From Superman to Hyperactive Man
translated by Julie Rose, The Art of the Motor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), pp. 99-132.
What matters most to modern man is no longer pleasure or displeasure, but excitement.
THE TECHNOLOGY QUESTION IS INSEPARABLE from the question of where technology occurs. Just as it is impossible to understand NATURE without immediately tackling the question of the LIFE- SIZE, we cannot now talk about technological progress without immediately considering size, the dimensions involved in the new technologies.
After yesterday's superstructure and infrastructure, we might now envisage a third term, infrastructure, since the very recent advent of nanotechnological miniaturization promotes biotechnology's physiological intrusion into, or insemination of, the living organism.
Having contributed for a long time already to the colonization of the geographical expanse of the territorial body and the geological core of our planet, the recent progress in
science and technoscience has today resulted in the gradual colonization of the organs and entrails of man's animal body, the invasion of the microphysical finishing off the job that the geophysical invasion began. This is the latest political figure in a process of domestication which, having genetically altered animal species and socially conditioned human populations, now heralds the age of personal components.
Today, indeed, the place where state- of- the- art technology occurs is no longer so much the limitless space of an infinitely vast planetary or cosmic environment, but rather the infinitesimal space of our internal organs, of the cells that compose our organs' living matter.
The loss or, more precisely, decline of the real space of every expanse (physical or geophysical) to the exclusive advantage of no- delay real- time teletechnology, inevitably leads to the intraorganic intrusion of technology and its micromachines into the heart of the living.
The end of the primacy of the relative speeds of mechanical transport and the sudden primacy of the absolute speed of electromagnetic transmission annihilates, along with the expanse and duration of our world proper, the ontological privilege of the body INDIVI, of this "body proper," which is in turn subject to the assault of technology, a molecular breaking and entering by biotechnologies capable of peopling its guts and very soul. At the end of the millennium, the miniaturization of motors, transmitter- receivers, and sundry other microprocessors is thus central to the technology question and thereby to postindustrial DESIGN.
After the industrial revolution and the revolution in instantaneous transmission of the age of large- scale mass communications, the very latest of revolutions is now taking off: the TRANSPLANT revolution, the power of inhabiting or, rather, of supplying the vital body through technologies of stimulation, as though physics (microphysics) were gearing up to compete with the chemistry of nutrition and mood- altering substances.
From time immemorial, technological progress generally has been directed to molding Earth's horizon and the continental surface, with the invention of hydraulic systems, canals, bridges, and roads--megamachines whose purpose was the railway lines and highways they carved the land up into, thanks to urban centers' being equipped with electric wiring and cables, electricity embellishing what the revolution in physical displacement had already achieved. Now the inner core of the living is to be equipped with micromachines that can effectively stimulate our faculties. The disabled person equipped to overcome his handicap suddenly becomes the model for the able- bodied person superequipped with prostheses of all descriptions....
It is time we faced facts. If the invention of nutrition and varied eating habits led in the past to an "art of living" and of enduring, thanks to agricultural, then urban, sedentariness, the current redefinition of nutritional practices through ingestion not only of chemical but also of technological stimulants, will soon promote a behavioral mutation that will undoubtedly shape living conditions. The METADESIGN of postindustrial social practices and behav
ior will then take over where the industrial era's DESIGN of forms and objects left off. At the end of his life, in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche said, "I am much more interested in a question on which the 'salvation of humanity' depends far more than on any theologian's curio: the question of nutrition. For ordinary use, one may formulate it thus: 'How do you, among all people, haue to eat to attain your maximum of strength, of virtue?" 1The technosciences are beginning to provide their answer to that question. Following the ingestion of food to fortify our strength--the fruits of agriculture--they are gearing up to make us swallow, to feed us, all kinds of dope. Not just chemical substances after the modern fashion in stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, tobacco, drugs, and steroids, but also technological substances, the products of biotechnology, such as the intelligent chips that are allegedly able to superexcite our mental faculties. In 1838, Honore de Balzac wrote, "Every form of excess is based on some pleasure that man wishes to repeat beyond the normal laws laid down by Nature. The less human strength is occupied, the more it tends to excess. It follows that the more civilized and peaceful a society is, the more its members will embark on the path to excess. For man the social animal, living means expending one's energy pretty swiftly."2
One could not find a more accurate description of postmodernity's inventory, in which superstimulants are the logical extension of a metropolitan sedentariness that is spreading increasingly rapidly, thanks in particular to the teleaction that has once and for all supplanted immediate
action. Postmodern man's inertia, his passivity, demands a surplus of excitement not only through patently unnatural sports practices, but also in habitual activities in which the body's emancipation due to real- time remote- control technology eliminates the traditional need for physical strength or muscular exertion.
Ultimately, the invention of the pacemaker, which can reproduce and in fact supply the rhythm of life, might be considered a starting point for this type of biotechnological innovation. Following the "xenotransplant" of animal organs, it is now on to the "technotransplant," that mix of the technological and the living, organic heterogeneity no longer involving attaching a foreign body to the patient's own. Now what is attached is a foreign heartbeat that can make the body throb in time to the machine.
Once this happens, how can we possibly assume that things will remain in working order? That this sudden overstimulation of heartbeat by a prosthesis will not lead to even more extremes in the near future, with the invasion of further procedures for speeding up biorhythms deemed too slow?
It is the Italian Futurists' dream actually come true nearly a century later: man's body fully fueled by technology, thanks to the miniaturization of "microbe machines" that are invisible--or as good as. There is one major difference, however, and that is in the order of magnitude of speed. It is no longer a matter of rivaling motor speed, as Marinetti had hoped, by making the individual's locomotive body equivalent to the locomotive or electric turbine,
whose relative speeds have been exceeded. It is now very much a matter of trying to rig up the human body to bring it up- to- date with the age of absolute speed of electromagnetic waves, the real- time transceiver from now on ousting the super- high- powered motor capable of covering territory's real space as fast as possible.
We might remember that as soon as life began, the race has been an eliminating heat: eliminating for the predator able to catch up with its prey the fastest; eliminating equally for human societies unable to speed up their production and distribution processes. In this race, in this savage competition, the adversary (the animal that is too slow) is not the only one to be eliminated. Bits of one's own body also go. One loses weight, for example, to be in shape; one slims down to improve reflexes, synapses. Only, in so doing, one also eliminates natural territory by making it more "conductive," more streamlined. This is where INFRASTRUCTURES such as the stadium, hippodrome, or aerodrome come in, the real space of the place where the race is held suddenly becoming a product of the real time of a route.
The "territorial" body is thus rigorously configured in the manner of the "animal" body of the runner or athlete; that is, it is wholly reconstituted by speed. Not long ago, this meant the relative speed of physical displacement. Now it means the absolute speed of microphysical transmission, finite speed, veritable LIGHT BARRIER--succeeding the barriers of sound and heat--in which the race, the essential competition, undergoes a kind of transmutation.
Since the standard of acceleration magnitude has reached the absolute limit of 180,000 miles per second (according to the law of relativity), elimination will now be pursued right inside living matter, this time by the reconstitution of vital dynamics, the phagocytosis of what is alive, of the subject's vitality itself. What gets stimulated will no longer be merely muscle building or joint elasticity through rhythmic exercise or steroids. Now the nervous system will be stimulated, the vitality of memory or the imagination, new mnemonic practices producing a restructuring of sensation.
At this stage in history, the eliminating game no longer eliminates weight in order to make the body trimmer and thereby more adapted to racing. It also alters vital rhythms and even goes as far as filling the gaps in the subject's intraorganic space by appending substitute post organs.
Marvin Minsky boasts about this kind of physiological reconstruction: "This means that we might have all the space we need inside our skulls to implant systems and additional memories. So you could gradually learn a bit more each year, add new kinds of perception, new modes of reasoning, new ways of thinking or imagining."3
Neuroscience's METADESIGN iS thus no longer concerned with giving form to the structure or infrastructure of an industrial "object." It now wants to regenerate the impulses of the neurotransmitters of the living "subject," thereby achieving a sort of cognitive ergonomics, the latest kind of neuroleptic connection, which we could call behavioral INTRASTRUCTURE.
We might recall at this juncture a little- known fact to do with the decline in the primacy of the expanse of geographical space, and the subsequent, very recent, primacy of chronographic time's absence of duration. Bringing the body and its vital energy up to speed with the age of instant teletechnology means simultaneously abolishing the classic distinction between internal and external, while promoting a final type of centrality or, more exactly, hypercentrality-- that of time, of some "present" if not "real" time--that has definitively overcome the distinction between periphery and center. Much as the antisleep pill suppresses alternation between wakefulness and reinvigorating sleep.
In days gone by, being present meant being close, being physically close to the other in face- to- face, vis- a- vis proximity. This made dialogue possible through the carrying of the voice and eye contact. But with the advent of media proximity, based on the properties of electromagnetic waves, the value of interlocutors' immediate coming together has suffered from interference, the sudden loss of distance rebounding on "being there," here and now. If it is true that, from now on, we can not only act at a distance, but even teleact at a distance--see, hear, speak, touch, and even smell at a distance4--then the unheard- of possibility arises of a sudden splitting of the subject's personality. This will not leave "body image"--the individual's SELF-PERCEPTION--intact for long.... Sooner or later, intimate perception of one's gravimetric mass will lose all concrete evidence, and the classic distinction between "inside" and "outside" will go out the window with it. The hypercenter
of the real time (or, if you prefer, the living present) of one's own body--EGOCENTRATION--will then prevail over the center of the real space of one's own world--EXOCENTRATION--the essential notion of being and acting, here and now, losing all sense.
By way of illustration, here is what someone who has just undergone a liver transplant has to say: "It's amazing. What they told me, basically, is that when my liver became diseased, it got heavier, like a deadweight. Afterward, when the graft finally took, I was frightened of losing the new liver. I was afraid it would come away from my insides. I was like a pregnant woman in the final month, trying to avoid any sudden movement so as not to give birth prematurely. "
We die in detail, the anatomist, Xavier Bichat, explained.... But what about living? Can we live in detail? With a shattered sense of unity and thus of self- perceptive identity? When the patient openly declares that "something inside is falling" like a deadweight (his diseased liver), or like a foreign body not efficiently integrated with his internal organs (the grafted liver), he is pointing to the existence of a kind of vital gravity, of weightiness of the body proper's insides, that characterizes both the disease and its remedy, the transplant, at once. I refer to intraorganic gravitation, which effectively doubles the external gravity of the living body in the middle of its own world, at the center of the geographical expanse of one planet among others, all equally subject to universal attraction.... The surgeon Rene Leriche claimed, "Silence means your organs
are healthy." In effect, our patient's sensation of intraorganic dislocation operates a curious confusion between the
world in which we move around at the risk of falling, and the world which moves around in us, regardless of us. A world with a certain physiological integrity whose discretion, until now, guaranteed a peaceful life.
