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Cyborgs and Replicants: On the Boundaries

Author(s): Alice Rayner


Source: Discourse, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring 1994), pp. 124-143
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41389337
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Cyborgs
On

and

Replicants:

the

Boundaries

Alice Rayner

"Monsters,"as Donna Harawaypoints out, "have alwaysdefined


the limitsof communityin Westernimaginations"(222). A recent
collectionof essaysedited byJamesJ. Sheehan and MortonSosna
examines such limitsthroughthe lenses of philosophy,science,
and history,discussingsuch various issues as monsters,biology
and culture,ArtificialIntelligence,and machines. As the titleof
the book asserts,boundaries are the issue. "Since the Fall,"James
Sheehan puts it,"man's place in naturehas alwaysbeen problematic" (Sheehan and Sosna 27). His subsequent historicalsurvey
rightlysuggeststhatthe termsforthe question of human boundaries are contingent upon particular cultural conditions. He
points out that early Christiansconcerned themselveswith the
statusof the soul in humans and animals,whilebythe eighteenth
century,the question centered more on rationalityand the
mechanisticdifferencebetweenhumans,animals,and machines.
For Descartes, animals functioned "automatically,"like "machines," where humans were distinguishedby free will, intelligence, "soul,"and language. ArnoldI. Davidson,in his essay"The
Horror of Monsters,"claims thatcertain monstersin the history
of horrorcan show "systemsof thoughtthatare concerned with
the relationbetweenthe ordersof moralityand of nature" (36).
Clearlyany descriptionof the boundaries willbe implicated
in and by culture to the degree that creating boundaries is a
cultural identityproject, contingentupon language, place, and
history.The contemporaryversionof the questionsabout human
boundaries tends to center on the relation of humans to their

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125

owntechnologies:on whetherthehumanbeingcan be distinguished


from "thinkingmachines;"1on whether we can be duplicated
throughArtificialIntelligence or genetic engineering;2on the
statusof virtualrealitiesthatcan be experienced throughtechnological means alone; on whethermachinescan develop consciousness; on the creation of "impossible"sensationsof technological
sound and sightthatcannot be takenin bythe human sensorium
but are neverthelessactualin the sense of measurableand present.
Technology is the source for images of "monsters"in the
contemporaryworld as humans grapple withtheirown power to
transformthemselves.It has become a site at the conceptual
intersectionof science and myth,in the sense that, as Roland
Barthes so acutely detailed it, humans create mythicalsites for
holding contradictorydesires and fears toward even the most
mundane phenomena of theworld.Technological creationsseem
to elicit the same combination of wonder and horror and the
same concerns about transgressionand order as the monstersof
the sixteenthcentury.And in the chronic contradictionsin attitudes towardtechnology,the Prometheanmythis lurking.While I
would resistanyassertionof the continuityin the images of monstersin the Westernimagination,I would suggesta persistencein
the uses of those images to identifyand clarifythe tensionsbetween "moralityand nature" that reside at the boundaries of
culturalidentity.
The imaginativefiguresof cyborgs,androids, and robots
help to locate both the mythicforceand the ethical,political,and
social implicationsin the technologiesthatchallenge the boundaries of humanity.Haraway,for example, sees in the cyborga
figureof an unbounded, playfulidentitythatrespondsboth to the
in social relationsand to a need fordissolucall forresponsibility
tion of universaland unitaryideas of identitythatwould imagine
an all-naturalhuman,freeof technologicaladditions.
A cyborgbodyis notinnocent;itwasnotbornin a garden;it
it takesironyforgranted....
does notseekunitary
identity...;
Intensepleasurein skill,machineskill,ceasesto be a sin,but
The machineis not an it to be
an aspectof embodiment.
and dominated.The machineis us,our
animated,
worshiped,
an aspectofourembodiment.
(222)
processes,
Yet, in many ways,those created figuresmight be seen not to
dissolvethe boundaries of the human and the technologicalbut
to serve as clarifyingmirrorsfor the human. The image may
appear as a distortionof a conceptual ideal but it does providean
instance of the veryself-divisionthat constitutesWesternsubjec-

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126

Discourse16.3

tivity.Particularlyin fictionalforms,but implicitly,I think,in


scientificand philosophical arguments,the imaginary,technological humanoid figuresare means of displayingthe human
encounterwithitself.
If one takes such figuresto be contemporaryversions of
monsters,Davidson's essaygivesa clue about how such monsters
can be used to issue warningsand inspireawe. He specifieshow a
pamphletpublished byMartinLuther and Phillip Melancthon in
1523, translatedinto English in 1579 as Of twowonderful
popish
monsters
, illustratesthe way that the interpretationof monstrous
images servedto reflectdanger.
On theone hand,thereis a propheticor eschatological
dimension...in whichmonsters
and prodigies...
weretakento
be signsoffundamental
theworld....
changesaboutto affect
The otherdimension,
which...we can call allegorical,is the
one withwhichthispamphletis mostpreoccupied...
each
monsteris a divinehieroglyphic,
a particular
feaexhibiting
tureofGod'swrath.(37-39)
Davidson later quotes Jean Delumeau's historyof fear in which
Delumeau notes thatthe preoccupationwithmonstersand prodigies at the end of the fifteenthcenturyis in the context of a
"global pessimisticjudgment on a time of extremewickedness"
when "monsterswere to be understood as illustrationsof these
sins" (40). Monsters,in other words,are unnatural products of
nature,indicatingGod's wrathful
judgment upon the sins of the
worldbut also helping to institutecertainprohibitionsin human
et
activity.Davidson takes the textof AmbroisePar, Des monstres
, withits causal classifications,
prodiges
among whichis "the fusing
togetherof strangespecies, which render the creature not only
monstrousbut prodigious,thatis to say,which is completelyabhorrentand againstNature" (44). Par linkshorror,furthermore,
to "the normativerelationbetweendivineand human wills"(50).
The interpretationof monsters,Davidson points out, is a means
by which "high culture" demonstratesthe consequences of particularbehavior in order to control that behavior. More generiis seen as an "unnatural"graftingof
cally,however,monstrosity
twodifferent
kindsor species of beings,not unlike the cyborg.
If horrorin the sixteenthcenturywas articulatedprimarily
byhigh culture ("scientific,philosophical,and theologicaltexts")
as a means of provingthe sinfulnessof the world and aiming to
correctunpalatable beliefsand behavior,horrorin the late-twentiethcenturyis primarilya phenomenon of mass culture.A horrortowardstechnologyand technologicalinventioncan be found
almost everywhere,focusing often on the fear of the possible

