I am a chimera (Part 2)

Every junkie, he thought, is a recording. (Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, 159)

And, according to Christopher Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin, perhaps he is more specifically a camera.

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

Like a machine. Isherwood gives us the view of a posthuman subject. In this way, Isherwood’s detached self-as-camera and the perspective of the posthuman as addict agree. As indicated in part 1, the posthuman subject is a culture junkie, addicted to feeling. Without input to record, without images to photograph, he is like a blank disk, an unused roll of film. We see, perhaps we see more, but we feel only on cue, we feel what the image tells us to feel. And that is one interpretation.

Steve Mann, inventor of the EyeTap and WearComp, disagrees (Cyborg, 25). “I” am not a camera, he asserts, “eye” is a camera, a machine, yes. As such, Mann has no qualms using the devices he designs to enhance his “eye”. The 20th century has struggled hard to separate the “eye” from the “I”. It has attempted to use technology as a way to control human experience. “I” think, “I” feel, “I” am self-aware. “Eye” sees only. Mann makes it clear what’s at stake: this is about seeing, perceiving, how “I”, as individual, as a living, conscious, self-aware being perceive, and how other self-aware individuals perceive “I“.

We cannot function as “passive, recording, not thinking.” We are betrayed by that which makes us human– our inability to be passive chroniclers of our own fleeting precious moments. Isherwood’s problem– the problem of the human machine as separate from the human spirit– is my problem, our problem, the dilemma of the human race as we stumble into the twenty-first century. (Mann, 25)

Here’s another interpretation: the posthuman subject may be at risk of losing his identity, his autonomy, his affect, but by adapting technology to his own ends, to the ends of preserving individuality and “human spirit”, he will avoid the separation of self that results in robot-like detachment. The posthuman is still human. And, as the world’s preeminent cyborg, Steve Mann should know.

Mann interprets Isherwood’s claim as a wish. Isherwood claims he is a camera, a machine, unfeeling, a simple recorder of information. But the context is at odds with the claim:

Isherwood’s observations, coming on the eve of a Nazi brutality unlike anything the world could have imagined, are all the more prescient for their positioning of the fleeting, impotent glance as the enduring strength of a fragile humanity. (26)

Isherwood wishes he could not feel, that the memory was dispassionate, painless. But the “eye” is not so easily removed from the “I”. Mann believes that our historical moment emphasizes the “eye” over the “I”, relegates the “I” to some dusty corner of the subconscious and that we are encouraged to make the move that Isherwood makes, to pretend that we are as machines, “methodical chroniclers of factual absolutes” (26).

For Mann, this attempted split is not the lot of the posthuman subject. His philosophy in willingly turning himself into the literal cyborg is to take control of technology and put it in the service of “I”; it is about “positioning the human being at the crux of technological ‘improvements’ that can reassert freedom and individuality.” (28) His project is to bring the “I” back to the “eye”, to remind us all that it is only through “I” that we can perceive the self, and thus preserve the essence of what it means to be human.

Our historical moment, according to Mann, is still beyond the threshold of a posthuman future. The technology is emerging, but the ideology has yet to manifest itself.

…the “I” is subjective, subconscious, shifting currents of personality and memory and society, light moving into shadows in unpredictable blurs. (26)

In “A Cyborg Manifesto” Donna Haraway makes a different claim about what/who we are or have become:

By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. Ths cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. (150)

Haraway’s cyborg is not the literal cyborg. It is the modern creature we perceive when we think of the words “human being”. And like Mann’s “I”, this creature is a figmental construction that conjoins an infinitude of disparate memories, images, feelings, personalities, ethnicities, mythologies, and ideologies, come together to form a self, an individual. Haraway’s cyborg and Mann’s “I” are like Bob Arctor’s scramble suit, always changing, the combination of a million-and-a-half physiognomic variations. Only instead of physical features, these chimerical transformations are “shifting currents of personality”, a series of “unpredictable blurs”.

“Let’s hear it for the vague blur!” (Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, 23)

Part 1 and Part 2 are drafts of the second essay I will be submitting for this course.

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