When I think of 'flesh' at this moment in human history, it's difficult not to think of the images on television and in print news reports in recent weeks. The first pictures of Kosovo's Albanian population being purged from their homes and amassed on the borders of neighbouring countries have left an impression. While cameras have stood witness from afar, we have been confronted by images of people being shot at point-blank range. Rows of corpses have lined up after ill-executed bombing raids by NATO forces and the more systematic slaughter of pro-independence activists by wayward Indonesian military groups in East Timor. Perhaps less expected, the deaths of school students in Columbine, Colorado, and the patrons of a gay club in the Soho district of London have added force to daily reminders on the insistence of the flesh to being.
The significance of flesh to being extends beyond a simple matter of physical survival. It is often our reaction to the flesh of the other upon which we stake our very sense of self. Subjectivity becomes a constant process of negotiating the borders of the self, where an individual may either identify with the other they encounter, or attempt to deny or repress the other's existence. The recent events around the world are illustrative of the attempt by some individuals to repress others, who (inadvertently) threaten their stable sense of self, by way of the very final solution of death. It is often a response to an irrational fear of the inescapable physical flesh of others in various manifestations, such as ethnicity, gender and sexuality, that provokes such violent actions.
In view of the on-going perpetration of violence towards others, it is little wonder that fantasies of transcending the flesh abound in many narratives. The successes of William Gibson's Neuromancer in 1986, and now the currently-released film The Matrix are contemporary testaments to the ongoing popularity of this fantasy of human self-creation without the limits imposed by 'meat'. While it might be argued that the leap into cyberspace is a denial of the flesh, it might also be argued that emergent technologies are almost certainly embraced because they seem to offer the possibility of allowing us to be more human than we are currently. New technologies seem to offer new ways of being in the world that will refine human communication and diffuse prejudices, where you will be loved for your personality and not hated for the colour of your skin. In this issue of M/C we consider a variety of ways of thinking about the flesh amidst the effects of media and new technologies.
The feature article by Sean Aylward Smith asks "Where Does the Body End?", and thus also, where does technology begin? Smith deliberates on the difficulty of working with and about technology, where common-sense suggests that one should be able to define the distinction between technology and the body before embarking on the study of "any given socio-technical imbroglio". Working through the philosophical writings of Felix Guattari, Bruno Latour and then Guattari again, this time in conjunction with Gilles Deleuze, Smith progressively confuses the apparently neat distinction between technology and the body to argue for a subjectivity, or rather "a mode of individuation" as a haecceity, where humans are "collective assemblages" of agencies and affects.
Peter Chen undertakes his deliberation on flesh in terms of its existence on the Internet in the form of pornography. In "Community Without Flesh: First Thoughts on the New Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill 1999", Chen argues that in adapting existing regulatory paradigms to the Internet, the Australian government has overlooked the informal communities of the virtual world. He suggests that in attempting to meet a perceived social need for regulation with political and administrative expedience, the government has ignored the potentially cohesive role they might play in the development of self-regulating communities who require little government intervention to produce socially beneficial outcomes. Chen predicts the formation of a new type of community, "whose desire for a feast of flesh" will ensure they are vigilant in their evasion of the cast of the regulators' net.
Alan Macdougall's article might offer some practical solutions for those members of the virtual communities of cyberspace discussed by Chen. In "'And the Word Was Made Flesh, and Dwelt amongst Us'": Towards Pseudonymous Life on the Internet", Macdougall engages in a critical discussion of pseudonymity on the Internet, where users construct untraceable identities for use online. While Chen identified the concerns private citizens have when governments implement modes of surveillance for online activities, Macdougall acknowledges the threat individuals also experience from commercial interests gathering demographic information. He iterates the emergent technologies that are being developed to counter such intrusions, and considers the ways in which this "new flesh" will dwell amongst us.
Axel Bruns continues the discussion of the Internet, and concurs with Macdougall's assessment that while online activity may present itself as ephemeral, in fact it has a presence that produces very real effects. In a defense of the significance of online publishing and communication, Bruns asks "How Solid Is the Flesh?"; he wonders whether the solidity and therefore the esteem that is generally attributed to publications in the 'real world' is a convincing argument when many books and print journals languish unread on obscure library shelves. On the contrary, Bruns argues, the 'flesh' is not left behind when the leap is taken into cyberspace. The ongoing explosion in available storage space on the Internet has the effect that cyberspace is becoming increasingly anephemeral.
In "How Funny?: Spectacular Ani in Animated Television Cartoons" Simon-Astley Scholfield shifts our focus to a small screen of another kind in his consideration of the popular animated American 'kidult' cartoon series Ren and Stimpy and South Park. He notes that amid the uproar about the excessive depictions of violence and viscera in these comedy cartoons, an analysis of their representations of anal flesh has been conspicuously avoided. Scholfield's article addresses this oversight in a comparison between the two programmes. He concludes that while South Park explores subversive themes, "they have been twisted into misogynist and homophobic contexts". In contrast, the narrative outcomes in Ren and Stimpy posit a challenge to the "dominant homophobic culture".
The 1997 spate of dead celebrities provides the flesh in Rebecca Farley's article, "The Word Made Flesh: Media Coverage of Dead Celebrities". Noticing the absence of pictures of dead celebrities' bodies in the coverage of their deaths, Farley wonders if when alive, celebrities fill a particular function, what do they do in death? Choosing to focus specifically on the deaths of Gianni Versace, Michael Hutchence and Mother Teresa, Farley argues that the sexually transgressive personae of Versace and Hutchence in life are replaced with "a pro-social narrative" that returns them to the bosom of family in death, while Mother Teresa, whose body "caused no trouble when it was alive, and conveniently wasn't mangled to death", is allowed to be present and photographed in death.
Tseen Khoo's article, "Fetishising Flesh: Asian-Australian and Asian-Canadian Representation, Porno-Culinary Genres, and the Racially Marked Body" takes full advantage of the Internet to introduce the topic of flesh. Via a tour of various Websites, Khoo introduces the Web-surfer to the issues involved in representing the Asian body in diaspora, and the politically fraught issues for racial minority populations in majority 'white' nations. Khoo considers examples from Japanese-Canadian literature, metaphors of ingestion, and racial minority identity politics in the United States.
The final submission to this issue is a work of creative writing by Hamish Kaden. "The Interminable Son" is the story of a man reconciling the death of his well-known feminist mother. The un-named character resurrects the memory of his mother through a Buddhist ceremony for the dead, and by conducting library research into her life as a prominent campaigner for women's right to have safe abortions. Kaden imparts the emotions of his character, while providing insight into an important health issue that effects many lives.
This issue of M/C conceives of flesh in many forms and relationships. The cover image, designed by Damian Frost, should not go without mention as it provides a fresh vision from which to embark onto the smorgasbord of 'flesh'. Enjoy!
'Flesh' Issue Editor