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Networked Bodies and Extended Corporealities:

Theorizing the Relationship between the Body, Embodiment, and


Contemporary New

Michèle White

EEMINIS T SCHOLARS MAY FIN D I T challenging to perform and justify

research on the interrelationship of the body, embodiment, and contem- porary technologies in Internet and new media settings. Eeminisi" researchers tend to value considerations of personal bodily experiences, the social rendering and production of bodies, theories of corporeality, and the way^h e body and embodiment are connected to struggles for acknowledgment and equity. However, Internet and new media studies scholars have been inclined to ignore the body and embodiment or even to claim that these structures and experiences have no application in Internet and computer-facilitated settings. There is a feminist literature in film and media studies, medical imaging, and prosthetics that engages with the ways the body, embodiment, and technologies interconnect; but these texts have not been central to theoretical developments in Internet and new media studies.' Studies of the kinds of gender, race, and sexuality representations that are produced in Internet and computer-facilitated settings are rarely linked to critical examinations of corporeal expe- riences.^ Despite these limitations and some academics' resistance to incor-

porating literature about technological sites from different fields, feminist

Feminist Studies 35, no . 3 (Fall 2009). © 2009 by Feminist Studies, Inc.



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theories about the hody and embodiment have a great deal to contribute to Internet and new media research. In this essay, I analyze feminist studies of new media that incorporate the body and embodiment into considerations of Internet and computer technologies. I consider how the arguments of Susan Kozel, Anna Mun- ster, Bernadette Wegenstein, and Kim Toffoletti interrelate and the ways their methods refute current conventions. These authors use the term "new media" because it references an array of digital technologies and related practices. However, the term also supports wide-sweeping claims about objects and processes and distinguishes these sites from earlier


Closer: Performance, Technoloßies, Phenomenology. By Susan Kozel. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.

Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics. By Anna

Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Press, 2006.


Getting under the Skin: Body and Media Theory. By Bernadette Wegenstein. Cam- bridge: MIT Press, 2006.

Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls: Feminism, Popular Culture, and the Posthuman Body. By Kim

Toffoletti. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

tendencies. Kozel, Munster, Wegenstein, and Toffoletti try to avoid these propensities by relating new media and their sites of investigation to historical and theoretical practices. These authors also employ a number of other similar strategies: they provide critical methods for theorizing the body and its cultural formations in Internet and computer-facilitated set- tings. They also interrogate cyberpunk science fiction authors' and futur- ists' propositions about technological agency and leaving the body behind. Artworks, dance performances, and media representations are employed as ways of theorizing the body and embodiment. Phenomenology and other theories are strategically referenced. Through these strategies, these authors provide critical methods for considering how bodies and embodi-

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ment are connected to, changed hy, and elided through Internet and computer technologies. The authors of early writings about Internet settings and more recent conceptions of Web 2.0 tend to suggest that all individuals are empowered hy technologies and that embodiment and gender positions are no longer determining factors in the ways people engage in and are understood in Internet settings. This literature is related to the Western intellectual tradition in that it supports the erasure and dismissal of the body. Peter Steiner' s well-know n New Yorker cartoo n represent s thes e ideas . He suggests that the displacement of identities in Internet and computer- facilitated settings enables all people to equitably engage. In his drawing, a dog is in front of a computer, addressed hy another dog, and informed, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."'' In a similar manner, Virginia Shea's often-quoted netiquette guidelines argue that individuals are not judged according to their age, body size, class, and race because of Internet anonymity.'' The Jargon File attributes hackers' "gender- and color-blindness" and tolerance to their engagements in text-based com- munication.^ These assumptions about equity have not changed with the shift toward social networking profiles and expectations that individuals will disclose their identities in Internet settings.

Some feminist Internet and new media studies scholars provide simi- lar accounts. Sadie Plant, a writer and academic theorist, envisions the Internet as a feminist and impartial setting in which "access to resources" that "were once restricted to those with the right face, accent, race, sex" are now accessible to everyone.* In Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price's feminist anthology on the body, they describe the cyberfeminist belief that the normative body is diffused, and distinctions between human and com- puter, female and male, and actual and virtual no longer apply in Internet and computer-facilitated settings. Shildrick and Price also argue that women are rightly suspicious of investments in the "neutrality" of cyber- space. They propose that academics' and activists' interests in "corporeal transgression," a feature of cyberfeminist research and postmodernist feminism, might he better addressed "through a set of tangible, albeit fluid materialities."' The authors that I consider in this essay also identify a criti- cal and political value in shifting and transformative corporealities. This


