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[Nettime-ro] the abstract sensorium of the body sau estetica bionicii
Florian LIBER on Fri, 11 Nov 2005 09:32:55 +0100 (CET)


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[Nettime-ro] the abstract sensorium of the body sau estetica bionicii


Iata un text la moda, in Montreal, printre noi artistii plastici dar si printre cei ai scenei interfatate :  noua generatie de cyberdansatori - motion capture. Aseara la o intalnire ordinara a grupului nostru plus frumoasa Luciana Parisi, undeva la inaltimea unui gratte ? ciel/ zgaraie-nori nord-american nu am aflat nimic nou. Ne hranim afectul prin intermediul protezelor automatizate si dopaj ne dezmembram corpurile in entitati hibride. Acesti noi oameni supramaterializati de bio-art cu ale ei biocipuri (bionica, disponibilitati atavice primitive, materialitatea ciberneticii si incarnarea informatica) ne-am propus sa aducem o contributie istorica noului antroporfism urban. Am uitat tot in cateva pahare cu vodka ruseasca de la societatea de alcool quebequeza. 

Urmeaza textul in format numeric. 
Florian

http://monumental.home.ro

Recently bionic technologies have bought the body sensory system back in the field of communication sciences and technologies highlighting the importance of information sensing in bacterial, neural and silicon transmission. Bionic technologies connect the neural network ­ the network of nerve cells that conduct chemical and electrical traffic inside our bodies - with the senses in a new way. If, as it has been argued, sensory information directly relates to motor control, then all we feel is movement. However, bionic technologies as a sort of neuroprosthetics aided by bacteria and silicon transmitters do not simply enable the brain to feel more, i.e. to enhance sensation by enhancing the feeling of movement.  Bionic transmission pushes the sensing body towards a new mode of abstraction or incorporeal transformation emerging from the symbiotic connection among these regions of sensing in a biodigital network of information. What this bionic symbiont will be able to feel is then
 strictly related to the topological qualities of this network encompassing inorganic and organic matter. The connecting links between bacterial, neural and silicon transmission point to qualitative transformations in sensing motion triggered by different velocities enfolded together in the bionic body. This sensorium is then
affective rather than simply directed by information units. By moving across scales in evolution, this affective sensorium time-travels between the past and the future whilst exposing the body to its own futurity.

Dr. Luciana Parisi, Lecturer in Interactive Media, Goldmisths College, is best known for her research on nonlinear or endosymbiotic dynamics of evolution in information transmission. She has worked extensively on the impact of cybernetics to an understanding of media culture with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. She has published various articles in Tekhnema, Parallax, Ctheory, Social Text, Mute, TCS concerning the relation between science (molecular biology, chaos and complexity theories, quantum physics, endosymbiosis, Darwinism and neo-Darwinism) technology (digital technologies and biotechnologies), and ontological evolution in nature and capitalism. Her research has also focussed on the impact of biotechnologies on the notions of the body, sex, femininity and desire. In 2004, she published Abstract Sex. Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (Continuum Press). Her interest in interactive media technologies has also led to research the relation between image
 and sound, synaesthesia and affect, and the generative simulation of perceptive space. Currently she is working on the bionic transformation of the architectural sensorium of the body.

Introduction: Abstract Sex, Luciana PARISI

In the age of cybernetics, sex is no longer a private act practised

between the walls of the bedroom. In particular, human sex no longer

seems to involve the set of social and cultural codes that used to characterize

sexual identity and reproductive coupling. In the twentieth

century, political movements, such as feminism, challenged the

conventions that associate sex with sexual reproduction, freeing feminine

desire from the biological function of procreation. At the turn of

the twenty-first century, developments in information technologies

have profoundly accelerated the separation of sex from natural reproduction.

Human sex has now entered a cyberspace of information

where everyday bodily contacts and sexual encounters have given way

to long distance rendezvous. The emergence of cybersex defines a new

prosthetic extension of human sex, the prolongation of sexual pleasures

outside the limits of the body. In the last ten years, Internet-mediated

communication and simulation of sex, cyberpractices such as gender

swapping and cybererotics have been at the core of important debates

about this transformation of human sex ? as sexual reproduction involving

two parents.

This increasing diffusion of mediated sex has been accompanied by

contrasting views about the new blurring of the boundary between

artificial and natural sex. Most commonly, for example, it has been

argued that cybersex defines the cybernetic age as the age of the disappearance

of the body and corporeal difference. With cybersex, male

fantasies and mental projections have replaced physical appearances,

material touch and fluid exchange. Artificial sex calls for the ultimate

separation of the mind from biological limits, the simulated experience

of being free from physical constraints in the immersive matrix of

information celebrated by the cowboys of cyberspace. This triumph of

artificial sex is said to crown the achievements of the male model of

sex defined by the drive towards discharge, the channelling of all flows

1

towards a final climax, the pleasure of self-satisfaction. Finally detached

from the biological body by transcending all fleshy ties, this dominant

model of sex realizes the most classical of patriarchal dreams: independence

from matter. Leaving behind the heavy meat of physical

presence and floating free in cyberspace, the triumph of artificial sex is

equated to the triumph of the economy of pleasure (the discharging

model of patriarchy).

The transformation of human sex in relation to technology has

reopened the question of gender and power in cybernetic capitalism.

In particular, feminists and cyberfeminists have criticized cybersex and

its erasure of corporeal presence because it reinforces male pleasure.

The pursuit of male self-satisfaction is continuously perpetuated in the

disembodied world of simulation far removed from physical and biological

ties. The expansion of mediated projections ensures the constant

exorcism of the physical world of dark matter incarnated in the

woman?s reproductive body. Cyberfeminism has pointed to the problematic

implications of the newly blurred distinctions between natural

and artificial sex for feminism and beyond. The acclaimed autonomy of

cybersex from reproduction, of sexuality from sexual reproduction

entails a double bind that on the one hand liberates female identity

from biological destiny but, on the other, realizes the patriarchal

dream of liberation from flesh. Cybersex remains caught up between

these two poles creating an impasse between disembodiment and

embodiment highlighting the ultimate triumph of male pleasure over

feminine desire, the socio-cultural disappearance of natural or material

difference in cybernetic capitalism.

Nevertheless, the question of cybersex goes even further if we

consider that the disappearance of natural sex is also linked to the

disappearance of the male and female functions of reproduction increasingly

threatened by the success of human cloning. In February 1997,

renowned scientific journals such as the New Scientist and Nature

reported the final accomplishment of the first mammal cloning by the

Roslin Institute of Biotechnology in Edinburgh, announcing an unprecedented

modification of reproduction that would have profound

impacts on human sex. Scientific articles and reports on adult mammal

cloning explain that this procedure involves a new understanding of

reproduction, no longer determined by sexual mating but entailing a

duplication or copy of genetic material extracted from one single

parent. Since 1997, new debates about the transformation of human

sex have been stirred up by the real prospect of cloning humans. Articles

on the redundancy of sexual reproduction, but in particular the

A B S T R A C T S E X

2

redundancy of the male and female sex for reproduction, are recurrent

not only in scientific journals but also in magazines and newspapers.

In the February 2001 edition of Wired magazine, a report on human

cloning entitled ?(You)2? discussed the prospect of cloning humans as

an imminent possibility already partially achieved in 1999 by a South

Korean team that voluntarily cut short the experiment. This report

discusses how the latest advances on mammal cloning technique, the

reduction of laboratory costs and the emergence of pro-cloning

groups ? such as the Raelians, a Quebec-based New Age religious

group and the Human Cloning Foundation, a New York- and Atlantabased

group ? are facilitating the opportunities for cloning humans.

The increasing demand for cloning people from parents who have lost

their child, from terminally ill people and from infertile men and

women will soon find adequate supply in this newly constituted

market. Not only does this report discuss how cell biologists, animal

cloning specialists and fertility doctors believe that human cloning is

an inevitable substitute of in vitro fertilization ? cloning cows, pigs

and people will soon become more efficient than natural reproduction

? but it also highlights the newly discovered plasticity of genes. The

novelty of Dolly, the cloned sheep, was not that you could clone an

adult mammal, but that our genes and organs can be designed and

shaped. The point is not solely that it is now possible to reproduce

artificially, but that human beings can be reproduced from scratch.

Artificial wombs, sperms and eggs are under construction and not

only fathers but also mothers are about to become redundant. Artificial

sex and reproduction marks the apex of the Brave New World

where humans overcome death through the proliferation of identical

copies.

Nevertheless, as asserted in the Scientific American in January 2002, in

the exclusive ?The First Human Cloned Embryo?, the clone is not a

mere copy, but a new type of biological entity never seen before in

nature. Artificial sex and reproduction not only replaces human functions

of procreation but also engenders diversity by accentuating the

genetic and somatic differences commonly experienced by identical

twins. These controversial implications of human cloning and human

design bring into question the power of science, capitalism and gender

relations. As demanded by feminism, the female body is now free from

the biological destiny of procreation. Yet, at the same time, the patriarchal

dream of independence from nature and from the female body is

also completely reached. The liberation from anatomy, from the identification

of women with sexual reproduction, contrasts strongly with

I N T R O D U C T I O N

3

the liberation from the material body, the accomplishment of Cartesian

disembodiment in the cyberspace of information.

The increasing investment in technologies of reproduction announces

the new economic and cultural frontier of bio-informatic (or biodigital)

capitalism where artificial sex and reproduction define the new

tendencies of power in the cybernetic age. The contrasting binarism

between ultimate disembodiment on the one hand and the return to

the fleshy body on the other coincides with the dichotomous boundary

between technology and biology continuously scrambled into pieces by

our biodigital capitalist culture. If it has become increasingly problematic

to distinguish natural from artificial sex, then it may be superfluous

to investigate the blurring of the biological and the technological

from the perspective of a fundamental dualism between embodiment

and disembodiment. The implications of cybersex point to a new direction

for thought that requires the elaboration of an alternative understanding

of sex.

We propose a third way out of the binarism between embodiment

and disembodiment to engage with the biodigital mutations of human

sex. This third way maps the emergence of a new (but ancient) kind of

sex and reproduction, linking these mutations to microcellular

processes of information transmission that involve the unnatural

mixtures of bodies and sexes. The speeding up of information trading,

not only across sexes, but also across species and between humans and

machines, exposes the traits of a non-climactic (non-discharging) desire

spreading through a matrix of connections that feed off each other

without an ultimate apex of satisfaction. This new way points to the

dissipation of the male model of pleasure by exploring the implications

of a biodigital intensification of bacterial sex: the non-linear merging

and copying of distinct information sources accelerating the emergence

of unprecedented entities. As one scientist recently put it, it is

increasingly evident that, since their appearance on Earth, humans

have been living in the ?Age of Bacteria?. The mutual feedback

between biology and technology marks an unpredictable proliferation

of molecular mutations that poses radical questions not only about

human sex but also about what we take a body, nature and matter to

be. This new approach investigates the imminent pervasion of mutant

species, bodies and sexes by the engineering of an altogether different

conception of sex, femininity and desire ? abstract sex.

A B S T R A C T S E X

4

CHAPTER 1

Virtual Sex

INTRODUCTION

Since 1997, when Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute of

Biotechnology in Edinburgh created the first mammal clone, Dolly the

Sheep, animal cloning has been undergoing rapid bio-technological

innovations. In June 1998, the American scientist Ryuzo Yanagimachi,

from the University of Hawaii, announced the cloning of the first artificial

mouse. In September 1999, Italian researchers accomplished the

cloning of the first male mammal, a bull. Since then, several cloning

experiments on cows, pigs and monkeys have been successfully carried

out. The expansion of an artificial mammal world populated by replicant

animals has seen the rise of debates about the limits that should

be set for science in the manipulation of nature. When in July 2001

the Australian doctor Orly Lachman Kaplan declared open the experimentation

on mammal fertilization without sperm, the debate quickly

shifted towards the new implications for human sex, suggesting the

superfluous activity of the male sex for human procreation. In the last

five years, therefore, the impact of bio-technology on human sex and

reproduction has more strongly influenced cultural and ethical debates

about the power of science to engineer life.

