This questionnaire was originally composed in hopes of surveying others for TCR. Since I didn’t get too many takers, I thought I’d take a crack at the questions myself. I hope the responses are interesting. If you would like to publish your answers to the questionnaire please contact me at wildhorsesoffire@gmail.com.

Machine Writing Questionnaire / Part 2:

3. What meaning do you assign to the term “cyborg”? Do you consider yourself to be one? Re: Donna Haraway, does the cyborg still offer a set of liberatory potential or has the emancipatory value of her 20+ year-old figure passed?

4. In what ways are you conditioned by machines and in what (if any) ways do you defy technological conditions/determinacy? To what extent do you, especially via an aesthetic practice (the 'way you live,' for instance), escape a socio-political administration/determination through machines?

5. To you what extent does your embodiment pose a limit to what you wish to do? To what extent does it offer a set of possibilities/potential surpassing your determination by machine cultures?

Please backchannel with responses to the questionnaire at wildhorsesoffire@gmail.com.

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3. What meaning do you assign to the term “cyborg”? Do you consider yourself to be one? Re: Donna Haraway, does the cyborg still offer a set of liberatory potential or has the emancipatory value of her 20+ year-old figure passed?

I understand a cyborg to mean a kind of post-human entity, different than an ‘android’ or ‘robot’ inasmuch as it synthesizes ‘machine’ and ‘organic’ elements. Like Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs,” Haraway’s figure of the cyborg describes a being unmoored from any form of essentialism, and most importantly the essentialisms that have reigned throughout modernity, which are obviously founded on race, gender, and class-based oppression.

I don’t think I even questioned that there was still something radical about Haraway’s cyborg, offering as it does multiple lines of flight from subjective enclosures; that is until this past Spring when I encountered a student who questioned Haraway’s cyborg specifically in terms of racial oppression. What she found off-putting in Haraway’s manifesto was her sense that being able to become a cyborg was a form of privilege inaccessible to many racialized bodies (including, possibly, her own). The cyborg, in other words, is a luxury of those who can refashion themselves and thus transcend race-based oppression as it is tied to problems of class, place, and nation. Who, to paraphrase her words, can afford to lose the only thing that anchors them to forms of communal struggle and resistance: a mark of identity, or roots in a community based on certain discursive practices? It was not possible for her to give this up, a larger sense of ‘organism’; a sense of being ‘rooted’ and/or ‘centered.’ To base a position of resistance on a sense of being ‘rooted’ and/or ‘centered.’

Of course it is not insignificant that the student was responding to an assignment I had given our class based on Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: a Space for Monsters, where I asked students to write their autobiographies from the position of “cyborgs” and “monsters”—the two identity positions offered to the narrator of the book. Whereas cyborgs ‘pass’ within an unfamiliar society (in this case Kapil’s native England, to which her parents immigrated from the Punjabi region of India-Pakistan), monsters are non-assimilating.

4. In what ways are you conditioned by machines and in what (if any) ways do you defy technological conditions/determinacy? To what extent do you, especially via an aesthetic practice (the 'way you live,' for instance), escape a socio-political administration/determination through machines?

I don’t think machines are avoidable, nor our conditioning by them. Unless we completely remove ourselves from the world, this is just not possible. Nor, as Hannah Arendt recognizes in her introduction to The Human Condition, is it possible to become entirely conditioned by the technological, a situation which she foresaw at the time through space travel. That we would leave Earth, and thus be at the mercy of artificial environments, ones not of this planet, which she recognizes as the original condition of ‘human being.’

Machines of course are not ‘bad.’ Technology is not ‘bad.’ It is always and will always be our uses of technology that have a more or less beneficial effect. For instance, what does it say of our world that in the course of the 20th century we have invented technologies that could eradicate the lack of basic human needs (lack of food, shelter, health services) but that these needs are still not provided for a majority of the world population. It is simply impossible within capitalism, which remains the real problem. Where the perpetuation of surplus value will always supersede an equal distribution of wealth, a wealth unparalleled in world history because of the evolution of our production technologies. This I take to be the Luddite stance: that so long as technology will not serve our emancipation, it can only serve our oppression, and therefore must be destroyed, interrupted, shut-down.

In terms of negative effects of technological conditions, I think of the ways workers’ bodies have often been abused within a culture that often does not regulate technologies adequately, especially where they are used for labor practices. Though the labor I do is incomparable to a migrant construction worker or miner in China or sex worker or any number of other lumpen occupations, I often think of the ways a computer may be destroying my eye-sight, or affecting my posture, or how smart phones are eroding our ability to stay focused on a single task or problem. The Italian Autonomists recognized these phenomena as effects of “immaterial labor.” Foucault, before them, recognized that technological phenomena discipline the subject in order to produce certain behaviors—regimes, attitudes, dispositions.

