by: Bilal Khbeiz
I. The Body Manufactured with Letters
The practice of modern living is toilsome. It requires spending a substantial part of what is perhaps a short existence in preparation before commencing it. This living requires nothing short of long and 'unavoidably exhausting years in educating the mind and acquiring a variety of techniques for caring and hiding, whilst in contact with others, the persistent and cumbersome traces of the body. According to G. Canguilhem, a proper healthy and therefore viable body is a silent body. One which is absent, forgettable, showing no I signs of hunger, thirst, illness or symptoms of sexual excitement; a body which is maintained and schooled in the repetition of standard behaviors and kept at bay from all digressions.
Such demands are always appended with newer ones. No longer is it sufficient to hide the body and the signs of its basic needs. The effects of time are also considered ravages that must be fixed and bidden. Tired eyes are reviled. Sufficient sleep or its equivalent is stipulated to maintain the appearance of bloom and vigor. A similar attention is required for sustaining the bright whiteness of teeth so they seem always unused. Perhaps the only respite left for the body, to come forward and express itself, are those rare and intermittent moments of laughter where the body manages to slip away from control and ridicule itself. But those moments are necessarily brief. Modern living forcibly relegates such moments to the distant background, appearing only when the body slips inadvertently from underneath the weight of discipline. The crackling of a stomach is, in this sense, a momentous event. Although unintentional, if not due to it, it solicits one of two responses: either a blatant avoidance of the cause of that very recognizable sound or a short outbreak of laughter, openly ridiculing an undisciplined body. While the second option is often used, it is nevertheless crucial to recognize that laughter precipitates evaluative and classist discrimination. For we are only allowed to laugh at ourselves. Laughing at others, or even in the presence of others, requires permission and a pre-requisite agreement.
The Marginalization of the Senses
The preparation of the body for disappearance, for an obedient silence, requires considerable effort and skill. All that remains present and visible is that which appears seemingly intrinsic: namely, a constant suggestion of energy and strength, negating the traces of its use, peeling the accumulated crusts of time and powdering it with the signs of rebirth. Through the suggestion of energy, the body emigrates from the domain of smells and tastes and postpones, if not occults, the changes of illness and aging. The list of demands for making bodies disappear extends in accordance with time and place. And yet, what is constant and common in the relationship between moderns with their bodies is the marginalization of the senses and their prevention from acting as arbiter and director.
Sigmund Freud remarked that, ever since standing erect, humans have foregrounded the sense of sight and relegated the other senses to the shadows. Accordingly, this preferred sense of sight, maintained as an authority, has conferred upon all that is visible a complete sensorial tangibility. And yet, Paul Virilio, in his La Machine de Vision, traces how photography gradually cancels the mediation of the sensorial world through direct seeing and how in consequence the eye, unable to ascertain tangibility, loses its claims of owning the world.
The strenuous efforts required to prepare the body for meeting with the other, tends to make such a meeting a goal in itself. A similar effort is also expected of the other. Both are required to veil their bodies by neutralizing their senses and removing all traces of thirst, hunger, sleep and intimacy. And, by removing the sensorial from the domain of mutual influence, one is left with words. Words which intimate, as they conceal, the physicality of desires.
Designing the Quotidian
The work of sociologist Erving Goffman, on the preparations required for the presentation of the self in everyday life, constitute a notable contribution for understanding interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, David le Breton remarked on how modern bodies exist in a constant state of effacement, in order to maintain a necessary public mask similar to those frozen faces of allied prisoners during the Second World War. According to Le Breton, faces were fixed into masks in order to resist and deny any form of human - and humane - connection with their Nazi jailers. Between these masks, or what Le Breton terms as the "technique of the dead face" and the practice of chatting over the internet, lie certain - intriguing similarities.
Aside from those who loiter in Internet cafes, most chat practitioners tend to exercise an effacement of face and body while in dialogue with friends and partners. They are generally not concerned with their physical appearance and equally uninterested in meeting their interlocutors.
A chat-addict does not examine his body but rather, suggests its attributes through language. In other words, the body of the chat-addict becomes something akin to an enigma. According to the logic of chatting, the chatter does have a body which accords with a collective and consensual model. And yet, he or she carries, at all times the element of surprise. When written, the suggested body of the chatter shifts and is reformed according to whim and fancy, ever ready to communicate, or rather correspond, with the other’s fanciful requirements. But such a body is not a product of its own nature but is rather a composite of an ideal that is available and agreed upon by all.