Between 2001 and 2002, newspapers around the world reported

several attempts at cloning adult humans on behalf of groups of scientists,

despite the opposition of the Church, mainstream scientific

communities, the government and public opinion. After helping a 62

year-old woman to become pregnant, the Italian fertility expert

Severino Antinori declared that his plans to clone humans and assist

the birth of the first human clone were about to become reality. The

echoes of this news acquired more credibility once, together with

with Dr Panos Michael Zavos he presented his plans to clone humans

to the Academy of Science in Washington, during the International

Conference on Cloning in 2001. The most debated gynaecologist in the

last ten years, Antinori intends to carry out his project without the

5

consent of the European Community or the American administration,

but with extreme confidence in the two hundred couples on his

waiting list, in private sponsors, laboratories and clinics around the

globe. Recently, the Italian scientist claimed that a secretive global

network of scientists, sponsors and surrogate mothers collaborated to

create the world?s first cloned human embryos. Although there is no

evidence of recent births of human clones, according to Antinori at

least three secret pregnancies in different countries have resulted from

human cloning techniques.

As a fertility expert, Antinori?s project of cloning humans mainly

aspires to enable infertile couples to procreate their own genetic

offspring without turning to surrogate wombs or foreign genetic material

from sperm and egg donors as required by the procedures for in

vitro fertilization. On the other side of the spectrum, the acclaimed

project of cloning humans has also seen, in recent years, the diffusion

of companies, such as Southern Cross Genetics, an Australian start-up

that offers the service of storing DNA for future cloning. These

companies follow the example of now popular cloning companies such

as Clonaid, founded in 1997 by the Raelians, a pro-science religious

group ? a mixture of religious scientists and surrogate mothers. These

groups also hint, together with the Human Cloning Foundation, to the

more sinister attempts to clone dead offspring and relatives. In the

year 2001, newspapers around the world reported the story of an anonymous

couple willing to finance the Raelians to clone their one monthold

dead boy from his frozen cells.

Although the success of human cloning is still liable to high rates of

improbability, in December 2002, the head of Clonaid, chemist

Brigitte Boisselier, claimed the successful birth of the first baby girl,

Eve, cloned from the DNA of a 31-year old American woman. The

group also expected four more cloned babies to be born in North

America, Europe and Asia from one lesbian couple and from two

couples using preserved cells of their own children before their deaths.

As several experts on cloning point out, in order to perform human

cloning it is sufficient to have access to large numbers of eggs, expert

cell biologists, chemists and scientists, and well-equipped laboratories.

With more than 50 women members, scientists and private benefactors,

the Raelians are considered among the most likely candidates to

pioneer human cloning.

As anti-cloning scientists have recently declared, even though Antinori

or the Raelians fail to pioneer the scientific achievement of

cloning humans, radical changes in human sex and reproduction are

6

A B S T R A C T S E X

imminent. Although unaccepted by mainstream science, minor extravagant

phenomena such as the Raelians? group or the Human Cloning

Foundation together with Antinori?s claims on cloning humans, incite

profound anxieties about the mutation of the body and sex in our

cybernetic age. In particular, rapid developments in bio-technologies,

entailing the engineering of bodies from scratch through genetic

design, are constantly blurring the traditional boundaries between life

and death, natural and artificial. As often pointed out, far from

ensuring the copying of the ?identical?, genetic engineering accelerates

the proliferation of molecular mixtures. The plasticity of genetic material

enables the copying of genetic variations but it does not guarantee

predictable results in the long run. The imminent expansion of cloned

and designed bodies announces an increasing proliferation of mutant

species and sexes that profoundly challenge our assumptions about

what the body is and what it can do.

THE BIO-TECHNOLOGICAL IMPACT

Artifice is fully part of nature.

Deleuze (1988a: 124)

In 1985, Donna Haraway?s Cyborg Manifesto highlighted the new

mutations of the body?sex in bio-informatic capitalism. For Haraway,

the convergence of bodies and technologies marked the emergence of

the new metamorphic world of the cyborg, a hybrid blending of

animal, human and machine parts. No longer embedded in the nuclear

Oedipal family (the natural ties with the mother and the father), the

cyborg was, for Haraway, the offspring of the post-gender world of

genetic engineering where biological or natural sex no longer determines

the cultural and social roles of gender. Cybernetic communication

and reproduction enable the prosthetic manipulation of the

physical bonds of gender stretching the limits of Mother Nature. Artificial

sex permits the unprecedented transformation of our gender identity,

the construction and reconstruction of sexual forms and functions

of reproduction.

The post-gender world of the cyborg brings to the extreme postmodern

claims about the end of certitudes where biological destiny is

threatened by the saturating proliferation of technologies of communication

and reproduction in our daily life. As opposed to the postmodern

nostalgia for a lost world of stable boundaries between nature

7

V I R T U A L S E X

and culture, the cyborg embraced the challenge of bio-informatic technologies

affirming that our assumptions about nature are the results of

intricate cultural constructions articulated by specific technoscientific

discourses.1 The equation between sexual identity and sexual reproduction

at the core of our understanding of human sex is nothing natural.

Quite the contrary, it is embedded in the historical and cultural roots

of the Western metaphysical tradition of essentialism. Far from

reflecting a given unquestionable truth, the cyborg revealed that the

natural essence of a body rather derives from specific historical and

cultural constructions (or representations) of nature establishing a

natural association between feminine sex and sexual reproduction.

Rather than being determined by sexual identity and sexual reproduction,

the artificial world of the cyborg announces the new historical

and cultural conditions of the posthuman body no longer able to find

shelter in the natural world.2 For the post-gender world of the cyborg,

there is nothing natural about the human body, sex and reproduction.

Haraway?s seminal text has strongly influenced debates about the

impact of bio-technologies on the body, sex and femininity. In particular,

in the last ten years, debates about the convergence between

biology and technology have problematized the new tension between

natural and artificial sex, the disappearance of biological difference

and the celebration of artificial disembodiment.3 It has been argued

that the post-gender world of the cyborg risks dissolving the biological

differences of the body, the ties with the corporeal world of sex,

celebrating the disembodied model of male pleasure (the independence

from matter celebrated by the closed economy of charge and

discharge). While liberating feminine desire from biological identity,

the cyborg also deliberates the ultimate detachment of the mind from

the body, the triumph of mental projections over material

constraints.4

These controversial debates about the implications of information

technologies for sexual reproduction tend to perpetuate a critical

impasse between biological essentialism and discursive constructivism.

Claims about the return to material embodiments (biological differences)

are opposed to the emergence of a post-gender world of

cybersex where variable meanings and shifting discourses enable us to

perform our gender identity beyond biological anatomy. In this framework,

gender no longer depends on sex ? the form of sexual organs

and the function of sexual reproduction ? rather it is sex that depends

on the constructions of gender, the signifying signs that constantly

change the nature of sex.5 In recent years, the idea that you can

8

A B S T R A C T S E X

perform your own gender by changing your sexual identity has strongly

clashed with the feminist argument of maintaining biological ties

among women in order to resist the accelerating disembodiment of

difference in cybernetic capitalism.

Yet this critical impasse is nothing new. The constitution of binary

oppositions between what is given (the natural or biological realm) and

what is constructed (the cultural or technological world) is entangled

with the traditional Western model of representation. As often argued,

the model of representation does not entail the exact reflection of

reality or truth, but is more crucially used to refer to a system of organization

of signs where structures of meaning arrange gestural, perceptual,

cognitive, cultural and technological signs through the hierarchies

of the signifier.6 The model of representation reduces all differences ?

biological, physical, social, economical, technical ? to the universal

order of linguistic signification constituted by binary oppositions where

one term negates the existence of the other. The binary opposition

between embodiment and disembodiment is caught up in the binary

logic of representation that disseminates the dichotomy between materiality

and immateriality, the separation of the inert body from the

intelligent mind. Embedded in the Platonic and Cartesian metaphysics

of essence, the logic of representation subjects the body, matter and

nature to the transcendent order of the mind,7 suppressing the

network of relations between nature and culture, sex and gender,

biology and technology, rapidly transforming the way we conceive and

perceive the body?sex.

Neither the politics of embodiment nor disembodiment provides

alternative conceptual tools to analyse the recent bio-informatic mutations

of posthuman sex. This critical impasse is embedded in a specific

conception of the body where a set of pre-established possibilities

determines what a body is and can do. These possibilities are defined

by the analogy between biological forms (species, sex, skin colour and

size) and functions (sexual reproduction, organic development and

organic death) that shape our understanding of nature and matter

through principles of identity (fixity and stability). This analogy creates

a direct resemblance between body and mind, sex and gender, skin and

race where biological destiny determines the hierarchical organization

of social categories. Feminists and cyberfeminists have strongly criticized

this biological sameness that constitutes the patriarchal model of

representation whereby the body is mastered by the mind. Nevertheless,

recent debates about cybersex or artificial sex have failed to

provide an alternative understanding of the mind?body binarism reiter-

9

V I R T U A L S E X

ating the opposition between biological presence and discursive

absence of the body.

The liberation from the mind?body dualism through the displacement

of signifiers from fixed meanings (the signifier sex from the

signified gender) appears to re-entrap the body in a pre-established set

of possibilities determined by linguistic signification. The post-gender

feminist attempt at untangling feminine desire from nature, through

the floating of free signifiers of sex in the new cyberspace of information,

problematically reiterates the mind?body dualism by associating

the body with a fixed and stable nature where matter is inert. In a

sense, post-gender feminism risks confusing the biology of the body

with the materiality of a body where the conception of nature and

matter is determined by and reduced to biological discourses or

universal systems of signification. The continuous displacement of the

signifier ?sex? does not succeed in detaching feminine desire from fixed

nature as it fails to challenge the fundamental problematic of the body,

biological identity, the imperative of sexual procreation and ultimately

the metaphysical conception of matter.

The bio-technological mutations of human sex and reproduction

expose new implications for the separation of feminine desire from

biological destiny requiring an altogether different conception of the

body in order to challenge traditional assumptions (pre-established

possibilities) about what we take a body to be and to do. Expanding

upon the feminist politics of desire, abstract sex brings into question

the pre-established biological possibilities of a body by highlighting the

non-linear dynamics and the unpredictable potential of transformation

of matter. Drawing on an alternative conception of nature, abstract

sex embraces the Spinozist hypothesis about the indeterminate power

(or abstract potential) of a body suggesting that ?we do not yet know

what a body can do?. This hypothesis challenges the analogy between

biological forms and functions (the pre-established biological possibilities

of a body) pointing to the capacities of variation of a body in relation

to the continual mutations of nature. Moving beyond the critical

blockage between biological essentialism (embodiment) and discursive

constructivism (disembodiment), abstract sex proposes a third route to

widen the critical spectrum of our conception of the body?sex.

By proposing to re-wind the processes of evolution of the body and

sex, abstract sex starts from the molecular dynamics of the organization

of matter to investigate the connection between genetic engineering

and artificial nature, bacterial sex and feminine desire that

define the notion of a virtual body?sex. This notion is not to be

10

A B S T R A C T S E X

confused with the immaterial body?sex as defined by the debates about

the embodiment (materiality) and disembodiment (immateriality). The

notion of the virtual body?sex primarily implies that a body is more

than a biological or organic whole, more than a self-sufficient closed

system delimited by predetermined possibilities. The virtual body?sex

exposes the wider layers of organization of a body that include the

non-linear relations between the micro level of bacterial cells and

viruses and the macro levels of socio-cultural and economic systems.

The collision of these layers defines the indeterminate potential of a

body to mutate across different organizations of sex and reproduction

producing a series of micro links between biology and culture, physics

and economics, desire and technologies. The networked coexistence of

these levels contributes to construct a new metaphysical conception of

the body?sex that radically diverges from the binary logic of the

economy of representation.

Abstract sex suggests that bio-technologies do not reiterate new or

old dichotomies. Abstract sex displays the intensive connections

between different levels of organization of a body?sex, where nature

no longer functions as the source of culture, and sex of gender. The

intensive concatenation between nature and culture entails a reversibility

in the ways in which nature affects and is affected by culture.

