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Hayles and _Surrogates_ (emily mc)

October 26, 2009

The N. Katherine Hayles selection for this week discusses the current ability of information technologies  to distance what is human from the physical body and physical presence in the world both rhetorically and through technological advancement. The tendency to isolate and extract being into a sequence of codes and structures pieced together denies the space in which the human exists influenced, created, and formed by structures outside of him/herself.

Hayles’ sets forth the stakes  of her argument on p. 5:

If my nightmare is a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being, my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival.

Her idea of the posthuman depends on the physicality of the human body and on the termination of that physicality. In addition this physicality must exist within the complex structures of the world itself. The focus then becomes the interrelations between the systems at work and the placement of the body and information within it.

The idea of physicality makes me think of the latest Bruce Willis vehicle, Surrogates. Though admittedly, I have yet to see this film. The plot involves humans distanced from their own physicality by Surrogate robotic bodies who can live without risk within the material world, while the bodies of humans lie dormant and connect, or “jacked in” to the operation of their surrogate from afar. Bruce Willis’ surrogate is destroyed forcing him to use his human form to conquer the evils that have crept into his risk-free environment. Has anyone seen this film? I’m thinking that Carol from Safe would be mighty jealous of those with a surrogate and would be content to lie comfortably and safely distant from her own body.  I’m also thinking that the necessary return to the body that the plot requires might also lend support to Hayles’ theory in that divorce from the physical body and an existence in a completely virtual space should/not and cannot be the end goal of emerging technologies, but rather an acknowledgement that the physical body is indeed valuable and critical to the very concept of humanness.

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