Josephine Bosma on Sat, 23 Aug 1997 21:53:04 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> CAE interview pt 2: the perfect human

This is part two of an interview done with Critical Art Ensemble,
made in Ljubljana in May, during the nettime meeting. It will be part
of the technoscience 'discussion' at Workspace here in Kassel.
It will also serve well as a discussion piece for the cyberfeminism
block that will be in Kassel in September, closing off the Workspace
Production proceedings.
The CAE multimedia project "We are making a baby" is part of the
presentation here, and will be available as a web-version soon.

Q: This urge to find some kind of 'perfect human' through bio-technology,
and in other ways, like the 'perfect worker', seems to be your main issue
at the moment, is that true?

CAE: Biotechnology is an issue that interests us right now, because we
see it as the next "great leap forward." It's first in line for funding
and development at this point. Other areas that are more traditional,
like the development of vision for control of the social environment,
have reached a temporary peak. The development of power as physical
force has also reached a high point in the nuclear age. The sight machine
and war machine are only going through points of refinement. The last
frontier is body invasion. That's the only space that hasn't really been
conquered and thoroughly dominated. It  has been left, and I have to say
this in quotes, "to the secrets of nature." So that leap forward is
of interest, but you can never really divorce it from the technological
developments that have come in the past; i.e., that is war-tech and
telecommunications and information technology. We do see them as
intersecting and we are building on our past work on telecommunications
to go into this newer area.

Q: You compare the control the Christian church put on sexuality to what
happens now within science and sexuality. You give all these beautiful
examples: the figure of Mary, and then the opposite of her, the figure
of Eve...can the whole history of sexual repression be translated to the
present? Can it all be used as a metaphor for now? So for instance is
there something like an "Eve" now, a bad example?

CAE: The first thing that we have to straighten out before we go into
these questions is that the part of the text you are looking at now was
written by a very brilliant feminist artist named Faith Wilding, It
wasn't written by CAE. We did the second part on new eugenic systems
and new developments in the separation of sexuality from reproduction.
So CAE is not so much the expert on medieval history as the woman who
wrote that section.

Now that that is straightened out: is there a new Eve? That's a really
hard question. Can we find a point of original sin once again? We can
only give an impressionistic answer. One possibility in US mythology
is the welfare mother. Here is the mother that is truly looked upon as
the fallen one; the one who has done something wrong: She is without a
patriarchal counterpart. Her great sin is her sexuality, because that
it has put her in the position of a single mother.
In that sense perhaps there is a new Eve.

To describe for instance how the analogue begins, the first section,
written by Faith Wilding, shows the paradoxical relationship the Church
had to women's bodies. On the one hand, they could be the vessel of
Christ, they could truly be the sacred object. On the other hand, the
body in general, but particularly the woman's since it is assigned the
role of temptress, becomes something to be scorned. Children were a
blessing from God and considered soldiers for Christ, but the process
of conception was the heart of original sin.

Capital shares a similar ambivalence about the body; on one hand it is
an economic necessity. The labor/consumer force has to be replicated.
Capital needs the product, but capital hates the process. When people
are indulging in sexual pleasure, they are not consuming; they are not
producing; they are not doing anything that is useful for the
perpetuation of the system. The sooner that kind of useless activity
can be separated out from the rationalized processes of everyday life,
the happier capital is. New biotechnology is providing an opportunity
for that separation to occur, in the same way that some notions of
sainthood provided a means for women separate spirituality from

Q: But at the same time they weren't liked for that, right?

CAE: This is one of the things we bring up as one of the really sticky
issues. This is something we began writing about at the end of
"Electronic Civil Disobedience."  Some medieval women all of a sudden
realized there was a powerbase in *excessively* expressing the
separation. Women saints were sucking the wounds of Christ and having
a variety of other ecstatic experiences. Needless to say the Church
disapproved of these public displays of sensuality and autonomy, but
did not know how to stop them. Punishment could not be used against a
saint. In the case of the radical saint, the model of the perfectly
spiritual woman as a great socializing device did not work so well.
A few women managed to use it as a powerbase for the expression of
their own personal desires. It was an incredibly laudable perversity.

Q: Where do you think this wish for perfection comes from and why does
it still last in a time where there has been chaos theory and the
knowledge that perfection and purely technical being are not healthy?
It is destructive, not productive.

CAE: If your question is "Why is there a desire to construct an organic
system that better reflects the values of the dominant system?", we may
have an answer. It is partly because of *belief* in a one-to-one
relationship between maximum efficiency and maximum production. The more
efficient the body can be made in regard to its environment, the
technological superstructure, and task orientation, the better for those
who reap the benefits of a given system.

