Matrices of Embodiment: Re-Thinking Binary and the Politics of Digital Representation

This paper explores the critical art practice of Nell Tenhaaf, challenging the continued convention for theorizing the relationship between the body and digital technologies of representation in terms of the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’, and the perceived dematerialisation of the body into code. Given the importance of histories of ‘the body’ for so-called second-wave and constructivist feminists, it is perhaps unsurprising that much of this debate was generated from within the combined discourses of feminism and science & technology studies. While the model of equivalence and interchangeability between different kinds of code (binary, genetics, language itself) has accounted in sophisticated ways for the mechanisms by which bodies and artifacts become integrated into the structures of capital, by making everything de- and re-tachable, the way in which the discourse has been structured around the problem of the subject-as-code has become over-determined, and suggests a model of subjectivity that is technologically deterministic.

In an attempt to speak the language of these very real problems for digital forms of representation, and yet simultaneously to speak beyond them, I propose to look at histories of computing that conceive of information technology as fundamentally spatial. The purpose of this is three-fold. In the first instance, through the work of Tenhaaf, I hope to explore a recent example of how digital ontology is being questioned through representation. Secondly, in so doing, I intend to show that replacing the paradigm of ‘the body’ need not suggest a virtual flight into technophilic fantasies of transcendence or, to use the term set out by Eugene Thacker, extropianism. Thus, finally, I hope that by re-conceiving of binary not as a linear series but as a spatial field we might disconnect binary from its self-limiting association with western binaries.

This article was shortlisted for the Catharine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship 2013.

Title: ‘Matrices of Embodiment: Re-Thinking Binary and the Politics of Digital Representation’

Journal or Book: Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society

Date: Vol. 39, No. 4, Summer 2014 (pp. 897-926)

Publisher: University of Chicago Press




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