This communion through the signs of a cornmon culture makes for the prevalence and dominance of movie stars, pop musicians and singers. These stars and models do not, therefore, only occupy the imagination of internet chat program-users as images, but also figure as references for other attributes such as strength, immortality and eternal youth. Accordingly, chatting over the Internet seems to absolve the personal body, allowing it to don the feats, attributes and vigor of movie stars. This transposition of the personal body into an imagined role makes for a body that is relatively surprising. That which occurs in real life is, comparatively, predictable, since it is often prefigured by cinema. A notable example is the poor replay in real life of the collapse of the World Trade Center, an event already and spectacularly staged in cinema. One remembers here the words of French director, Jean Renoir, demanding of his actors to constantly invent. As he often said, every event in cinema must be unpredictable.
The Channels of Desire
When speaking of the techniques of feminine seduction, indolence appears as a primary attribute. Understood, in this case, as the opposite of rectitude and attentiveness, indolence, as in the inadvertent caressing of a neck or the playful tweezing of a loose tress of hair, does not go unnoticed. They are, for the companion, arousing indications of a body withdrawn from activity and earnestness and given to a numbness that lulls the brain and limbs. Such a disposition may clarify the shift in the logic of seduction when transposed to the domain of internet chat. There, seduction requires a sharp attentiveness, making it a strenuous activity similar in its demands to pornographic performances. The demands of such an economy of seduction, of alert minds and absent bodies replaced by images, make, for instance, Isabel Allende weary, even fearful, of having to abandon the intimacy of her lived and embodied quotidian world.
The body, reconstituted on screens, is an abbreviated body. It is made succinct by reducing it to unequivocal desires solicited for an active connection with an interlocutor. It becomes a body that is well fed, athletic, healthy and capable of excessive exertions just to please. And although attributes for which living humans have often been praised return as specific and abstract qualities to the domain of internet chat, I do not think that globalization still requires the human body to persist in seeking them. What globalization requires on the other hand is a minimal knowledge of languages and a skill in those techniques, which allow a virtual contact with others. And, if the actual physical body lingers in the mind of Internet chatters, it does so as a pampered and cuddled body, an adolescent pet body, always in foreplay. Only as such is the body able to persist within a virtual exchange that, otherwise, has little use for it. In any case, even as it loiters, adolescent and postponed, this body - our bodies - is never allowed to grow into a loving and caring body. With the Internet, the body sits in front of screens, aging and slothful, framed by adolescent desires, which in actuality make of it a rather disappointing, frigid and forgettable weight.
II. The Deferral of Pleasures
The country of globalization is like that of sex, that is, if one is allowed to call sex a country. To it, we accede only for brief moments and then exit as soon as we tire. And, just like sex, this country of globalization receives us as individuals, divorced from family, clan and community. In its imagined land, we choose our parties, clubs, and friends and define our partialities. And, as in sex, we are also advised to approach it prepared and ready to maneuver across its many paths of seduction. Equally, this country of globalization is fearful, for in it there are no stops and no respite to shed the accumulated signs of fatigue. And, although that is an exorbitant price to pay, the country of globalization argues nevertheless that in it, all desires can be satisfied. That is, if we are still able to carry and entertain any desires at all.
In sex, a partner's body is deep and incommensurable. It cannot be delimited. It extends, galvanized, in two opposing directions: outwardly and inwardly. Sex is not mere contact. It is simultaneously a desire for entanglement and separation, for numbness and activity, for indolence and efficiency. In sex, desire is in a sense always twice: to surrender, lazy and solitary and to engage, d curious and investigative. And since the physical body is complex, the moment of sex is dense. So much so, that sex is followed by a sense of defeat, frustration even, as we fail to discover, convincingly, the precise functions of organs. Science is still debating the apparent biological uselessness of female orgasm. While some theories explain it in terms of the necessity for infidelity, others maintain it as a useless vestige similar to male nipples. While scientists await a definitive answer, it is nevertheless possible to assert that generosity, an endangered and dying attribute within society, still finds in the instance of embracing bodies what is perhaps its last manifestation.
