TECHNOLOGY AND DIFFERENCE

(utdrag av Leonardo Electronic Almanac Vol11, no10, 2003. Hele vol11 ligger som pdf på dropbox)

Irina Aristarkhova

Guest Editor

 

This issue of LEA has come about as a result of my ongoing

interest and work in the area of technology and sexual/cultural

differences. While considering this particular focus of

interest, I realized that the general question of the

fundamental relationship between technology and difference has

been rarely considered in the field of new media art,

cyberculture, science, technology and society studies, and other

convergent areas where “modern technologies” are critically

engaged. As such, this issue comes from a conviction that any

specific study of difference in relation to technology has to be

seen within a larger framework that is sensitive to the historic

relationship between these two concepts. Moreover, there is an

urgent need to systematically and critically think through

“technology and difference” together, as a pair.

Whether one frames it as technology and difference or (though

not the same, surely) difference and technology, it remains a

complex, albeit understudied, connection. While both parts of

this expression have been explored in Western literature –

philosophical, anthropological, historic, literary, cybernetic,

biological and so on – they have rarely been explored together,

with a few notable exceptions. Leaving the question of “why” to

the historians of ideas, this editorial addresses two main

questions: first, what, fundamentally, do the concepts of

technology and difference reveal and what role have they have

played in Western thought and beyond; and second, what is the

relationship of art to our understanding of technology and

difference. Any analysis that we undertake here would be

necessarily limited, not only by the lack of space, but also by

(desirable) acknowledgment of the specificity of the language in

which it is written and thought through, with all its obvious or

unintended consequences. One should also see the following

points exactly as questions, openings for a future discussion,

rather than theses or theoretical imperatives of the topic at hand.

 

TECHNOLOGY AND DIFFERENCE REDEFINED

What is technology? According to Stiegler, technology has come

to be “the discourse describing and explaining the evolution of

specialized procedures and techniques, arts and trades – either

the discourse of certain types of procedures and techniques, or

that of the totality of techniques inasmuch as they form a

system: technology is in this case the discourse of the

evolution of that system” [1]. By its very definition in Western

tradition, *techne* is tied to its carrier, its maker, most of

the time understood as “human” [Ed. note – as the last letter of

the word “techne” is Greek, and thus unreadable in this textonly

format, it has been rendered here using only standard

English characters]. It is a skill, something one acquires,

practices and, in that sense, can be a tool or an instrument.

When we say that it is tied to a human, the reverse is correct

as well: the human (especially “upright” human – see Marx, among

many others) is made by its tool, hand tool, in particular.

Human and technique form a system. Thus, *techne* is an

attribute, as well as a defining essence of human.

As such, in Western tradition, *techne* sets itself as a

differentiator to what the human is – its memory and history

(writing, language, database), its soul (mobile, self-creative

principle, everything that technical is not, according to

Aristotle) and not only to its self, but also, and always, vis-ˆ-

vis “the rest” of its being in the world (establishing,

measuring levels of difference): the human from natural,

cultured from barbaric, human from animal and from plant,

animate from inanimate, such as automata and machine. However,

as Stiegler, following Leroi-Gourhan, argues, far from being an

“invention OF human,” the technical *invents* human, so much so

that the entire discipline – anthropology – is foregrounded by a

close relation between “the *ethnic* and the *technical*.” And

indeed, unlike the conventional view, that through technology

humans master nature, here we have an argument that anthropology

can be considered as technology – especially in its methodology,

in its main focus on “how” people “make” what they are – through

language, art, tools, various ways of doing things.

We have seen, so far, that in questioning technology we come

close to the whole system of which it is a part: human, nature,

machine, society, the question of Creator(s).

If we take into account Stiegler’s argument of “technics as

inventive as well as invented [2],” the next question for our

couple “technology and difference” might be formulated as

follows: Can “technology” be subsumed under the concept of

difference? Is its “function” to enact, produce and “store”

difference? Definitely, it is one of its “realities,” especially

for modern technologies. Rather than seeing *techne* as a means

of dealing with nature, machine or other humans, we might

suggest here that it is acting as a “spacing”, a mediator

between various groupings, so that they do not collapse into

impossible sameness. This suggestion might not appear obvious in

any particular technology, though it comes to the foreground

when we consider modern technologies’ reliance on

differentiation, diversity and non-determinability. The ones

that are based on the strongest desire to unify and normalize

are the ones that are most obsessed with difference, defined by

it and the desire to “domesticate,” assimilate or annihilate it.

ART AND TECHNE

It is not accidental that this topic is raised in a publication

that is devoted to art, together with science and technology.

Many of the contributors are artists, work with artists or write

on art. Frequently in the definitions of technology, its essence

and its origin, art becomes “one more” translation of *techne*,

the “artificial,” the “man-made.” Otherwise, their difference is

traditionally established through the notions of function and

purpose: technology is supposed to be “utilitarian,” purposeful,

while art is anti-utilitarian and use-less. While deconstructing

this opposition of art and technology, their difference, as well

as their relation needs to be addressed with a new radicality,

without collapsing one into another. Heidegger asserts that

“Because the essence of technology is nothing technological,

essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation

with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to

the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally

different from it. Such realm is art. But certainly only if

reflection on art, for its part, does not shut its eyes to the

constellation of truth after which we are *questioning* [3].”

Such questioning demands a simultaneous address of two

imperatives. On the one hand, we need to question the above

mentioned definition of technology as “the discourse describing

and explaining the evolution of specialized procedures and

techniques, arts and trades,” as far as art is concerned. On the

other hand, we need to ask what kind of art works might engender

such questioning, in its own turn. The difference between art

and technology, its understanding, is probably what lies at the

heart of our specific formulation of the question: technology

and (its?) difference. It is also a question on what “other”

human might be, or has been, invented by art.

Finally, by introducing “difference” back into “technology,” we

seek to revive feminist, deconstructivist, genealogical and postcolonial

gestures of ethical questioning, a fundamental return

to “ethics,” before, simultaneously and after technocentric,

anthropological, aesthetic, scientific or metaphysical

explorations. It is essential to raise this question of

interdependence of difference and technology, especially in the

light of a new optimism that problematically propagates modern

technology as a de-differentiating force: it supposedly builds

bridges, unites, globalizes (for better or for worse), brings us

closer to become the same, based on the “code” or some other

“common ground.”

This is the first of two issues exploring these themes. This

issue starts with two essays, followed by two project reports

and a “featured artists” section. in the First, Gunalan

Nadarajan explores the history and implications of our

conceptions of “plant difference” with reference to his work-inprogress,

*Moving Garden*. In the second essay, Faith Wilding

critically discusses new reproductive technologies, with

specific emphasis on stem cell research in relation to sexual

difference. Robert Bodle presents a project report on the online

activist media collectives in Los Angeles, followed by

Diana McCarty’s critical consideration of two Berlin-based

initiatives in open source software. The “Featured Artists”

section offers selected works by interdisciplinary artists Mendi

+ Keith Obadike: *The Interaction of Coloreds*, *Keeping Up

Appearances* and *Blackness for Sale*. The second of these two

issues will include essays by Eugene Thacker and Raqs Media

Collective and project reports by Radhika Gajjala and Seda

One can find both parts, along with illustrations, at the LEA

web-site: http://lea.mit.edu. In conclusion, I would like to

thank all the contributors and express my gratitude to the LEA

editors for their patience and editorial assistance.

 

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