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Posthuman Rhetorics: "It's the Future, Pikul"

Author(s): John Muckelbauer and Debra Hawhee


Source: JAC, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Fall 2000), pp. 767-774
Published by: JAC
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20866364
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Posthurnan

Rhetorics:

JohnMuckelbauer

"It's

the Future,

Pikul"

and Debra Hawhee

David
Cronenberg'sfilmeXistenZbears the titleof thefilm's central
meta-fleshgame
focus:a virtual-reality
gameplayed through"prototype
pods."

These

pods?an

DNA?are
synthetic

amalgam

of amphibian

neural webbing

and

connecteddirectlyto theplayers' bodies through

what are called "bioports," which are jacks installed at the base of players'
spines. As the game's creator explains, the apparatus was designed to fully

integrate the human nervous system and the game architecture. Inside the
game itself, players are thrust into an entirely realistic world that, in
classic metafictional style, perfectly mirrors the reality outside the game:
game players become

characters who are testing out a new virtual-reality

gamenamed "eXistenZ" thatinvolvesthesame fleshygame pods and the


same spinal cord bioports. As

the game proceeds,

these layers of virtual

realityproliferateso thatitquicklybecomes impossibleto tellwhere the


game ends and realitybegins.Thus, bydesign,eXistenZ(thefilmand the

so intimately that itmakes


game) links humans, animals, and machines
sense
to
to
little
very
attempt
distinguish among these three categories.
Instead, these biologic-machinic
complexes become webs of neurons and

software engaged in specific exchanges of information and energy.


Of course, this boundary confusion is by no means simply a pleasant
experience for the players precisely because the very distinctiveness of
the player

minglings,

there is clearly an erotic edge to the game's


the players also frequently panic or experience "penetration

is at stake. While

phobia" (aswell as theconstantfearofbiological and softwareinfection)

when

their bodies

are transformed from self-contained

entities

into

distributed processes.

We beginwith eXistenZbecause it is a ratherexplicit attemptto

engage a series of problems we would like to address through the figure


of the "posthurnan." The most obvious concern of the film is the
the effects of
convergence of virtuality/actuality and human/machine,
are to produce an entirely different manner of existence?hence,
the film's title.Because of its conjunction of human and machine, the film

which

jac

20.4(2000)

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seems to call for a discussion

of the figure of the cyborg, a figure that is


not new to rhetorical studies. In eXistenZ, however, the characters are not

wherein thecategoryof thehumanmust firstbe


all cyborg-style
hybrids,
as
imagined relativelydiscrete in order for it to be connected to (and
potentiallytroubledby) itsOthers (humanplusmachine). Many of the
human

characters

change?material

in this film exist simply as sites of information ex


entities produced by and teeming with swarms of

others (codes, identities,technologies,knowledges, and so forth).In


short, eXistenZ does not render the human as an object that connects to
other objects, but as an effect ormoment ofmultiple "inhuman" connec
that are always on theirway elsewhere.
that emerge from these couplings thus demon
The machine-beings

tions?connections

one thatnot only complicates our


stratea differentformof identity,
kind of response. In
notionsof identity
but also may requirea different
contemporary culture, one need only listen toweekly news reports on
computer viruses to see that the justice system?the most humanistic of
on causality, guilt, and motive?is
ill
enterprises given its emphasis

machine
equipped to deal with such fast-moving,highlydistributed

we mean both the viruses themselves and the hackers


beings (and here
who, as part of the techno-scientific system, help produce them). Thus, we
as an attempt to engage humans as
begin by considering posthumanism

rather than as discrete entities. In doing so, we


processes
follow JudithHalberstam and IraLivingston, who write thatposthumanism
"emerge[s] at nodes where bodies, bodies of discourse, and discourses of

distributed

intersect to foreclose any easy distinction between actor and stage,


context" (2).
between sender/receiver, channel, code, message,

bodies

As

a result of challenging

the distinctiveness

of some of these key

tomany

longstanding,
concepts, posthumanism poses intriguing questions
"self-evident" assumptions about rhetoric and communication, broadly
conceived. Indeed, one need not have a fictional computer game plugged
into one's spine to recognize that, for example, a human body is already

highlydistributed(biologically,ecologically, and socially). If even our

are so intimately involved with nonhuman realms, itmay be the


case that theway we think about some very common scholarly categories
as we once thought. Is it really so easy, for
might not be as rigorous
a speaker, an audience, a message,
and
example, to distinguish between
that these con
a context? Most readers will undoubtedly acknowledge
bodies

one can
cepts are quite slippery inpractice, but thatone tries to do the best
of course, that a "situation" can be circum
in each situation?assuming,
scribed. Instead of attempting to reduce the complexity of actual events,

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Muckelbauer

769

and Hawhee

rhetoricthatwould encourageus to
might therebe a way of rethinking
to
Wouldn't thisengagement
engage thiscomplexityand respondto it?
if, as is often claimed,

be necessary

rhetoric trulywants

to become

practical art? In short,itmay verywell be thecase thatthe rhetorical


triangle is about as useful as a joy stick in eXistenZ?in

other words,

itmay

we are incontrolof thegame,butwe will miss out


offerus thesense that
on all the action as a result.