Let us look a little closer at this attribute: gener0sity.A woman cares for her breasts and tends to their needs. She may not consider either childbearing or nursing. Such a project, or what Lester C. Thurow calls the owning of children, is in fact a luxury only the rich can afford. Without the costly chores of such a luxury, the career of breasts can be a long story of self-care and attention. They can be a part of a body that proves its desire through prodigality and 1avishness.A woman gives her breasts to a man in surplus as a gift. Yet it binds the man to her morally, as in the function of gifts according to the studies of Marcel Mauss. A man has little need for such a gift. And, although his lust is elsewhere, he accepts it and bows to its edicts whether in false modesty, praise, thrill or in borrowing a desire just for the occasion (I suppose that a woman sees in a man's erection sufficient signs of his generosity).
As we try to circumscribe sex, we should perhaps add to the notions of gift and prodigality, as in the example of the function of breasts, another notion, namely that of security. Turning the back to the companion and surrendering the body, disarmed, make for a challenge that, in principle, may be based on a sense of mutual security, but it is nevertheless fraught with the possibility of failure. Such is the irresistible magic of our other side: back and buttocks. And no matter how much we may engage the back, no matter how zealously we may try to define its function, it escapes us. It is always more ample than our caresses, more spacious than our grip and too solid for penetration. There is no biological function in sex for this other side of the machine of seduction. And I would venture to say that, like breasts, it is most probably connected with generosity and a sense of security.
The Techniques of Mourning
With this equation of generosity and security, the body maintains an ability to resist a final, rational definition. It is successful where reason expects it to fail and fails where reason expects it to succeed. Notwithstanding and while most Arab societies remained reluctant, modernity persisted in fashioning a rational body and in segregating its various functions. It classified the body into specific domains and diligently sculpted it into the forms and shapes of ideals. So, we jog, diet, polish and apply all kinds of cosmetics seeking to embody ideals. The price is, of course, exorbitant. The elderly, the ill, the maimed and a wide array of incorrect bodies wither unnoticed on the sidelines. Meanwhile, in the mains of the social world, on televisions and other media, we witness the constant parade of a model and paradigmatic body, which is modernity's most efficacious apparatus for distinction and control.
Curiously enough, contemporary societies seem to have realized, as Arab societies have through the ages that bodies cannot be completely fixed. Today's globalization seems to, therefore, avoid - bodies altogether, keeping of them nothing but their surplus images, well chosen and scanned, images of bodies overflowing with health - and channeled with energy. Today, in regard to beauty, we try to suffice ourselves with images of international stars. As for vigor, we make do with language's ability to pretend unhindered by the limitations of actual living bodies. And so, we distance our bodies from all contact and companionship and avoid the embarrassment of trials. As such, the body ceases to be a land of enigmas and miscarriages and appears, instead, endlessly malleable to the whims of the imagination. This malleability precipitates the migration of the body from the province of magic to the domain of functionality, which is in itself a first and irreversible step towards mourning. The same mourning which marks an Arab body reiterating again and again the sovereignty of the discourse of the mind: An Arab actress does not act with her body but with her face, as she does not seduce in cinema with her breasts but with her voice.
Such are the conditions of globalization that can thus be defined in terms of the failure of the body to cope with the imagination. That is why the body is quickly expelled and replaced by another made of the imagined and the fantasized. Therefore, the first thing that virtual sex breaks is the equation of generosity and security. The concern is no longer to please the partner, for that, even if intended, is always dubious and difficult to ascertain. Virtual sex does away with the pleasures of indolence, of lying lazily in the embrace of a companion. What virtual sex does is demand of us to renounce fatigue and deny impotence. (In this perspective, it is relevant to recall that, throughout the Arabic erotic tradition, prime importance was given to the avoidance of intimacy and to male sexual potency while visiting the harem). In virtual sex, alertness postpones pleasure until after contact. Most probably, sex on the virtual web requires two specific attributes: greed and aggression. In it, chatters demand of one another an unfailing power, a lavish expanse of organs and ask of the partner to act out both roles. And, while some users concentrate on the sexual organs and others exchange roles, most practice both simultaneously.
