Robot: a Figure of the Future or Nostalgic Object?

I was kindly invited by Sergey Sokolovskiy to participate in the XII Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia which will take place in the city of Izhevsk, 3-6 July, 2017

Была любезно приглашена Сергеем Соколовским участвовать в 12-ом Конгрессе Антропологов и Этнологов России, который состоится в Ижевске 3-6 июля 2017 года. Он пригласил меня подать заявку на секцию, им организованную, которая называется “Технологии и телесность: новые концепции и методы исследования”.

Тема заявлена следующим образом:
“В докладах секции предполагается обсуждение таких междисциплинарных тем как телесность и техника в философско-аналитических и феноменологических подходах, влияние современных технологий на человеческую телесность (ко-эволюция техники и тела), инженерные усилия по созданию гибридных биосоциотехнических систем, киборгизация, развитие способностей и возможностей человека с помощью новых технологий (human enhancement), влияние на тело техносреды с ее протоколами и ограничениями (дисциплинирование тела и т.н. воплощение/embodiment), современные подходы в рамках STS к исследованию взаимодействия человеческих акторов и техники, новые технологии и сенсорная антропология, онлайн-телесность и др.”

Я только что дописала план своего выступления. Не знаю, получится ли у меня съездить в Ижевск нынче летом, но я хочу поддержать этот замечательный проект хотя бы текстом (я давно интересуюсь темой; на встрече Американской Антропологической Ассоциации в 2016 году мой доклад назывался “Археология робототехники: останки Советских роботов”). Я бы говорила приблизительно о следующем:

Робот: фигура будущего или ностальгический объект?

Археология роботического, если такая наука будет существовать, реконструет робота как объект, пронизывающий пространства и времена. Уже сегодня гуманоидные, человекоподобные роботы 60-х годов — ностальгические объекты. Роботы возникли “вчера”, у них есть история. Будут ли роботы с нами завтра? И если да, то в каких формах? Какие функции у них будут? Будут ли они человекоподобными? И что это значит: быть “подобными человеку”?

В работе “Манифест киборга: наука, технология и социалистический феминизм конца двадцатого века” (1984), философ технологии и антрополог Донна Харауэй предложила такое прочтение фигуры киборга, которое послужило развитию дискуссии вокруг вопросов: что такое человеческое и нечеловеческое, живое и мертвое, одушевленное и неодушевленное, и где между данными категориями пролегают неверные границы?

В эсхатологиях антропоцена, эти границы, пористые и проницаемые, мерцают и дышат. Границы нарушаются каждый день. Люди погружены в телефоны, которые создают аффект связанности всего мира и взаимовлияния вещей в нем — взаимовлияния, осуществляющегося при посредстве технологий. Одновременно, новые технологии отчуждают человека от ей подобных и от нее самой, от того, что может быть названо “реальным” опытом присутствия. Люди взаимодействуют с роботами — машинами, инструментами, технологиями — и в этих взаимодействиях, возможно, сами становятся киборгианскими сочленениями.

Роботы существовали с незапамятных времен — если не как сконструированные создания, то как создания воображенные. Они прошли через эпохи, меняя внешность, пол, функции: андрогинные, выраженно феминные, электронные гейши (иногда бестелесные, как Сири), и подчеркнуто маскулинные, подобно трансформерам с планеты Киботрон. Роботы населяют не только реальный мир, но и утопические видения, будь то захватывающие галлюцинации массовой культуры или пророческие мечты изобретателей. Как роботы меняют представления человечества о человеческом? Как человек изменяется в процессе конструирования роботов и со-трудничества с ними?

 

Bare Bones of Neoliberalism

What could be learned by “learning from Lagos” (Gandy, 2005) a megalomaniac city stretched as a “continuous urban corridor” (Davis, 2004, 73), “the biggest continuous footprint of urban poverty on earth” (Davis, 2004, 76)?

First, that things are not what they appear to a Western eye, which vision is predicated on linguistic ideologies of post-Enlightenment ethnocentrism, privileging “a single conception of the good” (Scott, 1999, 220): what appears to be an agglomeration of squalor, dirt, debris, detritus, rubble, garbage, and ruins, turns out to be “heaps of similar materials and colors. The actuality taking place was actually not a process of sorting, dismantling, reassembling, and potentially recycling” (Koolhaas, 2002, 117)—the reality which merits two “actual” in the sentence, in a tautology perhaps subconsciously reflecting on the surprising quality of such discovery. Hence the inadequacy of habitual Western tools of dealing with the new worlds, emerging cities and futures, which resist being captured and described in categories and notions of “traditional” architecture as well as social thought. And therefore, there is a need of new lexical inasmuch as socio-political apparatus of cognition in order to dealing with the alternative reality of what Davis calls “urban poverty ‘Big Bang’” (Davis, 2004, 77). I am sympathetic with this claim, but I am unsure how we can say that our tools of thought are not applicable if for saying so we use these exact tools of thought—linguistically, politically, socially, culturally, and otherwise.

