1. Intro
2. Donna Haraway
3. Katherine Hayles
4. Nick Land
5. Neuromancer by William Gibson
︎︎︎ FRACTURED IDENTITIES AND TRANSGRESSED BORDERS with Manuel Bogalheiro based on João Pedro Fonseca's performance WIRED DREAMS, presented in January at the ZABRA venue. The video first showcases a teaser of the performance, and then we are led into a reflection on it through authors such as Donna Haraway, Katherine Hayles, Nick Land, and even William Gibson with his work Neuromancer.



Good afternoon, everyone. It's quite familiar, and João expressed his gratitude, but above all, I feel the obligation to thank for the invitation and what he has initiated... to be here to talk a bit, I would say, starting from the play he presented two weeks ago. Perhaps to provide a preliminary note about the position I find myself in today, which is, on one hand, a very familiar position in the sense that this is nothing more than the result of conversations we've had for approximately 10 years. In other words, it's been a decade of discussing, among other things, what later materializes in one way or another. So, there's a level of complicity here that sometimes, at certain moments, almost becomes a form of co-authorship between things that I end up reflecting on more theoretically and the things that João realizes from a more artistic standpoint.

On the other hand, despite what I just said, I am extremely uncomfortable being here, precisely because of what I just mentioned. In other words, I can't help but feel uncomfortable in this formal position, in this role of speaking, and because ultimately, it feels strange to assume the formality imposed upon me, a kind of critic or theorist. Therefore, I would like this conversation to be as informal as possible, and feel free to interrupt me or participate. Above all, this is very candid; I see myself here as a kind of interlocutor for João's work. So, it's more about what I've become over these 10 years in many conversations that have truly happened in the most uncommitted environments that has led me to be here. Nevertheless, this is paradoxical. This is a conversation based on a set of theoretical references, and these are the four, and what I will do is briefly, perhaps even crudely, talk about each of them to try to establish some connections, perhaps more indirect than direct. Therefore, the play, I believe almost everyone here has seen it, and for those who haven't, despite all that João just presented about the play. So, I think it would be more interesting for some of these connections to linger here a bit and be established by each one of you, rather than me explicitly highlighting them. All of these references have informed these conversations, so they are essentially raw materials. With this, I take a step back to introduce each of them, leaving these potentials, I would say, for each of you to establish your own connections.

Much of this is true, revolving around what has come to be known as the debate on post-humanism, or the post-human... There are a set of clues, notably the use of CHATGPT, particularly this idea, as I see it, one of the most important in the play, an immersive environment between the human, the technical, the environmental, the procedural, the audience itself, thus the complete dissolution between active and passive subjects that eventually occurs. So, all of this directly informs the concept of post-humanism, and these four references can be seen, if you wish, as a kind of starting point to enter this debate.


The first of the references I invoke, and I must say, the title we gave to this session, "Fractured Identities and Transgressed Boundaries," is an appropriation of two expressions that appear in a 1985 text by American biologist and philosopher Donna Haraway in a book, an essay, actually, called "A Cyborg Manifesto," which has been translated into Portuguese. In Portugal, there was already a translation from Brazilian Portuguese, and last year, Orfeu Negro published an edition of it, including this "Cyborg Manifesto." The text, dating back to '85, has a rather ambitious subtitle: "Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism." There's an ambition in this text, and in a way, it's this mission that makes this text so seminal—it covers all these areas, interconnecting them, and always from a sort of central image, figure, or metaphor, which is the metaphor of the cyborg. I think we all have an idea of the cyborg, especially in the realm of fiction, with characters like Robocop, Terminator, or even Inspector Gadget, and nowadays, there are many more... But the point here is that the Cyborg is not just a figure of the imagination; it's a profoundly political figure. Eminently political in the sense that it's a heretical figure, meaning an uncomfortable or unclassifiable figure, a figure that doesn't fit neatly into any category because, to use a very prosaic expression, it's "neither fish nor fowl." That is to say, it's not just flesh, it's not just metal, and, more importantly, we don't know where the metal ends and the flesh begins, and vice versa. In the face of all this, according to Donna Haraway, what we have in the figure of the Cyborg is a thought of hybridity, a thought of contamination, confusion, fusion, so to speak, and in that sense, the boundaries are transgressed and cannot be identified in one way or another. It's a bit about this transgression of boundaries that João Pedro was talking about in the final part, especially between the support and the figure, between the audience and himself, and naturally between the technical and the organic. In other words, this heretical figure of strangeness, which is the Cyborg.

