On the occasion of his 100th birthday, Ernst Junger briefly commented on the century in which he has lived. Concerning the year of his birth, 1895, Junger recalled the Dreyfus affair in France and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which “finally made the invisible visible and made possible new measurements of the organic and the inorganic world.” 1 This is where we today exist: on the line between the two domains, the organic and its other, as the ontological lines that demarcate values shift into new and unpredictable alignments.
Ours is the time of cybernetics, when machines wait on the threshold of thought and human beings are treated as components of the machine-world which can be cast aside when they are no longer needed. In such a period, what of ethics? Can there be an ear that listens to the call of conscience if the ear is severed from a body, itself artificial, and the system of the automaton governs the possibility of the knowledge of the invisible world, the distinction between the right and the wrong, and the image of what it means to be a human being?
The appearance of the automaton, in its many guises, brings with it a swarm of humming questions that concern, among other things:
- the nature of the lines between the animate and the inanimate (the living and the dead)
- the line that distinguishes the real from the unreal, the genuine from the artificial
- the meaning, in the Xerox Age, of production, reproduction, presentation and re-presentation, ie the entire range of the history of mimesis
- and, finally, the automaton brings with it the question of time and the forgetfulness of time; its entrance en-trances both adults and children, like the hypnotic effect of staying too long in a video arcade. This is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of the technological to think.
Junger’s 1957 novel, The Glass Bees, addresses all of these questions, although to different degrees. In the novel we find ourselves listening to the threatening hum of mechanical bees and looking at dozens of severed ears that float in a pond on the estate–a walled-in “restored” Cistercian monastery within the walls of a manufacturing and design center–of Giacomo Zapparoni, the founding director of a multinational company that specializes in the cyberneticizing of film, business, and the military. Captain Richard, a down and out ex-cavalryman, is seeking a job from Zapparoni, and, in the process of narrating the scene of the interview, he gives us a history of his own past and his struggle to understand the intellectual and ethical implications of his encounter with the automated bees, the cut-off ears, and Zapparoni himself (if it is Zapparoni himself or if there is in fact a distinguishable “real” entity behind the figure and the works, what we might call a global media-event of production, that go by the name “Zapparoni”).
If Zapparoni’s ultimate goals are, as Richard muses, to “make dead matter think,” to “forget time in a dreamlike trance,” and to create the “philosopher’s stone” by making robots that create other robots (7-8), then he is working to realize the most primitive human fantasy of bringing the dead–as the inanimate or the once-animate–to life by the machinations of the “highest” of the technologies of duplication. Such an achievement would indeed be a mysterium coniunctionis, joining the ancient and the most new, the animate and the inanimate, the human and the mechanical into a new order of creation that completely rearranges any previous classification of the categories of being, the most fundamental of which is that between life and death. Zapparoni is imagined, then, as a kind of techno-magus, a shaman of the cybernetic world.
At the center of this novel–for both the narrator and the reader– is the question of the meaning of the ear, or more literally ears, ears that have been severed from a body that itself may be human or may be artificial, if such distinctions still abide once we enter the Zapparoni Works. The ears pose one of the quintessential questions of postmodernity: what is the “genuine” or the “real” in a period dominated by simulacra? Is it still necessary, for example, to recognize the real before we can begin to discuss the artificial, more specifically the implications of the “prosthetic gods” that Freud intimated we have become or the inventive and profit-generating artificiality of all that goes under the name of Zapparoni?
Does the real–which, provisionally and with recognition of the complications such terms imply, we can call the given or the natural–any longer have any ethical or ontological priority, or have we now stepped irrevocably over that enigmatic line that marked a grid of perception and value in which such terms had meaning? In which human beings, however defined, existed in a region of being distinct from, although connected with, the animal and the thing. If we have made such a move, what are the implications of that step-across?
The first question concerns the line between the animate and the inanimate. In the novel the line has been already crossed over (although not yet obliterated). Zapparoni, believing nature itself to be incomplete, wants to transcend and perfect nature. This is, of course, a motif of romanticism, but now it is technology, and not the transcendent imagination that strives to accomplish the goal of the improvement of the natural. The Zapparoni Works manufactures robots that gave the impression of “intelligent ants, distinct units working as mechanisms, that is, not at all in a purely chemical or organic fashion” (6). His first creations were tiny turtles called “selectors,” which could “eliminate counterfeits” (7). One of his basic ambitions is to create self-duplicating entities, a characteristic which has traditionally been associated with “life.”