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inclination is critically useful. However, proposals that fluid and frag- mented corporealities inherently facilitate political outcomes should be avoided. Such assessments have too much in common with claims that the fluid features of Internet and computer-facilitated settings are inher- ently liberating. The people writing about and using Internet and computer technolo- gies continue to make Utopian claims about social networking sites, e- commerce venues, and digital production software. Yochai Benkler, a legal studies academic, looks to open source and "nonmarket production" as "radically decentralized, collaborative, and non-proprietary; based on sharing resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosely con- nected individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on . either market signals or managerial commands."* Sites such as YouTube promise the ability to "Broadcast Yourself and portray the people who upload videos as the subject of the site and in control. Jeff SkoU, a former eBay executive, argues that people who buy and sell on eBay are "able to improve their lives substantially" because they now have "access to a level playing field."' These accounts of unbiased and empowering technological tools and practices are distinctly different from feminist research on home technologies and science and technology studies of how users are config- ured by such gendered products as razors.'" Feminist and science and tech- nology studies scholars analyze how technologies and social practices articulate the position and skill level of designers and users. Individuals who do not meet the expectations prescribed by the technologies and society are likely to experience personal anxiety and cultural pressure to fulfill expected norms. For instance, women are directed to maintcdn very clean homes because of the purportedly time-saving and advanced features of household technologies.

Descriptions of equitable and gender-blind Internet and computer technologies and social practices persist. However, technologies are associ- ated with particular kinds of bodies, embodiment, and subject positions. Cyberpunk science fiction literature tends to equate computer program- mers' skills with pure mind. For instance. Case and other male hackers in William Gibson's Neurornancer, which is an early and often referenced cyber- punk novel, disparagingly refer to the body as "meat" and much prefer

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the "bodiless" state of cyberspace." When Case's nervous system is damaged, he falls into a "prison of his own flesh" and misses his transcen- dental experiences with digital information. George, the protagonist of Tom Maddox's "Snake Eyes," feels "like somebody else" is "at home" in his hody.'^ Male characters in cyberpunk literature reject the body and have empowering experiences with information settings. However, female characters tend to act as visual objects and have bodies in wbich such features as breasts, faces, and nails are viscerally detailed and made into technologies. Molly, who is Case's love interest, has enhanced blood-red nails that sheath razors, and she allows Case to virtually inhabit her body during a break-in. Feminists are concerned about these narratives because cyberpunk helped shape and continues to influence Internet and com- puter technologies and social practices. Designers and programmers read these texts, the ideas in the literature are incorporated into varied tech- nologies and interfaces, and Internet and new media studies academics include them in syllabi and research.

Researchers in transhumanism also propose to separate the mind from the physical body.''' Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and futurist, envi- sions an "Evolution of Mind" where brains will be downloaded into personal computers and other containers that will allow people to over- come death and expand their intellectual capacities because cranium size will no longer limit growth patterns." Hans Moravec, an academic re- searcher in artificial intelligence and robotics, associates identity with the mind. He wants to preserve the mind and thinking processes but the "rest is mere jelly" and "so messy" that it should be discarded." Kurzweil and Moravec's rejection of the fleshy body and insistence that corporeality has no influence on the subject is argued from a centered and empowered position where experiences are culturally validajed as "normal," and body identity has remained largely unlabeled. Kurzweil and Moravec's beliefs are supported by Western understandings of embodiment as messy and feminine. One of the reasons that Internet and computer technologies are associated with disembodiment is because of this coding of the body.

The authors that I consider here provide theories of the body and embodiment that address cyberpunk authors' and futurists' propositions about technological agency. They offer critical methods for theorizing the


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body and its cultural formations in Internet and computer-facilitated

settings. In Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology, Susan Kozel presents

a critical model for understanding the connections between embodiment and digital technologies through her practices as a dancer and choreogra- pher. Her work is distinctive because individuals are still discouraged in many academic venues from considering their personal artistic practices. Kozel has developed a methodology to conceptualize her subjective expe- riences, reveal broader cultural beliefs and practices, and highhght the ways "bodies exist with and through other bodies in social and political contexts" (xvi). This approach is supported by her choice of phenomenol- ogy as a critical model, including a detailed engagement with Maurice Merleau-Ponty's work." For Kozel, phenomenology incorporates lived experience and the senses. It also provides ways of resisting binary distinc- tions between the mind and body because phenomenological engage- ments start before or move beyond the divide between subject and object. Phenomenology acknowledges bodies, "thought, imagination, memories, material conditions of life, aiid affect" (5). For instance, Kozel's experiences of tactility, pain, and positionality are rendered and enhanced through digital media. Through such features of embodiment and lived experience, Kozel interrogates claims that new media allows individuals to leave their bodies behind. She envisions bodies as more than meat because they are "sources of intelligence, compassion, and extraordinary creativity" (xvi).

