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Giorgio Agamben talking about the modern survelliance state in which the modern form of the state treats the average citizen as a criminal which creates civil unrest and suspicion.
I just experienced the movie Her by Spike Jonze and figured I would write about it while it is fresh. Of course the one problem with this is that I will of course miss and mangle some aspects that I could have elaborated on. It also means I will not “review” the movie but will just think about it “out loud”. This act actually is a good place to begin: when I write on the computer and write to people who may or may not read what I write, am I acting as self? One of the reason Heidegger (tried) moved past this idea of self and consciousness (dasein) is in order to create a space which the embodied body could move into that we all share–this space he called mitsein– being with others. Now this idea brings up one of the touched upon ideas of HER, space and embodiment. I kept thinking while Theodore interacted with Samantha about the concept of solipsism.
First I must say something about the main idea of the film. Theodore Twombly is a lonely introverted man who has just recently broken off a relationship with his wife. Twombly buys an operating system that uses the idea of evolutionary electronics, an evolving computer consciousness which is named Samantha. It matters little for this post on whether or not something like this will be programmable or how long do we have until this is programmable. Theodore begins to fall in love with Samantha. In one of the many scenes that takes your breath away Theodore’s ex wife says something like this: of course he falls in love with his computer because basically this is a narcissistic relationship in which he is playing with himself, or really the problem of whether or not this is a kind of postmodern solipsism. Will we all eventually move towards this kind of relationship when it becomes available?
One of the questions I found interesting to ask myself was the question of love. One of the characters in the film says that love is a disguise for insanity, of course this is an old idea of the Greeks where cupid’s arrow actually had poison in order for you to go mad with this thing called love, but with that said, the movie is the one of the first I can recall to ask the question whether or not we can fall in love without the motivation of embodiment, can we call in love with en entity without a physical body? With that said, the opposite question must be asked, can you really fall in love with someone with a body? You might scoff at this because it sounds quite counter intuitive but falling in love with a body part, whether or not it be someone’s eyes, hands, or their ass is not necessarily the idea of love. It is the problem of Eros versus Philia asked with a posthuman twist (isn’t this really what this blog tends to be about?).
First there are different ways for something to ‘be’. In HER we see a computer consciousness have a particular ontology, even coordinating with other conscious operating systems. This fills Husserl’s idea of intentionality in a way–humans are beings that relate to something outside themselves, this relating is one of the things that makes us conscious, we look outside ourselves in order to see ourselves how the other sees us. Again HER has amazing scenes where Samantha the operating system goes on vacation with a corporeal couple and interacts with them, but in another scene that makes you pay attention she says tongue in cheek that she used to want a body, but now she is realizing that she is immortal without one. So far I have basically asked the question in a very strange sense putting Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger up against each other. For Merleau Ponty to be in the world meant to have a biological existence in the world, but Heidegger only used the idea of Dasein which never talked about embodiment. Of course Heidegger would most likely dismiss consciousness in a network of circuits to be outlandish but again Theodore’s happpiness was “real”, how he responded to his operating system no doubt used the same biological systems in him to respond to Samantha.
(spoiler alert): However things aren’t exactly what they seem in this movie because we might feel that this is the perfect relationship because we have this natal creature that we think has only known us, I imagine this something like a new Christian girl who has waited for marriage and sex; you are the ‘lucky’ one because you get her without any prior traumas that of course haunts the future in most relationships, but instead Samantha seems to be exactly like the Christian girl! (sorry if you are a Christian girl who can prove me wrong, no actually I am not) She is experiencing something for the first time she wants to experience more and more, so of course she ends up falling in love with 600 others. Theodore is shocked that Samantha HIS operating system could possible love others, here we touch on the possession of how we moderns experience and the praxis of love. For Samantha loving more and more people allows her to experience the idea of love even more, or the idea of boundless love that has no end and no beginning, but instead an absolute notion of love.
