an open-top cinema, and smelling used tissues whilst watching pornography.

On the one hand Erika is shown not to be comfortable with herself when she behaves as she is expected to be, when one considers her professional capacity and ontological constitution. On the other hand she is shown to be properly excited and blissful when engaging in activities that drive beyond these principles, when she is experiencing jouissance. Is this not the reality of the cyborg, not being ontologically defined by its visual signification and experiencing bliss as a by-product of this. Erika here is precisely a cyborg – positively because she is subverting the harsh guidelines by which the symbolic order is a by-product of (a curtailing of Woman’s blissful experience), and negatively because, as Robert W. Anderson puts it in his Butler-esque titled Body Parts that Matter: Frankenstein, or The Modern Cyborg, the cyborg is the place “on to which the anxieties of the “normal” are displaced.” (para. 42, my italics)

As The Piano Teacher aims to highlight it is not ‘normal’ in our harsh reality for Woman’s body to be a private satisfaction machine like Erika’s is. Donna Haraway herself expresses concern with the current sexual climate when saying

“the close ties of sexuality and instrumentality, of views of the body as a kind of private satisfaction – and utility-maximizing machine, are described nicely in sociobiological origin stories that stress a calculus and explain the inevitable dialectic of domination of male and female gender roles” (169).

The sociobiological accounts appear at first glance to be positive but insightful of the inevitable domination – we may view the symbolic order as such, as a guarantee of sanity but the key to the inevitability of inequality. The Piano Teacher summarizes Haraway’s own anxiety that Erika is able to experience satisfaction in the style of a cybernetic machine (again, in the words of Grosz, “the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism”) but that it eventually leads to dissatisfaction in the (hetero-)sexual domain that is not devious and thus explains the inevitable dialectic of (Man’s) domination.

Part 5 tomorrow


The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 2/5

(Written 2008)

The Construction site of Woman

In a seminar called God and the jouissance of Woman which is published in his influential set of seminars Encore! Jacques Lacan explained of feminine enjoyment that since it requires more than just the phallus – the image definition of the symbolic order – it must exceed being. This excess of being, Lacan designates, is on par with God, for what God represents is the ‘other’ of being (the supreme being). Woman, as positioned in the (paternalized) symbolic order is the ‘other’ of Man’s being.

In light of this, how are we to interpret Haraway’s comments at the end of her manifesto ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’?

As both Haraway and Lacan would testify Woman is a socially constructed category. For Lacan, male sexual desire is not fulfilled in Woman, but rather she is his objet petit a (cause of his desire), or object a(-utre); the ‘other’ of Man’s being which, in the dominating world of the visual (which assumes the dominance of the phallus over the so-called ‘lack’ of the female genitals), organizes Man’s fantasy. Further, as Teresa Brennan in her book Lacan After History posits “the idealized woman is the anchor of man’s identity and the guarantee of his ‘Truth’ ” (26). Brennan points out in a footnote that Lacan’s complex position of “idealization” is that it “makes the ‘lady’ into something considerably less than a subject” (26, fn. 1).

For Lacan, the idealization and denigration of women, as Brennan puts it, is a transhistorical inevitability; the symbolic order is necessary for sanity though at the same time it gives rise to the world of the visual, in which the phallus dominates. Brennan quite pessimistically expresses that the idealization, that is the psychical fantasy of Woman, of her as, not subject but simply objet petit a, is forever more, or at least for as long as we are sane.

For a contemporary Lacanian insight on gender, Slavoj Zizek in his book The Parallax View concludes that “there is only One, the gap is inherent to the One itself” (36). So in Lacan’s terminology, feminine ontology functions as pastoute (not-all) “as a part which has to be integrated into the whole” (Benvenuto and Kennedy 1986, 186). For this reason, and again to qualify the Lacanese, ‘there is no sexual relationship’ (il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel) – there is only one identity; whole and partial. Donna Haraway recognizes this and in suit asks “[w]hat kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective – and, ironically, socialist-feminist?” (157)

The answer becomes clear.

“There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female” Haraway claims, “itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (155). On this point Haraway criticizes much of the US feminism movement for its second-rate response to domination with identity, and not, preferable to her ‘affinity’. Moreover, since, by Haraway’s own admission, ‘there is nothing about being “female” that naturally binds women’; feminism might be best embracing partial identities. This branch of feminism Haraway goes on to call cyborg feminism, partly against Marxian and socialist-feminism which “totalizes” Woman.

