Biocybernetic Reproduction

In order to understand the implications of biocybernetics reproduction in the “post human age,”  Mitchell revisits Walter Benjamin’s classic essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility”.  Positing the basis of his argument on inquiry, he poses the following pivotal questions: “what is biocybernetics reproduction? What us being done with it by way of critical and artistic practice, and what could be done?” (483).  Thereby,  Mitchell aims to not only to articulate this postmodern phenomenon, but he also considers the socioeconomic and technological consequences in its wake.   He boldly proposes “that biocybernetics reproduction has replaced Walter Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction as the fundamental technical determinant of our age” (486).  If modernity was shaped by the socioeconomic impact of mechanical reproducibility than, Mitchell argues, postmodernity has and will been defined by the rise of biocybernetics reproduction.

The term ‘biocybernetics’  translates literally from Greek as life (bio)/controlling-governing (cybernetics), or control over life.  Yet to avoid the pitfalls of such linguistic simplifications, it is better to define biocybernetics as the trajectory the field of genetic engineering has taken as a result of the synthesis of computer science and biology.  Based on the principle of systemic, the discipline stems from the application of theoretical biology to the terrain of cybernetics, which is closely tied to control and system theory.  This bio-technical amalgamation has bred digital imaging, global communicability, virtual worlds, the Internet, and the “industrialization of genetic engineering” (483).   Many of these technological innovations have without question improved the quality of human life, however his concerns lies in the absence of speculation and blurring of boundaries.

Apropos to this apprehension, Mitchell argues that there is an increasing dedifferentiation of the human and the machine.  A good case in point would be the frail distinction between a smart bomb and a suicide bomber in that the later reveals the reduction of a living being into a machine, whereas the former represents a machine that exhibits intellect.  He goes on to note, “that machines more than ever behave now like living things” (484).   In this respect, there is a shift in the site of what Walter Benjamin coins as the ‘aura’.  No longer does an image record an entity, but rather an entity is constructed from a blueprint.  This postmodern mechanism of reproduction destabilizes our notion of the aura in that an image is actually the precursor to its production, rather than the antithesis.  Thus, there is a reversal in the relationship between image and copy, DNA scroll and technological entity that essentially inverts Benjamin’s hypothesis of the aura.  In other words, unlike mechanical reproduction, biocybernetics manifests the aura in the copy rather than the original.  Through virtue of this discourse, one can contextualize the historical specificity of a smart bomb, which functions as a paradigm for this postmodern phenomena.

With this said, how can we than situate the suicide bomber in relation to the smart bomb, as both emerge as manifestations of biocybernetics technology?  Needless to say, it is difficult to reconcile the relationship between low-tech and high-tech in this ‘post-human’ age.   While a suicide bomber may seem archaic in some respects, the act itself responds faithfully to the biocybernetics paradigm. One of the most marking characteristics of the way biocybernetics reproduction metastasizes itself is through fear.  As Foucault brilliantly articulates in “The History of Sexuality,” death is the barrier of the soveriegn structure. Suicide bombers hijack control from the system in the violent act of voluntary suicide.  The threat tied to the absence of this fear translates as the greatest form of political dissidence.   How can we afford, with this said, to neglect the dangerous implications that have and will come in tandem to this emerging form of technology that is increasingly shaping the world we live in?


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