A second aspect of this enigma is the link between robotics, the question of the authentic, and the “counterfeit.” The issue of the counterfeit–how to distinguish the real from the unreal, the true from the apparently true–hinges on concepts such as repetition, identity, copying, difference, and self-multiplication, categories initially closely bound up with a Platonic interpretation of eidos and appearance, but now utterly transformed by a technological process in which, as Richard says, “matter thinks,” a principle previously “operative only in dreams” (29). Junger, then, is exploring a dream-logic that has become concretized in daily life by the conjunction of business and science (and whether something like a cultural psychoanalysis can interpret the dream-logic of technology is, of course, very much open to discussion).
This “matter that thinks” is not any longer a kind of materialist- empiricist claim for the biological basis of the human mind, but rather for the inorganic basis of a new form of mind: the robotic, cybernetic mind, which although originating out of human ingenuity is also simultaneously a sign of the destruction of the subject defined by any of the ontologies represented by bios, the imago dei, the Platonic soma that entraps the soul of thinking, as Aristotle’s rational animal, Descartes’s res cogitans, Kant’s transcendental apperception without which appearances would be “merely a blind play of representations, less even than a dream” (CPR 139), and Hegel’s absolute knowing of the absolute subject. As Heidegger has argued concerning the fate of metaphysics: “Philosophy is ending in the present age. It has found its place in the scientific attitude of socially active humanity. But the fundamental characteristic of this scientific attitude is its cybernetic, that is, technological character” (EP 376). Cybernetics is the science that produces and manipulates information, making the Zapparoni Works, and its many contemporary analogues, possible, thus rendering outmoded older systems of transmission such as the eroticism of the biological.
The dream of making self-reproducing machines is, as Richard notes, the “philosopher’s stone,” an observation that connects the newest science with the ancient hermetic sciences. Although Richard assumes that this is a kind of pleasure reading along the false paths in the history of science, Zapparoni’s personal library contains “early technical treatises, books on the cabala, Rosicrucianism, and alchemy” (41). Later in the novel, Richard notes that:
The idea of plays acted by automatons was, of course, an old story; such plays had often been tried in the history of the cinema. But formerly there had never been any doubt about the automaton-character of the figures, and for that reason the experiments had been limited to the field of fairy tales and grotesqueries. Zapparoni’s ambition, however, was to re-create the automaton in the old sense, the automaton of Albertus Magnus or of Regiomontanus; he wanted to create artificial people, life-sized figures which looked exactly like human beings…was the first performance not only of a new play but of a new genre…[T]hese figures did not simply imitate the human form but carried it beyond its possibilities and dimensions…(100) 2
With the Zapparoni Works, the human form has been superseded and such a move breaks open–in an enormously violent, if almost unnoticeable, rending–an entirely new range of possibilities, one of which is the total oblivion of humankind, whether as literal destruction or a kind of forgetting of Being that renders us nothing-but part of the machine, as Marx was already arguing more than a hundred years ago and whose consequences Heidegger attempted to think with his work on the Gestell. The logic of such a move is not through imitation of the human form, much less an ideal Platonic form, but through a materialist logic of technical production and the perfection of nature along certain of its axes.
Zapparoni as Automaton
Shortly after meeting Zapparoni, Richard recalls the rumors suggesting that Zapparoni himself “did not exist at all but was perhaps the most cunning invention of the Zapparoni Works” (32). The Plant, the place of the production of duplicates, has produced the man rather than the other way around (much the same way that we speak of artistic works “producing” authors). “Zapparoni,” in this context, would only be an effect of the means of production; “he” would be a brand-name and not a personal name, a logo and not part of the logos that brings being, death, and the question of ethics.
It is certain, however, that Zapparoni is a media-event whose image is transmitted throughout the world through a “system of indirect reportage” developed by his public relations team that “stimulated but never quite satisfied curiosity.” The people, as fans, want to know more, always more. Such a media-star, ensconced in the heavens, is “suspected of being everywhere–he seems to multiply himself miraculously. A person so powerful that one does not even dare speak of him becomes almost omnipresent, since he dominates our inner life. We imagine that he overhears our conversation and that his eyes rest on us in our closest and most private moments” (33, my emphasis). Through the technology of the media, Zapparoni approaches the status of a god, present everywhere, including within the inmost thoughts of his admirers. Watched with adoration, Zapparoni becomes the watcher. 3
Richard, impressed by the charismatic bearing of Zapparoni, concludes that he was not an “impersonator” (61), but soon thereafter comments that his eyes “were extremely powerful…The impression was slightly artificial, as if it resulted from some delicate operation…This was not the blue of the sky, not the blue of the sea, nor the blue of precious stones–it was a synthetic blue, fabricated in remote places by a master artist who wished to excel nature…His look cut like a blade of flexible steel” (63). Artificial, operation, synthetic, surpassing nature, and cutting like steel: such is the language, perhaps only indicative of Richard’s hyperbolic imagination, used of his first encounter with Zapparoni’s gaze.
