MachineMachine /stream - tagged with the-thing en-us LifePress <![CDATA[The Noise of Being: available at!]]> ]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 05:37:51 -0700 <![CDATA[The Thing]]>

The Thing

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 05:23:56 -0700
<![CDATA[Sonic Acts 2017: The Noise of Becoming: On Monsters, Men, and Every Thing in Between]]>

SONIC ACTS FESTIVAL - THE NOISE OF BEING Daniel Rourke - The Noise of Becoming: On Monsters, Men, and Every Thing in Between 26 February 2017 - De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, The Netherlands --- In this talk Daniel Rourke refigures the sci-fi horror monster The Thing from John Carpenter's 1982 film of the same name. The Thing is a creature of endless mimetic transformations, capable of becoming the grizzly faced men who fail to defeat it. The most enduring quality of The Thing is its ability to perform self-effacement and subsequent renewal at every moment, a quality we must embrace and mimic ourselves if we are to outmanoeuvre the monsters that harangue us. Daniel Rourke is a writer and artist based in London. In his work Daniel exploits speculative and science fiction in search of a radical ‘outside’ to the human(ities), including extensive research on the intersection between digital materiality, the arts, and posthumanism. In March 2015 artist & activist Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel released The 3D Additivist Manifesto – a call to push technologies beyond their breaking point, into the realm of the provocative, and the weird. Sonic Acts

Sat, 29 Apr 2017 12:02:45 -0700
<![CDATA[Sonic Acts Festival 2017 - Day 4 - Sunday 26 February]]>

Sonic Acts

Sonic Acts Festival 2017 - The Noise of Being. Photos by Pieter Kers.

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:44:49 -0800
<![CDATA[Sonic Acts Festival 2017 - Day 4 - Sunday 26 February]]>

Sonic Acts

Sonic Acts Festival 2017 - The Noise of Being. Photos by Pieter Kers.

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:44:39 -0800
<![CDATA[Sonic Acts Festival 2017 - Day 4 - Sunday 26 February]]>

Sonic Acts

Sonic Acts Festival 2017 - The Noise of Being. Photos by Pieter Kers.

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:44:37 -0800
<![CDATA[Sonic Acts 2017: The Noise of Becoming: On Monsters, Men, and Every Thing in Between]]>

UPDATE: My talk is also now available in The Noise of Being publication, published by Sonic Acts in September 2017 A talk I delivered at Sonic Acts Festival 2017: The Noise of Being, in which I refigure the sci-fi horror monster The Thing from John Carpenter’s 1982 film of the same name:

The Thing is a creature of endless mimetic transformations, capable of becoming the grizzly faced men who fail to defeat it. The most enduring quality of The Thing is its ability to perform self-effacement and subsequent renewal at every moment, a quality we must embrace and mimic ourselves if we are to outmanoeuvre the monsters that harangue us.

This talk was part of a panel featuring Laurie Penny and Ytasha Womack, entitled Speculative Fiction: Radical Figuration For Social Change. You can see their wonderful talks here:

Laurie Penny: Feminism Against Fascism Ytasha Womack: Afrofuturism: Imagination and Humanity

