Category Archives: body



Orlan rewrites herself by physically reconstructed her face multiple times in her 1990 series “Reincarnation of Saint Orlan.” She underwent nine plastic surgeries to transform her face using features of ideal forms of female beauty taken from the art historical canon. She engages in self-hybridization not only through incorporating features of other women into her own face, but by also incorporating their narratives and texts. Orlan’s “Reincarnation” is a process of continual becoming. Her body consumes these other bodies and texts just as they in turn consume her. This act of self-hybridization and becoming multiple also reveals the presence of a death drive directed both at the self and at the canon. The canon is collapsed into a single image, and that single image exposes the horror and absurdity of the canon itself.beautyorlan.JPGOrlan is performing and masquerading her own self-creation or re-creation. The surgeries were all filmed, making the camera a prosthetic and extension of the scene of creation. Orlan also becomes a prosthetic herself as the film is screened and projected in numerous art galleries turning the artist into the mechanized copy of the real original through the performance. Orlan performs her transformation and site of becoming as she reads Lacan’s “mirror stage” on the operating table. This self-referential act about the recognition of self as Other, or in Orlan’s case, Others, brings psychoanalysis onto the operating table as a patient. Orlan’s body is caught between machines, between the artificial model and blueprint on the computer screen, and the camera projecting the transformation of her face onto another screen. Screening is a theme in traumatic narrative, the revealing and concealing of certain images. The camera also acts as a mechanical double of the surgery and Orlan’s body as reproductive organ, the camera is a mechanical reproductive organ. Orlan’s body is being worked on by the surgeon, the camera and cameraman, the canon of beauty, and in her reading Lacan, she is being worked on by psychoanalysis.


In the Carnal Art Manifesto, Orlan writes “I can observe my own body cut open, without suffering! I see myself all the way down to my own entrails; a new mirror stage” (U, 192). This reveals the objectification of the self and the new mirror stage which originates out of destruction. Instead of encountering a whole image of the self in the mirror, one encounters a direct image of the self, which is mutilated and fractured. One witnesses the self becoming multiple. This identification with the unstable transitional body over the stable holistic body points to a modern rupture in the self. “The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan” is against finality. Although there was a finished body at the end of the series, it is a body that will always threaten another mutation. If the word “final” can even be used in the context of Orlan, the final result of the Reincarnation was a face and a body that appeared to be still in transition. The human signifier is destabilized and raises the question of whether it was the signifier on the operating table all along.                                                                                                                                     Continue reading

The Scream in Antonin Artaud: Building a New Transmitter

The split within the modern subject is further complicated and explored in the case of Antonin Artaud who was in search of the primal scream of the theater. Artaud’s body was already divided as it existed in the space and temporal order of the second scream, yet desired to exist in the space of the first primal scream, before the encounter with the Other. Allen S. Weiss discusses Artaud’s use of “glossolalia” which he calls, “the manifestation of language at the level of its pure materiality, the realm of pure sound, where one obtains a total disjunction of signifier and signified. As such, the relation between sound and meaning breaks down through the glossolalic utterance; it is the image of language inscribed in its excess, at the threshold of nonsense” (Weiss19-20). Artaud incorporated glossolalia into his poetic play, To Have Done with the Judgment of God and combined it with screams in his performance. The use of glossolalia and a screaming lexicon of nonsense, creates a vocal alignment with the primal scream. Glossolalia evokes the state of pre-language, of the cri pur. It also isolates the body, refusing to engage in language and to engage with the Other. The space of language and the Other is also a space of judgment. Weiss claims that the glossolalia functioned as “catharsis, as a mode of exorcism: to rid himself of God’s influence and judgment” (Weiss 20-21). The primal scream is before judgment, and more importantly, before a conception or awareness of the possibility of judgment.

To Have Done with the Judgment of God was a radio play, to be transmitted through the radio as the new container of the voice, and therefore the new book. Weiss elaborates on this, “But is the radio any less a tomb? Is it not in a sense the tomb of the book, creating another sort of ‘dead letter’ that vibrates” (Weiss 31)? The radio, like the book, is a medium of address to the Other. It breaks the direct message of the scream. The book and the radio uproot the voice from the body and fix it in another body. Unlike the book, the radio can project that eerie phantasmic quality of the voice, which is smothered and flattened in the text and spread out amongst the pages. The uprooting of the voice, which Weiss refers to as the “theft of the voice” drives his search for the primal scream, the first scream before the theft by the Other. Weiss explains the theft of the voice further through Derrida who claimed that God always already spoke for us. If this is true, did he always already scream for us as well? The question is whether the first scream escaped the voice of God, as it existed pre-language and therefore, before the possibility of thinking about a God. The theft of the voice by the Other is doubled by the radio which takes hold of the voice and threatens to keep it. Weiss writes, “Recording the voice poses an ontological risk: the recorded voice is the stolen voice that returns to the self as the hallucinatory presence of the voice of another. This other’s voice may be the voice of God, as is often the case in paranoid experiences, and as was the case for Artaud during the period of his madness” (Weiss 32). Perhaps the voice of God is like an ur-radio, vibrating within the landscape and projecting as the first voice without a body to communicate with humanity. This returning of the voice through the phantasm of the radio is worse than the original theft, for it is the return of a part of the self that no longer resembles the self. The radio becomes the new transmitter for the body, transmitting the voice as the technologized message from beyond. It is the voice without a body and the speech without a father. The radio kills the body of the father just like the act of writing in Phaedrus. Weiss writes,