The man himself, however, is nothing like the grandfatherly image projected around the world, so Richard concludes that:
Zapparoni must certainly have had a deputy to play this role, perhaps an actor, perhaps a robot. [What’s the difference?] It was even possible that he employed several such shadows or projections. This is one of mankind’s ancient dreams, and has given rise to special turns of phase: `I cannot be in four places at once,’ for instance. Evidently Zapparoni not only believed it to be possible, but considered the divisions a profitable extension and intensification of his personality. Now that we are able to enter apparatuses and leave part of ourself within them–for instance, our voice and our image– we enjoy certain advantages of the antique slave system without its drawbacks (64).
Richard, a technical-military man with a respect for tradition, here articulates several important aspects of the logic of technology.
It speaks to the “ancient dream” of a self-division that is simultaneously a self-multiplication. Division, in this register of the imaginary, is not a lessening of the whole–a formulaic proposition re-stated when we find the ears floating in the pond as well as with the question of amputation/prosthesis–but an increase, an “extension.” This holographic imagination, in which the whole is projected into innumerable parts without losing itself, is a very old form of imagination that can be traced back through the Renaissance micro/macro-cosmos (including its alchemical variants) to the Stoics’ logos spermatikos, and all the other perspectives based in the idea of the continuities of natural law (whether of ethics or epistemology) in which the whole is reflected in every part. Holographicity in its traditional sense is a form of animism, enlivened by a divine spirit that binds the manifold into a cosmos intelligible to Dasein with its body, moods, and understanding.
Holon is Greek for “whole,” a term with a richly permutated history. The most salient point for our present purposes is that, as F.H. Peters explains, for Aristotle the “eidos of living beings and the unitive cause of all their functions is the psyche“. In this fashion parts (mere) are transformed, by the notion of function, into organs (organa). An organ is the part of a living creature that is directed toward an end or purpose that is an activity; nature (physis), the internal principle of growth in these beings has made the organs to perform certain functions, and a body so constituted is an organism. The organon, then is the physical part of a living being matched to each of the latter’s potencies to enable them to function” (86). Since the nature of nature and of ends, the final causes toward which the individual parts move to create a whole, has now radically shifted, this entire network of meanings has been disrupted by the development of the technology of duplication.
The Zapparonian form of holo-graphy, governed by a different technical-economic matrix than classical Greece, is radically different than the traditionalist writing of the whole. If in Aristotle “parts” are transformed within living beings into “organs,” each of which has its own teleological function that working together make for an “organism,” then the Zapparoni Works dismantles that constellation of understanding and what were once organs are fabricated into parts: uniform, mass-produced, replaceable. Function alone remains, and comes to dominate all ideas of eidos, psyche, or organism, replacing these with its own telos of profit and power. Physis, nature’s self-blossoming, is re-placed by techne, the production processes of cyberneticized human-systems that will correct nature’s flaws and produce, in the end, create a substitutive second nature.
Not only can synthetic parts be manufactured to replace the fallible and finite body produced by nature, but the natural organs–voice and image, for example–can be detached from the holistic organism and be scanned, stored, reproduced, and sold, all apart from the will, or even knowledge, of the putative original. The separable materiality of the “I”–traditionally a synecdoche that figures the whole of an original, irreplaceable subjectivity–can, through the labor of the Zapparoni Works, be redesigned, scissioned, and multiplied as often as desired. And this desire, of course, is governed by a production system different than either psyche or physis, and from an exteriority quite indifferent to the living-dying subject to whom voice, image, and body once belonged.
To what extent the artificial has replaced the natural in the figure of Zapparoni is not precisely knowable, but the principles are being established that will allow for a completely artificial intelligence to stand in for what nature, with the supplement of culture, had taken millennia to produce. In any case, although the question is tabled, Richard is never quite sure about the ontological status of Signor Zapparoni and he concludes that “I was slightly shaken in the presence of this un-likeness which affected me like an optical illusion and made me doubt the man’s identity. Was this the right man? But he must be, and the good grandfather was his deputy-director. His voice was pleasant, by the way” (64). Of course.
The Humming of the Bees and the Dis-Connected Ear
As the job interview-novel progresses, Zapparoni asks Richard to go and wait for him in the garden, with the admonition to “Beware of the bees!” (84). As soon as Richard enters the domain, which he likens to a danger zone rather than to a traditional garden, time begins to “run faster” and it was “necessary to be more on guard” (85). The presence of the technological increases the tempo of time; it forces the biological, slow and old-fashioned as it is, to try to keep up with the pace it sets. Richard watches artificial bees of various sorts working the flowers and remarks that “Zapparoni, that devilish fellow, had once again trespassed on nature, or rather, had contrived to improve nature’s imperfections by shortening and accelerating its working methods” (93).