Accordingly, chat practices on Arabic internet sites seem - focused on virtual sex activities. Many reasons can be noted for such popularity: a general societal repression of sexuality, the segregation between the sexes, not to mention the ample leisure time that Arab women seem to have due to the social reprimand on seeking a professional career. But what spurs on such an activity lies elsewhere. We must note that it is primarily a kind of sex practiced without costly calculations; not only because it allows women to avoid strict societal rules and traditional constraints, but also because it is a kind of sex that does not require the prodigality, generosity and comfort prepared and given to partners, gifts which are often misplaced and misused. The problems connected with marriages and divorces in Arab societies are often tied to women forced into being generous to the inappropriate man, and to women being slighted as their gifts are often reciprocated with betrayal and infidelity.Virtua1 sex is, of course, unable to replace the difficult realities of the life of an Arab woman often pre-occupied with the demands of fashion, skincare and youth. Such activities amount, in fact, to days spent in strenuous efforts beyond the worth of any man. Consequently, these activities must be justified by making them an end in themselves. That is why appearance is often manifested as self-sufficient. Curiously enough, an Arab woman thus accomplishes the subject of the image and the matter of seduction, in a way; fixing her femininity in as far as Jean Baudrillard defines seduction as a specialty of women.
With the internet, we are no longer bound by the demands of lavishness and prodigality in order to make contact with another. The other, virtual as he/she/it may be, must always be as prepared and readily seductive as a kept woman in a harem is supposed to be. This availability of contacts, and their relatively negligible costs, makes globalized and virtual sexual intercourse an attractive venue for Arab societies.
III. Kindness Shunned
It does not require the diatribes of ecologists and naturalists for us to realize the extent to which our senses are besieged in metropolices. Hearing is constantly drilled with waves of voices, sounds that cannot be organized and noises that must be shut out. Similarly, cities make our sense of smell a burden. As for our sense of touch, we are constantly reminded of the need to neutralize it, avoiding all signs of agitation and excitement, signs that may make one dangerously conspicuous. Not even our sense of seeing is spared. In cities, we are not allowed the pleasure of lingering or contemplating. Both are forms of inadvertence that may lead to accidents. Red in cities is a color of life and death, just as a honk may be the last sound one hears before dying. What remains, then, is the sense of taste which, in comparison with the other senses, is pampered and cuddled into the nuances of complex salads, different temperatures, the delicacies of prepared fish and game and the connoisseurship of wines and cheeses. But such efforts in preparing foods are seen by ecologists and naturalists as unnecessary and affected, even unnatural. According to them, the preparation of foods aims at distancing the pleasures of tasting from the general needs of eating and, as such, breaks with the natural constituents of foods. And yet, it is necessary, by way of a counter argument, to make the simple analogy between foods passed through the mill of fire, spices and mixings and the techniques of perfuming bodies that aim to shun those supposed natural odors from public spaces what is, in fact, being expelled in foods and bodies alike is precisely the natural. Furthermore, skin is also enveloped in safe houses and kept at bay from heat and cold, wind and rain. We walk over buffers made of high heels and synthetic soles. We obsessively clean clothes and iron ties placed around necks, even if threatened with the unfortunate effects of "natural" rain and heat. Briefly said, whether in eating, dwelling or seeming, we must always appear as if untouched by the natural. This passionate struggle to de-activate the effects of nature and remove them from the domain of the contemporary modern body is not only visible in the politics of health and hygiene, as in the studies of Michel Foucault, but clearly exceeds it into the realm of ethical values.
In an essay on friendship, Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze note the important role played by the act of mutual confiding in the construction of a friendship. A relationship is built on playing, by turns, the role of a confidant. Friendship in this sense is founded on discourse, which, in turn, then marginalizes all physical contacts. The demise of a friendship begins then with touching and so all physical signs of intimacy and longing are kept at bay. To me, that is not only difficult to maintain, but also risks the loss of friendship altogether. For kindness in friendships is essential and requires the "recklessness" of touching, which maintains the body present and relevant.
In her novel The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison describes Cholly' motives for raping his daughter Pecola, as an act enlivened by kindness:
Leaning over a fence staring at nothing in particular. The creamy toe of her bare foot scratching a velvet leg. It was such a small and simple gesture, but it filled him then with a wondering softness. Not the usual lust to part tight legs with his own, as is usual, but tenderness, protectiveness.
A desire to cover her foot with his hand and gently nibble away the itch from the calf with his teeth. He did it then ... The tenderness welled up in him, and he sank to his knees, his eyes on the foot of his daughter. Crawling on all four towards her, he raised his hand and caught the foot in an upward stroke." Having raped his daughter, this same kindness returns mixed with hatred to overwhelm Cholly: "She appeared to have fainted. Cholly stood up and could see only her grayish panties, so sad and limp around her ankles. Again the hatred mixed with tenderness. The hatred would not let him pick her up; the tenderness forced him to cover her.
