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The early work of the performance artist Stelarc involved what look like extremely painful forms of endurance, including most famously, his being suspended from above by hooks sunk into his flesh. It is tempting when looking at images of these performances to invoke the words of George Bataille about the necessary connection between a kind of extreme physical endurance of pain and what Bataille called ‘communication’. “Communication” cannot proceed from one full and intact individual to another. It requires individuals whose separate existence in themselves is risked, placed at the limit of death and nothingness; the moral summit is the moment of risk taking, it is being suspended in the beyond of oneself, at the limit of nothingness. 1 Bataille’s most famous example of such suspension was that glimpsed in photographs of a young Chinese man being tortured and executed during the Boxer Rebellion. But the quotation above comes from a passage about Christ in Bataille’s book On Nietzsche. Earlier on in the passage he directly connects the crucifixion with his concept of communication. In the elevation upon a cross, humankind attains a summit of evil. But it’s exactly from having attained it that humankind ceases being separate from God. So clearly the “communication” of human beings is guaranteed by evil. Without evil, human existence would turn in upon itself, would be enclosed as a zone of independence. And indeed an absence of “communication” – empty loneliness – would certainly be the greater evil. 2 It might seem an obvious move to make a comparison between Christ and Stelarc, and there is a clear similarity between images of Stelarc’s suspension performances and those of
particularly if his work is understood in ritual and liturgical context. Stelarc’s concern with the obsolescence of the body and the Christian resonances of his work do not contradict each other. It is the presence of Stelarc’s body at the heart of such an event that prevents a descent into the kind of disembodied Gnosticism or mysticism. in his piece ‘Ping Body’ which was first performed in November 1995 the Telepolis ‘Fractal Flesh’ event. however compelling such a comparison might be the point for Stelarc is not to foreground the suffering body. Thus each performance of Stelarc’s work takes on a kind of liturgical aspect. Joanna Zylinska sees Stelarc’s prosthetic practice as an ‘abandonment of the idea of self-possession and self-mastery’ which ‘creates a space for an . a simple repudiation of the body as obsolete which is at odds with the incarnational logic of Christianity. The Media Lab in Helsinki and The Doors of Perception Conference in Amsterdam were electronically linked through a performance website which allowed the audience to remotely interact with Stelarc's body via a computer-interfaced muscle-stimulation system based at the main performance site in Luxembourg. The Internet becomes not merely a mode of information transmission. effecting physical action. But. as Amelia Jones remarks. as many have already done. as was the case with the incarnation of God in the form of Christ. but rather to demonstrate the obsolescence of the body in an age of electronic networks and prostheses.Christ on the cross. even if.3 For example. to see Stelarc’s work as evincing a kind of Gnosticism. his performances in fact do the opposite and foreground the literally pathetic condition of necessary embodiment. According to Stelarc’s website ’[I]nstead of collective bodies determining the operation of the Internet. in that it takes place in a specific location at a specific time. so evident in fantasies of ‘leaving the meat’ that have accompanied the emergence of cyberspace.’ 4 It would be tempting. collective Internet activity moves the body. Paris at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. as I will argue in this chapter. but also a transducer. Yet.
is drawn up to Heaven. even if a certain idea of God should become visible. after the Resurrection. How can a body be made from the work? This question raises the haunting question of an impossible mourning: “Where are thou?”. as a trace. on the part of him that exercises it. I would like to fix it with the term “liturgy”. 6 A place start is that at the heart of Christianity one finds not just a suffering body in the Crucifixion.encounter with. but that requires. 5 Zylinska acknowledges the influence here of Levinas. in which the absent Christ becomes present again in the form of the bread and the wine. a putting out of funds at a loss. It is when Christianity is separated from its ethnic origin and heredity that it takes on its universality and pentacostalism. both that of Christ and of Israel as a nation. explicitly describes the encounter of the I with the other in using… … a Greek term which in its primary meaning indicates the exercise of an office that is not only completely gratuitous. what is radically different from the self and yet what remains. even intrusion of. at the end of our analysis.7 The event at which this absence is most engaged with is of course the ritual of the Eucharist. in some sort of relationship to the self’. It is ethics itself. does not take its place as a cult alongside of works and of ethics. an initial privation of the body goes on producing institutions and discourses that are the effects of and substitutes for that absence: multiple ecclesiastical bodies. though also still present on Earth in the form of the communion bread and wine. Writing about the ‘loss of the body of Jesus Christ’ Michel de Certeau points out that Christianity was founded on the loss of a body. Liturgy. ‘In the Christian tradition. who. As George Steiner puts it. We must for the moment remove from this term every religious signification. in the essay ‘On the Trail of the Other’. but subsequently an absent body which. This absence and substitution is central to our art and even culture. paradoxically. doctrinal bodies and so on. . as an absolutely patient action.
