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Mark

The Outside That Makes Our Inside


in: 'THE CURE' by Komplot

Designed by: Überknackig
192p. Liquid effect iridescent foil stamp on Balacron Baladek Ismara Lilac soft cover, 72 BW and color illustrations


With Writers / Contributors: Bruce Bégout (Fr), Zoë Paul (Uk), Michelangelo Corsaro (It), Katerina Kana (Gr), Park C. Myers (Us), Laura Herman (Be), PieterVermeulen (Be), Audrey Cottin (Fr), Kasper Bosmans (Be), Marie-Fleur Lefèbvre (Fr), Marthe Ramm Fortun (No), Cléo Totti (Be), Felicia Atkinson (Fr), Julia Spínola (Es), Alex Reynolds (Uk), Erika Hock (Kg), Emmanuelle Quertain (Be), Anna Barham (Uk), Sofie van Loo (Be), Stefaan Willems (Be), Benjamin Jaubert (Fr)



In early September I relocated my life to a part of the world with dramatic seasonal changes. Now I have noticed that my hair and nails may be becoming brittle. Strolling through the aisles of the supermarket my gaze falls upon sprawling shelves with bottled pills, vitamins, and additive-enriched foods. I inspect a bottle label explaining, “Hair, skin and nails. Supports collagen synthesis. With vitamin C.” It is apparent now that my hair and nails are definitely brittle –a common flaw, I suppose. Now, for over six months, along with my seasonally enhanced brittleness and natural lack of collagen, softgels have become a daily reality, tenaciously supplementing my meals. While this may sound like a relatively insignificant example, I find myself swallowing pills all the time, hypochondriacally anticipating latent crises. My routine is symptomatic of how our health-obsessed society operates. No longer concerned with curing our ills, we find comfort and arousal in medicine, another dose, a magic potion. We are seduced by the promise of quick fixes, but not remedy, resolution, or lasting changes.

This course of events reminds me of how everyone is somehow implicated in the health industry, and how life is orchestrated by a distinct medical temporality—the new chronic. Eric Cazdyn, professor of Aesthetics and Politics, knows all about it. In his book The Already DeadCazdyn explains how contemporary medicine or Big Pharma manages the use of vitamins, drugs, and biotechnology, rather than curing health problems. Extending from the management culture of the fifties, the new chronic is a perpetual state of crisis management, where life and death are commoditised and prescribed. “The new chronic extends the present into the future,” Cazdyn writes, “burying in the process the force of the terminal, making it seem as if the present will never end.”[1]This chronic condition collates with the expansion of a situation of chronic crisis in the global economy, enduring war, and permanent surveillance. Even though death is always looming, and crises are always latently present, we live in an unresolved present. We get through the day and the pill marks that day—it happily keeps the time.

To be sure, a whole history of medical practice preceded the emergence of chronic time. Prescriptive medicine, for example, is no 21st century novelty. But it has gone through a qualitative transformation precipitating the commodification of life. In the context of biocapitalism a profound shift has occurred from the production of currency by means of commodities to the production of currency by means of the commodification of bios. No better example illustrates this than the case of Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old CEO of Turing pharmaceuticals, raising the price of a drug to treat HIV patients by 5,500% (from $13.30 to $750 per pill). Shr Kelly's effortless account: “The price per course of treatment to save your life was only $1,000 and we know these days, with modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more, rare-disease drugs can cost half a million dollars.” Soft Governance or the Power to Make Live and Let Die. Disciplinary power has migrated into our bodies, simultaneously excluding bodies, producing what Agamben has denominated bare life—life that remains bare as long it cannot be cashed in on. So, how do we discern the fine line between humanist discourses around curing, protecting, and augmenting the body, and the capitalist interest to appropriate and exploit human bodies? And how does the discourse of prosthetics and cure take into account “the variety of bodies and the social construction of abilities?” As Sarah S. Jain writes, “certain bodies—raced, aged, gendered, classed—are often already dubbed as not fully whole.”[2]

In their personal account on the pharmacopornographic subject, Paul B. Préciado notes that bodies whose survival cannot be capitalized as bioconsumers/producers are neither dead nor living—they are bodies excluded from the technobiopolitical hegemony. “Within the context of biocapitalism, an illness is the conclusion of a medical and pharmaceutical model,” Préciado writes, “the result of a technical and institutional medium that is capable of explaining it discursively, of realizing it and of treating it in a manner that is more or less operational.”[3]  In other words, it is not about the human affects so much as the infrastructural effects that produce them. It is about an economy centred on the management of bodies and identities. This economy turns subjects into objects of the political management of living through “the new dynamics of advanced techno-capitalism, global media, and biotechnologies.”

