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  • Technics and the Human Sensorium:Rethinking Media Theory through the Body
  • Mark Coté (bio)

The freedom of the hand almost necessarily implies a technical activity different from the apes … and commands the use of artificial organs, that is, of implements. Tools appear as a "secretion" of the anthropoid's body and brain. Up to this stage, exteriorisation was an evolutive biological tendency. From now on it becomes a technical tendency … The emergence of tools as a species characteristic marks the frontier between animal and human initiating a long transitional period during which sociology slowly took over from zoology.

(Leroi-Gourhan 1993, 90)


The import of media cannot be expressed solely on the level of discourse. Media and technology1 are not adequately reckoned with only in discursive terms of social construction or ideology. The myriad effects of media have always exceeded the bounds of representation. While there is a rich and important body of scholarship on the symbolic and cultural significance of media, much work remains to be done in examining media as an ever-expanding collection of technological artifacts, as sensorial vectors with concrete experiential effects. Especially in our historical moment of ubiquitous mobile digital networks, it is necessary to consider media in terms of its pre-linguistic and pre-cognitive effects in the human sensorium. As such, the following constitutes an intervention in a growing and diverse body of literature which examines the social and political role of affect and sensation.2 Here this intervention comes in a rearticulation of the relationship between the human and technology. That is, media and technology will be positioned in a 'return to the senses' as something other than an external force which degrades, occludes, biases, or distorts the otherwise natural condition of the human. Indeed, it will be argued that there is no a priori or natural configuration of the human sensorium; rather, that sensory perception is only ever calibrated in relation to technics. As such, it presents an imperative not just to think about the media but to feel it. This will entail rethinking a number of long-standing binary oppositions: between the interiority-exteriority of thought, and natural human-artificial life.

At stake, is not just our understanding of our contemporary mediated existence and its political implications, but the provocative claim that 'we have never been human'; that is, technology will be presented not as a prosthetic supplement to the biological body but as comprising an originary condition, a defining characteristic of the human. This entails a sustained critical interrogation of techne—especially as it relates to the human. Readers likely will be familiar with the classical Greek distinction beginning, on the one hand, with episteme, as pure, or theoretical knowledge, the stuff proper to philosophy which is produced in critical dialogue. On the other hand, techne is practical knowledge emanating from skill, art, and practice. In the works of antiquity, such as Plato's Phaedrus3 among others, a clear hierarchy is set wherein knowledge produced or accessed by the philosophic episteme (such as the Platonic ideal form) has precedence and is valued over that produced via sophistic techne. It is under such a hierarchy that Plato can condemn knowledge produced and supported by writing (as a manifestation of techne) as both a contaminant and lesser derivative of the epistemic knowledge or logos of critical dialogue. What I propose here is not an inversion of this relation but its implosion. Through a media theory of embodiment, there is both a rearticulation of the human and technics into transductive4 relations, and a radical repositioning of affect and sensation as both mediated and prefiguring the purported rationality of political thought. In short, this entails a new way to both think and feel the political via technics.

Let us begin by briefly going back to the future, as it were, to not a lament of the relationship between the body, technology, and the political, but a celebration. One hundred years ago, the front page of the conservative Parisian daily Le Figaro prominently featured the 'Futurist Manifesto,' written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti as a paean to machinery, to speed, to aggression, and to violence.

We want to exalt movements of...