“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, June 14, 2007

do androids dream of electric orgasms

[Rapheal Dubois] observes that after having been decapitated, a cricket performs induced reflex and spasmodic movement both better and for a longer time than before. Referring to the work of Golz and H. Busquet (if one removes a frog’s superior centers, it immediately assumes the coital position normally adopted only in the spring), he wonders whtehr the mantis’s goal in beheading the male before mating might not be to obtain a better and longer performance of the spasmodic coital movements, through the removal of the brain’s inhibitory centers. In the final analysis, it would hence be the pleasure principle that compels the female insect to murder her lover – whose body she beings to ingest, furthermore, in the course of lovemaking itself.

These habits are so well-designed to disturb human beings that scientist for oce, to their credit, have abandoned their professional dryness. For example, in his recent monograph, La Vie de la mante religieuse, Leon Binet, professor of physiology at the Faculte de Medecine in Paris, seems visibly affected by them. IN any event, it is quite surprising to seem him briefly foreswear his scientific detachment to call the female a kind of ‘murderous mistress’… I myself shall take this revealing lapse as the basis for interpreting Binet’s conclusion: ‘This insect really seems to be a machine with highly advanced parts, which operate automatically. Indeed, it strikes me that likening the mantis to an automaton (to a female android, given the latter’s anthropomorphis) reflects the same emotional theme, if (as I have every reason to believe) the notion of an artificial, mechanical, inanimate and unconscious machine-woman – incommensurate with man and all other creatures – does stem in some way from a specific view of the relations between love and death and, in particular, from an ambivalent premonition of encountering one within the other.” – Roger Caillois, The praying mantis.

When Fellini made a film of Casanova, a figure he detested, he chose Donald Sutherland to play the lead because, as he described him to a journalist, he saw him as “a big sperm-full waxwork with the eyes of a masturbator.” LI implores the gods to just once have someone give me a recommendation with that phrase! Obviously, Casanova was not to Fellini’s taste – he in fact found him boring and infuriating. However, as everyone who has seen the film knows, there is one tender scene: when Casanova ‘seduces’ a mechanical doll. The scene is here, on the ever extraordinary YouTube.

I am mentioning these things to bring us back to another side of La Mettrie’s Epicureanism: the reduction of man to a machine, which La Mettrie derives from Descartes, using the same models as Descartes – who referenced automatons. La Mettrie’s age was also that of Vaucanson, the extraordinary clockwork figure-maker. La Mettrie references him in the Man-Machine: “[Man] is to the ape, the most intelligent of animals, as Huyghen’s planetary pendulum is to the Julien-le-Roi clock. If we need more instruments, more wheels, more clockworks for marking the movement of the planets than for marking the hours or repeating them; if Vaucanson needed more art in order to make his flutist than his duck, he would have to employ even more to make a speaker, a machine which can no longer be regarded as impossible, especially in the hands of a new Prometheus… If I am not mistaken, the human body is a clock, but an immense one …”

Combining this thesis with the thesis that happiness really can be separated from the intellect – that, as La Mettrie puts in in On Happiness, reflection is almost like remorse – one has to ask what kind of thing pleasure is. Orgasm, which is La Mettrie’s favored model of pleasure, might be the result of the clockwork – but if the clockwork can lead up to it, how can it feel it? Feeling, La Mettrie had proposed in The Man-Machine, might be something like electricity – a vibration of some kind. But in On Happiness, the human clockwork seems to have an inside and an outside which are – how to put this – distinguished by no external wall, but by a metaphysical limit, a line running through the mechanism that complicates the mechanical matter, and thus complicates pleasure itself:

“As a desired object is painted better in its absence than present - because reality offers limits to the imagination that it doesn’t know itself once it is abandoned to itself, similarly pictures are more vivid when one sleeps than when one is awake. Nothing then distracts the soul which, all thrown into the internal tumult of the senses, tastes the pleasures that penetrate it better, and more at length. Reciprocally, it is also more alarmed and frightened by specters which are formed, at night, in the brain, and which are never so scary when one is awake, because the objects of the outside soon dissipate them: black dreams, to which are subject those who, during the day, are accustomed to entertaining none but sad, lugubrious or sinister ideas, instead of chasing them off, as much as is possible.”

These thoughts cast some long shadows: that the purest pleasure might be felt within the doll when the doll is undistracted - this mannequin narcissism – directs us to a technostructure of isolated thrills, screen by screen, that appears in the war culture societies.

1 comment:

ctw said...

This is a really interesting discussion and I like the Burroughs association. Just to let you I have some articles on La Mettrie including one on his 'medical Epicureanism': see
http://philomtl.wordpress.com/2006/10/23/miwhp-charles-t-wolfe-a-happiness-fit-for-organic-bodies-la-mettries-medical-epicureanism/ -- the paper is attached on that page. He's not really a Cartesian btw, despite the clever title of his most famous book. The body doesn't reduce to inanimate mechanisms.
regards, C. Wolfe