Saturday, 20 November 2010

Techno-mysticism & death in space

Not sure if the "space archaeology" blog has kept abreast of the development of Promession (be surprised if it hadn't). I would expect though that the archaeological remit of that blog would not be particularly receptive to an analysis that could string together religion, mysticism, and technology. I'm not going to couch my discussion in terms of naturalist transmigration theory either. My sympathies are more with the theme of "haunted media" explored by various works of science fiction, which can be found by anyone who cares to perform even a cursory search on Japanese anime (or "J-Horror" for that matter) and "ghosts" (and then trace through the influence on the obvious example from Hollywood i.e. The Matrix).

But I'm not just talking about science fiction and/or Japan: I was happy to interview Steve Fuller about his latest book because it reminds us that [for many people] biology is intrinsically part of the Great Chain of Being- Fuller's characterisation of religiously inclined scientists is echoed by Toshiya Ueno's description of certain philosophers:

That is to say, God, for Feuerbach and other philosophers, was a

center or a nodal point of human relationships (or of a network). 
This is no exaggeration. Historically speaking, religions and mysticism 
have always functioned as informational networks and, indeed, have been media, 
itself. This is clear in the etymological argument that the word "medium" 
originally meant shaman. Of course, as you know, the shaman is always a mediator
 between God (or a transcendent being) and human (or an objectal being). The issues
 of religion, mysticism, fetishism, and so on necessarily bring us face to face 
with the problematics of the spectacle, the spectre, and the mediator. 
Sol Yurick, who is a novelist and critic, argues and analyses these problematics 
in his influential book _Metatron_. (I'm the translator of the Japanese edition of
 this book.) He writes: "Modern capitalism is a great factory for the production of
 angels....The Catholic Church is a communicating organism with an apparatus of
 switches and relays and a communicating language for the input of prayers through
 a churchly switchboard up to Heaven and outputs returned to the supplicant."

Permit me to briefly illustrate these problematiques with a few more sci-fi references. I was thinking of 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of this more expansive technological sense of a medium, when I happened across Gary Westfahl's Islands in the Sky: The Space Station Theme in Science Fiction. Chapter Five considers "Space Stations as Haunted Houses", which could be construed as a warning about the mysticism and fetishism associated with "the problematics of the spectacle" Ueno refers to. I can think of another example: Alien 3, at least in the unfilmed Vincent Ward version, offered another reminder in its portrayal of a religious community living on a space station, who are in turn decimated by the xenomorph's arrival. In that case, the irony had to do with how the ascetism of the monks prevented them from understanding the true nature of the peril they faced (in spite of how they are in effect living a highly technologically mediated existence-- a space station-- based on an illusion of simplicity; kind of like Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop). So, they too could have benefited from Ueno's paper, which advocates a "bio-morphism", to acknowledge how:

the situation in media (sub)culture, or in any social

terrain, always has been (or will be) "under construction". It is urgent
 that we find the symptoms of "under construction" for our situation, because
 for us,both techno-mysticism and media tribes can become medicine and poison
 at the same time (as pharmakon). It is a"gift" to  us that they will be able 
to become the basis for conservative ideology or critical thought. 

I imagine that more of these conversations will take place over time. Of course, it is too early yet to guess the full ramifications for new technologies such as Promession. We don't know whether it will ever become an ongoing concern. But if we are obliged to face up to it as part of what it means to be ecologically responsible, I'm hopeful this "gift" will remain permanently "under construction" in the manner Ueno recommends. Promession could clearly be used on an everyday basis here on Earth, so we shouldn't get too distracted about what it could mean for social relationships in the comparatively rarefied environment of space stations. Irrespective of the setting, any focus on the logistics of simple "waste" disposal can never hide "the inconvenient truth" of haunted media. One need only consider how spiritualism was a utopian response to the electronic powers presented by telegraphy and how radio, in the twentieth century, came to be regarded as a way of connecting to a more atomized vision of the afterlife. Jeffrey Sconce has discussed how the rise of postmodern media criticism is yet another occult fiction of electronic presence, a mythology that continues to dominate contemporary debates over television, cyberspace, virtual reality, and the Internet. It seems possible then that biotechnology will be added to this list in the 21st Century, with "life management" techniques such as Promession becoming central to debates about transcendence through transmission: a metaphysical preoccupation with the boundaries of space and time as the meaning of life and death continues to change. This picture will become more complicated should the technologies to facilitate transhumanism ever become more readily available. So these are some of the issues that will continue to haunt our technologically mediated life cycle long into the future.....

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