We have never had a mind of our own: A Poetics of the Integrated Circuit

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

The black-and-gray background of the splash page for the performance artist Stelarc’s website appears to be an abstraction of memory blocks, logic boards, and input/output pads. Into it is plugged a block of small white introductory text, a blip of red text listing devices necessary to access the site, and a sketch showing a body wired with EEGs to catch the brainwaves, ECGs to trace the heartbeat, EMG’s to monitor the flexor muscles, and an array of contact microphones, position sensors, and kineto-angle transducers to chart everything else. In this integrated circuit, voltage-in probes the body; voltage-out extends it. In case the point is not yet clear, two neon-bright chunks of text in the middle of the page blink on and off to announce it: “THE BODY IS,” the first lines read all in a rush, then slowly, spelling it out, “O-B-S-O-L-E-T-E.” In this paper, I would like to argue that the transformation from an organic, industrial society to the polymorphous information system Stelac enacts allows us to think back to machine-human collaborations overlooked in expressivist approaches to poetry. Rather than try to defend traditional boundaries between organisms and machines, this paper examines three instances of their breach: the camera-eye of documentary poetics, the amplified voice of tape poetics, and the co-processed thought of digital poetics. Although Donna Haraway positions sci-fi writers as the theorists of cyborgs, this paper makes a less intuitive claim: poets, purported guardians of the interiority of a bounded organic “self,” have also—and importantly--experimented with the body electric. Like Stelarc’s performances, their cyborg poetics demonstrate the integrated circuitry between humans and the technological devices through which we conceive and construct both our subjectivities and our sense of the world.

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Record posted by: 
Audun Andreassen