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Reviewed by:
  • Bodies in Technology
  • Maureen Nappi
Bodies in Technology by Don Ihde. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A., 2002. 232 pp. Trade, paper. ISBN: 0-8166-3845-4; 0-8166-3846-2.

In his book Bodies in Technology, Don Ihde, as a longstanding phenomenologist, discursively revisits the Cartesian bifurcation of mind and body by traversing the polemical processes of physical embodiment with that of contemporary technology by initially asserting that "We are our body." Thereafter, Ihde ontologically triangulates our experiences of our bodies in [relation to] technology as: body one, a first-order sense of embodiment in which we experience ourselves as "motile, perceptual, and emotive being[s]-in-the-world;" body two, a second-order sense of embodiment that is engendered, and constructed within the context of social and cultural definitional interplay; and body [in technology], a tertiary sense of embodiment that while traversing body one and body two, places the body in relation to technology through some mediating form of technology or technological artifact.

Using data primarily derived from his family, students and associates, Ihde commingles the personal with the technical by interweaving the anecdotal with the analytical. Thus, he consciously adopts a writing method that he attributes to the feminist writer Susan Bordo by incorporating "the autobiographical within the experiential." As Ihde's early work in phenomenology includes flights into imaginative variations, he cites an in-class "thought experiment" that he uses to elicit his students to articulate their sense of the non-technological virtual body. The assignment: to imagine themselves jumping out of an airplane. Their responses, Ihde points out, fall into one of two possible categories: either the student imagines an "embodied" perspective [End Page 77] of self as actor, which Ihde refers to as the "here-body"—a present-tense version of a "'be here now' body," or the student imagines a disembodied perspective of self as observer of the self as actor, that is, "already a kind of virtual body in a nontechnological projection." This form of virtuality, which Ihde refers to as the "image-body," illustrates a body image in which one is a delayed and disembodied observer visually objectifying one's own body.

As each technology extends and culturally enwraps its participants within its unique environment, Ihde's distinctions serve to build on this insight while further grounding us in the very physicality of our bodies. Thus, by articulating and differentiating the specificities of these experiential embodiments that we, perhaps unknowingly, sense in our bodies even as they extend into a shared, cultural embodiment, Ihde's categories prove conceptually meaningful precisely because they bring to light something that has previously remained relatively concealed. This ontology, founded on Heidegger's interrelationship between the technological artifact and its cultural contiguities, serves to define technology not only by its raison d'etre but also by other possible assignments it may be contextually allotted.

Moreover, just as technology must be defined in relation to the complexities of its assignments and its allowances for embodied agency, so too must the body be thus defined. Hence, as our bodies and our technologies form a symbiotic relationship in which each is characteristically and relativisticly adaptable to the other, they remain inextricably bound to each other within a cybernetic union of production. This relationship is once again emphasized by Ihde in Bodies in Technology as he reiterates in the last paragraph of his conclusion, "We are our bodies. . . . We are bodies in technologies."

Maureen Nappi
Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A. E-mail: <>


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pp. 77-78
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