A snippet from McKenzie Wark’s interesting essay on the life and work of Donna Haraway Blog Post for Cyborgs:
The cyborg point of view has at least one other component: the point of view of the apparatus itself, of the electrons in our circuits, the pharmaecuticals in our bloodstreams, the machines that mesh with our flesh. The machinic enters the frame not as the good or the bad other, but as an intimate stranger. Apparatus, like sensation, is liminal and indeterminate – an in-between. It is an inhuman thing, neither object nor subject.
One of its special qualities as such may however be to generate data about a nonhuman world. The apparatus renders to the human a world that isn’t for the human. An apparatus is that which demonstrates some aspect of a monstrous, alien world. An apparatus yield aspects, particular monstrosities, which never add up to that consistent and absolute world that is remains the God, or Goddess, of all realists.
An apparatus affords the real, material and historical form of mediation. I take up the significance of this in Molecular Red through a reading of Haraway’s colleague Karen Barad and former student Paul Edwards, who show the centrality of thinking the cyborg-apparatus for understanding techno-science today. Elsewhere I follow the same line of thought to Paul B Préciado. For while there has been a turn towards a revival of scientism and claims for the virtues of a universal rationality, these bypass the more difficult business of grasping how science is actually produced.
Hence the centrality today of Haraway’s work, in which thinking the messy business of making science fully embraces its implication in nets of corporate and military power, its processing and reinforcing of metaphors not of its making, and its dependence on a vast cyborg apparatus. The strength of her work is in not abandoning the struggle for knowledge under such difficult conditions and retreating into mere philosophy.
It’s this sense of the “intimate stranger,” its entry into the human of the impersonal and inhuman, an almost abysmal invasion of the flesh by those forces below the threshold of things; the catalytic infestation of the energetic cosmos where the indifference of the inorganic explodes our easy myths of optimism and happiness. He calls it the Apparatus – the force of technics and the law of technology which begins to reacquire our flesh, absorb us into its strange systems of culture and control. “Hegel’s gaze upon reality is that of a Roentgen apparatus which sees in everything that is alive the traces of its future death.”1 Or the Althusserian notion of the Ideological State Apparatus, the external ritual which materializes ideology: the subject who maintains his distance towards the ritual is unaware of the fact that the ritual already dominates him from within. (Zizek, KL 2190) Maybe as Karan Barad will have it
Barad emphasizes how the apparatuses which provide the frame for agential cuts are not just material, in the immediate sense of being part of nature, but are also socially conditioned, always reliant on a complex network of social and ideological practices. (Zizek, KL 20876)
The sense of the alien and inhuman have become central to a certain type of philosophical gaze. As Wark reminds us the “apparatus renders to the human a world that isn’t for the human. An apparatus is that which demonstrates some aspect of a monstrous, alien world.” Speaking of ancient Gnosticism Hans Jonas conveys to us this ominous quality of the alien world as the human condition:
Gnosticism has been the most radical embodiment of dualism ever to have appeared on the stage of history, and its exploration provides a case study of all that is implicated in it. It is a split between self and world, man’s alienation from nature, the metaphysical devaluation of nature, the cosmic solitude of the spirit and the nihilism of mundane norms; and in its general extremist style it shows what radicalism really is. All this has been acted out in that deeply moving play as a lasting paradigm of the human condition. (XXVI The Gnostic Religion)
Wark’s investigation like his Gnostic forbears is not just about knowledge, but rather about the traps and prisons of a certain false knowledge which folds us in a complicit acceptance of a cyborg-apparatus component within the techno-sciences today. In a capitalist world the pressure of competition – the drive for profit, power, security, etc. becomes the primal mover and operative dispotif, driving invention and goals. Jonas in a essay Toward a Philosophy of Technology would see this cyborg-apparatus as an “agent of restlessness” implanted within us by its functionally integral bond with science, politics, philosophy, art – all the ideological components of culture and material life.2 Jonas would see the cyborgization of Man as both the conclusion to art and philosophy, as the abstraction of an abstraction – a final idealism:
In the pervasive mentalization of physical relationships it is a trans-nature of human making, but with this inherent paradox: that it threatens the obsolescence of man himself, as increasing automation ousts him from the places of work where he formerly proved his humanhood. And there is a further threat: its strain on nature herself may reach a breaking point. (Jonas)
What he terms trans-naturing is now the mark of the transhuman and its egoist driven optimism. This sense of technological progress at the heart of our Faustian bargain and merger of science, corporate power, and technology into a full out war against life, nature, and the universe: a war of all against all. Domination and mastery. As Zizek will admonish we’ve all become material in the hands of these supposed Masters of the Universe, reduced to passive and empty forms: homo sacer, the subject reduced to bare life, is, in terms of Lacan’s theory of discourses, the objet a, the “other” of the University discourse worked upon by the dispositif of knowledge. (Zizek, KL 21952) Yet, this is not the gnosis (inner knowing) that saves, but rather the knowledge-as-Power as technological and scientific mastery that seeks to control us within, make of us cyborg-apparatuses – impersonal systems of indifference, tools in the arsenal of an elite brotherhood of capitalist agents-archons to further their ends and goals.
Bataille and Burroughs would see the beginnings of an exit from this trap, this prison in realizing that our greatest enemy is Language itself; that we are carefully integrated into a system of thought and feeling from birth (Foucault, Deleuze). We begin that long Bildung, the process of education that educes and imprints its codes and linguistic signs upon our brain, the cultural prison of mentalization: – we are shaped to the ideas of its external system of culture and thought, a power beyond us (the ideological crime-World); a transcendental system that is slowly internalized, grafted upon our nervous system, that controls us blindly in the very texture of what we believe is so essential to our lives, our selves. Our sense of self and being are mastered from the beginning by alien thoughts not our own, guided to ends we did not invent, shaped by desires we are not aware of nor would accept if we could only awaken from our deep sleep in this pervasive system of closure.
Navigating the borders between inclosure and exclosure, the thin membrane between noise and communication; the exacerbation of those forces that shift between immanent and transcendent relation, that score us with their tattoos, mark us out with their mappings, their cosmic laws of degradation. We fall asleep within this battlefield ignorant of its ruinous powers that control us, enforce their fatum. The task today is to disturb the sleep of those ideological slaves of thought, to awaken them from their long sleep in this alien crime-World where freedom is only another word for enslavement. If a rendition of aetheistic gnosis has any bearing at all it is to instill a gnosis (inner-knowing) against the crime-Worlds of Capital and its substrates shaping us internally through its intra-linguistic heritage, both material and immaterial; to begin once again that slow and methodical, one might say, merciless and cruel, awakening of the sleepers from their cultural vacuums, the vacuity of their repetitions and automations – the machinic circle of their desires.
- Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 394-395). Norton. Kindle Edition.
- Hans Jonas. The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age. (University of Chicago Press, 1985)