The categoryof theposthuman,however,bringswith ita host of


the least of which

problems?not

is its very engagement

with

the

"human."None of thisemphasison distributed


bodies should indicatethat

humanism

is somehow

defunct. While

posthuman

reinscriptions

of the

us to thecategoryof thehuman, they


do not return
body and subjectivity
do not function as a refusal of that category either. That is to say,
is not an ideological chimera thatwe have somehow intellec

humanism

tually surpassed; to tell such a storywould be a key strategy of humanism.


There is an enormous difference, for example, between the postmodern

claim thatwe have moved fromtheregimeof the real intothatof the


simulacrum
simulacra.

and

The

the posthuman claim that the real is structured by


first claim is the story of a fundamental epochal or

tend
responses
change, and even the most sophisticated
conceptual
toward a bittersweet nostalgia over what has been lost (a la Fredric
Jameson) or simply the insistent demonstration of this change (a la Jean

The second claim, however, offers no such progressive


Baudrillard).
the
real
does not disappear or become more readily malleable
story:
(or
it is structured by simulacra. As Halberstam
hyperreal) simply because

and Livingston write, "The posthuman does not necessitate the obsoles
cence of the human; itdoes not represent an evolution or devolution of the
human. Rather

itparticipates in re-distributions of difference and iden


a
result, there is no cause for either celebration or sadness,
tity" (10). As
just a sense of the exigency to develop tools that can respond in a different
fashion. In Gilles Deleuze's

words,

"It's not a question of worrying or of

hoping for thebest, but of findingnew weapons" (178). Each of the


articles in this special cluster on posthuman rhetorics thus seeks to invent
such weapons and to do so from the perspective of rhetorical studies. But,
as you will find, the rhetorical perspective
is also in the process of
connecting

elsewhere.

Some of the toolswill likely sound familiar to an audience of

rhetorical theorists: the concepts ofmemory, moral judgment, and inven


tion figure prominently in the articles that follow. But given the distrib
cannot be
uted character of the posthuman, a rhetorical perspective

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770

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confinedto a singledisciplinaryemphasis,and thuseven familiartools


might sound strangewhen theyare hooked up to other technologies.
Indeed, through posthumanism, rhetoric becomes an art of connectivity
and thereby asks for new considerations frommultiple angles?those
that
critical
cultural
engage literature, science,
studies,
theory, argumentation,
et cetera (with emphasis on the "et cetera"). The posthuman

thus offers a

orweapon inventioninwhich disciplinaryboundaries


styleof theorizing

become

sites of connection

rather than enclosures

of autonomous

interiorities.

Still, inventing
weapons isa seriousbusiness and thusinaddition to
the conceptual

implications we have mentioned,

posthumanism

also has

an important
political tenor.The conceptof theposthumanpoints to the

dangers of a humanist, Enlightenment-style politics, one that strives for


increased recognition through various collective formations (for ex
In order to function at all, these
ample, more rights for more people).
representative

collectives must enforce some kind of coherence

among

theirconstituents.
And, asMichel Foucault pointsout inTheHistory of

Sexuality, the founding movement of such "liberating" politics is effec


tively to eliminate the possibility of some versions of freedom. Instead, a
posthuman politics finds its strategies in transient, emergent coalitions

like the computer hackers


and indiagramming networks of power?much
In short, just as is
thatDavid Gunkel discusses in "Hacking Cyberspace."
the case on the conceptual front, a posthuman politics can neither accept

nor refuse humanism,


a humanist dialectic.
humanism,

for a refusal would

effectively be a continuation of
it attempts to redirect the trajectory of

Instead,
to work within this tradition in order to transform it into

something different. In thewords of the trout-farm cum game-pod worker


in eXistenZ, "It seems like everything used to be something else, yes?"

