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Toward a Pluripotent Hybridity: A new body agency of self?


Notes: This text was originally published in: Shifter Magazine 16 special issue on Pluripotential. Edited by Sreshta Rit Premnath & Warren Neidich

A performative context

The development of new biology(1) has opened up new possibilities for the question of what defines the nature of humanity(2) and the risk of biopower,(3)
to explore and develop endogenous capacities of the body. With the discovery of embryonic pluripotent stem cells, nanotech(4) and prosthesis
the old definition of the mechanical body was no longer sufficient for describing the plasticity and the reconfiguration of body agency. By body agency, we not only mean a human enhancement(5), but also the activation of the pluripotential body through its biotechnological performance. The matter of the body is the result, as Judith Butler has noted, of our performative action on it by our technological expertise. If the paradigm of technics was always based on the passive model of the stimulation of immunologic defenses like Koch and Pasteur had demonstrated, this conception of the body was related to a respect for the notion of cellular integrity resulting from an exploitation of mechanism. The reactive model is different from the performative model: the enhancement of the body, even if a new body-shop appears(6) , is not the same project of post-human(7) disembodiment because pluripotentiality implies and supposes not only the deconstruction of the body but also its reconfiguration. Enhancing me(8) is a hybrid solution and not a new eugenics for the production of better people(9).

The hybrid frontier

The disintegration of body defines a hybrid frontier at the intersection of biotechnology and nanotechnology. In the context of late industrial culture,
Ballard’s Crash-Body is a critique of “the old organic model of the body”(10): behind the surface of the skin, the speeding machine becomes the prosthesis
of the flesh. Against Cartesian mechanism, the prosthesis is an alternative of disembodiment with the possibility to neuromute the conception of the
living and the composition of body. The distinction between the body and embodiment disappears in the condition of the constant engagement of our embodied interactions with the environment.
The body agency in pluripotentiality affirms that the boundaries are illusory, because “ the body resurfaces as a discrete entity as it articulates a new
space, a revitalized subject”(11). The subject uses his body to mediate the embodiment of his interiority. The neuromutation is at the same time a dynamic for thinking about the plasticity and the mobility of biologic matter and the technological process for transforming the condition of life. Neuromutation is a conceptual and practical possibility because the development of life sciences authorizes now, with the epigenist development of genetic modification in vitro, and brain visualization, a new representation(12) and action on the body; one which is active at the interface of brain-body-mind.

For Bernadette Wegenstein, in the context of new biotechnology, “the holistic discovery of the body as constitutive mediation has converged with an age
of mediatic proliferation, such that what we are in fact witnessing in the apparent continuing fragmentation of the body is the work of the body itself as mediation”(13).

The neuromutation is described by a new step in technological evolution for the representation and the action of body motor schema. Without this
incorporation of technology in the body, the neuromutation cannot not realize the critique of dualism. Being miniaturized and biocompatible, technology lands on the body by implantation.

The Cyborg(14), without the hybridological interaction is still used to argue for the mechanization and the dehumanization of the living. The biological
body is repaired, dissected and implanted. Hybrids exist, they are among, with and in us, with our pace makers, our transplants, our hip prosthesis,
our cochlear implants, our glasses, our wheelchairs… Professionals are trained for this and the ethical foundations of their practices are linked
to bioethics: charity, non-malfeasance, common good, social justice and responsibility in the respect of human dignity.

Far from replacing mankind in a posthumanism(15) and disembodying the subject, the world and the technique co-construct the constitution of
a hybridizing body.(16) Whereas miscegenation and melting modify the social body, hybridization integrates the technical modification in the
professionals’ daily gesture. Technique is no longer an alienating and dehumanizing adversity, it obliges the medical and the social worker to
become each other; adapting rules and converting its functions to limits which are always beyond the other’s bio-corporality. The inequalities in the access to knowledge related to these new technologies of electronic surveillance, self-health and biocontrol has to be described through the meeting between social imaginaries and individual representations. Denouncing human mechanization, the dominant ideology does not conceive technique as a positive and constitutive interaction of a new identity.

Pluripotentiality & Reversibility

Natural reversibility depends on contextual interaction. The ecological underworld and corporal culture incorporate information likely to destroy
or to divert endogenous abilities. To become another, physiological hybridity has to stand solidly behind the biological program. After the plasticity period, the hybridization by the underworld and the culture of neurons, cells and genes will be possible only with respect to certain temporalities. The organism protects itself with the help of the immune system. The separation between the self and this non-self, which protects the organism from foreign bodies fluctuates between the potential self and the actual self. During physiological hybridization, in the case of a transplant, the actual self has to call upon its plastic potential in order to actualize new configurations. Thus, progenitor cells specialize by hybridizing the functional context of their implantation. The body’s plasticity triggers a recalibration as a result of hybridization by incorporation environmental information.