We are back at Nietzsche's hype. Speaking about ZARATHUSTRA, himself seen as a "type," Nietzsche says, "To understand this type, one must first be clear about his fundamental physiological condition: this is what I call great health.... Being new, nameless, self- evident, we premature births of an as- yet- unproven future, we need new means to a new end--namely, a new health, stronger, more seasoned, tougher, more audacious, and gayer than any previous health."5
With such a reworking of bodily "health," if not of the body itself, it is important to have a different kind of nutrition. According to the philosopher, the man of the future will need above all else: GREAT HEALTH--that one does not merely have but also acquires continually, and must acquire because one gives it up again and again, and must give it Up,''6 We all know what he goes on to say: how we need men "who are healthier than one likes to permit us, dangerously healthy"; men, supermen rather, whose reward ought to be "an as- yet- undiscovered country whose boundaries nobody has yet surveyed, something beyond all the lands and nooks of the ideal so far."7
Alas, such a resplendent beyond has recently become the simple within of all lands, of our own world's territorial
boundaries. Despite the grand illusion of the so- called conquest of space, the implementation of absolute speed, the relativization of all magnitudes and regression to the infinitesimal. From now on there is no future in long journeys-- not even intergalactic ones. The loss of the terrestrial horizon of our world proper is the loss of all measure. Outside planet EARTH, nothing is "big" or far away; perspective exists only in intrusion, in intraorganic introspection, physiological corporality suddenly becoming the final yardstick of the measurement of movement. Only, of movement on-the-spot, right inside an animal body that has become the ultimate planet.
Beyond the boundaries of our biosphere, there are indeed no dimensions worthy of the name: no more height, breadth, or depth, no yesterday and no tomorrow, only light- years. Less a type of "time," a measure of duration, than a cosmic disproportion: that of the speed of light, absolute speed and ultimate limit, whence the optical illusion of the dilation of a supposedly expanding universe.8
From Fred Astaire to Michael Jackson, hyperactive man has plenty of ancestors, especially among the dancers dear to Nietzsche, actors and contortionists, people whose bodies have gradually become instruments. But the most recent specimen would have to be an Australian, Stelios Arcadiou, better known as Stelarc. When asked just exactly what he is up to on stage, Stelarc answers, "I'm trying to extend the body's capabilities through technology. For instance, I use medical techniques, sound systems, a robot
hand [the Third Hand] and an artificial arm [the Ambidextrous Arm]. There are four kinds of movement in my performances: the improvised movement of the body, the movement of the robot hand, which is controlled by sensors in my stomach and leg muscles, the programmed movement of the artificial arm, and the movement of my left arm when it's involuntarily agitated by an electric current. It's the interaction of these voluntary, involuntary, and computerized movements that I find interesting."9
Adept at the perfect symbiosis of the human and the technological, Stelarc has this to say about whether or not he is a choreographer: "I don't have any training in music or choreography, but I can, for example, amplify body sounds and signals like brain waves, blood flow, or muscle movement. This is both a physical experience and an artistic expression at the same time."
Claiming to be a survivor of the age of human physiology, as well as of philosophy, Stelarc goes on to explain, "As I've been performing, I've begun to ask myself about THE DESIGN OF THE HUMAN BODY. The more work I do, the more I believe the human body is obsolete!
"Technology today is more precise and more powerful than the human body. We're no longer limited in space to the biosphere.... We're heading for extraterrestrial space, but our body is only designed for this biosphere."
Taking up Nietzsche's theme, the artist goes on to declare that "deconstruction" should apply not only to language, that medium of communication par excellence, but also to human physiology, the beginning and end of our
perception of the world: "The ultimate limit of philosophy is the limit of physiology, of our feeble organic capabilities, our pan-aesthetic vision of the world.... I believe that evolution in fact ends with the technological invasion of the body."
Bristling with electrodes and antennae and sporting two laser eyes, our willing mutant takes the analogy with teleoperator robotics to its logical conclusion: the man lurks inside the android. But this is a pretty drastic conversion, for it achieves exactly the opposite of what Stelarc is hoping: "Today, technology has stuck to us like glue. It's about to become a component of our bodies, from watches to artificial hearts. For me, this represents the end of Darwinian evolution as some organic development over millions of years through natural selection. Now, with nanotechnology, man can swallow technology. So we need to see the body as a 'structure.' It is only by modifying the body's architecture that we'll be able to reshape our consciousness of the world."
Keen to see our body proper burst out of its biological envelope, Stelarc moves on to the fallen- angels theme: "Once the body is tackled by the precision and power of technology, once it is propelled beyond Earth's atmosphere, we won't be talking about 'language' anymore; we'll be talking about 'structure,' including body structure, physiology."