Today’s cities allow no room for mystery and magic to influence and impress our bodies with visible traces. Every physical contact, even if only a passing touch demands practice and preparation as well as a mutual agreement over time and place. Such is the distance that the modern body has traveled from what is at least apparent in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose, where a chill is sufficient reason for heretics and believers to embrace regardless of their sex, age, looks and smell. In a world where clothes were the body's only shield, intimacy denuded all.
The Tranquility of the Stripper
When an actress undresses in front of a camera and exposes her nude and awakened flesh to millions around the world, she neither fears nor worries about societal censorship. Nude and exhibited, absolved of shame and fear, the body is as tranquil as it is unreachable. It is a body fortified with a thousand trenches and Protected by a thousand shields. The contemporaneous nude body opens unto a space of dance, expansion and relaxation. Nobody intentionally and visibly undresses if shy of its own expansion. The nude body is a free and tranquil body, unlike veiled and covered and thus able to transform the walls, draperies and furniture that surround it into the stuff of its own personal expansion. In cities is not for touching. On the contrary, it is a nudity that accumulates its surroundings. Untouchable, the nude body paradoxically sheds its clothing to be at bay from touching. In any case, this nudity is certainly not the nudity of a starving Sudanese or that of the dead during ablution. Far from it, and forever young, at least in images, the nude body is what marks; for instance, the distance that separates the mortal Marilyn Monroe from her eternally sultry and seductive image. Marilyn's image is necessarily that of an intangible body. For touching inevitably spoils the marble perfection of the skin. If the body is an image, as Paul Virilio claims it is, it is then a body that cannot be owned, quite unlike the actual body of Marilyn Monroe experienced through pleasure, pain and death.
A Fear of Barbarity
Thinking back through the wars waged by the Americans in the late 90's of the last century and in the beginning of this century, on would venture to say that what precipitated the anti-Vietnam war movement were not the images of dead soldiers returning home black plastic body bags. Nor was it the good intentions of pacifists and activists who believed that war inevitably defeats all involve Rather, what really urged a cessation of combat and an end to the Vietnam War was seeing the specter of barbarity that lives every war. The Americans lost in Somalia because the world saw the images of the mutilated bodies of fallen American soldier. Equally, the distressing and moving images from the Vietnam were not those of the solemn funerals given to American soldiers or the countless rows of body bags. Rather, it was those images that showed wounded soldiers, in need of affection and care, seeking in their mates the kindness of a touch. Images of muddy faces, sweaty and blackened, confessing inhumane strain and effort. Those images of kindness where soldiers tended to their wounded fellows, gently patting their shoulders, were the pivotal point at which rose the idea of terror and fear of war. In comparison, one can think of other anti-war movements that never really happened, since American soldiers in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan remained invisible and unexposed to the disturbing gestures of kindness. And, just as Michelet saw in fidelity a virtue of the barbarians, so kindness today appears to be a virtue of the barbarians and, as such, is to be avoided at all costs.
IV. The Reproduction of Nature
The nature for which activists struggle, protect and preserve is no more than a palliated image of a wild and dangerous nature. It is a sheer image, in the sense of how an image carries a discrepant separation with the “real.” Precisely as in Rene Magritte’s painting on which the artist drew a pipe and wrote underneath it. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. This image, which acquired a revolutionary tinge during the 1970’s, still seems today like an unadulterated prophecy. For the picture is no longer the shadow of the photographer but has donned flesh and bones of its own and so dominates the object itself. And so, the image continues to dominate the “real,” as in the summer of Tolstoy, a summer that provides protection t o flies and rodents and spawns a myriad of annoying sorts of flying and crawling insects, is replaced by the image of the Californian summer. A new summer bearing nothing but the brilliant sun and bodies, nude and svelte, with vitality so excessive that it all seems like a temple of youth. The Californian summer is the image of summer par excellence. And that is precisely what makes the sun every time it appears in California, the bearer of an extraordinary magic polished, beautiful and utterly vital. It is the complete opposite of the Oriental summer described by Orientalists; a summer swarming with flies, overtaken by beggars and exposing a life of idleness and stagnation.
