Friday, January 10, 2014

On the Prosthetic

After spending a few hours this past week trying on new frames and ordering new lenses for distance vision, now seems like a suitable time to think and write about prosthesis, that is, to think through writing as prosthetic, perhaps even to consider that thought itself might be the original prosthesis.

As an application or attachment to that which has come about on its own (namely, my body qua physis), prosthesis shows itself as supplement, that which, in being secondary and optional, nevertheless fulfills and completes what, upon further investigation, was always already unfulfilled and incomplete, making supplementation primordial and necessary.

I find myself inordinately and increasingly relying on technology (qua tekhne). Artifice has become natural for me: clothes, shoes, jewelry, eyeglasses, acupuncture needles, automobiles, vitamins, cellular phone, computer, writing, language, thought, the very idea of something that would or ever could be natural. (This is why I always provoked my students with the question, "What is natural? What do you mean by this word?") I eat when I am not hungry. I drink when I am not thirsty. When I run, I use a GPS-enabled watch and heart rate monitor with special running gear (shorts, shirts, etc.). In this way, even the satellites in orbit around the earth serve as prosthetic devices that enable a new (re-)/connection with my body.

Yet even when I am completely nude, the thought of myself and of my body disrupts any ease I may have had regarding such nudity as natural, original, ideal. The winter dryness makes me aware of my skin in a new and disturbing way. The reflection in the mirror disrupts any interior monologue with the murmuring voice of an other, which may or may not be the double or non-double of my self. Sitting quietly in meditation, I am still privy to this dialog and to the unsettling alterity of others.

The word my keeps getting affixed to everything here. Maybe such notions of "mineness" and "property" are prosthetic as well. Do I really need to employ this usage when I speak about that which is most "my own"? Do I really need to keep saying "I"? (And why does this "I" keep asserting itself even in the interior dialogs I have with myself? Couldn't I somehow forgo this convention and speak with a pure language that would accurately reflect myself in such a way as to make all self-references superfluous? Could such an I ever exist?)

A new thought: civilization arises when humankind begins to rely more on prosthesis than on physis. (There are no new thoughts.) The human being: προσθετική ζώων [the prosthetic animal].

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Shit We Live In

I often complain that the society I live in is shit. Most people here appear beholden to the inherent nihilism of American mediocrity, including the systems of power and bureaucracy. Case in point: fingerprints.

After several years of avoiding the inevitable, I am now legally changing my name. In addition to paying $300+ for the privilege, I must drive all over the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex to pass forms and documents from one hand to another. The process also requires a thorough background check by both the Department of Public Safety—Orwell much?—and the FBI.

But all fingerprinting services have been outsourced. I guess my tax dollars weren't good enough. Gone are the days when you could stop by your friendly local police station to have your fingers dipped in black ink.

Instead, you must first try to read the entirely illegible document provided by the District Clerk's web site. Here's a sample:
After driving to the northern hinterland of the county to file your petition, the clerk just might hand you a proper instruction sheet for the fingerprinting procedure with the two fingerprint cards required. And the necessary information from the District Court just might already be filled out for you. If so, then these kindnesses will surely be overshadowed by the lack of necessary information: do not fill the rest of the card out before getting your fingerprints taken.

After spending about an hour on the unnecessarily complicated web site and getting nowhere because of the circuitous links and pop-up requests for information I did not have, I settled on calling the toll-free number. My phone records confirm that I was on that call for 11 minutes; at least 8 of those minutes I spent navigating my way through the (again) circuitous menu options and waiting finally to talk to a human.

The woman took my information, practically scolded me for having problems with their web site, and wished me a happy new year. My appointment was today at 9:10 AM, a forty-minute drive in the opposite direction of the District Court.

The first mistake: I had filled out the fingerprint cards. Both of them. Of course, I wasn't supposed to because the machine itself will print out my information. After a painless few minutes of paying $9.95 for the privilege, sanitizing my hands for probably the first time in my life, and having the clerk grab, press, and roll my fingers across his glowing computer pad—a glow that only accentuated the florescent glare of his chilly and windowless cinder-block cell—I was about to walk out when I discovered...

... an even bigger mistake: my eye color was wrong. The clerk had input the wrong data over the phone. While talking to the clerk about this mistake, I found...

...yet another—and greater—mistake: my birthday was wrong. I proofed the cards further—you know, because the privilege of paying $9.95 only grants you so many privileges.

The clerk shredded the first cards and printed out two fresh ones with the correct data. I decided to enjoy the privilege of proofing them yet again to confirm that someone could at long last perform the most basic duties of his or her job. And thus, I was granted the privilege of filling out the remainder of the data that the District Clerk had already filled out on the original cards.

You see, kids, American citizenship has its privileges. Lesson: learn to love the name your parents gave you.