When asked whether he is not just inventing the Eve of the future, Stelarc retorts, "It's not that simple! For me, in the beginning was not the Word! I don't envisage adapting
space to our bodies, but, on the contrary, remodeling our bodies. So the question is: how do we shape a panplanetary human physiology?"
Anxious finally to get down to this BODY, this MAN-PLANET, say, who will be liberated from Earth's attraction, the categorical imperative of a human type that will have become postevolutionary, Stelarc continues, "In other words, we must ask the question: how do we reshape the human body so that it can cope with varied conditions in atmosphere, gravity, and electromagnetic fields?"
Ranting on the theme of intergalactic travel the way astronauts typically do, Stelarc further explains that, since future expeditions will be measured in light- years, it will be possible to prolong life, not in some Faustian search for immortality, but in the interests of a necessary extension of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Once again, the exotic desire for some "great out-of-this-world voyage" is merely an alibi for the technical intrusion into an inner world, that of our viscera: "We'll soon be able to empty out the human body and replace malfunctioning organs through new technologies! What would happen, for instance, if we were able to acquire a new skin capable of simultaneously breathing and achieving photosynthesis, transforming sunlight into food? If we were equipped with that kind of skin, we would no longer need a mouth to chew with, or an esophagus to swallow, or a stomach to digest, or lungs to breathe."
You will note that Marvin Minsky's idea of a few years ago of some sort of phagocytosis of internal space has al
ready caught on. It follows from this that the far horizon finds itself replaced by a substitute horizon: the substance of our gravimetric mass expands in the manner of the mass of the cosmos, giving way to a new form of postindustrial and, especially, "postevolutionary," rigging out of the living being. "The new perspective is that the body can be colonized by miniaturized synthetic organisms, whereas previously, technology was content to surround the body, to protect it from the outside."
It is clear from this that the project of colonization--of endocolonization--is no longer one of surrounding the patient's body with its attentions. It now entails transforming the body into "primary material," making a laboratory rat of hyperactive man in the process. Just listen to the crescendo of Stelarc's symptomatic rave. "Instruments have always been outside the human body. But now technology is no longer exploding a long way away from the body, it's imploding inside the body. This is highly significant; it is perhaps the single most important event in our history: we no longer need to send technology to other planets, we can land it in our own bodies!"10
As you can see, the conversion is complete. Under the guise of "extraterrestrial" liberation, the technosciences are getting their teeth into a weightless man-planet whom nothing can now really protect, neither ethics nor biopolitical morality. Instead of escaping from our natural biosphere, we will colonize an infinitely more accessible planet--as so often in the past--that of a body- without- a- soul, a profane body, on behalf of a science- without- a- conscience that has
never ceased to profane the space of the body of animals and slaves, the colonized of former empires. We have never, in fact, dominated geophysical expanse without controlling, increasingly tightly, the substance, the microphysical core of the subject being: from the domestication of other species to the rhythmic training of the soldier or servant, the alienation of the production worker, force- feeding sports champions anabolic steroids. All of these examples illustrate this latest project, of which our Australian is clearly not the instigator, but rather a victim, a willing victim, as so often the case with the servant corrupted by the master. At a time when there is talk of ethnic cleansing in Europe, the auditing of the evacuated living being's viscera is a timely reminder of the dangers of neuroscience's endogenous tyranny, of a cognitive ergonomics already at work on the latest in HUMAN DESIGN, the training of conditioned reflexes, the METADESIGN of our conceptual and perceptual faculties. With the latter, the reign of the computer will at last catch up with the patient's body, underneath his clothes, his uniform, thereby achieving a new type of "underclothing" in which the smartening up of our nervous system will supersede the DESIGN of the consumer object of the waning industrial age.
Having arrived at this particular point in the history of science and technology, the issue of the evolution of living things in Darwin's terms takes on a different significance-- especially now that the theory of evolution is being challenged not only through the convergence of various reli-
gious and philosophical interpretations, but also by apologists of evolutionary science such as Professor Louis Thaler of Montpellier University. "It seems to me beyond question that man is today evolving under the influence of what I would call a relaxation of the selection process. This phenomenon is one of the effects of progress, especially in medicine. " 11
Taking up Stelarc's argument about the decline of Darwinism once technology can invade man's body with its prostheses, Professor Thaler continues, "Good eyesight is a survival factor among those tribes that are still hunters and gatherers, and so is good hearing. This is clearly not the case for modern man, who can correct such faults with glasses or hearing aids."
Coming back later to the importance of genetic mutation, Thaler further specifies, "Evolution is based on mutations. These fruits of chance are statistically more often a disadvantage, a handicap; the number of 'good' mutations that get through is accordingly very small. Until now, in conditions where natural selection has been a strong pressure, these always ended up dominating 'bad' mutations. Today this is no longer the case. Mutations are asserting themselves more and more insistently."
Which is where the idea of some kind of veiled "chronic fatigue" comes in, of a significant relaxation of selective pressure in an artificial environment in which the "technosphere" prevails over the "biosphere."
It is really quite something now to be witnessing the renunciation of the doctrine of selective power by the very
people who set themselves up as apostles of evolutionary science and thereby of the survival of the fittest.