Anna Munster analyzes digital production practices, with an empha-

sis on new media art, in Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information

Aesthetics. She proposes a conceptual and aesthetic genealogy for Internet and computer-facilitated projects that interrelates new media and materi- aUty. She also resists such binaries as the distinction between mind and body and the idea that information technologies provide a way of leaving the body behind. For her, claims that new media facilitate a transcenden- tal engagement with the machine are cause for concern. Such proposals allow specific experiences of bodies and identity positions to be displaced. Munster deploys the baroque, including its visual emphasis on the fold. She also uses the cabinet of curiosity as a critical concept that points toward a different conception of new media engagement. These social practices and aesthetics emphasize continuity and variability, including

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connections between the organic and artificial, senses and thought, and arts and sciences rather than linearity, hierarchical arrangements, and binaries. Munster situates her engagement in the baroque witb Barbara Maria Stafford's trajectory from early medicine and natural history to postmodern practices of assemblage and bricolage." Cabinets of curiosity are also a form of assemblage. They are identified as precursors to the museum; but the producers of these collections combine art objects, natural specimens, and fantastical creations without distinguishing the specificity of artifacts or organizing them according to scientific or cultur- ally agreed-upon categorization methods. Munster relates the baroque, including its emphasis on the fold, and cabinets of curiosity to new media because these earlier forms provide a paradigm for comprehending the ambivalent forms of connectivity and discontinuity that are conveyed by information aesthetics. They point to methods for analyzing digitally produced texts, identity positions, and bodies.

New media art is also deployed as a way of integrating embodiment and Internet and computer technologies in Bernadette Wegenstein's

Getting under the Skin: Body and Media Theory. She describes installation and video

art in order to conceptualize contemporary new media. She connects earlier practices and Internet and computer-facilitated production rather than supporting the idea that contemporary technologies and engage- ments are new and unrelated to previous cultural processes and concep- tions. Wegenstein looks to visual and medical practices, from the fifteenth century through the Human Genome Project, in order to correlate con- ceptions of the body and embodiment with earlier understandings. Her theoretical approach, including the deployment of phenomenology, provides a means of interrogating and theorizing the changing notions of the body and embodiment that have been supported by successions of new media. She provides a detailed analysis of the virtualization of the body without making claims that individuals are liberated and empowered by these experiences. Media is corporealized in Internet and computer-facili- tated settings. According to her, the position of the body as constitutive mediation has combined with media proliferation so that experiences with bodily fragmentation and disappearance are the work of mediation func- tioning as the body.


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Kim Toffoletti analyzes posthuman existence in order to generate

new critical models in Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls: Feminism, Popular Culture, and the

Posthuman Body. For her, the posthuman is a process that can reformulate normative categories of heing and transform identity politics through dialectical arrangements. Like the other authors discussed here Toffoletti interrogates the cultural belief that new media is liberating and argues that the posthuman does not succeed the human subject or provide ways of leaving the body behind. She proposes that posthuman existence can enable women because it replaces the identity categories that essentialize and exclude them with a more complicated series of suhject positions. Toffoletti theorizes the relationship hetween self and technologies by focusing on objects, advertisements, and art works that comment upon technologies, rather than on Internet and computer systems. These sites include Mattel's Barbie doll, a CD cover by singer Marilyn Manson, and a TDK corporation ad featuring the image of a prosthetic baby (reproduced on the book's cover). In examining these representations of the posthu- man, she describes how the body is extended into systems and networks. Toffoletti uses Jean Baudrillard's conception of simulation as a method of connecting seemingly disparate states and resisting binary distinctions between the real and virtual. For her, posthumanism is a product of the information age and a series of positions that unravel the houndaries between reality and illusion.









Munster and Kozel provide theories that incorporate—in the terms of these theorists, "fold"—sensation, movement, and temporality into their accounts of Internet and computer-facilitated engagements. These authors deploy Gilles Deleuze's theoretical work on the fold because the interconnected and in-between states of the fold point to the critical possi- bilities of becoming, are resistant to binaries, and render a different subject position than conceptions of uniform being.'* As Joan Key indicates, fold- ing breaks down categorizations and the suhject positions that rely on such oppositions as "the included and the excluded, the ahject and the desirable, the ohscene and the seen."" Deleuze relates the doubling and

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persistent folding of the inside and outside to the invagination of tissue in embryology and the doubling of fabric in sewing. The representations of fabric and other materials in such baroque works as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini's the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa (1647-1652) have intensely activated and sinuous folded surfaces, dissolve the body and materiality, create linkages as folds weave things together, and highlight gaps at the deep parts of the fold and places materials do not meld. Folding resists distinctions between subjects and objects and cohesive positions. Theories of the fold are there- fore related to the sorts of shifting subject positions and fragmentation that occur in Internet and new media settings and that have been a part of postmodernist feminist reconceptualizations of the body.

Munster argues that the concept of the fold persists in the baroque and new media. She correlates the baroque and new media through the conception of microscopy and an "enveloped and unfolding set of relations organizing the world" (38). Munster is interested in the ways the baroque relates to contemporary renderings of self, embodiment, and artworks where there is an "interface, or fold, between corporeality and informatic code" (41). For Munster, the fold provides a way of reading events as possi- bihties rather than as historical inevitabilities. Munster uses the fold to engage with the "gaps, discontinuities or differentials between bodies and new media" and theorize an "emerging digital embodiment." (16) This embodiment is capable of "becoming both sensate and virtual" (17).

