Thinking Janet Freed/Freud

Following our brief conversation two Wednesdays back, I’m admittedly still fascinated with the significance of Janet Freed/Freud and the possible questions that she poses to both Hayles and the Macy Conference.  Hayles use Freed/Freud to suggest that meaning is embedded and embodied in context, “she knows that words never make things happen by themselves–or rather, that the only things they can make happen are other abstractions…material and embodied processes must be used” (83).  While Freed/Freud becomes an example of how a message cannot move until it is “connected up with incorporating practices” (83), I think the more interesting question that Hayles strikes against is one of the boundaries of these incorporating practices and forms of embodiment, “where the relevant boundaries are permeable, negotiable, instantiated” (83).  This brings around to the Neil Badmington reading for this week, “Theorizing Posthumanism,” which puts to question the “end of man” and the margins of the machine to suggest that humanism, like a virus that’s learned to mutate and develop new immunities, has found a way to incubate in even the most apocalyptic accounts and so-called “breaks” that post humanism attempts to make with “humanism.”  Badmington proposes that these breaks to the “outside” of humanism will always be haunted by the remains of humanism, so Badmington proposes that posthuman inquiry should instead function as a working through and re-writing of humanism, “The writing of the posthumanist condition should not seek to fashion ‘scriptural tombs’  for humanism, but must, rather, take the form of a critical practice that occurs inside  humanism, consisting not of the wake but the working-through of humanist discourse” (22).  Although Badmington reads Hayles’ text as haunted by the possibility that the remains of humanism will taint the posthuman project, I wonder if Hayles’ account of Janet Freed/Freud doesn’t complicate this picture in a way unacknowledged by Hayles.

Badmington begins his critique by recalling Time Magazine’s (post)hu-“Man of the Year” in 1982: the computer.  The cover of Time read “The computer moves in,” a phrasing which is important to reflect on for it marks not simply the death of humanism, but the computer as a kind of roommate or neighbor that has now taken of residence on and within the margins of human domestic space.  The setting, which Badmington skims, echoes the domestic/private sphere by placing the computer on a red wooden desk propped up on a wooden floor and plaster man sitting in a wooden yellow chair.  While the surroundings are composed of organic materials and textures, our new neighbor is coated in a sleek medical white plastic, displaying a chart of statistics on a monitor facing away from the man and the reader towards an unseen horizon beyond the margins of the image.  Curiously, but unsurprisingly, the image persuades readers of the “rise” of computers by filling the monitor’s screen with sharply ascending yellow lines that intend to not-so-subtly signify the rise of the machine.  The popular posthuman rhetoric of the “rise of the machine” contrasts sharply against the relatively neutral banner printed on the magazine’s cover, which reads “The Computer Moves In,” imbuing the machine with a perspective that transcends both the author of the banner and the abilities of text-nology.  Indeed, writing and text is a reflective technology, while the machine is a technology that, as the bar graph demonstrates, can predict and visualize the future.  To get metaphorical with this: the text is a dumb mirror, but the computer is an intelligent crystal ball that can foresee and outlast.  Of course, what this does to the body of the human on the cover is also fascinating.  The human is frozen, a stiff plaster with a texture much like a cast that suggests the human has been emptied or hollowed out by the lively little box looking towards its future.  The body is also contorting, bending forward, balding (perhaps both a baby and an old man), with right foot slightly raised to suggest an anxious foot wiggling — the body’s energies have been redirected, the machine has transformed the human. We are both infants and geriatrics in the glow of this new temporality, jettisoning the human out of time or confusing the flow of time as it actualizes itself on the surface of the flesh (another screen that is challenged within this cover). …Oops, time for class!  Will return to this later today.

The cover, of course, chooses to dramatize the new neighbor by placing the machine

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