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127

to
autonomyof the machine - fromMary Shelley's Frankenstein
"HAL" in 2001, to any number of science fictionstories.Perhaps
in mass culture, technology is also a sign for "fundamental
changes about to affecttheworld"as it becomes graftedto human
identity.Contraryto sixteenth-century
practice,however,it is now
a
culture
effort
scientists
and theoristsalike
generally high
among
to counteractsuch fear of prodigious technological inventionin
popular imagination and to celebrate the possibilitiesfor both
practical gains and revolutionin social relations. At the same
time,thereis a "popular culture"enthusiasmforthe outlawpossibilitiesin "technoculture"thatcontradictsfears.As AndrewRoss
pointsout:
on theteenagecultfringe,
andincreasingly
inmainstream
entertainment...
overthe lastfiveyears,the cyberpunk
sensibility
in popularfiction,film,and televisionhas caughtthe romanceof thepopulartastefortheoutlawtechnology
of huinterfaces....
The postindustrialists'
man/machine
pictureof
a worldoffreedom
andabundanceprojects
a bright
mil-lenarian
futuredevoidofworkdrudgery
and ecologicaldegradation.
Thissunnysocialorder,cybernetically
wiredup, is presented
as an advancedevolutionary
of
phase societyin accordwith
of
ideals
(125)
Enlightenment
progressand rationality.
Withverydifferent
arguments,in otherwords,much (though not
all) high culture science joins that "cult fringe"to offerboth
reassuranceand pleasure in the human/machine interfaces.Both
Ross's warningand Haraway'senthusiasmcould be understoodas
responsesto the phenomenon of the human encounterwithtechnologyas an encounterwithitself.
For the moment,however,it mightbe useful to examine a
"perspicuousexample" of how the cyborgis representedin mainstreamculture;next,to differentiate
the image of the cyborgas a
or
from
the image of a "replicant"
"combinatory" graftedfigure
that embodies the postmodernnotion of a simulacrum;then to
look at how both instancesbring up questions of how these imFor it is
ages are tied to subjectivityand ethical self-reflection.
ethicsand politicsas much as identitythatare fundamentalto the
issue of boundaries and self-encounter.In Par's treatmentof
those "twowonderfulpopish monsters,"it is clear thatthe claims
for an order of moralityare rationalized for a political and religious purpose byan appeal to the authorityof a naturalorder and
identity.Contemporarypopular culture,in itsown waypointsto a
similarattemptbythe cultureto control,or at least accommodate
itselfto, the prodigious creationsof technologyand science that
are self-creations
of the culture.

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128

Discourse16.3

Three "Borg" episodes of the televisionseries,StarTrek:The


NextGeneration
, provide a particularlyconvenientstartingplace
for discussingthe waysin which high culture debates in science
and critical theoryare translatedinto low or popular culture
concerns about human boundaries. That is, those episodes enact
conventionalanxietiesand resolutionsthatindicate both the historyof apprehensiontowardstechnologyand the fearsof technology as a transgressionof the boundaries of both biological and
culturaldefinitionsof the human.
The Borg is a greatcube travelingthroughthe outerlimitsof
space and approaching "our" galaxy.It is simultaneouslyan entity,a civilization,a race, and a machinewithhuman components.
It is a collectivesingularity."We are Borg," says any one of its
humanoid parts.It is a civilizationthatassimilatesand annihilates
other races and civilizations."Resistanceis futile"is its repeated
warning;and even the usuallywise and tolerantGuinan testifies
thatvirtually
her entirerace was destroyedbythe Borg,and thatit
cannot be resisted.The Borg accumulatesthe knowledgeof other
races beforeannihilatingthem;it is self-corrective
and self-regenerating,and thus cannot be destroyedby conventionalweapons.
Its humanoid parts are identical to the collective whole and
focused on its imperativeto assimilateevery"single-mindedly"
in its own imperative
thingin its path. That total self-absorption
comand computercapacities precludes emotionslike sympathy,
passion, or fearand recognitionforthe "otherness"of the other,
which also precludes negotiation and dialogue, identification,
and difference.
In the firstepisode, the Enterprisecrew confrontsit and is
forced to recognize thatthere is no negotiation,thatthe Borg is
virtually
omnipotent,and thatit is coming towardthe galaxy.It is
the meanest cube in the cosmos. The only response is flightand
warningto others.In the second episode, thereis directconfrontation,and the Captain,Jean-Luc Picard, is taken in and assimilated bythe Borg,whereuponhe is hooked into the machine and
gets a new name, Locutus, whose knowledge about Federation
technology,capacities,strategies,historyand values become part
of the Borg's informationsystem.Picard is an unwillingcaptive
forwhom "resistanceis futile."But he has also lost his identityas
Picard to the degree that Picard is an addition to the Borg and
therebybecomes Borg. He becomes alien to his crew and to
his identityas an autonohimselfas he was. But more specifically,
mous, intentional,willing,commanding,and desiringindividual
is utterlysuppressed by the imperativeof the Borg collectivesuppressed but not eliminated,for afterhis rescue and the delicate operation to excise his machinery,he maintainsmemoryof