These deployments of critical conceptions of folding, which demon- strate the ways seemingly solid objects change and disparate materials, bodies, and ideas share connections, are related to transformation and plastic. Toffoletti associates "transformers" with things that challenge established categories, including reality television shows about surgery, Marilyn Manson, Barbie dolls, and Transformers toys. Transformers demonstrate the difficulty in constructing a politics of subjectivity that is based on identity. For instance, Manson regularly remakes his physiog- nomy and gender identity. In place of identity, Toffoletti proposes a form of subjectivity that is not associated with identification or resistance. She acknowledges feminist resistance to Barbie, which is based on the ways the doll and marketing campaigns envision limited careers for girls and render normative forms of beauty. Yet, she challenges these critiques of


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Barbie and demonstrates how the doll encourages alternative under- standings of the body and a conception of the self as transformative, rather than fixed. Toffoletti identifies Barbie as a precursor to the posthuman, a plastic transformer that points to the possibilities of mutabihty and fluidity. Kozel and Munster describe the ways information and embodiment fold into each other. Toffoletti does the same thing for plastic. She highlights how plastic has been incorporated into the body through prosthetics and artifi- cial joints. The replacement of organic components in and outside of the body evokes cyborgs and challenges cultural investments in certain ver- sions of the real and human. Toffoletti proposes that the material and symbolic ambiguities of plastic emphasize connections between tbe body, technology, and representations. Eor her. Barbie's critical possibilities are facilitated by her plasticity. Barbie is hard in some places and rubbery in others; her synthetic sheen evokes mutability and flux. Like a flexed rubber band. Barbie's limbs seem filled with energy and ready to snap. Barbie is thereby ready to metamorpbose. By reading Barbie's transforma- tive plasticity, Toffoletti cballenges cultural understandings of Barbie as passive and static. Her conceptions of transformers and plastic can be productively used along witb theories of the fold. After all, plastic folds because it represents ambiguity and the in-between. Many of plastic's material states are fluid and changeable.

Conceptions of tbe fold are also related to resonance and connective tissue. Kozel discusses how her writing resonates with viewers who have never seen the dance performances she describes. Witb resonance, sensory experiences, descriptions, and imaginary accounts affect individuals pbysi- cally and emotionally. Kozel uses the model of connective tissue to trans- form the idea of resonance into a more tangible metaphor, convey Merleau-Ponty's ideas about flesh, and explain the ways experiences can be communicated between people. Connective tissue and varied tissue struc- tures keep our bodies and organs articulated and held together. Tbey shape our identity, weave diverse parts of the body and society together, and render difference. In a similar manner to Munster's focus on differen- tiation, Kozel emphasizes tbat connective tissue does not interlink every- tbing or make all things the same. These arrangements also create distance

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and delineations. For instance, connective tissue supports separations within our body and creates spaces for nerves and blood vessels and fluids to pass. For Kozel, language and engagements between people are material and a form of connective tissue. Resonance and connective tissue provide a Merleau-Pontian means of understanding thought and methods for theo- rizing the kinds of communications that occur within one body, commu- nications among individuals, the hnks between physicahty and ideas, and connections involving self and the world.

Kozel uses connective tissue as a metaphor for "physical, social, and digital networks" (278). Through this metaphor and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological theories, she conceptualizes her body as always already connected to the fabric of the world. This theory of connective tissue thereby indicates that the other is already in her, and connective tissue does not end at the skin. Through connective tissue her choreographies are hnked to animate things, technological devices, and ideas. For Kozel, choreography is about variations and relationships between bodies in space and time. Although the body that is conveyed by digital technolo- gies may not be present, its constitution as a form of connective tissue means that it has an even greater potential for development and change. This extended and expanded corporeality is permeated by interstitial spaces and an array of other things.

These theories of folded, connected, and expanded corporeality, in which the body and embodiment connect with and through networks, provide a different model of new media engagement than ideas about leaving the body behind. These methods, including Toffoletti's call for examinations that are not based on resistance or identification, can be further developed. In their present forms, these methods do not distin- guish how particular bodies fold, transform, resonate, and incorporate connective tissue. It may be worth examining Deleuze's identification of the fold as feminine, including his association of it with invagination and sewing. It also makes sense to encourage more detailed considerations of the values, cultural coding, and social resistances that accompany these models and Internet and new media engagements.









The authors considered in this article incorporate embodiment into contemporary conceptions of new media without reverting to notions of the coherent, bounded, and stable body. These cultural formations are used to disempower a variety of subjects and have been critiqued by femi- nists and postmodern theorists. Munster and Toffoletti use N. Katherine Hayles's work to consider how the body and embodiment are connected and distinct.^" According to Hayles, the body is a normalization and ideal- ization of corporeal experiences. Information technologies tend to separate the body as a representation from embodiment even though embodiment interacts with and is affected by renderings of the body. The body is corre- lated with the characteristics of information. Embodiment is associated with materiality. The body/information is understood as abstract and can be organized, controlled, and programmed. Embodiment is conceptual- ized as lived and more fluid.