But what specific implicationsdoes this"somethingelse" hold for


rhetorical studies and for pedagogy? With the emergence of

challenges distinctions between subjectivities


posthumanism?which
and consequently renders the notion of persuasion rather unclear?what
becomes of rhetoric? Or, better, how might rhetorical scholars, teachers,

andmorphingontologiesas
and studentsencounterdistributedidentities
as portable consciousness?
The articles in this cluster follow similar
lines of questioning by working at the seemingly disparate nodes of
capital, bodies, life,memory, and time. Each article therefore offers and

well

deploys a series of tools for encountering


rhetorics.

and producing

posthuman

To thisend,Collin GiffordBrooke beginswith thebroad double

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Muckelbauer

771

and Hawhee

that spawned this cluster of articles: how does posthumanism


reconfigure the concepts and practices of discourse production, and what

question

does rhetorichave to contributeto thearticulationof theposthuman?


the typical Burkean question, "Where are we now?"?a
considers the
question that often sets Burke on a new path?Brooke
context
in
the
of
academic
world, specifi
today's "post-ist"
posthuman

Deploying

cally distinguishingposthumanismfrompostmodernism.Drawing on

work by Katherine Hayles and Bruno Latour, Brooke suggests thatwhat


is at stake in posthumanism
is a refiguring of relations between nature,
culture, and subjectivity. Brooke suggests that from a rhetorical perspec

tive posthumanism means the contemporary outsourcing ofmemory, one


of the five canons of ancient rhetoric. This movement ofmemory from the

brain to giant servers and microchips forces a consideration of "the body


loss of the body occasioned
by the age of information
problem"?the
return
to
embodied
information," a
technologies. Brooke suggests "a

with itsattentiontokairos (or timing)begins toelaboratea


solutionthat,
posthumanrhetoric,thefeaturesofwhichmight be tracedthrougheach
of the articles in this special cluster?specifically,
through the distribu
tions of identity and subjectivity that occur in various economies
of

exchange.
One such economy belongs to the computer hacker, who, as defined
editor of 2600: The Hacker
Emmanuel
Goldstein,
by
Quarterly, "is
a
lot of questions, refuses to accept simplistic dead-end
anyone who asks
answers, iswilling to bend rules to attain knowledge, and has a real sense
of adventure" (qtd. inHale 71). David Gunkel's
"Hacking Cyberspace"
offers amode of analysis based on strategies gleaned from this conception

of the computer hacker and from Jacques Derrida. According


toGunkel,
the parasitic hacker functions as a kind of training through following: the
hacker moves
through in order to both do and undo. Hackers model
deconstructive

strategies for responsive intervention. Gunkel delineates


"hacking logic" and theway it inhabits and disrupts the site of "consen
sual hallucination" known as cyberspace. As a parasitic inhabitation of

deconstructive

discourse, his article performs themode

of intervention it

details by hacking humanism and offeringtools for reprogramming


rhetoric. As such, Gunkel's version of hacking also offers useful ways to
approach teaching. As both a familiar activity and a responsive hermeneu
tic, hacking will

resonate with our students as a mode


of inhabiting a system

producing discourse,
transform it. In other words,
close allies.

composition

of engaging
in order to respond

and hacking

and
and

are already

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One problemof contemporaryacademic theories(especially leftist

theories) is a resentment toward and anxiety about capital. In "Nietzsche's


takes on what he calls "consumption anxiety,"
Money!"
JeffreyNealon
the undeniable yetmuch-loathed
capitalist urge to consume. Nealon turns

to the seeminglyunlikelyfigureofNietzsche in order to articulatea

posthuman ethic for encountering third-wave capital. Such an ethic is


critical for rhetoricians and teachers in the "dot com" era inwhich money

might be dubbed theforemostrhetoricalproof. In regard to capital's


and
movement,Nietzsche enables a shiftaway fromthequestionof truth
is
to
and
what
does
it
mean?)
representation(What money
questions of
forceandpower (Whatcan itdo?). Capital thusprovidesa usefulexample
of a nonsignifyingsymboliceconomy thatsimultaneouslyturnson and
logics of desire. In short,money doesn't mean;

produces

itmoves. Rather

thanjudging thismovementby condemningcapital,Nealon attemptsto


more productively.
sketchsome tools that
mightenableus torespondto it

The

result

is his five "Most Will-to-Powerful

Laws

of Nietzschean

Personal and Financial Growth," a ride throughthe conjunction of


and capital that demonstrates how capital trumps conscious
ness and demands response on the spot?just
in time.
resentment
toward
As Nealon
suggests,
capital won't get us very far,

Nietzsche

but experimentand improvisation


might. Such a speculativestudyholds
for rhetorical practice and pedagogy. As we've
capital offers a model of persuasion as movement or

important implications

already suggested,
force that troubles theAristotelian model

that emphasizes human reason.