full text follows (+ references & slides) An Ontology of Every Thing on the Face of the Earth John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing, is a claustrophobic science fiction thriller exhibiting many hallmarks of the horror genre. The film depicts a sinister turn for matter where the chaos of the replicating, cancerous cell is expanded to the human scale and beyond. We watch as an alien force terrorises an isolated Antarctic outpost. The creature exhibits an awesome ability to imitate; devouring any form of life it comes across, whilst simultaneously giving birth to an exact copy in a burst of bile and protoplasm. The Thing copies cell by cell in a process so perfect, that the resultant simulacrum speaks, acts, and even thinks like the original. The Thing is so relentless and its copies so perfect, that the outpost’s Doctor, Blair, is sent mad at the implications: If a cell gets out it could imitate everything on the face of the Earth… and it’s not gonna stop! [1] This text is also available in The Noise of Being publication (published September 2017) Based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There?, Carpenter’s film revisits a gothic trope that is numerous in its incarnations. In Campbell’s novella, The Thing is condensed as much from the minds of the men as from its own horrific, defrosting bulk. A slowly surfacing nightmare that transforms alien matter into earthly biology also has the effect of transferring the inner, mental lives of the men into the resultant condensation. John W. Campbell knew that The Thing could become viscous human flesh, but in order to truly imitate its prey the creature must infect inner life separately, pulling kicking and screaming ghosts out of their biological – Cartesian – machines. As a gothic figure, Campbell’s Thing disrupts the stable and integral vision of human being: self-same bodies housing ‘unitary and securely bounded’ [2] subjectivities, identical and extensive through time. His characters confront their anguish at being embodied: their nightmares are literally made flesh. To emphasise the otherness of each human’s flesh, Campbell’s story is inhabited exclusively with male characters. The absence of women makes the conflict between each of the men feel more rudimentary, but it also centres the novel’s horror on the growing realisation that to be human is also to be alien to oneself. Differences between sexes within the single species homo sapiens are bypassed, allowing the alien entity to exhibit the features of human female ‘otherness’ alongside a gamut of horrific bodily permutations. Perhaps, as Barbara Creed, [3] Rosi Braidotti, [4] and others [5] have argued, The Thing signifies the intrinsic absence of the mother figure: the female body’s capacity to be differentiated from itself in the form of pregnancy; to open up and usher forth into the world a creature other to itself. This Thingly quality is given credence by Julia Kristeva in a passage that could equally refer to The Thing as to the development of a fetus during pregnancy: Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and the body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. With the body, growing as a graft, indomitable, there is another. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on. [6] The Thing does exhibit demeanours of copulation and fertility, but also of disease, fragmentation, dismemberment, and asexual fission. In the novella, during a drug induced nightmare Dr. Copper sits bolt upright and blurts out ‘Garry – listen. Selfish – from hell they came, and hellish shellfish – I mean self – Do I? What do I mean?,’ McReady [7] turns to the other men in the cabin, ‘Selfish, and as Dr. Copper said – every part is a whole. Every piece is self-sufficient, and animal in itself.’ [8] The Thing is aberrant at a level more fundamental than allusions to pregnancy can convey. Dr. Copper’s inability to articulate what The Thing is, indicates a categorical nightmare he and the men are suffering. As in the work of Mary Douglas, [9] The Thing’s nightmarish transformation denies the very concept of physical and categorical purity. The Thing’s distributed biology calls to mind the Hardt and Negri’s vision of the early Internet (ARPANET), designed, according to them: …to withstand military attack. Since it has no center and almost any portion can operate as an autonomous whole, the network can continue to function even when part of it has been destroyed. The same design element that ensures survival, the decentralisation, is also what makes control of the network so difficult. [10] The image of mankind’s outright destruction, via totalising narratives such as nuclear war, viral pandemic, or meteor strike is undermined by the paradigm of a Thingly technological infrastructure designed to avoid ‘absolute’ assault. Decentralisation is a categorical horror in its capacity to highlight our self-same, constantly threatened and weak, embodied selves. But shift the lens away from the self-same human subject, and the image of a distributed, amorphous network of autonomous cells immediately becomes a very good description of how biological life has always been constituted. The metaphysical dualism of the sexes, as Kelly Hurley concludes, is an inadequate paradigm of such horrific embodiment, rather any and all ‘ontological security’ [11] is challenged through a ‘collapsing of multiple and incompatible morphic possibilities into one amorphous embodiment.’ [12] The Thing is neither male nor female, two nor one, inside nor outside, living nor dead. If it does settle into a form that can be exclaimed, screamed or defined in mutually incompatible words, it does so only for a moment and only in the mind of its onlooker as they scrabble to deduce its next amorphous conflation. The Thing is a figure performing ontogenesis (something coming to be) rather than ontology (something that already is). [13] ‘The very definition of the real,’ as Jean Baudrillard affirmed, has become ‘that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction.’ [14] Does The Thing ‘produce’ something other than human life, or ‘reproduce’ human life in its entirety, and what, if anything, would be the difference? In a text on bio and necropolitics, Eugene Thacker undertakes an examination of the ‘difference between “Life” as an ontological foundation, and “the living,” or the various specific instantiations of Life.’ [15] Thacker highlights a passage in Poetics where Aristotle speaks of mimesis giving rise to the art of poetry in human beings: We take delight in viewing the most accurate possible images of objects which in themselves cause distress when we see them (e.g. the shapes of the lowest species of animal, and corpses). Recognition of mimetic forms can instill a certain degree of displeasure if that form depicts a carcass or something considered equally abhorrent. But this is often tinged with what Aristotle calls the ‘extremely pleasurable’ dual capacities of recognising an imitation as such, whilst at the same time recognising what it is the form is imitative of. The horror of The Thing is bound to this endless ontogenetic re-forming, its limitless capacity to imitate and become without necessarily settling into a final, stable and agreeable categorical – that is, ontological – form. The men of the Antarctic encampment grasp in their minds at the forms ushering from The Thing but can never keep up with its propensity toward the next shapeless-shape, bodiless-limb, or ontogenetic-extrudence. The Thing is a phenomenon, to use Eugene Thacker’s words once more, that is ‘at once “above” and “below” the scale of the human being,’ [16] throwing, as Rosi Braidotti puts it, ‘a terminal challenge towards a human identity that is commonly predicated on the One.’ [17] The ‘other’ of The Thing never settles down, always falling outside the dialectical circle. As Helene Cixous remarks in The Newly Born Woman, with the ‘truly “other” there is nothing to say; it cannot be theorized. The “other” escapes me.’ [18] The figure of The Thing bursts into popular culture at the meeting point between dream and flesh, and has been pursued ever since by men whose individuality is considered inseparable from their self-same embodiment. By modifying the rules through which dominant norms such as gender binaries operate, The Thing can be conceived as an incarnation of détournement: an intervention that hijacks and continually modifies the rules of engagement. ‘The radical implication [being] that [all] meaning is connected to a relationship with power.’ [19] Considered through Michel Foucault’s definition of bio-power, or the bio-political, The Thing is the process of sex and sexuality severed from the humans who are forced to proliferate ‘through’ it. Above all, the men set against this propagation – this mobilisation of images of ‘other’ – scramble to protect the normative image of the human they hold most dear: the mirage of ‘man’. Becoming World The filmic Thing is a fictional device enabled by animatronic augmentations coated with fleshy stand-ins, KY Jelly, and occasionally, real animal offal. As John Carpenter described his rendition of the creature in a 2014 interview, ‘It’s just a bunch of rubber on the floor.’ [20] Bringing The Thing ‘to life’ is an activity that performs the collapse ‘between “Life” as an ontological foundation, and “the living,” or the various specific instantiations of Life.’ [21] The animatronic Thing exists in the space between stable forms; it is vibrant, expressive technology realised by dead matter; and human ingenuity made discernible by uncanny machinic novelty. Ontological uncertainty finds fluidity in language on a page, in the ability to poetically gesture towards interstitiality. But on-screen animatronics, rubber, and KY Jelly are less fluid, more mimetically rooted by the expectations of the audience reveling in, and reviled by, their recognition of The Thing’s many forms. Upon its release critical reactions to John Carpenter’s The Thing were at best muted and at worst downright vitriolic. The special effects used to depict the creature were the focus of an attack by Steve Jenkins’. Jenkins attacks the film essentially for its surrealist nature… he writes that: “with regard to the effects, they completely fail to ‘clarify the weirdness’ of the Thing”, and that “because one is ever sure exactly how it [the alien] functions, its eruptions from the shells of its victims seem as arbitrary as they are spectacular’.” [22] In short, the reviews lingered on two opposing readings of The Thing’s shock/gore evocations: that they go too far and thus tend towards sensational fetishism, or that they can’t go far enough, depicting kitsch sensibilities rather than alien otherness. Jenkins’ concern that the special effects do not ‘clarify’ The Thing’s ‘weirdness’ is contradictory, if not oxymoronic. The implication is that Things could never be so weird as to defy logical function, and that all expressions should, and eventually do, lend themselves to being read through some parochial mechanism or other, however surreal they may at first seem. That The Thing’s nature could actually defy comprehensibility is not considered, nor how impossible the cinematic depiction of that defiance might be. Rather, the critical view seems to be that every grisly eruption, bifurcation, and horrific permutation on screen must necessarily express an inner order temporarily hidden from, but not inaccessible to, its human onlookers. This critical desire for a ‘norm’ defies the same critical desire for ‘true’ horror. Our will to master matter and technology through imitative forms is the same will that balks at the idea that imitative forms could have ontologies incommensurable with our own. The Thing is ‘weird’: a term increasingly applied to those things defying categorisation. A conviction, so wrote the late Mark Fisher, ‘that this does not belong, is often a sign that we are in the presence of the new… that the concepts and frameworks which we have previously employed are now obsolete.’ [23] In reflecting on the origins of this slippery anti-category, Eugene Thacker reminds us that within horror, ‘The threat is not the monster, or that which threatens existing categories of knowledge. Rather, it is the “nameless thing,” or that which presents itself as a horizon for thought… the weird is the discovery of an unhuman limit to thought, that is nevertheless foundational for thought.’ [24] In The Thing the world rises up to meet its male inhabitants in a weird form and, by becoming them, throws into question the categorical foundations of the born and the made, of subject and object, natural and synthetic, whole and part, human and world, original and imitation. What remains is an ongoing process of animation rendered horrific by a bifurcation of ontologies: on one side the supposed human foundation of distinction, uniqueness and autonomy; on the other, a Thingly (alien and weird) propensity that dissolves differentiation, that coalesces and revels in an endless process of becoming.  As in Mikhail Bakhtin‘s study of the grotesque, the ‘human horizon’ in question is that of the ‘canon,’ [25] a norm to which all aberrations are to be compared: The grotesque body… is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body. Moreover, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world. [26] The Thingly is neither self-same nor enclosed unto itself. It is a plethora of openings, conjoinings and eruptions that declare ‘the world as eternally unfinished: a world dying and being born at the same time.’ [27] The bodily horror performed by The Thing is an allegory of this greater interstitial violation: the conceptual boundary between the world-for-us and the world-without-us is breached not as destruction, or even invasion, but ultimately through our inability to separate ourselves from a world that is already inherently alien and weird. [28] ‘A monstrosity’ to hijack the words of Claire Colebrook, ‘that we do not feel, live, or determine, but rather witness partially and ex post facto.’ [29] How these processes are comprehended, or more precisely, how the perception of these processes is interpreted, is more important than the so called ‘difference’ between the world which existed before and the world which remains after. Eugene Thacker clarifies this point in his analysis of the etymology of the word ‘monster’: A monster is never just a monster, never just a physical or biological anomaly. It is always accompanied by an interpretive framework within which the monster is able to be monstrum, literally “to show” or “to warn.” Monsters are always a mat­ter of interpretation. [30] Becoming Weird In a 1982 New York Times movie section, critic Vincent Canby poured yet more scorn on John Carpenter’s ‘Thing’ remake: The Thing is a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other… There may be a metaphor in all this, but I doubt it… The Thing… is too phony looking to be disgusting. It qualifies only as instant junk. [31] Chiming with his critic peers, Canby expresses his desire that the monster show its nature – be monstrum – only in respect of some ‘norm’; [32] some ‘interpretive framework’, [33] that the narrative will eventually uncover. By setting up ‘junk’ as a kitschy opposite to this supposedly palatable logic, Canby unwittingly generates a point from which to disrupt the very notion of the interpretive framework itself. The Thing is more than a metaphor. Canby’s appeal to ‘instant junk’ can be read as the monstrum, the revealing of that which constitutes the norm. The monster stands in for difference, for other, and in so doing normalises the subject position from which the difference is opposed: the canon. In the case of The Thing that canon is first and foremost the human male, standing astride the idea of a world-for-us. The ‘us’ is itself monopolised, as if all non-male ontogenetic permutations were cast out into the abject abyss of alien weirdness. In reclaiming ‘junk’ as a ‘register of the unrepresentable’ [34] a Thingly discourse may share many of the tenets of queer theory. As Rosi Braidotti makes clear, referring to the work of Camilla Griggers: ‘Queer’ is no longer the noun that marks an identity they taught us to despise, but it has become a verb that destabilizes any claim to identity, even and especially to a sex-specific identity. [35] The queer, the weird, the kitsch, are among the most powerful of orders because they are inherently un-representable and in flux. The rigid delineations of language and cultural heteronormativity are further joined in the figure of The Thing by a non-anthropic imaginary that exposes a whole range of human norms and sets into play a seemingly infinite variety of non-human modes of being and embodiment. Rosi Braidotti refers to the work of Georges Canguilhem in her further turn outwards towards the weird, ‘normality is, after all, the zero-degree of monstrosity,’ [36] signalling a post-human discourse as one which, by definition, must continually question – perhaps even threaten – the male, self-same, canonised, subject position: We need to learn to think of the anomalous, the monstrously different not as a sign of pejoration but as the unfolding of virtual possibilities that point to positive alternatives for us all… the human is now displaced in the direction of a glittering range of post-human variables. [37] In her book on The Death of The Posthuman (2014), Claire Colebrook looks to the otherwise, the un-representable, to destabilise the proposition of a world being for anyone. She begins by considering the proposed naming of the current geological era ‘The Anthropocene,’ [38] a term that designates a theoretical as well as scientific impasse for human beings and civilisation, in which human activity and technological development have begun to become indistinguishable, and/or exceed processes implicit within what is considered to be the ‘natural’ world. As if registering the inevitable extinction of humans isn’t enough, The Anthropocene, by being named in honour of humans, makes monsters of those times – past and present – which do not contain humans. Its naming therefore becomes a mechanism allowing the imagination of ‘a viewing or reading in the absence of viewers or readers, and we do this through images in the present that extinguish the dominance of the present.’ [39] The world ‘without bodies’ that is imaged in this move, Colebrook argues, is written upon by the current state of impending extinction. Humans are then able to look upon the future world-without-us in a state of nostalgia coloured by their inevitable absence. Here the tenets of the horror genre indicated by Eugene Thacker are realised as a feature of a present condition. The world-in-itself has already been subsumed by The Thingly horror that is the human species. For even the coming world-without-us, a planet made barren and utterly replaced by The Thingly junk of human civilisation, will have written within its geological record a mark of human activity that goes back well before the human species had considered itself as a Thing ‘in’ any world at all. In an analysis of the etymology of the Anthropocene, McKenzie Wark also turns to theory as a necessary condition of the age of extinction: All of the interesting and useful movements in the humanities since the late twentieth century have critiqued and dissented from the theologies of the human. The Anthropocene, by contrast, calls for thinking something that is not even defeat. [40] The Anthropocene, like ‘queer’ or ‘weird’, should be made into a verb, and relinquished as a noun. Once weirded in this way it becomes a productive proposition, Wark goes on, quoting Donna Haraway, ‘another figure, a thousand names of something else.’ [41] In the 2014 lecture quoted by Wark, Haraway called for other such worldings through the horrific figure of capitalism, through arachnids spinning their silk from the waste matter of the underworld, or from the terrible nightmares evoked in the fiction of the misogynist, racist mid 20th century author H.P. Lovecraft: The activation of the chthonic powers that is within our grasp to collect up the trash of the anthropocene, and the exterminism of the capitalocene, to something that might possibly have a chance of ongoing. [42] That weird, ongoing epoch is the Chthulucene, a monstrum ‘defined by the frightening weirdness of being impossibly bound up with other organisms,’ [43] of what Haraway calls, ‘multi-species muddles.’  [44] The horror of ‘the nameless thing’ is here finally brought to bear in Haraway’s Capitalocene and Chthulucene epochs. Haraway’s call for ‘a thousand names of something else’ is Thingly in its push towards the endlessly bifurcated naming, and theoretical subsuming. The anthro-normalisation casts out infinitely more possibilities than it brings into play. Although Donna Haraway makes it clear that her Chthulucene is not directly derivative of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, her intentional mis-naming and slippery non-identification exemplifies the kind of amorphous thinking and practice she is arguing for. Haraway’s Chthulucene counters Lovecraft’s Cthulhu with an array of chthonic, non-male, tentacular, rhizomatic, and web spinning figures that attest to the monstrum still exposed by Lovecraft’s three quarters of a century old work. The continued – renewed – fascination with Lovecraft’s weird ‘others’ thus has the capacity to expose a dread of these times. As writer Alan Moore has attested: [I]t is possible to perceive Howard Lovecraft as an almost unbearably sensitive barometer of American dread. Far from outlandish eccentricities, the fears that generated Lovecraft’s stories and opinions were precisely those of the white, middle-class, heterosexual, Protestant-descended males who were most threatened by the shifting power relationships and values of the modern world… Coded in an alphabet of monsters, Lovecraft’s writings offer a potential key to understanding our current dilemma, although crucial to this is that they are understood in the full context of the place and times from which they blossomed. [45] The dominant humanistic imagination may no longer posit white cis-males as the figure that ‘must’ endure, but other uncontested figures remain in the space apparently excavated of Lovecraft’s affinities. To abandon what Claire Colebrook calls ‘the fantasy of one’s endurance,’ may be to concede that the post-human is founded on ‘the contingent, fragile, insecure, and ephemeral.’ [46] But, as Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D. Seely suggest, it is dangerous to consider this a ‘new’ refined status for the beings that remain, since ‘this sounds not like the imagination of living beyond Man, but rather like a meticulous description of the lives of the majority of the world under the condition of advanced capitalism right now.’ [47] As Claire Colebrook warns, post-humanism often relinquishes its excluded others – women, the colonised, nonhuman animals, or ‘life itself’ [48] – by merely subtracting the previously dominant paradigm of white heteropatriarchy, whilst failing to confront the monster the that particular figure was indicative of: Humanism posits an elevated or exceptional ‘man’ to grant sense to existence, then when ‘man’ is negated or removed what is left is the human all too human tendency to see the world as one giant anthropomorphic self-organizing living body… When man is destroyed to yield a posthuman world it is the same world minus humans, a world of meaning, sociality and readability yet without any sense of the disjunction, gap or limits of the human. [49] As in Haraway and Wark’s call for not just ‘naming, but of doing, of making new kinds of labor for a new kind of nature,’ [50] contemporary criticism and theory must be allowed to take on the form of the monsters it pursues, moulding and transforming critical inquiries into composite, hybrid figures that never settle in one form lest they become stable, rigid, and normalised. In fact, this metaphor itself is conditioned too readily by the notion of a mastery ‘Man’ can wield. Rather, our inquiries must be encouraged ‘to monster’ separately, to blur and mutate beyond the human capacity to comprehend them, like the infinite variety of organisms Haraway insists the future opens into. The very image of a post-humanism must avoid normalising the monster, rendering it through analysis an expression of the world-for-us. For Eugene Thacker this is the power of the sci-fi-horror genre, to take ‘aim at the presuppositions of philosophical inquiry – that the world is always the world-for-us – and [make] of those blind spots its central concern, expressing them not in abstract concepts but in a whole bestiary of impossible life forms – mists, ooze, blobs, slime, clouds, and muck.’ [51] Reflecting on the work of Noël Carroll, [52] Rosi Braidotti argues that if science fiction horror ‘is based on the disturbance of cultural norms, it is then ideally placed to represent states of crisis and change and to express the widespread anxiety of our times. As such this genre is as unstoppable as the transformations it mirrors.’ [53]  