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being Picard-as-Borg.It's a trauma sufficientfor Picard in the


thirdepisode to forgethis usual tolerance for other civilizations
and to desire the annihilationof the Borg. He plans to implant
one of its captured humanoid components as a virus that will
destroyit. Only as thatcaptured humanoid unit is found to have
the capacity to individuate and acquire a sense of separate
selfhood (primarilythrough a combination of "humane" treatment and human language) does Picard recognize that reintroducing thatcomponent to the Borg as an individualmightserve
to transformthe Borg ratherthan destroyit. By introducingthe
- imperfections
imperfections that constitute the human
in
attached
to
the
values
separateness,individual augrounded
retains
his public value as a
Picard
and
emotion
tonomy,will,
toleranthumanitarianwhilealso overcomingthe omnipotence of
the Borg.
In manyways,the thirdepisode reiteratesthe values insisted
upon by Star Trek'sfirstgeneration Captain Kirk: that it is individualityand human imperfectionthatnot onlydefine humanity
but give it reason to struggle,to improve,grow,and, above all, to
"tolerate."The actual achievementof perfectionin eithertechnological,intellectual,or social utopias in the StarTrekseriesleads to
cruel, totalitarian,and inhumane exercises of power. The "human" in short,is definedbyboth itsdistancefromperfectionand
bythe waythatdifferenceswithinthe human communitycreate a
demand forcommunication,negotiation,and recognitionof the
"otherness"of the other.
The Borg is clearlyan instance of conventionalfearsabout
absolute powerand prodigioustechnology.It is a graftof technology,human bodies, and human consciousness.The celebrationof
imperfectionin the episodes furtherservesto identifythe human
communityas an "us" that is made of distinctand discreetindividuals withunique capabilities.The fear of the Borg's omnipotence is specifiedbythe fearof a loss of autonomy,"freewill,"and
separateness,but also of a fearof absorptioninto a mass,a collecmechanism.
tiveidentity,and an undifferentiated
As a politicalallegory,of course, the episodes also instatethe
value that underlies the hierarchical, allegorical order of the
Bridge crew.3Each member has its distinctivefunction:the Captain who listensto multipleviewpointsbut finallytakes responsibilityto decide; the Commander Riker,"Number One," who also
gives orders but is allowed to express a sexualized identity;the
empathie Deanna Troi who feels across distances; the Klingon
warrior,Worf,readyat all momentsto fight;the blind engineer
LaForge who sees patternsof heat witha technologicaldevice and
who has almost miraculouscapacityto fixtechnologicalglitches;

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Discourse16.3

the android Data, who has all informationin the knownuniverse


but no emotion except a certain wistfulcuriosityto know the
experience of human emotions; and the boy wonder, Wesley
Crusher, naive but uncannilysmart and capable, to whom the
whole adolescent fantasymaybelong in the firstplace.
The Borg, nonetheless,is a technologicalmonsterand like
But it
mostmonstersof fictionmustbe destroyedor transformed.
is distinctfromother technological monsterslike Frankenstein
who indicatean essentiallyFreudian anxietythatthe creationwill
overcomethe creator- the son willkillthe father.In thiscase, the
autonomyof the creation is of less concern than the threatof
wholeness. It is not difficult
absorptioninto an undifferentiated
to cast the fearof absorptioninto the collectiveof the Borg in this
light,suggestingthatin Freudian termsthe issue of boundaries is
not simplyone of the delineation of individualityand essence
againstwhat is and is not human, but a definitionof the human
itselfas masculine individuationagainst the absorption into a
maternal,material mass. The Borg levels the hierarchythat is
comprisedof unique individualsand composes itselfas an undifferentiatedself-samenessthat,like a mechanical version of The
Blob, absorbs all in its path. It is possible, of course, to find the
Freudian spin in thisfear as well. Andreas Huyssendescribesthe
historicalphenomenon in modernism that associates mass culture with the feminine.In his analysisof the filmMetropolis
, he
furtherpoints out how technologyis embodied in the seductive
femalerobot.
then,wecan concludethatas soonas themachine
Historically,
cameto be perceived
as a demonic,inexplicable
threatand as
ofchaosand destruction...
writers
harbinger
beganto imagine
theMaschinenmensch
as woman.Thereare groundsto suspect
thatwe are facingherea complexprocessof projection
and
The
fears
and
anxieties
displacement.
emanating
perceptual
fromevermorepowerful
machines
arerecastandreconstructed
in termsof themalefearoffemalesexuality,
in the
reflecting
Freudian
themale'scastration
account,
(70)
anxiety.
The Freudian versionof the anxietytowardthe technological "other,"however,maintainsa rather simple opposition betweenabsorptionand differentiation,
male and female,consciousness and unconsciousness.One of the contemporaryappeals in
StarTrek
: TheNextGeneration
is thatit does not leave offat simple
destruction
of
and
one
enmity
by the other. It does not, in fact,
assertthat the individuatedcyborgwill maintainits individuality
afterreturningto Borg. The last shot in the episode is a glance

