Machine Body Budapest - Outline   <<
Eric Kluitenberg, Amsterdam
April 26-30 1999

After it first appeared in the avantgarde literature at the beginning of this century, the machine body has been a recurrent theme in the arts, but even more so in popular culture. The machine bodies of Alfred Jarry and Raymond Roussel transformed into the woman robot of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, one of the hallmarks of 20th century film. Ever since science fiction stories and films produced countless variations of the machine body theme.

The machine body has become a mythological and compulsive (sometimes even obsessive) image, which reflects the fears and fascination over both machines and bodies. The machine body can become a symbol the rule of machines over human life, as in the Terminator movies or in Metropolis. Sometimes the machine body is literally a fusion of machine and body, as in Robocop, the Borg episodes of Star Trek, or in the radical Japanese underground movie Tetsuo The Iron Man. We also encounter this fusion of steel and flesh, of organic and technological in contemporary philosophy and even feminist theory (Donna Haraway) - the cyborg.

The machine as techno-body, the body as machine, also symbolises the unguided forces of desire, plunging man-kind ecstatically into chaos and destruction (as in again the machine-vamp in Metropolis, the 'machine erotique' in Barbarella, or the deadly metal fetishism of Tetsuo). The bachelor machine, an imaginary nightmare machine that transforms sexual desire into a mechanism of death, in our times has become a destructive reality through phone sex and tele-dildonics, or in the orgiastic climax of the car crash with Ballard's fiction and Kroonenberg's crash-movie.

Radical performance artists have also extended the machine body into new dimensions, by creating fearful machines of destruction, by becoming in part cyborgs themselves -unclear fusion of man and machine-, or by submitting bodies to grand scale machinic installations. Total recall of memory only reveals that our organic essence might just as well be the product of machines. Haraway claimed already more than 10 years ago that we have long, all of us, become cyborgs.