Saturday, January 22, 2011

Child of the future

For those interested in the image in the previous post by Steve Middleton, I've included this link to the relevant section of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Without Steve's title one might have easily read his image as a commentary on the struggle for power and control between the Arab world and the west or Islam and Christianity. Here, the cyborg (overman or ubermensch) representing the contemporary, armored soldier is literally the 'load bearing spirit' of an aging and perhaps disintegrating human replete with prosthesis. Flanked on either side with the lion of courage and the camel of awkwardness, the human/machine is seized in an impasse; deadlocked between its desire to be brave and its obvious encumbrance.
Regardless of Haraway's embrace of the cyborg as transgressive figure, one that subverts binaries, it still continues to represent masculinist control and domination. No amount of armoring is going to rid the solder of her fleshy body. And, on this note, although Nietzsche spoke about transcendence he was not talking about body denial. Indeed, be would not have applauded current theorists (Stelarc) who maintain the human body is obsolete. ‘I do not go your way, you despisers of the body! You are not bridges of the Superman!’ (Nietzsche, 1969:63).
I'm thinking that we need to jettison the cyborg as metaphor of heroism and invulnerability and instead see the prosthetic body for what it is, a technological husk that masks our fragility and dependence. After all, most hybrid, human/machine entities from science fiction films and television series have depicted humans as damaged. In The Six Million Dollar Man (1974) Colonial Steve Austin (Lee Majors), an astronaut with NASA lost the sight of one of his eyes and the use of his legs in an accident. They were replaced with bionics, which gave him greater strength, telescopic vision and the ability to run faster than the average person. The six million dollar man was intended to showcase actual development in bionics and was a contemporary version of the Superman figure of the 1930s.
It was Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) that depicted the first proto-fascist cyborg in the form of Darth Vadar, who had a prosthetic hand and wore an armoured helmet and life-support suit because he was asthmatic. Darth Vadar, who was presented as a powerful dictator with spiritual underpinnings (he is, after all, Lord Darth Vader a Jedi Knight), is, in his all black attire suggestive of Adolf Hitler’s SchutzStaffel (SS) Storm Troopers who were armoured in a very psychologically intimidating way against the terrors that they inflicted prior to and during World War Two. Both Darth Vader and the SchutzStaffel represented the evil, dehumanised and dehumanising other, and the mechanical, ordered and disciplined body.
Militaristic cyborgs in films such as The Terminator (1984), Robocop (1987), Testsuo (1989), Circuitry Man (1989), Cyborg (1989), Total Recall (1990, Terminator II (1991), Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and Eve of Destruction (1991) just to name a few, represented the greater use of medical prosthetics and computer technologies during the 1980s and 1990s and with this an acknowledgement of human frailty.
But returning here to Steve's image. Perhaps Zarasthustra as cyborg is the child that Nietzsche speaks of. It's a place of new beginnings, fragile and armored with so much technology upon which to draw, we advance headlong into something not yet imagined! Who are these individuals, capable of finding their creative abilities? They are "only the rarest and most lucky" capable of the "most sublime human joys in which Life celebrates its own glorification". (Nietzsche: Will to Power )

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