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betweenthe cyborgunit,Hugh, and LaForge. That glance offersa


it is a
possibilitywithouta certaintyfor eventual transformation;
reminder of "evolution" but an open question of whether the
Borg will foreverannihilate others. But more importantly,the
crew has recognized the Borg as having rightsto exist. Certainly
the program validates and reinforcesthe value of individuality
and hierarchyaboard the Starship Enterprise,but that value is
based on the individual'scapacityto resistdestructionof others.
In place of the simple opposition between selfhood and other,
individuationand absorption, a more complex question about
whatto doin the face of such an entityappears. This is stillrelated
to values attached to subjectivity,but I want to hold off that
discussionuntillater.
For the question becomes more complex when the figureof
the cyborgis seen notjust as a boundaryquestion betweenhuman
and machine,but as a carrierof technology'sincreasingabilityto
simulate the human dimension and make the human indistinguishablefromthe technological.The Borg episodes insiston the
distinctionand relyon clarification.But a filmlike Blade Runner
;
based on, but verydifferentfrom,Philip K. Dick's novel, Do AndroidsDreamofElectricSheep?,portraysvirtuallyperfectreplicants
and offersanother set of questions. Replicantsin the generation
knownas Nexus 6 are produced bythe TyrellCorporationto work
as slave labor in the "hazardous explorationand colonization" of
the "Off-World."The replicants are "superior in strengthand
agility"and "equal in intelligenceto theirgenetic engineers"but
are designed to have no emotions.The mind-designer,Dr. Tyrell,
fearingthatin timesuch perfectreplicantsmightdevelop human
emotions,built in a fail-safe,self-destruct
programthatlimitsthe
replicantlife-spanto fouryears.The renegade replicantsas well as
the experimentalversion known as Rachael have memoryimplants of a past that create a "cushion" for the emotions they
might encounter in a short period of time, but that memory
The
serves to control the replicants' behavior more efficiently.
Blade Runner,Deckard, graduallyfallsin love withthe replicant
Rachael. For these replicants,as the leader Roy Battydisdainfully
points out, are not computers,"we are physical."The technology
of biomechanics,in other words,has produced a version of the
human that is coextensive with the human by virtue of both
functionalmemoriesand emotions thatare added to their"superiorstrengthand agility"and "intelligenceequal to theirgenetic
engineers."In what mightbe an ironic nod to Hubert Dreyfus's
point thatcomputerswillneverbe able to beat him at chess since
theyrequire intuitionand experience, the replicantuses a chess
move to trickhis way into Tyrell's inner sanctum. Unlike the

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Discourse16.3

cyborg,which is an addition or a graftupon the human, the


replicantis a duplicationor simulacrum.
Jean Baudrillarddescribeshis concernsabout such simulacra
in his book Simulations.
For him, the proliferationof simulation
has eliminatedall oppositionalforcein differencesbetweena real
and a representation.
We are witnessing
the end of perspective
and panoptic
bound up withevspace (whichremainsa moralhypothesis
ofthe"objective"
essenceofpower),and
eryclassicalanalysis
hencethevery
abolition
the
... The mediumitself
of spectacular.
is no longeridentifiable
as such,and the mergingof the
mediumand the message(McLuhan) is the firstgreatformulaofthisnewage. Thereis no longeranymediumin the
literalsense:itis nowintangible,
diffuse
and diffracted
in the
real, and it can no longereven be said thatthe latteris
distorted
byit. (54)
If one positionin the Renaissance debate was essentiallynominalist- thatwordsshould be identicalto realityand genres "pure" Baudrillard'spositionseems to reverseit: technology"should" be
a representation,not a duplication;it "should" imitate,not duplicate. But as in the English Renaissance when words became a
profligatetechnologythatcould not restin theirreferencesand
began to takeon a lifeoftheirown ("A sentenceis buta chev'rilglove
to a good wit,"saysFestein Twelfth
"Howquicklythewrongside
Night.
maybe turn'doutward"[3.1.11-13])theimageofthereplicantis not
itselfa representation
buta thingwitha lifeofitsown.Or at leastitis
therepresentation
ofsucha possibility.
"The robotno longerinterrogatesappearance;itsonlytruthis in itsmechanicalefficacy....
Being
and appearanceare meltedintoa commonsubstanceof production
and work"(Baudrillard,Simulations
94).
Yet thisis not entirelyhow "robots"or replicantsare used in
science fiction.If theydo not interrogateappearances, theycommonlyserveto indicatethe limitsof human ethics.They do not in
fact eliminate the comparativemeasure of human action. From
to Blade Runneror Karel apek's R.U.R., fromthe RusMetropolis
sian filmAelitato Greg Bear's book QueenofAngels,or the android
Data in Star Trek
, the "nonhuman" figuresserve to criticizethe
idealistprojectthatwould separate humans fromtheir"mechanical" functionsof labor and calculation and would eliminate the
complicatingsituationsincurredthroughemotionsand imperfections like disease. As machines or computersor robots are perfectedto the point of duplicatinghumans in order to servethem,
it becomes a virtualhabit in science fictionto criticizethe demand for such service in the firstplace. The ideal that would

