Cyborgs and rants
From an excellent online magazine about Architecture,
and Cyberculture, http://arch.virose.pt
Situating Cyborgs: Technology & Psychogeography
In this paper I will be exploring ideas of the post-human in relation
here as Asger Jorn once described situationist work on the city as
"the science fiction of urbanism" (Sadler 1998:148), and the SI stated in 1960: "the situationist considers his environment and himself as plastic " (Sadler 1998:151).
The current vogue for cyberspace also has antecedents in Constant’s work, and the appropriation of cybernetic theory by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s. I shall also be discussing the figure of the cyborg as theorised by Haraway, investigating the implications of viewing
it as an embodiment of oppositional consciousness.
Key to Haraway’s project is her notion of ‘situated knowledge’ an argument for "situated and embodied knowledges against various forms of unlocatable and so irresponsible knowledge claims " (Haraway 1991:191).
I will be referring to key SF texts, and also to the work of radical architect Lebbeus Woods and Michael Menser’s Deleuzian analysis of it, in which the inhabitants of cities are "situated bodies engaged in expressive activity" (Menser 1996:305).
These inhabitants appropriate and deterritorialise city spaces in ways unforeseen by city planners and authorities. So I shall be attempting to map out points of affinity between conceptualisations of city space, psychogeography, cyberculture and feminist theorisations of the posthuman. Has, as Bauman remarks acidly, "Baudrillard tied the flaneur to the armchair in front of the TV?" (Bauman in Jenks 1995:148)
What are the implications of conceptualising the posthuman as a hybridising of biology and technology - are they as tragic as Virilio predicts? He states: the urbanisation of the actual body of the city-dweller, the citizen-terminal soon to be decked out to the eyeballs with interactive prostheses - a being controlled by the machine, with which they say he talks (Virilio 1997:20).
Virilio’s terminal citizen is clearly a dystopian vision of a cyborg future: he is implacably hostile to the trap of cybergnosis, which Hakim Bey also warns against- that is the false transcending of bodily limitations, the fantasy of downloading consciousness and jettisoning of ‘meat reality’. This is a kind of delusory technotopia, which was extensively debated and promoted in the early nineties, and a staple of cyberpunk, although William Gibson laments that the techno-evangelists missed his irony. Whilst I take issue with Virilio’s deep pessimism (I believe that there are opportunities for resistance, to which I will return later), he makes an important point concerning the apparent erasure of embodiment in cyber rhetoric, as a form of pollution which will soon see the semblance bowing out, the geophysical reality of this territorial body, without which neither the ‘social body’ nor the ‘animal body’ could exist, since being means being situated - here and now - hic et nunc (Virilio 1997:64).
The city is an environment in which the body is situated and inscribed socially, sexually, discursively, and crucially here, technologically. Technology is clearly implicated in the production of material transformations of corporeality: the posthuman figure of the cyborg is the point at which the body takes on the characteristics of machinery, either literally or figuratively. The contemporary city is transversed by technology - telematics, telecommunications, reconfigured informational maps and links, where time, not space is of the essence, folded and subject to an imaginary geography.
The 'Transphysical city' which Marcos Novak describes is not postphysical, but promises new ways of being in cities which are complex, confused, chaotic and discontinuous. It is emphatically non-linear and non-local, its preferred modes of narration would inherently involve distributedness, multiplicity, emergence and open-endedness (Novak 1997:266).
Thus the transphysical city is open, experimental and improvisational, having much in common with Situationist practices around the city. Chtcheglov in the Formulary for a New Urbanism advocated changing landscapes from one hour to the next, and a kind of ‘unitary urbanism’ which would supplant urban planning. In this " there will be rooms awakening more vivid fantasies than any drug " (Chtcheglov in Sadler 1998:151) - which sounds like the spectacular and as yet unrealisable promises of virtual reality. Vaneigem points out in The Revolution of Everyday Life that the problem with technology is that it is used in the service of capitalism by a technocratic elite - and is thus alienating and disempowering for the majority of people. In addition, globally very few people have access to new technologies. The very term ‘information superhighway’ used to describe the internet, rather than the more eco-friendly sounding ‘web’, should alert us to global capitalism’s interest in the new technology for its useability. ‘Information superhighway’ suggests a linear or gridlike corporatised conception of cyberspace, which relates to the actualisation of power and social relations in material architecture and urban planning, cyberspace as a " striated metric for the machinic enslavement of integrationist circuits " (Menser 1996:305).
