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Thacker's Biomedia



Thacker, Eugene. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. 392 pgs. Softcover, $24.95. ISBN: 0816643539.

<1> Only we could have done it. The Code (DNA and its analogs, etc.) that we perhaps only narrate, never forgetting all of the fictions that narration portends, today consciously edits the text that evolution has edited unconsciously for eons. Thacker considers how humans -- perhaps little more than interactive Code, manipulate the Code -- with the technology of the Code. No other faction of Code has yet to make such heady ‘gains.’ Where posthumanity was always a literary endeavor, a literary bypass, out of instrumental science and into fictive states, it now is a technical endeavor, encompassing a systemic rationale, and a medium wherein to flourish. That the majority of cultures have yet to adequately engage this currency is only incidental to the Capital required to execute its logic, and globalization will be sure to include the mounting technological implementation of the Code.

<2> The biomediated ontological location we increasingly embody and have only now begun to examine, is the new condition that has been bequeathed to us by Progress, and it insists that we are the true ‘new media.’ In this sense, there is an evolutionary trend in effect, beginning with the screen of the cave, which birthed the screen of the print text, which begot the electronic screen we call Culture, which is begetting biomedia. None of this, of course, implies a Telos, and Thacker’s line of inquiry is most focused upon the realm of the observable. The substance of biomedia is the instantiation of the posthuman narrative evinced by the technological recontextualization of the human being, particularly at the level of the concept, resulting in the new and radical version of human biology, and of the biological components of which it is comprised (e.g. proteins, DNA, RNA, etc.) -- another level of anthropomorphosis, to be sure.

<3> Thacker sees a merging of the Code of life with the code of technologies, and we might add that all of this is mediated by the metaphysics of Capital. The Code of life has no sovereignty under the metaphysics of Capital, hence the splicing, dicing, and patenting of the Code portends that the benefits of this “configuration of bodies and technologies, made possible as much by technical approaches as by specific technological instruments,” will of course, disproportionately benefit the apostles of Capital (i.e. members of the transnational aristocracy and their direct subordinates). Thacker is quick to add that this merger of codes is not a particular of simulation, but quite literally a modulation of our ontological substance, which in turn renders human mediated biologies as biomedia [1 ].

<4> In our hands, biomedia is the encoding of the information contained in our genome, not all at once, but as a process, and new modality of cultural referencing. Encoded is the text of DNA and its analogs, precursors and molecular complexes, which are then recoded as digital text via biocomputing hardware and software, all managed by us, who are perceivably better understood as burgeoning wetware. Further, the recoded text, now a digital map, that is selectively prodded, manipulated, queried, cross-matched and edited, depending upon the impetus of the manipulative device’s agenda, is then decoded, as biomedia, in order to remediate our bodies -- and also to continually answer the question “What can a body do?” This is the digital editing of the biological flesh, a process of production that proceeds so as “not to move beyond the material substrate, but to constantly appear to return to it, in a self-fulfilling, technical optimization of the biological, such that the biological will continue to remain biological” -- if not human.

<5> It is not so exceptional to ask the question “What can a body do?” in itself -- we have pushed the limits of our bodies for millennia, manifestly in our increasing awareness and acceptance of our flesh. Where a historical moment ago, the flesh was once evil, and the soul divine, we have come to the point at which we now lie prostrate to the Flesh, and the form or physique of its malleable mold; the soul seems a little lost in all of this process of becoming bodies -- and most recently, globalizing mediated bodies. The soul is lost, and for some, perhaps tout est foutu. But that needn’t be the case. It is true, in spite of ideals, that the law of the milieu must vary, as the terrain expands for some and rescinds for Others, even if “(we) do not know how to forget” and even if “archiving and anamnesis, those two well-springs of piety and its practices, cannot emerge intact from our consignments to machines” [2 ]. At any rate we cannot find it -- the soul -- and biomedia suggests that we have lost nothing, perhaps, save an idea, the use-value of which may go down in history as being the biggest scandal in terms of lives lost, time lost better spent on other affairs, and effort expended in terms of trying to further its Crusade, Jihad or Mission.

<6> Thacker illustrates the burgeoning new media realm of the body -- and our cognitive landscape, it would seem is just now becoming capable of technically executing such a language; bioinformatics foreshadows the collapsing of the two newest codes, the genetic code into the digital code, bequeathing to us -- the Code. Of greater interest still, is the notion that the Code -- as information, can be executed in other mediums -- as wet data for biocomputing, wherein DNA and its analogs are anthropomorphically isolated and retooled as technology. The hybridization of silicon microarrays and wet data functions at present to transfer information across media -- from one platform to another, giving impetus to the notion that further hybridizations of this kind portends the effacement of the boundary between silicon bodies and DNA bodies. Indeed, as a-life art [3 ] so aptly exemplifies, the sphere of the real no longer needs to be exchangeable for the sphere of the sign, and that is because in biomedia, the sphere of the real is the sphere of the sign, -- or everything is media awaiting mediation, and is hence malleable ad infinitum.

<7> If life, along with the virtual screen of its newest milieu turns out to be a form of computation, then the effacement of God (l’effacement de Dieu) is perhaps given an alibi [4 ]. Biocomputing, as in when Thacker describes the parallel processing of base pairs of DNA, cellular membrane “lock and key” computing, or cellular computing, takes as its impetus the momentum provided by the concept that DNA is information, and that DNA is a program -- all of this culminating in the material work of harnessing and accumulating the computational power of its mechanism.

<8> The strength of Thacker’s text lies in its novel explication of the biomedia concept, and where the parameters of such an entity might exist. The Code is closed, while it is also open-source, and the anthropomorphic lens with which we view the material that constitutes our bodies, in turn will shape what we do with the biomediated entities we consist of, for it is not a question of if we will do something with ourselves, but what we will do. Ultimately, the narrative of biomedia becomes inextricable from resulting narratives of bioethics, and the sort of question Thacker ends with is “How is there to be a bioethics, when we’ve yet to culturally locate our biomedia?” It is not only a bioethical question that arises, Thacker acknowledges, but also a question of the narration of the human condition and the operational understanding of many presumptive categories, such as the natural, the technical or the real. Thacker’s illustration of biomedia helps us to understand the language of the biomediation process, as well as to begin to contextualize the cultural influence of its methodical utilization.

Nicholas Ruiz III


[1 ] Eugene Thacker, Biomedia, Minneapolis; University of Minnesota Press (2004), p21. [^]

[2 ] Regis Debray, God: An Itinerary, New York: Verso (2004), p235. [^]

[3 ] See Mitchell Whitelaw, Metacreation:Art and Artificial Life, Cambridge, MA; MIT Press (2004). [^]

[4 ] Jean Baudrillard, Le Pacte de lucidité ou le intelligence du Mal, Paris; Galilée (2004). [^]