2015-16 Cyborg study group

Trying to understand how  technology is changing our concept of being human, is an endlessly fascinating and trenchant topic.We started a study group connected to our theme Growing up Human in March 2015, but it is a loose group, that can be joined any time. This website page is an attempt to keep you all up to date. Let me know if you are interested in being on the mailing list by sending an email to researchinart.ria@gmail.com  At present we are reading an excerpt from Michael Bess: Our Grandchildren Re-designed: Life in the Bio-engineered Society of the Near Future. (Beacon Press 2015) This book is available at the Ottawa Public Library. Here is a dropbox link to the excerpt: “Human Flourishing: a Yardstick for Evaluating Enhancements.” and  a website with updates: www.ourgrandchildrenredesigned.org


Intimate Technology http://www.nextnature.net

This text brought us  right into the present, bringing us up to date with some new technologies that directly affect the insides of our bodies.

Following is a brief description and some excerpts.If anyone wants to add something, please do.

The first section of this essay deals with many specific innovations in the NBIC ( Nano- bio- information technology- and cognitive technology) convergence. The upsurge of innovations is seen by van Est as creating a major change in the way we use technology: not as a way to control our environment, but to map and control our bodies and behaviour. Van Est quotes Joel Garreu: For all previous millennia, our technologies have been aimed outward, to control our environment. (…) Now, however, we have started a wholesale process of aiming our technologies inward. Now our technologies have started to merge with our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny and perhaps our souls,

The Next Nature website follows technological innovations continuously.

We discussed drones, war at a distance, body hackers, life loggers, chatbots and avatars, that bring up many ethical questions :

“There will be a race to reach self-perfection. There is an explosion of privacy issues, putting the integrity of the body and the soul at stake. A commercial battle for our attention is going on. And how we stand in the world, what information we are offered, how we meet others and experience the world are all increasingly pre-programmed; our behaviors are manipulated, our social skills are under the threat of crumbling away, and by using some technologies we may experience other people more as objects than as human beings. The contract with ourselves is actually the same. Let us apply intimate technology in such a way that we become human cyborgs. That machines propelled interactions remain human in nature. And in deploying machines with people’s traits we do so in a human way.”

Van Est asks “What kind of Cyborg do we want to be?” and proposes seven principles to find a balance in the mixing of machine and human:

“what kind of a cyborg do we want to be? Do we seek refuge in the complete mixing of man and machine, a process transhumanists advocate? If we overshoot this, a counter-movement comes up, a theme beautifully elaborated in the Swedish television series Real Humans. The pressure group ‘Stop The Cyborgs’, which calls for a conscious use of wearables is a current example of such a counter-movement.

Instead, I argue for a middle ground between cyborgization and what the philosopher Derix labels as rewilding humans. Rewilding simply implies ‘stacking phones on the table’ in the pub and the first owner to pick up his phone has to give a round or drinks. Rewilding implies not reading and responding to work-related emails on holiday, not wanting to know everything, choosing a paper book, diving into cold water without a wetsuit, feeling the wind… The intimate-technological revolution requires certain human wisdom. Wisdom will involve at least the following:

1. Carefully handling the privacy of our identities, because privacy is not dead, as many Internet gurus would have us believe. That also implies consciously dealing with the ownership of our personal data, because they are of great economic value, both personally and publicly. The aim is precisely keeping the concept of privacy alive in order to reduce the risk of identity theft, and to ensure that our physical and mental integrity are vouchsafed.

2. Monitoring the way in which information reaches us.

3. Being alert to the right of every individual to make free choices and to develop themselves. A cult of self-development is not desirable, but the right to be very special and very common is important.

4. Not outsourcing essential human actions, such as marriages, love, caring for the children and the sick to machines.

5. Keeping our social and emotional skills alive.

6. Protecting the right to not know and not be measured, analyzed or coached.

7. Cherishing the thing that is perhaps our most precious possession: our attention.

For our next meeting, we will add Michael Bess’s “yardstick for human flourishing” to Van Est’s seven principles.


“And the wild cyborg lived happily ever after.”




Following is a brief description of our meeting. If anyone wants to add something, please do.