Mary Magdalene asks where He is. particularly as evinced in representations of royalty in early modernity. “where I am”. 11 In terms reminiscent of Derrida’s own understanding of the relation between discourse and death. and the unknowable place. that of our understanding and reception of the truth of art. at the empty tomb. Derrida proceeds to unpack Marin’s ‘theologicopolitical’ and ‘icono-semiological theory of representation’.At every significant point. the so-called living presence’.8 The question “Where are thou?”is found at the very origin of Christianity as. but also at a much deeper level. ‘By Force of Mourning’. was greatly concerned with the relation between power. says Jesus. the postulate of God’s kenosis [the term for God’s self emptying in human form] through Jesus and of the never-ending availability of the Saviour in the wafer and wine of the Eucharist conditions not only the development of western art and rhetoric itself. western philosophies of art and western poetics draw their secular idiom from the substratum of Christological debate. In the Gospel of John ‘Jesus has no presence other than that which divided between historical places in which he no longer is. he shows that Marin understands the image in terms of the re-presentation of what is absent. like a text’. the default of presence or the mourning that had hollowed out in advance the so-called primitive or originary presence. who had recently died when Derrida gave the talk at the Pompidou Centre in 1993. of remaining inaccessible elsewhere and of “coming back” later. His “being there” is the paradox of “having been” here previously. which ‘allows lack to be thought. 9 In his talk on the work of historian Louis Marin. image and the Eucharist. Starting with a discussion of the force of the image in relation to mourning.10 Marin. the presence that is represented. Like no other event in our mental history. His body is structured by dissemination. Jacques Derrida engages in a direct consideration of the relation between the Eucharist and absence. 12 .
In place of something that is present elsewhere. as. realized presence’. who. that is the hiddenness of God revealed as “the course and norm of our knowledge and speech”’.He quotes Marin writing that ‘[S]omething that was present and is no longer is now represented. the ‘first. inasmuch as it concerns the relation between absence and presence and the spectral trace.13 This ‘elsewhere’ refers to a Gospel and is exemplified in the angel at the tomb proclaiming that Christ is elsewhere. 15 This comparison between Christ and writing is echoed by other. Marin claims that this ‘exchange between the cadaver and language… is precisely the resurrection of the body… the ontological transfiguration of the body’. Christ. 14 Though this very possibility of resurrection and transfiguration can be thought outside of and is more originary than the ‘evangelical. it is Christianity that makes of it an event. including Graham Ward. for Derrida’s as well. or dogmatic space of the Resurrection’. Thus. in that theology is concerned with ‘the inner limitation of all human language. He is the promised Word. inaugurating and endlessly promoting the chain of signifiers which defer its final. original and controlling of all signs’ is the ‘name of the remembered promise of a future presence. Radical Christology is thoroughly incarnational – the divine “is” the incarnate word… Incarnation irrevocably erases the disembodied logos and inscribes a word that becomes the script . and thus substituting a message for the dead body. the ‘schemas of the eucharistic transubstantiation of the transfiguration or the resurrection. a given’. retain an exemplary value for Marin’s work’ and one might suggest. Barth’s words. Derrida claims.16 Following a similar Derridean path in n his book Erring Mark C Taylor declares that the ‘main contours of deconstructive a/theology… emerge with the realization of the necessary interrelation between the death of God and radical Christology. claims that. in his book on Derrida and Karl Barth. even if taken outside the context of pure Christian dogmatism. doctrinal. there is here a present. which circulates within the economy of differance.