It's a figure that, because it's subversive, cursed, is not faithful to any of the great dualisms in the history of the West, like the one between nature and technology but also, if you will, between man and woman or homosexual and heterosexual. In this sense, the Cyborg ends up being a possible image of any figure of subalternity, meaning any figure that presents itself as an alterity, which, as we know, has always been marginalized from a historical perspective. We know who they are... And I'll repeat, but it's almost a relentless exercise of repetition: women, black people, deviants, homosexuals, mad people, monsters, technical hybrids that have always existed. So, what's at stake here is the radical denial of any idea of purity. The idea of purity in light of this Cyborg metaphysics is not just an outdated idea, it's not just an idea that can't be sustained. The idea is also a dangerous one, which usually supports totalitarian programs or ideologies that end up glorifying some form of exceptionality, particularly technical or cultural. Ultimately, this purity is what questions the very concept of humanism with a capital H. In other words, humanism can be transcended through exercises, both theoretical and, in my view, artistic, like the one that João Pedro presented. So... this is why identities are fractured. 

This is why the boundaries are torn apart, and, above all, what underscores the "post" prefix in this idea of humanism is that humanism must be overcome once and for all to establish this kind of anthropological matrix, the anthropological matrix that historically separated the human from the non-human and thus legitimized the non-human, but not just the non-human, also what has historically been deemed sub-human. I mentioned examples earlier. One last aspect to note about this work is that there is no pessimism regarding technology, and this pessimism is sometimes very characteristic of a certain left-wing critique of technology. There is no pessimism; on the contrary, technology is seen as a kind of solution. In fact, these are the words of Donna Haraway: "hitech culture" or what she calls the "metaphysics of information," which is something related to the fact that information permeates everything like a kind of viral nature, stabilizing, not based on any support. Even though Donna Haraway's perspective is deeply ambivalent, this is what throws us into a kind of vertigo. Now, let's remember the suspended position of João's body, a body in vertigo, a body suspended in relation to itself, always waiting for something that could be updated, especially what was circulating around him. Furthermore, a body that constantly, almost like a rhythmic alert, heard "jump." Plus, there was something that marked the profoundly provisional nature of the position he occupied. I believe there are more insights that can be inferred from this, but I'll leave them for a later moment when we can all discuss, and I'll conclude the reference to Donna Haraway, who has been cited and discussed by us many times and, in my view, with this contribution, this session is also an invitation to reading and discovery, so it can be further explored.


The second reference is a woman as well, Katherine Hayles. She's also an American; her book, from 1999, boasts a title that could be described as, at the very least, iconic and enigmatic: "How We Became Posthuman." It's one of the phrases that my friend João and I frequently repeat on WhatsApp when we converse. The premise of her book involves a critique of transhumanism, in other words, a critique of the mythology embodied by figures like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the realm of high technology. These figures aspire to a certain idea of immortality and radical human enhancement, representing an exaggerated form of humanism. Moreover, this notion of enhancement seems to be contingent on a particular condition: the separation between the mind and the body. This isn't entirely science fiction, as these individuals are currently investing millions in laboratories testing the upload of consciousness or some form of consciousness – this is not science fiction. There are laboratories or budgets that are a thousand times the budget of our DGArtes invested in downloading or uploading of consciousness – this is digitization. Therefore, as I was saying, or referring to what I was saying, there is a clear dualistic position here. On one side, there is recycling, and on the other side, there appears to be this corporeal matter. However, this dualism disregards what, in my view, is the profound imprint of corporeality and the physical dimension, which can hardly be completely separated from the metaphysical dimension of the mind.