What lies behind such materialist pessimism? "The relaxation of the process of natural selection allows us to predict an accumulation of genetic defects over the generations and thus a human population fitted with a growing number of prostheses--and blowing out the cost of health care. "
One might note in passing that this thesis has been effectively corroborated by the experts, who predict that in the year 2000, half of all surgical operations performed will involve transplants and the installation of prostheses.
"Saving premature babies in our maternity wards," Louis Thaler goes on to argue, "will tend to introduce mutations into the population that once would have tended to be eliminated. With the present data on evolution, we can thus predict a relative long- term degeneration of the human species. Relative, because this process of 'nonselection' produces little change in the average characteristics of the human population. What it involves in particular is a greater disparity between features within a certain framework: what enables the species to achieve equilibrium with its environment. "
We are thus seeing a kind of convergence between the concept of a breakdown in "natural" selection and that of "ecological" imbalance, such an imbalance attacking not only the human habitat--the quality of the substances that make up our natural surroundings--but also the mechanism regulating the relationship between "our body proper" and "our
world proper." The director of Montpellier's Sciences of Evolution Institute also claims that "natural selection is primarily a stabilizing factor and only secondarily a motor for evolution. It ends in the elimination of specimens different from the norm. With the relaxation of natural selection that medicine produces--along with development of the technosphere--this mechanism becomes less important, paving the way for more and more mutations and thus genetic malformations."
Well aware of how such a discourse might chime and of the risk of being mistaken for a eugenicist, Professor Thaler clarifies, "I must emphasize that this predictable 'relative degeneration' is only discernible in the physical realm. It has no bearing on the mental except in pathological cases. The Nazis also spoke of degeneration and campaigned for a form of saving eugenics, arguing the existence of an intellectually and physically superior race, something that obviously has no scientific basis."
Even if such a remark is indispensable in avoiding some kind of slur or racist misinterpretation, the issue of Darwinism's having become old hat remains. If the "superman" of tomorrow is indeed the superequipped, able- bodied person controlling the environment without having to stir a limb, in the manner of the disabled person equipped with prostheses who can already act and get around without much call on muscle power, then evolution will have entered a TECHNOSCIENTIFIC phase. This is an eventuality our natural selection expert evidently fails to mention, even though his declaration of insolvency suddenly reintroduces
the possibility, if not of a "superior race," then at least of a "species equipped in superior fashion." This is, after all, merely the accomplishment of what politicians have been calling economic and social progress ever since industry in the West began to flourish. In discussing evolution, even if it is most important to distinguish between the "physiological" and the "social" to avoid any eugenic drift, the problem of the technological cannot be separated from the sociological, once we are confronted by the premises of a kind of TECHNICAL FUNDAMENTALISM: the prospective reconstruction of the human body, either by adding superficial prostheses, or intraorganically intruding these inside our very organs, which is what the nanotechnology of living organisms--the BIOTECHNOLOGY of the future--proposes.
So if the natural environment--the biosphere--exerts pressures that would lead to natural selection according to Darwin, it may also be that the artificial environment--the technosphere--exerts pressures too, the inertia of the sedentary urbanite not being without effect.
The issue of controlling the environment by means of interactive prostheses that function in real time does not essentially involve development of an already devalued geographical and territorial body. It involves developing, equipping man's animal body by means of infrastructures of which the pacemaker is and will long remain the perfect emblem because it acts on the rhythm, on the vital energy of the living being.12
The question of freedom is thus central to the problematic of technoscience and of neuroscience equally. To what
extent can the individual avoid sensory confusion? To what extent will he still be able to keep his distance when faced with the sudden hyperstimulation of his senses? What new kind of dependency or addiction will be produced in the near future? Will they involve possession or dispossession?
The question remains entirely open, though we can at least assume that design will play a big role--the METADESIGN of morals and behavior--since humanity will thus be exposed to experiment, indeed to life- size experimentation with a veritable METAPHYSICAL body, a METABODY independent of surrounding conditions, to the extent that real space--the expanse of our own world as well as, equally, the density of our own body--will gradually fade into the background as real time nanotechnological impulses and hyperstimulation take over from vital rhythms.
A few further questions remain. Does the proclaimed degeneration in evolution take us from natural selection to a kind of artificial selection, the product of technoscientific progress whereby the physical body of pedestrian man (Kierkegnard) will gradually lose its usefulness and bow out as a truly metaphysical body capable of replacing it emerges?
Haven't we already seen, with last century's boom in machine tools, for example, the beginnings of a similar substitution of the technical for the muscular effort of the worker?
Aren't we now about to see the "technical" unemployment of the common laborer of the erstwhile industrial firm replaced by a kind of compulsory unemployment of
certain vital organs considered obsolete and whose energy output will be seen to be totally inadequate?
Following the trashing of the history of the "proletariat," surely we will soon see human physiology surfed out and wrecked, once it is considered irretrievably obsolete compared to the prowess of intraorganic nanotechnologies.