Q: I doubt that. For instance, consider all these workshops and
courses that managers are following at the moment to be more creative
and to create a more productive workingplace, etcetera...there seems to
be some movement into another direction, of more freedom. Some freedom
of creativity seems to produce more.

CAE: That's very true, but you also made our point too. Creativity does
not exist without context. For example, among business managers,
creativity is not a talent for recombination, divine inspiration, or a
way of interacting with the undetermined. What they mean by creativity
is how do you make the workers invent or recognize the means by which
a business product or process can be improved. Creativity is very
specific and focused in this case, and is only valued when directly
applied to a business process. When thinking inventively about business,
the worker is rewarded with a greater *workplace* freedom, but if this
energy is directed toward any other activity, it is marginalized or

That's not creativity. The solution is totally predetermined. "You need
to make a better car. We want you to be creative about how you are going
to make a better car, and thereby maintain the car market." The
parameters of creativity are very clear and limited. The ends of this
process are dictated by corporate imperatives which come from the top

Q: This maybe connects to this idea of the new Eve. What do you think
of the pressure that is on women that for instance have some kind of
disease that they could pass on, to have their fetus checked, or pressure
on women that have an invalid child: why did they have to have it?

CAE: There is no doubt that the pressures put on women right now in
regards to various reproductive situations in which they may find
themselves are quite intense. The problem here is that in this style of
interview it becomes very difficult to answer that question, because
there are so many social variables that construct the subject that would
make that decision. Class, ethnicity, family relationships, educational
background and so on--all play a causal role in this situation. Gender
is by no means the lone causal variable at work here. To try and tease
out gender from all these other issues is very difficult and will end
in someone taking offense. To generalize about this such an hyper-
emotional topic would in some way appear prejudicial. Your question
requires a long, carefully stated answer, rather then the quick
improvisations we are doing now.

Q: So we get to part two of "As above so below"... The first thing of
course that strikes is that your confession is absolutely not
pleasurable. The other one you read with delight.

CAE: Readers do not have the same distance from that confession as
they do from the first, so its aesthetic qualities have not been
normalized yet. However, I think we can have sympathy for a woman who
has been told all her life that one of the most fulfilling things she
can do is have a child, who has run into the frustrations of not being
able to have one, and then through medical intervention is all of a
sudden able to have one. For that person, a pregnancy that comes through
scientific intervention has to be a very profound or ecstatic
experience. It is in fact is described in religious revelatory terms.
It's a scary quote. It circles back on the first quote and reveals its
ugly subtext.

Q: Earlier on in the interview you mentioned this desire of capitalism
to get the pleasure out of sexuality.

CAE: To get the pleasure out of reproduction, capital wants to eliminate
sexuality. That's the goal. Sexuality is incredibly problematic, since it
stifles efficiency, and reduces consumption. The US is, of course, the
avant-garde in the elimination of sexuality, particularly in the middle
class. That's the real focus--the bureaucratic and technocratic classes.
Members of this class have to be "efficient" workers. The situation is
easier for the working class, yet there are exceptions, such as the
welfare mother syndrome we mentioned earlier in the interview.

Q: There are two important points about the elimination of pleasure:
in the first place there is the pleasure industry, and that is also
part of capitalism, and the second thing is that from long ago in
history there has always something like the 'powers' giving the
'masses' some kind of room to play, just to keep them calm. I don't
really believe they want to get rid of pleasure completely.

CAE: We hope that you are right about that, but we don't see that as
the case. A lot of it comes down to how you want to define pleasure.
Where should pleasure truly reside according the capitalist model?
Pleasure should be displaced onto representation, or sublimated into
consumption and production. A person can get pleasure from buying a
product; however, CAE would suggest that going out and buying some
object that capital has designed to be a pleasurable experience is
nowhere near the direct pleasure that say sexuality in the flesh is.
We don't see them as equivalents.

Pleasure should be a quality that arises out of emergent desire.
The pleasure that arises out of excess consumption is manufactured
and inserted by capital into individual consciousness through
spectacle and other socializing processes.
Normalized pleasure can best be described by the Situationist term
"enriched privation." It's consumption without nourishment or
satisfaction. Once someone goes through the process of consumption
and takes the product home it never seems to be all that was promised.
We know this feeling as "buyer remorse." There is always a traitorous
relationship that emerges from the play activities that the system

Q: Then there is also all these, in Holland at least, gigantic
loveparties and sexparties and every kind of
discotheque, from the really scruffy to the really chic, in castles
and in sporthalls, just name it. What is that? From your text it made
me think this could maybe be something like drugs to the people, like
something that is actually illegal or is supposed to beindecent, but
at the same time it is allowed, with a half closed eye, by authorities.