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assume to give humans the leisure to "be" humans by giving


repetitive,rote work to machines or computers conventionally
signalsthe oppressioninherentin thatideal.
In his criticismof the UtopianprojectionsofArtificialIntelligence, TerryWinogradmakes severalimportantpoints,the most
significantofwhichis thatAI reduces the mind "to the interactive
sum of decontextualizedfragments"(203). The customarydevice
in science fictionfor showing!this limitationin ArtificialIntelligence or duplicate humanoicfsis to contextualize the robot, or
the replicant.In creatinga contextforthe labor of the robot,the
science fictionconventionhabituallycreates an occasion for the
development of subjectivity,
placed in a context in which it is
intended to replace human labor, the machine instead becomes
human.
In the novel by Greg Beao~,QueenofAngels
, forexample, the
explorerspace probe knownaisAXIS graduallydevelops a subjectivityon the models of its creators.Out in the depth of space, it
eventuallyknowsloneliness auid,based on its programming,decides to splitthatsubjectivity
irjiorder to function.4The testwhich
its creatorsdevise for the possibilityof the developmentof AXIS
self-awareness
is a joke: "Why<jiidthe self-awareindividuallook at
his image in the mirror?To get to the other side" (114). The
AXIS computerarrivesat maiiyalternativeanswersto the riddle
and findsall of themequally humorless,since itsloneliness takes
priority.Had Bear considered thisfurther,he mighthave allowed
the computerto laugh, since laughteritselfcan be said to derive
fromthe recognitionof such a split in subjectivity(what Arthur
Koestler called the "bifurcationof conflictingcodes"). And one
conventionaldistinctionbetweenmachinesand humans is exactly
the capacityforlaughter.In R.U.R.,on the otherhand, the robots
are such perfectduplicates of human action, forced into labor,
thattheyrecognize theiroppressionbythe Corporateownersand
rebel. The Marxistpoint in so manyof science fiction'scorrelates
betweenhuman and robotis thatthe contextof mechanical labor
is itselfdehumanizing,as exemplifiedbythe human laborerswho
worklike automatonsin Metropolis
and in Aelita.In Blade Runner
;
even the inventorTyrellrecogtiizesthatthe replicantsare capable
of developing "emotion"because of materialityand context,and
throughthem,a sense of self.
In BladeRunnerreplicantsare functionallyhuman in the way
the film representstheir desires for continuation,for love, for
familialmemories,forfreedomfromthe oppressivecontrolof the
Corporation,and finallyforcompassion, as when Roy Battysaves
the life of the Blade Runner,Deckard. Battyalso carriesvestiges
of the Oedipal drama when he confrontsTyrellwhom he calls

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Discourse16.3

"father"just beforehe puts out Tyrell'seyes.The TyrellCorporation itselfbecomes a sign of the "inhuman" that is defined as
absolute economic and technologicalcontrol.To thisdegree, the
filmmaintainsconventionaloppositions,suggestingas do other
such filmsas King ofHearts, thatin an insane world,only asylum
inmatesare sane. Like the inmates,the replicantshave borderline
identities:thatis, theycannot be clearlydesignated as one thing
or another.The point,however,is thatvalue is determinednot by
some ontological status- what they"are" as beings - but by the
qualityof actions and desires.As technologicalextensionsof human creators,the replicantsidentifythe notion that the origin
(mechanical or biological) and status (machine or human) do
not determine value. The replicant,like the cyborg,in other
words,suggeststhatvalue is not inherentto identity.Yet, in the
confusionthat arises in not being able to "fix"upon an identity
the film also locates what might be called an epistemological
in which the figure
anxietytowardtechnologicaltransformation,
both is and is not itselfand the medium IS the message. This
locates once again the problem of the graftand the concernsfor
what to do when an entityis the embodiment of metaphor: "A
naturalperspective,thatis and is not,"as Orsino saysat the end of
Twelfth
Night(5.1.217).
As technologyis found to be so embedded in the worldas to
be indistinguishablefromthe world,to be constitutingthe world
as "simulation"as faras Baudrillardis concerned, one mightsay
thatthe tensionof differencesthatconstitutemetaphorand representationhas collapsed. At this point, however,the anxieties
raisedmightcenternot on the question of differencesand boundaries between human and inhuman but on how to act in a limitless, unbounded worldwhere technologyproduces a perspective
that "is and is not." Because of technology,even the body is no
longer a convincing site for unitary and singular identity.
Haraway,again, is optimistic.
Whyshouldour bodies end at the skinor includeat best
otherbeingsencapsulatedby skin?From the seventeenth
tillnow,machinescouldbe animated- givenghostly
century
souls to makethemspeak or moveor to accountfortheir
orderlydevelopmentand mentalcapacities.Or organisms
could be mechanized- reducedto bodyunderstoodas resourceof mind.These machine/organism
are
relationships
obsolete,unnecessary.
(220)
WhatI am tryingto suggesthere is thatin spiteof the radical
changesin thetermsand conditionsoftheknownand theunknown,

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135

thoughtand unthought,human and inhuman, natural and unnatural,there is a persistentpolarization in attitudestowardthe


uncertainborderlandsof identity,exemplifiedby the divergence
in attitudesbetween Baudrillard and Haraway. Both attitudes,
however,could be characterizedas reactionsto the contemporary
violation of a dualistic norm: a dualism which is oppressive to
Haraway,useful to Baudrillard. The crucial location for ethical
contemplationis in the attitudetowardratherthan in the ontological statusof the technological object: not to ask what is the
"true"nature of the cyborgor robot,but to ask about the source
and functionof thatattitudetowardit. For Haraway,the function
is to open possibilitiesforforgingless oppressivesocial relations;
forBaudrillard,it would seem to be to findwaysof maintaininga
skepticismtowardthe realityof the simulacra and its part in the
Enlightenmentproject that Ross noticed. Baudrillard's idea is
not,I believe,to reinstatesome metaphysicalground forvalue but
to keep frombeing seduced by the conflationof image and the
world.5
real thatwould create another totalized,undifferentiated
Together, Harawayand Baudrillard mightdescribe how to
maintainskepticismand expectationwithina technologicalworld
in which such phenomena as robots, artificialintelligence,and
virtualrealitiesare themselvesrealities; how to act both within
and outside dualisticconceptions by makingdistinctions;how to
support differencewithoutdualism. The divergentreactions to
technology,the simulacraand the postmoderncondition are indicatorsof how human values and judgments stillfunctionwithin
and as partof the proliferationof "technoculture."It is diverging
attitudeswhichseem to have persisted. Each is givingtheoretical
descriptionforwhatis fundamentallyan attitudetowardtechnology.If neitherattitudecan be considered final,the twononetheless share a concern for how the technological phenomena of
both combinatorybeings and simulacraare implicatedin ethical
and politicalactions.
What is at stake foreach one is the possibilitythatprodigal
learning and human technologywill undermine and overturn
formsof knowledge,authorityand action. This, in fact, is the
apparent basis of Fredric Jameson's hope in postmodernism.
Jameson,too, has an optimismthatmightbe said to precede his
descriptionand theoryof the postmodern.He distinguishesthe
historicaldifferencebetweenmodernismand postmodernismon
the basis of the relativeplace of the aestheticin relationto a dominant ideologyand phase of capitalism.Modernismis characterized
by its rejection of and by the cultural dominant, whereas, he
claims,postmodernismIS the culturaldominant.Postmodernism
is simplyrevolutionfrom within,but it carries forJameson, it