Faced with the demands of an increasingly artificial terrestrial environment and the disastrous consequences of a criminal level of pollution that will make the old "outdoor life" largely out of bounds, will we not then see a new type of FUNDAMENTALISM emerge, one no longer associated with the trust in God of traditional beliefs, but with the worship, the "technocult," of a perverted science? This would be a veritable TECHNOSCIENTIFIC FUNDAMENTALISM that will do as much damage as any religious fanaticism. The will to power of a science without a conscience will pave the way for a kind of intolerance yet unimaginable today precisely insofar as it will not simply attack certain peculiarities of the species, like sex, race, or religion. It will attack what is alive, "natural" vitality finally being eliminated by the quasi-messianic coming of wholly hyperactivated man.
If this were to happen, we would then see a reversal, the inversion of Nietzsche's logic. Over to Nietzsche: "When the least organ in an organism fails, however slightly, to enforce with complete self- assurance its self- preservation, its 'egoism,' restitution of its energies, the whole degenerates. The physiologist demands excision of the degenerating part; he denies all solidarity with what degenerates; he is
worlds removed from pity for it. But the priest desires precisely the degeneration of the whole, of humanity: for that reason, he conserves what degenerates.''l3
What can you say when it is "science" itself that announces the degeneration of human evolution? Except that science in turn is taking on the role of a new kind of "priesthood" in the absence of a new form of sanctity; one which would preside over the birth of a new form of health, for a new body, a METABODY composed of surrogate organs more efficient than the ones our natural physiology provides.
At the end of Ecce Homo, Nietzsche concludes, "Finally --and this is what is most terrible of all--the concept of the good man sigies that one sides with all that is weak, sick, with failure, suffering of itself--all that ought to perish. The law of selection is thwarted--an ideal is fabricated out of opposing the proud and well- turned- out human being who says Yes, who is sure of the future, who guarantees the future--and he is now called evil . . . And all this was believed, as morality!"14
When the law of natural selection is no longer thwarted by faith in the transcendence of being alone, but by some law of artificial selection--the sudden advent, beyond
GOOD and EVIL, of a TECHNICAL FUNDAMENTALISM, as opposed to the old MYSTICAL kind--what is left of the "great health" of Nietzsche's superseded man? The imminent production of biotechnological SUPERVITALITY will surely undermine the very foundation of the philosophy of the "superman."
The question of what will happen to DESIGN, or more precisely, to postindustrial METADESIGN, finds its basis here--I would go so far as to say its METAPHYSICAL basis. It is just a step from last century's evolutionary superman to the hyperactive, postevolutionary man of the coming century, just one more step into the gloom of postscientific obscurantism.
"Man is progressing from the species to the superspecies," according to Nietzsche. In the realm of the living, the live, aren't we now seeing progress in health? Aren't sports practices a sure index of this "postmodern" attempt to speed up the living, the animate, the way the inanimate, the machine, has always been made to go faster?
We might answer these questions in the affirmative, as far as an increase in longevity goes. For about a hundred years, the "quantitative" has been effectively improved and human life expectancy has shot up from about fifty to seventy years and over--for man in so- called advanced countries. Hence the surreptitious return of eugenics in the guise of a concern for public health. As Pierre- Andre Taguieff says, denouncing the increasingly Mephistophelian nature of genetic research, "There is now a demand for eugenics based onthe image of a universal health horizon."15
We need to take a closer look at the recent evolution of this new brand of public health ideology, an ideology that is no longer particularly interested in maintaining public health so much as in continually improving it. The goal is no longer just to live better, comfortably consuming goods and
medicine; one must now live more acutely, one must build up the nervous intensity of being alive by ingesting biotechnological products whose role is thus to make up for food and other more or less stimulating chemical substances.
To really be in "good health," will we soon have to be constantly doped, artificially overstimulated, like top athletes or enthusiasts of extremist sports?
Remember, for the biologist, excitability is the fundamental property of living tissue. Tomorrow, will hyperexcitability become one of the fundamental properties of the living person, for the physiologist? If to be is to be excited, then to be alive is to be speed, a metabolic speed that technology is compelled to increase and improve, the way it has done with animal species.
Following the ravages of "the law of least action," which has always restricted man's muscular activity in the name of economizing physical effort--and thereby of extending comfort to the panoply of ordinary movements--we are now seeing a sort of energy transmutation in human behavior. Rendered passive, if not inert, by the employment of various prostheses of transport and instantaneous transmission, man will no longer feel the need to economize physical effort. Hence the emergence of a new law entailing the opposite; this time it will be a matter of treating the living being like a motor, a machine that needs to be constantly revved up.
The former law of least action of the age of exploitation of geophysical space--contemporaneous with progress in transport and broadcasting--will find itself saddled with
another law, one better adapted to the age of the microphysical transplant revolution. This law will aim to promote increasing acceleration of the reflexes and stimuli of the animate being.
We might again recall that the progress of contemporary technoscience is itself conditioned by the need to economize the efforts of the individual subject to Earth's gravity and therefore to the nervous and muscular fatigue resulting from his own mass and physiological density.
Having recently achieved the implementation of absolute speed and thereby freeing people from the traditional conditions of existence, remote- control teletechnology will not be content with further economizing fatigue due to physical exertion. It will be driven to try to get rid of the dissatisfaction and frustration that result from the growing passivity and inertia of the individual dispossessed of immediate physical activity. Whence the desire to overstimulate the patient's organism at the same time as tranquilizing; in other words, to "program" the very intensity of the patient's nervous and intellectual activities just as the motor function of a machine is now already programmed.
