File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0112, message 104

Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 22:36:24 -0600
Subject: Homo Prosthesis


Let Hugh's words stand as the emblem here- "this self-evolved
anthropoid, the hairless ape who walks erect, reaching for the stars."

>From Johann Gottfried Herder to Desmond Morris, such imagery has been
commonplace. As Hans Joas points out in his book "The Creativity of
Action" Herder early on emphasized the glorious weakness of being human.
Joas writes about Herder's theory as follows:  

"The human being is initially regarded as a deficient creature, in that
he is inferior to the animals in terms of strength and reliability in
his instincts. The corollary of this inferiority, however, is that the
sensuality of the basic drives of the human being are concentrated less
exclusively on a particular segment of the world. The opportunity of
being open to the world is a consequence of being less specialized."  

I believe it is possible to develop an anthropology from this that sees
both technology and indetermination as being the fundamental
characteristics setting the human apart.  From this perspective,
technology no longer appears as an external tool such as a hammer, a
vaccine shot or a computer interface, technology is immanent in who we
are as human beings. 

An analogy might be made with the crab that periodically extrudes her
shell. Humans create a "plastic shell" composed of language and culture
that allows them to remain indeterminate, yet this shell is not so much
extruded as it is attached.  That is why the human might be better
described as Homo Prosthesis.  It is also the reason why we have always
been cyborgs.  

Recognition of this condition allows us to revision the old religious
stereotypes, embrace our indetermination and through the aesthetic
(which is not merely art) extend the nodes of our perceptions as we
intensify our experimentation. The Avant-Garde is not merely a history
of failed movements and manifestos; it is a shift that witnesses the
event because it does not attempt to program time. "Being prepared to
receive what thought is not prepared to think is what deserves the name
of thinking." That is what Lyotard means by the avant-garde.  Not Marcel
Duchamp; not John Cage; not even Damien Hirst! 

Lyotard, in "The Inhuman" implicitly recognizes this condition of being
human described above. He writes: "We should first remember that if the
name of human can and must oscillate between native indetermination and
instituted or self-instituted reason, it is the same for the name of the
inhuman.  All education is inhuman because it does not happen without
constraint and terror."

We all bear the marks, the scars, the ravaged tissue of where the
prosthesis has been inscribed and implanted upon us. That is why we will
always be cyborgs.  In bearing witness to this fact and to the "infans"
within us who has never been humanized, we can begin to confront the
complexity which now ravages the planet and whose ill effects Hugh has
described so well.  Today's politics can start from no other place and
neither can ethics.



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