Corporeality and Technology

Kazys Varnelis believes that bodies will assume a new place in the visual regimes of contemporary, but he implies that they will remain physical. Another view comes from quote from Francoise Dastur, a French theorist I’ve never heard of before.

Humans use their bodies differently depending on their societies, which attests to the fact that the body is not any way reducible to its merely biological functions…. The objectification of the body has been carried to its highest point in our hypertechnological societies… we ought not be surprised to see the idea of the supernumerary body appear in the mileu of cyberculture… the body is simply eliminated in order to allow a total immersion in a virtual reality freed entirely from any obstruction attached to corporeality.

Dastur is a phenomenologist, so it makes sense that she would fear the incorporeal body. However, her reaction to cyberculture (does anyone still use that term?) may have a history itself. In other words, she may be reacting in a predictable way to a new technology.

In the Artwork Essay Benjamin asserted that the senses, and therefore the body, had a history.

During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well.

However, new technologies themselves often appear, at first glance, to threaten the physical nature of the body. Benjamin cites Luigi Pirandello’s description of the actor’s body when confronted by the film camera.

“The film actor,” wrote Pirandello, “feels as if in exile – exiled not only from the stage but also from himself. With a vague sense of discomfort he feels inexplicable emptiness: his body loses its corporeality, it evaporates, it is deprived of reality, life, voice, and the noises caused by his moving about, in order to be changed into a mute image, flickering an instant on the screen, then vanishing into silence …. The projector will play with his shadow before the public, and he himself must be content to play before the camera.”

Benjamin suggests that new technologies threaten the body not because they represent some better form of the human body, but because commodification alienates the self from technology. The film actor becomes estranged from his or her body. “While facing the camera he knows that ultimately he will face the public, the consumers who constitute the market,” Benjamin writes. “This market, where he offers not only his labor but also his whole self, his heart and soul, is beyond his reach.” His star power is really “the phony spell of a commodity.”

The total immersion in virtual reality Dastur sees in cyberculture (or whatever) is driven primarily by marketing, not technology.

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