This mutual relation points to an alternative understanding of sex and

gender that no longer depends upon the primacy of identity and its

mind?body binarism, but lays out the reversal relations between

parallel modes of being and becoming of a body. Sex is neither

constructed as the pre-discursive or as the product of techno-scientific

discourses. Primarily sex is an event: the actualization of modes of

communication and reproduction of information that unleashes an indeterminate

capacity to affect all levels of organization of a body ? biological,

cultural, economical and technological. Sex is a mode ? a

modification or intensive extension of matter ? that is analogous

neither with sexual reproduction nor with sexual organs. Sex expands

on all levels of material order, from the inorganic to the organic, from

the biological to the cultural, from the social to the technological,

economic and political. Far from determining identity, sex is an

envelope that folds and unfolds the most indifferent elements,

substances, forms and functions of connection and transmission. In this

sense, sex ? biological sex ? is not the physical mark of gender.

Rather, gender is a parallel dimension of sex entailing a network of

variations of bodies that challenge the dualism between the natural and

the cultural. Adopting Spinoza?s ethics or ethology of the body, it can

11

V I R T U A L S E X

be argued that sex and gender are two attributes of the same substance,

extension and thought, mutually composing the power ? conatus ? of a

mutant body.8 This conception of sex diverges from the critical

impasse in cyberculture between essentialism and constructivism and

its negative principles of identity.

>From this standpoint, the bio-technological disentanglement of sex

from sexual reproduction does not imply the ultimate triumph of the

patriarchal model of pleasure, a longing for disembodiment and selfsatisfaction.

This disentanglement suggests an intensification of desire

in molecular relations such as those between a virus and a human, an

animal cell and a micro-chip. As opposed to the dominant model of

pleasure defined by auto-eroticism (the channelling of flows towards

climax or the accumulation and release of energy), abstract sex points

to a desire that is not animated or driven by predetermined goals. As

explained later in this chapter, desire is autonomous from the subject

and the object as it primarily entails a non-discharging distribution of

energy, a ceaseless flowing that links together the most indifferent of

bodies, particles, forces and signs. In this sense, the cybernetic mutations

of sex expose a continuum between the cellular levels of sex

(bacterial sex), the emergence of human sex (heterosexual mating) and

the expansion of bio-technological sex (cloning) entailing a new

conception of the body. This conception highlights an alternative metaphysics

of matter?nature that enfolds the multiple layers of composition

of a body and sex, defining their potential capacity to

differentiate.

Abstract sex points to the non-linear coexistence of the biophysical

(the cellular level of the body?sex defined by bacteria, viruses, mitochondrial

organelles, eukaryotic cells); the biocultural (the anthropomorphic

level of the human body?sex defined by psychoanalysis,

thermodynamics, evolutionary biology and anatomy in industrial capitalism);

and the biodigital (the engineering level of the body?sex

defined by information science and technologies such as in vitro fertilization,

mammal and embryo cloning, transgenic manipulation and the

human genome in cybernetic capitalism) layers of the virtual body?sex.

This complex composition of the body?sex exposes the continual and

unpredictable mixtures of elements stemming from different layers

that indicate the indeterminate potential of a body?sex to mutate. In

particular, the bio-technological engineering of the body, the genetic

design of life accelerates the recombination of different elements and

the mutations of the body?sex by disclosing a new set of urgent questions

about the relation between feminine desire and nature.

12

A B S T R A C T S E X

The rapid innovations of cloning techniques seem to announce the

ultimate achievement of Man over Nature, the ultimate power of Man

to design Man. Yet, what might seem the final act of mastering nature

by patriarchal humanism exposes in fact much more controversial

implications. As pro-cloning and anti-cloning groups often point out,

the genetic designing of life, involving the non-linear transfer of information

between different bodies (animal, humans and machines),

implies an acceleration of evolutionary mutations whose results are not

yet known. The acclaimed final control of man over nature rather

suggests the loss of human control on the unpredictable mutations of

the body. The recent proliferation of mutant bodies radically brings

into question the conception of nature where the acceleration of

cloning, in the form of bacterial sex, suggests that artifice has always

been part of nature. This rapid unfolding of artificial nature opens up

new problematic questions in relation to bio-technological mutations

of human sex and reproduction.9 If cloning has always been part of

nature, as bacterial sex demonstrates, then isn?t it natural to clone

humans? Are the new bio-technologies of the body already part of

nature? What are the implications of this newly defined artificial or

engineering nature in relation to feminine desire?

In order to investigate these questions, this book proposes to build

up a new set of conceptual tools borrowing from the philosophical

work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the metaphysics of nature

of Baruch Spinoza and the scientific work of Lynn Margulis. By

analysing the implications of the bio-technological mutations of a body,

abstract sex maps a wider critical route to relate the (cyber)feminist

politics of desire with the artificiality of nature.

ABSTRACT SEX

The logos is a huge Animal whose parts unite in a whole and are

unified under a principle or a leading idea; but the pathos is a

vegetal realm consisting of cellular elements that communicate only

indirectly, only marginally, so that no totalization, no unification,

can unite this world of ultimate fragments. It is the schizoid universe

of closed vessels, of cellular regions, where contiguity itself is

a distance: the world of sex.

Deleuze (1972: 174?5)

With machines the question is one of connection or non-connection,

without conditions, without any need to render an account to a

13

V I R T U A L S E X

third party. It is from that that the surplus value of encoding originates.

The situation is like that of a bumble-bee which, by being

there, became part of the genetic chain of the orchid. The specific

event passes directly into the chain of encoding until another machinic

event links up with a different temporalization, a different

conjunction.

Guattari (1984: 125)

The mutations of a body are not predetermined by a given ideal or an

infrastructure defining the realm of biological possibilities of a body.

On the contrary, these mutations designate the abstract or virtual

operations of matter. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, inspired by

Henri Bergson, the virtual is not to be confused with the realm of the

possible. The possible, in fact, is often the reflected image of an

already determined reality contained in a closed set of choices. Possibilities

do not have a reality, as their reality is already determined.

Instead of denoting a possible reality, the virtual is reality in terms of

strength or potential that tends towards actualization or emergence.

Thus, the virtual does not have to become real. It is already real. It

has to become actual. The actual does not derive from another actual,

but implies the emergence of new compositions, a becoming that

responds to (acts back on) the virtual rather than being analogous to it.

Hence, virtuality and actuality do not coincide. They are two asymmetrical

yet coexistent planes of difference that constitute the potential

of a body to become different, to mutate beyond principles of analogy

and resemblance.10 Far from opposing matter to immateriality, abstract

sex points to the potential mutations of a body that are not defined by

a transcendent substance but by the incorporeal (abstract) transformations

of matter.11

Abstract matter is not substance. In the Cartesian tradition,

substance corresponds to the non-extended God separated from the

physical world of nature. The Cartesian split between the mind and

the body originates from the separation of the cosmos from matter, of

the transcendent God (the power of the soul?mind) from nature (the

power of the physical body). In this framework, what we see in nature

was created by a non-physical God, a superior entity that has the

power to create and destroy the natural world. Contrary to Descartes?s

ideal soul, Baruch Spinoza?s concept of substance demonstrates that

nature is not separated from the cosmos. The body originates in God

as God corresponds to an intensive and extensive substance. God does

not create matter, but is matter able to manifest itself through the

14

A B S T R A C T S E X

ceaseless mutation of bodies and things in nature. As explained later in

this chapter, far from starting from the unity of the One, Spinoza

points to the parallel multiplicities of being and becoming, the

continual relations between the cosmos and nature, intensity and

extension, mind and body that define the primacy of potential over

possible matter. Abstract matter questions the philosophical tradition

that separates the corporeal from the incorporeal, nature from culture,

the organic from the technical. It exposes the potential relations of

change between the virtual body and actual body, the symbiotic

merging of non-identical powers (the continual power or potential

between substance and modes) unfolding the unpredictable mutations

of a body.

>From this standpoint, abstract (mutating) matter is machinic as it

entails the heterogeneous composition or merging of different bodies

of production. This machinic process has nothing to do with the celebration

of technological determinism where technical machines are

opposed to the organic body (technology versus biology). Drawing on

Deleuze and Guattari, a machine is above all defined by a mixture of

biological, technical, social, economic and desiring elements that

compose and decompose a body at certain speeds and according to

given gradients. These mixtures are productive concatenations or

machinic assemblages constituting for example the biocultural organization

of the body (the disciplinary order of human sex established by

the virtual links between psychoanalysis, anatomy, evolutionary biology

and thermodynamics) that unleash a potential transformation of all the

elements participating in the composition (the transformation of evolutionary

theories, the laws of physics and the anatomical perception of

the body?sex). Far from reiterating the critical impasse between the

natural and the cultural ? the realm of the given and the constructed ?

Deleuze and Guattari?s conception of abstract matter or machine

suggests an isomorphic method of analysis that maps the different yet

connected levels of order of a body (the biophysical, the biocultural

and the biodigital organizations of sex).

In this book, the process of endosymbiosis constitutes the abstract

machine of sex or abstract sex. Abstract sex maps the isomorphic

process of organization of different modes of information reproduction

and communication. Lynn Margulis, the molecular biologist and

theorist of endosymbiosis, or SET (serial endosymbiosis theory),

explains how heterogeneous assemblages of molecules and compounds,

unicellular and multicellular bodies, proliferating through gene

trading, cellular invasion and parasitism, produce new cellular and

15

V I R T U A L S E X

multicellular compositions of bodies.12 In particular, merged bacteria

that infect one another and symbiotic cellular associations reinvigorated

by the incorporation of their contaminating diseases, map the

potential mutation of bodies and sexes.

The Darwinian logic of evolution, resting on the centrality of sexual

reproduction in order to engender species variations or differences, is

substituted with a rhizomatic recombination of information expanding

through viral hijacking of codes between singular machines of reproduction:

a microbe and an insect, a bud and a flower, a toxin and a

human. A far cry from organic unity and identity or from the original

line of descent, endosymbiosis or abstract sex starts from heterogeneous

assemblages where the parasiting web between hosts and guests

produces new bodies?sexes. Far from determining a dualism between

micro and macro levels of composition, for example between bacterial

and nucleic cells, endosymbiosis exhibits a reversible feedback of information

transfer that unfolds a continual variation of the body?sex,

nature and matter.

This abstract machine provides a consistent method to analyse the

manifold compositions of biophysical, biocultural and biodigital levels

of modification of sex and reproduction. This isomorphic organization

explains the dynamics of distinct machinic assemblages, cutting across

micro and macro orders, and defines an immanent connection between

bacterial sex and biodigital cloning, nucleic sex and disciplinary reproduction

through singular points of mixture and differentiation of transmission.

Abstract sex deploys the consistent relations between

different machines of sex: from the autocatalytic association of cells to

the association of multicellular bodies, from the society of bacteria to

the social domain of disciplinary sex, from the digital culture of

cloning images to the bio-technological proliferation of engineering

cells. This consistency demarcates the autonomy of abstract sex ? the

endosymbiotic mutations of sex or desire ? from the biological structures

of the organic body and the cultural structures of signification,

from the primacy of organic and linguistic totalities. It is not a matter

of socio-cultural imitations of the natural or biological imitations of

society. What comes first is neither a given essence nor the signification

of essence. Rather, the abstract concatenation of bodies?sexes

delineates the primacy of heterogeneous mixtures or symbiosis ?

biophysical elements, socio-cultural energies, economic trades, technical

inventions, political forces and particles of desire ? unfolding the

potential of a body to become (mutate).

Instead of re-articulating sex within a post-feminist critical frame-

16

A B S T R A C T S E X

work where difference is no longer material, abstract sex extends the

feminist politics of desire by mapping the transversal mixing of information

between bodies of all sorts (bacteria, vegetables, animals,

humans and technical machines). Abstract sex proposes to tap into the

kinetic ethology of tiny sexes that lay out a micropolitics of symbiotic

relations between different levels of mutation of matter and desire.