The wider world in which the cyborg feminist must struggle to achieve, according to Haraway, “might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). For a feminism which accepts the social construction thesis of Lacan – “nature’s discursive constitution” as Haraway specifies in her essay The Promise of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others (para. 4) – that Woman can never fully be a subject due to the visual nature of the symbolic order, and since sanity rests on their being a symbolic order so it remains, the cyborg theory of Donna Haraway issues a new emancipation in partiality, not wholeness.

Whereas the gendered world configures the sense of sight solely for the phallocrats, the cyborg world marks masculinity as partial.

To answer my question on how to interpret Haraway’s comments; though goddesses are superior beings, they are still mediated through masculinity; they are still so to speak of-god. The cyborg is a superior being, mediated not through the (ph)allacy of gender but by the totality of its environment.

Part 3 tomorrow

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 1/5

(Written July 2008)

Popular culture has created many fictional forms of the cyborg, from Rachel in Ripley Scott’s Blade Runner to The Terminator. But for some, the cyborg is not simply a fictional myth. Foremost cyborg theorist Donna Haraway in her Cyborg Manifesto has defined it as a cybernetic creature of both lived society and fiction. Since there are no indicated boundaries between the two, there is a struggle to define and control the cyborg properly, this “border war” being fought vie an “optical illusion” (149).

Modern Medicine, Haraway continues, is already full of cyborgs. Indeed the possibility of a complete scanning of the human body in order to replicate a digitized 3-D figure for digital slicing, an effort known as VHP (Visible Human Project), will be made common medical practice in the near future (for more see Hayles). The cyborg, also, is not defined by gender; “it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis […] or other seductions to organic wholeness [constituted by] all the powers of the parts into a higher unity” (150).

For some who are anxious of those who, like Haraway expresses in her Informatics of Domination, embrace genetic engineering, such as R. Klein who Nadia Mahjouri in her paper on Techno-Maternity quotes as saying “[g]enetic and reproductive engineering is another attempt to end self-determination over our own bodies” (para. 4) Haraway is keen to show that techno-science has already begun the process of such engineering, and the feeling of being mediated by it already exists.

The cyborg also designates new and legitimate forms of sexual enjoyment. In much the same way that a cyborg is a cybernetic organism receiving and transmitting information in a control loop, eroticism is, in Lacan’s terminology, the aim, or the directing of oneself in a pleasurable act. The pleasure is pleasure experienced within oneself, and so therefore ones aim is returned. As Elizabeth Grosz terms it “[a] reintegration into the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism” (77).

The cyborg as hybrid of machine and organism takes on the circuitry of both, the control system of the former, and the auto-eroticism of the latter. In terms of sexuality, the cyborg is perfectly created for self-satisfaction. For example, cybersex is an encounter which takes place with an assumed reciprocate. The enjoyment of the incoming messages from the communication technology is self-enclosed, it is not an enjoyment which is obligated simultaneously to satisfy a phallic signifier, a point I will extend later.

Similarly, Slavoj Zizek, in an interview with Flash Art in 1992 talks about the ‘minitel’, a once fashionable mini-computer available in France, which was the preferred medium of instant-messaging sex. Not one to miss a Lacanian reading, Zizek informs that the point of the message exchange is not that it will lead to meeting up, swapping addresses, but rather the “entire satisfaction, the jouissance is that you do not know and will never know who the other is” (para. 18). The satisfaction gained is, as he describes it, wound up in the “purely symbolic exchange.”

Cybersex even has its laws and taboos. A unique case occurred May 16, 2008 when a Texas Minister of a Dallas Megachurch was charged with online solicitation of a minor, the first time a sexual legal case has taken place where the victim and culprit were not in the same room at the scene of the crime.

So since sex mediated by machines has its principles, and these principles can be exceeded (as the above example demonstrates) cyborgs can experience the form of excess, otherwise known as jouissance.