The practical approach to postcoloniality requires a new language, a new subject grappling with the legacy of the colonial, imperial world saturated with metropolia-periphery and colonizer-colonized dichotomies. New kind of figures emerge in the process of “self-fashioning,” to use Scott’s impression. It is not a Benjaminian flâneur who takes precedence over political imagination of bourgeoisie expurning out of its stratum a city dweller, but Fanonian ruud bwai (rude boy), as David Scott offers (Scott, 1999, 195)—young, black, impoverished, angry, armed with hand-made or illegally acquired armor. Ruud bwai is the masculine figure whose body, by very virtue of its untamed existence, becomes a site of violent struggle with the colonial implications in the process of confrontation of the new kind of selves: colonial versus post-colonial subject, rather than colonized versus colonizing subject. A native of the urbanity for the conversation of whom the current language and mindset of social science is dramatically lacking in precision, the inhabitant of the new loci of “collective dwellings” (to use Benjaminian expression for the lack of a better term), such as dancehall, in a seeming disorder of movement, rhythm, gesture, and movement, which, again, might turn out to be just a new type of order, a clandestine order of things.

The rapid post-industrial urbanization that the Third World lives through, was once a utopian project of Soviet empire. After the construction of Bratsk dam in Eastern Siberia in 1961, for the clearing of territories for the Bratsk reservoir (currently the second-largest people-created water reservoir on the planet), in the Bratsk district alone sixty-three settlements were consolidated into six towns (Chepel, 2014), as the state plans of consolidation were moving inhabitants of the villages into newly built urban-type settlements of what might be called “nascent urbanity,” the prospective cities of the future. Half a century later, with the dismantling of the Soviet project, these prospective cities represent the zones of abandonment. Not only the economic dream of prosperity was not fulfilled, but the transformation of environment in the absence of infrastructure led to revelation of the bare bones of Russian neoantiliberalism in a very literal sense. The level of water in the Bratsk reservoir have been lowering down for the last three years for reasons not altogether known. Aside from barren shore, of rock and stone, appearing from under the water, old cemeteries were being exposed, graves burst open. In a number of rural places, during the summer of 2016 one could see bucolic and Apocalyptic landscapes: children playing with skulls and bones on the shore of the retreating river.

Thus “rural-urban continuum” (Davis, 2004, 73) undergoing a social and ecological transformation, unfolds as a theater of a spectacularly uneven distribution of power, income, and rights. Which in different sense (that connected to a massive outburst of population and to a slow dwindling down of a community, respectively) is likewise apparent in slums of Lagos and streets of a Siberian village.

 

References

Davis, Mike. Planets of Slums. New Left Review, 26 March-April 2004.

Gandi, Mathew. Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33 May-June, 2005

Chepel, M. Preparing the Bed of Bratsk Hydro Power Plant Reservoir for Water-Flooding of a First Stage (1956 – 1961). Thesis. Bratsk, 2014.

Koolhas, Rem. “Fragments of a Lecture on Lagos” in Under Siege Four African Cities, 2002.

Scott, David. Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality, 1999.

Robotic Producers

In the Soviet modernity, not only mechanisms should have been exploited beyond their limits, not only workers were expected and were trying to surpass themselves in effectiveness of their labor, but living beings, cared and mediated by humans, were also enhancing beyond belief the hidden capacities of their bodies.

The instruments of the rising biopower were eugenics, active human-led environmental change, and husbandry loaded with the ideological demand of demonstrating the superiority of the Socialist governmentality.

When Foucault described what he called “anatomo-politics of the human bodies,” which presupposed “the body as a machine,” processed through different stages of disciplining and optimization (Foucault, 1978, 139), he did not mention that the bodies going through all the stages of the cycle which had to make them more efficient and more docile, were not only human. The non-human body was also a cog of the state gear wheel.