The biophysical (the cellular organization of bacteria, eukaryotic cells

and multicellular bodies), biocultural (the techno-scientific organization

of the human body) and biodigital (the informatic manipulation of

the human body) mutations of the body explain the entanglement of

sex with sexual reproduction, the emergence of the two sexes, and the

sex?gender association beyond the biological essence and the discursive

construction of the body?sex.

It could be argued that this micropolitics exclusively highlights molecular

differences or mutations of the body?sex by discarding, for

instance, the feminist commitment and engagement with the macropolitics

of representation that still determines the identity politics of

sexual difference. Similarly, it might be observed that the microcosm

of differences is not sufficient to account for body politics where categories

of difference (gender, race and class) are still crucial for the

situated conditions of minorities in global capitalism. Without

dismissing these objections, abstract sex suggests that the micro levels

of variation of the body (nature?matter) are crucial to produce a nonreductive

understanding of difference (i.e. starting from zero or the

plane of pure difference) in relation to the bio-technological engineering

of cultures, bodies and life. The bio-technological mutations of

the body point to the emergence of a micro level of difference proliferating

through the symbiotic engineering of information crossing not

only species and sexes, but also humans and machines. Far from abandoning

difference, abstract sex connects bio-technological mutations to

the mutations of desire announcing a new phase in the symbiotic

becoming of the body?sex.

Abstract sex is a machinic concept that is not full of meanings, but is

above all full of potential variations of the body. These variations

emerge from a concatenation of small causes unleashing vast indirect

effects that lead to a new conception and perception of sex. Concepts

are operators of forces whose deployment is not related to the realm

of possibilities, but to the plane of invention of a new kind of reality.

Concepts have a political resonance, but this is not an immediate or

direct one. Rather, they have to be continuously re-engineered in

order to map the emergence of novelty. For this reason, the bio-

17

V I R T U A L S E X

technological disentanglement of sex from sexual reproduction is not

to be reduced to the traditional dichotomy between biological conditions

(embodiment) and techno-scientific discourses (disembodiment),

but needs to be related to the connecting layers of organization (or

stratification) of matter affecting bodies?sexes, societies, cultures and

economies. In particular, as explained in the following sections, in

order to engage with the new implications of the bio-technological

mutations of the body, abstract sex argues that sex, far from being

signified or represented, is primarily stratified.

STRATIFICATION

The system of the strata has nothing to do with signifier and

signified, base and superstructure, mind and matter. All these are

ways of reducing the strata to a single stratum, or of closing the

system in on itself by cutting it off from the plane of consistency as

destratification.

Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 71?2)

In the plateau entitled ?10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals (Who Does

the Earth Think It Is?)?, Deleuze and Guattari use the geological

concept of stratification to map the formation of different levels of

organization of a body (1987). Rather than starting from unity or

totality (the whole that predetermines parts), stratification exposes the

points of mixture or concatenation of different bodies (machinic assemblages)

challenging the dichotomy between organic and inorganic,

nature and technology. Stratification entails the auto-organization of

molecular elements (unstructured particles) into molar compounds

(structured aggregates) unfolding the isomorphic process of production

of strata (the genetic and cellular strata, the multicellular and social

strata).

Strata are defined by at least two parallel levels of order, a twin or

double articulation between molecular and molar organizations operating

at all levels of material association (biological, social, economical

and so on). Rather than a binary opposition between molecular and

molar orders, establishing a hierarchical difference between the simple

and the complex (the molecular dynamics of cells and the macro structures

of society), stratification exposes the molecular dynamics of all

molar aggregates. These aggregates are not simply the result or the

sum of molecules, but emerge from the auto-catalysis of molecules

selecting stable from unstable particles. The latter become statistically

ordered through patterns of connection and succession that engender

18

A B S T R A C T S E X

?forms? (first articulation). For example, the auto-catalytic assemblage

of DNA, RNA, protein statistically ordered in a sequence leads to the

emergence of a cell membrane engendering a cell (bacterial cell

without nucleus). These forms (cells) are functional and compact stable

structures that are simultaneously actualized as ?substances? by their

molar compounds (the aggregation of DNA, RNA and protein).

Forms are modes of coding and decoding matter entailing the organization

of elements?particles into signs: a-semiotic encodings (RNA,

DNA, proteins), semiotic signs (cultural signs such as gestures, sound?

words, attitudes), signs of signification (the signifier). Substances are

formed matters and refer to territorialities (milieus), degrees of territorialization

and deterritorialization (occupation and alteration of

milieus). Each articulation entails the double combination of codes

(signs) and territories (milieus), forms and substances. Rather than a

binary opposition between the first and the second articulation, there

is a movement of association, division and intersection between molecular

and molar layers of codes and milieus13 emerging from a

common plane of matter, defined by Deleuze and Guattari as ?the

unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its

flows?, the Body without Organs (BwO), the Body of the Earth or the

plane of consistency (the Planomenon).

Deleuze and Guattari adopt Louis Hjelmslev?s distinction of matter,

content and _expression, form and substance from semiotic substances

(signifiers) in order to define stratification through the autonomy of

matter, particles and signs from signifying semiologies.14 Different

from the Saussurean and post-Saussurean structures of signification,

Hjelmslev?s study of unformed matter ? the amorphous thought-matter

or purport ? breaks with the form?content dualism, but also with the

signifier/signified duality. These structures of signification are selfreferential

and reduce the world of signs to words produced by a negative

binarism between already determinate terms. They presuppose the

primacy of universal signifiers over processes of composition and transformation

of signs. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, Hjelmslev?s linguistics

provides new insights in the formation of signs as related to

unformed flows: a field of algebraic signs (or immanent glossematics)

liberated from the transcendent surveillance of the signifier. The plasticity

of signs deploys the primacy of the mutual relationship between

_expression and content of matter over the relation of subordination

between signifier and signified.

As Deleuze and Guattari explain, content corresponds to formed

matters. The substance and form of content entail the selection of formed

19

V I R T U A L S E X

matters into substances (territories) according to a certain order that

gives matters forms (codification) (1987: 43). For example, as

discussed in the third chapter, on the biocultural level of organization

of the body, the matter of content corresponds to the biophysical mass of

bodies stratified as substances of content when the biophysical mass is

chosen or selected to constitute the human body as an organism, and as

forms of content when this mass is chosen in a certain order ? according

to species, gender, race, class. Conversely, the term _expression concerns

the functional structures of matter entailing the specific organization of

their form, and the formation of compounds constituting their

substances (forms and contents of _expression) (43). On the same biocultural

level of organization, the form of _expression involves the set of codes

and regulations that define for example the rules of human sex. The

substance of _expression rather corresponds to the letters and phonemes

composing words and expressing rules.15

The relation between content and _expression exposes the distribution

of molecular machines in molar aggregations as ?two variables of a

function of stratification.? (44). Both articulations involve the double

coexistence of molecular and molar levels of order where forms of

_expression on one level (the biophysical level of cellular sex) become

forms of content for another level (the biocultural level of scientific

organization of sex), defining the heterogeneous assemblages of the

abstract machine of sex or endosymbiosis. In this book, the symbiotic

connection between different levels of content and _expression indicates

the parallel modes of existence of the abstract machine of sex on the

strata and outside the strata.

This abstract machine delineates the unity of the stratum when

mapping the auto-organization of elements?particles into signs ? asemiotic

encodings (genetic codings), a-signifying semiotics (phenotypic

expressions, gestures, mimetics, sounds, speech), and semiologies

of signification (the signifier) (Guattari 1984: 148?50). Deleuze

and Guattari define this unity of the stratum as the Ecumenon, the

process of binding all particles?flows through different degrees of

territorialization, deterritorialization and reterritorialization

(substances), and codification, decodification and overcodification

(forms). Endosymbiosis displays the ecumenical unity of the stratification

of sex through the complex organization of different layers ?

from genetic to cellular sex (biophysical), from meiotic sex to human

sex (biocultural), from heterosexual mating to bio-technological sex

(biodigital). Each level of organization is actualized by machinic

assemblages unfolding the layers of a vast machine of connection ? the

20

A B S T R A C T S E X

endosymbiotic machine. This machine lies outside the stratum or on

the Planomenon when the endosymbiotic connection of singular orders

designates the intensive continua (the non-climactic connection and

intensification of desire) between all machines of sex. This continual

movement unleashes the unpredictable potential of a body to mutate

(differential difference) through the micro variations of sex: ?lines of

flight or destratification? of desire from all layers of organization. As

suggested in the last two sections of this chapter, abstract sex points

to the potential mutations of all bodies of information implying an

immanent relation between non-climactic desire and artificial nature

(or hypernature).

Of the infinity of strata formations, this book distinguishes three

main agglomerates ? the biophysical level of cellular bodies and sexes,

the biocultural level of scientific organization of the human body and

sex, and the biodigital level of cybernetic organization of the body and

sex. There is no fundamental difference between these strata. Their

difference entails a singularity: the long-term tendency of a trajectory

in a physical system that individuates or actualizes through the transduction

(conversion) of information from one layer to another, from

one stratum to another. As Gilbert Simondon argues (1992: 313),

transduction denotes an activity of individuation of a physical, biological,

mental or social process emerging from the metastable relations

between two disparate realities (the pre-individual state of being and

the individuated state of becoming).16 Transduction explains the nonlinear

dynamics of connection between strata defined by their potential

capacity to affect and being affected (to impact and being impacted) by

singular levels of actualization of a body?sex.17

Interlocking strata

The strata are phenomena of thickening on the Body of the earth,

simultaneously molecular and molar, accumulation, coagulations,

sedimentations, folding. They are Belts, Pincers, or Articulations.

Summarily and traditionally, we distinguish three major strata: the

physiochemical, organic, and anthropomorphic (or alloplastic).

Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 502)

Expanding upon Deleuze and Guattari?s use of stratification, this book

discusses the biophysical, biocultural and biodigital strata of sex in the

second, third and fourth chapters respectively. Each stratum will

single out and link events from one stratum to another outlining the

21

V I R T U A L S E X

points of connection and differentiation between different orders of

sex. For example, the biophysical organization of multicellular sex or

meiotic sex will be linked to the biocultural overcodification of sexual

reproduction, constituting the model of human sex and reproduction,

and to the biodigital decodification of linear reproduction and sex. Far

from entailing hierarchical progress, this metacommunication between

strata lays out the non-linear or endosymbiotic connection between the

multicellular organization of the sexed body, the disciplinary sexed/

gendered body and the cyborg, exposing the continual mutations of a

body?sex.

Abstract sex starts from the biophysical agglomerate of strata

discussed in the second chapter through the analysis of cellular and

multicellular machines of stratification of sex. Questioning the critical

emphasis on the discursive production of sex as a pre-discursive

phenomenon, this chapter demonstrates that sex lies neither before

nor after discourse. Sex is constituted by assemblages of microbodies

that hyperlink the most divergent forms and functions of reproduction.

The biophysical stratification of sex proposes an anti-genealogical

analysis of the emergence and variation of genetic and cellular modes

of reproduction suggesting that sexual difference is neither given nor

culturally constructed. Quite the contrary, sexual difference and

sexual reproduction emerge from parallel processes of transmission of

information among diverging microbial bodies. The biophysical organization

of sex questions the accounts of a human-centred evolution that

assimilates sex to sexual reproduction and sexual organs determining

the progressive evolution of the body ? from bacteria to humans ? and

sex ? from unicellular to multicellular sex. The composition of the

organic machines of sex entails the micro-organization of molecules

and compounds (of modes of information transfer) leading to the emergence

of the multicellular body, sex and reproduction.

The biophysical stratification of sex entails an ecosystem of molecular

aggregation of bodies. It thus departs from the zoocentrism of evolution

(based on species) or Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution

where the law of the fittest (the best adapted individual to an external

environment) determines progress and ensures survival through

rampant competition. As opposed to Darwinian and neo-Darwinian

evolution that defines natural selection as the hand of God able to

order nature by exterminating non-adapted species or genes, the

process of stratification exposes the autonomous emergence of

networked relations between codes and milieus, where selective pressures

act upon molecular particle-flows able to engender new aggrega-

22

A B S T R A C T S E X

tions. The biophysical order of matter is not dictated by a transcendent

force of abolition, but emerges autonomously out of collective assemblages

where particle-forces collide at the edge of chaos. Such assemblages

constitute a multicellular body as a multiplicity of microbodies

defining the bacterial composition of new modes of information

transfer. The understanding of this composition is indebted to Lynn

Margulis?s theory of endosymbiosis that suggests a rhizomatic conception

of the evolution of sex proceeding by contagion rather than

filiation.

