Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Marilyn Manson: That Cyborg/Posthuman Thing!

Kin Toffoletti's "Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls" is a great read: the first chapter alone lays bare some of the crucial tensions within the cyborg/posthumanist and feminist debate; each theorist generally views the possibilities of posthumanity very differently, and some criticism is aimed at the "post" prefix as a mode of political transgression. As Middleton suggests, stupid machinery may be easily absorbed into phallogocentric (I really think that's Irigaray's word...) rationality - he cites the "body" of the gramophone in its sexed implications and wonders if the mere materiality of technology may not reproduce conceptual binaries of masculinity/femininity or penetrative/receptive logics.

On the other hand, there are two other strands of thought that emerge beyond the domestication (Symbolic dissolution) of the machine into these simple categories. Sherry Turkle (The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, 1984) engages playfully with reconstructive subjectivity (with her spin on Simone de Beauvoir), with particular attention to Multi User Domains (MUDS) amd virtual chat rooms. These spaces are evacuated of the body, though they (re)present forums upon which electronic identities coincide and negotiate, upsetting previous forms of embodied essentialism which Middleton also pays attention to. With a nod that anticipates Judith Butler's "Undoing Gender", MUDS may funciton as theatres of masqued confusion, where "users" perform potentially subversive subjectivities (eg. Woman masquerading as a man, vice versa).

Even though the counter-argument is that these playful games of masking reinforce the abysmal dislocation of the self from the Other and reifies old articulations of difference, one may propose that the very ambiguity - that is, the very possibility of subverting (transgressing) the boundaries of one's (over)determined bodies online is reason enough to imagine a "nervous" citizenship in Cybertopia. Thus, the possibility that this always-anticipated "nervousness" (or, for Middleton, "hysteria", the lack of voice-knowledge) can either reformulate models of (cyber)intersubjectivity or illuminate the body as a site that is already (for Lacan) "overloaded with signifiers" beyond the "subject's" control.

Another train of thought is the machine as the anthromorphocized Other. This notion, of course, is frought with theoretical pitfalls that (perhaps) erase the easy distinctions between natural/artificial: as machine thinks more like man, man thinks more like machine? There is a vague echo of Arendt's "banality of evil" residing in the machinic, almost evacuated and sanitized extermination of the Jews as a consequence of systematization, of Heideggerian "enframing" of Otherness as (non/post-human) "standing reserve". Or take Deleuze and Guttari's oft appropriated notion of the post-psychoanalytic BwO that operates without lack, regulated by flows, sites of intensities, and "plugged in" to the sphere of the social/material through compatability with assemblages of desiring machines. There was a recent article (I have to check this up) on an Islamic terrorist group using D&G's (sounds like the Oxford ice-cream chain!!) concepts of "territorialization" and "deterritorialization" to inform their violent activities. "Plugged in" to war machines as modes of desire production, that is.

Even Virilio in "Speed and Politics" (plus Kittler too!) recruit military violence as a genealogical narrative in the formation of contemporary media-politics, and (especially Virilio) warn of the future deployment of these media as mobilizing devices. Or, as Baudrilliard warns us, a war faught upon the mediation of digital interfaces which keeps the soldier's hands clean; in a perverse reversal of logic, the Other that appears on the soldier's screen is already a machine, an image reduced to essentially (pun intended) "null" value.

Where does this take us to in music? Or, perhaps more specifically, the politics of music? Recall Michael Moore's biting inquiry into youth culture, media, representation and 1999 Columbine High School massacre, released in
2002. Moore's journalistic scrutiny parses apart the deeply tangled debate
between representations of violence, and the possibility of these representations in encouraging real "copycat" acts at the fringes of reality/representation. Here, Marylin Manson comes back into the picture, a figure who was automatically blamed as a contingent cause of cultural violence which (at least by Christian political groups) propagated or encouraged real acts of violence. (There is a fantastic related study into fringe violence by Mark Pizzato called Theatres of Human Sacrifice: from ancient ritual to screen violence (SUNY Press, 2005), see especially chapter 3 on "Natural Born Killers") These charges of culturally embedded violence in Manson's music and music videos were caustic enough to cause Manson to cancel the last leg of his American tour in honour of the memory of the victims of the Columbine High School massacre - does this suggest consent of his role?

Manson acutely points out that on the day of the Columbine massacre, American violence on foreign territory had multiplied exponentially, noting that in a cultivated atmosphere of American "fear", the public had hypocritically forgotten the acts of violence carried out in their name on alien soil. That is, to put it in Lacanese, "violent music" is but the object of fetish for subjects in need of verification, of reason, which allows them to "ignore" the wider systematic violence carried out upon the turf of American self-determination. Simple fetishistic disavowal... perhaps... But Manson goes further: "I am fear," s/he says, "I am the embodiment of fear", a monster, an intense locus of abjected being that embraces the radical alterity of the Other (implicit within the split self) upon him/herself. Perhaps this is why s/he is such an easily targetable icon.

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