Throughout the course of this semester we have steadily moved backwards in time, tracing a reverse chronology of media theory and art. With that concession I hope you will stick with me as I reverse my own thinking back to the topic of our first class session, The Future, and begin to relate the course offering to my own specific field of study. I have spent a large part of the last week writing on and thinking about cloning for a different project, and one thing I am always struck by is the intersections of cloning and other speculative assisted reproductive technologies and the realized media and medical technologies in our world. Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is often used in tandem with Baudrillard’s theories of simulacra to examine literary representations of cloning. To quote Maria Ferreira from the text I Am Other at length:
What Baudrillard mainly objects to in cloning is the endless, mechanical reproduction of the same, a duplication that inevitably entails the disappearance – or at least the dilution to extreme, homeopathic doses – of a supposed original, unique, authentic first being or object. Walter Benjamin is of course, a crucial source in any debate that deals with copies and reproductions…With reproduction, the ‘aura’ of the object, to take up Benjamin’s term, is lost…Indeed, the dread associated with the loss of an aura of authenticity in an age of simulacra is a driving force behind the horror often linked with the prospect of cloning. (Ferreira 153)
The questions that arise for me deal with the definitions of media, object, art, human, and posthuman. Ferreira goes on to write that clones are inscribed “in the realm of mass art, as reproducible and unoriginal” (154) as the technologically reproduced prints and posters that fill the popular imagination when considering Benjamin’s theory. What, ultimately, is the difference between a human and the object of art? The human and the machine? We can trace these same questions in Benjamin’s essay when he considers the subject of these reproducible objects, particularly that of the actor. The film actor, divorced from the auratic physical body, becomes a cloned image. The filmed actor has no life, no soul, no ability to react to the audience. Is the actor himself reduced due to these clones? How does their moving screen life differ from the life of a clone? So much of the technology we have examined in this course are methods of alternative reproduction; of images, ideas, electronic data, and I argue that any conversation about reproduction cannot be fully divorced from the ideologies of human reproduction.
Cloning represents the possibility of alternative reproduction, the ability to break down the rigid definitions of sex and gender that permeate our society, and is therefore a site of great anxiety and fear. Benjamin’s article speaks to some anxieties about the mechanical revolution, but also marks the induction of modernity and the rise of alternate ways of being and communicating. “Work of Art” draws on the concerns of the turn of the 20th century and seems almost prophetic in its analysis of the coming era, just as “[i]t seems greatly appropriate that human cloning, an eminently millennial and apocalyptic theme, has significantly come to general attention almost at the end of the millennium, suggestive of portentous changes to come” (Ferreira 3–4). We speak so often of the mechanical and technological as separate dimensions from the human, and I know I will be criticized for trying to reintroduce the human into the humanities here, but I can’t help but wonder how they are all connected. How the body is a machine, reproducible and reproductive. And what such a concession would mean for the development of an alternate social construction.