Monday, January 18, 2010

Responding to Paranoid Android...

As I mentioned over the weekend, I have a new post at The Avant Guardian. Look there weekly for my writing on relational aesthetics and be certain to also read the other talented folks there.

I am very fortunate to have already received some comments from folks and here I'd like to respond to one of the readers, Mike. You can read his comments, here.

And here is my response:

@Mike: Thanks for reading! We probably get more in this situation from Heidegger's thinking on technology than from Nietzsche. The abyss in the Nietzsche you're referencing is less illustrative of a relationship with technology and more the fundamental interrelatedness of reality. "Tat tvam asi" - thou art that - in the Upanishads.

Heidegger, similarly, states that our Dasein can be revealed in an attunement of profound boredom. Not that I am bored and from this discover my richest possibilities as a person, but that the universe itself is capable of being completely disinterested in my project because the universe itself is busy with its own project.

But, we should be really clear that Heidegger's thinking on technology was really, really critical to understanding his oeuvre. A primary concern for Heidegger was that modernity in Western Europe, and the Colonies, had facilitated conditions wherein how we related to one another and to the universe at large was completely alienated. We were not only alienated from the products of our labor, as Marx stated, we are alienated from each other to the extent that we don't even understand morality, as Nietzsche stated, but we are also fundamentally alien to ourselves, as Freud stated. Heidegger, as the inheritor of these thinkers, takes this in and says that among the attitudes driving these modes of alienation is also our societies' zealous absorption of efficiency-seeking technology.

If we pursue the most efficient path for too long, we find ourselves, the grossly inefficient things that we are, no longer fit to operate in that context.

Now, if you reread what I wrote you'll see that there is no need for a fetishized object to be alive (although I suspect Nietzsche and I are agreeance that everything is alive if we are just willing to extend ourselves toward it). A fetishized object is simply a relationship. We have relationships with everything thus the Abyss is able to stare back at us. Not anthropomorphized, but, uncannily, we see that Abyss that we've taken for granted and now we realize that it's ubiquitous presence and thrumming life has proceeded without my attention. It's like realizing one day that you've never noticed how many stairs are in your house, or that there has been a bit of graffiti on your bedroom closet wall for years and you never saw it. The Abyss staring back at us, in this moment from Nietzsche, reveals not only that the Abyss (all that empty, unexamined space in our lives) is actually full of life, but that this unexamined and intensely living space is integral to my being.

You're right to ask, why must it be sexualized? That's why I wrote that essay. My response to the question is to ask, generously, if, maybe, in the wake of the tragic loss of a friend Douglas Hines grasped at any and all straws to find a container for his deceased friend. That's what he said he was doing, at least. So, if Roxxxy is supposed to serve as a container, the next question must be, is it appropriate for me, as an outsider, to only see Roxxxy as a sexualized object - shouldn't I also consider Roxxxy as something more than that?

I mean, shouldn't all people, regardless of gender (and let's extend it to all reality), be thought of as more than sex objects - that's why I included the Cindy Sherman and Andrea Fraser photographs. I look at those "art objects" which, in any other context would be see as only sex objects, and I suddenly have something like that Abyss moment: the world has become much larger than I previously thought it was. The world is much more interesting than I previously suspected, and shame on me for having assumed I have the only proper measure of the world, thus reducing the world to it.

Never mind the thorny problems of consciousness and the moral calculus that you seem to suggest in insisting that whatever we might have sex with must meet this requirement of enjoying it as much as me. I'm not saying that sexual encounters shouldn't be enjoyable, but I am saying that if when I'm having sex I'm wondering if the other person is enjoying it as much as me then I am probably entertaining a fantasy.

That is the problem of sex, isn't it? It's supposed to be this moment of dissolution between two people, where we are obliterated in bliss, but sometimes you might find yourself, opening your eyes and saying, "My God, I look like an idiot, this is not sexy." Ridiculous, right? That even when we are engaged in the sex act we would still say that this is not sexy. I refer you to Žižek on this particular matter, here's another good place to start.


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