Katherine Hayles further engages in another exercise, associating transhumanism with a sort of subject, whether liberal or non-liberal, that envisions itself as a wholly autonomous, self-made entity, effectively placing the world at a distance, as well as its own body and nature. This self-centered subject, an heir to the anthropocentrism of modernity and the Enlightenment, is clearly, in Katherine Hayles' critique, the perfect impetus for human exceptionalism. In other words, this concept grants a form of legitimacy to view ourselves as superior to everything else, whether it be remnants of animal, plant, mineral species, and so forth, or even these forms of sub-humanity.

In a few words, what is Katherine Hayles' proposal, you might ask? Firstly, she presents a scheme in which she suggests that these humanist values may have originated from a worldview that was, to a great extent, based on a logic of presence and absence. In other words, this logic of presence and absence is essentially the logic of what? Of the positive and the negative. White requires its black authority to reaffirm its hegemony, and you can replace white and black with any other historical asymmetry; essentially, it's always based on a logic of invisibility to justify the central visibility of the other that is affirmed in their consecrated identity. Now, this logic of presence and absence, which historically has often relied on an original presence with a typically metaphysical and theological background – the installation of God, the self-installing subject – what happens when we introduce the question of information technology?

Once again, and here in a sense very close to the Regua region, the metaphysics of information, in other words, the digital and its separation, disrupts all of this. It causes a kind of total upheaval, a collision where this presence and absence becomes disarticulated. And what is the new pair that Katherine Hayles suggests should replace the old presence and absence? It's the pair of pattern and randomness. Think of Google, think of the QR code, think of our self-digitals – all of this is nothing more than an attempt at standardization within the absolutely excessive randomness of a sublime order of an immeasurable excess of information in today's world. So, this new pair, pattern and randomness, holds a decisive character for Katherine Hayles.

What was, for much of history, this humanist culture, strongly deterministic in nature – a kind of linear causality with a fixed path, where if you are morally good, you reach paradise, or if you are good consumers, you achieve material success, etc. – all of this determinism is being replaced by what? By probabilistic systems. In other words, it may happen, or it may not. The probabilistic also has a prominent dimension of percentage. This means that we are no longer speaking, and I think this is also highly relevant to João's work, of closed identities or predetermined substances. We are essentially talking about open processes. In other words, we are talking about pure contingency – we talk about how we affect and are affected to the same extent. What does this imply? It implies a radical permeability towards the surrounding conditions. It's this constant permeability that once again challenges the humanist project.

To conclude, I'd like to offer two theses regarding Donna Haraway. First, she emphasizes the idea of "Embodyment," meaning that everything is embodiment. Forget about the humanists who see the mind as disembodied, as some sort of data or database – forget that. Everything is embodiment, meaning that there is no pure intellect, and subjectivity is always the result of predominantly material processes. Furthermore, there's no perspective of cognition as an exclusively human attribute. In essence, as soon as everything is embodiment, everything is corporeal; what was once immaterial is nothing more than a fallacy. When everything is embodiment, it implies that we cannot have anything other than what? A kind of extended cognition, a distributed cognition. On one hand, this clearly goes beyond the domain of the human, and on the other hand, this distributed cognition reflects itself into a kind of agency that redistributes itself.

A practical example of this distributed cognition, and it's truly practical, as presented by Katherine Hayles, is the case of the ships from the Age of Exploration. This is an interesting example of distributed cognition, where knowledge and techniques were passed down from one generation to another, particularly from the Arabs to other cultures, involving astrolabes and navigation techniques. This means that the journey, it's hard to consider it as the product of a concentrated cognition solely by the person at the helm. Essentially, everything in this process involves distribution. And in this order of distribution, what can we observe? We can see this in the current context where we are undoubtedly surrounded by technological devices.