or . This resonates with the kenotic element of Christianity. taken to the extreme. as love for the miserable excremental identity called “man”’. with the excremental Real that is man – and it is only at this level that the properly Christian notion of divine love can be apprehended. I suggest something more complex. According to Slavoj Zizek among Luther’s more robust comments was that man was nothing but a divine shit out of God’s anus. ‘Protestantism… posits the relationship as real. Thus against Stelarc’s own rather Gnostic reading of his work. freely identifies himself with his own shit. The divine is forever embodied. Rather it can serve to remind us of that these technologies that we are led to believe somehow transcend our embodiment are both embodied themselves and also involve the often marginalized bodies of those who work manufacturing our digital machines. The word is always already inscribed’.enacted in the infinite play of interpretation…. Thus perhaps one can think of Stelarc’s notion of the obsolescence of the body as also suggesting its excrementality and servility. Zizek claims that in this ‘Protestant logic of man’s excremental identity’ the ‘true meaning of the incarnation can be identified’. conceiving Christ as a God who. It may be true that in the context of developing technology the body is becoming obsolete. to be excluded. in his act of incarnation. excremental. can lead to a characterization of Christ himself as excremental. 18 In his performances Stelarc does more than merely advert to the body’s supposed obsolescence in an age of networked technology. 17 But this comparison between Christ and writing is perhaps less comfortable than it might appear at first. under the system of logocentric repression the body of the written trace is regarded as something servile. which. but this should not be reduced to some form of posthumanist transcendence. its marginality. He presents it as that which is radically heterogeneous to such networks and which cannot be assimilated or incorporated by them. As Jacques Derrida has pointed out in a number of places.
but there are no laws to regulate its disposal’. on the South China Seas. apparently so clean. and also massively increasing consumer demand. The report continues that ‘[W]hen electronics like televisions. PCs and refrigerators are discarded. These metals harm the development of the brain. those in developing and underdeveloped countries picking over the waste of our digital culture. a term she borrows from Walter Benjamin for those who gather the day’s rubbish in the city. or of street workers in India excavating minute quantities of precious but highly toxic materials from computer motherboards.dealing with the results of that manufacture. mercury. It may be instructive to juxtapose the images of the abject body of Stelarc suspended with those of the contemporary ragpickers of GuiYu in southern China. John Caputo reminds us that ‘Deconstruction deals with shit. yet valued by our contemporary rag-pickers for the little value that can be found therein. broken. or rather notorious as the E-waste capital of the world. India is producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste each year. 20 The image of the rag-picker invokes the forgotten. The waste materials from the production of computers and other consumer electronic goods are causing enormous problems in the areas in which they are made. a rag-picker. Such locations demonstrate that the high-tech industries. abject others of our digital culture. The detritus of discarded technology is highly toxic. cadmium and chromium which are sold for other uses…. everything that has been cast off. are among the most polluting on the planet. . 19 Caputo is writing about Drucilla Cornell’s engagement with Deconstruction and with her characterisation of Derrida as a chiffonier. As a result of burgeoning technological and media industries. it is the informal sector made up of tens of thousands of people who collect it and then break it down and recycle parts of it which can be sold… They extract toxic-heavy metals such as lead. or those the law treats as shit. disdained. famous. A report by the group Toxic Links from 2007 reports that ‘India's booming economy is producing mountains of toxic electronic waste like discarded computers and televisions. the excluded and the excremental’.