References [1] John Carpenter, The Thing, Film, Sci-Fi Horror (Universal Pictures, 1982). [2]  Kelly Hurley, The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 3. [3]  B. Creed, ‘Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection.’ Screen 27, no. 1 (1 January 1986): 44–71. [4]  Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (Wiley, 2002), 192–94. [5]  Ian Conrich and David Woods, eds., The Cinema Of John Carpenter: The Technique Of Terror (Wallflower Press, 2004), 81. [6]  Julia Kristeva, quoted in Jackie Stacey, Teratologies: A Cultural Study of Cancer (Routledge, 2013), 89. [7]  The character McReady becomes MacReady in Carpenter’s 1982 retelling of the story. [8]  Campbell, Who Goes There?, 107. [9]  Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, Or, Paradoxes of the Heart (New York: Routledge, 1990). [10] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, New Ed (Harvard University Press, 2001), 299. [11] Braidotti, Metamorphoses, 195. [12] Kelly Hurley, ‘Reading like an Alien: Posthuman Identity in Ridley Scott’s Aliens and David Cronenberg’s Rabid,’ in Posthuman Bodies, ed. Judith M. Halberstam and Ira Livingston (Bloomington: John Wiley & Sons, 1996), 219. [13] This distinction was plucked, out of context, from Adrian MacKenzie, Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed (A&C Black, 2006), 17. MacKenzie is not talking about The Thing, but this distinction is, nonetheless, very useful in bridging the divide between stable being and endless becoming. [14] Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (Semiotext (e) New York, 1983), 146. [15] Eugene Thacker, ‘Nekros; Or, The Poetics Of Biopolitics,’ Incognitum Hactenus 3, no. Living On: Zombies (2012): 35. [16] Ibid., 29. [17] Braidotti, Metamorphoses, 195. [18] Hélène Cixous, The Newly Born Woman (University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 71. [19] Nato Thompson et al., eds., The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life (North Adams, Mass. : Cambridge, Mass: MASS MoCA ; Distributed by the MIT Press, 2004), 151. [20] John Carpenter, BBC Web exclusive: Bringing The Thing to life, Invasion, Tomorrow’s Worlds: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction, 14 November 2014. [21] Thacker, ‘Nekros; Or, The Poetics Of Biopolitics,’ 35. [22] Ian Conrich and David Woods, eds., The Cinema Of John Carpenter: The Technique Of Terror (Wallflower Press, 2004), 96. [23] Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 2016, 13. [24] Eugene Thacker, After Life (University of Chicago Press, 2010), 23. [25] Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Indiana University Press, 1984), 321. [26] Ibid., 317. [27] Ibid., 166. [28] This sentence is a paraphrased, altered version of a similar line from Eugene Thacker, ‘Nine Disputations on Theology and Horror,’ Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development IV: 38. [29] Claire Colebrook, Sex After Life: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 2 (Open Humanities Press, 2014), 14. [30] Eugene Thacker, ‘The Sight of a Mangled Corpse—An Interview with’, Scapegoat Journal, no. 05: Excess (2013): 380. [31] Vincent Canby, ‘“The Thing” Is Phony and No Fun,’ The New York Times, 25 June 1982, sec. Movies. [32] Derrida, ‘Passages: From Traumatism to Promise,’ 385–86. [33] Thacker, ‘The Sight of a Mangled Corpse—An Interview with,’ 380. [34] Braidotti, Metamorphoses, 180. [35] Ibid. [36] Ibid., 174. [37] Rosi Braidotti, ‘Teratologies’, in Deleuze and Feminist Theory, ed. Claire Colebrook and Ian Buchanan (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 172. [38] A term coined in the 1980s by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and widely popularized in the 2000s by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen. The Anthropocene is, according to Jan Zalasiewicz et al., ‘a distinctive phase of Earth’s evolution that satisfies geologist’s criteria for its recognition as a distinctive statigraphic unit.’ – Jan Zalasiewicz et al., ‘Are We Now Living in the Anthropocene,’ GSA Today 18, no. 2 (2008): 6. [39] Claire Colebrook, Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 1 (Open Humanities Press, 2014), 28. [40] McKenzie Wark, ‘Anthropocene Futures’, 23 February 2015. [41] Ibid. [42] Donna Haraway, ‘Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble’ (University of California at Santa Cruz, 5 September 2014). [43] Leif Haven, ‘We’ve All Always Been Lichens: Donna Haraway, the Cthulhucene, and the Capitalocene,’ ENTROPY, 22 September 2014. [44] Donna Haraway, ‘SF: Sympoiesis, String Figures, Multispecies Muddles’ (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, 24 March 2014). [45] H. P Lovecraft, The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, ed. Leslie S Klinger (Liveright, 2014), xiii. [46] Claire Colebrook, Sex After Life: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 2 (Open Humanities Press, 2014), 22. [47] Drucilla Cornell and Stephen D Seely, The Spirit of Revolution: Beyond the Dead Ends of Man (Polity press, 2016), 5. [48] Ibid., 3–4. [49] Claire Colebrook, Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 1 (Open Humanities Press, 2014), 163–64. [50] Wark, ‘Anthropocene Futures.’ [51] Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet, 9. [52]   Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, Or, Paradoxes of the Heart. [53]   Braidotti, Metamorphoses, 185 (my emphasis).

