Monday, 23 March 2009


Postmodern Fragmentations: Fear of Replicants

When I was a student postmodernity started. I remember it well. One of the metaphors of our postmodern beginnings came from several films, robocop, bladerunner and the likes dealing with artificial intelligence. In these and many other films, robots and other mechanisms challenged us with a new sense of fragmentation and independence. We were worried about a technological future, not an ecologic one. Machines, technology and computers filled the end-of-modernity imagination with these, with the possibility of replication, machines fragmenting the self, society, machines becoming independent, becoming alienated from us and also, of course against us.

With the loss and the coming of age of the computer anthrophomorphised as robot or as replicant (as self and soul) we finally understood such concepts as 'fragmentation' and postmodernity along with it. I spent some of my student years back in early and mid 90s debating on these themes, running sessions that would take in parallel readings of Geertz and Marcus with the screening of BladeRunner and the discussion of the semantised duplicity of the term 'replicant', both in the sense of a reproduction of the self, but a contestation of the self and its soul and societal order.

BladeRunner came and went and our future was never found. At the down of the millennium I remember sitting down with my brother, and he looked at me seriously, contemplating the pass of the time. We had longed for that moment since we were little. When we were little we used to ask each other, how old are you going to be in the millennium? ...and to us, in the millennium night the thought of having become 31 and 33, numbers that as children felt as incomprehensible as a trillion pounds of debt are now for us as adults felt strange. He looked at me, deeply, worried, stranged, perplexed, disapointed, annoyed, cynical...There weren't any star-wars like transports, space travel wasn't more far or distant that the ashes of the Challenger. It simply wasn't there. Looking at my brother's eyes I remembered the day, he and I, still small, walked nine miles from our home to a near town to watch BladeRunner. No replicants, no fear of contestation,no deconstruction? where was the future where the self had acquired a fragmented soul and removed fathers-as-gods? Did our extinct animals never dreamt of electronic pets then?

We weren't worried about the end of time, or even the end of history which he had seen few years early with Marshal Sahlins, no, we had not acquired a milenarist vision of our future, but we had acquired a technological vision of our future, and it wasn't there. On that day, at that millennium moment, nearly 9 years ago now, we felt missing, where was our sci-fi world? Not even mobiles started to look like that future 9 years ago. Why weren't we, we felt, there yet?

Altermodern Fears: The Melting of Snow and Numbers

We are not there yet and Postmodernity is well over. We are not postmodern in the sense of the kinds of worries we used to share, or even the perplexity of 'drowning with numbers', our new fears take millenarism way beyond its possibilities. More than ever, we are now in the age of ecological fear, -some of it anticipated with apocalyptic modernities and milenarist crisis metaphors (and their movies) of a kind different than before.

Would you rather have a future of unruly robots, an adolescence of machines, or would you rather have climate change and the 'day after tomorrow' by quantification? The robots, so full of 0 and 1 and number-driven, don't scare us anymore, and with them the end of postmodernity. The fact we can point out the second, that our fear or ecologic crisis is felt more real than our fear of machines and technologies emerging independently from us, tells me we have now encountered the future of our modernity. We have become the altermodern.

We have been able to visualise the grim 'WatchMen' after 20 years of not being able to see that comic turned into film, 20 years in which we couldn't re-metaphorisise it anew for new audiences. But now, we have. Ecology is our grim reality, like in the movie, governments and corporations will extend their control through engineering fear of the end of the world, the millennium, like its postmodernity, echoing through our new times. 'I robot' has been replaced by 'Knowing', same director and all. We do have, I grant you, technical horrors aplenty in the movies right now, some re-brining, echo like, and probably as a result of the enlargement of postmodernity I was talking about earlier, transformers and aliens and many other technological horrors and hopes, including a new treekie event and a further trail of horror movies (the gothic theme of the family under a new guise). I will be watching out when these break their postmodern predicament about the self and how it deals with the altermodern qualities.

Set aside the use of filmic metaphors for conceptualising the gap between late modernity and altermoderity, the underlying issue (to which I hope to write some in the next blogs) is about biopolitics and the conceptualisation of the 'antropos', to phrase Rabinow's text on the Anthropologist Dilemma in Global Assemblages that I will also refere to later.

A genuine concern of the world that movies metaphorise in the tales of robots, machines and replicants alike is not a mere representation of fragmentation, but much more deeply, a recollection, a kind of memory re-collection, of the issue of biopolitics in late modernity.

In a similar way we may want to ask ourselves how will our new altermodern economies look like, we may want to ask ourselves if altermodern styles of biopolitics -with the new forms of volunterism, citizenship participation, positioned politics, their anchoring of 'society' as deterministic biology- will come to explore the late modern conceptions of biopolitics and be able to articulate these within a framework of critical disassociation with our uncanny environmentally-concerned ideologies, or not.

I will come back to the issue with something useful I learned on Friday with Max Ferrar's paper on reconceptualisations of 'the soul' in the context of this discussion about biopolitics and ecopolitics.

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