The Preserves of Local Identities
On television, an incessant flow of images pervades the world and prods us viewers to adjust our understanding of the environment and adapt to new images of places and creatures traditionally viewed as dangerous and often as mysterious. Today, a documentary film can arguably defend the rights of rats to live in peace, just as it can extol the beauties of what Arabs have traditionally considered as man’s deadliest enemy, the snake. With the televised image, rats and snakes gain a right to beauty and a safe existence. Made intelligible and safely intangible by the mediation of images, all species begin to appear like air, water and other natural elements, churning and turning in natural reserves and far from the human habitat, maintaining only what is necessary for ecology's balance. Against the backdrop of natural reserves, cities stand as a distinct domain made wholly for the urban dweller and a few invented domestic animals. It is through natural reserves that civilization speaks most eloquently of its distance from a state of nature that is, in comparison, inherently violent and barbaric.
For a long time, Holland remained a notable example of man’s successful subjugation of nature. It was a model of how to succeed in transforming the flux of nature into an organized environment, able to sustain civilized human activities. The Dutch experience showed what human collaboration can achieve if given the right circumstances. Yet the success of the Dutch experiment cannot be fully assessed without reconsidering the notion of "right circumstances”, through what Regis Debray defines as “the damned feature”. For success in raising oneself out of a state of nature presupposes that one has had to survive the malediction of nature, a relative damnation that may prod a culture, as it may challenge an individual, to invent solutions. In other words, invention is necessarily wrested out of situations seemingly damned with difficulties, not graced with the ease of propitious conditions. In that sense, all great precedents carry this feature of damnation as inevitably as the healthy never worry about their health.
The success of the Dutch was unlikely considering the give natural conditions of the (nether) land. The Dutch were afflicted with endless marshlands unfit for human sustenance, in an epoch when the claiming of fertile land and the defining of natural boundaries, namely geography, was sufficient cause for conflict and an obvious excuse to wage wars across the continent. Land, owned and cultivated, was the gold for which humans contended. Besiege by their land, the Dutch had no choice but to turn their marsh into fields and their soil into the most precious and greenest the world. The Dutch experience carried the meanings of human advancement and set its standards. Accordingly, other societies were evaluated and praised. For to be a people blessed, by pure coincidence, with natural riches such as oil, gold or other precious metals, can be a cause for idleness. It is, then, no coincidence t the French economist, Alain Peyrefitte, ranked the Dutch high the list of those cultures most worthy of close study, in terms better recognizing the crucial role played by a culture’s ethos economic development.
Pruning Savage Claws
Today’s Holland is punctuated with natural preserves, which figure as the emblems of devoted ecologists. Yet to understand the mentality and technology of the Dutch experience is to wonder about the precise attributes of this nature which ecologists for. In Holland, nature is disconnected from its primal state a fashioned anew. Even animals, kept in preserves, are studied and carefully selected for their use and the variable roles that they can fulfill within the larger framework of human civilization. Therefore, it is most probable that the nature for which ecologists march and struggle, is a nature built to perfectly answer the needs of human society and to correspond with its intellectual and civilizational framework. Ecology’s activists’ fight in their belief that what humans may not understand today, will be appreciated tomorrow. And the tendency is to preserve the largest variety of species alive and available for future scientific study and use. Such is the logic Jean Baudillard noted when, in 1971, ethnologists in the Philippines were forced to reinstate the Tasaday tribe back into the depth of the jungle where they had lived in total seclusion for more than eight centuries. The move was prompted as members of the tribe began to fall ill and wither "like mummies" due to contact with civilization. When the ethnologists and the local authorities were finally convinced of the gravity of the situation, they decided to save the Tasaday by transforming their natural habitat into a natural preserve. And so, ethnology succeeded in avoiding its own demise by maintaining its subject of study alive and within reach, while donning the postures of humanitarianism. To have the privilege of survival, a species must fall within the strict control of science. The reactions of that species, its behavioral patterns and rates of proliferation must all be reasoned, handled and monitored. Speaking of his film Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg said that the actual cloning of dinosaurs, unlike in the film, is a dangerous endeavor, for it is a species of such intelligence and strength that it may escape human control. Accordingly, it is important to notice to what extent the preservation of nature is always circumscribed within the dual and foundational condition of control and domestication. In a sense no species is allowed to survive if it is potentially able to exceed the purview of human intelligence. Consequently, all that remains in nature, all that is allowed to multiply and live and all that is treated and tended, must fall within the strict censorship of two authorities: biomedicine and psychology.
The Fangs of Intelligence
In his book La critique de la pensee politique, Regis Debray argues the simultaneous courses of two human histories. There is, according to the author, a history of the relationships between humans and another history of the relationships between humans and things. Notwithstanding the author’s careful enumeration and argumentation, in his attempt to define the difference between these two courses of history, his basic tenet in crucial and topical. For one argue by implication that humans, represented through their ideas are always contemporaneous and always interconnected. Thus, a Napoleon remains present in the mind of current generals as an interlocutor and as a competitor, while it is hard to claim that the world of things as defined by a Ptolemy stands still in the presence of an Einstein. The consequences of such a distinction clarify, with an almost suffocating irony, why it is no longer obvious to say, following a Socrates and a Darwin, that a creature standing erect and able to speak is necessarily human. The ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan is a notable example where the distinction between humans and things functions as a theoretical and practical framework. In the recent past, when the Afghans were dutifully fighting Soviet occupations, the United States saw them as a controllable agent, a thing, which although capable of expressing anger and zeal, lacked the kind of intelligence which would make it a dangerous and independent agent. In other words, the Afghans were allowed to be barbaric and savage as long as they were fully dependant on the constant care of a foreign custody. Thus, the Afghans, utilized and nourished, could also acquire the dubious privilege of a reversed racism, of being seen, according to some experts, as having the right to be left alone and maintain their own special social and cultural characteristics. Such a situation quickly shifted as soon as the Afghans became intelligent or, to put it more clearly, were able to threaten their custodians. Perhaps one ought to remember Milan Kundera's remark that what occupies civilization is not so much the avoidance of murder as the avoidance of the murderer. If a tiger escapes from a zoo and kills, while prowling, more people than a Carlos during his heyday, the tiger would certainly be handled with more understanding than the terrorist. That is equally true of the World Trade Center. The fact that it collapsed as the result of an act designed and perpetrated by intelligent creatures and not by a natural coincidence demanded a consorted effort to trace, extract and redeem the cause, namely intelligence, away from the creatures and things and back to its rightful human authority.
One of the most pressing consequences of such reasoning is the collapse of the theory that posits globalization as a domain in which local cultures may finally flourish after the ravages and repression of centuries of imperialism. Quite on the contrary, all that globalization seeks to preserve is the right to reproduce nature according to strict regulations. Within such a plan, a place is allotted to creatures and things; to servant cultures and natural reserves, all properly and rationally instrumentalized to procure an image of a nature untouched, and of a spectacular savagery unchecked. Without this right to control and police, globalization would lose its entrancing, logical hold in the same way that the logic of unclear armament would become mute and deadly if ever put to the test.
Natural reserves and zoos, as well as the peaceful ranges of the Tibet Mountains, are all living proofs traveling the world and made of a million images. And yet, there remains a chill in the Tibet Mountains and perhaps a few nasty odors emanating from animal cages. Flies and mosquitoes may still disturb eager vacationers in the Virgin Tropical Islands. Perhaps also, unannounced, a peaceful and tame Afghan may intimate a desire to speak with tourists. But his words will most probably remain as obscure as a hieroglyph, incapable of initiating a dialogue, not to mention nearness, empathy or a reciprocal kindness.
In a special issue of the journal Esprit entitled “Le nouvel age du sport” Michel Forr argues that daily physical exercises, such as walking and jogging, seems to be concentrated in those urban classes of sedentary professionals whose social ethos requires a physical fitness and a youthful appearance. These classes are also the ones most affected by mental fatigue and chronic depression and, according to Elaine Perrin, are required by the nature of their work to repress all signs of aggression and violence, having to sublimate them into logical argumentation, debate, discussions and conversations. This class of urban professionals carries the task of arresting any sign of social aggressiveness while having to contend and bear a high level of competition in their own work. This equation, which binds are repression of physical violence to the strenuous effort of physical fitness, tells of the social edict to inhibit all, and any, physical expression. For violence is, of course, a return to a barbarity while fitness is the fashioning of the body extends into the relation between humans and things as well as between humans themselves. In both cases, intelligibility and a logical understanding – even prediction – of the other conditions for a viable and quite coexistence.