The fabricated bees are also more “economical” than nature’s variety, and are able to drain the flower more completely. The new hives are like “automatic telephone exchanges” and the “entrances functioned rather like the apertures in a slot machine or the holes in a switchboard” (94). The entire process is ruled by the imagery of tele-communications in which voice, image, and ear are electronically disconnected, reproduced, and reconnected along other lines. The natural procedure of the bees is “simplified, cut short, and standardized…From the very beginning he had included in his plan neither males nor females, neither mothers nor nurses” (95). Zapparoni’s Bees Incorporated, which “radiated a flawless but entirely unerotic perfection,” is a completely celibate, although highly productive, machine. Any sexual arrangement, involving as it does wasteful libidinal effort, has been eliminated for the sake of higher productivity and greater functional efficiency.
After an hour’s observation of the system at work, Richard notices the Smoky-Grays, automatic bees who are acting as foremen or observers of the others; and then he remembers Zapparoni as the “invisible master” who controls this “dance of the spirit, which cannot be grasped by calculation” (96), but only guided by science as a “call of destiny” (96). This, however, can only be such a call if the call comes in the form of a demand for efficiency, speed, functionalism, and the perfection of nature along the axes of these technical aspects. And it is only when the response to the call comes in the form of profitable calculation that the automatons will be produced in the form of a self-regulating system in which there are “masters of surveillance” at work in the feedback loop, and in which even the “invisible master” will, sooner or later, be swept along, unable to exist without his creations in this technologized version of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic.
And this dialectic is not dia-lactic; no milk will wastefully dribble down a breast and be missed by an infant’s sleeping and satiated mouth. The erotic has been rendered superfluous. After all, Richard thinks, “Bees are not just workers in a honey factory. Ignoring their self-sufficiency for a moment, their work–far beyond its tangible utility–plays an important part in the cosmic plan. As messengers of love, their duty is to pollinate, to fertilize the flowers” (98). Eventually, the “true bees” will become extinct and give way to their mechanical descendants, who, while they are the victors in the contest of honey-production, are no longer messengers of love. And if the flowers are not pollinated, industry will have to create better simulacra of flowers as well.
Richard considers the likelihood of the destructive aspect of such micro-robots for weaponry, then realizes that the bees, and their “progeny,” were not being designed to be an individual “commodity”–a thing for exchange–but a prototype for a new system of energy conversion and storage that aimed at delivering “power” itself. The bees, at this point, represent the Heideggerean reading of the Gestell itself, which governs the production of all commodities–including the human resources at its beck and call–but is not a commodity itself. “The essence of technology is not itself technological” (QT 4 ).
“The air,” Richard says, “was now filled with a high-pitched, uniform whistling sound, which, if not exactly soporific, at least blurred my perception; it was not unlike the effect produced by hypnosis. I had to make an effort to distinguish between dream and reality in order not to succumb to vision which spun out Zapparoni’s theme on their own” (105). The phantasmagoria begins to whirl at faster and faster speeds, until Richard can no longer “keep up with the task of interpretation” (105) and he “starts dreaming; images get hold [of him]” (108).
Before he can even identify–that is, before the senses can correlate with the logos of meaning–Richard suddenly rubs his eyes and makes a judgement that he has been deceived in the “garden where the diminutive became large,” in this place that distorts perception because technology is at work and exaggeratedly augments human sensation from the micro- to the macro- and vice versa. Everything is magnified. At the same moment, Richard observes that “I heard inside me a shrill signal like that of an alarm clock, like the warning signal of a car approaching with brutal speed. I must have seen something prohibited, something vile” (109). Here in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Large and the Small, he has come upon the obscene and there is the experience of an internalized voice of warning–something very like and very unlike the Socratic daimon or the Freudian superego–but it is a mechanical voice in a sense that neither of the other examples could be, even if Freud is heading in this direction when he names the psyche an “apparatus.” The warning is “shrill,” like an “alarm clock,” and sounds as if from a car bearing down with “brutal speed.” 4
The car and the alarm clock are conjoined; motion, speed, and time are conflated in Richard’s mind. This is not the clock of the village tower nor the grandfather clock of the bourgeois parlor. This is the tolling of an alarming time. As Benjamin, already in 1929, had noticed, “The collective is a body, too. And the physis that is being organized for it in technology can, through all its political and factual reality, only be produced in that image sphere to which profane illumination initiates us…They [the Surrealists] exchange, to a man, the play of human features for the face of an alarm clock that in each minute rings for sixty seconds” (Surrealism 192). In an intricately illuminating analysis of this passage, Sigrid Weigel notes that “[T]he strike against time is thus simultaneously a strike against the notion of the opposition between the organic and the mechanical, between the human being and the mechanical device. The boundary between the two is here eliminated–in a manner which produces a profound impact, for the face is the very epitome of the `humanity’ of the human being…” (17). What Richard is experiencing in the garden, with monastic and late-capitalist origins, has been under preparation for a long time (and, eventually, the conditions under which time might be measured as “long” or “short” must themselves be questioned).