Rosi Braidotti’s intense lecture on Posthumanism and Society provoked an equally intense discussion last night, on Braidotti’s descriptions of how the new post-human paradigm is being co-opted by capitalist interests. She warned especially against the establishment of neo-humanist, pan-human ideas of humanity. Although it is true that all of us share vulnerability in our communal belonging to the Anthropocene, economical, cultural, ethnical, age and sexual differences, continue to differentiate people and provide the grounding from which to garner personal responsibility.  She reminds us that “We were not human in the same way, to begin with.”

A firm believer in Spinoza’s material monism, she concluded her half-hour lecture with the suggestion that resistance to the neo-universal “in-humanism” in this post-human age is grounded in “a relational understanding of our subjectivity.” She hopes that :

“the practices we engage in, whatever they may be–teaching, thinking, art, activism, cooking, and growing a garden–need to be postulated collectively  as a step in the direction of posing new ways of being human, taking in the great opportunities of our time, without forgetting that they come at a price, without forgetting  that the question of ethical  agency has to remain absolutely central to the politics of radical immanence and to the politics of actualization of virtual possibilities, which I see as the strength of the post-human.“

This was the good advice that the Cyborg study group took to heart. The small group (there were 7 of us) in general was hopeful that individuals with their specialized talents, such as artists, can work to resist the excesses of capitalism and the exploitative dominance of technology.

It seems to me that we should hold on to Braidotti’s advice while we embark, as a group, on an exploration of “What kind of Cyborg do we want to be?” These words are Rinie van Est, and we will be reading his essay:  Intimate Technology:  The Battle for our Body and Behavior  . Our next meeting will be: Monday November 7th, 7 – 9 PM


Intimate Technology http://www.nextnature.net

This text will bring us right into the present, bringing us up to date with some new technologies that directly affect the insides of our bodies.




About the Screening and discussion night on December 10, 2015,

Kathy Bergquist send us this link on “Chtulucene”

Dawn Dale wrote: 

I went back this morning to look up the word “Chthulucene” and discovered another route to the video of her talk. It had an excellent synopsis that I have cut and pasted for you as well as the website co-ordinates.

When I managed to get thru the density of her speech and thoughts, I  agree with her position, which is not unique but part of a web of thinking that wants to rein in the excesses of capitalism and the anthropocene in order that some of the wondrous web of life survives our arrogance.

I liked the tract that Gail was expressing when she spoke of artistic curiosity. I think that would be a great basis for a general discussion, sharing the paths that people have traversed to come to the kind of work that they are engaged in at the moment. I know it sometimes happens in the individual presentations but to discuss it has a group might reveal common threads and diverse trajectories.

In terms of art and science I agree with you (and Bruno Latour and many other thinkers) that the objectivity of science has finally been exposed as a illegitimate claim. It is the subjectivity of art, its ability to infect/inform both the body and then the mind with its visceral, experiential impact on the viewer that I am curious about. How the artist uses it to draw the audience into a larger dialogue and how people have forgotten the power of the visual as they have been educated in the literate/ the power of words.

Here is the synopsis Dawn found: artandeducation.net

Donna Haraway: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene—Staying with the Trouble

“The sky has not fallen. Not yet.” In this brief, dazzlingly associative presentation, the feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway begins from the observation that the best work across academic disciplines takes for granted a rejection of individualism as either an object of study or a methodological approach. Life is relationality all the way down; to be “one” is always to be “many.” How, then, did thinking about “the global” emerge, and what are the limitations of this concept with the advent of the Anthropocene? Drawing on science studies, science fiction, and eco-activist art practices, Haraway troubles the anthro in Anthropocene by arguing that the sciences of modern synthesis offer powerful tools for conceptualizing life in terms of copy and competition, but cannot account for the idea of “obligate symbiosis.” Her own symbiotic approach is to situate the Anthropocene in relation to the deep history of capitalism (the “capitalocene”) and the potential to activate poetic, destructive, powerfully vital practices of the “cthulhucene.” Named for the ancient, unspeakably enigmatic, squid-like deity invoked by the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, the cthulhucene marks, for Haraway, the possibility for the not-yet-finished, the ongoing, the dreadful but generative forces of the inhuman within the human.

Donna Haraway is a feminist theorist, philosopher of science, and Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Trained as a biologist, her pioneering interdisciplinary work draws on the life sciences, critical theory, feminism, anthropology, and cultural forms such as science fiction. Her publications include Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, and When Species Meet.

Nathan Lee’s contribution to Video School examines form and rhetoric in the discourse of the Anthropocene.

 Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble“.