Sun, 26 Feb 2017 04:43:01 -0800
<![CDATA[80 textless movie posters]]>

80 textless movie posters

Sat, 26 Sep 2015 05:37:32 -0700
<![CDATA[Fab Sauce | Animated Short]]>

Fab Sauce produced by Rubber House

Thu, 11 Sep 2014 05:32:58 -0700
<![CDATA[Cinephilia and Beyond: The Incredible Effects of The Thing]]>

The Incredible Effects of The Thing, Cinefantastique issue detailing the design and implementation of many of The Thing’s effects sequences.

The visuals of both the desolate Antarctic and the ever-morphing alien creatures in The Thing were envisioned long before the movie was shot. Extensive storyboards were drawn by artist Michael Ploog so that all the departments of the production were on the same page in their preparation for the shoot. This is nothing new… but the similarity between the storyboards and the final imagery shot by legendary DP Dean Cundey is staggering. Storyboards are often only a guide, but in this film they were so specifically rendered that they became gospel. The detail and artistry of Ploog’s work up front, allowed the crew to have clear and defined goals on those frigid shooting days in both Alaska and Canada.

To demonstrate this point… I’ve taken two scenes from The Thing and laid down the storyboards next to the shots in the final edit of the film. The video below examines the discovery of the alien spaceship and the transformation of Norris in the shocking scene that still haunts me today. Just like Hitchcock worked with Saul Bass to create the famous shower scene in Psycho, Ploog crafted beautiful storyboards for Carpenter so that the time on set was best utilized to tell the story. Be it pencil to paper or an iPad app filmmakers can share the envisionment of the worlds they are creating by using storyboards. —Vashi Nedomansky, The Thing: Storyboards to Film Comparison

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Mon, 14 Jul 2014 00:43:40 -0700
<![CDATA[Meet the Father of Digital Life]]>

n 1953, at the dawn of modern computing, Nils Aall Barricelli played God. Clutching a deck of playing cards in one hand and a stack of punched cards in the other, Barricelli hovered over one of the world’s earliest and most influential computers, the IAS machine, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. During the day the computer was used to make weather forecasting calculations; at night it was commandeered by the Los Alamos group to calculate ballistics for nuclear weaponry. Barricelli, a maverick mathematician, part Italian and part Norwegian, had finagled time on the computer to model the origins and evolution of life.

Inside a simple red brick building at the northern corner of the Institute’s wooded wilds, Barricelli ran models of evolution on a digital computer. His artificial universes, which he fed with numbers drawn from shuffled playing cards, teemed with creatures of code—morphing, mutating, melting, maintaining. He created laws that determined, independent of any foreknowledge on his part, which assemblages of binary digits lived, which died, and which adapted. As he put it in a 1961 paper, in which he speculated on the prospects and conditions for life on other planets, “The author has developed numerical organisms, with properties startlingly similar to living organisms, in the memory of a high speed computer.” For these coded critters, Barricelli became a maker of worlds.

Until his death in 1993, Barricelli floated between biological and mathematical sciences, questioning doctrine, not quite fitting in. “He was a brilliant, eccentric genius,” says George Dyson, the historian of technology and author of Darwin Among The Machines and Turing’s Cathedral, which feature Barricelli’s work. “And the thing about geniuses is that they just see things clearly that other people don’t see.”

Barricelli programmed some of the earliest computer algorithms that resemble real-life processes: a subdivision of what we now call “artificial life,” which seeks to simulate living systems—evolution, adaptation, ecology—in computers. Barricelli presented a bold challenge to the standard Darwinian model of evolution by competition by demonstrating that organisms evolved by symbiosis and cooperation.

Pixar cofounder Alvy Ray Smith says Barricelli influenced his earliest thinking about the possibilities for computer animation.

In fact, Barricelli’s projects anticipated many current avenues of research, including cellular automata, computer programs involving grids of numbers paired with local rules that can produce complicated, unpredictable behavior. His models bear striking resemblance to the one-dimensional cellular automata—life-like lattices of numerical patterns—championed by Stephen Wolfram, whose search tool Wolfram Alpha helps power the brain of Siri on the iPhone. Nonconformist biologist Craig Venter, in defending his creation of a cell with a synthetic genome—“the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”—echoes Barricelli.

Barricelli’s experiments had an aesthetic side, too. Uncommonly for the time, he converted the digital 1s and 0s of the computer’s stored memory into pictorial images. Those images, and the ideas behind them, would influence computer animators in generations to come. Pixar cofounder Alvy Ray Smith, for instance, says Barricelli stirred his earliest thinking about the possibilities for computer animation, and beyond that, his philosophical muse. “What we’re really talking about here is the notion that living things are computations,” he says. “Look at how the planet works and it sure does look like a computation.”

Despite Barricelli’s pioneering experiments, barely anyone remembers him. “I have not heard of him to tell you the truth,” says Mark Bedau, professor of humanities and philosophy at Reed College and editor of the journal Artificial Life. “I probably know more about the history than most in the field and I’m not aware of him.”

Barricelli was an anomaly, a mutation in the intellectual zeitgeist, an unsung hero who has mostly languished in obscurity for the past half century. “People weren’t ready for him,” Dyson says. That a progenitor has not received much acknowledgment is a failing not unique to science. Visionaries often arrive before their time. Barricelli charted a course for the digital revolution, and history has been catching up ever since.

Barricelli_BREAKER-02 EVOLUTION BY THE NUMBERS: Barricelli converted his computer tallies of 1s and 0s into images. In this 1953 Barricelli print, explains NYU associate professor Alexander Galloway, the chaotic center represents mutation and disorganization. The more symmetrical fields toward the margins depict Barricelli’s evolved numerical organisms.From the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Barricelli was born in Rome on Jan. 24, 1912. According to Richard Goodman, a retired microbiologist who met and befriended the mathematician in the 1960s, Barricelli claimed to have invented calculus before his tenth birthday. When the young boy showed the math to his father, he learned that Newton and Leibniz had preempted him by centuries. While a student at the University of Rome, Barricelli studied mathematics and physics under Enrico Fermi, a pioneer of quantum theory and nuclear physics. A couple of years after graduating in 1936, he immigrated to Norway with his recently divorced mother and younger sister.