Going back to Merleau Ponty, Ponty theorized something called a ‘phenomenal body’ which is the body experienced by the entity we come to think of as ourselves, this body is felt from ‘the inside’. This body meets the other bodies in the world, and most likely has something to do with how we perceive ourselves as self. We are objects within space that have limits, spatial temporal limits which feeds back into our brains in order for us to see ourselves as separate. We also have language in order to reinforce this separation (see Esposito’s Third Person). Now in one of the last scenes Samantha tells Theodore she has met a hyperreal Alan Watts. In the end Samantha leaves Theodore but also says she will never leave him, and uses an excellent Borgesian analogy that she now will exist between the pages of a chapter book in the infinite interstitial space between. Alan Watts believed that we all are one and that we must shed ourselves to return to existence itself, or even nothingness.
Now why this film? What makes it a great film? It is great because it not only confronts us with the question of how love is supposed to function but it also makes us aware that love will not always function the same throughout our history, it will change, because how we use the words have even changed (agape, philia, Eros). It goes further than this, it brings up alienation in society in which the Symbolic existence of what is acceptable is pushed even further: Can you fall in love with a voice that seems to be conscious? If we can’t why exactly? Also, throughout the movie one of the reasons Theodore loves Samantha is because she has something so many people have lost: Life! The experience of joy and to understand that Heraclitus was absolutely correct, that we will never stand in the same river twice.
Taking a break from reading about Peronism I am pondering something else that I will hash out for my first post of 2014. In a conversation with my father today we began to discuss something he must have heard in a passing quip that he abhors so immensely; he heard something about robotic police officers. With a quick search I came across this news article http://www.cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_12146.shtml. Whether or not this is what he saw makes little difference. Of course this idea petrifies him and he strongly condemns it. My response was to replace all the police officers with “robotic” ones because I have little value in law enforcement officers anyway. Now my response isn’t necessarily thought out but instead relies on the extreme dislike for the disciplinary model of the United States that has failed miserably. Of course my quips turn into posts, and I plan to ask pertinent questions regarding moving forward on this thought. Isaac Asimov wrote something we must take very serious:
- “The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction…. All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary “Fortran.” Taken from http://www.openculture.com/2014/01/isaac-asimov-predicts-what-the-world-will-look-in-2014.html
Have we become a “race of machine tenders”? One of the interesting things of course is our constant belief that only within the 20th century have all jobs switched to service jobs and manufacturing jobs have been slowly eliminated; this of course is true in a sense but take for example the numbers Marx gives us regarding the 1861 census figures in relation to Wales and England, “All the persons…employed in textile factories and metal industries, taken together, number 1,039,605, ‘while those in mining accounted for 565,835 compared with the 1,208,648 persons in the servant class (or “modern domestic slaves”) (Harvey) These numbers show that there was a vast service industry alongside manufacturing. The modern day numbers of course are disproportionate to almost 80% service in the United States. Again as Marx made clear in Capital using India as an example, you move markets overseas in order to make more on the surplus of capital and the nature of work in the United States becomes even more disembodied. The disembodied worker using voice and some clicks of the fingers resulting in “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” and other repetitive motion stresses becomes the norm.
W. Daniel Hillis dreams of a time when the body is no longer necessary, and immortality is reached, “Of course, I understand that this is just a dream, and I will admit that I am propelled more by hope than by the probability of success. But if this artificial mind can sustain itself and grow of its own accord, then for the first time human thought will live free of bones and flesh, giving this child of mind an earthly immortality denied to us (Hillis, 1988) This idea is an interesting paradigm and of course by removing the weak flesh we have something akin to the Japanese in the 1970′s creating this idea of ‘just-in-time production’ which is “the tight scheduling of flows of goods in space and time such that you had almost no inventory anywhere in the system”. This is also the method Trader Joe’s uses which no doubt keeps costs lower than other inventory driven grocery chains. However, I do not plan to elaborate on the economics of this but instead follow the thought of Marx’s alienation of the worker but better to ask about the effects of the disindividuation of the man machine merger. Because again, as I explained to my father (always fun to quote Marx with him) “the machines will not cease to be agencies of social production” (Marx in Grundrisse) As Bernard Stiegler makes clear “prosthesis is the nonliving that constitutes the living” i.e. technology is immanently human, and not prior to or even posthuman, but pushes us outside ourselves for the very thing that makes us the species we are. We are a particular animal that isn’t necessarily disadapted as Lacan would have it but instead perhaps moving towards an overadapted stage which again going back to a prescient Asimov declared the extreme consequence of this:
- “[M]ankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014.”
