There is a tendency in the popular imagination, especially in the context of digital media, to identify new technological developments as radically transformative, democratizing, and liberating. No technology has been as widely celebrated for its decentralized structure, flexibility, and inherent immateriality, as the Internet and, by extension, the digital code that underpins its function; these alleged attributes of digital technology (immaterial, virtual, decentralized) have spread to popular imaginings of other phenomena as well, most significantly the human body itself. The course aims to temper this enthusiasm for the virtual by recovering the physical materiality of the human body. The course begins with a brief contextual history of the celebratory techno-philia of the 1990’s, paired with Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “aura,” and proceeds to examine a set of texts that engage implicitly or explicitly with the figure of the human body as it is coded, re-coded, (de)materialized, and manipulated. The class will examine speculative novels and films to identify and interrogate the anxieties and contradictions permeating the fantasy of the totally virtual or encoded body, in light of recent advancements in DNA coding, systems biology, networked and programmable media, and nanotechnology.
The required texts for the class are listed below:
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
William Gibson's Neuromancer
Michael Crichton's Prey
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake