More human than human

Image of Blade Runner DVD
The book and the film

Last night I watched Blade Runner for the first time in about 15 years, and I’ve recently read the book it’s based on – Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). There has been a lot of research into the posthuman, postmodern side of of Blade Runner and into the epistemological questions that emerge as a result of it. But, informed by informed by the first of our core readings – Miller’s ‘The Body and Information Technology’, but I wanted to focus on what Blade Runner tells us (or doesn’t tell us) about what it means to be human.this contains spoilers

Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, is set in a post-war, post-industrial city, decaying and toxic, inhabited by humans and replicants (bio-robotic androids). The replicants are incredibly sophisticated; it’s impossible to tell them apart on sight. And so we have this question of what makes humans human? What is it to be human? Rachel, the replicant with whom Deckard, the eponymous blade runner, falls in love, can’t tell herself whether she is human or android: this is seen as the victory of the project.

The Nexus-6 android types, Rick reflected, surpassed several classes of human specials in terms of intelligence.

The way that the hunters tell humans and androids apart is using the Voight-Kampff test, which assesses empathy:

Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida.

But within Blade Runner there’s even a question mark over whether this works. The test looks for physical signs of empathy – pupil dilation, etc., rather than feelings. It’s just performance, ultimately, one which technology is perfectly capable of recreating. It’s not necessarily anything to do with feeling. And replicants are seen to show emotion truer – on sight – than the alleged human Deckard: he is conspicuously emotionally distant while some of the replicants show emotion – Roy and Pris particularly.

Bertek links this ultimately inability to tell humans and replicants apart to Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. There’s been a reversal, Haraway says, and the technology is lively while the humans are inert (p. 194). This appears to be the case in Blade Runner – Kellner et al. provide several examples: Roy, the replicant, longs to be human, while Deckard increasingly sympathises with replicants; the replicant revolt is identified positively as a slave revolt.

So is Blade Runner posthumanist? Humans and machines are intricately connected in this post-industrial city, and there are few essential differences between them. For Lacey, it can’t ever be posthumanist because it’s mainstream cinema, and too connected to the bourgeoisie and consumerism and capitalism:

Science fiction remains the genre most able to deal with the posthuman, but whether it does so depends upon the institutional context in which films are produced (p. 198).

But it’s empathy which is foregrounded as the thing that make us human, solidarity with others to be at the core of humanity. After a day of marching in London with the Women’s March, this is ringing so true with me right now. I would be so interested to hear what the rest of you think.

Women's March, London
20th January 2017

References

Bertek, T. (2014). The Authenticity of the Replica: A Post-Human Reading of Blade Runner. [Sic] – a Journal of Literature, Culture and Literary Translation, (1.5). https://doi.org/10.15291/sic/1.5.lc.2
Brooker, W. (2012). The Blade runner experience: the legacy of a science fiction classic. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bruno, G. (1987). Ramble City: Postmodernism and ‘Blade Runner’. October, 41, 61. https://doi.org/10.2307/778330
Dick, Philip K. (1999). Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? London: Millennium.
Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women : the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge.
Kellner, D., Leibowitz, F., & Ryan, M. (1984). Blade Runner: A Diagnostic Critique. Jump Cut, 29, 6–8.
Kuhn, A. (Ed.). (1999). Alien zone II: the spaces of science-fiction cinema. London ; New York: Verso.
Lacey, N. (2012). ‘Postmodern Romance: the impossibility of decentring the self’, in The Blade Runner Experience, ed. by Miller, pp. 190-200. New York: Columbia University Press.
Miller, V. (Vincent A. (2011). Understanding digital culture. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.
Scott, R. (2007). Blade runner : the final cut. Warner Home Video.
Telotte, J. P. (2001). Science fiction film. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

 

Donna Haraway: the cyborg is our ontology

“The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality” – Donna Haraway, from ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 150.
from Tumblr http://ift.tt/2jVrd5n
via IFTTT

Including this as a reminder to myself to read A Cyborg Manifesto pronto… but also to consider cyborg ontology in relationship to gender, feminist thought, materiality, political action, and the historical and cultural situation of Haraway at time of writing.

Blade Runner 2049

Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.

A benefit or a hazard, says Deckard. One or the other. Not both, not neither. The binary nature of this didn’t hit me as fully at the beginning of the course, but now I see it – now I’m onto you, Blade Runner 2049. But it’s here, and it’s unmistakeable, the perfect microcosmic example of why the critical ideas surrounding digital cultures are so necessary… over-simplistic sci-fi and bad action films may never been the same again.

 

Four initial thoughts about lifestreaming

Wall-E
On a mission

(i) It is really hard (for me at least) to make the ‘lifestream’ parts of the blog (i.e. what is pulled in from IFTTT) look nice. I’ve experimented with a few different applications and judged them practically exclusively on their aesthetics. Tumblr looks nice when you have images with a bit of text. Evernote works well for text. So does Scannable when you’re using photos of things you’ve taken yourself. I wish I could find a Twitter recipe for auto-embedding tweets in WordPress, it’d look so much better.

(ii) I find myself needing to aggregate lots of different formats. Random things I find on the internet and want to store for later. Things that fly into and out of my head faster than I can find a pen that works, and which I sometimes manage to scribble down on whatever I can find: notebooks, post-its, the backs of envelopes. Useful videos I come across (normally accidentally) while watching interviews with the cast of the new Ghostbusters on YouTube. Lists of things I’ve read, want to read, intend to read but never will. Things other people send me, or share, and that I want to collect. It’s been fun to work out how best to aggregate all of these things.

(iii) There are a couple of things I use (Instagram, Facebook, etc.) which I want to keep strictly ‘personal’. It feels like I’m approaching this from an incoherent direction: I don’t want to have strict boundaries on the things I use ‘professionally’, but more that I don’t want academic, sensible things seeping into the streams of cat pictures on Instagram.

(iv) Automating things and thinking about workflow shows me how central Zotero is to everything that I do. I love Zotero; it is my favourite thing. But it’s been a nightmare to automate it – exporting the raw data is easy enough, but exporting it in a useful format hasn’t been straightforward at all.

Gears and cogs
Automate all the things!

What I’m reading

To read:

Bayne, S. (2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, 8(1), 5–13. http://ift.tt/2jia4pV

Ross, J. (2012). The spectacle and the placeholder: Digital futures for reflective practices in higher education. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 227–244). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/2jIwoFO

Tags:
January 14, 2017 at 12:08PM
Open in Evernote

What I’m reading

Pre-semester reading

Knox, J. (2015). Critical Education and Digital Cultures. In M. Peters (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (pp. 1–6). Springer Singapore. Retrieved from http://ift.tt/2jHCGtp

Tags:
January 13, 2017 at 08:43AM
Open in Evernote