The machine, which has been internalized–already rendering Richard a type of psychic cyborg–and transformed into the metaphorical basis for an early warning system, sounds the alarm and announces that Richard had already seen something prohibited and obscene. He had just said to himself that “the sundew is, after all, a carnivorous plant, a cannibal plant” (109), but he had not recognized, he had not yet interpreted correctly, what he had perceived. Perception had outraced judgement, even though a part of his perceptual apparatus–the unconscious is as good a name as any–has seen what is there: a human ear cut from the absent body with “neat precision” (110).
Richard then realizes that this is the moment when he “ought to speak of morality” (111), a topic that appears at the site of the surgically clean removal of the organ of hearing with its possibilities for responding to the call of conscience. In at least some vestigial sense ethics is still, for the time being, operative for Richard and he recognizes the “ought” that only ethics can speak.
He reflects on the “mutilated body” as a specifically modern phenomenon, arguing that “the increase in amputations is one of the indications of the triumph of a dissecting mentality. The loss occurred before it was visibly taken into account,” and Richard concludes with the observation that the perfect mechanism inspires fear and “Titanic pride,” while the perfect work of art inspires “happiness” (113). This opposition between the machine and art needs interrogating–after all we are in the midst of a work of art about the animated machine–but the most immediate conclusion to be drawn is that the cultural work of technology is analogous to the way in which Richard perceived something unconsciously before he was able to correctly identify the cause of his reaction and then begin to rationally explicate the obscene, initially prohibited, object. 5
Richard realizes the scene, and it is a kind of primal scene of the technological age, “led to a lower level of reality…[and that] everything might have been a mirage” (110), remarks that reveal that even as he is working to decipher the meaning of Zapparoni’s works, he does so in the category of traditional metaphysics which marks off the lower from the higher as the negative from the positive. Even if the value of the good within a Platonist-humanist tradition is in the process of being destroyed, it nonetheless continues to act, as it limps along as a standard-bearer, a measurement, an instrumental gridwork that gauges the direction and rate of descent into the netherworld. Richard’s comment that the scene “might have been a mirage” remains within the traditional boundaries in which the appearance might, still, be distinguished from the reality: where, that is, the force of Platonic rationality still operates as a means of making distinctions between the true and the false, the real and the illusory.
Confronted with something new and perhaps unrepresentable that springs from a very ancient dream, Richard can initially only respond to the uncanny appearances with traditional means of interpretation even if in some region of his being he recognizes that his understanding, using as it does a recognizable schema of evaluation, cannot keep up with a reality which outpaces all thought. As he’s already said about the swarm of mechanical bees, he “couldn’t keep up with the task of interpretation” (105). If this is always the case, and even more so now that technology with its brutal speed drives the production of at least certain types of meaning, there seems to be nothing to stand in the way of the self-realization of the technical subject, which has become an object produced for the power of profit.
Richard counts two to three dozen ears floating in the pond before his stupefied gaze. Trying to calm himself, declares that these ears “must have been a delusion; I must have been the victim of a vision. The air was sultry; the garden seemed to be bewitched and the swirl of automatons had intoxicated me” (136, my emphases). Richard does not trust his own perceptions and reverts, once again, to a list of predictable moves when faced with the unknown and the ambiguous. His sight of the ears must have been “delusion,” “vision,” “bewitched,” or “intoxicated.” His perception of several dozen mutilated ears could only be understood under the categories of mental aberration, hallucination or trance, an evil magic, or intoxicants that impaired his rationality.
It could not be possible, he seems to be saying to himself, that there are in fact human ears floating in this pond. Therefore the explanation must lie elsewhere. The inexplicable is, from some vantage point, explicable. Rationality is still functioning as Richard seeks an explanation for a bizarre phenomenon that does not fit his experience, but it is a rationality of habit running on auto-control. Simply shuttling along the traditional axis of interpretation, the first place Richard seeks an explanation is in the opposite of individual rationality, in the subject’s own irrationality. The sight of the ears becomes the catalytic site for the labor of thought that tries to ascertain–as both perception and meaning, essence and implications–the truth of the ears.