The aim of this article is to marry the cyborg as Donna Haraway theorized it with Lacan’s notion of jouissance in order to get some sense of the future of (sexual) enjoyment in an age of combined bio- and communication-technologies, that is to say, humanity mediated in the domain of science and technology. To do this, I will firstly bring together both Haraway’s and Lacan’s accounts of feminine ontology, then go into a more detailed definition of the cyborg, and round it up by seeing where jouissance fits into the cyborg ontology. With this I will use an example of a chat-room user who engages in the activity I have come to term as cyborg enjoyment.

Part 2 tomorrow

What I think of Self-Service Checkouts

Want your shopping trip to feeld empowering? Want it to take more time than it’s worth? Don’t like looking at people? Use the self-service checkouts at your local supermarket.

There’s this snazzy term banging around the scene of useless academic pursuits known as posthumanism, basically describing a possible dystopian period where everything that defines a human – free will, thinking, social animal etc – will come to an end by way of technoloigcal, pharmaceutical enhancement. To correct a common misconception, rather than describing what the world will be like post human, or after human, this part of the biosciences/philosophy actually aims to work out what life for humans will be like post humanism, or after humanism, the loss of humanist values.

Well we do still wonder exactly whether we have all of those ‘humanist’ elements anyway, for example how much of our ethical compass’ are determined not by free will but by ones environs. Perhaps posthuman society already exists, albeit post. Donna Haraway’s classic example of the cyborg, mediated by technology, that disavowals its Edenic origins, her notion is that as soon as tools replace flesh, the cyborg is coming into being. So her theory delves deeper into the philosophical appropriateness of humanism than the posthumanists such as Nick Bostrom. In other words the hardwiring of the brain (David Chalmers), the ability to download a completed version of the human body onto a computer (N. Katharine Hayles), and the transcendence of the human (Robert Pepperill) are all late, possibly non-existent stages in the end of humanism, but the cyborg denotes that even the replacement of the Rousseauian utopia with industrial villiages, corporate gardens and robotic landscapes are examples of the absence of humanism.

In enterprise, it is clear how they might utilise properties of the posthuman, hypertechnological to increase growth. Cutting out labour value by employing automata to do the legwork (trade unionism has ensured that, though unemployment is a necessary characteristic of the capitalist economy functioning perfectly, a nation’s workforce are not reduced to automata) not only secures growth, it potentially eleviates the value of labour based on labour time used.

Is this not the case with self-service checkouts? For a row of 6 of these “capitalist inconveniences” takes only 1 overlooking worker, a loss of 5 forces of labour power, thereby slashing labour costs. A large supermarket – lets say the one next to central middlesex hospital in North West London, the name of which we shall call SADA for purposes of anonymity – can have up to 12 of these, reducing labour power from 12 to just 2, a saving of £57.30 an hour, based on minimum wages of £5.73. That’s a saving of around £458 a day based on an 8-hour shift, £3,206 a week, £12,824 a month, and £153,888 a year. If the supermarket had any backbone, they’d destroy the self-service checkout and replace it with jobs, for the technology might be exciting, but full employment must not be sidelined, and since our, and other countries, have chosen this lot to secure employment, useless measures such as this, that serve little more than to make shopping slower, and reduce employment possibilities, should be scrapped, detroyed, binned, put to sleep, shelved, bye-bye.

The self-service checkout stands as a kind of microcosm of capitalist economics anyway, the brutal pursuit of profit and growth that disregards full employment, reduces the remit of trade unions (since robots are not yet unionised, and the AITUC is a distant fantasy) and is a smack in the face to the kind of economic plan Clem Attlee had for keeping employment and public services afloat in times of desparate economic misery. Furthmore, it is at once a game of techno-fascist muscle, and a concerted effort to make redundant an entire workforce, namely the McJob workers, or unskilled labourers.

Supermarkets don’t create jobs, they reduce jobs, they replace technology with the workforce, they hold automata in higher regard than a loyal human workforce, and they view growth as labour-saving, and unlike Thatcher, who also tried to reduce the industrial workforce without ever giving them any other employment options (though arguably this was the genesis of the McJob, that took from a share of the newly unemployed skilled worker, and the unskilled worker fit for the McJob) these most unphilanthropic of managers remain faceless, invisable, unaccountable.

Other anarchist and leftist blogs request a boycott of the self-service checkout. I say go further, steal one, organise twenty of your mates, and mates’ mates, and go in to an SADA and steal one, take it to a nearby marshland, douse it in petrol and set fire to it.