( 5/9/14 History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz)

https://vimeo.com/97663518  (25 mins)

I’d like to note that, although our theory discussion sessions have been intense and rewarding in the past, they have been few and far between. Reading (after the internet) is becoming more and more difficult. Where to find the time? Nonetheless, I’d like to persist, as it prods me (and hopefully you) to read. Discussion is an invaluable follow-up to reading: it is where understanding takes hold.

So, let’s continue, at a slow pace. I suggest we include taped lectures in busy and distracting times, such as in December, surely the most distractive month of the year.  Shirley Yik’s exhibition at RIA has us talking about the Anthropocene. Donna Haraway is a vibrant speaker with some interesting takes on the Anthropocene.

Our discussion on the Anthropocene is not that far removed from that of the Cyborg, or from Jane Bennett’s Vital Materialism that we talked about last year.  We are staying on course with our Growing up Human theme, even if that course is a bit wobbly sometimes!

Here is a short video you might want to watch at home if you’re not familiar with the term Anthropocene:

Welcome to the Anthropocene. 2012  Video explaining the term Anthropocene. By Owen Gaffney, International Geosphere and Bioshpere Program. 3.28 mins. Beautiful imagery! Soothing:)




Past Discussions

I like Donna Haraway’s stance against fervent organophobias or organophilias, as well as technophobias or technophilias. Her concept of the cyborg connects us as much to nature as to technology. What I took away from the readings and discussions so far, is that the middle is not an easy position. Accepting ambiguity means accepting differences, while considering the borders between them as being permeable. Ambiguity reflects our tangled life as it is, rather than our compulsion to categorize things. It means that an ethical positioning of ourselves needs constant, intense thinking-through and discussion, now more than ever- Petra


 More reading and viewing:

DEAF (Dutch Electronic Art Festival) Biennale 2014: Seminar: (Un)programmable Behaviour
from Het Nieuwe Instituut . Vimeo video. Rinie van Est speaks at 41 min. to 1.17 min.

  1. Irmgard Emmelhainz, “Conditions of Visuality Under the Anthropocene and Images of the Anthropocene to come.” This text is from e-flux and is a chapter of a yet-unpublished book Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies..eds Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press forthcoming 2015).

The fast-paced changes in the epoch we live in are overwhelming but smart journals such as e-flux journal can help us to get a better understanding of the immediate present.   “Anthropocene” may be an over-used term in 2015, but its popularity may be exactly the reason why we should consider sticking with e-flux journal #  63, March 2015 for awhile.

Past events:

July 27 2015 we visited the exhibition, Human Nature,curated by Corinna Ghaznavi, at Carleton University, where Juanita Lee provided an excellent introduction, Thanks, Juanita!

June 16 2015 7.00 PM discussion on A Cyborg Manifesto

Lynn Randolph, Cyborg. Book cover Ilustration for : Donna J. Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs and Women- The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, New York 1991

Lynn Randolph, Cyborg. Book cover Ilustration for : Donna J. Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs and Women- The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, New York 1991

And why not start with Donna Haraway? “A Cyborg Manifesto,” written thirty years ago, connects seamlessly to many of the texts written today, when we experience a moment of breathless progress of “intimate technologies.”  For our study group, we will follow a reading of A Cyborg Manifesto with a text by Rinie van Est, who coined the term, “Intimate Technologies.” You can find his text and follow the hyperlinks to the book,  in the Next Nature weblog.  What connects Haraway to van Est, is that they both insists that hybridity is more than a two-way street between technology and the human body. Van Est asks: “What kind of a cyborg do we want to be?” Let’s read and discuss the kind of answers he and Haraway come up with.

Donna Haraway lecture

May 12, 2015 You-tube screening and discussion of a lecture by Donna Haraway: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble,  originally organized by the Research-Creation Working Group at the University of Alberta, Dept. of Art and Design, March 24 2014

April 30, 2015 : READING OUT LOUD session at the Ottawa Art Gallery, on Donna Haraway’s text, which you can find   here

The Reading Out Loud event at the Ottawa Art Gallery on April 30, that was organized with RIA, had to compete for participants with a lot of other events that night. But the small group of participants that showed up had a very interesting discussion centered around Donna Haraway’s idea of the Cyborg as a figure that embodies the human’s tangled relationship with technology as well as with natural creatures. The excerpt we read was taken from Part 1 of Haraway’s book, When Species Meet (Minnesota Press 2008).



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s