>From this standpoint, the multicellular body, evolved by the acquisition

of inherited bacterial symbionts, generates a new molecular distribution

of substances and forms of content and _expression, new genetic

and cellular processes such as mitosis and meiosis. These processes

produce new patterns of sex and reproduction such as the meiotic

machine of sexual reproduction: the doubling and reduction of chromosomes,

the entanglement of reproduction with sex (heterosexual

mating), and the genetic specificity of multicellular sex. The endosymbiosis

of cellular reproduction presents a continual variation of microbial

activities of contagion that are not replaced by molar aggregates ?

the eukaryotic cell and meiotic sex ? but expand upon new levels of

organic stratification.

The third chapter discusses the anthropomorphic agglomerate of

strata defining the biocultural order of matter. The machinic organization

of this order entails a leap of intensity between the organic stratification

of sex and socio-cultural and politico-economical organizations

of the body. On these strata the multicellular body becomes a

convector of the new bio-social machines of sex and reproduction. The

leap from the organic to the biocultural levels of stratification corresponds

to the process of overcodification that Deleuze and Guattari

explain as a translation on a new level of organization (1987). Overcodification

involves a transduction (viral conversion or mutation) of the

organic patterns of multicellular communication and reproduction ?

meiotic sex ? on the biocultural level, spreading the biophysical entanglement

between sex, reproduction and death (meiotic sex) across

social and economic spheres. This diffusion is not primarily determinate

by the scientific and cultural discourses of modernity.18 Rather, it

deploys the impact of the organic stratum on the biocultural order of

the body?sex exposed by the entropy of equilibrium, the evolutionary

variations of populations, technical reproduction, the anatomical and

psychoanalytical integration of sex and death. Such an impact defines

the complexity of the biocultural strata able to affect social and

23

V I R T U A L S E X

economic organizations by being affected by the organic entanglement

between sex, reproduction and death (meiotic sex) enveloped within

the body.

Rather than analysing the disciplinary discourses on sex, excluding

the non-discursive relations between bodies (human body, social body,

capital body, technological body), this chapter will highlight the

biocultural constitution of new machinic assemblages of desire?power

that define, as Foucault also argues, the sadist eroticism of disciplinary

society. In particular, Foucault refers to the sadist obsession of disciplining

sexual behaviour through the proliferation of deviancies in all

spheres of organization ? from the architecture of institutions to the

rules in the family house, at school, the factory, the army etc. Yet,

this sadist machine of sex governed by the entanglement between sex

and death only defines one of the aggregates of desire?power or

machines of sex that constitute the multifaceted layers of the biocultural

stratum.

The machinic assemblage between the physics of thermodynamics,

the biology of variation in evolutionary theory, the inorganic reproduction

of industrial machines and the psychoanalytical and anatomical

study of sex, maps a double process of overcodification and decodification

of the entanglement between sex, reproduction and death

deployed by the organic stratum. The entropic relation between

energy?information (more energy, less information and vice versa)

defines the model of pleasure and sexual reproduction through the

tendency towards inorganic death and the transmission of information

or life. The disciplinary horror and fascination with compulsive death

(localized in the woman?s pathologies of sex and sexual reproduction)

does not only spread the overcodification of sex (the order of meiotic

sex), but also introduces a decodification of desire unleashing an altogether

different kind of sex and reproduction, masochism or parthenogenesis.

The disciplinary obsession with regulating excessive flows,

normalizing sexual behaviour and correcting perversions is of a

different order of desire compared to masochist parthenogenesis. The

last, as Deleuze argues, rejects the law of the phallus and sexual filiation,

the identification of sex with genitality (1989a). Insofar as sadism

defines the disciplinary biopower of the body?sex, masochism exposes

the composition of a non-genital desire independent of disciplinary

processes of reproduction and filiation: flows escaping stability, energy

running towards dissipation, species mutations, instruments and

machines of reproduction (producing new audio-visual perception).19

The biocultural bifurcation between distinct machinic assemblages of

24

A B S T R A C T S E X

sex (sadist and masochist) highlights the primacy of a non-discursive

(affective) transformation of sex expanding through all spheres of disciplinary

society ? cultural, economical, political. On the one hand, the

sadist disciplines of sexual filiation (psychoanalysis and anatomy) distribute

the entropic entanglement between pleasure and death through all

aspects of reproduction of a body. On the other, the masochist

machines of parthenogenesis ? ante-posing variations to linear repetition

? entangle non-filiative sex with inorganic reproduction beyond the

entropic principle of pleasure. The impact of entropic dynamics of equilibrium

on the reproduction of information introduces a new perception

and conception of the body?sex on the biocultural stratum where the

mutations of desire exceed the discursive representations of sex.

The fourth chapter discusses the emergence of a new level of order

able to double-fold the biophysical and biocultural machines of sex

through the technical capitalist recombination of information (the

biodigital order of sex). The capacity to accelerate the time and space

of reproduction and communication on an increasingly molecular scale

suggests a transformation of the organic and disciplinary machines of

sex. No longer do sexual reproduction and the sexed body determine

the model of reproduction and communication of energy?information.

The biodigital order does not rely on the extraction of surplus value of

codes and the suppression of fluid forces, but on the recombination of

excessive flows, modulating their microvariations into fluxes ? laminar

flows.

The passage from the biocultural to the biodigital stratum does not

mark an arbitrary break between self-contained systems of stratification.

This passage is a threshold of connection between one stratum

and another entailing the intensification of biophysical and biocultural

machines of sex. This threshold is not determined by technological

developments, but by new machinic assemblages of modes of communication

and reproduction ? from the Internet to virtual reality, from

cloning images to cloning humans ? that are rapidly changing the

conception and perception of sex.

Bio-informatic capitalism, thus, marks the threshold towards a new

recombination of information transmission: the engineering of all

useless flows at far from equilibrium conditions producing unprecedented

forms of capitalization. Rather than repressing the capacity of a

body?sex to reproduce, the biodigital order commercializes the unpredictable

(the virtual and not the possible) power of mutations marking

a new bifurcation between the molecular control of sexual reproduction

and the molecular proliferation of bacterial sex.

25

V I R T U A L S E X

If post-industrial capitalism is constituted by decodified flows (flows

of money, culture, populations, information) then the recent investments

in the mechanics of fluids and the chaos of turbulence is key to

grasp the mutations of sex and reproduction. According to Deleuze,

the disappearance of disciplinary walls has not dissipated biodisciplinary

power, but has extended its effects onto the microscales of

the body?culture, body?politics and body?desire. The post-disciplinary

organization of sex and reproduction entails a Superfold that modulates

the smooth space of information flows, multiplying the channels for

information transmission (transgenetic sex, bacterial and viral sex,

cloning and so on).20 Short-term investments in molecular information

outside the logic of linear reproduction enable bio-informatic capital

to overcome the limits of death, turning organic finitude into indefinite

recombination. No longer is it necessary to exorcise death through

reproductive procreation. Death has been extended to unprecedented

reproductions: cellular and embryonic cloning, artificial life, sperm,

egg, embryo, organ and cell banking constitute the new scenario of a

ribosomal capitalist culture.21 Genetic engineering and cybercommunication

are the new channels of capitalization that connect turbulent

flows of information to flows of money. In particular, the cybereconomic

investments in the molecular level of the egg cell expose the

commercial parthenogenesis of bio-informatic capitalism able to reengineer

reproduction through the cloning and patenting of genes and

cells. This recombination of indifferent bodies (a human body, a

bacterium, an animal and a technical machine) extends the diffusion of

unpredictable mutations of sex and reproduction. Bio-informatic capitalism

ceaselessly selects variable mutations of information. This selection

is neither conservative nor transcendent, but immanent to

molecular variations. It operates like a sieve whose variable meshes fish

in the molecular reservoirs of a body, intensifying its indeterminate

capacities to transmit, receive and recombine information producing

new channels of capitalization. But mutations of information are

neither calculable nor controllable. They emerge and proliferate

without warning.

The collision of different layers of stratification of sex in the biodigital

stratum induces a virtualization (an intensive expansion) rather

than a disappearance of biophysical and biocultural machines of stratification.

>From bacterial trades to nucleic exchange from sexual reproduction

to genetic engineering, from the sexed body to recombinant

sex, the essence of the body comes to correspond to a mutating difference.

This body?sex is composed of the symbiotic relations between

26

A B S T R A C T S E X

parallel levels of order (biophysical, biocultural and biodigital). It is a

mutating or abstract essence exposing a continuum between the micro

and the macro machines of organization of sex and reproduction.22 By

drawing on Deleuze and Guattari and Baruch Spinoza, the following

sections elaborate on the concept of abstract essence, the immanent

relations between nature and the body that point to the mutant

essence of feminine sex discussed in more detail in the fifth chapter.

THE ESSENCE OF A BODY

Extension exists when one element is stretched over the following

ones, such that it is a whole and the following elements are its

parts. Such a connection of whole?parts forms an infinite series that

contains neither a final term nor a limit.

Deleuze (1993: 77)

Essences, do not in turn form a unity or totality: one might say

rather that a universe corresponds to each, not communicating with

the others, affirming an irreducible difference as profound as that of

the astronomic worlds.

Deleuze (1972: 143)

The process of stratification suggests that the materiality of a body?sex

is defined neither by a given essence nor by socio-cultural conditions.

A body is composed and decomposed by the activity of molecules and

particles, forces and energies. It is not simply biological or cultural. A

body is defined by metastable relations between microcellular and

multicellular bodies, the bodies of animals and humans, the bodies of

society and technological bodies merging and unleashing new mutating

compositions (differential difference). Deleuze and Guattari suggest

that a body arises from the collision of pre-individual particle-forces or

collectivities. These are not the properties of the transcendent Being

creating extended bodies while remaining itself un-extended. Rather,

they are themselves bodies constituting an intensive matrix of singular

actualizations. Every actualization entails a prior metastable state, ?the

existence of a ??disparateness?? such as at least two orders of magnitude

or two scales of heterogeneous reality between which potentials are

distributed? (Simondon 1992: 246).

The distribution of potentials entails a continuum (intensive degree

of power) between pre-individual and individual bodies where the

27

V I R T U A L S E X

actual (extensive) mutations of a body are entangled with the mutations

of pre-individual (intensive) bodies. Actualizations unfold the differential

degrees of power (intensive potentia) of a body, a genetic body, a

cellular body, a multicellular body, a social body, a cultural body and

a cloned body. Rather than to a predeterminate cause, these bodies are

linked to ?quasi or meta causes? unfolding the capacity of a body to

enter a new composition by precluding the body to acquire definite

forms and functions.23 This preclusion does not suggest that the power

of a body is relative as established by the logic of identity absorbing all

potentials into predeterminate power. The power of a body is not

exhausted by the power of existing but is connected to an intensive

body that is productive (produces new bodies) and comprehensive

(comprehends of all that is produced).

The postmodern challenge to the essentialist tradition (Platonic,

Aristotelian and Cartesian) has generated a negative relativism of the

body that eliminates (negates) potentials by detaching causes from

effects. Hence, the power of a body is defined by socio-cultural and

economic structures and post-structures of signification opened to the

relativism of interpretation. The elimination of a given cause is reiterated

by already given effects (universal signifiers). The emphasis is

different but the method is identical as it imposes the disqualification

of the potential capacities of a body to mutate without being subsumed

to a transcendent power (Ideas, God or signifiers). The postmodern

analysis of the body as no longer shaped by modern technoscientific

discourses (organic biology and evolution of the species), fails to

explain the biodigital mutations of sex involving intensive?extensive

variations rather than a shift from one discourse about the body to

another.