“…Artaud’s voice was severed from his body, made to be an autonomous object in the world, and cast off to pursue its own destiny” (Weiss33). The disembodied voice of the radio disembodied Artaud’s own voice and conception of self. His voice, through the radio, was taken from him and made to live on without him. His voice, no longer his own, has the potential to be manipulated, misheard, and associated with other bodies, or perhaps will be associated with no body at all.

Artaud seems to be uprooting more than just his voice, he also seems to be interested in uprooting his body as a signifier, and reconstituting himself as something like Barthe’s “floating chain of signification.” Emil Hrvatin writes of “…why the scream cannot actually be heard: the production and reception of the scream are corporeal. This is what Artaud had in mind when he spoke of the recomposing of the body, of the bringing together of bodily organs on a different basis. The scream sets up the body anew” (Gough and Allsopp, 88). Artaud sees the scream as a part of the reorganization and the creation of the new body. The primal scream is inextricably linked with birth, as Artaud’s search for the primal scream of the theater establishes his conception of a new body. One might see this in relation to Mikhail Bakhtin’s discussion of the grotesque body. For Bakhtin, the gaping mouth reveals the desire for the body to extend beyond itself, to fuse with and swallow its surroundings. The grotesque body is created as a second body, after the fusion of the first body. Bakhtin writes, “…if we consider the grotesque image in its extreme aspect, it never presents an individual body; the image consists of orifices and convexities that present another, newly conceived body. It is a point of transition in a life eternally renewed, the inexhaustible vessel of death and conception (Bakhtin 318).” Artaud’s new body is this second body, the body that reforms and reorganizes after the gaping mouth of the scream. It is the scream itself that gives birth to this body, a body screamed into existence and organized around this traumatic event as origin.


Australian performance artist, Stelarc, uses technology to extend his body and reconceive it as both operating with and through machines. While Stelarc uses mechanical prostheses, he challenges the traditional conception of prosthetics as substituting a lack, and rather sees them in terms of excess and expansion. He also believes that the idea of the cyborg is nothing new,

“Bodies are both Zombies and Cyborgs. We have never had a mind of own and we often perform involuntarily- conditioned and extremely prompted. Ever since we evolved as hominids and developed bipedal locomotion, two limbs became manipulators and we constructed artifacts, instruments and machines. In other words we have always been coupled with technology. We have always been prothetic bodies. We fear the involuntary and we are becoming increasingly automated and extended. But we fear what we have always been and what we have already become- Zombies and Cyborgs.”[1]

Stelarc’s emphasis here that we act habitually and automatically directly summons Henri Bergson’s main thesis on laughter as revealing the machine that was always already within the human. Stelarc also claims, We are living in an age of excess and indifference. Of prosthetic augmentation and extended operational systems. An age of Organs Without Bodies.” The excess and indifference is the prosthetic and the second consciousness or the anesthesia of the heart. The necessity of indifference as armor continues to be the case as man extends into the machine. The emphasis onexcess also calls to laughter as expenditure and excess. The excess of prosthetics and of laughter are both an attempt to fuse with an outside of the body.

Stelarc has engaged in multiple projects and surgeries to fuse with the machine. In 2006, he surgically appended a third ear to his forearm made of his own skin cells, soft tissue and flexible cartilage. The extra ear was first created in a computer modeling, beginning as a technological ear, which then became flesh. He had a small microphone implanted in the ear in order to transmit audio signals wirelessly to the internet with the goal of allowing people all over to the possibility of hearing what his third ear was hearing. This introduces the idea of a networked body, plugged in and tuned in to other bodies, as well as extending beyond its own skin as a border or boundary. For the networked body, the physical human body is irrelevant, and it is the projected simulacral body that becomes significant. For Stelarc, the body has been freed by its extension into the machine. Reality doesn’t always support the idea, as Stelarc’s body rejected the microphone and became infected. His physical body wasn’t prepared or equipped to become machine and incorporate technology directly into its flesh. He goes against his own human body, fighting it as he tries to push it beyond its limits. In this sense, Stelarc becomes the body at war with itself, where his own body acts as an obstacle to his desired recognition and understanding of self as cyborg.