He next asks whether, in fact, the ears are genuine. After all, the garden belongs to a kind of counterfeiter, a magician who produces reproductions that are as if real, all for the sake of knowledge, profit, and the transition to the order of the new Titans. Richard examines them more closely with his binoculars, an optical set of surrogate eyes that brings the distant and severed organs of hearing close:
the objects were infernally well done–I might almost say that they surpassed reality…A big blue fly descended on one of these shapes, a fly like those one used to see around butcher shops….The fly? The work of art was to all appearance so perfect that not only my eyes but the insect itself was deceived. It is generally known that the birds pecked at the grapes painted by Apelles…Moreover, who in the garden would swear an oath that this was natural, that artificial? (137) 6
It is at this moment that Richard enters into the postmodern labyrinth of perception and judgement, and he realizes that an artificial bee implies the possibility of an artificial flower, ear, fly, and whatever else might come his way, including Zapparoni and even himself as a product within a productive workshop. Richard, as it were, leans against his own having-been constructed and the character puts a foot toward the margin of the text, but there is of course no way past that margin. The artefactuality of the artifact permeates both nature and culture, which, if ever they could, can no longer be thought dichotomously. Richard continues that,
during this strenuous testing and watching, I had lost the capacity of distinguishing between the natural and the artificial. I became skeptical of individual objects, and, in general, I separated imperfectly what was within and what without, what landscape and what imagination. The layers, close one upon the other, shifted their colors, merged their content, their meaning (138).
Everything is merged: con-fused. The normal functioning of the “senses,” as well as the transcendental “sense” that joins the manifold of the senses to make sense of the world and allow us to distinguish the inside from the inside, the imaginative from the empirical, has shattered in a swirl of synesthesia (or syn-anesthesia). The fundamental differences of the world whereby we make distinctions between “domains of being” have exploded, leaving Richard in a hall of fragmented mirrors, one of which reflects his own stunned face that is, perhaps, beginning to look like a puppet pulled by invisible strings. But, as the line between the organic and the inorganic shifts, when humans begin to become puppets, so, too, “The marionettes became human and stepped into life…I saw the entrance to a painless world. Whoever passed into it was protected against the ravages of time” (138).
Here in the new garden of artificially animated marionettes and severed ears that litter a pond, Richard concludes that “[o]f course they were artificial–or artificially natural [naturlich kunstlich oder kunstlich naturlich]–and, as with marionettes, pain becomes meaningless” (138). The reversibility of noun and adjective indicates a deep ambiguity about the substance of the thing in question: which is primary, art or nature, the made or the given? That question fades into irrelevancy in the cybernetic garden, but only one, at least for the continuing moment, feels awe, pain, and the “ravages of time” (138).
It is pain, then, aligned with the passage of time, that in this garden as in Eden, becomes the possible measurement, perhaps the last indicator, of a specifically human reality as it has been understood under the categories of traditional metaphysics in its many varieties. When the descendants of either Pinocchio or of Zapparoni’s metallic ants come “alive,” they will not enter into the pain of mortality. Destruction, assuredly, will continue to occur, but not death. When Dasein steps, finally, into the safety of the automaton, pain will begin to recede; when death’s sting, at long last, vanishes, Dasein too will have ceased to exist. There will no longer be Being, there. Something else will presence.
Still conscious that he is on a job interview and wanting to make a good impression, Richard pulls an ear from the pond, admitting to himself that the “replica was excellent. The artist had gone so far in his naturalism that he had not even forgotten the tiny tuft of hair, characteristic of the ear of a mature man, which is generally trimmed with a razor blade. He had, moreover, indicated a small scar–a romantic touch” (140). He realizes that his perceptions had all organized around the word “hear” and then thinks that in Zapparoni’s Garden of Delights,
a mind was at work to negate the image of a free and intact man. The same mind had devised this insult: it intended to rely on manpower in the same way that it had relied on horsepower. It wanted units to be equal and divisible, and for that purpose man had to be destroyed as the horse had already been destroyed (141).
The horse, as representative of a long history of the co-existence of the human and the animal worlds, has been replaced by the tank–Richard has been both a cavalryman and a tank-inspector–and now the tank is on the verge of vanishing, to be replaced by the deadly hum of miniature drones. When such lines are crossed, humanity, too, becomes a standing-reserve to be divided, re-manufactured, and cast off as soon as it becomes obsolete, all of which occurs only within a concept of time that Benjamin has called “homogenous and empty” (TPH 262).