Kozel identifies embodiment as a process rather than a stable state. Societal conceptions affect how people move, the technologies that are developed, and the ways interfaces formulate bodies and technologies. Everyday techniques of embodiment fine-tune our level of presence. De- cisions to eat or move part of the body, as Kozel argues, maintain con- scious bodily presence. Other embodiment techniques, such as meditating or juggling, result in more specific states of bodily awareness and presence. Kozel does not directly address this issue, but her descriptions of conscious bodily presence suggest that the fine and slight movements that people make when engaging with contemporary technologies activate rather than erase embodied experiences. Kozel identifies bodies as energy rather than matter. This figuration further troubles the idea of leaving the body behind. It also provides methods for connecting Internet and computer- facilitated renderings of the body to corporeality. Eor instance, Kozel's theories might offer methods for analyzing the ways the Wii, Guitar Hero, and other computer games that include embodied movement activate bodily awareness and presence. Kozel looks to formlessness rather than cohesion for a full under- standing of the dancer's body and the ways it is facilitated and produced through new media. This is because the dancer's body exhibits both

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mastery and disintegration. On a related theme. Munster argues that Internet and computer-rendered spaces do not fully correlate with bodily movements and positional changes. When individuals are navigating fully immersive settings with the aid of head-mounted virtual reality displays, their physical bodies may twitch and move incoherently. The animated characters in the Dance, Dance, Revolution arcade game get people to mimic and clumsily follow dance moves. Internet and computer technologies are often marketed as fast, func- tioning, and productive. However, Munster proposes that lag is a charac- teristic of new media bodies and embodiment. Cursors shift between gliding, stuttering, and stopping. Lag is also suggested by the ways Kozel and her digital representations sluggishly respond when overtaxed by the extreme demands of new media dance performances. Lagging bodies, according to Munster, occur because of the time that it takes virtual real- ity scenarios or avatar images to load and change. In simulated game spaces, individuals experience swooping gazes that break into pixilated confusion when machines lag behind the instructional movements of the players. These engagements produce a body and embodiment in pieces. Lag disrupts cultural investments in standardization and homogenization. It leads to moments when physical bodies are distinctly different from virtual bodies. Such multiplications of viewpoints, positions, and bodies, as Munster argues, do not provide a seamless match between body and code. The bodily extensions that are facilitated by new media are not corporeal. However, they engage individuals in the speeds, rhythms, flows, and breakdowns of digital information. These features of new media make it more difficult to associate embodiment with bounded and contained bodies. Instead, Munster proposes that we conceptualize multiple, lagging, fragmented, folded, divergent, and extended selves.

Wegenstein distinguishes between the disappearance of the body and disembodiment. She suggests that we locate this disappearance and "death declaration" in the development of René Descartes's binary distinctions between mind and body and contemporary references to this model (11).^' Munster also considers Descartes's theories and cultural investments in mind/body distinctions. She describes a panel at the 1995 Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) Conference


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entitled "Grids, Guys, and Gals: Are You Oppressed by the Cartesian Coordinate System?" During this session, panelists discussed how digital settings regulate the messiness of bodies and the material world. A group of attendees responded by wearing T-shirts declaring their love of Descartes and by heckling speakers. The panelists felt confined by Internet and computer-facilitated settings while the T-shirt-wearing cohort perceived an "assault on the epistemological foundation of present-day computing technologies" and their personal investments in these prac- tices (2). Munster is more ambivalent than the panelists in connecting Descartes's theories to the kinds of mind/body distinction that are made in Internet and new media settings. She indicates how Descartes also pro- poses nonbinary models of identity.

The authors also relate Internet and computer-facilitated interactions to earlier kinds of mediation and cultural production. For instance. Munster connects new media to the baroque, fold, and cabinet of curiosi- ties. Wegenstein argues that architecture should be identified as either a forerunner of new media or related to it. This is because architects render slippery transitory surfaces, deploy walls and other structures as media screens, and facilitate multiple and shifting viewpoints. For instance, conceptual artist Dan Graham deploys reflective and transparent walls to deconstruct the single viewpoint in his pavilions. Viewers and the envi- ronment are refracted and screened on these structures. In a related manner, new media art installations trigger multiple viewpoints and itera- tions of the body. The body-in-pieces, which undermines the unified body, viewpoint, and identity, appears in varied periods and practices. Wegenstein indicates that anatomical fragmentation of the body began in the fifteenth century and poses some shifts in the ways bodies have been represented and medi- ated over time. She traces a progression from the wounded bodies pro- duced by 1960s and 1970s performance artists to the extended bodies that are facilitated by contemporary new media artists and Internet and computer-mediated settings. Artists produce wounded bodies by cutting into, stitching, and otherwise opening up their bodies to self-inflicted pain and the gaze of viewers. An example of the wounded body is Chris Burden's Shoot (1971), in which the artist had someone shoot at him with a