and the necessity of making a decision. demonstrates. unlike pharmakeus. The evil and the outside. Derrida points out that the word pharmakon is ‘already in communication with all the words from the same family’. Plato cannot help but imply the presence of a word that is ‘strikingly absent’ from the ‘Platonic text’. its existence and meaning are implied by the use of cognate terms. As such they are a kind of pharmakon. so necessary to our current globalized and networked culture. two at a time. The Greek word pharmakon can mean a number of different things including the equivalent to the English words ‘poison’ and ‘remedy’. even if Plato never actually uses a particular term from the same family. pharmakon.’ 21 Thus new technologies. Thus in using words from the series pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus. That is can be either and that translators are obliged to make a decision how to translate.24 But pharmakos. has another overdetermined meaning. its exclusion out of the body (and out) of the city’. poisoner’. magician. which is a homonym of ‘a word that Plato “actually” used’. 25 In Athens. 22 Thus. pharmakoi. water and soil.kidneys and some are carcinogens which enter the food chain through the air. were put to death outside the city’s boundaries for the purification of the city. both poison and remedy. pharmakeus. for Plato. meaning wizard. in which he engages with Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus. pharmakos ‘has been compared to a scapegoat. to thought and to philosophy. are also poisoning our environment. for example. is also a way of saying that writing (and by extension technics more generally) may be. having been beaten . That the word evinces this undecidability. 23 The word is pharmakos. a term central to Derrida’s deconstructive strategy in his essay ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. performatively the whole set of problems and issues associated with writing and its relation to speech. the expulsion of the evil. In that it can refer to evil. or at least implication. and which ‘points to an experience that was present in Greek culture’. the expulsion of the evil.
closes around the security of its inner courts. gives back to itself the word that links it with itself within the confines of the agora. drought or famine. they sacrificed two of these outcasts as scapegoats”. as both poison and remedy. through the story of Thamus and Theuth. On the one hand that ‘representative represents the other of evil that come to affect the inside by unpredictably breaking into it’. ‘[B]eneficial insofar as he cures’ and therefore ‘venerated and cared for’ and ‘harmful insofar as he incarnates the powers of evil’ and ‘treated with caution’. befell the city. in the very heart of the inside. regularly granted its place by the community. both granted a place in the community and expelled from the community and sacrificed for its purity. kept.to ‘chase away or draw out the evil from their bodies’ and their bodies burnt and the ashes scattered. is also a scapegoat. etc. such as plague. fed. He continues that “The Athenians regularly maintained a number of degraded and useless beings at the public expense.26 Thus as Derrida puts it ‘the city’s body proper thus reconstitutes its unity. What distinguishes humans from other animals is ‘desire’. These parasites were as a matter of course domesticated by the living organism that housed them at its expense’. The French theorist René Girard acknowledges the importance of Derrida’s understanding of the pharmakon and the pharmakos for his own investigation into the idea of the scapegoat. regards writing as a pharmakon. by violently excluding from its territory the representative of an external threat or aggression’. 28 Going back from pharmakos to pharmakon Derrida shows how Plato. both sacred and accursed. 27 Thus the ‘ceremony of the pharmakos is thus played out on the boundary line between inside and outside’ and the pharmakos is ‘both sacred and accursed. On the other hand ‘the representative of the outside is nonetheless constituted. 30 For Girard human culture is characterized by mimetic cycle of covetousness and murder. and when any calamity. chosen. which is not an .. 29 Thus writing (and by extension technics).
This is the origin of the gods and also the beginnings of kingship. Girard then suggests that. mimetic violence enacted against a victim. they then are accorded sacred status and worshipped accordingly. It is more productive. upon whom the general anxieties and conflicts are devolved and who thus becomes a sacrifice for the purposes of social cohesion. Girard does point out that ‘there must be a mimetic element in the intraspecific fighting of many animals’. which is positive inasmuch as it gives us models of what and how to desire. must escalate mimetic beyond the point of no return. . results in an impasse. men engaged in rivalry may go on fighting to the finish. but the fighting ends with the submission of the vanquished to the victor. because the victims of such collective violence are not just the supposed causes of social conflict but also the means by which it is resolved. 32 In almost all societies this war of all against all has been resolved through an act of collective. Desire is bound up with imitation through which the human infant learns to become human by observing others. to assume than an increased mimetic drive. This is what Girard calls ‘mimetic desire’.instinct or programmed into us. I believe. Thus we learn to desire what those we imitate desire. such as over a disputed female. 31 But… … [U]nlike animals. founding acts of violence and murder. This state of everybody imitatively desiring and coveting the other’s possessions leads to a state of war of all against all. but is something that must become activated for us to be human. in contradistinction to an instinctual inhibition of intraspecific murder in animals. who then ‘turns into a model and guide of all behaviour. To account for this by a violent instinct. Thus for Girard human society and culture is only made possible by such collective. but also leads to social conflict as this mimetic desire leads to the coveting of what the other possesses or even what he or she is. except appropriation. and of social anarchy. corresponding to the enlarged human brain.