The presence of the severed ears raises all of these questions, and Zapparoni, of course, has his own version of the story to tell, an explanation to proffer, when he and Richard resume their conversation. One Signor Damico, a Neapolitan, had been in charge of creating the ears for all of Zapparoni’s life-sized marionettes such as Romeo and Juliet, a process that “rested less on the faithful reproductions of their bodies than on deliberate deviations…since one ear is unlike another.” Along these lines, the public had to be taught a “higher anatomy” (145).
With this pedagogy, another turn in the history of mimeotechnics has been accomplished. Zapparoni and his artisan-technicians have stepped beyond the standardization of machine-culture and into the principle of difference as a copyable phenomenon. Zapparoni has understood that difference, and not the exactitudes of sameness, is the secret to the higher anatomy, not only of nature’s creation of human beings but of our own creation of the next type of being, the animated marionette. In addition, he has realized that difference can be manufactured and drawn along in the wake of the project of technical perfection. Difference can be, as it were, tamed and subjugated into the project of the duplication. If difference can be copied, and becomes the very sign of the relation to the authentic, then within the different must reside–but what kind of “space” are we assuming here?–a structure of iterability. The structure must be, as we have learned from Derrida, a double structure of difference/sameness. Never one without the other, not if any entity–whether object, word, or idea–is to be perceived and transmitted.
Out of petty jealousy Damico, the creative master of the differentiated earlobe, had angrily sliced off all the ears from the marionettes he had been working on and had left Zapparoni’s employ for other work. The ears, Zapparoni explains, had not been “simply stitched on or manufactured by the piece, as a wood carver, a sculptor, or a wax molder would do. On the contrary, they must be organically joined to the body by a method that belongs among the secrets of the new-style marionettes…And to marionettes of this type you could not simply attach a severed ear, any more than you could to real human beings” (145-46). Once again, as with the identity of Zapparoni himself, we find ourselves straddling the line between the organic and the inorganic, the animate and the inanimate. There is an “organic” connection between ear and body, as in the case with “real human beings,” but, nonetheless, the designed and fabricated nature of the ears is emphasized as well. The Aristotelian metaphysics of non-contradiction–either the organic or the inorganic–has given way to the cyborg logic of both-and.
Listening through the Technologized Ear
As Richard reflects on the honey-gathering activity of the glass bees, which is purely mechanical and no longer pollinates the flower in return for its gift, he realizes that “On this level economic considerations were entirely unimportant; here one had to enter into another sphere of economy–the titanic. One had to make a different accounting” (101). It is this different accounting, in ways imagined as even other than the “titanic,” that we will have to begin to account for, and be accountable to, as the old lines of the organic and inorganic, the natural and the artificial continue to shift at a dizzying rate of speed.
Marcus Bullock articulates the dilemma in which we find ourselves when both explanation and inquiry–as either traditional philosophy or literature–are outpaced by the pace of the technological. Speaking of how Junger’s understanding, by the period of the Glass Bees, had surpassed that of his earlier essay, Der Arbeiter, Bullock notes that:
To mobilize the power of machines, the Arbeiter had to imitate them: now Junger sees the consequences of that imitation. By coming to resemble what we are not, we cease to be what we are. People make themselves resemble machines, machines become indistinct from people, and people are valued and utilized in the same way as any other mechanism. There is no longer anything sovereign or sacred about the image of a man. It may be dismembered without qualms, and the isolated parts, or the mimicry of such parts, may be contemplated with equanimity (168).
Which leaves us in something of a quandary, for we now find ourselves in a state of suspended animation. As Richard recalls a friend who leapt to his death, he remarks that “I had a feeling that like Lorenz we were all jumping out of windows, and sooner or later we were bound to crash. At the moment we were, so to speak, suspended in mid-air” (57).
The suspense can be killing, but it is nonetheless our contemporary form of life. The old grid of value is suspended–we have to wait to find out what will happen at the end of the story; a rule has been broken and play is temporarily suspended–but the suspension also, like the cables on a bridge, keeps us moving along a road (although this road is not a Holzweg, but an express-way or an Info-bahn that cuts through cities and countries alike).
We must, at least for the time being, continue to ask the questions of ethics in this period of the digitization of the world and the growing power of the cyberneticizing sciences. These are old questions: what shall we do? What is the good decision and the good life? What is the nature of human being? But we must also recognize that such questions are radically threatened, if not already superseded, in an epoch when the Ge-stell sets us up ever more rigidly in a technological webwork which is not only beyond the control of any one person or collectivity, but which, in some ways, makes all individualities and collectivities effects of the web.