As World War II raged, Barricelli studied. An uncompromising oddball who teetered between madcap and mastermind, Barricelli had a habit of exclaiming “Absolut!” when he agreed with someone, or “Scandaloos!” when he found something disagreeable. His accent was infused with Scandinavian and Romantic pronunciations, making it occasionally challenging for colleagues to understand him. Goodman recalls one of his colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles who just happened to be reading Barricelli’s papers “when the mathematician himself barged in and, without ceremony, began rattling off a stream of technical information about his work on phage genetics,” a science that studies gene mutation, replication, and expression through model viruses. Goodman’s colleague understood only fragments of the speech, but realized it pertained to what he had been reading.

“Are you familiar with the work of Nils Barricelli?” he asked.

“Barricelli! That’s me!” the mathematician cried.

Notwithstanding having submitted a 500-page dissertation on the statistical analysis of climate variation in 1946, Barricelli never completed his Ph.D. Recalling the scene in the movie Amadeus in which the Emperor of Austria commends Mozart’s performance, save for there being “too many notes,” Barricelli’s thesis committee directed him to slash the paper to a tenth of the size, or else it would not accept the work. Rather than capitulate, Barricelli forfeited the degree.

Barricelli began modeling biological phenomena on paper, but his calculations were slow and limited. He applied to study in the United States as a Fulbright fellow, where he could work with the IAS machine. As he wrote on his original travel grant submission in 1951, he sought “to perform numerical experiments by means of great calculating machines,” in order to clarify, through mathematics, “the first stages of evolution of a species.” He also wished to mingle with great minds—“to communicate with American statisticians and evolution-theorists.” By then he had published papers on statistics and genetics, and had taught Einstein’s theory of relativity. In his application photo, he sports a pyramidal moustache, hair brushed to the back of his elliptic head, and hooded, downturned eyes. At the time of his application, he was a 39-year-old assistant professor at the University of Oslo.

Although the program initially rejected him due to a visa issue, in early 1953 Barricelli arrived at the Institute for Advanced Study as a visiting member. “I hope that you will be finding Mr. Baricelli [sic] an interesting person to talk with,” wrote Ragnar Frisch, a colleague of Barricelli’s who would later win the first Nobel Prize in Economics, in a letter to John von Neumann, a mathematician at IAS, who helped devise the institute’s groundbreaking computer. “He is not very systematic always in his exposition,” Frisch continued, “but he does have interesting ideas.”

Barricelli_BREAKER_2crop PSYCHEDELIC BARRICELLI: In this recreation of a Barricelli experiment, NYU associate professor Alexander Galloway has added color to show the gene groups more clearly. Each swatch of color signals a different organism. Borders between the color fields represent turbulence as genes bounce off and meld with others, symbolizing Barricelli’s symbiogenesis.Courtesy Alexander Galloway Centered above Barricelli’s first computer logbook entry at the Institute for Advanced Study, in handwritten pencil script dated March 3, 1953, is the title “Symbiogenesis problem.” This was his theory of proto-genes, virus-like organisms that teamed up to become complex organisms: first chromosomes, then cellular organs, onward to cellular organisms and, ultimately, other species. Like parasites seeking a host, these proto-genes joined together, according to Barricelli, and through their mutual aid and dependency, originated life as we know it.

Standard neo-Darwinian doctrine maintained that natural selection was the main means by which species formed. Slight variations and mutations in genes combined with competition led to gradual evolutionary change. But Barricelli disagreed. He pictured nimbler genes acting as a collective, cooperative society working together toward becoming species. Darwin’s theory, he concluded, was inadequate. “This theory does not answer our question,” he wrote in 1954, “it does not say why living organisms exist.”

Barricelli coded his numerical organisms on the IAS machine in order to prove his case. “It is very easy to fabricate or simply define entities with the ability to reproduce themselves, e.g., within the realm of arithmetic,” he wrote.

The early computer looked sort of like a mix between a loom and an internal combustion engine. Lining the middle region were 40 Williams cathode ray tubes, which served as the machine’s memory. Within each tube, a beam of electrons (the cathode ray) bombarded one end, creating a 32-by-32 grid of points, each consisting of a slight variation in electrical charge. There were five kilobytes of memory total stored in the machine. Not much by today’s standards, but back then it was an arsenal.

Barricelli saw his computer organisms as a blueprint of life—on this planet and any others.

Inside the device, Barricelli programmed steadily mutable worlds each with rows of 512 “genes,” represented by integers ranging from negative to positive 18. As the computer cycled through hundreds and thousands of generations, persistent groupings of genes would emerge, which Barricelli deemed organisms. The trick was to tweak his manmade laws of nature—“norms,” as he called them—which governed the universe and its entities just so. He had to maintain these ecosystems on the brink of pandemonium and stasis. Too much chaos and his beasts would unravel into a disorganized shamble; too little and they would homogenize. The sweet spot in the middle, however, sustained life-like processes.

Barricelli’s balancing act was not always easygoing. His first trials were riddled with pests: primitive, often single numeric genes invaded the space and gobbled their neighbors. Typically, he was only able to witness a couple of hereditary changes, or a handful at best, before the world unwound. To create lasting evolutionary processes, he needed to handicap these pests’ ability to rapidly reproduce. By the time he returned to the Institute in 1954 to begin a second round of experiments, Barricelli made some critical changes. First, he capped the proliferation of the pests to once per generation. That constraint allowed his numerical organisms enough leeway to outpace the pests. Second, he began employing different norms to different sections of his universes. That forced his numerical organisms always to adapt.

Even in the earlier universes, Barricelli realized that mutation and natural selection alone were insufficient to account for the genesis of species. In fact, most single mutations were harmful. “The majority of the new varieties which have shown the ability to expand are a result of crossing-phenomena and not of mutations, although mutations (especially injurious mutations) have been much more frequent than hereditary changes by crossing in the experiments performed,” he wrote.

When an organism became maximally fit for an environment, the slightest variation would only weaken it. In such cases, it took at least two modifications, effected by a cross-fertilization, to give the numerical organism any chance of improvement. This indicated to Barricelli that symbioses, gene crossing, and “a primitive form of sexual reproduction,” were essential to the emergence of life.

“Barricelli immediately figured out that random mutation wasn’t the important thing; in his first experiment he figured out that the important thing was recombination and sex,” Dyson says. “He figured out right away what took other people much longer to figure out.” Indeed, Barricelli’s theory of symbiogenesis can be seen as anticipating the work of independent-thinking biologist Lynn Margulis, who in the 1960s showed that it was not necessarily genetic mutations over generations, but symbiosis, notably of bacteria, that produced new cell lineages.