such as the eating of an animal after a hunt. The ‘fearful symmetry’ of the situation makes it impossible for any one participant to defy the others and pursue the gesture to its conclusion. that converts the gesture of appropriation into a gesture of designation. into an ostensive sign. The center of the circle appears to possess a repellent. inasmuch as it appears as the cause of this deferral and signification. The sign is an economical substitute for its inaccessible referent. He suggests that the sign emerges in a situation where the emergence of the beginnings of mimetic desire has increased the possibility of group conflict. of refusal to appropriate the object of desire. Thus the sign arises as an aborted gesture of appropriation that comes to designate the object rather than attempting to capture it. a sign. sacred force that prevents its occupation by the members of the group. the ritual violent rending apart of the object of desire in which all receive equal portions. thus rendering the desire it engenders impossibly dangerous. becomes taboo and sacred. but at the same time each is deterred from appropriating it by the sight of all the others reaching in the same direction. that is. and the tension can only be relieved by an explicit gesture. Because mimesis compels each of the group to imitate the other in desiring and appropriating the flesh of the animal in defiance of hierarchy and status. 33 This sign stands in for and mediates the deferred desire for the object which. but a radical break with animality. it becomes a source of potentially destructive group violence. a sign which is understood as such and imitated by the others. thus resolving social conflict and creating . In that it produces such a tense situation the dead animal itself appears to have a power over the hominoids and beyond their control. All hands reach for the object.Following Girard’s conception of mimetic desire the anthropologist Eric Gans posits the emergence of language not as an evolutionary development of animal communications. But the violence is only deferred and erupts in the ‘sparagmos’.
or his maidservant. long live the King’. which states that ‘you shall not desire your neighbour’s house. Girard points out that the longest and most explicit commandment is the tenth. or anything that is your neighbour’s’. It is to this political theology that we owe the formula ‘the King is dead. his field.community at the cost of the dismemberment of the taboo object. which forestalls the process of making the victim sacred. As Girard points out it is Nietzsche who recognizes that this concern is the beginnings and basis of democracy (though of course this disgusts Nietzsche). is. The King’s Two Bodies. the latter being the symbol of the divine right to rule. and introduces the central concern of Christianity. or his manservant. that of ‘concern for victims’. The power of Christianity in particular lies in the fact that the crucifixion. as evinced in Richard II.34 For Girard Judaism and Christianity both try to deconstruct this mimetic desire. which appears to replicate this sacrifice of a scapegoat. . Christ refuses to be demonized as an outcast or consequently rendered sacred. which thus occupies the space of Girard’s scapegoat. or his ass. He also thus demonstrates that the emergence of the sacred is a direct result of violence. Towards the end of his book on the scapegoat Girard quotes from Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic work of mediaeval history. first published in 1957. In the quotation cited by Girard Kantorowicz discusses the dual nature of Shakespearean kingship. the inver se. He is instead resurrected. because it enlightens the disciples. and connected the king’s two bodies to the incarnation of Christ and the Eucharist. reveals completely the things hidden since the foundation of the world. which are the same as the secret of Satan. Girard quotes from St Paul to describe how what the ‘Resurrection. his ox. That he is innocent thus undermines the satanic process by which social cohesion is made possible through the victimisation of the weak and powerless. in fact. never disclosed since the origin of human culture: the founding murder and the origin of human culture’. which traced the idea of the monarch having both a mortal incarnation and a spiritual body.
