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The Monster is Within

While reading Margrit Shildrick’s paper on monsters, I couldn’t help seeing parallels between a female body she uses as an exponent of a monstrous body and a digital body (being it an individual avatar or technology in general). Shildrick lists characteristics of female bodies (and the bodies of other ‘others’) such as leaky, unstable, labile, unbounded and uncontained, always in flux, subject to change, reproducing, excessive and in surplus, which assist the body in making the transition from the comfortable absence (‘comfortable’ when the body is looked at bounded and stable) to troublesome presence, whereby the body with all its frivolity and volatility imprints itself in the consciousness. It’s the celebration of the monstrous body – Shildrick proclaims at the beginning of her paper.

The reasons for such festive inclinations are numerous but the most important one is that of the need to emphasise the process, the flux, the instability as inherently natural and human.  This way she avoids positioning herself as an opponent of humanism as abandoning binary dichotomies and blurring the boundaries might establish, in her view, a  rich breeding ground, where transformation is born, which echoes the rhizome proposal of Deleuze and Guattari.

What Shildrick also stresses in her paper is the promise embodied in the liquidity, not the threat. While reading about the uncanny digital technologies last year I was not sure if the fragmentation caused by the multiplying online traces of my digital escapades and practices are something worth seeking after. I felt simultaneously attracted and threatened by the prospect, thrilled by the enhanced modes of being and feeling but alarmed by the possibility of losing sanity, succumbing to the power of my avatars, becoming dehumanised, the everlasting friction between the technoutopia and dystopia, a view still entrenched in ‘either … or’ perception of the world and subjectivity, based on binarism and thus on exclusion. The exclusion can never be complete according to Shildrick as the boundaries are liquid and permeable, allowing multiple incorporations which are at the forefront when it comes to innovation, creativity and imagination and so opening up different world, modes of being and becoming. This is a richer reality, enlarging not restricting  human subjectivity, embodying it and not disembodying.

While researching monstrous bodies I came across digital manipulations of the human body in art, crossing the boundaries between the human and machinic, between the disabled and the healthy. One of the projects struck me in particular. In the process of digital imagining the basic senes of smell, sight, taste and hearing got overgrown with thick layers of skin (thus excluded), giving an overall grim and dystopic look to the technological face, this way probably emphasising the desensitising threats. I would argue that this could be indeed the case if we persist identifying and maintaining the boundaries sealed.

The eyeless body might appear anti-human but uncannily by liquidising some of the senses and leaving one, the skin a very sensitive organ, it fosters new receptiveness.



~ by Ania Rolińska on October 3, 2011 . Tagged: , ,

2 Responses to “The Monster is Within”

  1.   Siân Bayne Says:

    Ania – I like the image you link to here – I wonder if you’ve seen Patricia Piccinnini’s work and the way she plays with the idea of bio-technological intervention in the human body? More about her work here:
    and some of her most striking work here:

    •   Ania Rolińska Says:

      Thanks for the links Sian – Piccinini’s work is indeed intriguing and some of the sculptures evoke some strong emotions ranging from repulsion to curiosity, brought about by deformity, otherness, excess, physicality, blurring the boundaries between human/animal, normal/abnormal, natural/engineered, even at the level of materials used to produce the sculptures, synthetic, man made combined with human hair. Focus on family themes, nurture, love, compassion and often integrating human babies/kids (with their innocence and open futures and possibilities) into the sculpture group creates a fresher and more calming stance on the human/tech interaction than the pictures linked to in my post.

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