Mankind is no doubt bored, but the answer is not in a Heideggerian return to some originary knowledge of truth, because there is no truth, nothing to be unconcealed. Asimov is correct of course in the boom of psychiatry because the narratives of the hegemonic ideologues disallow any other teleology to exist except the accumulation of surplus capital. What happens when we have everything? Or better when we realize we don’t need anything in order to live an “authentic” existence whether or not this points to a future of disembodied immortality or not, the existential problem of existence remains. What is To Be Done and How Can This Provide a Life of Extreme Value to the Most Amount of People?
As I watched the second season of American Horror Story (The Asylum) I realized the writers of this series are familiar with the Nazi doctors and the gruesome human experimentation that went on in the camps. The character of Dr. Arthur Arden seems to be a mix of Nazi doctors but definitely in personality takes on the character of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. As Elie Wiesel describes Mengele:
I personally met only one: Josef Mengele, who was known best not as a doctor but as a criminal and a murderer. Like so many other deportees, I saw him the night of my arrival in Birkenau. I remember the thought that crossed my mind: he looked elegant. I remember his calm voice as he asked me my occupation and age. And I recall his fateful gesture that separated the living from the soon to be dead. I learned his name only later. Morbid rumors went around about him. Wherever he sprang up, Death spread its shadow. It was known that he was always on the lookout for little twins and children with spinal problems.
Doctor Arden much like Mengele was described as cordial and very kind to children. In one of the most gruesome (there are plenty in this series) scenes we find one of the patients who has been diagnosed with nymphomania (Chloe Sevigny) amputated by Doctor Arden. We know some of the most sadistic experiments took place in Ravensbrueck. In one affidavit by defendant Dr. Fritz Fischer he describes an experiment in bone, muscle and nerve experiments, “incisions were made at the outer side of the upper leg, and muscle was removed. Then the wound was closed and a cast applied. After one week the wound was split open, and more muscle was removed” (Spitz) Doctor Arden performed similar experiments and the writers of the series throughout used Doctor Arden’s affiliation as a Nazi to allude to Nazi ideology which used Herbert Spencer’s ‘Survival of the Fittest” ‘philosophy’ to show how the current political landscape is still asking these questions. As we see from another affadavit Dr. Maczka testified, “that about ten feeble-minded inmates were selected in the transplantation experiment. Whole limbs were transplanted from one person to another. One case was a leg amputation. Then the experimental subject was killed” (Spitz)
The second character that needs to be written about is the head nun Sister Jude. Sister Jude is extremely stern with the asylum patients and often used corporal punishment for moral transgressions. The parallels between Sister Jude and Dr Arden are quite obvious. Sister Jude was in charge of protecting the souls of the patients but similar to any project again we see the political idea of protecting the people turn into the thanatopolitical. As Michel Foucault observed in his Society Must be Defended:
The two mechanisms–the classic, archaic mechanism that gave the State the right of lice and death over its citizens, and the new mechanism organized around discipline and regulation, or in other words, the new mechanisms of biopower coincide exactly. We can therefore say this: The Nazi State makes the field of life it managers, protects, guarantees, and cultivates in biological terms absolutely coextensive with the sovereign right to kill anyone, meaning not only other people, but its own people
As Giorgio Agamben the Italian philosopher alerts us, the management of life also encompasses the management of death. Here we have two characters which should be on opposite sides of a polarity but instead we see how the polarity of opposites becomes consumed by the other. Josef Mengele was often described by survivors as a demon, an all powerful “God” of darkness who was fond of identical twins but would murder them with ferocious abandonment. Sister Jude in a similar notion forced sterilization and locked up men in chains to be abandoned to the darkness all in the name of order and saving souls.
