Caught in the Net: From Limb-Machine to Cyborg

Essay by Gerburg Treusch-Dieter for "TechnoMorphica," 1997.

Caught in the Net: From Limb-Machine to Cyborg

TechnoMorphica 1997

Since May 1996 inedible biology is being slaughtered. Each month 60.000 head of cattle, with the target set at 11 million, are lining up to be incinerated. Any comparison with the annihilation that took place in concentration camps falls short, because there 6 million people were disposed of by means of gas and ovens. If however we look at how this destruction takes place, how the industrial killing is executed, then the method employed in both cases is the same. Just as nothing remained of the body there, so here it also disappears completely. And likewise in the Transplantation Bill, that was discussed in the German parliament in October 1996 and that aims at increasing the "removal frequency" of fresh organs, the corpse is no longer mentioned.

The culling of cattle is legitimized by referring to a "race-bound contagious disease on a biological basis," the same argument that was used to exterminate prisoners in concentration camps, whereas the legal obligation to give up organs seems to be legitimized by the opposite argument: by the clearance of a body free of contagious disease. The organs, soon to be circulated faster and more frequent, will guarantee this in a molecular-biological sense, although their "just distribution" as addressed by this legislation, proves that the body itself has by now become contagious. It can be disposed of by gutting it, provided it is sanguineous. This sanguineous corpse is essential within the modern subject-object relation. It was Descartes who separated the cogito of the head from the corpse, this limb-machine of the body. For almost 400 years now it has been argued that dismembering this limb-machine cannot harm the unity of the cogito because this always remains the indivisible res cogitans, however divided the res extensa of the limb-machine as a corpse may be. Nowadays this corpse can be calculated as a DNA string of ten billion kilometers, that, when stretched out, is "longer than the distance between the sun and the remotest planet of our solar system," a metaphor employed by any textbook presenting genetic code as a miracle. In view of the fact that all miracles are "not of this earth," the earth is no more a quantity in this calculation than the body itself, the complete DNA volume of which can be stored in a matchbox. This cannot be said of the ashes of a corpse, which indicates the excessive ballast each subject carries along as its object. This object is defined as feminine, which is not only apparent from this ballast but also from the fact that in modern subject construction it takes the place of matter as the res extensa. Mind is to matter what masculine is to feminine, although within this subject construction it has surrendered its transcendence in favor of a transcendental cogito that conceives itself both as the origin of consciousness and as an unconscious thing. Among other things, this implies that the feminine is the unconscious part of the masculine whilst the masculine defines the consciousness of women if they want to be more than a corpse.

Marion P., in the so-called "Erlangen case," did not succeed in this. After a traffic accident she was not pronounced dead, but brain dead. And pregnant as well, which she turned out to be as preparations were made to remove her organs while she was still "alive." However, because the Mind of cogito (in the guise of medical science) applied itself to the Matter of her res extensa, the pregnancy could be continued as "life within a dead body" until the child died. The living body in this case was still used, organ by organ, as donor. This relation between pregnancy and corpse has as its consequence that within modern subject construction pregnancy can function without a brain. Firstly, because it is a matter of the object. Secondly, because it is this very circumstance that carries the possibility of placing pregnancy outside of the corpse of this object.


The destruction of the body aimed at the disappearance of the corpse therefore coincides with life originating outside of the female body, for which a test tube suffices by now. This in itself is a reference to the matchbox capable of gene-technologically containing the ten billion cells (each with a billion base pairs) constituting human life, if only reproduction technology would be capable of dispensing with the ballast involving birth. But until now, life conceived in vitro still has to be continued in vivo: embryos still have to be transferred back from the test tube into the female body as carrier. Unless they are cryogenically conserved, which leads to an ultimate consequence: that of body destruction coinciding with non-existing bodies. Embryos, after all, are bodies that, unlike "disappeared corpses," have not yet materialized. And because just like born bodies, unborn bodies have an expiration date, by the end of July 1996 in England 3300 cryogenically conserved embryos were disposed of after 75 months. The associated "900 couples had no longer been in touch with the clinics in question." As subjects they had forgotten the objects of their object. Their once indivisible res cogitans had nothing to do anymore with the divisibility of their res extensa. Legally speaking the res extensa of these embryos awaited storage as toxic waste, which was termed as genocide by humanists. Italy, leader in reproduction technology, offered these embryos asylum in women as vessels; just as India, leader in reincarnation, was willing to accept BSE cattle. Whether cattle are granted asylum or women act as places for asylum, we are still dealing with a body that died and was reincarnated in a cow, or that originated in a test tube and was born in vivo through a woman. Embryos that aren't given asylum however remain unborn and undeceased. But put on ice, they can be destroyed as non-existing bodies with the added advantage that no ballast adheres to them: thawing suffices.

However, as the disappearance of the corpse coincides with the origination of life outside the female body, the relation existing between extra-corporeal procreation and extra-corporeal organ transplantation becomes clear. Because now that embryos are available in test tubes, the vessel of the female body, burdening all individuals with the ballast of birth and death, can be remaindered. The res extensa of this body breaks up in favor of a res cogitans that no longer informs about a transcendent or transcendental code, but about a genetic code. It permeates the materiality of this body with its immateriality, as if the matchbox itself ? not the DNA volume of this materiality ? has gone up in flames. At once this body removes itself ten billion kilometers from itself, as if it already floats weightlessly in the solar system. At the same time its gravity keeps it attached to this DNA string, insofar as it spirals around the chromosomes and is not stretched out to planetary proportions.