“The Third Ear” project was part of a larger experiment in creating what Stelarc terms “internet organs” for the body. He is interested in creating extra artificial organs and appendages to be surgically added to the body so that it can function better in technological and media terrain. He refers to “re-organizing” the architecture of the body to combine artificial organs and technologies with the natural body because he thinks the biological body is not well organized and needs to be internet enabled. The internet organs allow for the existence of the networked body that can project its presence beyond the space it inhabits.

In addition to targeting the internal structure of the body as something to be altered, Stelarc also uses prosthetics that are purely external and detachable. His “Exoskeleton” created in 1998 is a six legged walking machine that is powered and controlled by arm movements. Stelarc’s body remains extremely rigid while controlling this machine. His body appears even more rigid than the machine itself, which has some degree of fluidity. With the exoskeleton, man is literally extended by machine and able to control his own extension. It is also undeniable that the exoskeleton resembles a grossly enlarged mechanical insect or futuristic machine animal. With the fusion of the human and the machine, the animal is also erected as a third.


Memory Palace – A Trace Study

“A memory consists in the awareness, first, of the diminished intensity of an impression, second, of its increased ease, and third, of the connections it entertains with other impressions” (Kittler 1999, 31).

Memory Palaces are methods of loci which use an imagined architecture to structure a speech based on associations of symbols. They are a spatialized remediation of association. Before memory palaces were implemented, hieroglyphs and other forms of picture writing were already using symbols to stand in for words and ideas. Memory palaces abstract this notion of association and complicate it in order to allow one to remember hundreds of ideas. While mnemonics can be written down, the memory palace is completely imagined, and therefore the process and the media is black boxed within the mind of the subject, and like Iris, the message or information is internalized. The memory palace is evoked, in the same way the muse used to be evoked, in order to help the speaker remember his or her message. This method was developed out of a human lack, and the need to remember large amounts of information. When using the memory palace, one needs only to remember the symbols, after which the encoded information becomes unlocked like the chirograph which connects to its counterpart. Memory palaces were constructed out of an anxiety for memory being lost, but in reality it is always already lost.

This mode of mediation is based on location, but it itself has no location and exists as a non-space that stores imagined data. The subject that uses the memory palace becomes split and is forced to inhabit two realities as one must imagine walking through the memory palace and picking up each predetermined object while simultaneously being rooted in a physical space and delivering a live speech to an audience. The subject must navigate the memory palace like an automaton on automatic pilot but cannot get fully immersed or lost in it. Discipline of the mind and the body is necessary since the subject cannot think, but must become a machine and instrument for the reading of memory.

The Mechanization of Memory

Hegel discusses memory in two terms: “Erinnerung” and “Gedächtnis.” Erinnerung for Hegel is recollection, memory based on learning and internalization. It therefore has a relationship to the past and to a missing Other. Gedächtnis is the forgetting of meaning in favor of memorization and technologized memory, just as the technologization of speech through the act of writing represents the erasure of speech and the marking of its becoming forgotten. Gedächtnis acts as the simulacrum and mechanical reproduction of memory but empties it of its original meaning (Ronell, 2010). Memory palaces fall under Gedächtnis, as they are a phantom crutch or prosthetic for remembering which can be easily dismantled and forgotten. The technique does reflect Erinnerung in that it calls to its missing Other which is the real house, but, because reality of the memory palace is artificially constructed, it has no relationship to the past. The associations within the memory palace are also artificial, revealing the manipulation of memory which becomes something external that can be altered and changed. Derrida writes, “What Plato is attacking in sophistics, therefore, is not simply recourse to memory but, within such recourse, the substitution of the mnemonic device for live memory, of the prosthesis for the organ; the perversion that consists of replacing a limb by a thing, here, substituting the passive, mechanical ‘by-heart’ for the active reanimation of knowledge, for its reproduction in the present. The boundary (between inside and outside, living and nonliving) separates not only speech from writing but also memory as an unveiling (re)producing a presence from re-memoration as the mere repetition of a monument…(Derrida 109).” Paul de Man elaborates on the contradictory nature of Gedächtnis and Erinnerung, “Memory effaces remembrance (or recollection) just as the I effaces itself. The faculty that enables thought to exist also makes its preservation impossible. The art, the techné, of writing which cannot be separated from thought and from memorization can only be preserved in the figural mode of the symbol, the very mode it has to do away with if it is to occur at all (de Man 102).” Here, Gedächtnis effaces Erinnerung, like mechanical reproduction effaces the original, and writing effaces speech.