While I secretly dream to be free from many technologies—not having to ever check email again, not having to drive a car, never having to Facebook, not having to watch anything on a laptop—the most nefarious aspects of any technology is the way that it is used. During my lifetime I have seen the Internet go from being touted and in some ways practiced as a revolutionary space for communication, a commons if you will, to being a place of commerce and profit just as revolting as any other. It seems a model for how anything invented, with many different possible uses, can be appropriated for dominant economic forces. This is why the invention of a new technology will never ‘save us’; if anything, it can accelerate our capture, or simply augment the conditions of our capture by those with power.

All of this said, it gives me small hope to see people use technology in ways that were not intended; to invent new uses that serve their needs. While so many people loathe Facebook, and Facebook’s algorithm only seems to be getting smarter at calculating the desires and habits of its users (now there are ads which appear among status updates and links in one’s feed, for instance), still there are things that people post there (and ways they post them) that are surprising and seem to me creative. To use a term from Marx, it is the “general intellect” of Facebook that often seems striking, as it does in other cultural locations (virtual and physical) where communities and friendships continue in spite of the use of technologies to suppress and withdraw meaningful engagement.

As long as power exists (and how could it not) and especially while it is disproportionately distributed, there will always be a dance of the general intellect with the ways that technologies produce conditions of possibility for both our oppression and resistance to oppression. And this is why it seems important to attend technological change and particularly the ways that we are engaged and used by certain technologies. To cognize our use and our being used simultaneously. If there is any one useful image from Heidegger, it is that of the hammer that when one uses it they cannot think about it as a tool; rather it is an extension of one’s hand, a prosthesis. But as soon as it stops working, this is when we have to think about it again, as a thing both in itself and for us (related in the world) and not just as a thing ready for our use. I don’t doubt that a time of breakage is coming, whether we like or not. For all I know it is already here. I just hope it will be an opportunity to rethink and reimagine how all of these “tool beings” are shaping the world we live in.

5. To you what extent does your embodiment pose a limit to what you wish to do? To what extent does it offer a set of possibilities/potential surpassing your determination by machine cultures?

One of the positions I most identify with is that of the artist Claire Pentecost, who calls for artists to become “public amateurs.” This would be a person who in the course of learning about a specialized discipline is engaged with a public who can ask him or her questions, therefore making both more accountable to a process of knowledge production.

I think we need to start to think about our embodiment, as both something unto itself and as an extension of technological conditions, in the way Claire would have us proceed. Through an ignorance or naivety that might lead again to the right questions, hypotheses, observations, and actions. As Arendt would say: to think “what we are doing.”

I also think that the idea of ‘the body’ being a negative limitation is ableist, in the sense that disability reveals absolutely the limits of what a body can do determined within a social field. Something I will often do in my classes is ask the students to first identify a way that they feel “enabled” by their environment, then to produce an exercise that will intentionally defacilitate them in relation to this environment. Conversely, I ask them to identify a way that they feel “disabled,” and to attempt to use this disability to make art. In other versions of the exercise I also ask them to use art and/or writing to frame ways that their environment is disabling, or the source of a disability they have identified. Many of CA Conrad’s Somatic Exercises are good to assign in this context; because they are so much about mediating ourselves and our writing practices in relation to larger social and political problems. I also look at writers who identify with disability communities or as disabled, such as Jordan Scott, David Buuck, Robert Kocik, Amber Di Pietra, and Denise Leto. It is especially useful to think of the ways all of these writers respond to disability with new forms, no doubt because their experiences of embodiment demand this. In some cases, living with disability in a world inhospitable to people with disabilities seems the most profound art, an art that puts most other performance practices to shame, because what is at stake is so much more—sometimes it is a matter of life and death and always it is a matter of quality of life. As Eleni Stecopoulos has noted: “disability founds aesthetics.”

More and more I both want to identify with these people, friends and colleagues who have taught me so much, who through their embodiment gain a privileged first-hand knowledge of how our society is itself the most prominent source of all disability, since disability is more than anything else a result of social-legal design, not essential or inherent. Aesthetics in particular can reveal the aporia that occurs around disability, when specific bodies try to navigate a society that was not designed for them. I believe that art making can also liberate us from ableism by revealing ways that we are always already disabled—disability in other words as a universal condition—and by using an exploration of disability (and differences between disabilities) as a common place for making art.