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136

Discourse16.3

seems, no less revolutionarypotential. Subversion from within


what is alreadyhuman, as opposed to that coming froman outside, locates whatmanypostmoderncelebrantsfindas the political potentialin the technological.
In the specific case of the possibility of replicants or
simulacra as theypoint to the human encounter with itself,it
mightbe usefulto considerHeidegger's terms"danger"and "saving power"of technologyfromhis essay,"The Question Concerning Technology."Suppose thatthe power to generate simulacra,
both actual in postmodernart and hypotheticalin technological
sciences, is understood simplyas what Heidegger called the "revealing"of whatis in the path of thatpower ("destining").The AI
scientistor the genetic engineer says, in effect,that from the
limitedpower I have now to create thinkingmachines or perfectible human beings,6a futurein whichreplicanthuman beingscan
be created is conceivable and possible. These entitiesexistahead
of the presentgivenconditionsof technologicalexpertise(a destining and a challenging forth). The actual creation of such
replicants,in the example, is thus less significantthan the possibilitythatopens ahead of actualityand "challenges"the actual to
meet it.The technologicalcapacityin some sense "causes" itsown
but thatfuturity
is also onlyexistentin the presentcondifuturity,
tion of the technological,whichis whydiscussionsof actual duplications of human thoughtand human beings tend to focus on
what could be rather than on what is now. The technological
"challengesforth"itsown possibilities,but the challengingis more
like an act that cannot reside in any given technologicalobject.
The danger,Heidegger suggests,is that:
Assoonas whatisunconcealed
no longerconcerns
manevenas
but
does
as
and
so,
rather,
object,
exclusively standing-reserve,
manin themidstofobjectlessness
is nothing
buttheorderer
of
thestanding-reserve,
thenhe comesto theverybrinkofa prewill
fall;thatis,he comestothepointwherehe himself
cipitous
haveto be takenas standing-reserve.
Meanwhile
man,precisely
as theone so threatened,
exaltshimself
tothepostureoflordof
theearth.(26-27)
In these terms,Heidegger mightsay that the projections of AI
science and genetic engineeringreveal the human as standingreserve(or resource) forits own simulation;they"consume" the
human in orderingit forthe purpose of simulation,such thatthe
human is not a thing in itselfbut somethingready for use. In
some sense, that is both the danger and the "truth"of human
technology.It is "dangerous"because it forecloseson both "challenging"and "destining"or whatcould be called the openness of

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137

It produces the dangerous illusion that


technologyto itsfuturity.
the human is "lord of the earth" and is not in fact already "indebted" to thatwhich is morethan and ahead of itself.The delusion is that because of the way in which the world is a human
"construction"of language and codes, which are at the foundation of technology,mankindassumes thatwhateverit encounters
is thereforeonlyitselfor a self-construction.
Yet because it is now
an
opening upon
imagined perfectsimulation,these technoloalso
serve
to
reveal
what Heidegger mightcall the "essence"
gies
of the human - an essence comprised of technological capabilities.This is the Heideggerian paradox or "mystery"
of technology.
The very"Enframing"thatthreatensto close offthe revelationof
whatis the essence of the human in its technologicalcapacityfor
ordering,is also the means bywhichthe revelationof thatessence
can take place.
The comingto presenceof technology
threatens
revealing,
threatens
it withthe possibility
thatall revealing
willbe consumedin ordering
and thateverything
willpresent
itself
onlyin
the unconcealedness
of standing-reserve.
Humanactivity
can
neverdirectly
alone
counterthisdanger.Humanachievement
canneverbanishit.(33)
In the mundane example of Rachael in Blade Runner,the
actualityof the replicantforecloses on any useful or functional
distinctionbetween the human and the simulatedhuman, which
is whyRachael does not seem to elicitanyfearor anxietyfromus.
To the contrary,she and the other replicantsdefine the "inhuman" as the corporateinventorwho is willingto use replicantsas
human labor in "standing-reserve."
At the same time,she represents the figureof the human as both a constructionof the human and as somethingmore than human. What she "challenges"
- though not in the sense that Heidegger uses it - is an ethical
ratherthan an ontological statusof the human. The danger of
technologyrepresentedby the filmis shown by Tyrellwho consumes the replicant labor in his ordering of the technological
human and therebyconceals theiressential "humanity,"which is
defined by a functional memory and desire.7 The simulated
memoryis shown to be experienced as real, in the collection of
simulated family photographs and their importance to the
replicants.Rachael rememberstakingmusic lessons,but she does
not know if it was she who had them, or Tyrell's niece, upon
whom her experiences were modeled. Regardless,Deckard tells
of the technoBut thisputsthe mystery
her,"youplaybeautifully."
into
a
as
that
logical
position mystery
simultaneouslydefines the
"human" as the experienceof memoryand desireand undermines

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138

Discourse16.3

the idea thatexperience is the sole standardof validityand truth.