There is an exercise by a linguist named John Searle that essentially puts forward the thesis that artificial intelligence, back in the 1970s, could never possess any semantic capacity. This means that artificial intelligence would be of a purely mathematical nature, dealing with syntax only, without ever truly comprehending what it was saying. To illustrate this point, he introduces a thought experiment known as the "Chinese Room" experiment. What is the Chinese Room experiment? It involves a room with two openings. On one side, someone is passing papers in English, for instance, and they come out the other side in Chinese. Inside the room, there's a third person who has been provided with all the correspondence between English and Chinese and is tasked with matching and translating the papers that come through. John Searle's argument is that the person inside the room doesn't need to know Chinese to perform this process. This is a metaphor for artificial intelligence: it can carry out a mathematical process of probabilistic and algorithmic correspondences without actually understanding what is at stake. Katherine Hayles, on the other hand, suggests that cognition is inherent to the entire room, to the whole process.

So, what does this have to do with what João Pedro was discussing earlier? It's not about some form of individual artistic intention that can, in a way, consecrate some of the cognition within that artistic exercise. It's about the entire integrated environment itself. Katherine Hayles even goes on to say that modern humans, or even sub-humans, are capable of a more sophisticated kind of thinking or cognition compared to their ancestors not necessarily because they are smarter, but precisely because they construct a more intelligent environment – in other words, "smart environments." This includes the Internet of Things, augmented reality, virtual reality, and other similar concepts. It's a notion that goes against the illusions of the metaverse and other similar exercises, as what it fundamentally involves is that virtuality is nothing more and nothing less than all objects in potential that can be interpenetrated by information. In essence, it's this electronic informational skin where things run, much like the environment that, in my opinion, João Pedro created so effectively. What's at stake here is that distributed cognition, a redistribution of agency. Once again, it's not just humans who are part of this, but it extends to other forms of potent action.

Notice that in the performance, and anyone who saw it will recall this, it wasn't just the body, it wasn't just the voice-over, it wasn't just the music, and it wasn't even just us as the spectators. João Pedro's apt expression was that it was an assemblage – all of these elements together constituted that environment. This perspective challenges the myth that immersion or the virtual implies the interface through which we enter another reality. Instead, true immersion and virtuality lie precisely in something more analog and this kind of distribution.


Third reference and perhaps the most problematic, an English author Nick Land, little recommended these days. His tweets often link to movements that are also little recommended, such as the North American extreme right, extremist movements, but I don't know if they would have already crossed paths with him or not, but it must be said here that there is a kind of turning point at the end of the 90s. He is a professor at Warwick where, in fact, he wanted a great tradition of thought and then he wanted a lot of repercussions from Mark Fisher to Ray Brassier to other illustrious thinkers and it is these texts from the 90s that interest us, they are gathered in this collection FANGED NOUMENA And so in plain Portuguese what you can say is that he "burned" there at a certain point. He then went into exile in Shanghai and took some of his theoretical premises too far. And with this we are all in a position to be able to distinguish between a madman who doesn't mind nurturing very unrecommended movements and a first, not mad but eccentric, theoretical man with some of the contributions more important. It's true that it sounds a bit nihilistic. It's true that I support a certain radical critique sometimes linked to what has been called accelerationism. What was called the "Black Nietzsche" species, therefore a Black Nietzsche, whatever you want to call it... But above all, a deep reflection that was in Nick Land about digital technology, as it is, would somehow dissolve that project as humanism. And it would highlight the dogmatic character or provisional character of all dogmatic categories.

