CNR 2015: Lectures: Vit Bohal (CZE): Man-Machine : The Crisis of the Humanist Subject from R.U.R. to the Present
Man-Machine : The Crisis of the Humanist Subject from
R.U.R. to the Present
Vit has recently been working on untangling the conspiracy webs of David Icke, and exploring the vectors of a coming futurity.
The trope of the robot has undergone various permutations throughout the 20th century, its identity gradually segueing towards that of the properly posthuman 'cyborg'. Capek's R.U.R. (1921) not only provided the original label 'robot' for these remixes, but provided the integral idea of the rebelling robot.
The idea of the robot is, from its very genesis, intrinsically linked to the idea of its revolt, embodying the specter of an existential dissolution of humanity. In most early incarnations of this trope, including Capek's R.U.R., the robot is seen as a direct threat to the very existence of the human species. In the years following the Second World War, however, the philosophical and artistic sensibility changes and the robot is transformed into, what Donna Haraway and others have termed, the cyborg.
Where the robot was banished to menial work in service of humanity, the cyborg is portrayed as heterogeneous, cybernetically wired entity, whose material origin (carbon-based vs. silicone-based, flesh vs. metal) is not determinative to its conceptual existence, but rather poses a question regarding the nature of subjectivity in the face of the dissolution of the liberal humanist subject. It embodies the quintessential split subject insofar as it is an amalgam of disparate processes unified within a single, yet substantially 'empty,' concept.
This model, which sees various "promiscuous couplings" of loops and circuitry feeding into each other in complex ways, had, in the decades following the Second World War, effectively superseded the simpler, and quite explicitly class-conscious trope of the robot. Both man and machine are shown to have always already been cyborgs, and recent films such as Ex Machina (2015) directly comment on the pitfalls and potentialities of conscious subjectivity in a man-made entity and its ability to mimic, and effectively supersede the human original. In the works of William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke, Neal Stephenson, Kraftwerk, etc. the line between the human and its simulacrum becomes blurred.
There are two views of the 'posthuman' existing within the historical context of the decades following the advent of modernity. Capek is representative of an overt "liberal humanist" philosophy, exhibiting only a latent, secondary posthuman sensibility based in the reductionist, material dichotomy of presence/absence (man's extinction vs. man's survival). Later artistic works index the, properly posthuman, dichotomy of pattern/randomness (N. Katherine Hayles), where the specific idea(l) of 'the human' as opposed to 'the machine' undergoes a revision which relativizes the age-old trope of the robot, taking into account the mirroring effect which transpires when man and machine make contact. Class-conscious antagonism makes way for an integral similarity between the man-machine and the mechanical man.
[image source: La Fayette]
[source: Vive Les Robots!]
Vít Bohal is an MA student at Charles University Critical Cultural Theory department.
Man-Machine : The Crisis of the Humanist
Subject from R.U.R. to the Presents
Vit Bohal will present his lecture "Man-Machine : The Crisis of the Humanist Subject from R.U.R. to the Present" at Cafe Neu Romance on the 26 November 2015 at IIM.
Hall H25 at FEL CVUT
CZ-160 00 Prague.