Thursday, December 09, 2004

Anthropophorous Machines

Cybernetics, according to Heidegger, initiates the “end of history” and the impossibility of fulfilling an historical destiny, leading to the collapse of the human being into animality such that the sustaining of biological life becomes the only remaining “political” task of the bygone polis. The “self-assertion” of cybernetic control over the animal by which animality is brought under the management of human mastery will vanishes into its opposite: the animalization of the human being. The "bare life" of animality has become the disinhibitor of human life and technology its medium, thereby captivating humanity. Though Agamben does not connect his discussion to cybernetics, it is clear that his description of "posthistorical man” corresponds to Heidegger’s treatment of “cybernetic metaphysics." The metaphysics of cybernetics means that “posthistorical man no longer preserves his own animality as undisclosable, but rather seeks to take it on and govern it by means of technology" (Agamben, The Open, p. 80). Metaphysics, for Agamben, employs the strategy of articulating the “meta that completes and preserves the overcoming of animal physis in the direction of human history” (The Open, p. 79), but this metaphysics appears to abandon history altogether and with it the possibility of freedom. For Heidegger, this form of metaphysics is the logical outcome that results from the Hegelian definition of the human being. For Hegel, the human being is not reducible to a biological basis, nor is this geistig being a permanent or given substance. As Agamben filters Hegel through Kojève, the human being in Hegel’s estimation is
a field of dialectical tensions always already cut by internal caesurae that every time separate—at least virtually—“anthropophorous” animality and the humanity which takes bodily form in it. Man exists historically only in this tension; he can be human only to the degree that he transcends and transforms the anthropophorous animal which supports him, and only because, through the action of negation, he is capable of mastering and, eventually, destroying his own animality (it is in this sense that Kojève can write that “man is a fatal disease of the animal”) (The Open, p. 12).
Whether or not this Kojevian reading of Hegel is accurate, it indicates something important about Heidegger’s understanding of the issue. For Heidegger, Hegel’s metaphysics is an extension of the Cartesian metaphysics of the “thinking thing” and is recapitulated in the metaphysics of the cybernetic age. The “field of dialectical tensions” that constitutes Geist divides itself into “anthropophorous” animality and the humanity which transcends it. This view, while close to Heidegger’s treatment of the negative distance required to overcome captivation, finally treats animality as an object of control and the “labor of the negative” as the technology of mastery. As such, the animality which “bears” the humanity of Geist is never “let be,” but instead becomes the captivating disinhibitor of a dehumanized being. In speaking to this problem, Agamben’s thesis in The Open takes the form of a Heideggerian question:
In our culture, man has always been thought of as the articulation and conjunction of a body and a soul, of a living thing and a logos, of a natural (or animal) element and a supernatural or social or divine element. We must learn instead to think of man as what results from the incongruity of these two elements, and investigate not the metaphysical mystery of conjunction, but rather the practical and political mystery of separation. What is man, if he is always the place—and, at the same time, the result—of ceaseless divisions and caesurae? (The Open, p. 16)
A further question might be, Does Heidegger manage to avoid investigating the “metaphysical mystery of conjunction” by defining animality in terms of privation? Or, Can an account of the complexity of emergence avoid this metaphysics?


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