EducationO.O.P.S.Sex & Gender

Records of Planetary Suicide

This post is part of the Gender and Domination Course in OOPS.

As Beatriz (now Paul) Preciado keenly points out in “The Principle of the Auto-Guinea Pig,” the centralization of information into human memory, stone, paper, and, recently, digitally readable circuits carved into silicon chips, subjects information to an ineradicable vulnerability. Silicon melts, paper degrades, and memory fades, and the information that they communicate is lost as a result. This loss is not merely the result of entropy and physical decay, either. Rather, it can and has been taken advantage of by various power structures throughout history. Preciado notes a few well-known examples: the burning of the Library of Alexandria; the Inquisition; the Nazis’ campaign against “degenerate” forms of art and scholarship.

Although these incidents might seem like relics of an earlier time, Preciado warns us against assuming that the advances of feminism, trans and critical race movements, and other forms of radical politics, are immune from this danger. Indeed, those gains are at risk of being lost, not least because of the threat of environmental catastrophe. For this reason, Preciado calls for a more radical approach to the storage and transmission of information itself. For Preciado, our identities are produced through the discursive interplay of a number of subject-forming technologies. To be a cis-woman, for instance, is to participate in a number of pre-given discourses about cis-femininity and to use a number of tools, such as clothing, medicine, grooming apparatuses, and so forth, to bring one’s body and behavior into line with the cis-feminine standard.

Preciado’s radical suggestion is that we recognize these means of subject production for what they are, and, in a socialist vein, seize them. The specifics of what such a radical shift would entail are unclear. It seems right to say, however, that Preciado’s revolution would involve using our very bodies as the vehicles through which politically radical ideas are formed, recorded, and instantiated. Presumably, this would not involve just “surface-level” performativity, but also more concrete physical changes to one’s own body, in line with the transformation that Preciado undergoes in the more biographical sections of the book.

In addition to being radical as a political proposal, Preciado’s suggestion that information be encoded in the body is significant insofar as it understands such an encoding to be possible in the first place. The idea of information as such has been, historically speaking, plagued by a vicious dichotomy. The division is one between information as a formally independent system of meaning, and the various media through which such information might be communicated. Preciado challenges this conceptual scheme, for what Preciado suggests is not merely that the body is another vehicle for information, but that the body is itself information. Preciado’s proposal is thus doubly radical, for it allows us to break down the presuppositions according to which information was cordoned off in certain media and made vulnerable in the first place, preparing the way for a form of information that can survive, and therefore document, the death of the planet as we know it.

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James Wheeler

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