In this construction of cyberspace one has a choice of three basic roles: driver, passenger or roadkill. To push the analogy a little further, it suggests that walking, and the pedestrian, are out of place and that the juggernauts of capitalism are busily carving up cyberspace. The ‘speech acts’ of the pedestrian are marginalised and contained in chat rooms, which constitute reservations from corporate cyberspatial landgrabbing. Contemporary search engines increasingly marginalise alternative and offbeat websites, directing the movements of the casual surfer through a kind of virtual mall. Within material city spaces the pedestrian subjectively assembles an experience of the city through the movement of his or her body. De Certeau observes that, the networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments and trajectories and alterations of space - a migrational or metaphorical city thus slips into the clear text of the planned and readable city (De Certeau 1984:93).
The Situationist practice of derive or drift, passage through the various ambiences of city spaces, enabled the participants to refuse the machinic functioning of the spectacle-city, reinscribing the city as text as a political act: "these inscriptions will have to extend their impact from a psychogeographical insinuation to subversion in its most simple form" claimed Potlatch (Potlatch in Sadler 1998:97). Thus the homogeneity of the city is critically fissured, opening up the possibility of alternative narratives - fleeting, contingent, subversive and heterogeneous. To uncritically apply notions of the flaneur/flaneuse or psychogeography to an understanding of the experience of cyberspace would be deeply problematic. Despite the much vaunted ‘interactivity’ of new media technologies, much of it is simply of the ‘point and click’ variety: surfing the net seems to involve a superficial notion of drifting, not so different from channel surfing the TV. We need to ask what it is we are interacting with? Interaction in cyberculture is an encounter with planned experience - it is all designed, down to the minutest details- therefore we have to choose from a menu of largely predetermined choices, and within games, there is a limited range of fixed outcomes. The hugely successful game SimCity offers players the chance to run their own virtual city, to be at the apex of a pyramidal hierarchy. But the rules encode the values of 1950s and 60s American town planning, most specifically that of zoning. These are the rules one plays by, so the opportunities to write one’s own city are severely limited by the programming: to detourne SimCity, you would have to monkeywrench the programming.
This leads me to the question of cyberpunk, which is positioned within wider countercultural debates. Gibson et al are writing tales of the appropriation and subversion of information technology, and the "mythical feats of survivalism and resistance in a data rich world of virtual environments and posthumanism" (Ross in Penley and Ross 1991:120). Such texts tend to satirise or problematise the present, providing dire warnings of the dangers of ubiquitous technology coupled with oppressive social regimes. Hence the representation of cities, be they virtual or material in SF is implicated in contemporary discourses of the city within cultural practice. In cyberpunk the city is usually represented as a risky but exciting place for hip young counterculturalists, usually white male and middle class. They negotiate the city spaces of virtuality in a similar way to the detectives of forties noir. Within more recent male-authored SF, notably Gibson’s Virtual Light and Noon’s Pollen, women are featured as more central characters. In Virtual Light it is Chevette, the cycle courier, who foils the plans of a multinational to wholly corporatise San Francisco, by layering an information grid into the existing city. She earns her living at the intersection of information and geography, as a situated body in expressive activity - she moves through the city in a high-speed, purposeful improvisation. But Chevette is fetishised as a cyborg, hybridising with her hi-tech cycle in an overtly eroticised relationship with machinery: it was really the melding-with, the clicking-in, that did it. The bike between her legs was like some hyper-evolved alien tail that she’d somehow extruded - a sweet and intricate bone-machine, grown Lexan-armoured tires, near frictionless bearings and gas-filled shocks (Gibson 1993:111).