Marx. 36 In his book The Inoperative Community Jean-Luc Nancy remarks that ‘… the true consciousness of the loss of community is Christian: the community desired or pined for by Rousseau. that which Bataille describes in his section in On Nietzsche about Christ. 37 The longing for the community supposedly possible with electronic networks is also a nostalgia for this mystical body. this binding together as one body. the fool and the God. ‘corpus mysticum’ originally referred to the Eucharistic body of Christ. Perhaps they need to be seen as neither simply a working through of the body’s obsolescence. in its principle as in its ends. But such nostalgia is no longer possible after the death of God. Kantorowicz points out that this coincided with the moment when the political theories of the West were increasingly concerned with ‘corporational and organic structures of society’. nor as simply. Girard wonders whether this description goes beyond the subject of monarchy and extends to ‘all forms of central power that owe their existence to the surrogate victim’. yet ‘Man’s wretchedness’ is a ‘perpetual companion and antithesis at every stage’. and that of the ‘mystical body’ of the networks. a performing of abject and pathetic embodiment. Bahktin. at the heart of the mystical body of Christ’. which is both sacrificial and abject. as time passed by. Perhaps instead they are about two bodies. if unintentionally. a ‘surrogate victim’. or Mallarmé is understood as communion. The term ‘mystical body’. With this in mind let us return to the images of Stelarc’s performances. but in the 11 th and 12th centuries it shifted to come to denote the Church itself. including the King. and communion takes place. What we are left with perhaps is a different kind of communion or communication. 35 He also point out how. Hegel. involving an ‘excess… an exuberance of forces… measureless expenditures of energy… a violation of the integrity of individual beings’. that of Stelarc himself. Schlegel. Wagner. corporation.For Kantorowicz Richard plays many people in one person. which became the mystical body of Christ. corpus. the ‘corpus mysticum’ came to mean simply ‘any body politic of the secular world’. 38 This .
Caputo (2000). to more recent projects involving. Mass. grafting an ear onto Stelarc’s arm. D. Zizek (2006). 81 8 G. p. The Mystic Fable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). 133 28 Ibid.nl/archive/works/ping-body.reuters. 248 17 M.3 26 Ibid. (London: Athlone). p 133 6 I. 130 23 Ibid. 2011 22 J.3 27 Ibid. 10 38 Bataille. Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Mass. Girard (1986). 55 9 Certeau. NJ: Princeton University Press). 187 19 J. 129 24 Ibid. Barbara Johnson. accessed 2nd April. Taylor (1984).: MIT Press) 4 http://www. 1 2 G. 133 29 Ibid. Bataille (2004). The Work of Mourning (Chicago: Chicago University Press) 11 Ibid 148 12 Ibid 149 13 Ibid 150 14 Ibid 154 15 Ibid 16 G. 103-4 18 S. Los Angeles. 138 21 http://uk. Boston: Faber and Faber). Smith (ed). The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton. Girard (2001). 9 34 Girard. 34-46. Gans (1993). On Nietzsche (London: Continuum). 18 3 A. Derrida (2003). Philosophy Today. The Scapegoat (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press). 17 . through the various performances involving electronic technologies and robotics. ‘Stelarc’s Technological “Transcendence”/Stelarc’s Wet Body’ in M. Ward (1995). The Origin of Language (Berkeley. 131. Kantorowicz (1957). 7 M. 199 36 Ibid. Steiner (1989). 206 37 J-L. and the Language of Theology (Cambridge. C. Jones (2005). Zylinska (2005). 296-7 31 R.is perhaps a good set of phrases with which to think about Stelarc’s work. It is through this violation of the integrity of the body that communication is made possible. 82 10 J. Dissemination. Derrida (1978). 132. trans. 130 25 Ibid. accessed 2nd April 2011 5 J. London: University of California Press). I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll.com/article/2007/02/23/dcbrights-india-environment-ewaste-dc-idUKDEL15336620070226. New York: Cambridge University Press).Y. Nietzsche. Derrida. 19 Ibid.v2. The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press). Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say? (London. 10. Barth.: MIT Press). 139 20 Ibid. 103 30 R. Stelarc: The Monograph (Cambridge. 201 32 Ibid 33 E. Nancy (1991). Mystic Fable. N. Parallax View (Cambridge. More Radical Hermeneutics: On Not Knowing Who We Are (Bloomington. from the early suspension pieces.: Orbis Books). Satan. de Certeau (1992). 125 35 E.: Indiana University Press). for example. Ind. The Ethics of Cultural Studies (London: Continuum). Lévinas (1966) ‘On the Trail of the Other’.
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