‘AFTERTHOUGHTS’ Tullia Giersberg

RESPONSE #4  Tullia Giersberg

Half-way through the 100 Hours Project, I find myself at a loss. My object seems as unknowable as ever. As I stare at the slightly smudged, softly glowing red lines, so expertly placed as to suggest plasticity and depth, real emotion, I still find it difficult to disentangle my thinking about the drawing as an object from the various and often quite disparate associations its subject matter evokes. I believe that this has something to do with its flatness, with its two-dimensionality, which is so alien to my own corporeality. But perhaps more unnervingly, I begin to sense that my helplessness before it arises out of my not possessing the technical knowledge or indeed the skill of producing something like it. I do not know how it feels to carve a figure out of a white canvas, make it appear life-like and convincing, able to elicit an emotional response in others. What, if anything, am I meant to do? How am I meant to respond? Is there such a thing as an appropriate response? The barrier not only between myself and the object, but between myself and the lifestyle, the artistic calling, the dedication of the person who created it, whatever one may want to call that ‘other’ or foreign element, seems insurmountable as well as irremediable.

Posthumanism seeks to change all this, as we learned from Chris Laoutaris. It encourages us to reject the traditional dyad of human/non-human, man/machine, self/other, subject/object, instead placing the human body, human thought, and its material products – objects in the widest sense – on a continuum with intelligent machines, with ‘systems whose total cognitive capacity exceeds our individual knowledge’, as N. Katherine Hayles suggests in How We Became Posthuman.* Declaring obsolete the humanist worship of the ‘autonomous self’, posthumanism proclaims the death of the individual and the rise of the cyborg which embraces the machine, the ‘it’, the object as ‘an aspect of our embodiment’.** But what happens when things become part of us and we part of them? What happens to objects, what happens to the self-aware subject? Posthumanism answers that ‘the exercise of autonomous will is merely the story consciousness tells itself to explain results that actually come about through chaotic dynamics and emergent structures’.*** But thinking about my drawing I wonder if tearing down the barriers between subject and object is at all desirable. Chris’s presentation on early modern automata in cabinets of curiosities certainly suggested that it is contrast rather than unity which provokes thought and engenders meaning.

In a sense, our digital footprints left every time we switch on the computer and go online has turned us all into exhibits in a vast, globalised, virtual museum, and as Chris pointed out, we are constantly in the process of curating our lives. In that sense, we already are posthuman. But that’s just the point: we curate, we don’t create. Drawing, like reading and writing, is a cultural technique, a means of expressing if not self then at the very least individual thought. But if, as posthumanism posits, technology – and technological artefacts – are our future, if for example 3D printing should, one day, enable everyone to copy and produce customised and intensely individualised objects, will not the desire to create and understand things slowly fade and die? I may not at this point know how to frame a proper response to The Death of Seneca, but perhaps the desire to learn, to comprehend, to assimilate is more important than its attainment?

 

* N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 289.

** Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 149-181 (p. 180).

*** Hayles, p. 288.

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