July 2002
volume 1, issue 1


Writing the Future- Technoscience and theAvant-Garde (continued | 1, 2, 3, 4)


Given the ever-increasing dominance of technoscience’s economic, social, and political components and support structures over society and culture, the many facets of which Lyotard terms Development, the new technologist is in the unique position of having seen many of his designs implemented - of having seen, his predictions, his concepts, even his fantasies realized. These realizations include not merely the design and manufacture of "transcendent" (next generation, previously unattainable) products but also the acquisition and implementation of massive arsenals of economic power, structures for production and distribution, and the confirmation of his ‘vision’ through its implementation.

‘Vision’ is a term linked to both the subconscious imaginary processes codified by Freud in psychoanalysis (following a long mystical tradition and adopted by avant-gardists from the Symbolists forward) and an abstract methodology practiced by ‘leaders’ of Capitalist production. Traditionally within the realm of technoscience production, power has been constituted by a grasp not of philosophical, historical, and ethical issues surrounding it, but by exactly this latter form of ‘vision’: combining a sort of capitalist intuition with influence-personal, financial, political- as well as access to means of production. Genealogically traceable to the ‘vision’ of the19th century industrialist, this type of vision is always characterized by an improved bottom line. Sometimes radical in its means, it is chiefly valued for its improvements in performativity and profitability.

The ‘vision’ associated with the technoscience producer constructed by these texts is similarly market-driven, strongly influenced by the bottom line and consumer culture but also tied to the mystical, Imaginary form. In the texts of Kurzweil and Moravec, the technoscience producer’s work mirrors the avant-garde artists’ attempts to produce objects, effects, and theories reflective of his primary creative impulses. These impulses are motivated by desire and manifested within the ‘vision’- and thus ‘vision’ is bound to desire.

Like the visions of the Industrialists, the visions of the technoscience producer involve movement- where the industrialists were moving people, energy, and matter in the interest of capital; the technoscience producer mythologized here is engaged in the movement of information and ideas in the interest of desire.

Lyotard, in his 'immoral’ book Libidinal Economy, analyzed Marx according to desires and repulsions apparent in the text as well as within his life (as documented by his correspondence) as he struggled to complete the Capital. Lyotard does so in an attempt to edge closer to ‘real’ and imaginary, social, sexual, and cultural conditions inscribed upon Marx’s theory. According to Lyotard, "Marx’s desire interests us, not for itself, but inasmuch as it informs the themes of the writings which metamorphose into themes of social and political ‘practices’." Libidinal economy, p95

Examining Kurzweil and Moravec according to the desires and repulsions that permeate their texts reveals strong areas of such libidinal investment.

The essence of technology is defined by Heidegger as a process of revealing. This process, in the hands of these writers, comes to mirror religious or mystical revelation. Donna Haraway and others have pointed out the similarity of many of the mythic components of the radical technoscience narrative to Judeo-Christian as well as Aristotelian-Platonic myth, including transcendence of physicality, achievement of eternal life, resurrection of the spirit (or mind), and the apprehension of Ideal forms.

Some of the concepts employed by these writers make this tendency explicit: Kurzweil and others have adopted the eschatological-sounding term ‘The Singularity’ to describe the moment at which machine intelligence sweeps past human. The process of ‘uploading’ closely mirrors Christian transfiguration. Moravec invokes a statistical likelihood that the universe exists as a simulation- that the perceptible world is merely a shadow form- an almost purely Aristotelian-Platonic notion with elements of Leibniz. The concept of the shared Utopian knowledge space invoked by uploading — that of minds freed from bodies- is Platonism at its most extreme.

These and other aspects of the writings suggest a desire for a return to the ideal realm imagined by Platonism and Judeo- Christian religion. What was characterized by Nietzsche as 'nihilism', by Lyotard as the Great Zero, and once ascribed to gods or ‘forms’, has been re-inscribed upon technoscience production with the primary difference being that the plane of transcendence is achieved not through religious or mystical means but through technological and positivist teleological means. This desire on the part of these writers could be said to echo their understanding of the ‘goal’ of positivism itself: they seek to finally regard a wholly rationalized, wholly ‘understood’ universe, which is at once ‘under control’ and creative.

The mystical idealism of the texts echoes elements within the legacy of the artistic avant-garde. The Ideals of Constructivist Utopianism in particular are suggested. Mondrian’s abstraction of form over the course of his life from the ‘natural’ to Ideal world of geometric regularity, Malevich’s move toward singularity evidenced strongly in his watershed of Modern Art’s Idealism, the Black Square, represent the strong Platonism at work in the historical avant-garde.

The transcendence of physicality implied by the Idealism of Kurzweil’s and Moravec’s texts appears to have strong roots in another area- the authors’ clear desire to overcome the problem not only of human death generally, but of their own individual deaths. Going back to Freud, the denial of death is a primary force in the Imaginary as well as concrete realm of day-to-day life. Its maintenance requires a constant stream of narrative in order to suspend despair. With the breakdown of religious narratives corresponding to the rise of Modernism and the impact of medical science’ improvements on life-extension technology, the problem of death has come under increasing secular attention. The technoscientific project of unlimited life extension has its roots in prosthetic and chemical-therapeutic technology as well as within AI and science fiction narratives. The concept of unlimited life extension through uploading was introduced by Marvin Minsky and later came to be bedrock in the doctrine of the Extropians and Alcor.

Often within his book, Kurzweil’s desire turns toward more prosaic concerns:

Group sex will take on new meaning in that more than one person can simultaneously share the experience of one partner. Since multiple real people cannot all control the movements of one virtual partner, there needs to be a way of sharing the decision making of what one virtual body is doing.

Prostitution will be free of health risks, as will virtual sex in general. Using wireless, very-high-bandwidth communication technologies, neither sex workers nor their patrons need leave their homes. Virtual prostitution is likely to be legally tolerated, at least afford greater extent than real prostitution is today, as the virtual variety will be impossible to monitor or control. -Kurzweil page 147

Kurzweil may be more than lascivious in his (repeated) direction of attention to the sex act. The frenzy of libidinal investment evident here can be located on a mass scale in that early (and still powerful) driving engine of Internet activity, online porn, and may point at more important formative features of technoscience’s transcendental narrative.

Lyotard’s prescription for machinic creativity and thought (central to Kurzweil and Moravec’s contention that machines will become sentient and self-replicating), as laid out in the Inhuman, derives from the Freudian idea, core to Surrealism, that sexual difference constitutes an engine for innovation; that genital ‘otherness’ and lack is at the heart of creativity. Thought, for Lyotard, is always manifested by ‘solicitation of emptiness’ following on the realization of sexual difference and lack. According to his formulization:

Thinking and suffering overlap…Thinking, like writing or painting, is almost no more than letting a givable come to you…The soliciting of emptiness, this evacuation-very much the opposite of overweening, selective, identificatory activity (of performative technoscience production-sb) -doesn't take place without some suffering...it has to be called forth, evoked. The body and mind have to be free of burdens for grace to touch us. That doesn't happen without suffering. -Lyotard page 18.

The ‘precession of scopophilia’ driving the economy of the Internet has its roots in this generative principle. It converts and inverts it, creating the investment in control and mastery that informs these texts as well as technoscience production generally. In a narrative dependent on a (limited) interpretation of natural selection, there had better be some sex, and any totalizing picture of technological development in the 21st Century must account for Internet porn

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