In favor of weightlessness and against its weight, the chromosomic envelopment of this body is unwound by extra-corporeal procreation and organ transplantation, as it rises from the earth immaterially as if already freed from the materiality of its "genetic burden." Just like weightlessness and weight can be applied to the cogito of the subject as well as to the corpse of the object, in the same way death is redefined nowadays to mark a definite border for the body that here on earth has been relegated to the status of a contagious disease.

In Germany, this border is being enforced with the Transplantation Bill. It is defined as "death of the brain" and means only that the body, although its heart and respiratory functions are still intact, on the intersection of res cogitans and res extensa, is being demoted in favor of an increasing "removal frequency" of fresh organs. On the other hand this border or limit denotes an unlimitedness. It refers to planetary dimensions of immateriality of the body which, based upon the dividing line between cogito and corpse, conceives itself as the brain itself. Brain death thus includes two forms of life: that of the brain and that of the body. In the definition of brain death, death has been simultaneously established and cancelled. Established with regard to the corpse, driven by the heart and respiratory functions, whose animal/machine body is available for explantation. Cancelled with regard to a cogito, whose brain life strives towards the higher cognitive functions of a cyborg by means of implanted micro systems. But whether biological life is pronounced dead from the brain, or whether molecular-biological life originates from the brain, "brain dead" is always a definition that fixates death by killing, while at the same time this definition cannot be fixated itself. That definition determines at which point the biological res extensa has expired and at which point the biological-molecular Mind of the res cogitans, with its electrical and information flows of a self-informing DNA, is switched on.

In this way the brain death brings about what neither the transcendence of the Mind nor the transcendental cogito were capable of when they subjugated the Matter of the res extensa through their grasp and grip. Their subject remained tied to its object, where the brain death rejects this object by referring to "personality." Its brain life legitimizes brain death and the killing implied therein, as it already consents to this voluntarily while alive. Everything seems to point to the subjugation of the subject being ended by jettisoning the ballast of its object, without realizing the intersection which separates the head from the body and the subject from the object. Without object however, it can no longer define itself as subject. This is in agreement with the fact that its identity has been genetically defined as "personality" and that its brain life is increasingly left to brain research to deal with. The heart and respiratory functions of the animal/machine body is being replaced with the electrical and information flows of a self-informing code, interconnecting in a new way the parts of this "personality" through brain research that in turn can rely on the exteriorized brain of the computer and its substitution and optimization of neurological functions. Although brain research does not answer the question whether the consciousness of the "personality" can be reduced to the brain, but in as far as this research is based on a subject that can no longer define itself as such, brain research itself will become "subject" on the condition that the DNA-segments of the brain are already fully patented by now.


The taboo that until now rested on the sexuality of the animal/machine body, will probably be transferred to the brain. The metaphor of the brain as the largest sex organ has already paved the way, in case cyber sex is dominated by the cyborg, who no longer regulates "the use of lust" but the "use of thought." Goggles and data gloves point to a ban on knowledge and touch, that although it operates via a net connection under the slogan "anything goes," we pay for by being no longer able to deliver the "I think, therefore I am" proof of existence, when "only the person with a Net connection exists." Alzheimer, the disease of forgetting that annihilates any symbolism as the brain crystallizes: Mad Cow disease, the Creutzfeld-Jakob syndrome, that in humans begins with a numbing of the body and uncontrollable rage, or with aggression interrupted by depression as if the body revolts one final time before succumbing to the twilight of a brain that turns into a sponge: Alzheimer and Creutzfeld-Jakob, brain stiffening and brain softening, are indications of new fears connected with the reduction of the "personality" to its brain, without this personality being able to prove its existence to itself by means of reason.

These new fears are different from the old fears for a sexuality leading to madness because this madness resided within the object of the subject, while it now coincides with its objectless brain. This objectlessness is being replaced with the Net, an object that functions as an exteriorized brain. Its electrical and data flows already connect over nine million computers world-wide, letting over 30 million people access an InterNetional, that propagates the "human right to information." As if the continuous exchange through electrical and data flows has to prove the immateriality of brain life in front of the monitor, as opposed to the existential materiality of feelings of hunger and lower back pain.

Bodiless the user clicks his way through a "world of ghosts," reminiscent of the embryos produced in vitro, without identity or name, both unborn and undeceased. With reference to these "ghosts" whose bodies are not yet or no longer there, we already have the "primeval inhabitants" of the Net who, entangled in links, cables and wires, seem to have no connection whatsoever. Their umbilical cords tied off, they cast their data rods in the ethereal quintessence of a celestial ocean, their navigational goal "to hook up their brains directly to the computer," whose DNA molecules program the "genetic code of cyberspace." In the polycentral net of the wired world this leaves a digital trace that is not lost, not in spite of but thanks to the surfing on the waves of the celestial ocean. In the ethereal quintessence of this ocean, immaterial data shapes can be discerned with increasing transparency. As they become more precise, these shapes become ever more indispensable for the trans-, ex- or implantation or gene, embryo or whatever transfer. These data shapes could evolve into a safety net of electrified wires that will seriously address the impossibility of a proof of existence on the Net, without culling, gassing, incinerating or gutting. Because within the Net any interruption is re-routed and treated as a different way of functioning. For no other reason than this redundancy (within the Net, all interruptions resolve themselves internally) the Net was created by the Pentagon. The more Net and nettiquette are intertwined, the more certain it is that the nooses of this "world wide web" can be tightened and that its electrified wires will continue to be used to destroy the materiality of the body.

© 1997 Gerburg Treusch-Dieter / V2_

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