In her essay, “The Thing and I: Some Theoretical Matters for Contemporary Writing” (QAE 17) Janis Butler Holm reflects on the hybrid nature, not just of our contemporary literature, but of our contemporary beings and reviews some of the key theories that embrace and complicate whatever feelings we might have about being cyborged to our apps. Here’s just a taste of that overview:
In this complex theory, agency is located neither in humans, generally referred to in other theoretical frameworks as subjects, nor in nonhumans, generally referred to in other theoretical frameworks as objects. Rather, actor-network theorists locate agency in various confederations of people and other kinds of matter. So-called human activity, then, is actually an enactment of alliances among numerous materials, generating a network of relations.
Actor-network theory bears some similarities to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of rhizomatics in A Thousand Plateaus—that is, their more global view of the contemporary world as acentered, nonhierarchical systems of connection, heterogeneity, proliferation, difference, rupture, and multiplicity. But I am particularly interested, here, in their notion of the human being as a desiring machine—as presented in Anti-Oedipus, a book of “materialist psychiatry” (their term). For Deleuze and Guattari, desire is not a response to, is not occasioned by, the lack of something. Rather, it is a productive force—in their terms, a machine that moves to connect to another machine. And desire is not something to be sublimated, as in Freud’s model. Instead, it is a pleasurable movement to appropriate and incorporate that which is not oneself, in some ways similar to Nietszche’s will to power and to the drives of the developing infant in traditional object relations theory.
What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines—real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections.
But Holm does not bemoan this brave new world. Rather, she points out the tremendous opportunities it provides for work like that of Kathy Acker, David Salle, and Patti Smith. “For all of these artists, hybridity meant opportunity. Acknowledging our entanglement with things and other people—and our determination by things and other people—made for an energetic and subversive innovation.”
So, for all you cyborgs out there, how does the humanomechanical experience affect your work?