Re: Tr: Review 49-The Posthuman View on Virtual Bodies

Craig Dibble (
Thu, 27 May 1999 02:41:05 +0100

Christophe Delriviere forwarded this:

>From: "delriviere christophe" <>
>To: <>
>Subject: Tr: Review 49-The Posthuman View on Virtual Bodies
>Date: Tue, May 25, 1999, 8:45 pm

> -----Message d'origine-----
> : <>
> Date : mardi 25 mai 1999 17:45
> Objet : Review 49-The Posthuman View on Virtual Bodies
>> _____________________________________________________________________
>> Review 49 99/05/25 Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker
>> _____________________________________________________________________
>> The Posthuman View on Virtual Bodies
>> ====================================
>> ~Niran Abbas~
>> N. Katherine Hayles. _How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in
>> Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics_. University of Chicago
>> Press, 1999.
[Snipped lots of impenetrable honk (trying to sound intelligent by using lots of big words in the hope that if anyone actually gets to the end of this they'll be so bamboozled they won't have the faintest idea what I'm talking about and will therefore automatically think I'm the most intelligent person ever), the British satirical mag Private Eye has a column called Pseuds' Corner that is full of exactly this sort of pathetic, self-important pompous writing)] Some choice snippets remain:

>> According to the Krokers, bodies have become
>> expendable in the late 20th century as the economy collapses and
>> culture implodes. In practice, the concept of obsolescence as
>> applied to humans is a form of social Darwinism: it posits the
>> survival of those with the economic means to finance their
>> continued existence.

Um, given current means, how exactly is this achievable?

>> In her most recent book, _How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies
>> in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics_, Katherine Hayles
>> does not offer certainties or conclusions;

Really? Now isn't that a thing.

>> she presents questions
>> and suggestions fashioned in a looping manner that flow from
>> concept to artefact with parataxis at the heart of her argument.
>> Her account is frequently gnomic and tantalising, both suggestive
>> and enlightening;

Sounds like more New Age wishy-washy rubbish to me

>> she raises issues of great importance, both
>> from a philosophical and political standpoint, in today's
>> informatic age.


>> A glitch has to be fixed, a material exhibits unexpected
>> properties, an emergent behaviour surfaces-any of these challenges
>> can give rise to a new concept, which results in another generation
>> of artefacts, which leads to the development of still other
>> concepts.

So, what you're saying is that stuff happens, and as a result of this, other stuff happens. Well blow me, thanks for pointing that out. There I was wondering just how to get from A to B to X to Z but with no concept of evolution or logical progression or cause and effect. Silly me.

>> She asks a number of fundamental questions.
>> How has information lost its body? How did it come to be
>> conceptualised as an entity separate from the material forms in
>> which it is thought to be embedded?

Pardon? So you can show me some raw information can you? I'd love to see what it looks like.

>> As its premise, Hayles's work contests the materiality/information
>> separation by complicating the leap from embodied reality to
>> abstract information. She accomplishes this by pointing to moments
>> when the assumption involved in this move was contested by other
>> researchers in the field.

What assumption? And am I right in interpreting this as: "She accomplishes this by not adding any fresh insight or work of her own"? Pointing at things and saying "Look at that" does not constitute a particularly sound basis for rational argument.

>> The point of highlighting such moments is
>> to make clear how much had to be erased to arrive at such
>> abstractions as bodiless information. Of course, abstraction is an
>> essential component in theorizing, for no theory can account for the
>> infinite multiplicity of our interactions with the real.

Oh, I see. (?)

>> But when we
>> make moves that erase the world's multiplicity, we risk losing sight
>> of the variegated leaves, fractal branchings and particular bark
>> textures that make up the forest.

Would that be the trees, by any chance?

>> In the posthuman, we encounter a host of fictional speculations
>> (from Bernard Wolfe's _Limbo_ ...)

Quick break from the sarcasm: A fantastic book I remember reading as a teenager, dealing mainly with extrapolations on the work of Norbert Weiner but taken to extremes. Well worth checking out.

>> Despite the extreme nature of his ideas, Moravec is no
>> isolated mad scientist: his vision of separating mind from body has
>> been endorsed by Marvin Minsky, the MIT professor of Science and
>> Technology. Minsky's integration of human intellect and emotions
>> evokes theories of holistic medicine. His writings, however, do
>> not argue for the preservation of human life; they contemplate
>> its extinction.

Um, excuse me? Extinction? Why are any of us on this list, does anybody here seriously consider that we are here advocating and anxiously awaiting our own extinction?

>> Hayles tells of another story about the collapse of the mind-body
>> dualism

Aargh. The dreaded D word. Bog off back to Descartes, or would you like me to lend you a step ladder to climb out of that hole? (Or, more preferably, can I fill it in on top of you?)

>> She sees the deconstruction...

(Another dreaded D word)

>> ...of the liberal humanist subject as an
>> opportunity to put back into the picture the flesh that continues to
>> be erased in contemporary discussions about cybernetic subjects.
>> Hence her focus on how information lost its body, for this story is
>> central to creating what Arthur and Marilouise Kroker have called the
>> "flesh-eating 90s."

And progress is a bad thing is it? Sorry, obviously it is. Well excuse me for wanting to be more than I am.

>> Hayles sums up the posthuman as follows: "If my nightmare is a
>> culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion
>> accessories rather than the ground of being, ......

That's more like the dream of most people. I'm not particularly happy with my body, it hasn't been particularly nice to me of late. Excuse me for wanting the opportunity to improve it.

>> ..... my dream is a version
>> of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information
>> technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power
>> and disembodied immortality,

Ok, I want access to unlimited information, but to no end other than of itself (I don't actually want to do anything with it cos that would be bad).....

>> that recognizes and celebrates finitude
>> as a condition of human being,

.... and then I want to die.

>> and that understands human life is
>> embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we
>> depend for our continued survival."

Human life maybe. Speak for yourself, not for those of us who aspire to be more than human, seeing it as an imperfect stop-gap until we can come up with something better.

>> _____________________________________________________________________

Okay, so I've got no idea what the actual book is like, but if the review is anything to go by, and given the apparent conclusions above, then my advice is: Run away screaming. This is my first post to the list but I felt I had to respond as this sort of wishy-washy, unenlightened /New Age Enlightentment/ Deconstructionist/ Post-modernist (insert favourite 'love-to-hate' buzzword) nonsense, coupled with such terrible style, really gets my goat. Campaign for plain English anyone? If Transhumanist / Extropian goals are to be taken seriously and to be entertained in respectable cirlces then we need to steer well clear of ties with the loony enlightenment seekers who tend to make reasonable people cringe with fear and find somewhere else to be as soon as they start talking. I'm perfectly willing to listen to the other side of the debate, as long as it's given by people who can communicate in such a way that you don't fall asleep or forget what they're saying as soon as they open their mouths.

Craig Dibble

[Insert telling epigram here. Judging by some of the postings, no doubt something from The Matrix, but as I live in Britain, I haven't bloody well seen it yet]