Technique doesn’t just inspect nature any more, but also diverts the course of natural selection into human amelioration. The new pluripotentiality does not result in becoming inorganic17 but rather a biosubject.

The performative doesn’t have the same logic as the performance. Performing one’s potentiality through the process of living uses a similar methodology as found in gender studies and the queer movement: shedding the representation of a body-machine to allow forms to emerge that are as yet unknown. The performance looks for overproduction within liveable limits, to reproduce the living in vitro and in creating species and beings that do not exist in nature. The performance tires out the living and denaturalizes it completely up to the point where its introduction into culture produces artificial beings, such as GMO and clones. The performative and the biological performance both entail that there is no definitive soul for the living, but for the performative the essentialist refusal lies in the living plastic recalibration as in the conatus. The living perseveres in its being through developmental biology and then the performative uses perfectibility as a biological conatus.

To improve the body implies a bionic performativity that comes from modifying the concept of disability in a transbiocultural18 specification. This
ex-utero living produces not so much bodies without organs as organs without bodies; each organ might be used outside its original body and might be
re-implanted into another body thus reconstituting personal identity. How to modify one’s body has become classical breviary, from body piercing to implants. Perfecting one’s body will prompt a refusal to die. While it is a living actualization, it is also an environmentalization through the interaction of techniques within it. Should the body only overcome its environment, disease and pollution without forcing back death’s limits?

It is less a post-mortal society than a trans-living community that uses technobiologies for actualizing new living potentialities. The “regenerated”
rather than the degenerated, pulls them apart from predictable death by encouraging living reorganization. In addition vaccination and hygiene have extended life expectancy, in the same way hybridization brings forward the average quality of life. If everything became repairable and each body part
could be modified, then to preserve a natural organ would condemn the subject to its entropy. Everything would become a handicap following an
extensive generalization of weakness research: through a permanent “autodiagnostic” everyone would likely practice auto-health, which will never end through the incorporation of new prostheses. Couldn’t there be self-improving ethics for the self-body within auto-health?

Somatechnics and Biosubjectivity

This urge to rethink the mechanical reconfiguration of almost all aspects of technical practice, as well as modes of communication and
interaction, through smooth and unbroken articulation with intelligent machines is the transformation of the human into a new construction called the Somatechnic(19).

The somatechnic implies in his principle the hybridization of technic in or on the body to constitute a new possibility of perception and action.
The body is not only natural or strictly reducible to a culture datum. The problem is the combination of nature and culture in the flesh and the
consequences for the lived body. The difficulty for the implementation of new technics is the resistance to the transformation through habits
and roles: the old constitution of body is composed of norms, which perpetuate habits. These limits can be an obstacle to subjectivation. Nikki Sullivan uses the term somatechnics “to think through the varied and complex ways in which bodily-being is shaped not only by the surgeon’s knife but also by the discourses that justify and contextualize the use of such instruments”(20).

The innovation with Nikki Sullivan is the performativity of technic in the process of the gender enfleshment of the self:
Hearkening to Zoe Sofia’s claim that “every technology is a reproductive technology”, Haraway acknowledges the potency of myth-making, the fact that what is at stake are ways of life (1992: 299), modes of enfleshment, somatechnologies if you like. Consequently, unlike the feminist theorists discussed in the previous section, Haraway refuses the ((re)productionist) single vision which reiterates the same old story of technology as either good or bad, liberatory or oppressive. Instead Haraway deploys a “double vision”, a seeing “from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point” (1991/1998: 439)”(21).

Somatotechnologies are not only oppressive or repressive because this interpretation limits the power of trans-formation of the self by its new embodiment. If gender should be constituted as a restrictive condition for the use of somatechnology, we could return to the situation described in “The Technology of Orgasm” by Rachel Maines;22 of an instrumentalization of body, in for example the uterus of women. This ambivalence towards
somatechnologies, as differences of somatechnics which are internalized by the subject, is founded on the possibility of biopower taking control of the body in the name of safety and security.

