hey folks, september is (roughly) the 50th anniversary of the coining of the term ‘cyborg’, and i’ve been invited by Tim of Quiet Babylon to participate in the 50 Posts About Cyborgs event which he’s curating or whatever, along with a lot of other big blogwigs you may or may not ever have heard of.
my official contribution can be read on Quiet Babylon as of sometime Monday. the project site itself is here.
in the process of trying to sort out what i was going to write about (and struggling with linking it directly to food, which emphasis i eventually decided to abandon), i got to thinking about the age old fantasy of the future which i like to refer to in shorthand as the space-food-pill. this is the idea i think we’ve all heard at one time or another of “Wouldn’t It Be Great If They Could Invent One Pill That Would Give You All Your Nutritional Requirements So You’d Never Have To Waste Time Cooking Or Eating Again?” (i’m sure you can guess how i feel about that sort of thing). to varying degrees, this idea has preoccupied us for some time, reoccurring regularly in sci-fi, but also taking shape in the”real world” as dehydrated ‘astronaut food,’ and to a certain extent, the supplements boom. by which i mean not merely vitamins, but superfoods like blue green algae and the like, supplements that dream of being substitutes; and the comparable reductionism of the juice diet.
what does this have to do with cyborgs? well, maybe lots, maybe nothing, depending on how you think about cyborgs/what you use cyborgs to think about. it’s a bit of a bigger discussion, and beside my central point, so i’ll try to condense it as effectively as possible, because it’s still worth thinking about.
there’s a lot of thinking that suggests cyborgs aren’t just dudes with robot arms or, less fantastically, people with cochlear implants —> donna haraway famously reinvigorated the term by using it simultaneously as a means to theorize hybridity, decentre the Enlightenment subject, and conceptually explore humans’ relationships to technology —> this and related work both goes beyond and returns to the ambiguity of the term’s original formulation, which included, along with synthetic/mechanical enhancements, and other less predictable methods, the use of drug regimes to cybernetically alter the body’s physiology —> if you think about it, this isn’t even so much of a stretch. most drugs are synthetically derived little chemical engines which we take into the body that then disseminate into, and change the functioning of our bodies, in some cases on a permanent basis —> an immediate criticism of this drugs-as-cyborg-technology position is “Well, if drug use is cyborg, how is food use not? Food does basically the same thing, and in a more intimate way is actually responsible for building, rebuilding, and maintaining the human body.” —> effectively the only non-totally-arbitrary response to this is that drugs at least satisfy the condition of being a form of synthetic technology, thus evoking (if only subtly) the old man/machine or organic/synthetic dialectic —> unfortunately it is increasingly easy, and in fact increasingly inevitable to make the counter-argument that as much food is genetically modified, the synthetic/organic and natural/technological binaries don’t make so substantive distinctions (you can follow this further by asking if genetically modified plants qualify as cyborgs, do we then become cyborgs by eating cyborgs?) —> so, at the risk of saying We’re All Already Cyborgs (which despite this exposition, i am loathe to do, for reasons i’ll get into sometime), the speculated hyper-synthetic, or hyper-technologically-mediated sustenance of the space-food-pill seems, if not an ideal candidate for wearing a little ceremonial Cyborg hat, at the least relevant to considerations of cyborg implications for food (this does touch on the issue of the perceived ontology of the cyborg, specifically the location of the self, that my official post partly concerns itself with).
okay, so that was less effectively condensed than i had intended.
and, as i said, sort of beside the point. because my futuristic food fantasy is of a different stripe altogether. in fact, the very opposite – i long for a cyborg adaptation, be it nanotech or remote-controlled microenzymes or a little gastro fusion reactor or just a pimped out colostomy bag, that would allow one to eat vastly more than what the stomach would normally accommodate, and either convert this rapidly into energy stores, or fuck it, just burn it off via some outtake valve or like a flamethrower attachment. but the point being that you don’t get full. not that you don’t get fat, really, i don’t much care about that, although i suppose if such technology did exist it could more beneficially be put toward weight regulation for those with serious problems than just further indulging my conscienceless crapulent excesses.
but just think of it – think of how much you could eat without ever pushing yourself to that perilous state of nigh-comatose discomfort and self-loathing. it would be glorious! perhaps there could be a regulator as well so one could enjoy copious amounts of alcohol without, you know, getting so drunk you pass out or die.
you could even have a component that allowed you to control how hungry you were, and thus the types and textures of desire, need, and appreciation you brought to the meals you consumed. there is an argument in here about a coming of age for the Art of Eating as distinct from the art of cooking, but i’m not going to make it. i’m not here to spoon feed you, right?
of course i am aware that in this era of already pathological overconsumption and food distribution inequalities such a suggestion is borderline offensive to humanity, but fuck it, so’s the idea that someone would rather take a pill every day than taste anything ever again.
and it’s not like i could afford it. it’d just be one more thing to component of the magical fantasy world that the magically fantastically rich already live in, helping to align the spirit of the Roman vomitorium* with that of owning 25 cars. i mean, they already eat gold and get snake venom injected in their face, what are we even talking about?
*which apparently didn’t actually exist (at least not the way i mean ’em there). so let’s say…”helping to finally realize our fantasy of Roman decadence as represented by the popular misunderstanding of the ‘vomitorium’…”