In order to analyse these mutations without dismissing the potential

of the body, it is necessary to apply an ontology of co-causal relations

(non-linear feedback between causes and effects) rather than reiterating

a given unity. These relations will enable us to map the mutations of a

body?sex through the plasticity of material signs rather than signification,

singularity rather than specificity, abstraction rather than generalities.

This ontology requires the elaboration of abstract materialism (a

symbiotic and multifaceted matter) as a method that unpacks the

connecting layers of composition of a body: the continual variations of

matter. Abstract materialism does not involve the analogy between the

general (ideal) and the particular (individual) body or between pluralistic

(many) and specific (one) categories of the body defined by the

principles of identity (analogy between inert nature and body). Quite

28

A B S T R A C T S E X

the contrary, this method produces a map of the non-linear movements

of connection between causes and effects unfolding the potential

(force) of a body to mutate through an ecosystem of indefinite

mixtures. Abstract materialism entails the symbiotic networks between

the most disparate bodies where singular layers of composition constitute

a mutating essence of a body. As opposed to biologism, organicism

or existentialism, this essence is linked to the far-from-equilibrium

dynamics of matter: the emergence of unpredictable mutations generating

from the auto-assemblage of diverse bodies.

Abstract materialism expands upon Baruch Spinoza?s ethological

study of a body. This body is not primarily an organism or an organization.

It is an immanent assemblage of kinetic particles and anonymous

forces, motion and energy that constitute every body: a bacterial body,

a eukaryotic body, a multicellular body, a cultural body, the body of

machines, etc. . . . A body is primarily defined by associations and

splittings of particles and forces defining its immanent trajectories of

transformation: longitudinal and latitudinal lines intersecting at every

point.24 This is not a Cartesian axis. These lines are the attributes of a

matter-matrix whose longitudinal extensive parts fall under a relation

of motion and rest (kinetics) and whose latitudinal intensive parts fall

under a capacity to affect and be affected (intensity). The latitude of a

body corresponds to the affects of which a body is capable at a given

degree of velocity. The longitude of a body includes the extension of

matter, the composition of particles, their kinetic pace.

According to Descartes a body is not capable of thinking. The body

is extension. The mind pertains to the divine un-extended substance

that is transcendent to the body?nature?matter. This substance is a

God invested with the power of a tyrant (potestas) that masters the

body, setting order in nature through the taxonomic organization of

the body in species, classes, sexes. This God is external to nature. It

creates bodies but it is not composed of bodies. It does not comprehend

the mutations of a body because it is of another world, the spiritual

world without matter opposing the active mind to the passive

body. This God is imbued with an exterior power of selection that

determines the essence of a body according to the capacity of the mind

to transcend the world of bodily passions, the chaotic and contaminated

world of nature. Hence essence is measured through the mental

power to disembody from matter that distinguishes the animal from

the human body and constrains the reproductive body (the female

body) to a lower degree of power determined by its dependency on

matter.

29

V I R T U A L S E X

Spinoza explains that the Cartesian conception of un-extended

substance is rooted in the Judaeo-Christian moralist God, detaching

nature from cosmos by negating the participation of God in nature and

of extended bodies in God. In particular, Spinoza points out that God

(Substance or The Thing) has any mastering power (potestas) according

to which God corresponds to an immutable and eternal essence that

puts order in nature through the control of the mind on the body.

Spinoza argues that God has no potestas but only potentia corresponding

to an indeterminate power to produce and be produced by

bodies.

This God is inseparable from nature (Ethics I, D. 3). Not only is it

extended, but also its power (potentia) coincides with the extension

of nature. This is a continuum rather than a dualism: a ?machinic

phylum? of matrices and bodies without transcendent control or

mastering.25 Rather than an external cause detached from effects,

Spinoza?s substance is immanent to all that exists in nature.26 Nature is

composed of two parallel processes: Natura Naturans and Natura

Naturata (Ethics, I, 29, Schol.). Nature is a dynamical and collective

ecosystem of intensive and extensive bodies ? growth. Natura Naturans

indicates the activity of nature, the intensive capacity to produce.

Natura Naturata implies the passivity of being produced. Nature

exposes the coexistence of the process of producing while being

produced where an infinity of attributes (expressing a multiplicity of

essence or potential qualities that are not identical to God) unfolds a

unity without equivalence (continuum) between the essence of

substance and the essence of modes.27

For Spinoza, of the infinity of these attributes we know only two that

constitute our essence, thought and extension. The mind, a mode of

thinking and the body, a mode of extension. Between these two attributes

there is neither separation nor reduction, but a strict parallelism

or connection affirming that ?God?s power of thinking is equal to his

realized power of action? (Ethics II, 7, Corollary). For Spinoza, all

power is inseparable from a capacity to affect (potentia) and a capacity

of being affected constituting the mutating essence of substance corresponding

to the essence of modes (affections of a substance).28

All modes are thus constituted by a mode of thinking and extension,

mind and body involving dynamics of affect and velocities of

composition between particle-forces: the molecules composing a

microbe, the microbes composing a human, the populations of

cultures composing a society are all modes of an engineering nature.

The essence of modes defines a degree of power, a modification of

30

A B S T R A C T S E X

the indefinite capacity to think and to extend constituting the potential

extension of God in nature. Being a physical intensity and not a

possibility, this modal essence does not dissolve itself into existence,

but preserves potentia in existence by expanding through an infinity

of extensive parts (from bacterial to eukaryotic cells from multicellular

to bio-technological bodies) falling under relations of affect: the

capacity of a human body to be affected by a viral population. Once

essence (potentia) passes into existence to become a modal essence

then it is defined as conatus or appetite (Ethics, III, 7) as intensive

power tends to persevere by enduring and maximizing its capacity to

be affected by other existing modes. Bacterial endosymbiosis is a good

example of a mode of sex and reproduction persevering in existence

by increasing the capacity to be affected by other modes (atmospheric

pressures, viruses and eukaryotic cells) that have also increased its

capacity to expand its dynamics of information transmission through

mutations.

Spinoza distinguishes between pure modal essences, which are all

compatible as intensive degrees of the power of Substance, and the

conatus of an existing mode, whose extensive parts are combined in

relation to its intrinsic essence or degrees of power.29 The direct

agreement among pure modal essences does not coincide with the

power relations among extensive modes. Here, in fact, essence turns

into conatus, the preservation of physical intensity in existence that

can always induce the parts of another mode to enter a new relation of

affect. Affects entail the colliding of particle-forces delineating the

impact of one body on another: the passion of the body?mind, the

capacity to feel before subjective emotion.30 For example, the impact

of a poison on a human body entails the production of ?common

notions? between disparate bodies:31 their immediate commonality of

extension provokes a reaction of the human body against the poison

increasing or decreasing the power (conatus) of this body to absorb or

expel the poison, which may or may not produce a mutation.

Spinoza argues that the preservation of conatus (the intensive essence

of an existing mode) depends on the capacity of a body to be affected

and to organize encounters among extended modes that increase its

capacity to affect (to explicate potentia through mutations). For this

reason, we do not yet know what a body can do, what are the affects

of a singular composition, how can these affects enter in a new composition

with the affects of another body, either to destroy or to be

destroyed by it or to produce a more powerful body. In other words,

a body is never to be considered as a unity in isolation. It is never one

31

V I R T U A L S E X

individual but a collective power: conatus. It always emerges out of

infinite sets of affects entering into relation of movement or rest,

turmoil or stationary state. As Deleuze underlines, conatus conveys ?an

affirmative conception of essence: the degree of power as an affirmation

of essence in God; the conatus as an affirmation of essence in existence?

(1988c: 102). Conatus defines an abstract essence spreading through

non-linear relations between intensive and extensive modes where not

only can a body not be separated from the mind but also all extended

bodies from God (potential affect). This essence exposes a machinic

composition of a mode, whose power relies upon a continual colliding

with other modes marking new degrees of mutation of a given assemblage.

In this sense, the impact of bio-technologies on the body unfolds

a series of micro affects between singular modes or machines of sex

and reproduction (bacterial sex and human sex) merging to produce a

new body while destroying another. This impact defines a new relationship

between the biophysical and the biodigital machines of sex

where a mutating essence (intensive and extended) suggests a new

conception of feminine sex.

MICROFEMININE PARTICLE-FORCES

We oppose epidemic to filiation, contagion to heredity, peopling by

contagion to sexual reproduction, sexual production. Bands, human

or animal, proliferate by contagion, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes.

Like hybrids, which are themselves sterile, born of a

sexual union that will not reproduce itself, but which begins over

again every time, gaining that much ground. Unnatural participations

or nuptials are the true Nature spanning the kingdoms of

nature.

Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 241)

Desire is not in the subject, but the machine in desire ? with the

residual subject off to the side, alongside the machine, around the

entire periphery, a parasite of machines, an accessory of vertebromachinate

desire.

Deleuze and Guattari (1983: 285)

[. . .] all elements are contained in all things and pervade everything:

since not only is meat a constituent of bread, but bread of vegetables;

and all other bodies also, by means of certain invisible pas-

32

A B S T R A C T S E X

sages and particles, find their way in and unite with all substances in

the form of vapor.

Diogenes in Deleuze (1990a: 130)

The feminist critique of the economy of representation has questioned

the identification of sexual difference with sexual reproduction, the

analogy between biology and culture. This identification assigns sexual

difference to a negative regime of presence and absence, full and void,

abundance and lack. In her work, Luce Irigaray questions the economy

of representation founded on the transcendent conception of matter

and the binarism of sex.32 In her re-conceptualization of femininity,

sex is not determined by the biological form and function of sexual

organs, but becomes a fluid dimension of a matter?matrix that is

autonomous from the law of filiation. In ?The Mechanics of Fluids?

(1985b), Irigaray challenges the identification of femininity with inert

matter, matter with passive constancy and feminine desire with the

death drive. Femininity is disentangled from the binary system of

equivalence between the sexes dictated by the transcendence of the

symbolic phallus. Feminine desire becomes uncoupled from the sexed

organism, the phallic mother and hysteric woman, the passive receptacle

of reproduction where desire is reduced to the pleasure of discharge,

sex to genitality and (collective) affect to (individual) emotion.

Irigaray opposes the Freudian theory of entropic pleasure to multidirectional

flows escaping the constancy of reproduction and exposing

the turbo-dynamics of a matter?matrix, a feminine sex outside all

claims of identity. Fluid dynamics defines a body not by its achieved

forms and functions (identity) but by its processes of composition and

transformation that exhibit the metamorphosis of fluids able to acquire

any shape. This metamorphic body?sex is not regulated by the cycle of

accumulation and discharge, but displays a ceaseless flow of desire that

leaks out of genitality and genealogy. Irigaray provides a non-transcendent

conception of sexual difference that emerges from a ?matter/

mater/matrix continuum?, the fluid embodiment of difference irreducible

to the representation of ?women?s experience?. For Irigaray,

experience does not belong to identities. Experience is always in

motion and entails a mutation of femininity. Nothing remains the same

on the fluid scale of matter. Femininity stops being represented to

expose the hydrodynamics of desire running parallel to a body without

contour; a sex without organs. Irigaray?s fluid conception of sex and

femininity refutes the essentialist tradition of ideas and forms shaping

matter and anticipates some of the novelties of cyberfeminism encom-

33

V I R T U A L S E X

passing the relationship between femininity and machines of reproduction

and communication.

For recent feminist cultural theorists, the tradition of essentialism

also constitutes the ultimate spectre of the metaphysical belief in

nature as a space of unity and integration, serving as a model to

culture and to the politics of difference. Donna Haraway?s ?Cyborg

Manifesto? (1985;1991), explicitly rejects the unity of the body, the

metaphysical bliss of nature, the essential truth of femininity. Careful

in exploring the new sets of power in the cybernetic age, Haraway

does not hesitate to emphazise the deviations that the cyborg offers

to the linearity of reproduction and sameness.33 Haraway?s cyborg

expresses antipathy for Marxist idealism and for the claustrophobic

triangle of identification rooted in the Oedipal complex. The cyborg

shows no nostalgia for the model of exchange and reproduction,

reality and pleasure. It embraces the crisis of the ontology of the

self and other as an opportunity to become something else in feedback

loops of information codes. Contrary to Baudrillard, Haraway

realizes that the automation of genetic codes does not simply limit

the body to self-reproduction and sex to autoeroticism.34 The flow

of codes traversing a body no longer defines the essence of form and

the aims of sexual organic functions. Rather, it puts into contact a

body with another body alongside non-linear transmission of information.