Which is to ask once more: what do we hear with our ears, both inner and outer, and what does it mean that severed ears are floating on a pond in the midst of Zapparoni’s, Junger’s, and the postmodern Werke? 7 Philosophical reflection on the quest for universal rational rules as the ground for ethics, will never be able to “catch up” with the brutal speed of technology, for technology, insofar as it has colonized ontological rationality, changes it irrevocably into a “merely” instrumental Zapporonian power. We cannot “solve” the suspension of the animate, the destruction of the old ontology, for it is not a problem to be solved–although it produces innumerable problems that we must attempt at all costs to solve–but, rather, a phenomenon that is not amenable to instrumental reason. The essence of technology, figured in the appearance of the bees when the duplication of appearance itself gains sovereignty, is only openable by a different thinking, a different accounting-for.
In response to the catastrophe, the over-turning of fundamental categories such as the animate and inanimate, we can keep the question, and questioning, alive. We can pass the question on to one another; we can establish sites between us where the question can address us, where we can learn, bit by bit, to hear the question more deeply. Perhaps, as we become more thoroughly technologized, we might learn something about hearing aids and learn to hear through, in both senses of the word, the technological. Perhaps with the help of the technological that, as it were, amplifies perception as a potential prolegomenon to a more thoughtful response, we can learn better how to attend to all those nuances of human existence that are threatened by the almost silent noise of the turbulence of the computerized network in which we find ourselves here at the turn of the millennium.
1. This excerpt from the Tischrede is from a transcription, by Richard Brem, of a videotape of a television program “broadcast live on the regional Sudwestfunk (SWF) TV channel.” It appeared on the Ernst Junger listserv, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Sat, 21 Sep 96 16:35:09. The translation is mine. I thank the members of the above cited listserv for their help with this and many other matters related to Junger’s work.
2. Junger has long had an interest in the “occult.” For example, in a letter of August 27, 1922, he writes to his brother that to kill time during his yearly bout with the flu, he had some books sent over from the city archives that included some old “demonologies” such as “Remigius, Delrio, Carpzow, Thomasius, Balthasar Bekker, Raimundus Lullus, Albertus Magnus, Wierus, der Malleus Maleficarum und die beruhmte Bulle des alten Innozenz.” He then goes on to compare these books to “old but still passable shafts of a mine” (cited in Mohler, 68). I don’t want to press the point, but it is nonetheless interesting how such texts take on, for Junger, qualities of underground metallurgical work. Alchemy leads to the cyborg. God and the Benthamite/Foucauldian panopticon of the surveillance society become conflated. As Richard says, “All the systems which explain so precisely why the world is as it is and why it can never be otherwise, have always called forth in me the same kind of uneasiness one has when face to face with the regulations displayed under the glaring lights of a prison cell” (77). In Freud’s psychic apparatus, there is a censuring censor and the ego-ideal, explored most thoroughly in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, is both imitated and feared. There is always an internal police system and disciplines of control do not respect the presumed boundary between inner and outer. All thoughts are broadcast to the public, which leads toward the structure of paranoia, for instance in the case of the divine rays that speak to Senatsprasident Schreber, a scenario whose political implications for modernism have been analyzed by Eric Santer in My Own Private Germany.
3. Of this brutally speeding car, Walter Benjamin has said in “One Way Street,”that advertisement “abolishes the space where contemplation moved and all but hits us between the eyes with things as a car, growing to gigantic proportions, careens at us out of a film screen.” We are very close indeed, tailgating as it were, to John Hawke’s Travesty, to J.G. Ballard’s Crash and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, and even the old simonized Chevvy of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Or, see the charming photographs of Jacques Derrida, already on the road in his car, as a child (in Derrida/Bennington). Car talk could go on indefinitely.
4. Paul Virilio is speaking of the science fiction narrative, a genre to which The Glass Bees could easily be attached, and notes that “the various levels of a certain anesthesia in our consciousness that, at every moment, inclines us to see-saw into more or less extensive absences, more or less serious, even to provoke by various means instantaneous immersion in other worlds, parallel worlds, interstitial, bifurcating, right up to that black hole, which would be only an excess of speed in these kinds of crossing, a pure phenomenon of speed, abrogating the initial separation between day and night…” (77). Speed is a drug.
5. This scenario in which the fabricated is taken for the naturally given, one definition of ideology, is analyzed by Lacan in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis in a discussion of the contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasios, ancient Greek painters.
6. For Junger, J.P. Stern argues, the modern world is `die Werkstattenlandschaft,’ a landscape of workshops and scaffoldings. (Der Arbeiter 31, 97ff (cf also Frank Lloyd Wright, `our landscape of crude scaffoldings,’ quoted in John Dos Passos, U.S.A., London 1938, III, 431ff. Cited in Stern, 41 and notes.)
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