notes : Mark Hansen

excerpts from Notes : Mark Hansen

[2] EDITORS’ NOTE: The body, as an expression of the technosphere, is systematised to determine the extent of agency for its particular form. In his discussion on the digitalisation of identity, Mark Hansen writes on the performativity of the abject body in digital environments where it may be possible to express identity through a “prosthetic” self that is idealised as being outside of, for instance, racialised identity. Hansen explores the potential of a “universality of address”:

“If we all must imitate cultural images of how particular bodies should appear in order to acquire agency  if we must give up our own singular bodily experiences to occupy a constituted textual body – then we all must live the erasure of our lived bodies. We might say then that what is most significant about the transcendence of visibility in on-line interpellation is less the possibility it affords for new modes of represented agency than its exposure of the violence exerted on bodily life by generic categories of social intelligibility. By severing imitation from visual appearance on-line passing allows cultural signifiers to appear as what they are, social codings that have no natural correlation to any particular body and are profoundly reductive of bodily singularity.” Mark B.N. Hansen. “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal AddressSubStance 33, no. 2 (2004): 114.

While recognising the contamination of this “prosthetic” self by the violence of social systems to which the corporeal body is bound—and the reality of digital environments being shaped by hegemonic, often racialised mechanisms—Hansen considers the potential for subverting these same constructs through imitation, or modulation of visibility inherent in human-computer interfaces (HCI), specifically the digital-facial image (DFI):

“As the catalyst for a dynamic re-embodiment of the interface, the DFI reverses precisely this process of facialization that, we can now see, comprises the very principle of the HCI as an instrument of capitalist semiotics. In the experience of the DFI, that is, the face becomes the catalyst for a reinvestment of the body as the rich source for meaning and the precondition for communication. The DFI thus forms the very vehicle of contact between our bodies and the domain of information that would otherwise remain largely without relation to us.” Mark B.N. Hansen. “Affect as Medium, or the ‘Digital-Facial-Image’” Journal of Visual Culture 2, no. 2 (2003): 208.

[3] “The promise of digital interactivity is its capacity to bring into correlation these two distinct virtualities: new media artworks facilitate interaction with virtual dimensions of the technosphere precisely in order to stimulate a virtualization of the body. By placing the body into interactive coupling with technically expanded virtual domains, such works not only extend perception (i.e. the body’s virtual action); more important still, they catalyze the production of new affects—or better, new affective relations (Simondon, 1989)—that virtualize contracted habits and rhythms of the body. For this reason, virtualization can be said to specify the virtual dimension constitutive of human experience.” Mark B.N. Hansen, ibid. 217-218.

[4] EDITORS’ NOTE: Afropessimist thought makes a critical distinction between the limits of humanness in frameworks across ethics and ontology—and this expression through digital identity and activism—recognising the body as captive to negation through word as through skin. Calvin Warren argues that the possibility for an autonomous existence of a black self is negated in existing ethical frameworks, but also by the seemingly allied anti-oppressive discourse of queer theory. Queer theory, Warren explains, provides a language with which to express the anguish of this negation of blackness, but it retains a cosmology of othering. This ontological limitation of the human entraps blackness, especially black queerness, into “a body without the flesh,” where it may be desired, but is denied its own desire. That-which-is-human is the essential expression of violence, and humanist, rational frameworks are insufficient to address this violence:

“The violence that constitutes the human and produces suffering is sustained through an ontological antagonism. The boundaries of the human are shored-up by this antagonism and without it, the human, and the world within which it lives, would cease to exist. The non-ontology of blackness secures the boundaries of the human; it delimits the coordinates of the human. Blackness is an exclusion that enables ontology. In its exclusion from the realm of ontology, blackness is unthinkable, innominate, and paradoxical. In essence, blackness exists to not exist—it embodies the most perplexing paradox that sustains ontology.” Calvin Warren. “Onticide: Afropessimism, Queer Theory, & Ethics Ill Will Editions, 2015: 6-7.

