- Introduction 12.2
Issue 12.2 attempts to focus on the human. In the impossibility of this task, the elusiveness of its object, it runs into machines and fantasies that produce, inspire, and disrupt the practices and imagination of the human in its relations to technology and animality. Readers will thus find in this issue explicit as well as implicit engagements with questions of biopower, bare life, the animal, environmentalism, agriculture, food, and the often invisible, potentially magic, work that goes into producing the sensible realm as one congenial to creatures deeply deceived by their own illusions of autonomy.
The issue opens with Dominic Pettman’s, “Grizzly Man: Werner Herzog’s Anthropological Machine.” Considering Herzog’s compilation of footage filmed by Timothy Treadwell over the course of summers spent with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wild, Pettman explores the interface between the biosphere and the mediasphere. Before he was mauled to death a bear, Treadwell was a man with a camera; his relations to the animals, in other words, were mediated by his activity of recording these relations. So where is the human in this interface and how does the symbiotic relation between human, technology, and animal incite us to reject the supposition that the human might be as well as be locatable? As he takes up these questions, Pettman critically engages Giorgio Agamben’s notion of the anthropological machine, particularly along the edges of food and sex, edges where urges may seem the most animalistic even as they are cooked and cultivated—and confronted with cameras.
With Elizabeth Mazzolini’s, “Breathless Subjects,” we move from the anthropological machine to the authenticity machine. Mazzolini assesses the work of oxygen, the ways it produces authenticity for high altitude mountaineers. Taking up controversies over the use of bottled oxygen by climbers on Mount Everest as well as laboratory studies of the effects of oxygen and its lack on the human body, Mazzolini encounters a peculiar paradox in oxygen as a biotechnical assemblage: the climber eschewing bottled oxygen for the sake of a more authentic, autonomous, unassisted climb loses the capacity to maintain a cognitive awareness of the experience of the climb. As she demonstrates the role oxygen plays in stories of autonomy and authenticity on Mt. Everest, Mazzolini opens up the mechanisms that produce particular fantasies of heroic, individualized achievement. She presents, in other words, the authenticity machine in action.
Cindy Patton is also concerned with making visible the boundaries and mechanisms that secure some terrains as safe, as protected domains for extreme experiences, be they those of adventure racers or ordinary travelers in the security regime resulting from the George W. Bush administration’s response to the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Writing from her experiences as an emergency medical volunteer at adventure races, Patton details the effort involved in creating a “real life” experience, the technologies and spaces mobilized and deployed at the edge of permissible danger. How is this edge between too much and too little security maintained and for whose ends? “Real Sports” confronts readers with the risky undecideability of these questions.
The next two pieces explore the fantastic terrains of American television and faery subcultures as they seek to open up thinking and experiencing the environment. Both work against nature/culture dualisms to take up relations between the human and nonhuman worlds. Teena Gabrielson’s “The End of New Beginnings: Nature and the American Dream in The Sopranos, Weeds, and Lost” reflects on the anxieties around domesticity, masculinity, violence, and economic security as they appear in televisual depictions of the natural environment, particularly in associations that link the physical landscape to fantasies of new beginnings. Tyson Lewis and Richard Kahn, in “Exopedagogies and the Utopian Imagination: A Case Study in Faery Subcultures,” consider the potential of a “faery pedagogy” as a means for disrupting dominant regimes of biopower. In contrast to commercially popular fairies, “faeries” occupy a critical consciousness they share with radical environmental elves (ELF—Environmental Life Force). For Lewis and Kahn, such figures and groups enact new sensory practices that challenge pre-existing oppositions between the visible and invisible, the knowable and the unknowable.