This is a crucial contradictionin the figureof the replicant.The
statusof the replicantproposes that the "experience" of an implanted memoryis indistinguishablefroma "real" memory(perhaps because memoryis already a formof virtualreality):they
functionidentically.Yet experience may not necessarilybe coextensivewith the "truth"of the origins of those memories. But
apartfromtheseparadoxes, the value of the replicantsin the film
resides not in the paradoxes of theirtruthand theirexperience
but in the differential
betweenthemand the creators.AsJameson
puts it,
Therecomesintobeing,then,a situation
inwhichwecan say
thatifindividualexperienceis authentic,
thenit cannotbe
or cognitivemodelof thesame
true;and thatifa scientific
contentis true,thenitescapesindividual
experience.(411)
The conceptual mapping of the world, like the concept of
Rachael's identity,does not conformto her experience. Yet it is
that constitutesself-awarenessas well as
just that disconformity
the ground forrecognitionof others.ForJameson the characteristic of postmodernism'sanswer to the disconformity
between
and
in
is
the
"insertion
as
individual
concept
experience
subjects
into a multidimensionalset of radicallydiscontinuousrealities..."
(413).
The discontinuityamong the individual subjects on the
Bridge of the Enterpriseis, nonetheless,presentedas a cooperativediscontinuity.The component bodies of The Borg, and the
way theyare representedas anathema to the crew of the Enterprise, implya horror not of discontinuous realities but of too
much continuity- too vastan extensionof the body and identification withthe one. The replicantsor the robotsin R.U.R. or the
AXIS computer can likewise"critique" or "interrogate"human
action primarilybecause theyare shown to develop subjectivity,
whichis an encounterof the selfas other-to-itself.
Self-division
is
the condition of subjectivity.
The Borg is a "monster"alien because it is shown to have no such self-divisionand cannot ever
encounteritselfas other."We are Borg,"they/we/itsay.The Borg
is alien because it is fullyself-identical.It signals the imagined
horrorof totalself-absorption
and self-sameness
thatcannot stand
outsideitselfand thereforecannot resistitsown power.Heidegger
as the danger in technology.And
imagined such self-absorption
whilehe sounds himselfdangerouslyclose to turningself-division
into a metaphysicalcategory,the importantpoint is the difference betweenthe delusion of "lord of the earth"thatwould lead

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139

to a Borg-likeexercise of the annihilationand absorptionof self


and others,and the self-division
necessaryto resistthatexercise.
Man standsso decisively
in attendanceon the challengingforthofEnframing
thathe does notapprehendEnframing
as
a claim,thathe failsto see himself
as theone spokento,and
hence also failsin everywayto hear in whatrespecthe eksists,fromout ofhisessence,in therealmofan exhortation
or address,and thuscannever
encounteronlyhimself.(27)
The figureof the replicant,in these terms,does not engage
the question of the boundaries of the human and nonhuman,yet
it does serve in Blade Runnery
at least, to give an image of the
othernessthatis alreadya factorin the encounter of the human
withitself.The fictionclarifiesHeidegger's paradox of technologybyseparatingout Tyrellas the one who is self-absorbedbyhis
technologyand who cannot rsisthis creationsas images of himself - a separation that belies the simultaneityof danger and
revealingin Heidegger's conception. Tyrell'screation,Batty,can
resisthis own power and encounter another in Deckard. Tyrell
does not recognize his own "indebtedness" to his creations.
Heidegger's idea of indebtedness decenters the creator as the
single cause of his creation aftddisplaces him into a networkof
causalitiesthatincludes thewaythatthe inventionis "called forth"
by the future(or "destining) and is in a cooperative causalityor
"co-responsibility.
Tyrell'sattemptto controlthe futureappears in the limitshe
geneticallyengineered into the life span of the replicants.While
he can controlthatspan of time,he cannot controltheiractions
withinit, and the replicant,oy Batty,successfullytakes his revenge on him in a manner thatis both Oedipal and horrific(he
tearsout his eyes). This is in keeping withthe thematicline that
makes eyesthe testingground for replicants,since througheyes
the replicantnot onlybetraysitslevel of emotion but also sees its
own condition ("if you could see what I have seen," Battytells
Deckard at the end). The replicantconfirmsTyrell's (Freudian)
fear thatthe creationwill overtakethe creator,but he does so in
an act ofjustice. For Tyrellis evil not simplybecause he created
the replicantsbut because he reduced the human to "standingreserve"and failed to see themas things-in-themselves.
One difficulty
here, however,is thatin partnershipwiththat
filmbetraysitselfas a romance (perhaps
the
political critique,
the
Marxist
romance). When Battydies, havingjust
illuminating
saved the life of Deckard in an act of gratuitouscompassion, a
whitedove fliesupward.The filmcannot seem to resistgivingthe
but "soul" as well. It comes close
replicantsnot simplysubjectivity