Marshalled by the regimes of biopower, pigs were becoming reproduction machines, cows—biorobots, chickens—egg conveyers, rats—laboratory instruments, sheep—fur-generating automatons, and dogs—alive mechanisms of cosmic exploration. Cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, geese, and all the breathing beings had to be useful, give what was demanded of them, and reproduce themselves; they were counted, weighed, measured, compared, exhibited; their products calculated, scaled, pasteurized, and distributed; their offsprings enumerated, examined, and their further trajectories decided.

The ubiquity and wide implementation of the process was like a mass madness, a lunacy of daydreaming caught in a swarm of hectic, frenetic activity giving no rest nor respite to humans and nonhumans alike. Seven-year-plans of developing of the Soviet economics were finished in five years, and five-year-plans in three years. The central and regional newspapers were dappled with “949 liters of milk for each cow in four months received milkmaid Nosova”; “milkmaid Melentyeva is taking an obligation to milk 2900 liters per cow” in a year; animals almost took Socialistic obligations as well: at least a sheep of the Ust Uda region in one kolkhoz was planned to produce 2,6 kg of fur a year; one hundred ewes were expected to bring one hundred five lambs a year; one sow bred 12 piglets; plants did not hang behind either: one hectare was supposed to produce 12,5 centners of crops, and so on (examples are from “Angarskaya Pravda” #42 (2093), 1960).

All across the Soviet Union individual milkmaids, steelmakers, coalminers, conveyer operators, and well as collective farms and enterprises, were taking on “raised obligations” (povishennie obyazatelstva) to produce, manufacture, assemble, make, complete, and accomplish. Every new achievement, were it a number of tons of steel or eggs per chicken, was soon surpassed, record broken, and it seemed that there will be no ending to enlarged capacities of the body, plant, machine, and metal.

Milkmaids were not just milking and taking care of cows, but “created milk rivers,” transforming the trope of fairy tales into the Soviet reality. Delicate corn was all of a sudden growing in Siberian taiga, Northern tundra, and Central Asia semisavanna for that sole reason that such was the wise decision of the Party. Michurin’s amazing apples not only were about to bloom in the regions which were historically too cold or too dry for them previously, but it was only a matter of time, and of several decades at that, until said apples would adorn the Mars’s rusty surface with the carpets of their shed petals and then fruits.

In such context, it was only too reasonable that prairies were transubstantiated into arable land and rivers had to be turned around and rush towards their streambeds, irrigating deserts. In 1947, the project of the near-Pole Salekhard-Igarka railway, which had to be built in permafrost, began emerging as a parallel to Baikal-Amur Mainline; the construction of Salekhard-Igarka was necessary not only in order to develop communications in the scarcely populated region, but also to shield the country from the enemies’ backstabbing blow which they could deliver any moment from the unprotected lands of the Arctic. People who were working on the railroad, imprisoned and converted into forced labor, were thrown into naked, barren landscapes, and expected to protect themselves by extracting out of thin air the shelters and sustenance, much as they were expected at other sites of the “constructions of the century.”

“Breathers” became robotic producers of goods and themselves; when the body is a machine, its frailty is but an annoying obstacle, and the stock of such bodies is practically inexhaustible, but recreatable, refillable, and restorable. Those had to be bodies brimming with enthusiasm, euphoric exaltation of living and participation in a great project of building the Sovietopia: the model of the future for the whole world.

A State of Belonging

An increasingly significant part of daily interactions is happening through people’s electronic, social bodies: on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, etc. It has long been noted that a persona one creates in writing is inevitably different from a “real person,” whatever this last creature should mean. The persona is a superimposition because of the nature of reflection, since estrangement embedded in writing and taking as well as posting pictures: once you completed a step, you are no longer the one who is stepping, and, by this very fact, perhaps never were. Nevertheless, social body which functions on the web is important and is a part of one’s social body outside of the web. A sense of belonging to the network is a sense of modern citizenship. In the twenty first century, the state would punish disobedient by excluding from social networks and throwing the perpetrator offline, thus virtually cutting her off her environment and, simultaneously, the very possibility of committing a misdeed.

An increasingly significant part of the individuality is involved online and expressed online, too. Sontag wrote that photography allows the photographer to demonstrate certain sensibilities. Now simple mechanisms of reblogging/sharing on Facebook/retweeting, in Twitter parlance, afford the same possibility of demonstrating, claiming and building one’s sensibilities through and by means of content one is concurrently consuming and reproducing. Self is lost and found in the overabundant multiplicity of channeled distractions.