CAE: Again, a really complicated situation. For one thing, we have to
ask ourselves: who are the sex party participants? Is it representative
of a grand majority of people? CAE thinks not, even though it seems to
occur in all classes. We must also ask: Can a sex party be commodified
or overcoded in such a manner that pleasure undermines itself? In order
for a sex party to be secure and safe for participants, the activities
are so overcoded that the possibility of true improvisation, or of true
exploration in sexual process, is denied. Everyone knows precisely
what's going to happen, the order in which it is going to happen, and it
is sold in a very nice and neat package. Now there is also the
possibility that a sex party can have a very resistant quality. It can
function as a temporary autonomous zone; it can function as a protest
against the boredom of everyday life, and it can function as a denial
of the commodification of everyday life. That possibility is certainly
there; however, the situation is somewhat conflicted. I would say in the
majority of cases, and in the US without question, very few people can
go out and have an autonomous sex party, because if your secret is
exposed, you're going to be in some serious trouble. Or, if society
allows (such as in Japan), you do it under economic sanction by going
on a (overcoded) sex tour to Bangkok, Amsterdam, or Las Vegas. But
really, could there be anything more boring or nonsexual than sexual

Q: I'm going to pick out one sentence from your article now: "in spite
of the fact that having sex can yield a functional product, underclass
women in the US are now increasingly being denied government subsidies
for the necessary population production which they contribute to the

CAE: To expand on that a little, because we mentioned this earlier on
in the interview: this is a problem that feminist critics have
complained about with great justification. Domestic work is not valued;
nobody is paid for it. In the US that scenario is getting worse. For
contributing domestic labor to the economy, poor single mothers are
treated as if a child should be all the reward they need. The sacrifice
of the mother's desires to socialize the child is perceived to be without
value to the economy, and is perceived in no way to contribute to the
expansion of capital. We know this is precisely wrong. These women should
be paid for doing for their domestic service. If they are socializing a
child, if they are bringing about the necessary production of people,
and if there is any sense of fair compensation (which we know there is
not), they should be paid for their labor. The amount of work that they
are doing is really quite incredible and yet they are being completely
screwed out of any compensation for their labor.

Q: You wrote something about sexual harassment and the policies around
that in organizations and companies. These sexual harassment policies
that are actually supposed to be very good for women, beneficent,
coming out of the feminist struggle, are now working against all people,
both female and male. Is it not possible to overcome it?

CAE: At this point, it's very difficult. Whether the problems can be
overcome...the middle class is stuck with the policy. If upper class
members are taken to court they have the money to buy their way out
of it. They can get great lawyers, so they can pretty much walk away.
They'll lose a bit of capital, but to someone that's wealthy that's
not a problem. The lower classes don't have to worry because they can't
be leveraged by civil law. If someone is sexually harassing someone
else, what can be done: fire them from their job at MacDonalds? That
is going to break their heart, isn't it? It's no punishment. The only
people that can really get burned are those that can't either afford
the luxury of a courtcase or to lose their job, because that means
the loss of class status, in conjunction with the problem of never
being hired anywhere else in a comparable position. The result is a
generalized fear of this worst-case scenario, so middle class people
become even more afraid to express their desires. The intensity of the
problem is doubled in the case of what is called "victim-driven policy."
If a person witnesses something that could possibly be construed as sexual
harassment, s/he is required to report it to a sexual harassment
investigator on the premises. If one witnesses, and does not report a
potential infraction, s/he is liable in any forthcoming law suits. It's
only at the middle class level that this occurs, whether corporate or
bureaucratic. The situation thus demands that you not express desire in
any way because you may be reported.  And if found guilty, there is a
zero tolerance policy. It's immediate loss of class position and wealth.

When corporations realized that women were going to be needed in the
workplace in order to intensify production and consumption, there was
also a great worry about how to stop counterproductive behavior
(expression of desire) in the workplace. In a magic moment, a particular
faction of  conservative feminists offered the idea of sexual harassment.
They turned to the Logos, the Patriarchy, the Word, and asked their
exploiter to protect them, and in exchange they offered not only their
own sovereignty, but that of all members of the middle class. The
patriarchy took the offer. How could it refuse? It could intensify
surveillance, crush uncommodified desire, and look progressive for doing
so. The result is an intensely alienated workplace where institutional
violence is at an all time high, but interpersonal conflict is lower in
that it finds less expression.  This was one of the most politically
stupid moves of the latter half of this century. Never in this century
has a minority been played for such suckers. They gave the corporations
a way to implement an authoritarian policy that they were at a loss to
deploy. We should mention once again that the feminist radical left,
tried to do all it could to stop it. As true liberationists, they knew
you never increase the power of the institutions that oppress.


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