Barricelli saw his computer organisms as a blueprint of life—on this planet and any others. “The question whether one type of symbio-organism is developed in the memory of a digital computer while another type is developed in a chemical laboratory or by a natural process on some planet or satellite does not add anything fundamental to this difference,” he wrote. A month after Barricelli began his experiments on the IAS machine, Crick and Watson announced the shape of DNA as a double helix. But learning about the shape of biological life didn’t put a dent in Barricelli’s conviction that he had captured the mechanics of life on a computer. Let Watson and Crick call DNA a double helix. Barricelli called it “molecule-shaped numbers.”


What buried Barricelli in obscurity is something of a mystery. “Being uncompromising in his opinions and not a team player,” says Dyson, no doubt led to Barricelli’s “isolation from the academic mainstream.” Dyson also suspects Barricelli and the indomitable Hungarian mathematician von Neumann, an influential leader at the Institute of Advanced Study, didn’t hit it off. Von Neumann appears to have ignored Barricelli. “That was sort of fatal because everybody looked to von Neumann as the grandfather of self-replicating machines.”

Ever so slowly, though, Barricelli is gaining recognition. That stems in part from another of Barricelli’s remarkable developments; certainly one of his most beautiful. He didn’t rest with creating a universe of numerical organisms, he converted his organisms into images. His computer tallies of 1s and 0s would then self-organize into visual grids of exquisite variety and texture. According to Alexander Galloway, associate professor in the department of media, culture, and communication at New York University, a finished Barricelli “image yielded a snapshot of evolutionary time.”

When Barricelli printed sections of his digitized universes, they were dazzling. To modern eyes they might look like satellite imagery of an alien geography: chaotic oceans, stratigraphic outcrops, and the contours of a single stream running down the center fold, fanning into a delta at the patchwork’s bottom. “Somebody needs to do a museum show and show this stuff because they’re outrageous,” Galloway says.

Barricelli was an uncompromising oddball who teetered between madcap and mastermind.

Today, Galloway, a member of Barricelli’s small but growing cadre of boosters, has recreated the images. Following methods described by Barricelli in one of his papers, Galloway has coded an applet using the computer language Processing to revive Barricelli’s numerical organisms—with slight variation. While Barricelli encoded his numbers as eight-unit-long proto-pixels, Galloway condensed each to a single color-coded cell. By collapsing each number into a single pixel, Galloway has been able to fit eight times as many generations in the frame. These revitalized mosaics look like psychedelic cross-sections of the fossil record. Each swatch of color represents an organism, and when one color field bumps up against another one, that’s where cross-fertilization takes place.

“You can see these kinds of points of turbulence where the one color meets another color,” Galloway says, showing off the images on a computer in his office. “That’s a point where a number would be—or a gene would be—sort of jumping from one organism to another.” Here, in other words, is artificial life—Barricelli’s symbiogenesis—frozen in amber. And cyan and lavender and teal and lime and fuchsia.

Galloway is not the only one to be struck by the beauty of Barricelli’s computer-generated digital images. As a doctoral student, Pixar cofounder Smith became familiar with Barricelli’s work while researching the history of cellular automata for his dissertation. When he came across Barricelli’s prints he was astonished. “It was remarkable to me that with such crude computing facilities in the early 50s, he was able to be making pictures,” Smith says. “I guess in a sense you can say that Barricelli got me thinking about computer animation before I thought about computer animation. I never thought about it that way, but that’s essentially what it was.”

Cyberspace now swells with Barricelli’s progeny. Self-replicating strings of arithmetic live out their days in the digital wilds, increasingly independent of our tampering. The fittest bits survive and propagate. Researchers continue to model reduced, pared-down versions of life artificially, while the real world bursts with Boolean beings. Scientists like Venter conjure synthetic organisms, assisted by computer design. Swarms of autonomous codes thrive, expire, evolve, and mutate underneath our fingertips daily. “All kinds of self-reproducing codes are out there doing things,” Dyson says. In our digital lives, we are immersed in Barricelli’s world.

Fri, 20 Jun 2014 06:08:03 -0700
<![CDATA[Game Theory Makes New Predictions for Evolution | Simons Foundation]]>

In what appears to be the first study of its kind, computer scientists report that an algorithm discovered more than 50 years ago in game theory and now widely used in machine learning is mathematically identical to the equations used to describe the distribution of genes within a population of org

Wed, 18 Jun 2014 14:53:58 -0700
<![CDATA[Craig Venter: 'This isn't a fantasy look at the future. We are doing the future']]>

Craig Venter reclines in his chair, puts his feet up on his desk and - gently stroking his milk chocolate-coloured miniature poodle, Darwin, asleep in his arms - shares his vision of the household appliance of the future.

Tue, 03 Jun 2014 07:58:30 -0700
<![CDATA[candarian-demon: 50’s Horror Originals vs Remakes  ➥ The Fly...]]>


50’s Horror Originals vs Remakes  ➥ The Fly (1958 vs 1986), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 vs 1978), House of Wax (1953 vs 2005), The Thing and The Thing from Another World (1958 vs 1982), The Blob (1958 vs 1988)

Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:01:29 -0700
<![CDATA[Glitches in Things and the “Friendly Medium”]]>

This talk was original delivered at GLI.TC/H 2112, on Saturday 8th December 2012. The talk expands on ideas I have been carting around for a few of years now. Updated with Object Oriented insights I hope it acts as a mental toolkit for artists looking to dance with objects, in all their glitchy splendour. As usual, I completely ignored my notes whilst talking, for this reason it’s worth listening to the question and answer bit afterwards. See here for more: Infinite thanks must go to Rosa Menkman, Jon Satrom and Nick Briz – the GLI.TC/H Bots at the heart of the fest. Thank you for inviting me to participate.

Wed, 15 Jan 2014 03:29:49 -0800
<![CDATA[« The Closing of the Scientific Mind Commentary Magazine]]>

The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do.

Mon, 06 Jan 2014 04:54:15 -0800
<![CDATA[An Ontology of Everything on the Face of the Earth]]>

This essay was originally published as part of a special issue of Alluvium Journal on Digital Metaphors, edited by Zara Dinnen and featuring contributions from Rob Gallagher and Sophie Jones. John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing, is a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, exhibiting many hallmarks of the horror genre. The film depicts a sinister turn for matter, where the chaos of the replicating, cancerous cell is expanded to the human scale and beyond. In The Thing we watch as an alien force terrorises an isolated Antarctic outpost. The creature exhibits an awesome ability to imitate, devouring any creature it comes across before giving birth to an exact copy in a burst of blood and protoplasm. The Thing copies cell by cell and its process is so perfect – at every level of replication – that the resultant simulacrum speaks, acts and even thinks like the original. The Thing is so relentless, its copies so perfect, that the outpost’s Doctor, Blair, is sent mad at the implications: Blair: If a cell gets out it could imitate everything on the face of the Earth… and it’s not gonna stop!!! Based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There?, Carpenter’s film revisits a gothic trope, as numerous in its incarnations as are the forms it is capable of taking. In Campbell’s original novella, the biologically impure is co-inhabited by a different type of infection: an infection of the Antarctic inhabitants’ inner lives. Plucked from an icy grave, The Thing sits, frozen solid, in a dark corner of the outpost, drip dripping towards re-animation. Before its cells begin their interstitial jump from alien to earthly biology, it is the dreams of the men that become infected: ‘So far the only thing you have said this thing gave off that was catching was dreams. I’ll go so far as to admit that.’ An impish, slightly malignant grin crossed the little man’s seamed face. ‘I had some, too. So. It’s dream-infectious. No doubt an exceedingly dangerous malady.’ (Campbell)