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rifle. Photographs of th e event depict Burden bleeding from an ar m wound. Contemporary feminist artists sometimes use their bodies as a medium and make the body prominent. For example, the French per- formance artist Orlan uses plastic surgery to remake herself into a composite of feminine beauty ideals. In Touch Ginema (1968), Valie Export turns her body into a kind of theater. Viewers could grope Export's breasts through a curtained box in this street performance. These works, accord- ing to Wegenstein, function as critiques of the media produced and facili- tated female body. In tbem, corporeality and "mediality" are deployed and impossible to differentiate (64). For instance. Export deploys her body, offers access to her flesh, provides a mediated engagement with her image, and references a broader series of cultural representations. Performance and new media demonstrate that the media is corporeal. Wegenstein describes the body as the "new canvas of twentieth century art" (64). These performers embody the idea of the work and thereby prevent distinctions between reality and representation.

Wegenstein identifies a cultural move from corporeaUty to mediality. Artists shift from using the body as raw material in 1960s wound-oriented performances to tbe media and technology discourses that accompany 1990s extension works. Eor instance, Austraha-based performance artist Stelarc extends his body with mechanical limbs and allows distant viewers to trigger his bodily movements. Webcams and avatars offer engagements tbat interlink the body and screen. Human flesb is combined witb Inter- net and computer-facihtated settings in order to eradicate the body and flatten it out onto the screen. New media works dematerialize the body's corporeal aspects and make them into fragments of information. In- stances of the body as information include the data images people gener- ate when traveling, shopping, communicating with businesses and service providers, and seeking medical assistance.

Digital mediality could be further correlated with the tactile experi- ences that are rendered by interfaces and the specific bodily events that occur when using the Internet and computer. Kozel describes how sensa- tion is intertwined with Internet and computer-facilitated engagements. In the whisper[s] installation (2003-2005) that Kozel participated in and


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analyzes, participants wore small wireless computers and pulse-and- respiration sensors. People accessed this data with a series of simple gestures, sent it out as visualizations, and shared it with other participants in the physical space. They became information and engaged with bodies. Through such installations, people connect with new bodily configura- tions, listen to their bodies, discover the self anew, arid dance with their own bodies. They physically touch and are touched by people and things. This extends their bodies, enables a form of connective tissue, and inter- meshes them with the fabric of the world. Kozel's theories and dance performances point to the ways bodies appear and are felt in computer- facilitated and material settings. These engagements could be further theorized in Internet settings where there are no shared material spaces and the connections between bodies are somewhat different.


Munster and Toffoletti deploy virtuality as a method of theorizing the body and embodiment rather than associating these experiences, social conceptions, and technologies with an escape from the body. For Mun- ster, "computational spacetime" is distinct from but repeats corporeal experiences (93). Abstract aspects of computer-facilitated settings engage the virtual aspects of people's experiences. Individuals' sensory experiences are also multiplied and changed by computational models. Yet, computa- tional settings and embodied experiences do not, according to Munster, just assertively superimpose their reality over the other occurrence or equitably coexist. Munster and Toffoletti describe virtuality as a process that combines and multiplies possibilities rather than conceiving of it as an experience that replaces materiality, bodies, or people. Wegenstein identi- fies technologies as actualizations of a potentiality of life. Internet and computer-facihtated settings and technologies have the aspects of the virtual, which include "becoming" and a variety of possible futures, rather than a linear and fixed state;

The virtual, as Munster argues, is the quality of digital technologies that is most often associated with leaving the body behind. Munster also describes how new media artists refocus attention on the body and em- bodiment. For instance, Catherine Richard's The Virtual Body (1993) deploys

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a crafted wooden box with a glass viewfinder to provide a miniaturized

view of the room in which the work is situated. Viewers place their hands

inside the box. They experience situated hands because of their embodied experiences and appendages receding away from them due to the work's

optical device. As Munster describes it, this leads to a folding of divergent experiences and spaces. This intensification of corporeal experience, which

is triggered by the diffusion of bodily locations, is a key feature of informa- tion aesthetics.

Munster, Wegenstein, and Toffoletti also offer critical commentaries on bodily features. Wegenstein identifies a shift from the fragmented body to posthumanism, where every part is autonomous and separate. With this posthuman body, there is no longer an emphasis on faciality, and the face does not stand in for the whole body. In yearbook photos, there has been a formal and conceptual change in the choice of images. The face and rows of cropped portraits, which functioned as windows into individ- uals' souls, have been replaced with healthy bodies. Beauty product adver- tisements have shifted the face onto plant leaves and other things. In a related inquiry, Munster considers how the human face has been trans- ferred onto technologies. Computer designers provide faces for comput- ers and figure technologies as animated. Eor instance, Apple has used images of computers with smiling and frowning faces to represent the technology's functioning. More recent Apple icons represent a fusing of the human face and computer screen. Toffoletti analyzes a TDK represen- tation of a technologized face. The child has gigantic ears that are designed for better hearing, eyes like screens, and a mouth that looks like a media slot. Such advertisements pose the body as a version of the media interface and a mediator of information.