In a parallel examination of Afropessimism, K. Aarons addresses this ontological dissonance in anti-capitalist, feminist, and queer revolutionary theory, where each discourse is “speaking in a voice that precisely draws its signifying power from Black nihilation. Black and non-Black identity politicians who nonetheless continue to pursue a symbolic valorization of Black life (e.g. in certain currents of the “Black Lives Matter” movement) do so only provided they ‘structurally adjust’ or whiten the grammar of Black suffering to suit a Human grammar. In this way, rather than seeking a way out of the desert, they in fact only deepen it.” K. Aarons. “No Selves to Abolish: Afropessimism, Anti-Politics, and the End of the World Ill Will Editions (2016): 13. [See also: Lucy Suchman, responsibility in networked infrastructures, theories of power.]

In “Digitizing the Racialised Body,” Hansen recognises the complication of the abject body as it is expressed across digital interfaces, but experimental forms of new media “suggest, precisely because and insofar as they facilitate this belonging to the improper, this process of forging the “whatever body”, and a “reinvestment of the body beyond the image, for an exposure of the rootedness of life in a source, affectivity, that lies beyond identity and individuality and thus beyond the reach of commodification.”

As we see across the discourse around networks and their infrastructures, it is not only language and its contained cosmologies that exhumes colonial violence on the racialised body, but the trauma of racialisation is made manifest in the structural and geographic systems that constitute these networks. In the case of Hansen and Suchman, whose research examines identity creation and expression through digital interfaces, a material violence bursts through the ‘invisible’ [inter]faces of “prosthetic” identities.

Hansen writes,

“Because race has always been plagued by a certain disembodiment (the fact that race, unlike gender, is so clearly a construction, since racial traits are not reducible to organic, i.e., genetic, organization), it will prove especially useful for exposing the limitations of the internet as a new machinic assemblage for producing selves. For this reason, deploying the lens of race to develop our thinking about online identification will help us to exploit the potential offered by the new media for experiencing community beyond identity.” Mark B.N. Hansen, ibid. 108. [See also: Michael O’Rourke. “Afterlives of Queer Theorycontinent. 1, no. 2 (2011): 102–116; and Mushon Zer-Aviv in this issue on the material violence of digital interfaces].

[5] Bruno Latour writes how the “Political representation of nonhumans seems not only plausible now, but necessary when the notion would have seemed ludicrous or indecent not long ago. We used to deride […] peoples who imagined that a disorder in society, a Pollution, could threaten the natural order. We no longer laugh so heartily, as we abstain from using aerosols for fear the sky may fall on our heads.” Bruno Latour. “On Technical Mediation: Philosophy, Sociology, GenealogyCommon Knowledge 3, no. 2 (1994): 55.

[6] EDITORS’ NOTE: Such a rhetoric of interconnectivity and “revealing force” is especially significant to Indigenous cosmologies that assume as foundational the co-evolution, interdependence, and complex mutual-implication of matter. Romola Vasantha Thumbadoo describes this entanglement as “spanning time and place in non-linear, integrated and emergent ways, reflecting the energy of ontogenesis and becoming.” Thumbadoo further writes on “the contemplation of the Indigenous assessment of technology” through the legacy of Algonquin Elder William Commanda, and the teachings of the Wampum Belts. Revitalising the rhetoric of indigeneity into contemporary political discourse emphasises the urgency of recognising the “ontology of relationship with the living Earth as compared to the headlong rush to technology and mechanism.” Romola Vasantha Thumbadoo. “A Circle of All Nations: Reflection on George Grant’s Lament for a Nation.” (ca. 2015).

“This might entail embracing the shifting relationality, complexity and circularity of Indigenous knowledge as productive and necessary. The situatedness and place-specific nature of Indigenous knowledge calls for the validation of new kinds of theorizing and new epistemologies that can account for situated, relational Indigenous knowledge and yet remain engaged with broader theoretical debates within geography. There is a danger in ghettoizing Indigenous geographic knowledge as ‘other’ or a curiosity, rather than engaging this knowledge in broader efforts to actively decolonize geography, navigating among differing power relations at the scales of both the individual academic and the broader discipline.” Sarah Hunt. “Ontologies of Indigeneity: The Politics of Embodying a ConceptCultural Geographies 21, no. 1 (2014): 27–32. [See also: Marisol de la Cadena on indigenous Peruvian rhetoric of resistance (Scott Knowles, fn 1).]