The Thing’s voracious drive to consume and imitate living beings calls to mind Freud’s uncanny: the dreadful creeping horror that dwells between homely and unhomely. According to Ernst Jentsch, whose work Freud references in his study, the uncanny is kindled, ‘when there is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one’ (Grenville 233). A body in the act of becoming: John W. Campbell’s novella depicts The Thing as a monstrous body that “swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world”

In the original novella, The Thing is condensed as much from the minds of the men, as from its own horrific, defrosting bulk. A slowly surfacing nightmare that acts to transform alien matter into earthly biology also has the effect of transferring the inner, mental lives of the men, into the resultant condensation. John W. Campbell had no doubts that The Thing could become viscous, mortal human flesh, but in order to truly imitate its prey, the creature must infect and steal inner life too, pulling ghosts, kicking and screaming, out of their biological machines. As a gothic figure, Campbell’s Thing disrupts the stable and integral vision of human being, of self-same bodies housing ‘unitary and securely bounded’ (Hurley 3) subjectivities, identical and extensive through time. John W. Campbell’s characters confront their anguish at being embodied: their nightmares are literally made flesh. As Kelly Hurley reminds us in her study on The Gothic Body, Mikhail Bakhtin noted: The grotesque body… is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body. Moreover, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world (Hurley 28). Each clone’s otherness is an uncanny exposure of the abject relationship we endure with ourselves as vicarious, fragmented, entropic forms. In the 44 years between the novella and John Carpenter’s 1982 film, there were many poor clones of The Thing depicted in cinema. Films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and, It Came from Outer Space (1953) are replete with alien dopplegangers, abject human forms, cast away very much as in gothic tradition. Howard Hawk’s film, The Thing from Another World (1951), the first to explicitly translate Who Goes There?, completely disfigures Campbell’s story. The resultant monster is nothing more than, what one character calls, ‘an intellectual carrot’, grown from alien cells in a laboratory. The film is worth considering though for its Cold War undertones. Recast in an Arctic military base, Hawk’s Thing is an isolated monster set against a small, well organised army of cooperative men. Faced with disaster the men group together, fighting for a greater good than each of them alone represents.

Cinematic clones of The Thing: 1950s American Science Fiction films like It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are replete with alien doppelgangers and abject human forms [Images used under fair dealings provisions] The metaphor of discrete cells coordinating into autopoeitic organisms, does not extend to the inhabitants of the isolated Antarctic outpost in the original short story, nor in the 1982 version. Rather than unite against their foe, they begin to turn on each other, never knowing who might be The Thing. In a series of enactments of game-theory, the characters do piece together a collective comprehension: that if The Thing is to eventually imitate ‘everything on the face of the Earth’ it must not show itself now, lest the remaining humans group together and destroy it. The Thing’s alien biology calls to mind the original design of the internet, intended, according to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: …to withstand military attack. Since it has no center and almost any portion can operate as an autonomous whole, the network can continue to function even when part of it has been destroyed. The same design element that ensures survival, the decentralisation, is also what makes control of the network so difficult (Hardt and Negri 299). The novella Who Goes There? and the film, The Thing, sit either side of a pivotal era in the advancement of information technology. How a life form or a biological computer work is immaterial to the behaviours they present to an observer. John Carpenter’s The Thing explores the fulfilment of Alan Turing’s ‘Imitation Game.’ Moving away from Campbell’s original appeal to telepathy and a mind/body split, the materialist vision of Carpenter’s film confronts us with a more fundamental horror. That every part of us is reducible to every other. In her book Refiguring Life, Evelyn Fox Keller argues that: As a consequence of the technological and conceptual transformations we have witnessed in the last three decades, the body itself has been irrevocably transformed… The body of modern biology, like the DNA molecule – and also like the modern corporate or political body – has become just another part of an informational network, now machine, now message, always ready for exchange, each for the other (Keller 117–118). Meanwhile, eschewing Martin Heidegger’s definition of a thing (in which objects are brought out of the background of existence through human use), Bill Brown marks the emergence of things through the encounter: As they circulate through our lives… we look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us… (Brown 4).

A thing or an object? Bill Brown argues that we look through objects but are confronted by things [Image by Marc PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE under a CC BY-NC-ND license] In his infamous 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Alan Turing introduced the notion that a computer is nothing more than a machine that functions by pretending to be other machines. (Turing) Asking the question ‘can machines think?’ Turing replaced the ambiguity of ‘thought’ and ‘intelligence’ with imitation, proposing a test that avoided the need to know what was going on inside a machine, in favour of merely experiencing its affects. In a lecture entitled ‘Can Digital Computers Think?’, Turing expounds his point: It is not difficult to design machines whose behaviour appears quite random to anyone who does not know the details of their construction. Naturally enough the inclusion of this random element, whichever technique is used, does not solve our main problem, how to programme a machine to imitate a brain, or as we might say more briefly, if less accurately, to think. But it gives us some indication of what the process will be like. We must not always expect to know what the computer is going to do. We should be pleased when the machine surprises us, in rather the same way as one is pleased when a pupil does something which he had not been explicitly taught to do (Shieber 114–115). The mutability of Earthly life, its ability to err, to stumble upon novel strategies through random, blind chance, represents its most innate capacity. Biological life changes by mutation, passing those mutations on to the next generation, ad infinitum. The Thing, in opposition to this, can only become its other absolutely. There is no room for error, for mutation, for change or evolution: instead, The Thingly cadaver of Norris must protect its otherness in the only way it knows how: by transforming itself into a defensive form previously programmed and stored in its protoplasm. In terms of creativity it cannot escape its programming. Turing’s lecture hints at a further unsettling conclusion we can make: that even though novel behaviour may be consistent with error, from appearances alone it is impossible to distinguish something ontologically novel, with a behaviour which has been programmed to appear as such. The Thing is a Universal Turing Machine, a post-digital plasma, encoded with the biological ticker-tape of a thousand alien worlds. Put more simply, in the words of protagonist John MacReady: MacReady: Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be. [my emphasis]

The “Gothicity” of matter? The digital metaphor of the Thing reveals that through imitation computers confer humanity upon us [Image by 

Mon, 09 Dec 2013 10:34:38 -0800
<![CDATA[On Being Thingly]]>

On Being Thingly

Fri, 09 Nov 2012 07:02:00 -0800


Sun, 21 Oct 2012 03:47:00 -0700
<![CDATA[The Quietus | Film | Film Features | 30 Years On: The Thing Revisited]]>

compactrobot: The Quietus | 30 Years On: The Thing Revisited

Sun, 21 Oct 2012 03:32:00 -0700