Wegenstein describes how the body functions as a form of mediation and images are corporealized. Individuals engage with the embodiment and corporealization of data, rather than a disembodiment of information and images. Kozel asserts that bodies, other people, and technologies are mediated and mediators. Phenomenological accounts, including the concept of flesh of the world and connective tissue, do not distinguish between the body and representation. The "medium that signifies the body, its representation," according to Wegenstein, is no longer distinct from


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the "raw material" of the body (32). By considering how the "body consti- tutes mediation," the ways mediation forms the body, and the body as constitutive mediation, Wegenstein demonstrates the means through which social conceptions of the body shift hetween coherence and frag- mentation (33). She argues that the body is not a secure point of departure for understanding the world or an intermediary hetween self and the world. The body incorporates holistic subjectivity and fragmented objec- tivity in ways that undermine the viability of stable categories. Kozel describes how pain and other embodied experiences connect the virtual image and flesh. In Telematic Dreaming (1994), video projectors and monitors connected people in two separate rooms so that they virtu- ally shared a bed. Participants engaged in media-delivered images and experienced intimacy, violation, and pain. However, people stayed on the bed because they did not want Kozel to be "alone" and incorporated a form of hurt into the setting when revealing a knife and "elbowing" her in the stomach (95). Kozel theorizes the relationship between physical self and virtual body through the neck and back pain she experienced while performing this work. Pain is incorporated into the image and virtual body because Kozel's more constrained movements result in her mediated gestures being stiff.

Confronted by these experiences, Kozel began to obsess over the "invisible" parts of her body and processes, including digestion, intestines, and breathing (95). The more she engaged with the virtual setting, the more her visceral body asserted itself and kept her anchored to material- ity. Kozel therefore experiences the body in Telematic Dreaming and other works as an extension rather than escape. Her experience of "disintegrat- ing" because of the pain provides the groundwork for a different theory of new media dematerialization. Descriptions of these performances also act as a reminder of how normative forms of interactions are reasserted in these settings. Some of her experiences on the bed and in other perform- ances are shaped by gender expectations and conventions. Kozel argues that computational systems can enhance performance research because they coax the latencies within people, the intuition and affect that animate people as humans, to emerge. Phenomenology and performance increase these latencies and help to expand social, physical.

Michèle White


and emotional engagements. For Kozel, theoretically informed and performed kinds of new media increase embodied and intercorporeal awareness. Wegenstein also intermeshes corporeality and new media when identifying bodies as living media. Images require our bodies to be seen. Bodies are living media that enable us to see, project, and remember images. Images, for Wegenstein, are "happenings or interventions performed by bodies, which have been exposed to images from outside" (119). Therefore, media transmit rather than produce images. It is the participation of the body in the production of images, according to Wegenstein, that is impor- tant. The medium has adopted the characteristics of the body, and images are literally and figuratively directed on to the body rather than having a frame. This direction and corporealization of the image should encourage further considerations of the ways images control and are controlled by bodies and embodiment in Internet and computer-facilitated settings.









Internet and computer interfaces and settings are often credited with providing increased power and freedom. However, some researchers, including the authors that I consider in this article, argue that we also need to focus on instances of control. Munster emphasizes how disem- powerment and regulation occur in these settings. The shift to networked information, which is distributed and delivered through mobile stream- ing, has created a situation where control is always on. People with access to Internet and computer-facilitated information are recorded, profiled, and monitored. Control is also directed at and constitutes bodies.

The authors discussed here analyze how control and critique are facil- itated through new media. Their research might be extended to engage more of the common features of Internet and computer-facilitated set- tings. Although the authors provide brief comments on these sites, this research is still provisional. The authors also resist the association of Internet and computer-facilitated settings with liberation and leaving the corporeal body. Their research conceptually suggests the need for further feminist analysis. However, this hterature could be more fully deployed in these texts. If there is a flaw in this theoretically and politically productive


Mtchele White

literature, it is the authors' hesitancy to fully employ the existent feminist hterature on the body and embodiment. Eor instance, Deleuze's work on tbe fold and Merleau-Ponty's conceptions of tbe flesb of tbe world are deployed in tbese texts, but Elizabetb Grosz's feminist elaborations of these models are largely absent.^^ Kozel, wbo provides the most detailed accounts of gendered experi- ences and an impressively nuanced study of networked embodiment, mentions her concern in identifying Gloser as a feminist methodology. She acknowledges the influence of Erench feminist writing in her work, but sbe hesitates to call what she does "feminist phenomenology for fear of narrowing its scope or prefiguring an agenda" (62). It is at this point that Kozel indicates ber own desires to leave a form of tbe body bebind. Kozel's and the other authors' texts are connected to varied feminisms, and their work would be expanded rather than confined by furtber engaging these sources. Unfortunately, many academic and popular discourses about the Internet and new media discourage feminist engagements. In Mira Schor's research on patrilineage, she identifies the tendency to reference male artists and theoreticians wben creating a lineage for female artists and less conventional sites of investigation.^^ According to her, this patrilineage is believed to establisb a more reputable background tban references to female artists and texts. These behaviors also occur with Internet and new media research.

