Archive for November, 2009

The Socius and the Body

E. Thacker – Biological Sovereignty

Modern threats to nations (ie. bio-terrorism, etc.) have generated a condition in which the state uses a militarized imperative to push and develop research into preparing AND responding to biological and public health emergencies. This push has also helped to develop treatments for naturally occurring pathogens as well. Through these advances, governments have come to see biological as more than biological, meaning that biological impacts are not simply organisms, there may be other factors involved, such as economics. To push this militarized research, the state employs a state of exception, meaning that it operates in the gray area that exists with one foot within the law and one foot outside the law, all in the best in the interests of the state (on behalf of the population, see below). This leads to a shift in the traditional role of the state acting for defense and war, to a preoccupation with security. This is further complicated by not looking at the security of the state but rather the security of the population. But how do you define the population or the life within? The population is separated into those who are threatened and those who threaten. The state wants to provide security for those who are threatened against those who threaten. The sovereign begins to operate at the point where the nature of the individuals interferes with the articulation of nature itself. This further complicates issues because one now has to define the difference between life and life itself. Life being the population, and life itself as nature. All this comes back to defining the thing that threatens and the thing that is threatened. This life is in perpetual conflict. Life creates its own threats, therefore it is its own enemy and creates its own security issues, but these issues need to be problematized due their multiplicities and complexities within the interconnected relationships of life and life itself; which is the role of the biological sovereign.

Although I quickly summarized this article, (as I felt it was quite a circular argument), it was an interesting take on how governments, or sovereigns, have shifted priorities and have now come to focus on the body and biology and its security rather than defense and war. I think that it poses some interesting and relevant ideas about the relationships and the need to define one or the other, however I do not think it is all one or the other. I believe that there exists a mixture of threat and the threatened. Furthermore, the way the sovereign defines and takes security actions against those who it deems threats (as it must delineate in order to justify and validate its existence as protector of the biological populace) leads to the prejudices and inequities that further create threats, thus creating a vicious cycle that is self perpetuating (much like discussed in the article).

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K. Hayles – Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety
Cybernetics changes how the body’s boundaries are defined. Instead of merely being modifications to compensate for deficiencies such as hearing aids or canes, cybernetics become extensions which can enhance our limits and functioning. As we integrate man and machine questions arise leading one to wonder how far do we go and as we dissolve the boundary where does anxiety end and ecstasy begin? Cybernetics cannot be applied to everything. It was intended to increase our awareness and perception, but being so invested in our world may not make us good probes., therefore cybernetics may not be suitable for the human sciences. As Weiner observed it would leave us with exaggerated expextations and that as we lose the control of desires, we lose the ability to derive pleasure from those desires. Cybernetics was meant to enhance rather than subtract from human freedom, but in the end lost momentum as a universal science.

Cybernetics was an interesting idea. The idea that we could extend our bodies into the world augmented by machines. While there is some validity into the discussion, I think that I would have to agree that these extensions eventually come to a point where they diminish our humanity and the balance is tipped, not necessarily for good either.

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Diana I. Agrest – Architecture from Without: Body, Logic, and Sex
Exclusion and inclusion are parts of the same system, as systems are defined by these two characteristics. In architecture the woman is repressed (or excluded). As she tries to resurface, she is labeled abnormal and placed back into repression. Renaissance books on architecture further confirm this idea. Renaissance texts place man (a ‘well proportioned man’) at the center, a figure from which proportions are derived and architecture is continually related to. If the building is metaphorically a man, and therefore alive, it needs to be bron and created. In this action the architect becomes feminized as the ‘mother’ of the building, the client therefore could be seen by extension as the father. By becoming the mother, the architect (a man) usurps the femininity of the woman and represses her further. The qualities of motherhood and femininity are consistently usurped and ascribed to the male body. the system of architecture places women to the outside. Being on the outside of the system women are given the power to write to use public space as a forum of issues and try to place themselves into the architectural homogeneity to make it heterogeneous.

Donna Haraway – When Man is on the Menu
This article discusses how technological innovations have become cultural actors, creating new realities. The question is asked that as technological innovation continues and we realize that man is comprised of a deeper technological being, then what is to stop us from changing the inherent nature of man.

While I do agree that woman has been traditional removed from architecture I also think that this traditional view is changing. The fact remains though that male dominance is very prevalent in architecture and architectural theory.

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The Phenomenological Body

The Phenomenological Body

Merleau-Ponty: Phenomenology of Perception
One recognizes ones body as being of space rather than existing within space. our bodies are extensions of ourselves, we ‘see’ them as if from a third person view. We can grasp an object for example by looking at the object and just thinking of grasping, our bodies, as extensions, move to accommodate this desire. Alternatively, we can see that the body is not bound by its physicality by recalling phantom limbs and the feeling of extending oneself throughout a space. These ideas all revolve around how we perceive ourselves and our bodies. We use the sensory feedback from our bodies to inform us about our environment. This information is compared to experiences and then assigned meaning. This process allows us to perceive and conceptualize ourselves within space.

Peter Eisenman: Visions UnFolding: Architecture in the Age of Electronic Media
Architecture has remained rooted in the mechanical. It has generally resisted a change in its relation to the ‘four walls’ and the traditional object/subject, inside/outside relationships, utilizing vision as the dominant discourse. These relationships are mechanical and serve to ground reality. Eisenman questions if this need be. While cubism flirted with changing these perceptions, there has been little impact, even modernism didn’t change this relationship. Eisenman believes that we need to change the relationship so that architecture looks back and distorts the meaning of reality. It should seek to be but not be understood, it should be question the problem of vision. Perhaps one method of doing this is by using folded space – a concept of Deleuze that creates a new relationship between vertical and horizontal by denying framing in favour of temporal modulation. Folding is affective space, rather than effective space and unfolds in space along with its function and meaning, dislocating vision in the process.
Eisenman’s Alteka Tower is one example that he states falls into this type of space (or attempts to). By dislocating vision, the architecture can look back, allowing the possibility of the gaze – the light of otherness that is obscured by vision.

Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts on perception and the body make sense. They explain many phenomena that are experienced outside physicality.
Eisenman presents an interesting argument. That of media failing to change architecture. His paper was published in 1996 and I think that architecture has started to change direction with new forms of computer generated architecture (algorithmic and parametric design) and augmented reality. Architecture can now exist outside the real of reality and in the hyper-real. I think that Eisenman, if he were to re-examine what is occurring, would have to agree that a shift is beginning. His thoughts on folded space are interesting but I am not sure if pushing folded space far into architecture will remove the humanity engrained in it or if it will enhance it, perhaps it would lead to a space that is too ambiguous or one that is so compounded with meaning and unmeaning that it alienates the user.

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