In the 1950s theorists and artists were already interested in the relationship between the human body, mass communication, and technology as prosthesis—the extension of the human nervous system into a generalized cybernetic system. The idea of “The Expandable Ikon”, for example—the attachment of technological limbs to the human figure—fascinated the American artist John McHale. In The Architectural Review, McHale published photograms and collages of robotic bodies and accelerated changes in the human condition.[4] But he was also interested in the ways hallucinogenic drugs could transform the nervous system. For McHale, this new artificial nature could lead to fundamentally new forms of cultural production and communication. Around the same time, the Scottish artist and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi blended popular culture with technology into magazine collages in which pin-ups were juxtaposed with new robotics and high-tech prostheses. Later Paolozzi made images of humanoid figures incorporating “the pop cultural idea of self-fabrication—the self-willed invention of a new identity—into figurative form.”[5]Today the tables have turned: technocratic regimes are feeding off our body functions, producing “subjectivities defined by the substance (or substances) that supply their metabolism, by the cybernetic prostheses and various types of pharmacopornographic desires that feed the subject’s actions and through which they turn into agents.”[6]

The ways in which technobodies and the new medical condition are reflected in cultural production today is quite different than in, let’s say, the robotic utopias of McHale and Paolozzi. Today’s aesthetics have become more fluid, less palpable. Not quite human. Remember when artist Pamela Rosenkranz, on the occasion of the latest Venice Biennial, filled the Swiss Pavilion with a pool of scented liquid matching a standardized European skin tone? The immersive installation—a fluid universe invading all of our senses—functioned as a metaphor for our scientifically constructed identity. The pink, viscous liquid evoked a sense of human flesh straddling the line between the natural and the synthetic. Incorporating materials such as biotin, neotenes, silicone, viagra, and bacterias, ‘Our Product’ (2015) reminded us of how we absorb synthetic molecules and chemicals into our bodies, reproducing our alleged natural constituents. “Technology is not neutral. We’re inside of what we make, and it's inside of us,” Donna Haraway writes in her acclaimed ‘A Cyborg manifesto’ (1985), “We're living in a world of connections - and it matters which ones get made and unmade."[7]For Haraway, the age of technoscientific governance engenders the possibility for cyborgs to emerge; bodies that collapse the divide between the organic and synthetic, female and male, animal and human, nature and culture. In the meantime, neuroscience is paving the way to a new stage in the cyborg condition. The futurist and Google engineer Ray Kurzweil recently predicted that humans will be cyborgs in 2030. By then, biomechanical engineering, mind-machine interface, neuroscience, and other health-care technologies will have enabled living tissue to directly connect to the cloud.

Passing through of these ideas and perspectives (in theory and in art) on how modes of control are no longer external but have become internalized, one burning question comes to mind. How can we resist the new chronic and the privatization of bodies by our health-obsessed technocracy, while being open to a cyborg condition? For Cazdyn the answer lies in managing our own symptoms, terminating our management routine, and retaining cure as a guiding principle (as a strategic and formal destination rather than an impossible content)[8], while Préciado circumvents the privatization of bodies by institutionalized medicine through guerrilla testosterone use. Préciado finds answers in alternative medical practices and modes of being that offer escape routes from oppressive, exploitive, and violent forms of corporeal governance. They write: “I’m not taking testosterone to change myself into a man, nor as a physical strategy of transsexualism; I take it to foil what society wanted to make of me, so that I can write, fuck, feel a form of pleasure that is post-pornographic, add a molecular prostheses to my low-tech transgendered identity composed of dildos, texts, and moving images; I do it to avenge your death.”[9]Perhaps to resurrect life means to distill it into unknown form, something unexpected and unwanted. As Haraway has noted, the outside makes our inside. For that reason, we need to conceive and apply tactics of resistance from within; re-design with our own bodies.


[1] Eric Cazdyn, The Already Dead. The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness, Duke University Press, 2012

[2]Jain, S., The Prosthetic Imagination: Enabling and Disabling the Prosthesis Trope, in Science Technology & Human Values, 1999, p.32.

[3] Paul Beatriz Préciado, Testo Junkie. Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, The Feminist Press at Cuny, 2013

[4]Idem.

[5] Eric M. Stryker, 'Parallel Systems: Lawrence Alloway and Eduardo Paolozzi', Tate Papers, no.16, Autumn 2011, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/16/parallel-systems-lawrence-alloway-and-eduardo-paolozzi, accessed 19 October 2015.

[6]Paul Beatriz Préciado, Testo Junkie. Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, The Feminist Press at Cuny, 2013

[7] Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto. Science, technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in: Simians, Cyborgs and Women: the Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, 1991, pp. 149-181.

[8] Eric Cazdyn, The Already Dead. The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness, Duke University Press, 2012.

[9]Paul Beatriz Préciado, Testo Junkie. Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, The Feminist Press at Cuny, 2013