Memory Palace as Afterimage and Trace

The effacing of Erinnerung caused by Gedächtnis also speaks to the idea of an afterimage which effaces the original image. The memory palace is an afterimage and faint impression of one’s home which it replaces. Jonathan Crary writes that the afterimage “…allowed one to conceive of sensory perception as cut from any necessary link with an external referent. The afterimage – the presence of sensation in the absence of a stimulus – and its subsequent modulations posed a theoretical and empirical demonstration of autonomous vision, of an optical experience that was produced by and within the subject (Crary 98).” The afterimage of the memory palace is detachable, once it is created the originary house isn’t necessary to evoke it, rather it can be evoked independently by the subject. Derrida’s concept of the “trace” is essentially the afterimage of a sign. While memory palaces are the navigation of symbols within a space, where space itself is also a symbol, the nature of these symbols are imagined and therefore nonpresent. Derrida saw signs as related to living memory, and the “trace” as having to do with dead memory Derrida writes, “The trace is not a presence but is rather the simulacrum of a presence that dislocates, displaces, and refers beyond itself. The trace has, properly speaking, no place, for effacement belongs to the very structure of the trace. Effacement must always be able to overtake the trace; otherwise it would not be a trace but an indestructible and monumental substance (Derrida 156).” The trace refers to that which is no longer present, leaving only the relics and remains to be read.

Memory as Archive and Crypt

Memory palaces are a static archive of files. Cornelia Vismann links the structure of fixed archives to tombs which seal and bury files. Vismann writes, “The immobile tomes are their own tombs…The immobilization amounts to a musealization, creating a work of art out of files (Vismann 161-162).” The memory palace echoes this sentiment and acts more as a mausoleum than a museum. The frozen architecture of the memory palace is doubled by the frozen images within it, turning the palace into a crypt. The shaping of the memory palace into a petrified and dead picture reveals the artifice of constructed memory. Its static and spectral quality lends it to the space of the crypt and removes it from the space of the living. It is the dead memory that must be summoned by the speaker, called to as the missing Other, and resurrected into the present.


Memory Palaces must be practiced, otherwise they are prone to being forgotten. Practice and performance keeps artificial memory alive, otherwise it returns to the crypt. They are meant to be remembered for a specific event, such as a specific speech, but once the event has passed, the memory palace recedes, shatters, and erases itself into the depths of the mystic writing pad’s unconscious. The memory palace, then, is made to be forgotten. Vismann writes, “With one sharp and one blunt end, the stylus unites writing and erasing, those two fundamental chancery operations, in one instrument. Herein lies an analogy to the workings of memory: just as the Greek verb hypomnematizesthai equates filing and remembering, its opposite, exaleiphein, combines a practical act and a function of memory by referring both to forgetting and wiping off (Vismann 55).” In this sense the memory palace is obliterated and becomes buried as a trace and remnant. Memory and forgetting work as though in a circuit, the production of one is almost always the production of the other, to remember one thing often causes one to forget another less relevant thing. Vismann also discusses forgetting as enabling memory, just as the afterimage or trace enables the original image, or the second gives birth to the first. Mechanical reproduction also enables the original, revealing the necessity of the copy and the negation in order to preserve the referent. There is only so much space in the human brain, therefore acquiring new information or new memories must also imply a certain amount of forgetting.

By Erin Mizrahi


Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Boston: MIT Press, 1992.

de Man, Paul. Aesthetic Ideology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 2004.

Derrida, Jacques. Speech and phenomena: and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.‬

Kittler, Friedrich A. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Ronell, Avital. “Scoring Literature: The Drug Culture”. (Lecture, NYU, 4/8/10).

Vismann, Cornelia. Files: Law and Media Technology. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Jerry Kearns


Jerry Kearns’ new work meditates on the construction of images post-9/11. The stark blue sky found in all of the paintings sets the mood as surreal and stands in for the strange blue sky behind the Twin Towers after the attack. Kearns explores various ways of representing the present body by subverting notions of masculinity and strength with both feminine and androgynous signifiers. In addition to the mixing of gender, some figures are shown as cyborgs fusing human and machine. The works themselves combine both painting and digital scanning revealing a fractured duality operating on several levels within these pieces. Kearns also includes a degree of humor and absurdity into these images playing on mythic ideals and dependence on technology. These works visually translate the struggle of the psyche to produce a holistic vision of the current body. big-legs1

By Erin Mizrahi