Dr Arden much like Mengel and Hitler believed that only the healthy should beget children. There is some evidence that Mengel was doing research into twins because he wanted to find the most efficient way to produce Aryan or Nordic twins in order to repopulate Germany. We also know Mengel not only liked twins but also collected “oddities” such as people with dwarfism; this was no doubt part of a selection/eugenics project. Eugenics had (has) many followers not just in Germany but also the United States where Hitler and the Nazis got some of their ideas.
In my final paragraph on this blog entry, we can use the last Nietzchean words of Sister Jude in order to encapsulate the immunitary mechanism that takes place within any political project that uses the same coordinates of history, ”If you look in the face of evil, evil’s going to look right back at you.”
In Eric Santner’s The Royal Remains he writes, “In order to overcome the chronic threat to life represented by the conflicts among men, generated, as Hobbes sees it, by the natural liberty each man by nature enjoys to preserve his life by any means necessary and to pursue the dictates of his needs and desires, men establish the artifice of the sovereign ruler who thereby becomes delegated with the task of immunizing the group against internal and external threats. As Esposito puts it, ‘in order to save itself, life needs to step out from itself and constitute a transcendental point from which it receives orders and shelter’ (17, Santner). Santner here is writing about Esposito’s ‘immunological paradigm’ where the sovereign’s protection of life turns against itself, and moves in the direction of taking life in order to protect it. Santner is arguing for a remainder that this dialectic is unable to absorb, a dark remainder or an unfathomable X which takes on the figure of ‘flesh’. This transcendental point Esposito wrote about in order for life to step out of itself has historically been provided by the sovereign who makes exceptions to the rule of law. The rule of law in a suspended state often relies on a charismatic messianic figure who has an ethical duty to protect the people. It was this along with a country in economic downturn that resulted in the military rule of Juan Peron in Argentina.
Juan Peron was delegated as the sovereign ruler with a strong nationalistic military presence. Neither a communist nor a capitalist Peron was seeking a “third position” which again tried to escape the ‘immunitarian dialectic’ of Esposito. Here Peron writes his goals of his ‘third position’:
We do not support either the worker against sound capitalism, or monopolies against the working class; rather we favor solutions equally beneficial to the workers and to commerce and industry, because our only interest is in the welfare of our fatherland (116, Whitaker)
Peron’s language was mythological in that he believed in the ‘evolution of humankind’ where the constant extremes of freedom and state authority rocked back and forth. As Donald Hodges puts it so well in his excellent study Argentina’s “Dirty War”, ‘Peron interpreted this shift from individualism to statism as a movement from political left to right. But because statism is at the opposite extreme from individualism, it, too, is unsuited to a condition of equilibrium’ (48, Hodges) And in ‘immunitarian’ language he writes, “Without capitalism, communism would have no reason to exist”.
Peron’s ideas behind the evolution of history seems to have come from Mussolini’s 1932 Doctrine of Fascism. Mussolini like Peron believed that Liberalism (not the United States perversion of the word) lead countries to ruin and believed that individualism would be taken over by ‘collectivism’ and the 20th century would be a century of the ‘Right’ (Hodges) Peron wanted to dismantle the oligarchy and establish a people’s democracy where social justice was the intended goal.
To this day people are divided in Argentina about Peron’s project, but here Hodges writes:
Peron anticipated that giving the people what they wanted would bring social peace and end to the military era. But his reforms crated a vacuum of power and a climate of insecurity in which human lives as well as properties were threatened. As a result, Peronism brought on massive intervention by the armed forces. Instead of ending the military era, it reinforced the military’s resolve to stop the Peronist steamroller in its tracks
Georges Sorel in his Reflections on Violence wrote that a revolutionary myth is a complex of symbols that predisposes us to act, that evokes the impulse to struggle and inspires us to fight. It was Guy Debord who understood that the spectacle of our world is the linguistic nature of the animal with not only voice but a phantasmic ordering of representation. Our fetishistic understanding moves us into believing that the King still rules at the right hand of God the father even if we all know that God has died and we always kill him.
Some References I used:
Agamben, Giorgio The Coming Community
Hodges, Donald Argentina’s “Dirty War”
Santner, Eric The Royal Remains
Esposito, Roberto Third Person, Immunitas
Whitaker, Arthur Argentina