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140

Discourse16.3

to conferringa metaphysicalstatuson its subject matterin offerof the soul. On the otherhand, Blade
ing thatimage of a "mystery"
Runnerdoes help to displace the presentationof a norm of the
human based on "nature"and to circumventargumentsthatdefinethe human in eitheressentialor functionalterms.It replaces
those argumentswitha more conventionalethical norm: thatthe
guarantorof the human value is in its actions not essences or
formalfunctions.This also circumventssome of the concernsthat
Baudrillard brings up in Simulationsin which he outlines the
dangers he sees in the technologicalabilityto produce a simulationthatis indistinguishablefromthe real. WhatBaudrillarddoes
not discuss is the fact that even simulationsbear the burden of
ethical responsibilityfor action, and appearances negotiate no
less for both power and value than do the oppositional forces
supposedlyguaranteedbythe real.
Science fictionis constantlytakingthe debates among philosophers and scientistsand placing them in conventionalrepresentationsof good and evil.But the furtherpoint is thatin spiteof
arises in conception more than percepsimulations,the difficulty
tion of what is or is not "human." A simulacrumof the human,
like Rachael, maybe functionally
indistinguishablefroma human
or her status,like the cyborg,ambiguous, but neitherfunction
nor status is sufficientor final in describing "history"and its
complex networkof originatingconditions,situation,functional
memories,needs, responses,the responsesshe elicitsfromothers,
all of whichservein the film,at least,to situatethe verycomplexitythatinformsboth identityand value. The simulacrumis a real
testingground of the real. It is stillshowing,like the monstersof
the sixteenthcentury,a set of relationsbetween the "orders of
moralityand of nature." But it finallypoints not strictlyto the
limitsof the boundaries of identityas an order of moralityand
naturebut to the limitedethicsthathumans practice.
Notes
bookbyRogerPenrose,The
^ee, forexample,thenowbest-selling
NewMindin whichhe examinesthedifficulty
in experimental
Emperor's
forthedifferences
betweenhumansand computers.
He citesthe
testing
famousTuringTestinwhichan interrogator
mustdecideon thebasisof
responsesof a computerand a humanvolunteer,both hiddenfrom
view,whichone is thecomputer.Ifthecomputercan giveconvincingly
humanresponsesto thedegreethattheinterrogator
cannotdetermine
thatitis a computer,
itpassesthetest.
Penrosepointsout thatthedifficulty
forthecomputeris to resist
itsowncapacityforcomputation,
to tryto respondto "commonsense"

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141

"Thinkquestionsofexperience.See also thearticlebyTerryWinograd,


inwhichhe criticizes
thefundamental
termsuponwhich
ingMachines,"
AI makesclaimsto create thinkingmachinesthatduplicatehuman
thinking.
Turklepointsout thatin thiscontemporary
debate,com2Sherry
ideas thatofferthe possibility
of a rational
putersand computational
and rule-driven
machinelead to ^romanticresponses"thattendto definethe humanin termsof "whatcomputerscannotdo." Whileshe
pointsout HubertDreyfus'serroneousassertionin the 1960s thata
computercould notbeat himat chess,she wouldseemin closeragreementwithhis lateridea in WhatComputers
Can'tDo: thatembodiment
situatesthe humanin a particularwaythatcannotbe reproducedby
order."Our specificbiologyplacesus in thehumanlife
rule-governed
become
cycle:we are born,nurtured
byparents,grow,developsexually,
that
parentsin ourturn.Andwedie. Thiscyclebringsus theknowledge
comesfromunderstanding
thecertainty
of loss,thatthosewe lovewill
die and so willwe..." (Turkle249). Whatonce mighthave been an
ontological argumentabout essential identityhas become, postor Sartre,perhaps,n argument
aboutfunctional
Wittgenstein
identity:
a thingis whatitdoes.
withme thisviewof
3Mythanksto RobertHarrisonfordiscussing
theBridgecrewin TheNextGeneration.
4The"decision"tosplitis perhapsevidencethatthescenarioofthe
bookis fiction,
notphilosophy,
sinceI believeitis moreaccurateto say
thatsubjectivity
itselfis thesplitofself-awareness.
5In Seduction
Baudrillarddistinguishes
betweenthe "cold"seduction of technology
and the "warm"seductionthatplaysthe game of
it is the manifestdiscourse...
thatturns
appearances."In seduction...
backon thedeeperorder(whether
consciousor unconscious)in order
to invalidateit, substituting
the charmand illusionof appearances.
These appearancesare not in tjheleast frivolous,
but occasionsfora
and
its
and
a
for
deviation
the
seductionof the
stakes,
game
passion
thantheemergenceofanytruth
signsthemselves
beingmoreimportant
- whichinterpretation
neglectsand destroysin its searchforhidden
is what,parexcellence
, is opposedto
meanings.Thisis whyinterpretation
andwhyitis theleastseductiveofdiscourses....Allmeaningful
seduction,
discourse
seeks
toendappearances:
thisis itsattraction,
and itsimposture....
of
perhapsdiscourseis secretly
temptedbythisfailure,
bythebracketing
itsobjectives,
ofitstrutheffects
whichbecomeabsorbedwithina surface
thatswallowsmeaning.This is whathappensat first,
whendiscourse
seduces
itis theoriginalformbywhichdiscoursebecomesabsorbed
itself,
withinitselfand emptiedofitstruthin orderto betterfascinateothers:
the primitive
seductionof language"(53-54).The "cold seduction"of
thetelevision
"isinoffensive
to theimagination....
It is
light,bycontrast,
innocuousbecause it no longerconveysan imaginary,
forthe simple
reasonthatitis nolonger
an image..."(162). "Cold"seduction,thatis,is
and has no use or relationto an other.
fullyself-contained

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142

Discourse16.3

6Seein particular
AllenNewell.Newellis a co-creator
ofa unified
theoryof cognitionknownas "Soar"thatis an "embodiedtheory"or
architecture
for"thefullrangeofhumancognition."
7Itis worthnoticingthatmemoryis used in the filmRobocop
to
confirm
thatthetechnologically
reconstituted
is stilla "person."
entity

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