Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
DU PREEZ, Amanda. Getting (a)head: embodiment and contemporary cyber culture. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.4, pp. 596-612. ISSN 2224-7912.
The expression "getting (a)head" will be utilised in this article as an analytical key in order to present a critical reading of the meeting of and interaction between bodies and new technologies. The main aim is to demonstrate the complexity of this interaction and also to make evident how problematic the concept of keeping one's head while getting ahead has become in relation to new technologies and cyber culture in particular. The obvious fact that one will probably need to keep one's physical head in order to be able to speak of the literal one is expounded by means of new technologies such as cryonics, but also by referring to older metaphysical discourses that embed the body-unfriendly proponents in contemporary cyber culture. Descartes' description ofthe head as an entity that exists apart from the rest of the body is briefly discussed, as well as the opposite extreme example namely Bataille's Acéphale-group during the early twentieth century that instead affirmed the headless man as a future prospect. It is argued that both examples, namely the concentration of all thinking in the head and the abandonment of thinking altogether, signify a one-sided and body-unfriendly discourse. These older examples are perpetuated in contemporary denouncement of the body, and thus favouring of the head, as exemplified by theorists and artists such as Timothy Leary and Stelarc, and William Gibson's novels. In contrast to these views, Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological embracing of the world as flesh and the unbreakable and unthinkable bond between head (mind) and body is introduced as a starting place for rethinking embodiment in contemporary cyber culture. The interaction between bodies and technologies cannot be described in simple terms by assuming that the body meets the technology. Rather, it would be more appropriate to refer to bodies or body types that interact with technologies in the plural. In order to give form to this more complex interaction four body types have been identified that are unpacked on a semiotic square. The body types are the techno-transcendent body; the techno-enhanced body; the mutated body andfinally the hyper-real body. These four categories are by no means exhaustive but they do present an entry point for unravelling the divergent ways in which bodies engage with new technologies. In terms of the possibilities that the semiotic square provides the body types are unpacked as follows on the four axes: the techno-enhanced body is placed between the opposites of (present) and (absent) where the presence and absence of materiality plays a role, as well as the extent to which technology enhances and changes the body; the techno-transcendent is positioned body between (random/pattern) pairing, because it is the body type most likely to become disembodied during the sometimes random and sometimes patterned interaction with virtuality; the mutated body is placed between the (present) and (random) axes because it deviates from the pattern during its interaction with technologies, which leads to mutation into a seemingly endless range of possibilities between materiality and randomness; andfinally the hyper-real body is situated between (absent) and (pattern) that represents the simulacrum where the original is copied to such an extent that it disappears, thus becoming absent but gaining form (pattern) in the replica/ clone. The engagement of the four body types with new technologies are analysed by means of referring to examples from visual culture in general including examples from film, advertisements, visual art, digital photography and the Internet.
Keywords : embodiment; posthumanism; cryonics; cyber culture; semiotic square; techno-transcendence; techo-enhancement; mutation; hyper-real.