Merce Cunningham says apropos, "Electronic music has changed everything for me and for dance. Until now, the beat of the music forced the dancer to count. Rhythm was something physical, muscular. But electronic music affects your nerves, not your muscles. It's difficult to count electricity!" 16
But let's get back to environmental control--in other words, to the loss of the classic distinction between "inside" and "outside," this loss being connected to the diminished importance of the expanse of real space as opposed to real time and its practical lack of duration.
In the face of what is now known as an "open system," it helps to recall the third and final state of matter, that is, the concept of information nowadays outstripping the notions of mass and energy.
During the Second World War, engineers at Bell Corporation discovered an observable physical property whose use ensured improved transmission. They called it INFORMATION.... Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, Immediately defined this in terms of what it was not. "Information is not mass, or energy; information is information." It is thus the third fundamental dimension of matter. Later, much later, Gregory Bateson, who was one of the first to think of information as a general process, added that "Information is a difference that makes a difference. "17
But the redundancy is the same, traditional notions of entrance and exit losing their spatial and environmental connotation and becoming "the difference difference," the IN and OUT of logical ports, the O and I of computer science.
After this, the logic of differentiation is reduced to its LOGISTICS, a CYBERNETIC logistics that will achieve that takeover by force without which NO INFORMATION worthy of
the name can exist, since this is never anything more than the effect of a fact, the reflection of some power relationship.
"Surprise me!" Diaghilev used to say to his dancers. We know what he means. If "the law of stimulation" from now on takes over from the law of least action, we have come full circle: it is no longer a matter of maintaining health by reducing fatigue and effort; it is now a matter of amplifying the subject's vitality through the impulses of information biotechnologies.
"Great health" is thus no longer a GIFT, the gift of our organs' silence. It is a HORIZON, a perspective that can be attained thanks to LIVE technologies' feats of acceleration. Brave new world not unrelated to the aspirations of mystics toward some future transfiguration of humanity. "He treated his body as though it were his soul," Rainer Maria Rilke writes in a short story about a pantheist attempt at fusion with nature ....
But this final "perspective," based on the image of a horizon of great health for all, rests on the primacy of real time over the real space of the body, or, if you like, on the abolition of the importance of the classic intervals of "space" and "time," to the sole advantage of the third interval: the interface of the "light- speed" type.
Whence the decline already discussed in the usual notions of internal and external, INSIDE and OUTSIDE, which until now subtended the difference between the living being and its environment.
This makes more sense of the recent devaluation and subtle discrediting of the notion of whole dimension, since crit
ical space currently secretes an infinite number of fractal, deconstructive subdivisions that end up eliminating the very idea of environment.... The architect Le Corbusier held that outside is always inside! For the specialists of neuroscience, inside is always outside from now on! Internal space lies open like a town about to be destroyed by invaders.
Lawyer Bernard Edelman writes:
Thanks to scientific progress, we have become radically contingent. Now there is nothing from a scientific point of view that grounds us to the land, that essentially attaches us to our species. It's in this context that we need to understand the extraordinary triumph of biomedicine--a triumph echoed, incidentally, by the market economy. This success has caught us completely unaware, for we have neutralized our markers as creatures of "the soil" as well as our markers as a "species."18
In such exotic conditions, how can we hope to preserve for long the self- perceptual distinction between the whole body, here and now, and that of the world, between an individual's vitality and the particular vivacity of his organs, or rather, his "organoids"?
Will Earth soon become humanity's phantom limb?
If fractalization no longer solely affects extension, the ideal dimensions of geometry, but first and foremost the intensity of the living being's nerve influx and biorhythms, how do we locate ourselves? As you will have remarked, the problem for "bioethics" is the carving up of the body's
space. But at the philosophical level, there is also the problem of duration, in other words, of the living body's particular temporality.
On one hand, there is the question of the dismemberment of the body and thus of a possible, lucrative "organ trade."19 On the other is the question of CYBERNETIC programming of vital rhythms, as though the substitute servicing of spare parts in mechanics might be applied to the human organism: xenotransplants and technotransplants equally allowing the body's vital functions to be improved or damage caused by disease to this or that organ to be repaired. Some people are already seriously pondering the interchangeability of human beings (or their organs) and even the possibility of body substitutability.
In his introduction to an anthology of essays on bioethics and citizenship, Alain Caille writes:
The common ground in this debate is utilitarianism, if we understand by the term "utilitarianism" the doctrine that acknowledges the greatest happiness of the greatest number as sole criterion of justice and morality. Certainly, an argument that justifies a priori unlimited economic and technological expansion is unanswerable. Who could object to the resultant increase in pleasure and reduction of suffering? The only drawback of such an irrefutable doctrine is that, in the name of maximizing an individual's pleasure and minimizing their pain, it runs the real risk of sapping what makes existence livable.20
We are back at the Nietzschean myth of GREAT HEALTH and, with it, the myth of the new eugenics, a "eugenics" that would extend the pleasure principle and so- called gratification handed down from the age of the consumer society. Only this time it would be aimed at a sort of perpetual stimulation, as though the law of least effort until now governing technoscientific progress no longer made any sense. This, at the very moment that postindustrial automation is finally achieving perfect economization of muscular effort, along with the dismissal, the structural unemployment, of pedestrian man, so dear to Kierkegaard, in favor of digital transfer machines.... The passivity of individuals made useless, hence supernumery, becoming a social menace because of the strong component of boredom and discontent.