With cybernetics, as Haraway puts it: ?[b]iological organisms

have become biotic systems, communication devices like others?

(1991: 177?8).

The identification of women with nature, stemming from ideals of

creation, motherhood, emotion and spontaneity, and opposed to the

artifice and rationality of men, has for too long colonized the understanding

of sexual difference, providing a symbolic model for gender.

The overcoming of this dualism is crucial to Haraway?s work on

technoscience and the body. As a biologist and cultural theorist,

Haraway contests the realms of nature and culture and the ontological

evolution of the species where sex and reproduction are rooted in the

humanist stories of competition, scarcity, balance and variation. Her

work challenges the patrilinear system of evolution with descent

embedded in colonialism and capitalism, refuting the ontological metaphysics

of the one and the multiple. The historical project of

humanism starts with the constitution of gender and sex as objects of

study, the reproduction of the problem of genesis and origin (1991:

78). Thus, for feminism, an unproblematic re-proposal of the sex/

gender dualism, a sterile analysis of the representation of nature and

34

A B S T R A C T S E X

culture only reinforces the structures of separation and negative oppositions

at the core of the Western metaphysics of essence.

There is no innocent shelter for women to return to. Haraway

argues that the scientific association of sex with reproduction is central

to the ontology of the modern subject. Since the eighteenth century,

sex appears as ?the principle of increase (vitality) in biological stories?

where ?biology has been a discourse about productive systems, or,

better, modes of production? (1991: 106). The hylomorphic recapitulation

of the genesis of humanity, through the study of primates, indicates

the main task of modern or disciplinary evolutionary science. In

modernity, the sex-reproduction association produces the body in the

form of the organism, the whole constituted of predetermined parts.

This organism establishes a model for modern bio-politics, the incarnation

of the transcendent Self/I into an already given body.

Although aware that the biological conception of sex is reduced to

linear reproduction, Haraway does not dismiss sex in favour of gender

but focuses on ?theories of embodiment where nature is no longer

imagined and enacted as resource to culture or sex to gender?(148). In

order to intervene against the nature/culture, sex/gender split, the

metaphysical re-birth of the One is here questioned through an

ontology of regeneration and integration of differences. This ontological

model draws on the semiotics of cybernetics, immunology and

genetics that arrange phenomena of incorporation through flexible

boundaries of exclusion, opposition, access and resistance.

The refusal of totalizing doctrines for a feminist body politics particularly

invests the question of difference and the necessary heterogeneity

embodied by the cyborg. This is a body, which synthesizes the

morphologies of matter and the dynamics of discursive power, reprocesses

the nature/culture, sex/gender splits according to nonhierarchical

patterns. The cyborg proposes a post-gender body politics

of transversal coalitions and alliances, emerging out of affinities, rather

than identities, among bodies as a ?poetic/political unity without

relying on a logic of appropriation, incorporation, and taxonomic identification?

(1991: 157).35 Animal, human and machine are the forms

that the post-gender cyborg contains in the most unrecognizable

fashion.

Although crucial for the cultural study of technoscience, the narratives

of the cyborg preclude an engagement with the processes of

mutation of a body?sex linked to the metaphysics of nature since

Epicurean atomism and Lucretius?s notion of the clinamen, discussed in

On the Nature of the Universe. Lucretius rejects the mechanistic law of

35

V I R T U A L S E X

cause and effect implying a passive view of the body-nature, determined

by a transcendent power. Epicurean philosophy affirms that

everything that exists is made up of matter and empty space. Matter is

composed of tiny invisible and indivisible elements called ?atoms? (in

Greek ?indivisible?) which are the building blocks of everything that

we see around us, including our bodies. For Lucretius, atoms are

always flying off the surface of objects and forming fresh compounds.

They descend at the same speed, swerving occasionally from the

straight vertical path to one side or the other, and thus they collide.

There is no causal explanation for this swerve. It is indeterminate, as is

the emergence of a vortex. The unpredictable behaviour of molecular

particles composing complex systems ? atmospheric, biological,

physical as well as social, cultural and political ? has been recently

studied by quantum mechanics where quanta are an infinitesimal quantity

that escapes exact measures. Lucretius called the indeterminable

swerve of atoms the clinamen or declination. Chaos theory will call it

turbulence.36

By dismissing the conception of nature as always already constructed

according to the metaphysics of the given, the post-gender world of

the cyborg excludes a more productive engagement with the material

politics of a body?sex proposed by Irigaray?s early work. The cyborg

re-inscribes on the body the identity questions about feminine embodiment

and disembodiment, experience and actualization opposing

without radically challenging Cartesian metaphysics. Far from representing

nature, the digital impact on nature exposes the way the hypernatural

has taken the place of the supernatural. No longer the battle

between extension and intensity, cause and effects, mind and body,

god and things. Hypernature envelops and is enveloped by all bodies of

communication and reproduction exposing a machinic phylum of unnatural

associations. Hypernature expands on and is expanded by modes

of connection and recombination of information. As discussed in the

last chapter, this network of bodies connects the biophysical and the

biodigital groups of strata unfolding the machines of destratification of

sex cutting across the parallel levels of material order previously

analysed. These machines emerge from an immanent plane of nature ?

hypernature ? as the composition of free intensities, molecular populations

of flows that are autonomous yet coexistent with the processes of

organization of matter constituting the biophysical, biocultural and

biodigital strata.

Machines of destratification are then engineering component pieces

of hypernature that produces while it is produced by abstracting mole-

36

A B S T R A C T S E X

cular forces and distributing capacities of differentiation. Hypernature

is not pre-programmed and is not produced by simulations. It is not

more natural than nature as it never starts from the knowledge of

nature, the primacy of representation over the processes of intensive

conjunction between material flows and bodies. Hypernature subtracts

nature from the transcendence of the material and the ideal, unfolding

a machinic essence of a body?sex composed of intensive relations

between the most disparate modes of communication and reproduction.

The biodigital reconfiguration of the body partakes of a hypernatural

plane, where particles, and not parts, recombine, where forces,

and not categories, clash. Such a reconfiguration poses new problems

for the conception of feminine sex and the politics of difference. How

can feminine sex be disentangled from the sex/gender problem of

embodiment and disembodiment? How does the politics of desire

operate in this newly defined artificial nature or hypernature?

Spinoza?s ethology of nature provides a new route to engage with

these problems. For example, the pragmatics of affect is a pragmatics

of desire whose tendencies of composition are induced by encounters

between the most different modes. This desire is machinic as it entails

the association of heterogeneous particle-forces running at different

speeds and entering different kinds of relations. Far from being

primarily repressed, desire ceaselessly flows and produces modes of

power that are neither primarily good nor bad. Modes are ethical

dimensions of an engineering substance whose intensive bodies extend

through kinetic and affective encounters between non-identical particles.

These encounters define the capacity of an always collective body

to increase or decrease its capacity to act, its power to become.37

Spinoza?s ethics suggests that the relation between substance and

modes is primarily productive as it is also produced ? and transformed

? by new assembling modifications. Essence is no longer relegated to

the transcendent morality of depth and a priority, but is produced by

an immanent relation between the explication of intensities and the

construction of encounters between bodies.

Insofar as desire involves positive productions and joyful encounters

constituting a phylum of relations between substance and modes,

Spinoza?s ethics also includes sadness and poison as ethical dimensions.

The difference is that these are merely reactive responses to the desire

of encounters. In this sense, fascistic desire is a dimension of desire, a

reactive dimension in the incessant flow of production where desire

lends itself to the production of death. The latter creates a blockage of

flows, the dread of being engulfed by holes of nothingness, the trans-

37

V I R T U A L S E X

cendence of lack and scarcity, the paranoiac or hypochondriac desires

that block flows by abolishing lines of flight in favour of secure shelters.

Yet reactions and suppressions are not primary but emerge from

the encounter with actions and productions, the actual impact of

potentia, the far from equilibrium circuits of a virtual-actual

becoming. The Spinozian explanation for sadness and evil corresponds

to a biophysical reaction to poison spreading from encounters between

chemically altered bodies or from the molar aggregation of molecules

able to diffuse a micro-fascism that expands on the most minute

dynamics of order.

Spinoza defines desire as appetite (appetitus) ?accompanied by the

consciousness thereof?: the awareness of a passage, information of the

state of the affection of the body. The causes pass quickly while the

effects are amplified on the body to mark the passage. It is not that we

are not aware of what we desire. Awareness mainly involves information

of the state of a body whereas desire exposes an incessant appetite

?[W]e do not endeavor, will, seek after or desire because we judge a

thing to be good. On the contrary, we judge a thing to be good

because we endeavor, will, seek after and desire it? (Ethics, III, 9, scholium).

Desire should never be subjectivized. It is always already part of

a composition, a machinic assemblage, the encounter and the collision

of particles and forces. The subject is an appendix to the machine in

desire, an accessory that does not determine ethical relations but only

positions of will. Desire is detracted from individual pleasure and

climactic purposes to become part of a machine in production: an

endosymbiotic multiplicity.

On the Spinozian immanent plane of nature, essence becomes an

intensive modification of substance, the proliferation of a joyful desire

that changes through the encounters with other modifications or

modes. The emergence of a singular mode defines the preservation of

essence in existence, the intensive extension of potential ? or conatus.

The essence of a body is not defined by its properties but by its power

to connect or not with other bodies, to assemble to create a more

powerful body, to merge to increase or decrease potential. Such an

intensive essence maps a multiplicity of levels of transmission that

operate at parallel times and spaces and construct new modes of

connection. These modifications indicate a molecular nature upon

which strata organize and single out sexual orders of reproduction and

communication.

The process of stratification of sex enfolds molecular bodies that

produce the sexed body by entangling sex with sexual reproduction. If

38

A B S T R A C T S E X

feminine desire has been confined to biological sex, then the process of

stratification unpacks the singular potential of desire, the variation of

modes of connection and transmission. The biology of sex does not

determine modes of connections ?in which form is constantly being

dissolved, freeing times and speeds? (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 267).

Sex is disentangled from genital sex and sexual reproduction, the

symbolic representation of sexual difference. Sex is abstracted from

the already sexed body to proliferate through infective transmission,

molecular contacts. Sex no longer individuates the body but becomes a

machinic construction of a multiplicity of modes of information transmission.

Sex is transductive: it webs bodies of all sorts, exposing the

power or desire of a body to become in a network of matrices.

Femininity no longer remains specific to one mode of sex. It is not

localized in one body or another, in one composition or another. It is

not an identity, an individual unity. Feminine desire can only be

defined by a pack of relations where microfeminine particle-forces

spread at every kinetic and affective encounter.38 These relations

produce a micropolitics of becoming where particle-forces combine or

disintegrate, activate or react against new encounters. These relations

enable the construction of a molecular ethics of affect that flees away

from the politics of representation. The latter congeals the microchanges

of relations into one structural aggregate that is erected as a

delegate of multiplicity. Macropolitics will always ask femininity to

represent the subject woman and biological sex to represent desire.

Yet molecular dynamics of power are not subsumed to their molar

organization, but remain consistent with their effects. Micropolitics

ceaselessly breaks through despotic aggregates with incorporeal lines of

differentiation. Lines of flight, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, are not

reactive to molar or macro organizations. Rather they are leaking

flows that are prior to and independent of structures of organization.

Organizations emerge from flowing flows and not the other way

around. Macropolitics only corresponds to one of the levels of organization

of micropolitical compositions of desire?power that affect ? and

transform ? the very constitution of macropolitical projects.