With the exception of a nominal agency, Chevette is not so different from the surgically enhanced cyborg ‘razorgirls’ of Gibson’s earlier work. Her body is the site for technological inscription. As a figure she bears comparison with Boda, the victim/heroine of Noon’s novel Pollen. She is a cab driver, part of a cab hive, run by an artificial intelligence, Columbus, and linked almost psychically with it. Boda embodies the city with her tattoos, a literal inscription of the map. Her body is fetishised, described as "a naked atlas of skin" (Noon 1995:252), her "skull laser-tattooed with twisting streets in black and white" (Noon 1995:42).
Other examples of treating the female body as if it were a cityscape are found in Asger Jorn and Guy Debord’s disturbingly detourned soft-porn collages, where the female body is cut and pasted for psychogeographical delving. Whilst these collages were ostensibly a critique of capitalism’s ability to make of the body a mere spectacle, they demonstrate phallocentric and misogynistic tendencies, recalling Debord’s chilling remark that Jack the Ripper was probably a psychogeographer in love (Sadler 1998:80-1). Whilst Boda embodies the city, it is her hybrid lover Coyote, who is able to negotiate the pollinated virtual cityscape in a perversely eroticised way. He can: journey anywhere through the green veins - he pushes himself through the lichens clinging to the pavement, through mosses growing on walls, through the very pollen that is breezing through the air of Manchester (Noon 1995:274).
Apart from the novel’s eroticisation of the city, what is interesting about Noon’s work is its deployment of countercultural values, suggesting " a new and perversely fruitful relationship between technology and culture" (Braidotti 1996:9). The hybrids of Pollen embody the central values of Haraway’s cyborg- they are partial, ironic, intimate and perverse (Haraway 1991:151). As different admixtures of the human, virtual, machine, plant, animal and dead, they render the question animal, vegetable or mineral almost redundant. They constitute cyborg figures who are "about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities" (Haraway 1991:154), which is not to say that Pollen is a cyberfeminist text, but that it may be amenable to analysis and appropriation.
The figure of the cyborg is Haraway’s attempt to map out the embodied subject in a context where the structures of power are relational and experienced through networks, communications and interactions. She claims that capitalist patriarchy has been superseded by a more nebulous form of power, which she terms "the informatics of domination" (Haraway 1991:161-2). Her cyborg is the illegitimate offspring of militarism and capitalism, an open and politically subversive ‘text’ as it were, who is inscribing her own subjectivity, blurring boundaries between the machine/organic, male/female, nature/culture and so on. She states: a cyborg world 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 (Haraway 1991:154).
Her arguments concerning situated knowledge emphasise that in a postmodern environment the most effective way of finding a larger vision is to be situated ‘somewhere’ in particular- rather than adopting a false totalising view. Thus the cyborg would develop sympathies and affinities with others - animal, human and machine. Her starting point is the notion of difference structuring identities - again, she states "feminist embodiment then, is not about fixed location in a reified body, female or otherwise, but about nodes in fields, inflections in orientations and responsibility for difference in material-semiotic fields of meaning" (Haraway 1991:154).
This kind of thinking/being is nomadic: a nomadism or driftwork which can be linked with psychogeographical practices- in terms of the mapping of affinities and the reinscription of nodes, sites and tracks. For Haraway the known or experienced world is an active entity in terms in interrelationships and exchanges- interactivity perhaps? Cybercultural reconceptualisations of the urban environment such as Mitchell’s ‘soft cities’ are attempts to reconfigure material cities involving the "transmission and transgression of the known, but it will also stand alongside and be woven into that very matrix" (Novak 1997:270).
Radical architect Lebbeus Woods argues that the reclamation of urban spaces, their refiguring as interfacial, interactive environments would provide: A dense matrix of new conditions or an armature for living as fully as possible in the present, for living experimentally (Menser 1996:302).
Rather like Hakim Bey’s 'Temporary Autonomous Zones' (Bey 1991), Woods designs heterogeneous ‘freespaces’, fracturing or extruded from existing buildings. These spaces are: "always indefinite, projective, never clearly demarcated, "finished" or finite. They are momentary, not monumental" (Menser 1996:302). The very look of these designs is of squatter assemblages, ephemeral, a hidden city or virtual barrio. The communities here would be created through dialogue and interaction, from interior to interior using computer technologies. Michael Menser comments of Woods work: the individual follows a line of flight along a material-social plane that traverses the divides between nature/culture, human/technological and organic/inorganic life (Menser 1996:306).