It is worth considering how Internet and new media research meth- ods are controlled and intellectual inquiries are vetted. Tbere are risks in deploying feminist methodologies and critiques in tbese settings. Eeminist inquiries at Internet and new media studies conferences and in computer- mediated settings are sometimes described as inappropriate. Male pro- grammers and designers, as Munster begins to suggest, try to sustain the beliefs and foundations associated with computing technologies. This has affected women, including feminist researchers, technologists, and writ- ers. Eor instance Joan Walsh, a feminist Salon writer, found it "hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men" and bas "never admitted tbe toll" of such e-mails "on women writers at Salon."^"* I was stunned at tbe reactions to a Forbes forum post, in wbich I inquired why a poll about identifying with

Michèle White


imaginary characters did not include empowered positions for women.

According to respondents, my discussion did not apply to the topic, I

should "get a grip and quit" whining about my "gender" and "die of breast

cancer" because I was "a whore."" These forum members, and many

other individuals who use these technologies, make it clear that they will

discipline people with oppositional opinions and deliver textual on-

slaughts until resistors become too uncomfortable or tired to respond.

These instances only start to indicate how Internet and new media prac-

tices constitute and regulate the body and embodiment. The forms of

investigation introduced by these authors, particularly their feminist

inquiries, are therefore central to the study of Internet and new media

technologies and settings.


1. See, for example, Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Min- neapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); Ann Rudinow Saetnan, Nelly Ouds-

hoorn, and Marta Kirejczyk, eds

Medicine (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000); and Marquard Smith and

Joanne Morra, eds

(Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

Bodies of Technology: Women's Involvement with Reproductive

The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future

2. See, for

example, Maria Fernandez, Faith Wilding,

and Michelle M. Wright, eds

Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices (New York: Autonomedia, 2002); Mary Flanagan

and Austin Booth, eds

2002); and Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture (Cambridge: MIT Press,

3. Peter Steiner, The New Yorker, 5 July 1993, 61.

4. Virginia Shea, Netiquette (San Francisco: Albion Books, 1994).

5. "Gender and Ethnicity," Tbe Jargon File, 4.4.7, 29 Dec. 2003, jargon/btml/demographics.html.

6. Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 46.

7. Margrit Sbildrick and Janet Price, "Openings on tbe Body: A Critical Introduction," in Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader, ed. Janet Price and Margrit Sbildrick (New York:

Routiedge, 1999), U.

8. Yocbai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 60.

9. "An Interview witb Jeff Skoll," E-Business, IT, and Finance, 17 Mar. 2008, bttp://first.emer


Michèle White

10. See, for example , Rut h Schwart z Cowan , More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983); Judy Wacjman, "Reflections on Gender and Technology Studies: In What State Is the Art?" Social Studies of Science 30 (¡une 2000): 447-64; and Ellen van Oost, "Materialized Gender: How Shavers Configure the Users' Femininity and Masculinity," in How Users Matter: The Go-Construction of Users and Technology, ed. Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003).

11. William Gihson, Neuromancer (New York: Ace Books, 1984), 6.

12. To m Maddox, "Snake-Eyes," in Mirrorshades: The Gyberpunk Anthology, ed. Bruce Sterling (New York: Ace Books, 1988), 16.

13. For a detailed discussion of this proposal , see N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Gybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).


Ray Kurzweil, "Th e Evolution of Mind in th e Twenty-first Century, " Are We Spiritual


15. Hans Moravec, "Grandfathe r Clause, " in Mind Children: The Future of Robot

telligence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 117; and Hans Moravec, quoted in Grant Fjermedal, The Tomorrow Makers: A Brave New World of Living-Brain Machines (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 5.

16. For example, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans . Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1989), and his The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1968).

17. Barbara Maria Stafford, Good Looking: Essays on the Virtues of Images (Cambridge: MIT Press,

and Human In-


18. Gilles Deleuze, "Foldings, or th e Inside of Thought, " in Foucault, trans . Sean Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).

19. Joan Key, "Unfold: Imprecations of Obscenity in th e Fold," in Other Than Identity: The Politics and Art, ed. Juliet Steyn (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 196.

20. Hayles, How We Became Posthuman.

21. Wegenstein cites René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stroothoff, and Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

22. Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Gorporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

23. Mira Schor, "Patrilineage," Art Journal 50 (Summer 1991): 58-63.

24. Joan Walsh, "Men Who Hate Women on the Web, and the Women (Like Me) Who Try to Ignore Them. Or at Least I Did-until the Kathy Sierra Affair," Salon, 31 Mar. 2007,

25. jasperstoneworks, " Lists Forum #84.1," Forbes, 26 Oct. 2004, http:/ /; and FrodoBaggins, " Lists Forum #84.1," Forbes, 26 Oct. 2004, http://forums.

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