Some key ideas that I extract from some of his texts, all of them between 94 and 97 and which are ideas that I will look at, match some of the issues that are at stake in João Pedro's performance and the first is this idea that technique or that What we call technology is not the result of historical models of meaning, in other words, what this means is that more than seeing us as inventors and more than seeing this kind of genre that, from an experience, something is installed in the world we must see ourselves above all as objects of this technological revolution itself. And so this means that technique and today perhaps we can recognize this with the best evidence because artificial intelligence is at the cutting edge but it is as if historically the technique had always been working on itself as if in some way it was always improving the itself to open up its own possibilities of manipulation, giving clues for its development that we, rather than deep down directed at ourselves, simply recognize and update and therefore it is not of the order, once again, of an active subject facing a process that is completely over its control is mainly of the order of what we can call a feedback loop, once again affecting by the same measure as what is affected. Therefore, in essence what is at stake here, even when we view technology in terms of a certain automatic nature, what we see is that this automation is always moving, through deviation, it is true, but it is always moving and therefore never reproduces the same . So this is called the glitch, entropy but essentially and this is the idea that is probably the most decisive idea in Land is that none of this, none of this perspective on technology has to do with an isolated subject in history, once again Those who complained that it seemed like history were always authors or claimants of great totalitarian projects, so here it never has to do with this subject isolated in history nor is this subject being the historical event itself that produces something, not everything is always in one way or another latent, there must be some transgression of matter itself through matter or, if you will, of technique through technique itself and at the limit even the act and inauguration of consciousness of thought or language is itself already crossed by matter and technique.

And we know how paleontologists from André Leroi-Gourhan to more recent philosophers of technology such as Simondon or Bernard Stiegler have precisely highlighted this thesis that at the moment we become bipedal and wield the first stones, the skull can finally gain space behind the brain growing and the mouth freeing itself to imitate sounds. Therefore, even this inaugural gesture of speech, of consciousness, of thought, is itself interested in matter, in technique and in anything that is basically exterior to us, the question is this exterior in the interior or that which in essence is simultaneously a gesture of dispossession and capture dilutes what Katherine Hayles pointed out, which I mentioned a moment ago, this self-sufficient, self-constituted subject, creating, as the Enlightenment or Renaissance people said in their own image - this is an absolute fiction. And so this inaugural gesture, which ultimately needs to be externalized, ends up making a kind of leap for the community to see that the technique is as if it had always curated its own bifurcations, in other words, it is true that it is always in an anonymous way and distributed bifurcates itself and in the perhaps more nihilistic version of Nick Land that is at stake is precisely to think of a kind of autonomous technique, of an uninhibited cybernetics, therefore, anything that will completely relativize itself does not even dissolve categories that are very expensive such as memory, emotion, language, symbolic and etc... therefore, in the end these are the ones that are themselves crossed. And here it is true, in Nick Land there was, before this concession to less recommended political projects, this political idea that the last short circuit where technology would overcome itself and where everything would go out without a moment of total transparency, what this What I meant was that Marx was clearly being recycled in the sense that alienation disappeared and we would finally understand the place in each person's history through technology once again. So what is at stake here, what is always at stake here is this kind of redistribution of seats, redistribution of agencies, of exhibitors, a little like what was at stake in João Pedro's performance and ultimately also the cancellation the role of the observer or witness itself. In other words, deep down for Nick Land, this technique does not need witnesses to produce and reproduce itself. At that moment we were also not the true witnesses nor the true observer, we participated in some way and therefore we were also in this more or less interactive process with what deep down, despite everything, was a body.

To conclude, Nick Land and this fundamental contribution, what is at stake for him is that what he often thinks of with a kind of existential crisis or almost a kind of shame that we feel in relation to the evolution of technology and then think about all the narratives about we will be replaced, surpassed, annihilated, this is no more nor less than the total humanism deeply rooted in a narcissistic culture to speak. And so what has probably been proven to date is that moments of technological upheaval and technological advancement are good moments from a civilizational point of view. So, deep down, there is an open wound of this narcissism here, which is: "but we are giving some of these skills to machines". More than giving in, we are highlighting what, in one way or another, these historical processes of contamination have always been and of course this is uncomfortable for certain types of perspectives or divisions. On page 414 I initially thought about reading more passages but it might get a little heavy. We see a passage, I would say that it could almost have been written for João's performance. And it says at a certain point that... I think that when reading in English I will translate it freely, I think it works better. That this entire perspective, therefore, is a technique that produces and reproduces itself, is not a simple displacement of the spirit to matter where being finds itself again, but is therefore not, in essence, a path to a final epiphany where being finds itself again, not there are final images, there is no redemption here. There is never the redeemer: "we are saved or saved." But it is above all a dismantling of the self, that is, a dismantling of this disarticulation, this dismemberment within the machinic matrix that is not disembodied, but disorganized. A body outside of experience but a body that still exists - and it really seems like it did for João - a body in vertigo. Once again, therefore, the idea always arises in this kind of getting it out of the way in one way or another, requiring some kind of critical exercise here.