In fact the individual here is a cyborg, a hybrid, an interstitial being.
Traversing back to SF for a moment, such assemblages are often the ‘nests’ for hybrid/cyborgs, who do not ‘fit in’ elsewhere. In Virtual Light the Golden Gate Bridge is detourned by squatters, reclaimed as living space by the dispossessed, and functioning as a barrio it provides a haven from the predations of the multinationals. It is described thus: its steel bones, its stranded tendons were lost within an accretion of dreams - it is another reality intent upon its own agenda (Gibson 1993:58-9).
In Gibson’s fiction the protagonists are rendered cyborg through their relationship with technology, but their relationships with the soft or hard cities is also crucial. They are ‘plugged in’ whether as drones, couriers, hackers or luddites, and these technologies of the city are implicated in their subjectivity.
To sum up then, in this paper I have attempted to map out converging lines around cyberculture, posthuman feminism and situationist practices, through the figure of the cyborg in a technologised city. This figure may help to articulate alternative and subversive knowledges which question the prevailing popular discourses of cyberculture, characterised by an uncritical technophilia and Eurocentric solipsism. There are great dangers in an uncritical view of the posthuman, this melding of the human and the machine, which could leave us with a residual patriarchal fantasy, a Cartesian sleight of hand which treats the body as a mere prosthesis for the mind. Feminists and others have shown us that a critical understanding of embodiment, the corporeal as discursive is central to politicised resistance to white capitalist patriarchy. In an optimistic polemic on technology Vaneigem states: Technological organisation cannot be destroyed from without - if the cybernauts came to power they would have a hard time staying there. Their complacent vision of their own rosy future calls for a retort along the lines of these words from a black worker to a white boss: " When we first saw your trucks and planes we thought you were gods. Then, after a few years we learned how to drive your trucks, as we shall soon learn how to fly your planes, and we understand that what interested you most was manufacturing trucks and planes and making money. For our part, what we are interested in is using them. Now you are just our blacksmiths (Vaneigem 1994:87).
So we need to work within new technologies - nostalgic technophobia simply isn’t good enough, although strategic essentialisms - human, female, ethnic - will still prove useful. I would agree with Anne Willis who states: we should develop knowledge that will contribute to the growth of critically conscious cultures that can be introduced into the system to work like viruses (Willis 1990:207).
I would argue that cyberfeminism could be viewed as a kind of critical retrovirus, offering strategies for the interrogation and subversion of cyberculture, in this way it is potentially far more ‘interactive’ than the so-called interactivity of ‘point and click’, which pervades new media technologies. The creative and critical work of cyberfeminists is politically crucial at this point - we need to reclaim the streets of cyberville. A selective appropriation of Situationist subversive strategies is a good place to start.
Bauman, Z. (1992) Intimations of Postmodernity, London: Routledge.
Bey, H. (1991) The Temporary Autonomous Zone: Ontological Anarchy and Poetic Terrorism, New York:Autonomedia.
Braidotti, R. (1996) 'Cyberfeminism with a Difference', New Formations, 29, Summer.
DeCerteau, M. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkely:University of California Press.
Gibson, W. (1993) Virtual Light, London:Penguin.
Jenks, C. (1995) Visual Culture, London: Routledge.
Menser, M. (1996) 'Becoming Heterarch: technocultural theory, minor science and the production of space', in S. Aronowitz & B. Martinson & M. Menser (eds) Technoscience and Cyberculture, London: Routledge.
Noon, J. (1995) Pollen, Manchester: Ringpull.
Novak, M. (1997) 'Transmitting Architecture - the transphysical city', in A. Kroker & M. Kroker (eds) Digital Delerium, Montreal: New World.
Ross, A. (1991) 'Hacking Away at the Counterculture', in C. Penley & A. Ross, (eds) Technoculture, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.
Sadler, S.(1998)The Situationist City, Cambridge: MIT Press.
Vaneigem, R. (1994)The Revolution of Everyday Life, London: Rebel Press.
Virilio, P. (1997) Open Sky, London:Verso.