"The less human strength is occupied, the more it tends to excess," you will recall Balzac's saying in his Treaty on Modern Stimulants. It is clear from this that we cannot separate the new eugenics from the general mobilization of affects, the mobilization of the emotions. This process goes through an organism "motorization" phase in which the individual suddenly becomes the packaging, the hood over the engine of micromachines capable of transplanting life and transfusing its impulses with the help of computer software.
In the Futurist Manifesto of 1910, Marinetti trumpeted, "With us begins the reign of uprooted man, of multiple man who gets tangled up in iron and feeds on electricity. Let's make way for the imminent and inevitable identification of man with the motor."
Eighty years later, we have brought this off with the emergence and mass production of ORGANOlDS originating in biotechnological research. Similarly, scientists are not content simply to diminish para- or tetraplegics' disabilities by means of external prostheses--wheelchairs or motorized chairs for the seriously disabled. Recently, they have been working on an internal prosthesis using electrodes implanted in the patient's legs and controlled by a microcomputer. This electronic system would be called on to provide stimulation of defective muscles that normally comes from the spinal cord.21 Pedestrian man thus becomes electromobile man in the manner of the electric car. . .
Marinetti's manifesto also proposes, "Let's combine forces with mechanical engineering to destroy the old poetry of distance." This has now happened too. If the greatest geographical distances are nothing now thanks to the progress of hypersonic speed, the more minute layers protecting the living organism's insides have become less than nothing in the face of the implementation of the absolute speed of electronic impulses. As though the speed limit of electromagnetic waves had once and for all overtaken the imperceptible limit of cutaneous tissue.
From now on, the beings and things that surround us are merely FIELDS and the real a single NETWORK--only, a CYBERNETIC network since everything is exclusively internal to the "field."
In order to approach in any way, finally, the reality of the facts, we clearly must have another look at solids, forms, and forces . . . the putting into waves of the real tending to
generalize--with the primacy of the notion of information over those of mass and energy--that takeover by force that consists of undermining the concrete nature of the event and promoting its sole "communication."
So after the different forms of pollution resulting from regional industrial development, we are seeing the beginnings of a new form of pollution caused by the control of the global environment by postindustrial technologies that exhaust the space- time intervals that once organized the world.
"The greater the increase in mobility, the greater the control," a nineteenth- century specialist in rail BLOCK SYSTEMS asserted. But at the time, "mobilization" was all that was involved. The sudden "motorization of the living being" had not yet occurred. It is this that we are victims of today. With excess transmission speed, control becomes the environment itself.
When the limited transport revolution gives way to the general spread of the instantaneous transmission revolution, information theory--COMPUTER SCIENCE--takes over from the physical, we might as well say, the astrophysical! Fusion is achieved, confusion total: INFORMATION is reality's only "relief," its only "volume"; in the age of synthetic images and sound, we might say, its "high definition." Alongside potential energy and kinetic energy, we now have a third form of energy, information energy. Following the three phases of displacement--departure, journey, arrival--and after the demise of the " journey," suddenly it is "departure" that we have lost. From now on, everything
arrives without our having to leave. But what "arrives" is already no longer a stopover or the end of the trip; it is merely information, information-world, no, information-universe! The reign of the generalized arrival from then on combines with the generalization of real- time information. And so everything rushes at man, man- the- target is assailed on all sides, and our only salvation now is to be found in illusion, in flight from the reality of the moment, from the loss of free will whose advent Pascal evoked when he wrote, "Our senses cannot perceive extremes. Too much noise deafens us, too much light dazzles.... Extreme qualities are our enemies. We no longer feel anything; we suffer. "
1. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 693.
2. Honore de Balzac, Traite des excitants modernes (Paris: Castor Astral, 1992)
3. Art Press, special edition, "New Technologies," 1991.
4. The first olfactory sensors have just been perfected.
5. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, in Basic Writings, p. 754. [Translation modified.]
8. Karl Popper, A World of Propensities (Bristol: Thoemmes, 1990).
9. L'Autre Journal, September 1992,pp. 24 and following.
10. Art Press, p. zg.
11. Liberation, science supplement, 12 December 1990.
12. Barcelona twins, Marie and Theresa, had pacemakers implanted at birth in the autumn of I992.
13. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, p. 748.
14. Ibid., pp. 790- 91. [Translation modified.]
15. Interview with Pierre- Andre Taguieff, Le Nouvel Observateur, 19 November I992.
16. Interview with choreographer Merce Cunningham, Liberation.
17. Jacques Jaffelin, Pour une theorie de l'information generale (Paris: ESF editeur, 1993),p.21.
18. Bio- e'thique, ville et citoyennete, ed. Cahiers du laboratoire de sociologic anthropologique de l'universite de Caen, 1993.
I9. Witness apropos the scandalous treatment of children in Latin America.
20. Bio-ethique, ville et citoyennete', p.12.
2I. A French patent.