An ontological pluripotentiality

After Bernadette Wegenstein’s “Getting Under the Skin,” where the transformation of body subjectivity was studied through three perspectives
– the deconstruction of body image, the existence of a lived body, and the modification of skin under the appearance and the surface of subjectivity – the new hybrid project is the continuation of ontological pluripotentiality in an epistemic pluridisciplinarity within techno-science studies, the history of
medical technologies and new media studies. The core of the new problem is  the relation between the possibility of technology in the medical entertainment complex and the evolution of the representation of body image in a mediatic society. For the modern subject the importance of the body’s image is first a condition for the constitution of corporeal schema and second the incorporation of a body norm in society.

The study of the cosmetic gaze establishes an intersection between the first and second points. The “make over” provides a possibility for the materialization of the ideal body’s image by the hybridization of natural matter with technical biodesign. Becoming hybrid23 induces a new ontological body agency. The patient becomes an agent of her self-health. This biosubjective norm is in conflict with bioethical advice because the body agent always hopes to find a technological solution for a better life. The redefinition of a conception of the disabled will be realized only if the pluripotential condition is a common reference point for the technical use of the self.

1. Bernard Andrieu, 2007, Embodying the Chimera: Biotechnology & Subjectivity, in Edouardo Kac ed., Signs of Life, MIT Press, p. 57-68.
2. Paul Jersild, 2009, The Nature of Our Humanity: Ethical Issues in Genetics and Biotechnology, Augsburg Fortress.
3. Jurgen Altmann, 2005, Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications And Preventive Arms Control, Routledge. Antoinette Rouvroy, 2007, Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance: A Foucauldian Critique, Routledge Cavendish.
4. Nigel Cameron, M. Ellen Mitchell eds., 2007, Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
5. Julian Savulescu, Nick Bostrom eds., 2009, Human Enhancement , Oxford University Press.
6. Tony Santella, 2005, Body Enhancement Products, Chelsea House Publishers
7. Bert Gordijn, Ruth F. Chadwick, eds., 2008, Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, Springer-Verlag New York Inc.
8. Pete Moore, 2008, Enhancing Me: The Hope and the Hype of Human Enhancement, Wiley-Blackwell.
9. Matti Havry, 2010, Rationality and the Genetic Challenge: Making People Better?, Cambridge University Press.
10. Paul Youngquist, Paul, 2000, Ballard’s Crash-Body, Postmodern Culture, Volume 11, Number 1, September
11. Allison Fraiberg,1991, Of Aids, Cyborgs and Other Indiscretions. Resurfacing the Body in the Postmodernity, Postmodern Culture, v.1 n.3 May, p.21-27, p. 25.
12. Lock M. 1997, “Decentering the Natural Body : Making Difference Matter”, Configurations 5.2 : 267-292.
13. Bernadette Wegenstein, 2006, Getting Under the Skin, Body and Media Theory, MIT Press., 158.
14. Jean François Chassay, Elaine Desprès eds., 2010, Humain ou presque. Quand science et littérature brouillent la frontière, Figura, n°22, ed UQAM.
15. Antoine Robitaille, 2008, Le nouvel homme nouveau. Voyages dans les utopies de la posthumanité, Paris, Boréal.
16. Hauser J., Ed., 2008, Sk-interfaces: Exploding Borders – Creating Membranes in Art, Technology and Society. An art and text book, Fact & Liverpool University Press.
17. Laurentis T. de 2003, “Becoming Inorganic”,Critical Inquiry, 28 : 547-565.
18. Kapchan D.A., Turner Strong P., 1999, Theorizing the Hybrid, The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 112, n°445, pp. 239-253.
19. B. Andrieu, 1999, Médecin de son corps, Paris, P.U.F.
20. N. Sullivan, 2009, The Somatechnic of intersexuality, CLQ, A Journal of lesbian and gay studies, 15: 2 , p. 313-327, ici p. 314.
21. Nikki Sullivan, 2006, Somatechnics or Monstruosity Unbound, Scan, Journal of media arts culture, n° Technological interventions eds. Nicole Anderson & Nikki Sullivan, Vol.3, n°3. cf Sullivan, Nikki (2005) “Somatechnics, or, The Social Inscription of Bodies and Selves”, Australian Feminist Studies, 20:48. Sullivan, Nikki and Murray, Samantha. (2009). Somatechnics: Queering the Technologisation of Bodies. Ashgate: London.
22. Rachel Maines,2001, The technology of orgasm. Hysteria, the vibrator and women’s sexual satisfaction, The Johns Hopkins University Press
23. Bernard Andrieu, 2008, Devenir hybride, P.U. Nancy.

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