Willis, A. (1990) 'Digitisation and the living death of photography', in Hayward, P. (ed), Culture, Technology and Creativity in the Late twentieth Century, London: Libbey & Co.
(Text taken from http://www.coventry.ac.uk/ccmr/confer2/archive1/Wil2.htm)
"The world is the natural setting of and field for all my thoughts and all my explicit perceptions. Truth does not 'inhabit' only 'the inner man' or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world and only in the world does he know himself."Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945
Israel settlements: The Politics of Verticality, a presentation of the architect Eyal Weizman
In 1930, Jerusalem was crowded with pious pilgrims from all faiths and countries. Dr. Heinz Herman, a psychiatrist, discovered among his patients an exaggerate sensibility for matters concerning religion and faith. He treated people who believed they were reincarnations of the Messiah or were convinced that John the Baptist or Mary of Magdala had chosen their bodies to live again and preach the return of Jesus. He called the sickness Jerusalem Syndrome. The symptoms of the sickness were an intense need to wash and to wear white clothes. Many of them had arrived with their families or groups who left them. They saw visions and heard voices that commanded them to prepare the path for the coming of the Messiah; they had conversations with Holy Mary and with the Holy Ghost. Nobody can be indifferent to Jerusalem. Today, the holy city, holy for the three monotheistic religions of the world, is a split city, going towards an uncertain future. Both Palestinian and Israeli claim the city as their capital.
In 2002, the Israeli architects Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman won an architectural competition organized by the IAUA (the Israel Association of United Architects) and were chosen to produce an exhibition of Israeli architecture at its congress in Berlin. Their proposal was aimed to discuss the role of the Israeli architecture in the Middle East conflict. But the proposal was disliked by the IAUA and the exhibition was cancelled under the pretext of a low budget. 5,000 copies of the printed catalogue were destroyed. How could such an issue be so polemical? Eyal Weizman’s thesis is called "The Politics of Verticality." There he develops the idea that the Israeli architecture plays an important role in the conflict that started in 1949, when the state was founded.
In the mythology of the state of Israel, the kibbutz plays a central part. It was there where the Jewish socialists created a country in the middle of nowhere--"a people without a land to a land without people," as several Jewish leaders said 1948. But this was not really true; 600,000 Palestinians fled the region, they and their ancestors had lived there for several thousands of years. They were farmers who had built villages and cities. Jericho to Gaza Palestinians lived in this land. Weizman sees Israel as an expression of the Modernity. They consider themselves to be a European outpost against the wilderness. Islam represents the Middle Ages and they must vanish to give place to shiny cities and broad highways. It was the dream of Marinetti and the Futurists, a place where velocity and space enable its people to reach happiness.
In the outlined Palestinian state, which was discussed in Camp David, Oslo and Taba, the Israeli kept control over the water and the sky. The concept of sovereignty where a state exercises jurisdiction over its land, and the minerals and waters below the surface, is abolished by the Israeli, who demand future control over the Palestinian state’s water resources and the sky.
With the help of a sophisticated matrix of roads, bridges, walls, fences, and highways, the Israeli are constructing a system through which the Palestinians are becoming enclosed in isolated strips of land without any communication with others. Palestinians and Israelis are both pressed into ghettos where high-tech fences protect the Jewish settlers and checkpoints and soldiers stop the freedom of movement for the Palestinians.
In the little village of Qualqilya, on the West Bank, where 50,000 people live, there is only one open gate to enter and exit the city. The gate is controlled by Israeli soldiers and more than 65 percent of the arable land is now outside the wall. Qualqilya has been totally enclosed by the fence, which the Israeli call the "security fence" and the Palestinians call the "apartheid wall."
Weizman gives a colourful description of how Israel changed its architectural style after the 1967 war. The model of the city of Tel Aviv, built with the German school Bauhaus as inspiration and myth, "The White City", was abandoned; Jerusalem, with its oriental maze, became the prototype. The Great Jerusalem became the dream of archaeologists, urbanists and architects. The holy city--where churches, graveyards, and walls melt in an organic and labyrinthine architecture--should suddenly be the center of the administration and give shelter and housing to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants.
The Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rocks are situated, also cover the ruins of the Jewish Temple, destroyed nearly two thousands years ago. To build again the Temple is the goal for both the Jewish and Christian fundamentalists. Only when the Temple is built can the Messiah come back to mankind.
Besides the religious and eschatological explanations, the architectural struggle is fought on several levels. As the American-Jewish anthropologist Jeff Halper writes in an essay, the water pipes and the sewage running through the West Bank and Gaza are also part of a meticulous "matrix of control." To control the water sources and the facilities’ irrigation is a way to suffocate a country and to prevent it from developing. For thousands of years, Palestine has been an agricultural country where the olive trees have been the source for the families’ wealth. Suddenly, Israel has become a country with thousands of greenhouses, producing tomatoes and cucumbers; oranges and avocados are exported while Palestine’s water resources are drained. The opposition against this has been called the "Water Intifada." In Gaza, the population is obliged to buy bottled water, since the regular water contains too much sea water to be drinkable.
Eyal Weizman’s essay is objective and gives us clues to understand the long-term strategy used by cartographers and city planners, using the settlements and borders to delay the construction of a Palestinian state. The bulldozers are as important as the weapons in the West Bank and Gaza. Their goal is to establish the Israeli domination over the region forever.
The settlements are often placed on top of the mountains, a significant detail in the historical struggle for the place. At the beginning of biblical time, when the Jews formed a nation, they lived up in the mountains, in Samaria and Judea. Their God promised them the land, the valleys where sedentary people as the Canaanites cultivated the land and lived in villages and cities. The nomadic Jews fought bitter struggles and won, becoming farmers themselves afterward.
The mountains remain the mythological place from where the people originated. Now the settlers emphasise the same feeling. The Jewish settlers control the valleys where the Arabic villages built a web of complex structure. The settlements are panoptical, with the same precision Bentham described as the advantages of panopticum, where soldiers and watchers can exercise nearly total control over the villages. Despite the talks of disengaging, the colonising project grows all the time.
An architecture aimed at constructing lines and fences, bridges and roads deliberately hindering contact between two populations is an aberration. Urbanist Paul Virilio, who wrote an essay about the bunkers in Normandy, the remains of the once-proud Line Maginot, pointed out that the fortresses and the faith in the impenetrable defences were one of the reasons France lost the war against Germany. The dream of a Great Jerusalem and of the Great Israel, Eretz Israel, are still dominating the discourse in the Middle East.
Eyal Weizman's essay, "Politics of Verticality," can be read at www.opendemocracy.net
interview made by the visual artists Cecilia Parsberg and Erik Pauser can be found at TheWall
Censorship in Turkey
A decision in Istanbul's seventh high criminal court this week has reopened the prosecution of bestselling Turkish novelist Elif Shafak on charges of "insulting Turkishness".
The charges were brought under Article 301 the Turkish criminal code, which was also used in the prosecution of Orhan Pamuk earlier this year. The charges were reportedly based on remarks made by a character of Armenian ancestry in her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul - the character describes the death of Armenians during the first world war as a genocide. The case was thrown out last month after Shafak argued that the book was a work of literature and that comments made by fictional characters could not be used to press charges against an author.
Shafak joins a roster of more than 60 writers and journalists to be charged under Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code since its introduction last year. University professors, journalists and novelists such as Perihan Magden, Orhan Pamuk and now Shafak have been charged under legislation drawn so broadly as to criminalise a wide range of critical opinions. Writers not only face the prospect of a three-year jail term, but the prosecutions also lay them open to a campaign of intimidation and harassment waged by rightwing agitators.
Grand Serial Killer. Ciudad Juarez
"Where killing a woman is easier than in a videogame". Ciudad Juarez
With the interface of a videogame a Spanish team has made an artistic and political work about the killing of women in Ciudad Juarez, a border city between Mexico and the US. For many years young women in Ciudad Juarez has been abducted, raped, tortured and killed by one or several serial killers. The efforts of the police and the law has been in vain, the bodies of maimed women are still found in the suburbs of the city, known for it's "maquilas", factories where big multinational enterprises are provided with cheap labor.
Ciudad Juarez, the most unsafe place in the world if you are a woman.