Micropolitics, then, involves the becoming-molecular of femininity,

the consistent ? synthetic ? production of machinic desire that destratifies

(swerves from) the Oedipal woman, organic sex and filiative

reproduction by constructing a collective body?sex, letting desire run

parallel in all dimensions of communication and reproduction without

isolating sex from the rest. The construction of a microfeminine desire

is not exclusively addressed to women. This is a micropolitics that

39

V I R T U A L S E X

diffuses beneath the binarism of masculinity and femininity to traverse

all compositions and proliferate in all spheres: biophysical, sociocultural,

politico-economic, techno-scientific. Deleuze and Guattari

also define this micropolitics as involving the construction of ?molecular

sexes? or ?n-1 sexes? at each encounter of bodies: the intensive

expansion of desiring flows reaching critical phases of mutations by

composing and decomposing assemblages between the most unnatural

bodies.

Far from being a spontaneous force, microfeminine particle-forces

emerge from non-linear relations between the potential and the actual

desire?power of essence involving singular modifications of reproduction

and communication in the process of stratification of sex. Each

stratum lays out the micropolitics of composition and decomposition of

particle-forces involving the emergence of new bodies of transmission.

39 The next chapter, for example, will discuss the biophysical

level of stratification of sex, the micropolitical relations between molecular

particles and compounds, cellular and multicellular bodies that

have determined the entanglement of sex with reproduction. On this

stratum the micropolitics of cellular mergings exposes microfeminine

particle-forces fleeing from the meiotic order of sex and producing

unprecedented implications for the conception and perception of femininity

on the biocultural (disciplinary society) and biodigital (control

society) strata. This emission of feminine particle-forces suggests a

micropolitics of passions and actions of a body?mind that is not ready

made, but needs to be decrypted and constructed.

The following strata-analysis of sex is not exclusively interested in

what blocks desire and what encloses femininity in identity, the

signifier of lack in desire. Quite the contrary, it maps microfeminine

lines spreading through the machinic compositions of bodies. These

compositions are viral and proliferate by contamination rather than

linear filiation. They unfold a process of becoming and not positioning.

On the micro-dimensions of power, becoming involves the mixture of

a population of bodies able to produce more powerful assemblages or

to disintegrate and create new ones. It is a process of engineering

proximities by desire, passions and actions of a body?mind immersed

in the appetites of particle-forces running through genetic strings and

cellular bodies, multicellular organisms and biodigital assemblages.

This may seem as a new anthropomorphism of the body ? the extension

of a cultural conception of femininity onto the unknown ? the

interpretation of random matter. Yet the relation between microfeminine

desire and matter diverges from the post-feminist relativism

40

A B S T R A C T S E X

of difference, where the politics of desire is reduced to ready-made

understanding of power and difference perpetuating the essentialist

conception of a body?sex. Micropolitics requires the engineering of

abstract sex (symbiotic desire) where bodies of connection are not

determined by the identity of sex but by incorporeal mutations of

desire or the machinic compositions of essence (difference).

Notes

1 D. J. Haraway argues that the convergence of biological and technological

systems involves the emergence of a common language of codification produced

by cybernetics. See Haraway 1991: 149?201; on the cyborg see also C. Hables

Gray, (ed.) 1995; D. Bell and B. Kennedy (eds) 2000; G. Kirkup, L. Jones, K.

Woodward, F. Hovenden (eds) 2000; M. Flagan and A. Booth (eds) 2002. See

also the literature developed in feminist studies of science and technology. N.

Tuana (ed.) 1989; A. Fausto-Sterling 1992; L. Birke 1986; R. Hubbard 1990; E.

Fox Keller 1992; E. Fox Keller 1995; S. Harding 1991.

2 On the posthuman, see K. N. Hayles 1999.

3 On the dissolution of corporeality in cyberspace, see A. Balsamo 1996; A. R.

Stone 1991; C. Springer 1995; S. Turkle 1995; J. Squires 1996: 194?216; R.

Braidotti 1994.

4 For a recent insight in these debates see M. Flagan and A. Booth 2002; K. N.

Hayles 1999. See also, S. Plant 1997, 1998, 2000.

5 Cyberfeminism has been influenced by Judith Butler?s concept of ?gender performance?.

See Butler 1990, 1993. Although I do not discuss Butler?s concept of

performativity, I will indirectly refer to this discursive understanding of sex.

6 See F. Guattari 1984: 73?81.

7 On the critique of the economy of representation and the metaphysical notion of

essence, see G. Deleuze 1990a, 1994. On the critique of Plato?s and Aristotle?s

essence in Deleuze, see M. DeLanda 2002. See also L. Irigaray 1985a.

8 On Spinozist ethology see G. Deleuze 1988c. See also M. Gatens 1996a: 162?87.

9 These questions will be discussed in relation to Spinoza?s ethology of nature.

Unlike the moralist and transcendent perspective, Spinoza?s ethics proposes an

immanent conception of nature. See Spinoza 1992.

10 The word ?virtual? is derived from the Medieval Latin virtualis, itself derived

from virtus, meaning strength or power. In scholastic philosophy the virtual is

that which has potential rather than actual existence. See H. Bergson 1991: 127?

31; 210?11. See also G. Deleuze 1988a: 42?3, 55?62, 100?1.

11 See Deleuze 1990a: 4?11; 13?21; 23; 35; 12?22; 67?73; 52?7. See also M.

Foucault 1977: 165?99; see also G. Deleuze and F. Guattari 1987: 80?3; 85?8;

107?9.

12 See L. Margulis 1981; see also J. Sapp 1994.

13 The distinction between molecular and molar is not a question of scale, but of

41

V I R T U A L S E X

mode of composition involving quality rather than quantity ? there are molarities

of every magnitude as, for example, the nucleus of the atom. While molecular

multiplicities define local connections between singular particles, molarities

imply the aggregation of local singular particles already grouped and rigidified

into a whole. See Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 89; 342?3; 1987: 208?31. See also

B. Massumi 1992: 54?5.

14 See Guattari 1984: 148?50. See L. Hjelmslev 1969. On the importance of

Hjelmslev?s work for Deleuze and Guattari?s schizoanalytic semiotics, see also D.

Olkowski 1991: 285?305; B. Bosteels 1998: 145?74; G. Genosko 1998: 175?90.

15 See Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 44.

16 Gilbert Simondon applies the concept of transduction to the notion of information.

Cybernetics (especially the homeostatic cybernetics of Norbert Wiener)

still defines information through the essentialist conception of form (hylomorphism).

Wiener associates information with signals or vehicles of information

determining identities rather than transformations. Simondon, on the other hand,

adopts physical and biological models to understand communication as involving

the pre-individual existence of being, the unpredictable emergence of difference

Simondon 1992: 296?19. See also F. Guattari 1995.

17 Far from equilibrium patterns of communication outline a continuum between

biological and physical models where the dynamics of information involve an

intensive process of transmission, a bifurcation towards novelty. See DeLanda

2002: 78?9. My study on information theory mainly stems from Deleuze and

Guattari?s adaptation of molecular biology and chaos theory. Through their

work, I understand information as intensity constituting differential scales of

communication and reproduction including the biophysical, biocultural and

biodigital scale. I also draw on Simondon?s conception of information as involving

a pre-individual plane of potentials. The scientific and philosophical debate about

information theory has recently shifted towards genetic computations (DNA

computing) and a new cybernetics of biology and mathematics resulting in the

Omega theory of randomness. See G. J. Chatin 1999. I reserve the study of these

theories for future research.

18 Isabelle Stengers problematizes the epistemological study of techno-science

defining science as homogeneous and a-historical. Science is not primarily an

institution that reproduces dominant knowledge, science is a ?historical adventure

in knowledge? marked by a ?chance-event? linking scientific with non-scientific

procedures. See Stengers 1997.

19 In particular, anatomical perception is entangled to the impact of sexual

morphologies on the scientific apparatus of observation. See M. Foucault 1994.

20 According to Deleuze, modulation involves a continual variation. This concept

will be explained in Chapter 4. See Deleuze 1995a: 178?9; Deleuze and Guattari

1987: 482?8.

21 On cyberpunk, see D. Cavallaro 2000. Ribofunk maps the bio-technological

imaginary born out of the ribosomal and protein chains of engineered cells. See

P. di Filippo 1996.

42

A B S T R A C T S E X

22 On the notion of the abstract, see Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 497?8. See also

W. Worringer 1963: 33, 42.

23 See Deleuze 1990a: 109, 117, 142?7.

24 See Spinoza 1992: III, Preface.

25 The machinic phylum delineates a pure continuum of material particles: ?matter

in movement, in flux, in variation, matter as a conveyor of singularities and traits

of _expression. . . . this matter-flow can only be followed? (Deleuze and Guattari

1987: 408).

26 See Deleuze 1988c: 52, 109.

27 ?[Essences] have no parts but are themselves parts, parts of power, like intensive

quantities. They are all compatible with one another without limit, because all

are included in the production of each one, but each one corresponds to a

specific degree of power different from all the others? Deleuze 1988c: 65.

28 On the difference between modes, see Deleuze 1988c: 92.

29 See G. Deleuze 1990b: 183.

30 On the difference between emotion and affect, see B. Massumi 1996: 217?39.

31 On common notions, see Spinoza 1992, II, Prop. 37?40.

32 My hypothesis of microfeminine micropolitics connects the work of Irigaray with

the work of Baruch Spinoza and Deleuze and Guattari. Yet, it is important to

consider Irigaray?s critical intervention against Spinoza?s monism, and her

critique of Deleuze and Guattari?s ontology of becoming. See L. Irigaray 1993:

83?94; 1985b: 140?1. See also E. Grosz 1994: 160?83. It is important to point

out that there is no analogy between Irigaray?s and Deleuze?Guattari?s works.

Rather, there is a ?common? engagement against the philosophical, scientific and

political tradition of representation and essentialism in Western culture.

33 I need to specify that the work of Irigaray and the work of Haraway quite differently

address the issue of femininity and desire. Irigaray?s early work engages

with the material manifestation of femininity and female desire. Haraway?s

cyborg no longer recognizes desiring flows traversing the body. It is numb to

matter, passion and sex. I bring together very few aspects of Irigaray?s and Haraway?s

works as they both produce a critical intervention against essentialism

moving towards two different directions. Irigaray?s later works emphasizes the

necessity to construct a new subject woman (1993). Haraway appears to rely on

epistemological criticisms without exploring the ontological materiality of a

body?sex and nature. Although crucial in feminist politics, both interventions

risk reiterating the economy of representation to invalidate their political

programmes. Although molar, institutional politics is not detached from material

politics of organization of matter-sex-body, my intervention focuses on the

importance of the molecular level of affect to expose the concept of femininity to

a metaphysical immanence of matter.

34 See J. Baudrillard 1994a, 1994b.

35 Haraway argues: ?The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck

with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions

to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts

43

V I R T U A L S E X

into a higher unity. In a sense, the cyborg has no origin story in the Western

sense. . . . An origin story in the ?Western?, humanist sense depends on the myth

of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother

from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of

history, the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis

and Marxism. . . . The cyborg skips the step of original unity, of identification

with nature in the Western sense? Haraway 1991: 151.

36 I. Prigogine and I. Stengers 1984; I. Prigogine 1997.

37 On the immanent constituency of a collective body as an ethical?political pragmatics

of action and intervention, see T. Negri 1991a.

38 Some questions might be asked about the notion of microfemininity, such as

?What is the relation between microfemininity and feminine desire?? ?Why is

microfeminine desire important for women?? ?Doesn?t the relation between

hypernature and femininity risk re-essentializing the body?? I will address these

questions in the conclusion.

39 Each stratum deploys a micropolitics of sex. The study of the biophysical stratification

will point out the affects stemming from the organization of bacterial sex

in meiotic sex and sexual reproduction. The analysis of the biocultural stratum

will discuss the affects of the overcodified body or of disciplinary sex in relation

to sex and death. The analysis of the biodigital stratum will consider the affects

of decodification of organic sex and death. The final chapter will investigate the

connection between the machines of destratification of sex unfolding the relations

between nature and microfemininity.

 

 

 


		
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