Approaching the end and a different reference, it's a novel, it's not a theoretical book, some of you will know it, you'll have read it already... Let's say about perhaps the most seminal novel Of the Cyberpunk imagination, which is William Gibson's novel from 84, a year before the text Donna Haraway, the NEUROMANCER, and therefore it is a very novel... in fact, the "cyberpunk" theme itself is coined in this book. In addition to another term that... if not coined at least is popularized by the term "cyberspace" itself. And at a certain point and the story in 10 seconds is the story of a hacker, therefore of Rui Pinto from Cyberpunk, but he was in a closed cave and was not linked to the football market, he was linked to other things but he was trying precisely to boycott the company for which he works and as punishment he is injected with a drug that makes it impossible for him to regain control, of the console, of the computer or in other words some kind of psychotropic drug. And then what happens, he rediscovers his physical condition. This is a passage that I couldn't find in the book and so I did what I had to do which is go to the PDF and put the key term, and therefore at a certain point what we can read on page 317 of the PDF, not since, is that for Case, the main character, who had lived in the disembodied exultation of cyberspace, at the moment he can no longer access the console, he is faced with the fall, the fall in which the body becomes flesh, and the flesh, remember before reading the rest of the ending, the meat from religion to technology is always the cursed element. In other words, meat is a symbol of the beginning of the wild that no one knows what to do with it, because it is meat that ages, it is meat that makes you fat, it is meat that increases, it is meat that is brutally enlarged and there are few differences with any animal skin, It is the flesh that ultimately brings us closer to some remnant, some trace of the human that will be out there on the loose and everything else is the body that turned into flesh after that boycott or impossibility of access to the console. The case finally fell into the prison of its own flesh, thus rediscovering itself in a suspended position in which it was no longer just mind or body. So, deep down... I can also tell you that some of this was instrumentalized, this very presentation is instrumentalized on the idea of vertigo. Before gathering some of these references, I can say that I searched for questions about vertigo in the PDF search, but if there is any thesis here, no matter how crude it may be, it is that this idea of a kind of vertigo, a suspended position, which on the one hand is an inversion on the other hand is clearly something more unclassified but also and I think this is what is interesting: it is the vertigo of the one who abandons himself to the process itself and therefore it is the vertigo of the one who does not fear in some way. Therefore, subliminal needs enter into such an excess of information that it accelerates itself in this process because it is always the only way in the background, it is the only way in one way or another to participate. This flow is abandoned, but the question is a flow that it does not control. Perhaps the question is not in a hurry, whether it is the problem of control or how we can inform knowledge, intellect, symbolic, in these very tidy frames, frames of control , pictures where we put things at a distance, a common point at a distance, but which in fact are nothing more than sterile and purely artificial exercises in taxonomy, classification, or whatever you want to call it.

Therefore, this idea of abandonment and this idea of emerging from one's own flow ends up in my view connecting a lot of what passes for this critical post-humanism, some of the pieces and in particular this piece by João and which has to do with an expression returning to Donna Haraway with an expression that she has used for many years now, which is the expression "making trouble", in other words, this expression from "Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin", in other words, disturbing through the meanings of affinities. Basically, a certain idea of displacement, of disturbance, always towards some opening. In my view, this is the function of both thought and art. I thank João once again. I hope the references haven't made this conversation too heavy from a theoretical point of view, but I think there will be a moment here if you want and want it that way for us to discuss and even have more general participation. Thank you all.