a
in
culture
of
Furthermore,
increasingly "sponsored" universities, the
five "Laws" offer a posthuman ethic that can enable more productive
encounters with the capital surge and helps us analyze capital' smovement
thus offers key
to discourse in our classrooms. Nealon

and relationship

works
productionanddistribution
insightsintohow onemode of identity

occurs through capital's movement)


and, more
as
of
its
how
inexorable
we,
components
workings, might
importantly,
or
celebration.
in
than
other
ways
simple rejection
respond
Richard Doyle ex
In "Uploading Anticipation, Becoming-Silicon,"
(namely,

that which

plores emergingtechnologiesof theself in thetangleof contemporary

article examines the


and science fiction. Specifically, Doyle's
the
intersection with which we began: between organism and machine,
a
rhetorical map of what an
ways thatmachines have helped produce
a
organism "is," and thereby have become the loci for "redistribution of
science

invokes the notion of "up


vitality." To mark this redistribution, Doyle
now
term
for
file distribution?that
is,
commonplace
loading," the

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Muckelbauer

and Hawhee

transferring information from a personal

773

computer to a server or onto the

Internet.
File distributionis thepointof conjuncturebetween organism
andmachine andmarks a technologyof theselfthatdoes notbeginwith
withwhatDoyle calls "inhuman
theindividualinterior
subjectbut rather
movementoutsideof a singularbiological
exteriority"?a (quite literal)
entity. In other words,

the logic of the self in science and science fiction

offersa useful example of the posthuman insofaras it depends on


networkedidentitiesthataredistributedin timeand space and thatshare
an expectant attitude toward the future.

Doyle's analysisof posthumanidentityisvital to a considerationof

delineates ever-emerging
"Uploading"
posthuman rhetorics. Because
modes of identity formation, itenables an engagement with memory and

writingas exterioractivitiesthatarenot localized inthebrainor thebody


but emerge at a conjunction ofmachine
parses out a posthuman subjectivity

and organism. As such, uploading


and simultaneously
articulates a

posthumanrhetoricimbuedwith anticipationandmobility. Thus, both


with a discourseof hacking
Nealon andDoyle, likeGunkel, experiment
and attemptto interveneinand redirectan existingsystem(capital and
lack, respectively).

All thisconsiderationof capitaland cyberspacebringsus back to the

problem of the body thatwe mentioned

earlier. Christine Harold's

"The

RhetoricalFunctionof theAbject Body: TransgressiveCorporeality in


Trainspotting" shows how theposthuman and all its corporeal materiality
can be narrated through and in a cinematic text. Specifically, Harold

theway inwhich Trainspotting?through


its in-your-face
of
notions
of
and
portrayal
bodily abjection?hacks
identity
normativity
by narrating, over and over again, the capacity for bodies to transform
demonstrates

connected to particular cultures, practices, and chemicals. Along


theway, Harold's
reading demonstrates how feminist notions of corpo
reality and abjection can effectively hack rhetorical studies. That is,

when

Harold defersthetypical
moralizingmove ofjudgingthefilmor theissues
itportrays and instead uses the film to diagram what forces such as drugs
and abjection do.
In this regard, the articles in this special cluster offer an occasion

for

rethinking
pedagogywithin sucha distributedand distributing
economy.

and our students are continually "jacked


in"?to
computers, to
to
to
we
As
chemicals.
reminds
have likely
us,
culture,
capital,
Hayles

We

been posthumanall along. It is our hope thatthesearticleswill help to


develop explicit strategies for teaching and doing posthuman rhetorics.
But lest readers look for a "how-to" manual for doing rhetoric in a

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774

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age, we

should be very clear: themovements of uploading,


consuming, hacking (all movements of becoming) are designed to fore
stall the production of such programs?that
is, of course, unless the
as
a
"user's
manual"
is
program
listing only one order: "Use!"
figured
posthuman

Cronenberg's

eXistenZ

such a posthuman

approximates

logic. Ted

who has never played


Pikul is a skepticalmarketing representative
he poses the quivering telos
he finally acquiesces,
enters
he
the game-world, "What, precisely, is the
driven question when
the
we're
that
of
game
playing now?" In response, the game's
goal
"eXistenZ."

When

designerwhips her head around and,with eyes gleaming, supplies the

only directive, "You have toplay the game to find out why you're
playing the game. It's the future, Pikul."
game's

Pennsylvania

State University

University Park, Pennsylvania

UniversityofIllinois
Urbana-Champaign,

Illinois

Works Cited
Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript on Control Societies." Negotiations, 1972-1990.
Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. 177-82.
eXistenZ. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, and
Willem Dafoe. Videocassette. Dimension Films, 1999.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York:
Random, 1978.
Halberstam, Judith, and Ira Livingston. Introduction. Posthuman Bodies. Ed.
JudithHalberstam and Ira Livingston. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. 1
19.

Haraway, Donna J. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist


Feminism in theLate Twentieth Century." Simians, Cyborgs, and Women:
The Reinvention ofNature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-81.
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies inCybernet
ics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999.
Hale, Constance, ed. Wired Style: Principles
Age. San Francisco: Hardwired, 1996.

of English Usage

in theDigital

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